Category Archives: Ale, beer

Only With Love brewery visit

Back in March 2017 I visited Little Goldsmiths Farm, in the East Sussex Weald, to witness the birth of Holler Boys brewery. That brewery lost its “Boys”, moved to Brighton to create a wonderful taproom, which then became Unbarred Brewery taproom, and Holler founder and brewer Steve Keegan moved on.

Over the intervening years, Steve, a keen footballer, got involved with Lewes Football Club. He plays for Lewes FC’s Vets team, where he met Roger Warner, a former player for Charlton’s youth squads, who had a career in technology and digital marketing but was also a home-brewer, making a batch every Christmas. Both are now LFC board members. As part of their involvement with both football and beer, one recent project they undertook was to create a “Drive Thru” beer shop at the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC’s ground, so people could safely stock up on quality, local craft brews during lockdown.

Socially driven business
The Craft Brew Drive Thru represents an ideology Steve and Roger are bringing to their new brewery, Only With Love, which I’ve just visited – back at Little Goldsmiths Farm, in a bigger space in the same former cow shed where Holler started back in 2017. With the Drive Thru, they brought together the football club, a community organisation, with several breweries. The shop itself helped raised funds for the club. As Roger says, “Community organisations need to partner with commercial organisations to make stuff happen”.

Roger is enthused by this model of “socially driven businesses”, citing Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia as among the biggest, best-known examples. Another plan they have to help raise funds for the football club is the creation of a lager, brewed by Only With Love but branded for the club, sold in the club bar and local shops. They plan to extend this model of collaboration and fundraising to other local organisations, putting “10-15 per cent” of Only With Love’s profits back into the community. They also plan to connect with the brewing community, offering help, advice and facilities to brewers wanting to expand their ambitions.

The Only With Love boys, Roger Warner and Steve Keegan

Tech specs
Only With Love’s facilities not only feature a brewery for ales and lagers, but they’re also producing kombucha and they even have their own canning line. As Steve puts it, they’ve “really upscaled the level of geek” with the new operation, with investment in analytical equipment key alongside the investment in the brewing equipment. For the latter, they have a capacity of 14,000 litres (14 hectolitres, or 85.5 UK beer barrels) in shiny brand new tanks. The plague year hasn’t had many upsides for businesses but Steve and Roger scored with their new brew kit. A Birmingham company exhibited it in March, just before the lockdown started, then couldn’t sell it for its normal £80,000 price tag. Instead, Only With Love got it for half that. It’s good stuff to boot. “It’s the best brew kit I’ve ever worked with,” says Steve.

The canning line can do 700 an hour or 1,500 litres in a day, which is comparatively slow but Steve says they can test more as a result and as such get less wastage. That analytical equipment means they have firm control over cleanliness, CO2 levels and dissolved oxygen levels (which can be problematic, affecting flavour and shelf life). At the back of the brewery is the Booch Room, where Steve is currently fermenting kombucha in 220 litre tubs, though he’ll soon be scaling up to 1,000 litre containers.

Steve and his booch

The production of kombucha makes for a fascinating contrast with brewing beer. Although both involve the management of yeasts, it’s a very different process. Steve got a bit technical for me at this point, with the sugar percentage, gravities, and how you manage both the yeast and bacteria in the mix. For those who don’t know – still – kombucha relies on a jelly-ish scoby, “symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast”, to convert sweet tea into a delicious no- or low-alcohol drink, which can be flavoured and adapted according to the inclinations of the brewer.

Steve – who says their kombucha has an alcohol level of 0.5%, “the same as a ripe banana” and therefore qualifies as a soft drink – is producing Lemon Lifebuoy, a lemonade-like pick me up, and Kickstart Kombucha, the classic. Steve’s been making kombucha for about a decade, and honed his knowledge with a trip to California, where it’s popular (naturally). When I first tried kombucha at Old Man Mountain, where I lived in New Zealand in the mid-90s, it tasted like a fizzy pear drink, but every one is different – as indeed every palette is different. Silly of me to not try some OWL booch.

Beer for the people
I have tried their initial three ales, though, and can happily report they’re of the reliable Keegan quality. Their initial offering is: Dance Every Day, a 3.8% Pale Ale; Let’s Go, a 5.7% IPA; and Love Bug 5.8%, a New England IPA brewed in collaboration with Cellar Head Brewery in the Weald. Next up, they’re going to be doing a 4.5% (ish) session IPA; a 4.5% Pilsner-style lager; and a 6% Porter style dark beer, “quite strong but easy drinking”.

Their business model is based on cans and kegs, but they will also be doing some cask. It’s a very different business model breweries launching in 2020 have had to work with. Lockdown and the plague year in general have made us change our buying habits. Breweries cannot simply pass their wares to a distributor to supply pubs and bars, instead they have to work more directly with customers. “It’s all about the customer” now, with Roger driving local deliveries around himself, or a courier taking next-day delivery orders all over the country. Within a week of launch, Only With Love beer has gone as far as Aberdeen. Roger also talks about “other non-traditional outlets” – like their own Drive Thru.

What happens next year, and whether those kegs and casks can make their presence felt in a more relaxed pub experience (I hope), is unknowable, but for those of us lucky to live in Sussex, Only With Love is another amazing addition to the remarkable brewing scene in this segment of southern England. With both my wife and my kids breaking up tomorrow, we’ll be able to relax a bit more at home, and I shall certainly be opening some more cans of Only With Love. Including these exclusives – like a hip DJ’s white label vinyl, a no label beer direct from that most dynamic of cow sheds.

Only With Love’s site.
And their Instagram.

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Only With Love new brews news

Anyone with a keen eye for British craft beer will recognise the design style of these new beers from Only With Love. It’s by Billy Mather, the illustrator who also played a key role in the branding of Holler, previously Holler Boys, the now subsumed brewery I covered here and here. The founder and brewer of Holler was Steve Keegan, previously of Late Knights in south London. Late Knights and Holler were both purveyors of very fine beer, so I was very excited to get a ring on the doorbell just now and a delivery from Roger Warner, Steve’s partner in new brewery operation Only With Love, which launched this week.

