Last week our Lead Brewer, Jeremy Moynier, and I traveled to England to brew a beer for the JD Wetherspoon pub chain’s Real Ale Festival, an event we have now participated in 3 times over the past 6 years. I was hoping to blog about this while there, but very spotty internet service and a very busy schedule made me give up the idea until I got back home.
I thought I’d break these blogs about the trip up into 3 parts:
1. The traditional English breweries that we visited
2. The “new” breweries we visited
3. Some great pub stops.
So to start off with, Jeremy and I had the pleasure of brewing a 5% Black IPA, or Black Ale, at the Adnams Brewery in Southwold, on England’s east coast (“East Anglia”) about 1.5 hrs northeast of London. This is a very quaint English village on the coast, their claim to fame is a long row of small beach huts/cottages (or sheds, or what we refer to as cabanas) that are lined up all along the beach front. People pay over $100,000 for one of these small wooden boxes that have no power or running water, but have incredible beach view and location.
The town was great, and there are 3 Adnams pubs there that we visited, all a very short walk from each other, and a lot of nice shops. Apparently, when the weather is nice in the summer, there are incredible lines of cars and huge throngs of tourists that crowd the town. But when we got there on September 10, it was drizzling rain, and the town was kind of empty.
We brewed with Fergus Fitzgerald, the Brewmaster at Adnams, who previously spent a some amount of time at the Fullers Brewery in London. This was really nice, because not only is Fergus a very talented brewer (after all, he just won UK Brewer Of The Year!), but he is in our age range and we instantly were able to connect and talk brewing. He likes his Southern Hemisphere and American hops, and had quite a few beers that used Citra and other great American hop varieties.
But make no mistake, Adnams is a very traditional brewery. Their best selling beer is a bitter called Southwold Bitter. We really enjoyed this beer, it’s a classic bitter, full of chewy crystal malt flavors and a very pleasing bitterness, and probably half my pints on this visit were the bitter. On cask (or hand pull, as they say) it has an amazing depth of flavor, especially for a beer that is only 3.8% alcohol. Ghost Ship is their fastest growing beer, originally released as a fall seasonal (Ghost Ship for Halloween) it proved so popular they made it a year round beer. It is golden in color and has a nice American hop presence. And our other favorite was a beer called Explorer, which really had some nice hop intensity.
For the festival, we brewed a Black IPA, a recipe that was loosely based on Stone Supremely Self-Conscious Ale, a beer that started out as a pilot brew using second runnings from Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, and recently has been brewed twice at our Liberty Station brewery. The version we brewed at Liberty Station is 4.5% alcohol and used Amarillo and Simcoe in the dry-hop, just like Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. But since Fergus doesn’t use Amarillo any more (like many of us, he is tired of dealing with the supply issues), and he didn’t have any Simcoe, we agreed to use Australian Galaxy and Citra in the dry-hop. This was perfect-we weren’t trying to brew a replication of something that we brew in San Diego. Instead, it was truly a collaboration, and Fergus contributed some great ideas to the recipe that I had provided him. We also ended up using their house yeast instead of our house yeast, again, with the intent to make this beer very collaborative, and different from what one would find in our San Diego locations.
Adnams recently replaced their wood and copper brewhouse with a modern, automated Huppmann brewery, all shiny stainless steel, and equipped with a wet mill, mash vessel, lauter tun, holding kettle, and kettle/whirlpool. We felt right at home on this system and the brew went pretty smoothly, despite having some difficulty getting the Golden Naked Oats to transfer through their malt system (the kernels are too small and bridged in the transfer system-nothing that a gentle persuasion with a rubber mallet couldn’t fix). So all was good until we tried to chill the wort out of the whirlpool. At Stone, we use a boatload of hops in the whirlpool to provide flavor and aroma to our beer, and we did the same with this beer. But the danger with that is that the solid hop material can sometimes carry through to the wort chiller and create a plug that prevents the transfer of wort to continue. And that is exactly what happened here. The same thing happened when I brewed at Wadworth Brewery in Devizes two years ago, and I feel bad about it, because a plugged plate chiller is an awful thing to have to unplug. It takes a lot of time and work, and the brew that is sitting in the whirlpool waiting for a clear path is not developing nice flavors at this point. Fergus was very gracious in this situation, reassuring us that it was not our fault and that his brewers tried to push the wort through instead of slowing down the transfer to allow for better separation of clear wort from the solid hop and protein material. Part of me feels that the fact my beers have done this twice now is kind of a badge of honor, but my fear is that no one else in the UK will want to brew a Stone recipe again!
