Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To Holmfirth and Beyond - A Chat With Summer Wine Brewery

Keeping it local (locale?) and staying in Holmfirth, I've had the pleasure of having a quick chat with James Farran, head brewer at Summer Wine Brewery. This little outfit have big ideas, and that's a quality I really like about new breweries - a sense of adventure. Whether it's creating a relatively large core range of nine beers rather than the usual three or four, or devoting this summer to IPA, there's a questing nature underneath underneath it all that certainly comes through in their beers, which take usual styles and simply make it their way. This sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but in my opinion, too many breweries tread the same path. Anyway, I'm rambling: I'll let James do the talking.

Leigh: Summer Wine - tell me how it started.
James: Good question. Well, I was set on the track as a brewer around 9 years ago when I had one of those beer epiphanies, you know when you drink a beer and it changes everything you thought you knew about beer. I was 18 and the beer was Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Bros; it was malty, spicy, slightly sweet & extremely well balanced - it instantly changed my ideas of what beer could be.

To cut a long story short, I decided to start homebrewing – first, those dodgy syrup kits & eventually full grain mash. I brewed over & over honing my skills as I went, learning all the time about mash temps, pH, sparge temp, hopping, yeasts etc. & how they all can affect the finished product. Many brews followed. I then decided I wanted to brew commercially as what I was brewing was very well received. I wanted a brewery with a name that was synonymous with its location & as I lived close to Holmfirth what better than Summer Wine? So I incorporated Summer Wine Brewery Ltd & trademarked the company name.

I brewed on a small half barrel plant for two years, until I ran into Andy Baker (Summer Wine MD) & another one of our directors at our place of work. I wanted to take the brewery to the next level & Andy was looking for an opportunity to blood himself in the business world after he had graduated - and never one to shirk a challenge, he put his money where his mouth is and jumped in. Everything then moved very quickly we had premises and a working brewery within 6 months (would have been quicker if not for brewery equipment lead time.) Nearly 2 years on the brewery is in huge growth, the beers are well received far and wide & we have some exciting plans for expansion in the pipeline.

Who, or What is your motivation to brew? Where do you look for inspiration?
My motivation to brew comes from lots of sources. I have heard it said that ‘brewing is in your blood’ & when you’re in this industry brewing just feels right and when you have the passion for brewing you don’t feel like you have a job and it’s easy to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes the motivation can come from drinking a great beer or opening and fresh pack of a new hop variety - or maybe even a blog debate (At least we're good for something - Leigh). Inspiration is everywhere.

My favourite SW beer is Helios - a fruity, spritzy blonde that's massively sessionable. Can you give me the lowdown on some more of your core range - and what's your favourite?
We believe choice is a right, not a privilege, and that is why we have a core range of nine ales. Our range carries all styles from Dambusters Dark Mild (3.5%abv) a true mild, Invictus Copper Ale (4.5% abv) our take on a Bitter with punch, up to Apache American Pale Ale (5.2% abv), my personal favorite is Teleporter (5.0% abv) our ten-grain porter that is subtly fruity & chocolatey, with real depth & class. It’s a really great dark ale.

What's your favourite non-SummerWine beer?

Oooh that’s a tough one, so many great beers in the UK & the world for that matter. I’m a great believer that there is no such thing as a great beer only great gyles, however my favourite cask ales being brewed at the moment would have to be Marble Pint & Thornbridge Jaipur - but I am also a huge fan of dark ale as a style. My favourite bottled beer would have to be the Brewdog/Stone collaboration, Bashah.

Project 6 - what's it all about and what can we expect? Project 6 is our new monthly released IPA at 6.6% abv. The first was released at the beginning of June and the start of every month thereafter. The 6 beers will all be Pale IPA’s that showcase the world’s best hops; six varieties in each brew, kettle, aroma & dry hopped to create intensely fruity beers that have real balance despite the huge amount of hops going into each brew,

You can expect each beer to be different from the last in that bitterness levels will change from brew to brew and some interesting dry hopping with some more unusual hops will give the beers an individual character. IPA’s are at the forefront of such an exciting brewing scene at the moment & it is really a pleasure to turn our hand to a series of them.

Apart from Project 6, what else is on the horizon in 2010?
We currently brew two monthly specials to accompany our nine core ales, which vary in style. We also have some very exciting ideas in the pipeline for this year and beyond; without revealing too much one project will include the fusion of two styles whilst another will involve some interesting aged beers.

And finally....You've got one day off this year - how do you spend it?
Probably spend the day sat in a old chesterfield reading some of the ever increasing pile of books waiting for me, mainly factual things regarding evolution, physics & cosmology whilst drinking a selection of the world’s finest bottled beers… heaven!

So there you go. Brewers by day, Science buffs by night. P6 Brew #1 certainly hit the spot: amber in colour, with a sweet, caramelly body, it delivered a green, grassy, slightly herbal hop bite thanks to a mix of Ahtanum, Willamette, Herkules and Liberty - and two secret hops - that increased on the sip. The balance between the body and the hops was spot on - although James warns that P6 Brew #2 is even better. Keep an eye out for it.

1 comment:

Leigh said...

Guys - apologies - I accidentally deleted those comments! Re: teleporter - not had it yet, but SW are now on the rader, as far as I am concerned. Mark - mostly up north at the moment, Foley's in Leeds is a good bet - but will speak to the guys and find out how south they go.