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By beerrevhay, Nov 8 2017 10:44AM

It could be the setting for some Blumenthal-inspired culinary adventure - on a table in the staff kitchen a bewildering array of ingredients is arranged strikingly against slabs of grey slate: Saffron, star anise, seaweed, a lobster. On another, a pile of young Beech leaves that might be hedge trimmings destined for the compost heap.

In fact, we’re at one of Britain’s most daringly creative breweries - and everything on the table in front of us has been deployed in their tireless pursuit of flavour.

In the four years since Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis founded Wild Beer Co, they have brewed with shellfish, mushrooms and miso paste. They’ve raised dubious eyebrows and teased palates with candied Violet petals, pink peppercorns and smoked tea. They’ve eschewed mass market appeal to champion wild yeast fermentation and barrel ageing, crafting sour ales with a depth and complexity rarely found in the UK.

It is this unswerving dedication to such seemingly niche tastes that has propelled Wild from a two guys start-up to a team of 30 with a projected turnover of £4.5m for this financial year. A £1.79m crowd-funded expansion to a purpose-built destination brewery is on the cards for 2018, and Andrew and Brett have nailed their foodie colours to the mast by opening Wild Beer bar-restaurants in Cheltenham and Bristol.

“Food has always been an inspiration,” says Andrew, fresh from a day’s filming for BBC’s Countryfile. “Brett and I come from culinary backgrounds, we love food and flavour, it’s part of everything we do. We often talk in terms of culinary principles when we create a beer.”

The duo, both alumni of Bristol Beer Factory’s brew team, struck out together after realising a shared passion for Belgian beers fermented with wild yeasts native to the Senne Valley - the Lambic sours brewed only in the Pajottenland region southwest of Brussels.

Setting up on the Westcombe dairy farm near Shepton Mallet, they drew on their own unique terroir - the natural environment surrounding their base - to develop a house yeast culture, one still used today in their Somerset Wild sour. It drinks with the crisp tartness of a craft cider or homemade lemonade, but with a subtle funk that belies its wild origins.

Stuart Winstone - one of Wild’s ‘beer people’ (“we don’t really have job titles”) - explains: “That yeast culture has been harvested from apple skins, fruit from local orchards. You could do something similar elsewhere, but you’d end up with a different beer. We isolated strains of yeast and bacteria and identified some that are only found in local Somerset cider. Location and sense of place are a massive part of our beers.”

It could be the setting for some Blumenthal-inspired culinary adventure - on a table in the staff kitchen a bewildering array of ingredients is arranged strikingly against slabs of grey slate: Saffron, star anise, seaweed, a lobster. On another, a pile of young Beech leaves that might be hedge trimmings destined for the compost heap.

I follow him through to the brewery lab, where a larder fridge houses flasks of chilled yeast vibrating on stir plates. Elsewhere, there are petri dishes streaked with yeast cultures grown from Wild’s beers.

“Traditional Belgian techniques don’t worry too much about why things happen, they’re just happy that they do,” says Stuart. “In the States, they’ll break everything down and analyse it to the Nth degree.

“Our approach is somewhere in between - we might send samples off to a lab to check everything is OK, but the focus is on getting the flavour right. We’re quite happy to embrace these wild strains and let them do their thing - why try and control them?”

Such gleeful abandon is the polar opposite of most mainstream breweries, where the focus is on quick, clean and predictable fermentation with traditional brewing yeast, Saccharomyces.

Wild fermentation looks to more esoteric critters to do the dirty work: there’s the slower-acting Brettanomyces yeast, which brings a slight tartness, with notes of fruit, spice and - sometimes - that infamous ‘wet horse blanket’ funk. Pediococcus bacteria, meanwhile, impart a deep and often earthy sourness, though sometimes not without drawbacks.

“We had a problem with one of our beers getting pedio ‘sickness’,” explains Stu. “It temporarily makes the beer thick and viscous - you have to give it time and wait for the Brettanomyces to chew it down. There’s a little pedio there in all our wild beers, often unintentionally, but we’re more than happy - it’s added a lot of positive character.”

If you hadn’t guessed it already, the other entirely out-of-their-hands factor vital to almost half of Wild Beer’s output is time - and lots of it.

