A trip to Old Blighty – by Brewmaster Dean

I returned last week from England where I brewed Shipwreck at the Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire. This piece is a collection of ramblings about the experience and some observations of the beer scene there.

You did what? 

Brewed Shipwreck IPA at the Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire for the Wetherspoon pub chain. Wetherspoons are massive, with almost a thousand pubs across the UK. They are huge supporters and buyers of English cask-conditioned ale, and have probably done as much as CAMRA to promote and maintain traditional ale brewing in the UK. Twice a year they run an international ale festival where they invite a group of overseas brewers to partner with traditional ale breweries to create real-ale versions of their flagship beers. These are then distributed to all of the Wetherspoon pubs, where punters can enjoy a range of unique beers brewed exclusively for the group. What a great concept. Myself and nine other brewers from Brazil, South Africa, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the US were each tasked with brewing our signature beer using UK hops only. In hindsight, one of our Heritage beers such as Race Rocks or Keepers would have been easier to reproduce, but I’m confident that Shipwreck 2.0 will drink well all the same. The festival begins next week, and although I’d love to hop back over for a weekend and share a pint with the Wychwood lads, the time and expense are hard to justify. Below is a link to the festival program; if you’re in the UK soon, track down a pint of Shipwreck at your local Wetherspoon pub. http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/static/pdfs/admin-generated/podium/ale-festival-october-13-204.pdf?t=1425574021

 

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Shipwreck fermenting at Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire

 

The beer there is warm and flat, right?

Yes and no. Traditional cask-conditioned ale, or real-ale, is run into casks flat, but undergoes a period of secondary fermentation and conditioning before being tapped. The carbonation level is much lower than we would generally see here, and is often lowered again by the cellarman before being served, by hammering in a porous soft spile. Dispensing equipment and cellars tend not to be refrigerated, and the ones I wandered through seemed to be around 10-12 degrees C. I enjoyed drinking the beer like this, but we did encounter a lot of beer that seemed under-conditioned to me, or just plain faulty. The brewer takes a big risk by sending out beer in a partially completed state, and has to rely heavily on the publican and the cellarman doing the right thing. You can certainly appreciate the attraction of keg beer, as it arrives at the pub cold, carbonated and ready to serve in a state that the brewer intended. Indeed the new wave of small craft brewers seem to have largely ignored cask ale and have adopted kegs instead.

 

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Barrel Cellar at The Kernel, London

 

How’s the craft scene?

It’s going crazy. The current demand for small, flavoursome, craft-brewed beers seems to be a global thing. Traditional ale brewers in the UK are facing a real challenge, as their equipment and techniques are not particularly flexible, and don’t lend themselves to the production of the range of beer styles that drinkers are looking for these days. Yeast strains for example tend to be selected by traditional brewers for their mechanical behavior rather than the contribution they make to the flavour of the beer. Keeping different yeast strains isolated from one another would be almost impossible with open-topped fermenters and yeast brinks. Indeed Shipwreck 2.0 was brewed with the Wychwood house strain, which is a good one, but I would have liked to have used its regular yeast as it’s central to the beer’s character.

Walking into the newer craft breweries, you’ll see a lot more of the modern equipment and techniques that we are familiar with. There’s a strip in the London suburb of Bermondsey where a whole bunch of small breweries have set up in railway underpasses. It’s an easy walk between them and most have taprooms open on the weekends. I was particularly impressed with The Kernel, and the beers from Four Pure and Partisan were great too. Here a link to breweries in the area for when next you’re in London. http://www.londonbeerguide.com/article.php?ID=bermondsey . In addition to these, be sure to check out Camden Town Brewery which is headed up by my mate Alex. Really awesome craft beers that you’ll find all around London. Also in London, you absolutely must pay a visit to the Euston Tap for a snapshot of what’s going on in local craft beer. A tiny little converted gatehouse, the Euston Tap will have you scratching your head in bewilderment as to why in BC we are forbidden to have cool bars like this. http://www.eustontap.com/ Other great drinking holes include the magnificent pub The Cross Keys, a flagship Wetherspoon pub fashioned from the former Lloyds of London HQ, and The Rake, a quirky pub near London Bridge with walls scrawled with the names of visiting brewers. Look closely and you’ll find the names of Gary Lohin from Central City, Jason Meyer from Driftwood, and Yours Truly from Lighthouse!

Cheers, and drink upstream from the herd,

 

Dean