With the plague and the Brexit shambles it’s been a grim year but somehow the brewers in this neck of the woods – in and around Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, in the south of England – have been bucking the trend of social and ecomonic freefall. Not only did Danny Tapper successfully launch The Beak brewery and taproom back in August but now we’ve got Only With Love, who are offering not only fine beer but also kombucha, that mystery drink fermented from a jellyfish-like SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) growing in a sweet tea mix.

Futhermore, another great local brewing operation, Abyss, have just successfully crowdfunded to get started on a new taproom with Mexican streetfood that’s not only in Lewes, but even in my part of town, somewhere that’s been sorely lacking in drinking options since traffic-based restructuring of the town killed off its pubs and, more recently, the working men’s club. It’s really exciting, as frankly, the past few years in Lewes it’s felt like developers have been killing all the opportunities for artisans, creatives and small businesses by snapping up all the available spaces and turning them into unaffordable housing, with not a jot of thought for the shape of the community.

Anyway, I was planning to get to Only With Love for a brewery visit and proper write-up, but was hit by a vile snot-cold at the start of the week. And in this era, no one wants you sharing your germs with them, especially in a brewery – a place of carefully managed microbial activitiy – during its launch week. I’ll hopefully get there soon, so watch this space.

During lockdown and the plague year in general, I’ve been trying not to have any booze on weekdays, but I may have to crack open some Only With Love tonight.

 

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The Beak Brewery and taproom, Lewes

It’s been a tough year in many respects thanks to Covid-19, and the brewing and pub trade has taken some serious knocks. Lockdown closures and subsequent restrictions and curfews have resulted in substantial job losses and falling sales. For the big chains – Wetherspoons*, Greene King, Marstons, Fullers etc ­– sales are down about a third on the same period last year. As for already struggling independent pubs it’s not looking good for that particular cornerstone of British conviviality.

All of which makes it all the more impressive that brewer and food writer Danny Tapper successfully open a brewery and taproom in the midst of lockdown.

The Beak, based just outside the East Sussex county town of Lewes, opened its taproom just after the long lockdown eased in August 2020. We hiked over the Downs with the kids (it’s child- and dog-friendly) on Saturday 15 August and enjoyed a sunny afternoon sitting on benches in the carpark of an industrial estate, drinking Danny and brewer Robin Head-Fourman’s beers and eating food from a pop-up by Kitgum of Brighton.

Danny Tapper

“We signed a ten year lease two weeks before lockdown”, says Danny with understandable bemusement. They were setting up the brewery in March 2020, just as the country shifted into the new reality of lockdown. “It was a big leap of faith.” Not only given the pandemic, but also the fact that, after a fruitless search for a rural location for his brewery, Danny had visited “this not very inspiring industrial unit” in Cliffe Industrial Estate. Although it’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of Lewes, they had no idea if people would come, walking via a busy road (in desperate need of a toucan crossing) to an industrial unit.

The site, however, is actually rather special. On a sunny evening, the magnificent chalk cliffs behind the brewery radiate light, while gulls, corvids and even peregrine falcons wheel around. On a more practical level, as the other businesses in the estate are generally closed over the weekend, there’s room for Beak visitors to spread out, with socially distanced tables on the shop floor and in the carpark, under shelters as necessary. “A space like this has been a blessing during lockdown,” says Danny.

New brews

For anyone who knows British beer, particularly in the south of England, Lewes is renowned for its strong brewing heritage. For years the town has been synonymous with Harvey’s. The Beak offers a very different experience – a young microbrewery compared to a heritage brewery (which dates itself back to 1790); kegs and cans versus casks and bottles; a craft beer outfit versus a real ale one (though that’s painfully reductive, and personally I prefer to say “real beer” for anything not brewed by the industrial giants). But their relationship seems cordial, you can’t  argue with choice and variety and historically Lewes had a dozen or so breweries.

Most of all, Danny’s business had an agility that’s enabled it to prevail against the Covid odds.

Although the taproom offers a great social experience and enables visitors to develop a bond you don’t get when simply buying a beer from the supermarket or even a pub, 85 per cent The Beak’s business is in direct sales, mostly in the form of cans.

Danny and Robin’s output is currently from three fermenters, each able to produce 15 barrels or 2,000 litres. So a total of 6,000 litres (or 60 hectolitres), which equates to around 10,000 cans. Danny started homebrewing in his early twenties, before switching to nomad brewing so he could produce commercially. He created The Beak brand in 2016, and says previously he’d “probably do in a year what we do in a week here.”

Of the beer they brew, kegs are mostly used at the taproom and a few other local venues, like The Patch and Depot, where Danny first met Robin, who was working at nearby Burning Sky. Danny says the taproom sells about 700 pints on a Saturday. Most of the rest of the beer is shipped around the country – to London and Leeds (where Danny used to be based), Brighton, Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle. During his nomad brewing days, Danny not only worked with various renowned breweries, like North Brew Co, Partizan, Beavertown, Burning Sky and Northern Monk, he also personally drove around doing his sales and deliveries, creating a network. As a business model, it was a “great way to build a brand, but a crap way to make money.” 

Planning ahead

Danny says they’re also talking to exporters. He’s got plans. When they set up, they planned to be able to double capacity. They’ve already ordered a fourth fermenting vessel. “It is a big step for us,” says Danny “We didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.” They’re now also opening the taproom on Fridays, with the plans for  “plant-based Indian street food” on offer. On Saturdays, meanwhile, the pop-up food options will keep on changing. Danny says, “we’re mixing it up all the time”.

So while the brewery will have a core range – Lulla 3.5% session table pale, Parade 6% IPA, Strangers 5% IPA ­– Danny and Robin like to keep experimenting. As an agile microbrewery, they enjoy what Robin calls the “scope to be creative”. They “want the beers to be quite playful”. So while Danny has stepped back from the brewing, they work together on recipes. “Like any good relationship, we talk a lot,” he says. For Halloween 2020, for example, they’re using some refurbished casks from the 40s or 50s to age and inflect some Pencil, Beaks’  6% India porter.