While 55% of Wild’s beers are drink-fresh, crowd-pleasing IPAs, pale ales and stouts, the slow-beating heart of the brewery is the ever-growing barrel store, now complemented by five giant foudres (huge wooden vats used for maturing wine) imported from a Napa Valley winemaker. Resting in wood, Wild’s beers will age or slow ferment from as little as three months to several years.

Starting out with just one Bourbon and one Burgundy red wine barrel, Andrew and Brett now have a library of over 500 to draw upon when crafting blends like their flagship Modus Operandi old ale. The beer is chocolate and berries on the nose, with flavour notes of fig, a little tobacco, then more berry fruits all layered against an initially striking balsamic hit.

“Barrel ageing, blending, different yeast strains - all these things give us a wider palette to work with, bringing more interesting styles and flavour. They enable us to turn something everyday into something truly special,” says Andrew, cautioning that sour beer virgins should approach the style with an open mind.

“Forget you’re drinking beer, and forget about the pub. You often hear people say: ‘It’s OK, but I couldn’t drink a pint’, but they’re missing the point. Like a good wine, sours and wild beers are about slow appreciation - try pairing them with food, and drink from a wine or Teku glass. It’s not obligatory to drink a pint!”

Self-titled ‘barrel wrangler’ James Bardgett is the man charged with organising, monitoring and occasionally sampling from this barrel store sweet shop.

“We try not to taste too much because it lowers the level of the beer in the barrel and lets in oxygen,” he says, explaining that Wild’s annual Modus release begins with the oh-so-tough task of sampling beers from some 60 barrels, then painstakingly whittling them down to 26 for the final blend.

“We go for first and second use wine and Bourbon barrels. We’re looking for tannins and wine character, and a juicy, cherry sourness from the bacteria. Bourbon brings some char and warmth, and just ties it all together.

“Blending is another layer of skill, and in the same way that wine vintages differ, each new batch is slightly different from the last. It’s a very creative process - it’s an art.”

James wrestles a nail - a makeshift bung - from the face of one barrel and jets a stream of young, golden sour ale into a glass. There are notes of peach, maybe some melon, a soft mouthfeel and some gentle acidity. I’m thrilled to learn I’m drinking Wild’s base beer for this year’s Rainbow Project, which sees seven top UK breweries paired with overseas partners for colour-themed brews. For 2017, Wild are teamed with Missouri’s Side Project.

I’m curious: What else is going in the beer?

“We drew red,” says Stuart. “So it’ll be red.”

Any other clues?

But he shakes his head. “I’ve already said too much!” he laughs.

In time, all will be revealed - we just need a little patience. A virtue Wild has in spades.

This piece was originally written for Ferment Magazine.

By beerrevhay, Jul 19 2017 08:24PM

This piece first appeared in Ferment Magazine.

There was a moment - or the several moments it took to drain a one-third pint tasting glass - at last year’s IndyMan Beer Con when it seemed like a sunbeam had pierced the nightclub-like gloom of Manchester’s Victoria Baths.

I was drinking Keller Pils from Bristol’s Lost and Grounded, and after a couple of intense hours ravaging my tastebuds with murky hop bombs and barrel-aged stouts, it stood out as a beer of understated beauty. Undoubtedly, I was in safe hands.

Six months later, I’m stood in the cavernous old engineering works Lost and Grounded have made their home, marvelling at the apparent spontaneity of their arrival on the UK’s craft beer landscape. It feels almost as though they’ve blinked into existence in the same way as their northern counterparts, Cloudwater, two years ago, statements of intent written large in sculpted stainless steel.

Of course, none of this happened by accident: A long-standing fascination with European brewing history, and years of brewing experience honed over countless homebrews, tenures at Australia’s Little Creatures and London’s Camden, plus a graduate certificate in brewing and a Master’s degree in Business, have culminated in Alex Troncoso and partner Annie’s considered pairing of traditional European styles to cutting-edge, 21st century technology.

Yet it all began, inauspiciously, in the shadow of Coor’s behemothic brewing complex in Denver, Colorado, where a young Alex was studying chemical engineering, destined for a career working in oil refining.

