Extra-strong ale named after rare grey Shire

  • An imposing young Shire horse has inspired a local brewery’s extra-strong ale.

    The 18-month-old colt Herkules White Walker has lent his name to the 6.5% beer, made by Bank Top Brewery in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

    The horse’s owner Stephen Nolan first made contact with the brewery several years ago, when he was looking for spent grains to feed his yard of Shires and Clydesdales.

    “I was chatting to Richard Green from Thwaites one day and he was telling me that they fed their Shires on the spent grain left over from brewing the beer,” he explained. “I asked if he had any spare and he said ‘no chance’, so I started contacting breweries in our area. I spoke to around 20 and when I contacted Bank Top they said I could have some.

    “They’ve given us more and more over the years and recently I was chatting to the lad who runs it, telling him about a grey Shire I had. He said they were thinking of naming a beer after a horse and asked if they could come and look at the yard.”

    Herkules White Walker — known as “Romeo” at home because of his 14 February birthday — already stands at 17hh and quickly caught the eye of the brewers.

    “They weren’t sure at first whether to go with a Shire or a Clydesdale but I said that Herkules White Walker would be a good name for a beer — especially considering how popular Game of Thrones is,” Stephen said. “As soon as they saw him they said a definite yes.

    “People had been asking them to make a stronger beer and it’s definitely a name that fits,” he added. “Pictures don’t do him justice — he’s built like a tank and very well put together. He’s already as big as our four-year-old Clydesdale stallion.”

    As an unusual grey Shire, “Romeo” has attracted attention right from the start. He was bred at the Herkules stud in Sweden and Stephen bought him “straight off” after seeing pictures that had been posted of him as a foal.

    “He was six months old when I bought him and nine months old when he first arrived with us, after passports and documents were arranged,” Stephen said. “He’s been a right character from the beginning — I have 10 horses and none of them are like him.”

    Stephen said that the colt’s antics often included picking up full water buckets by the handles and throwing them out of the door.

    “If there’s a toy or a rubber ball or anything he can grip hold of, he’ll chuck that through door or run round the field with it in his mouth, he’s so playful. You’ve got to watch him all the time as he’s looking for trouble,” Stephen said. “I’m still in contact with his breeder in Sweden and I tell him about the tricks he’s been up to. He’s a big fan of Game of Thrones and he said ‘that’s because he’s from the other side of The Wall!’”

    “Romeo’s” namesake ale has proved a hit in pubs so far — it has been popular enough on draught that the brewery now plan to bring out a 330ml bottle version.

    “They also own a few pubs around Bolton tell me it’s selling well there,” Stephen said. “I’m not a big drinker but I’ve tried it and it is strong!

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    “The brewery doesn’t have a history with Shires there but now they have made the Herkules White Walker, they have been quite surprised at the interest.”

    Stephen added that the success of Herkules White Walker may prompt another beer — named after another of his Shires, Delilah.

    “She’s a black two-year-old mare and she’s already 18hh — when she is fully grown she might be a bit of a freak,” he said.

    As well as showing and breeding his heavy horses, Stephen also has a Shire he rides, while his wife Anne rides a Hanoverian-Shire cross.

    “I only started riding three years ago, though we’ve always had Shires in my family,” he said. “My wife rides so I thought I’d buy one and have a go. I’ve never had a lesson in my life but we do drag hunts and 25k endurance rides — as long as they are fit enough, it’s surprising what a Shire can do.”

    But Romeo is more likely to be destined for a career as a stallion.

    “There aren’t many quality grey stallions in this country,” Stephen said. “When we took him to the national Shire show there were so many people interested in him. He’s already got his own Facebook page with 100 fans.”

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