Further ahead things get even more exciting, with Danny having ordered a concrete fermenter from Italy. Traditionally these vessels are used for natural wine making. Danny and Robin will be using them for mixed fermentation beers, an equivalent to natural wines. As they’re surrounded by the South Downs National Park, with Southerham Farm Nature Reserve on the hills above those cliffs, they plan to harvest wild yeasts and create a “mother beer” – not unlike a sourdough madre (mother) or kombucha scoby** – for blending using the Solera method.

The mother beer will be something that’s unique to The Beak, and, alongside their use of London Fog yeast, will further define the character of The Beak’s output. Realistically Danny hopes those beers will be arriving in Spring 2021. Watch this space for my coverage of The Beak’s “These Hills Sing” project. And – geographical and pandemic factors willing – try and visit The Beak taproom for a dynamic real beer and fun food experience. And if you can’t make it, order some from the site. “People always want beer,” says Danny “It’s just figuring out how to get it to them.”

The Beak Brewery
beakbrewery.com
@thebeakbrewery
Unit 14 Cliffe Industrial Estate, BN8 6JL

 

 

Footnotes

* I don’t think I’ve visited a Wetherspoons since I worked in London’s Leicester Square circa 1997. It remains a place I’ve no interest in visiting a) given the alternatives and b) given the founder’s frequent obnoxiousness, but in particular his encouragement of Britain’s absurd departure from the EU.

** Scoby means “symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeasts”. For those who still haven’t encountered kombucha, it’s a drink made by fermenting sweet tea that may have originated in Manchuria. I first had at Old Man Mountain, my New Zealand home in the mid-90s. It’s been popular in certain, shall we say, more hippy-healthfood circles for decades.

 

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Holler Brewery Taproom, Brighton

Holler Taproom Brighton

Life’s too short for bad beer. I don’t drink that much these days and when I do I want it to be something notable, preferably local. Luckily, here in Sussex we’re blessed with some great breweries. These days I favour anything that’s been brewed at Missing Link in the Weald – Unbarred, Kiln, Lost Pier and of course the excellent Beak – and Holler. I visited Holler (then Holler Boys) just as they were starting out in Sussex in early 2017. Now Steve Keegan (pictured, below) and the team have made a move to the big city, opening a new taproom just off London Road in Brighton in a fabulously converted shed. Or “two sheds with storage and squatters”.

According to Steve, they’ve more than doubled their brewing capacity with the new site, producing 150 casks a week now where in their rural site at Blackboys they were doing about 80 casks.1 He’s also joined by Gary Brandon, former head brewer of another Sussex outfit, Long Man.

Steve Keegan, Holler Taproom Brighton

The move has come about through Holler’s success and through Steve’s working relationship with Rupert Davidson and Dav Sahota, founders of Brighton pizza group Fatto a Mano. Steve knew Rupert and Dav previously but wanted to get things up and running in Sussex first. Once Holler reached a certain level in the Blackboys incarnation, they got together and came up with a business plan for the expansion. Thus the Taproom was born. Furthermore, as Fatto a Mano’s London Road branch is mere minutes away around the corner, drinkers at the Taproom can order their quality pizza.

Holler Taproom Brighton

Five vats – “the Jackson Five” – line the back wall; a mural by Billy Mather (who does the distinctive Holler branding) adorns one wall alongside; and there’s both outdoor and indoor seating, the latter at handsome yellow-topped tables, part of the design scheme by Steve’s other half and Holler collaborator Bethany Warren. The all-important bar has space up to 11 drinks. When we visited there were 10 beers, a mix of cask and keg, and one cider. I sampled about six. I already know I love Holler brews such as Fog Cutter Session IPA and Cheat Mode Pale Ale, but my new favourite is the rich, accessible Bevy Beast, a 4.2% Red Rye Ale.

Holler Taproom Brighton

Overall, it’s a great space. The open-plan layout and lack of barriers between bar and brewery are really important for Steve as his mission isn’t just to offer great beers, but to communicate about them. He says, it’s “really important for me to meet customers. To break down barriers between the beer and the customers”. Indeed, they have a motto – “Beer for all”2 though he’s also keen they operate as a “local brewery”.

Steve was understandably busy as this was their first night with a crowd, but I’ll try and ask him more about this at some stage. Personally, I prefer local as it just makes more sense. Beer is, after all, mostly water – made exciting through the alchemy of yeast, hops and sprouted grains – so transporting it around the world is madness, another of those pieces of modern human behaviour that’s questionable in an era of increasingly scary climate change.

I’m really excited about this venue. It feels looks great, feels great and offers great beer. Even the loos are a memorable experience. Steve is not just a great brewer but a canny businessman. He doesn’t rush things – a sensible policy in brewing and in business. But he did muse about a next move: perhaps Hastings, Haywards Heath or Lewes. Selfishly, I hope it’s the latter. Much as I respect tradition, we could really do with a dynamic, young, community oriented, accessible beer brand here, especially at the rate our pubs are dying. But in the meantime, I encourage anyone to get to the Holler Taproom in Brighton.

19-23 Elder Place, Brighton BN1 4GF

hollerbrewery.com

 

1 For those who don’t speak British brewing weights and measures, 150 casks is nearly 11,000 (imperial) pints or 55 hectolitres.
2 All Holler beers are also vegan. The only people excluded by this all are, presumably, teetotallers.

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The Patch beer café, Lewes

The Patch window

Anyone who knows Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, will know it’s a good beer town. Historically it’s had a dozen or so breweries, though now there’s just the stately Harvey’s left. It’s also had dozens of pubs, many of which have fallen by the wayside over the years and continue to do so, with the recent closures of The Crown Inn at the top of School Hill and the Trevor, over the hill at Glynde. So I’m pleased to report the opening of a new venue: The Patch, which has taken over the unit formerly occupied by Fillers sandwich bar opposite the Market Tower.

Lewes is a great town if you like more traditional beers, if you’re of a CAMRA bent and favour cask bitters and suchlike. Indeed, you can get some great, well-kept cask beers from several venues around town: notably The John Harvey Tavern (Harvey’s tap room), the Brewers, the Gardeners. But while the Snowdrop and even the Elephant & Castle have long offered a reasonably varied selection, the town hasn’t had a venue dedicated to craft beers.