“The university was right across the road from the brewery and every Friday afternoon we used to take what we called ‘the short tour’,” Alex laughs, “Up the back stairs at the end of the brewery tour, and straight into the bar for a free beer. They didn’t really care.”

Mass market market lager is far removed from the unfiltered German and Belgian-influenced beers that make up Lost and Grounded’s core range, but Alex’s journey to the craft side began with homebrew experiments devising American and English pale ales, taking influence from the first US craft boom and the new breweries springing up around Colorado.

For his 21st birthday, he celebrated with a keg of the now legendary Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, special-ordered through his local bottle shop. His interest in beer blossoming, Alex began to ponder how he might turn his passion into a career.

He says: “I realised a lot of the guys who worked in some of the bigger breweries had backgrounds in things like engineering, or chemistry, or microbiology, and I thought maybe this was a job I could actually do.”

Returning to his childhood home of Australia, (Alex was born in Guatemala to a Chilean father and American mother) he was stonewalled by the big beer duopoly of Fosters and Lion Nathan, and it took several fruitless years knocking on doors to land a job brewing.

“Part of that job involved making cream liqueur, putting all sorts of different emulsifiers, flavours and creams through homogenisers. After so long trying to break in, it was pretty soul destroying,” he chuckles.

But just six months later, he and Annie were on the move again, relocating to Fremantle in Western Australia where Little Creatures had noisily established themselves as the nation’s craft beer upstarts. Thrown in at the metaphorical deep end of their harbourside brewhouse, Alex quickly learned to swim, and over the next eight years helped steer the company through a series of expansions that saw their output increase ten-fold to 10 million litres per annum.

By 2013, when the couple pitched up in London for Alex to take the Brewing Director job at Camden, he was well acquainted with the demands of larger scale brewing, and also the German-built Krones Steinecker kit he would later use to equip Lost and Grounded. It meant that when he and Annie decided to make the leap to brewery founders, they were well positioned to leap big, to do it once - and do it right - from the outset.

Remembers Alex: “Annie said, ‘It’s now or never, and if we’re doing it, we’re doing it properly’.”

Ploughing in their life savings, and bringing in old Little Creatures comrades as silent partners, they put together the fully-automated Krones plant, a precision set-up defined from the outset by the very specific styles of beer Lost and Grounded have chosen to create.

In a scene largely dominated by hop-laden pale ales and IPAs, the decision to make their signature brew a Kellerbier - unfiltered, hazy pilsner - might seem like commercial suicide. But in fact, it is the heartfelt, liquid embodiment of the company’s founding principles.

Alex explains: “We started with a clear vision of the kind of beer we wanted to make. We knew we wanted certain technology to help us deliver quality, and to be surrounded by a diverse and energetic team.

“At seven months in we feel that we have a solid team as a great foundation to build upon. We’re a living wage employer, and eventually we want everyone who works here to be a shareholder, and for them to help us establish a nice regional brewery.

“I remembered going to a hop harvest in Tettnang a few years ago. I hadn’t really thought much about unfiltered beer until then, but I was drinking this Kellerbier - it was rich and slightly resinous and I was struck by how good it was.

“So we thought, why not do everything unfiltered - raw - and do a Keller Pils? Maybe we’ve made life harder for ourselves by picking leftfield brewing styles, but I like the challenge of making lager, because it’s really quite difficult! It needs time, and love.”

Achieving the same depth of flavour of kellerbier meant borrowing from the style’s originators, who use sour malt and lactic acid to reduce the pH of their wort, creating a more refined, embedded hop bitterness.

At Lost and Grounded, an in-house lactic acid plant inoculated with lab-isolated bacteria from Weihenstephan delivers a constant supply, and a little is added to every brew to tame Bristol’s hard water.

Says Alex, 42: “Good beer is a combination of a lot of things. To be honest, we're all using similar ingredients, so it's all about the little nuances of individual breweries, and the techniques they use. That’s what makes every brewery unique.”