Fergus shared some very special beers with us while we brewed, and he has an American style IPA that is fantastic-in fact I brought one home with me to share with the crew.
The Wetherspoons chain has a collection of brewers in England that will host the international brewers for each festival. This was the largest contingent of American brewers to date. And we were the first American brewer to participate, back in 2008, but I do believe that Matt Brynyldson from Firestone Walker and Toshi Ishii from Ishi Brewing in Guam have done this more than anyone else at this point. One of the most interesting things I find when visiting these traditional English brewers is that most of the brewmasters have shown a very real appreciation and curiosity for the craft brews that we are making in the United States. And I definitely get the feeling that most of them would like to brew more of these kinds of beers, but are a bit handcuffed or squashed by the sales and marketing folks that want to focus on the more traditional styles. Fergus has had the opportunity to brew some great beers with American hops, but I know he also enjoys a traditional bitter also. And that’s what makes it really great-seeing a brewery that doesn’t abandon the tradition, but also embraces the new.
One of the other things that I found very interesting is that Adnams installed distillation columns in the area where their old brewhouse was, and are making a variety of spirits. Most notably gin, which one of theirs just won a major award for being the best gin, but also vodka, distilled beer cordials, whiskey, rye and absinth. It was fun talking to Fergus about the lautering of a 100% rye mash, which he stated “doesn’t lauter, you just pull the liquid through”. I could relate, after all, any time we brew with rye at Stone, the team threatens to mutiny because the lauters are so bad.
When we returned from Southwold to London, we were able to arrange a last-minute tour at the Fullers Brewery (thanks to Angelo Scarnera, who made a phone call while we were at The Rake), and we met up with beer tour guide extraordinaire Glenn Payne, old friends Shaun O’Sullivan and Nico Freccia from 21st Amendment Brewing Co. in San Francisco, and Shaun’s dad Don, and took the Underground to the west side of London. We were met at Fuller’s by Brewing Manager Derek Prentice, one of the most respected brewers in England. Derek spent a lot of time brewing at Young’s before it got sold, then was able to join Fullers in the same capacity after John Keeling was promoted to Brewmaster following the retirement of legend Reg Drury.
Derek is an amazing host, I’ve done the tour now a few times, and one of the things I really enjoy is Derek’s passion about the traditional British brewing system, which involves an infusion mash tun, (or a combination mash/lauter tun) which is similar to how most craft brewers and homebrewers start out. Derek is a big believer in this system, he doesn’t like modern lauter tuns with rakes that tear the malt apart as they pass through the grain bed. It’s refreshing to hear this viewpoint. They’ve set their brewery up like a museum, keeping vessels that are hundreds of years old in their original locations, so even though they are no longer being used, one can get a real sense of what the brewery was like at one time.
One of the things that sets Fuller’s apart from other brewers is their tradition of “partigyling” brews, or basically separating the wort into two streams in the brewhouse process: a high gravity portion from the first runnings, and a lower gravity portion from the sparged wort. The high gravity portion is boiled first, and the heat from the boil is used to preheat the second gyle. After the brewhouse process is finished the gyles are blended in different proportions before fermentation to make 2, 3, or even 4 beers of varying strength. It always seemed very complicated to me, but Derek explained it very well.
Fullers has kept old brewing logbooks, and Derek showed us a few recipes from them, including an IPA recipe, and also a Strong Ale that was brewed in 1966, which has been rebrewed and released as part of the “Past Masters” series that they do annually.
Derek is leaving Fullers at the end of the year, but he insists it’s not retirement, it’s moving on to consulting and possibly other opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll be highly sought after. In fact, Shaun O’Sullivan jokingly offered him a job right then and there!
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Fuller’s beers, I think they get the best malt profile of just about any brewer, and a Fuller’s pub is always my first stop for a pint upon arriving in England.
Next, a review of some of the new and exciting craft brewers that are springing up around London.