I don’t like this traditional vs craft distinction but for convenience I’m considering craft beers as those from smaller breweries using more modern blends of hops (from the US West Coast and the Antipodes) and playing around with different yeasts, wild yeasts, fruits and other adjuncts, and aging in wine barrels. Like Burning Sky in the nearby village of Firle. I had a few bottles of theirs over Christmas, and Les Amis du Brassage, a collaboration with Fork Brewing in Wellington, NZ, featured rooibos tea, pink peppercorns, rosehips and not just malted barley but also wheat and oats. Not exactly traditional brewing. (BTW, I enjoyed some other Fork beers when we were in Wellington a few – or five – years ago.)

The Patch, Lewes

Patch, owner of The Patch, has a long relationship with Burning Sky, and in his opening line-up on his 10 keg taps, two are Burning Sky. He also has two from another Sussex brewery, Gun, as well as one from Wild Beer Co (Somerset), one Beavertown (London) and two from Wild Weather Ales (Berkshire). “The first line up is crowd-pleasing,” says Patch, and it certainly pleased me, as it’s always fun to try Wild Beer, Burning Sky is a local favourite, and Beavertown’s Gamma Ray is the quintessence of English craft beer from the past half-decade or so, a big, feisty APA replete with fab sci-fi artwork.

Patch says he plans to rotate the beers, and is sticking with kegs. This may horrify some – but it’s not like they don’t have plenty of other options in Lewes. And Patch has good reasons. One is wastage, “Particularly wastage,” he says. “Cask has a very short shelf life.” His second reason is more personal.  “To be honest, all my favourite beers are kegs,” he says, adding “I think brewers are putting their most interesting beers out on keg.” Kegging is simply a more viable option for young, smaller breweries, and it’s such outfits who tend to be more experimental.

I started with Wild Beer’s Pogo, which is one of those slightly dangerous brews that tastes like some kind of citrusy soft drink, though thankfully it’s only 4.1%. It’s a pale ale that has added passion-fruit, orange and guava. Adding fruit can make beers a bit sickly; an award-winner at the Great British Beer Festival a few years ago made with apricot juice still makes me feel a bit queasy. Thankfully this is finely done.

The Patch, Lewes

Next I had a Vermont Pale from Gun, a 4.4% New England style pale made with malted oats and wheat. It’s neither too sweet nor too bitter, despite a lot of hopping. It was OK, but a bit eclipsed by the boldness of the other beers I tried.

Drinking with my friend Alex Larman, things started to get a bit muddled as he has twice my capacity, but I also had Gamma Ray then a Curse of Threepwood from Wild Weather, a pleasingly sour 5% experience made with rhubarb and hibiscus. Love a bit of hibiscus. Had one on our balcony in Rome. I also sampled Burning Sky’s 7% Pretty Mess, another big, fruity experience.

Patch has taken years to bring this project to fruition, and I met him in his previous guise at the Snowdrop. His taste isn’t exactly in line with mine but I’m happy to report that everything we tried was good, well kept, at a good temperature, and featured some fun fruitiness and sourness. All good cheering beers for post-Christmas, the arse-end of the year in England.

Pintxos at The Patch, Lewes

Anyway, Patch says he’s been trying to get a project underway for about two years. He hoped to open at Bonfire, but things only fell into place around Christmas. He continues to use the existing facilities of Fillers, and indeed will operate as a sandwich takeaway and daytime café, as well as offering pintxos ­– the Basque equivalent of tapas – on Friday and Saturday evenings. We tried some pintxos, snacks where a topping is pinned to a slice of baguette with is cocktail stick, and they were good. I especially enjoyed the deep-fried mackerel balls with a dill dressing. It’s quite ambitious but hopefully the combination of services – snacky lunches for nearby workers and tourists, quality beers for drinkers – will take off. Bit by bit he’ll tweak the venue, starting with a “proper bar” that’ll hopefully go in this month, January 2018. I look forward to my next visit. Though I do need to work out a better rounds system with Mr Larman.

For more information about The Patch beer café, 19-21 Market Street, Lewes BN7 2NB, check out Instagram and Facebook.

The Patch, Lewes

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Welcome Holler Boys Brewery!

Steve Keegan at Holler Boys Brewery

The small East Sussex town of Lewes once had a dozen breweries. In the 19th century, these included Harvey’s, Southdown, Lyells, Beards, Verralls, Ballards, Bear Yard, Cliffe (then South Malling Steam Brewery). The latter burned down, the former still majestically dominates the centre of town – architecturally and olfactorily. All the rest are gone too. But the story of the region’s brewing reflects the wider story of Britain’s brewing.

The 20th century saw the decimation of diversity, the reduction of enormous regional variety and its replacement in pubs, largely, with interchangeable industrial lagers. A few real ales hung on, defended by CAMRA. Then, around the turn of the millennium, new ‘craft beer’ breweries began to appear; with the advent of 2002’s Progressive Beer Duty1, they started flourishing.

I don’t really like the real ale/craft beer distinction, especially as the latter has no accepted definition. But what I do like is the restoration of diversity with the emergence of innumerable new breweries. The number of breweries in the UK is now at its highest in 70 years2.

In the Lewes area, we now have Burning Sky, Gun, Long Man, 360, Isfield, among others. They were even microbrewing out of the Elephant and Castle pub and the Pelham Arms has its new Abyss Brewing operation. Excitingly, we’re getting another new brewery now near Lewes. It’s called Holler Boys, a name that’s sure to connect with the area’s Bonfire boys and girls, as it comes from a Bonfire prayer3.

Steve Keegan at Holler Boys Brewery. And wort.

Old hand, new brewery
It’s being set up by Steve Keegan, an old hand in the booze industry: he was at the forefront of setting up pubs that sold craft beer, before he borrowed £700 on his credit card and set up Late Knights Brewery in Penge, south London, in 2012. It was his night job, but Late Knights quickly became very successful, with them opening up a half dozen bars, including the Brighton Beer Dispensary. They ended up with a £2.2 million turnover. Then, in Autumn 2016, it all came to an end. While Steve’s relationship with their investor was getting difficult, he injured his head badly playing football and was laid up with labyrinthitis, barely able to talk. Steve and his girlfriend and creative collaborator, Bethany Warren, are also expecting – indeed, the baby is due this month, around the same time as the first batch of beer.