Their interest in European brewing traditions piqued, Alex and Annie looked to Belgian styles to complete the brewery’s opening line up. Hop Hand Fallacy borrows techniques from wit, or ‘white’ beer, and is gently spiced with coriander and bitter orange for a citrus and floral nose. No Rest for Dancers is secretly a Belgian dubbel masquerading as a red ale. It is ripe with fruity yeast esters but the style’s often cloying malt profile has been deftly side-stepped with the judicious use of dextrose. And Apophenia, their new Belgian-style tripel, is oily and fragrant, again dosed with that perfect pairing of coriander and bitter orange.

Says Alex: “The concept of balance and drinkability has been drummed into me since those early days at Little Creatures - and that doesn’t necessarily mean simple, it just means everything is in its right place.

“With our beers, you can either think about them, or not think about them - which is perfect. If everything is in its right place, you can just drink a beer and enjoy it, but if you want to go a little deeper you can give it some thought and start deconstructing it.”

The same applies to Lost and Grounded’s ‘friendly and curious’ - as Alex puts it - approach to branding.

Eschewing the highly-stylised, graphic design of many new wave breweries, Annie - the brewery’s creative lead - plumped for an illustrative slant. The brewery’s hippo and globe logo is emblematic of their outlook and personality.

“It’s a humble creature,” says Alex. “It’s not like the rockstar of the animal kingdom, the hippo just gets on with his day. But he’s also a bit of a dreamer - if you work hard enough you can carry the world.”

He sums up their ethos in a couple of words, recalling a recent visit by Colorado’s Odell Brewing and being overwhelmed by the kindness and openness of founders Doug, Wynne and Corkie.

“Be nice,” he says before joking: “But maybe I do need to get a bit more bastard in me!”

By beerrevhay, Mar 1 2017 11:34AM

There’s no better way to toast Wales’ patron saint than with a glass, or a few, of Welsh beer. Traditional breweries abound, of course, but Wales is noisily playing its own part in the craft beer renaissance, staking its claim on the demand for flavour-packed, inventive exciting. Here’s our guide to the little guys making a splash in Wales’ beer world. Iechyd da!

Crafty Devil (Cardiff)

What started out as a two-man band operating from a B&Q garden shed is now a 2000 litre-a-week brewery employing nine people, but the next step in Crafty Devil’s journey will take more than the incendiary ambition of founders Rhys Watkins and Adam Edinborough. Currently they’re sending all their beer to contract canners for packaging, but they have a long term goal to get their music-inspired brews to their adoring fans quicker and fresher by installing their own canning line. In the meantime, they’ve expanded production and moved premises to a shiny new brewing facility.

Seren (Pembrokeshire)

Small scale brewing is a license to experiment and as Wales’ smallest outfit, Seren has that freedom in spades. Operating from a converted scullery deep in the Preseli hills of Pembrokeshire, brewer Ali Kocho-Williams has reaped accolades for his legendary Bluestone IPA, but the slow-beating heart of Seren is its sour beer and barrel aging programme. Ali cultures his own house strains of beer-souring critters, resulting in wild ales with unusual depth and earthy complexity. In June, Seren will be representing Wales at Italy’s Arrogant Sour Festival and Ali plans to build on his success in barrel aging by releasing a sour brown ale aged in the UK’s only maple barrel.

Tiny Rebel (Newport)

Tiny Rebel’s roughed-up bear comes of age this month, cementing five whirlwind years of success with a £2.6m expansion to a brand new brewery and event space with the capacity to produce 5 million litres of beer a year. They’ve already christened the new facility with the release of their first canned beers, but despite the innovation and investment in new packaging technologies they plan to keep a foot in the old school: while other craft breweries have called time on the production of cask beer, Tiny Rebel have pledged their allegiance to traditional dispense by expanding their cask range.

Geipel (Conwy)

In a scene largely dominated by US-inspired, hop-forward pale ales and IPAs, Geipel stands out as a beacon of European brewing tradition, drawing on German lagers and Hefeweizen for influence. Ohio-born founder Erik Geupel is on a mission to rescue lager’s reputation from the bland offerings of the big-beer, macro breweries, and his hazy, unfiltered and unpasteurised brews are a lesson in just how flavoursome this style can be given the right care, ingredients and attention.

