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TRCH The Da Vinci Code

Castle Rock's Head Brewers

9 October 15 words: Shariff Ibrahim

We had a chat with a couple of blokes who know their hops. You won't find any fake Australian-branded bubbles around here, chaps

How long have you both been with Castle Rock?
Adrian: When I joined in 2004, it was Tynemill. The brewery was in its second phase, the first phase being what we call a 7-barrel plant – a brewer’s barrel is 36 gallons. Then they installed a 25-barrel plant alongside it, brewing two or three times a week.
Dan: I started working in the Vat and Fiddle, and got my foot in the door by badgering people – well, Adrian – until he caved. I was working in the pub during evenings and weekends, and in the brewery during the day, cask washing and racking. Eventually the opportunity arose in the brewing side, so Adrian said, “Well, you understand the principles, we’ll train you up.” That developed into my role with Traffic Street.

How is the Traffic Street Specials arm different to Castle Rock’s traditional ales?
Dan: It’s the more experimental side, a way into the craft market. They were saying upstairs that they wanted to get more involved in that and saw me as a young, enthusiastic, budding brewer. Castle Rock have a long-standing reputation of producing high-quality, traditional ale, so for them to turn around and say, “Do what you want with it”, was a great opportunity.

Is it down to a pragmatic approach, noticing changes in the market and adapting?
Adrian: You can’t sit on your laurels and think, “We’re doing well. That’ll do us for the next twenty years.” You’ve got to be responsive. We don’t see it as jumping on the bandwagon – we’re passionate about the product we put out. The pub side of things has been traditionally cask beer-led, and there are new markets opening out. You can’t rely on one group to sustain the pubs, you’ve got to give a broader appeal.
Dan: You’ve got to be prudent in terms of markets changing with age, as well. People are coming up, and people are dropping off the end. If you’re going to look after the longevity of the business, you’ve got to adapt to those changes in taste. It’s great to shake things up a bit.

Is the brewing process the same for craft beer as it is for traditional ale, lagers and the like?
Adrian: It is. The foundation of it is malt, which provides all the sugars. Hops, again, come in different forms. You can add them at different stages to give different hop characteristics to the beer. You can also add various flavourings and herbs and spices at any time in the process. So the backbone of the beer is the same.
Dan: In terms of different styles, like for lagers, it’s a case of altering the temperature and length of storage. It’s just adjusting the parameters.

What makes a really good-tasting, balanced beer then? Or is it too subjective to agree on?
Dan: [to Adrian] Do we not agree?
Adrian: We do sing from the same hymn sheet. There are certain flavours we don’t want in our beer. By and large, most brewers would recognise those. We also have a very exacting audience immediately next door, in the punters at the Vat, and I’ll know sooner rather than later if something isn’t right with the beer.

For someone who doesn’t really drink beer, or is completely new to it, what kind of beer would you suggest as a good entry point?
Adrian: Some beers tend toward a sweeter, more rounded character, some are a bit sharper, more bitter, quite clean-tasting. That’s the great thing about beer – there’s a range of flavours so anyone would eventually find a beer to suit their taste.
Dan: Certain people say they only like dark beers, and certain people say that if it’s not pale and hoppy, it’s not for them. When I was working behind the bar, I always used to describe Harvest Pale as a good gateway beer from lager. Going straight onto a heavy stout might shock you, but I'd say get on the weirdest, most extreme thing you can find, then work backwards.

Talking of Harvest Pale, that’s now stocked in pubs and supermarkets all over the UK. Does that put a lot more strain on you?
Adrian: Installing a forty-barrel brewing plant – we went from 7, to 25, to 40 – in 2010, at the same time as running a small brewery was a big strain. However, it came at the right time, when Harvest Pale started going further afield in larger volumes. The brewery is running well, but we're never complacent – you’re constantly vigilant about maintaining quality and consistency. A continual challenge, but great satisfaction.

What have you got coming up? Some Christmassy specials?
Adrian: The drinking trend in winter favours the heavier, darker beers. We’ve got a pumpkin porter coming out, and Dan’s stout will be coming out too.
Dan: The Little Bitch, a 10% stout, is definitely a winter warmer. Because of the ABV, the run is even smaller – there’ll only be about three brewers’ barrels. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s one of the most difficult ones to brew – it’s about a fourteen-hour brew day. To get 10% out of it, you need bucketfuls of sugar. I said to Adrian, “What’s the maximum ABV we can produce?” and he said 6%, so I was like, “Right, I want to double it.” He ripped his hair out. A lot of people who produce high ABV stuff will dump sugar in. If you use nice sugar, it’ll taste nice, but this is all malt. We’ve got a beer/wine hybrid coming up too, which should be a lot of fun to drink. Brew some beer, stick some wine must in it, brew some wine in some beer – you’ve got yourself a beer/wine hybrid.

Castle Rock website

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