It was through Bethany, a local girl, whose father has a vineyard near Crowborough, that Steve met Anthony Becvar. Anthony’s Czech granddad immigrated here in the 1930s – “a military man who knew what was coming,” says Anthony – and starting to farm at Little Goldsmiths, near Blackboys. He’s the third generation to run the farm.

Not only has Anthony switched away from dairy to arable, he’s another example of a farmer diversifying. Farm buildings are used for all sorts these days – from soft play to brewing. Holler Boys is being set up in the building that once was used for milking, and is still partly used for storing bales. They’ve put in walls, creating the brewing space, cold room and office so far, with the latter to be fitted out to host tastings.

Brewery in a cow shed

What’s in a name?
Originally Steve planned to use the name Ironstone, a nod to the bedrock of his home turf around Middlesbrough, but also to the Blackboys area, which gets its name from the sooty faces of the charcoal burners and smelters who once toiled here. It turned out Molson Coors had it copyrighted though, and weren’t forthcoming when he tried to negotiate. Then a small backroom brewery in Staffordshire started using it too, so they found a new name. Bethany is involved in Bonfire, a member of Cliffe Bonfire Society, so would understand full well the potential local resonance of the name.

When me and my friend Alex Markovitch (of Kabak Food, who knew Steve from Penge; Steve’s also provided beer for Alex’s Festival of Jim over several years) visited in late February, Steve was busy brewing up a batch of Golden Ale. He says, “The past two months we’ve been plumbers, electricians and painters” so he was excited to now be brewing. The Golden Ale is using NZ Pacific Gem (for bittering) and Kentish Goldings (for aroma). He explained that many of the big flavour US hops favoured by craft brewers are all bought up by the big boys so he’s almost forced to innovate with the hops, malts and even the yeasts that are more available. This particular beer is based on an 1890 recipe which he found after being inspired by Peter Haydon, a director at Meantime Brewery, writer and former General Secretary of the Society of Independent Brewers, to research.

Belgian red from Holler Boys Brewery

Testing, testing
He’s also doing tests for an English IPA and a black lager, as well as planning a “crisp, easy-drinking” session IPA, 4-4.2%. Steve also gave me and Alex a chocolate milk stout and a Flemish red beer (made with Belgian yeast). I always feel chuffed to get beers from brewers even before they’ve finalised their branding4: a bottle without a label is strangely exciting. We really enjoyed the Belgian Red, a beer that has both a hoppy crispness and a warm, full body. Steve explains, “with the craft world dominated by the hop side of things at the moment, there is certainly going to be a shift into what we can do with malt and yeast. The Flemish red is my way of showing what a Belgian yeast can really do.”

I’m looking forward to seeing some of Steve’s beers appearing in the pubs of Lewes. He said the brews should be ready later this month. Initially he’ll be focussing on bottling and casks, which he plans to sell “within half an hour of here”, to places where the beer is well looked after. Down the line there’s talk of kegs, can, even venues, as that’s Steve’s background – when he started Late Knights he was running places in London, Oxford and Brighton and had been an operations manager for Fullers. But as Late Knights grew so fast, he’s keen to pace himself better this time, get the brew right, build up slowly, retain control. He says, “I’ve turned down a lot of investment… actually I want to do it myself.” Unlike with Late Knights, he even has a proper lease with Anthony for using the farm buildings.

Steve and Anthony talk about growing hops, keeping bees, and maybe even trying barley (though Anthony says, “It’s not the best ground for barley”). The farm has “plenty of space” – 200 acres (81 ha or 0.8 km2) – for such projects. Time will tell. It’s all rather thrilling, to taste these beers after having a previous acquaintance with Late Knights, then be able to sit back and see what happens next. Steve, Bethany and the baby, with assistance from Anthony, production in tanks dubbed Wayne, Long John, Jake and Ellwood, are initially aiming for 100 casks5 a week, with a range of English IPA, Golden, Session IPA and Stout.

Holler Boys tanks

 

Notes
1. Under Gordon Brown, the taxation of breweries was changed so that smaller companies paid less tax on the beer they were selling. Wikipedia gives more detail.
2. Peter Brown, in this (undated) article.
3. It comes from this verse of Bonfire Prayer. The full prayer can be found here.
“God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match,
Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!”
4. Labels etc are being designed by Brighton-based illustrator Billy Mather, billymather.co.uk.
5. There are 73 imperial pints in a cask, so 7,300 pints; that is about 37.5 hectolitres.

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Harveys’ Old Ale and the end of the summer

Rev Godfrey Broster of Rectory Ales (left), Edmund Jenner and Robin Thorpe of Harveys (behind the bar)

In my last post I mentioned it was the autumn equinox a few days ago. This is the moment when day and night are the same length. And now the nights are, officially, getting longer. We’ve had a fairly poor summer here in southern England. May and June were lovely, but since then it’s been unsettled, frequently cool. After my two and half summers in Rome, where summer generally runs from April to October, I feel somewhat cheated.

That said, there is one bright side to the nights drawing in and the prospect of dark and damp from here through to March: Harveys’1 Old Ale.

I love Old Ale. It’s quite possibly my favourite of Harveys’ 20-odd beers (I think I’ve tried them all now; nearly at least). It’s dark and sweet and warming. If a beer can be cosy and reassuring, it’s Harveys’ Old Ale. It’s a beer that’s perfect to drink in a warm pub, preferably with an open fire, on a long winter evening. Robin Thorpe of Harveys called it the “classic winter beer”, and added that as September has already turned so cool and wet it’s fine to be drinking it already. Which suits me.

We got to try the first of this year’s Old Ale at a Harveys tasting last night, hosted by Robin and Edmund Jenner. The evening was billed as a Seasonal Beer Tasting, and was a highly informative run-through of the beers – and how and why they fit with certain seasons.

A trend of the past 30 or 40 years may have seen a diminishment of seasonal beers, with many ill-informed drinkers just quaffing the same generic industrial brews all year round, but Harveys is among the heritage breweries that maintains the tradition of varying production through the year.