Lines Brewing (Caerphilly)

Fully recovered from the bruising demise of Celt Experience, former head honcho Tom Newman is back with a new project focusing on high-end, experimental brews with a strong Belgian influence and aimed at the most discerning beer connoisseur. Caerphilly-based Lines has had an impressive start, bagging best new Welsh brewery and best Welsh beer for their imperial stout at the annual Ratebeer awards in the States.

Buy Welsh beer online

By beerrevhay, Dec 14 2016 08:09AM

September saw us with our journalist hats on, this time on commission for Ferment magazine and reporting from the judging session for the annual National Homebrew Competition.

This is the UK’s premier comp for amateur brewers, organised by Ali Kocho-Williams of Welsh nano-brewery Seren.

We learnt loads about homebrewing, but - more importantly for anyone who likes a bit of shiny - we came away with a steaming mashtun full of insights on how to do well at the National.

You can download the full piece in PDF format here, but in the meantime here’s three tips for would-be homebrew heroes.

Style guru

The national is run along Beer Judges Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, which means judges are essentially ticking boxes as they assess beers against established style criteria. It’s not ‘do I like this beer?’, it’s ‘does this beer meet the style guidelines’. So - read up on the styles and their characteristics at the BJCP website, sample a few classic examples and try to emulate the best of the best.

Don’t be clever - be smart

Clever, tricksy beers can sometimes struggle as they often involve merging or straddling styles. A mango IPA is both an IPA and a fruit beer in BJCP competition terms - but it can only be entered in one category and might not push enough buttons in either to do well. The overall winner in September was a straight-up Munich Helles. No bells, no whistles - just very well done and to style.


One way of improving your chances of taking home a medal is to look at the odds. In BJCP comps, first, second and third gongs are dished out to category winners. In this year’s contest, your American-style pale ale would have been up against 34 other entries, giving you a roughly one in ten chance of placing. In a less popular category such as Strong British Ale, you’d have been duking it out with just six other beers - giving you an almost one in two chance of winning a medal!

By beerrevhay, Sep 17 2016 12:54PM

Omnipollo // Beavertown // Dugges // Magic Rock & more…

Multiple new beers have hit the shelves at Beer Rev HQ - here’s the lowdown:

From our fave Bristolians, Wiper and True, we have Bread Pudding - a rich amber ale brewed in collaboration with Toast Ales using surplus bread. Brandy-soaked currants, cinnamon and vanilla are in the mix as well - emulating the classic British dessert, in liquid form!

We’ve also got Wiper’s new Citra pale ale, with bold citrus, mango & papaya flavours.

New cans from Huddersfield’s Magic Rock have landed. Inhaler is a juicy pale, perfect for quenching your Indian summer thirst. Meanwhile Rapture is a hoppy red - full bodied with aromas of grapefruit and pine, and a pithy orange flavour.

Omnipollo are back with Fantamorgana, an 8% double IPA, naturally cloudy and double dry-hopped for bags of flavour.

Their fellow Swedes Dugges are making a debut on our shelves with Tropic Sunrise - a sour fruit ale with mango, pineapple and raspberry - and Orange Haze, a US-style IPA loaded with citra, cascade and columbus hops for a sweet, citrus aroma and orangey taste.

From US stalwarts Stone we’ve got Mocha. We’ve heard great things about this beer - a double IPA with coffee and cacao - and it scores a whopping 98/100 on Ratebeer!

Morello Theory from Bristol crew Good Chemistry is back in stock - this is a rich and decadent dark ale aged on Morello cherries. Very moreish!

Fresh goods from Beavertown in the form of Lupuloid - this brand new addition to their core range is a straight-up, no messin’ IPA. Also back for a second time around is their collab with Boneyard Beer - Bloody Notorious, a blood orange Double IPA. If you missed it earlier this year, jump on the DIPA train and get some liquid sunshine in your face.

Brand new cans are in from London’s Brodies Beers. These guys were one of the original innovators and they’re not afraid to move with the times. It’s the Old Street pale ale and Jamaican Stout from them.

Finally Pressure Drop are back with a re-brew of their ENZ Southern Hemisphere IPA. 330ml of New Zealand-hopped awesomeness at 7.1%

semi trans ivan