The first thing that struck me as I approached the unassuming building on a frosty December morning was the beauty of the pristine view from the new office window; the second was just how clean the brewery was. I was assured this wasn’t just through newness or under use of premises: “We had a very busy run up to Christmas,” Mark showing me the bottle store, as large as a double garage but twice as high, and incidentally the same size as the whole of his old brewery, “This room was filled to the rafters with deliveries waiting to be made”.

Cambridge Moonshine Brewery now has a floor space of 1000 square feet, giving capacity to brew 180 gallons a week. The purchase of a larger capacity kettle and two fermentation tanks from Red Rose brewery in Lancashire (who are themselves expanding capacity) and the imminent connection to a 3 phase electrical supply will raise production capability to 470 gallons a week.

So, in this time of credit crunch and crisis, where does all the bottled beer go? “Various small outlets throughout East Anglia, and some in London and Kent. We also make and supply the local farm shop at Burwash Manor with their own labelled Barton Bitter (4%ABV) as well as some of our own products” Mark explained.

It was clear to me that the Cambridge Moonshine bottled beer operation was an ongoing success, but surely sales of cask ales must be low? After all, large businesses such as Greene King, Punch and Enterprise have all but monopolised the pubs in the Cambridge area and, despite all CAMRA’s efforts, they show little interest in providing an outlet for smaller local brews as guest ales.

“There are a few pubs in the region”, Mark told me, “that are still genuine Free Houses and who will sell locally brewed products.” The Cambridge Blue, Gwydir Street, Cambridge, is a regular outlet for local brewers, and Cambridge Moonshine is often on their list; but it is probably true to say that most of his cask ale is destined for beer festivals, both CAMRA and privately organised, throughout the year all over the country.

What is especially nice about beer festivals is that it is also possible to get a positive response from the people who can best judge your product, the paying customer, because they are asked to vote for the beers they consider to be the best in their class. Cambridge Moonshine has been a regular name on the Cambridge CAMRA Summer Festival awards list, but has also won accolades further afield, the most recent being Beer of the Festival Award for Harvest Moon Mild at the Bexley Beer Festival in Kent

Mark, is of course, pleased to accept praise for his beers, but is equally keen to listen to suggestions for improvements that can be made, including new recipes to try. One such recipe came from a fellow enthusiast from Australia, Chris Davis. Chris had come to England to visit friends and happened to mention that he would like to have a go at brewing a different recipe. Encouraged and advised by Mark he created what is now known as Cambridge Moonshine Chocolate Orange Stout (6.7% ABV). First seen at the 2007 Cambridge Winter Festival, the beer went on to win Beer of the Festival award at the Ely 2008 Festival. “The sad thing is,” Mark said, “ Chris had to return to Australia before the beer was actually brewed, so he has no idea what it tastes like. I’ve sent him the award certificate as a Thank You.”

Returning to the subject of the new premises, Mark enthused about his new source of water. “It’s fully natural and comes from a natural well situated on site”. In Radegund Road the only water available was Cambridge tap water. “It was adequate but I’d have to add things like brewing salt to make it fit for purpose. I don’t have to do that here.” Whilst the chalk and clay make up of the hills means the water would still be classified as “hard”, Mark has found that his beers now have a more rounded, softer taste.

And what about the future?

“I am talking to an organic farmer just west of Cambridge about the possibility of growing organic hops. My aim is to have as much control of the whole process as I can, from the growing hops and barley to the creation and bottling of good beer.”

As I left the brewery, it was still a cold, wintry day, not that I really noticed, warmed as I was by Mark’s enthusiasm and sheer passion for his craft.

Every bottle of Cambridge Moonshine Ale carries the declaration, “Hand Crafted by Cambridge Moonshine Brewery” Mark Watch, Mr Moonshine, means every word.

Will Smith