The evening started, however, with Wild Hop, a 3.7% ABV light ale that’s a perfect light summer drink. I mentioned Wild Hop back after my tour of the brewery in June 2014, but Edmund told us more about the gestation of this beer, which they first produced in 2004 “in response to what we now call blonde ale.”

It’s made with Fuggles and Goldings hops in the boil, then dry-hopped with English grown Cascade, which are more modest in flavour and aroma than their New World counterparts. It also contains Sussex variety hops – which are a recent domestication of a wild variety, first discovered on the Sussex-Kent border. Ed explained how most wild hops simply don’t have the qualities required for brewing, but this hybrid proved perfect.

Fran, in her usual unique way, said the Wild Hop reminded her of Sindy dolls or Tiny Tears. Something in the aroma reminded her of nuzzled dollies as a child. I can’t say I could relate; maybe Action Man smelled very different.

Harveys beer tasting

Although Harveys vary their production during the year, their main year-round brew is their Best Bitter. It accounts for about 90% of their production now. Bitter and Best Bitter are quintessential English beers, and it would be easy to imagine we’ve been drinking them here for centuries. But Ed gave us more history. Harveys’ Best wasn’t produced in 1945 (instead they brewed 75% mild, 25% pale), only accounted for 7% of their production in 1955 and 45% in 1965. Today’s Best Bitter, in fact, only “re-evolved” after the Second World War.

Two wars seriously threatened Britain’s grain supplies, with convoys from North America harried by U-boats. When grain did get here, the priority was food, not booze. So barley wasn’t used in brewing so much and what was produced had lower gravity, and alcohol by volume. Brewers were required to keep gravity low, and indeed, the wars even resulted in the introduction of licensing hours to keep the war effort population more sensible in their booze consumption. Trends and tastes in beer change – mild is way out of fashion now – but war and law have also played a significant role too.

At the end of the evening we had a blend2 of Best and the Old Ale, and it was a cracker. I may be asking for this again, see if I can help encourage some pubs to start this practice again. Blending was the norm in British beer drinking until fairly recently.

As much as I love the Old Ale, the most pertinent beer we tasted last night was the South Downs Harvest. Like the wheat sheaf in my previous post, this is a celebration of the harvest, of autumn. It’s a light, biscuity golden ale – which is made with green hops, just harvested. As Ed said, it contains “something of this year’s summer.”

Among the other beers we tasted was Armada Ale, which was first brewed in 1988 to commemorate 400 years since the Spanish Armada. Harveys are great at such commemorative brews. Among their recent ones was the fascinating Priory Ale, brewed last year for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes. I talked about this herby, historical brew here.

Last night Robin raised their Celebration Cocktail – with Priory Ale – and said it was to celebrate numerous things happening in 2015: 800 years since the Magna Carta, the birth of Anne of Cleves (who had a house in Lewes, which you can still visit, and was born 22 September 1515), 75 years since the Battle of Britain, 50 years since the development of the famed Maris Otter malt and even Harveys’ own 225th birthday.

So much history, mediated through the medium of beer. Harveys’ production of such beers encapsulate various elements of local and English history. Furthermore, as Ed reiterated, their beers get their character from their yeast, the same strain since 1957, and the water, taken from a borehole into the chalk aquifer. It’s rainwater filtered through chalk and as such has a unique mineral character. Have a pint of Harveys and that liquid is our history, our heritage and our environment. It’s a wonderful thing. With all this on offer, how anyone can drink characterless industrial beers I don’t know.

Notes
1. They’re called “Harvey’s”, though it’s more generally rendered as “Harveys” these days. Luckily, as a double possessive apostrophe is a bit painful: Harvey’s’.
2. I’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Blending beers is also out of fashion, but not at The Jolly Tanners in Staplefield, West Sussex, where Ed says they call the practice “tosspotting”. For those who don’t know this minor English word, a tosspot is an idiot or a drunkard. With “to toss” British slang for “to masturbate”. Apparently tosspot has its origins in the 1560s.

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Great British Beer Festival 2015. Some thoughts – a lot of them critical

Great British Beer Festival glass

The festival guide cover says, “The Campaign for Real Ale proudly presents…”. But one of my strongest memories from the the Great British Beer Festival yesterday isn’t of a standout ale, but of standing near the Harveys bar and handsome delivery van, chatting with Edmund Jenner (of said brewery). Beside us stood a row of an industrial-size wheelie bins. Their contents: a suppurating mix of packaging, food and dregs. There are no specific receptacles for dregs; no water for rinsing or moderating the flow either. No lids for the bins. No recycling.

Now, I’m not relishing being critical, nay negative, here and I’m very thankful to Ed for offering me a ticket to the trade day. I do wonder, however, if CAMRA needs to raise its game a bit for this festival, held annually at the fine Olympia, Kensington, west London. Oozing dumpsters, centre stage of a drink and food event: is this really the best we can do to celebrate our national drink?

Now, some commentators are suggesting that the event, and CAMRA itself, are changing fast, but I’m not sure I got a great sense of that. Sure there were some beers showing the influence of more experimental “craft” brewing (in-your-face hops, apricot juice, US beers in casks etc) but overall the vibe was somewhat tired, staid, mired in convention. Not a showcase of the best of our brewing tradition. And it’s all still very male, very middle-aged, very white to boot.

CAMRA meets US "craft" in casks

Time to move on
This becomes a thorny issue, however, as any discussion of younger beer-drinking demographics brings us to so-called “craft beer”, which the younger, or new-to-real-beer, demographics favour. The purists will dismiss “craft beer” as the product of upstart breweries that most likely keg their beers, and may even pasteurise them. The purists themselves preferring the CAMRA-sanctified virtues of live cask beers.

The Harveys bar under Olympia's fine vaulted roof

This is troubling for someone like me. I do naturally tend towards cask, most frequently drink Harveys, but I’m open to any decent beer that’s made with knowledge, passion and skill – any well-crafted beer. CAMRA’s narrow focus is depressing – especially now.

British beer culture, frankly, is in a bit of a muddle. For people like me – forty-something, neither young craft beer hipster nor aging CAMRA member – the disjunction between “real ale” and “craft beer” is largely irrelevant; for others just dipping their toe into the waters of real beer, it’s probably just confusing. CAMRA saved real beer in the dark times of the 70s and 80s; but it can move on now, surely? Great British Beer Festival should be about all great British beers*. And represent a wider spread of the populace who enjoy real beer.

National pride
As Spain, France or Italy are enormously proud of their wine culture and heritage, Britain should be of its beer.

It’s our national drink, it fed and watered centuries of British artisans and farmers, workers and traders; it was one of the key fuels of Britain as it rampaged around the globe; it was something we took to colonies and conquered countries. The latter has difficult imperialist connotations, but the point is that Britons were among the key migrants to take the craft and skill of brewing overseas: notably to America. And yet many young British brewers today look to the US “craft beer” scene for inspiration over their own extraordinary British beer heritage.

While the results can be brilliant – The Kernel, Beavertown etc – they can also be crude, with brews overly laden with high alpha hops, resulting in concoctions that are reminiscent of toilet cleaning products. Compare such a thing with the subtle, nuanced blending of British hops and malts in a Harveys ale, for example, and it can be quite shocking.

The splendid new-old Harveys van

Straddling the divide
I live in hope of encountering more British beer that straddles the gap, connects the disjointed cultures – a beer that truly balances and combines assertive hoppiness with full-bodied, warming maltiness. Oddly, I’d say I drank a few beers that fitted this description better while living in Italy – a country whose new generation of brewers happily take inspiration from the US and Britain, or Belgian, or Germany.

Yesterday, I sampled several beers from the hundreds on offer. None of them really straddled the great divide. I wish I could have sampled more, but it’d take days to drink through more, especially as the event also adheres to another frustrating convention. At the GBBF you can only order in pint, half or third measures – that is, 568, 284 or 189ml. Even the latter is a big measure if you’re not sure if you’ll like the beer in question or if you’re a drinker who wants to sample as much as possible but stay sensible and compos mentis.

Triple FFF Brewery's Pressed Rat and Warthog

A few days ago Fran managed to – boo-hoo – break one of our two glasses from the inaugural Fermentazioni beer festival, which we attended in Rome in 2013. The remaining glass is marked in 10, 20 and 30cl measures – 100, 200 and 300ml. Now, sure, a Brit may want a full pint if he or she has found a desirable drink, but I do appreciate the 100ml measure – enough to get a whiff and a taste when there are hundreds more beers on offer. What about introducing a quarter pint (about 140ml)? It’d be especially useful for those beers at 6% plus.

Sample sizes are just one of the ways that CAMRA could revise and, dare I say it, modernise the festival. As far as I’m concerned, the ideal route would be somehow overcoming the differences and enlarging the Great British Beer Festival to include not just cask beers that tick the CAMRA boxes but also the newer wave of “craft beer”. It just seems silly to have separate entities in the form of CAMRA’s GBBF and, a few days later, the London Craft Beer Festival. Surely, they’re all craft beers? I mean, what’s a traditional British brewer doing if not using his (or her) craft? I do not like the distinction.

A bit dusty, not as aromatic as hoped from the Elder Ale, by Flowerpots, from near my home town of Winchester

Sorry but…
I do not like the filthy bins. I do like lack of a small sample measure. I do not like the divided demographics: GBBF I would say was about 70/30 male; Fermentazioni was about 50/50. A wine festival I attended in Italy, meanwhile, was also very mixed age-wise – from youths to oldies, male and female equally. If Italians celebrate their wine that broadly, why don’t we do so with our beer?

Craft beerists – you need to look more to your own country’s heritage. CAMRA – you need to recognise all real beer. Enough of this absurd division! Put them all under one roof, and us consumers can pick and choose as we like. And many might even learn something, overcome their prejudices. And proudly celebrate all our brewing culture, traditional and modern, with more open arms. Oh, and please, sort out the bloody vile dumpsters!

Dumpster

* Real beers that is. Not generic industrial lager etc from semi-British owned multinationals and whatnot.

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Sardinian holiday – sun, scrub and craft beer

A beach on Isola Caprera, Sardinia. Pic: Fran Hortop

Last week we went to Sardinia for a holiday. During our two years in Rome we tried to explore Italy, but it’s a disparate, varied and not always easily connected country so we left with a long list of places we’d failed to reach. Sardinia was high on that list.

Our friend Annely recommended Maddalena archipelago in northeastern Sardinia. We plumped for it without too much agonising as it seemed to fit the bill for us – beach, some wilds, and a fairly easy journey.

The islands have a long historical association with the Italian navy, and even NATO (a US nuclear sub ran aground there in 2003; oops). There is still a navy presence there, but mostly the archipelago is defined by being a national park, and a destination for people who like to play about in boats. We don’t do the latter – instead we stuck with buses and hiking on Caprera, a largely unpopulated island to the east of La Maddalena island itself. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great unifier, had a house there, and indeed we saw his deathbed on a tour. I was more interested in seeing his windmill and forno (oven), both perched on a rocky hilltop.

Garibaldi's forno (under tree on right) and mill (left,without sails)

Pleasant surprises
After our days wandering the scrubby, aromatic macchia*, with its thickets of wild lavender, helichrysum, juniper, myrtle and cork oak and lying around reading by turquoise seas, we went back to La Maddalena port. There, we were very happy to find that one bar had beers from a couple of Sardinian craft breweries. Funny really, as this place – Bar Fiume di Serra Francesco – looked very ordinary but had the interesting beers, while a hip bar a stone’s throw away just had industrial crap beer.

One of these is Ichnusa – a lager that pertains to be Sardinian, and brewed since 1912. Thing is, these days it’s owned by Heineken, and I’d challenge anyone to really distinguish between the two, or a dozen other best-selling industrial lagers, in a blind tasting.

Macchia scrub on Isola Caprera. Pic: Fran Hortop

Real Sardo beer
The real beers we tried were from Marduk Brewery and P3 Brewing Company. All the ones we tried were excellent, and a great reminder of how exciting Italian craft beer is.

I’m enjoying being back in Britain, and having access to our dual cultures of traditional, CAMRA-endorsed, cask-dispensed real ale and lively US-influenced craft beer, but I really miss Italian craft beer. It’s such a dynamic scene, partly influenced by Italy’s food and drink great traditions, partly free of them and able to be experimental.

I love how I can drink something like P3’s 50 Nodi (“50 knots”) and not only get a whiff of the heady juniper macchia we’ve just been walking in but also get a whole long trail of heritage. It’s an Italian beer that’s called an India Pale Ale, but really it’s an IPA in part inspired by US IPAs, which have themselves evolved from the less intense older British IPAs.

The spiel on these beers is such fun too. This one says it has “high notes of caramel and intense floral, citrus and exotic fruit perfumes”. Me and Fran got pineapple and Parma Violets, among other things. Furthermore, “Il suo carattere forte deriva da una miscela di luppoli inglesi, americani e neozelandesi che vi accompagneranno in un viaggio sensoriale ineguagliabile” – “It’s strong character derives from a mix of English, America and New Zealand hops that accompany you on an incomparable sensory voyage”! Love it. (Those hops are Simcoe, Pacific Jade, Citra, Goldings.)

P3 Riff and Marduk American Pale Ale

We also enjoyed P3’s Riff, which they call a “Session White IPA” and, along with two (barley) malts also contains wheat malt, wheat flakes and oat flakes, along with four hops of US and English origin: Fuggle, Styrian Golding, Willamette and Citra. And coriander. And orange zest. All of which makes its presence felt, but in a neatly balanced mix.

Grow your own
While P3 is in Sassari, Sardinia’s second-largest city, located in the northwest, Marduk, meanwhile, is in Irgoli, in the east. Their tagline says they’re a Birrificio agricolo – a farm-brewery, or words to that effect. Another blurb in Il Fiume’s menu about Marduk says, “Le nostre birre nascono da un’accurata selezione delle materie prime che produciamo direttamente in azienda” – that is, “Our beers are born from a careful selection of ingredients produced directly within the farm/business.”

Marduk label

They grow their own barley and “diverse varietà di luppolo” (“various types of hop”) to maintain a close control on the process – and food miles. I mean, we were about 60 miles (92km) away but it was the closest craft brewery. We tried their American Pale Ale and American IPA, which were both great, though surely an APA segues into an AIPA? And surely these are uniquely Italian pale ales now anyway?

My local brewery here in Lewes, Harveys, similarly sources its ingredients locally, but this is something fairly new in Italian brewing, as hops weren’t grown there. When we left La Maddalena we had one night in Olbia, and found a bar that claimed online to sell local craft beers. They didn’t, but they did have a bottle of Nazionale from Baladin.

Baladin is the brewery that both started the Italian craft brewing scene, and the owner of the bar in Rome that introduced me to it, so it was nice to have a Nazionale – which Baladin developed to be the “first 100% Italian beer made with Italian ingredients.”

Marduk American IPA aperitivo snack

So all in all, very pleasing beer drinking on holiday. Even more so as we were back in the land of the aperitivo snack. Now back in England, we went out for a few drinks for Fran’s birthday yesterday at the Brighton Beer Dispensary and while the beers were great, the table did seem a bit bare without a plate of cheeses, salumi and breads. While Fran loved the cured meat products, I enjoyed the local Sardinian crispbread, pane carasau, sprinkled with Sardinian pecorino and melted. So civilised.

(I’ve written two more posts about this holiday: second and third.)

 

 

* In English, we use the related French word maquis for this kind of scrub. Not much point us having a word for it I suppose, as we don’t have any – it’s specifically a Mediterranean environment.

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64 Degrees, Brighton: great flavours, portion issues

64 Degrees, Brighton

We booked a table at 64 Degrees in Brighton ages ago. This 27-seat resturant opened in October 2013, but it’s taken us a while to get there. When we did, it started pretty well. They had a couple of beers from the innovative Wild Beer Co and I ordered their Madness IPA, thinking its hoppiness would be a good way of cleansing the palette between dishes. It was. It was so hoppy, and frankly American in style, I’d call it an APA. So while it’s not Wild Beer Co’s most interesting, it was a perfect accompaniment to what followed. Dishes. A lot of dishes.

Wild Beer Madness

The music is loud, the place is cramped, and I couldn’t quite hear the waitress. I beleive she suggested we should order three or four of the plates each as they’re small. Some are small – like the superb, delicate scallops with lemongrass and seaweed kale – but others are pretty substantial. The anchovies – crisp giants offset by gochujang – came by the dozen, while the venison balls were the size of golf balls, pretty dense and served on brioche, making for a hefty dish.

Venison balls, slaw, ricotta, on brioche

The result – we ordered too much and it slightly marred the experience. It also meant I couldn’t justify ordered the “Chocolate, hazelnut, hot & cold” for dessert, dammit! Never mind the fact that, along with Silo, 64 Degrees seems to be the most interesting food place in Brighton at the moment.

Anway, I cannot stand wasting food – I’d go so far as to say it was criminal. It takes a lot of energy to cultivate, transport and process fruit, vegetables, grain and particularly meat and fish, even when, as with 64 Degrees, the emphasis is on local produce. And we in an era when climate change having a significant impact on our civilisation, we need to think carefully about energy use.

Every time you throw food away you really should consider the repucussions: ethical, environmental and even financial (it costs a lot to shift stuff to the landfill. Never mind the fact that you’ve paid for the meal anyway).

So there I was trying to hoover up anything left by my companions. And I ate too much, and I felt a bit ill –  both inbody and in conscience. Which isn’t a great way to end a meal, especially an expensive meal I’d been looking forward to.

64 Degrees menu 20 November 2014

So I want to return to 64 Degrees: I like their menu, I just need to order more carefully. In the meantime, I think they need to do a bit of calibration of their portions, and when the waiting staff are talking you through the menu, they need to be honest about the difference between a fairly small plate of mackerel and a massive pile of potato knödel. These dishes are not tapas. I didn’t get the impression you could order as you go along. So if you’re going to order it all at the start, it’d be good know how much is enough.

Rare mackerel, with peanut crisps and a tomato foam

Info:

53 Meeting House Ln, Brighton BN1 1HB
64degrees.co.uk  | twitter.com/chef64degrees
info@64degrees.co.uk | 01273 770115

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