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Meet the Two Notts Students Breaking into the Brewing World

19 June 17 interview: Shariff Ibrahim

Ashley Wadeson and Dan Boxall don’t do things by halves – more like by the gallon. As the two MSc Brewing Science students prepare to launch their new collaborative beer with Black Iris Brewery as part of their course, they tell us more about probably the coolest dissertation project in the world, why they’re a hit at house parties, and their plans for beery world domination…

Tell us a bit about your background…
Ash: I hail from Leicester originally; that little stain you see on a map, just a bit below Nottingham. An adolescence of being an insufferable swot got me into Nottingham Uni; the good people of Notts got me out of being an insufferable swot.
Dan: I grew up in rural Bedfordshire, a place so stuck in the seventeenth century that Agriculture was a compulsory subject at school. Still, I escaped north, pausing in Leicester for a few years before pootling further up the road to Notts.

What did you study before your MSc in Brewing Science?
Ash: I studied Medicinal and Biological Chemistry right here in Notts, by which I mean I sat in the pub for four years, cried whenever anyone asked me about my future, and did just enough work to allow me to stay on, so I could go back to crying in the pub.
Dan: I went to Leicester to study Genetics. That’s right, I have in-depth knowledge of how to manipulate DNA. I could have made the X-Men come true, but we all know how that’d turn out.

Why did you choose to take this particular course?
Ash: Navigating this messed-up journey we call life is a thousand times easier with a jar of beer in your hand. I want to be the guy that fills that jar.
Dan: Genetics is great, but what has it done for us lately? I figured it was time to move into the real world and learn how to do something useful. I get to use my undergrad knowledge to make lovely, refreshing beer. Who wouldn’t want to get in on that? And learning all about it at a renowned institution – the International Centre for Brewing Science (ICBS) at the University of Nottingham – is just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Is it quite practical, or more theory and coursework-based?
Ash: It’s a bit of everything. The ICBS is based out in Sutton Bonington and we have a bunch of lectures on everything from the chemical structure of barley starch to how the alcoholic drinks market is shifting in today’s world. It’s all very useful and interesting, but you can’t be a brewer without knowing how to brew and so we get a whole load of hands-on experience. We can use the onsite nanobrewery and brew forty pints of whatever we fancy, or we can use the Braumeisters and Grainfathers (fancy home-brew setups) and tinker with recipes at our leisure. You’d think that telling a gang of students that they can make as much quality alcohol as they please is asking for chaos but you learn a lot from doing, and we do a lot.
Dan: They leave no stone unturned on this course. Practical brewing knowledge, theoretical underpinning, an army of guest lecturers from the brewing industry, and visits to breweries, malthouses and the like. There’re a lot of steps and a whole load of people involved in taking a plant, growing it, and using the grains to make a beer. We’ve got knowledge of the whole lot, which is pretty sweet.

As a student, shouldn’t you be more interested in buying as much Frosty Jack’s as your budget will allow?
Ash: Good Lord, no. It’s not about spending £2 and still managing to wake up in a hedgerow, covered in god-knows-what, with your underwear wrapped round your head any more. We have more choice now, and we’re choosing to buy things that we can drink without pinching our noses.
Dan: Absolutely not. We’re brewing students, how do you think our peers and lecturers would treat us if we were seen chugging that stuff? We’d be ostracised, cast out, forced to live a life in exile like outlaws of old. Actually, that sounds quite tempting...

We bet you’re popular guests at house parties though...
Ash: When I start talking about the pros and cons of different approaches to beer filtration, people tend to get this murderous look in their eyes. But I tell you what, the guy who turns up with some delicious homemade IPA, and enough of it to share, is a darn sight more popular than the guy who turns up with a six-pack of cheap lager and uses it as a stool to make sure no one else gets their grubby hands on it.
Dan: House party? Who’s having a house party? Why wasn’t I invited? I haven’t been to one for ages. Last time, I had a great time: I waltzed in, looked around, and immediately started criticising everyone’s chosen drink. Can’t imagine that’s anything to do with this dry spell though, I was a hoot.

Do you think young people are a lot more discerning in their beer tastes now?
Ash: Most certainly. We have an uncertain future: rising rents, little prospect of home ownership, and an ever-increasing chance that we’ll have to work until our hearts stop beating. All we can do is make the best of what’s left, and if that means rejecting swill in favour of something more tasty, then you can be sure we’re going to grab hold of the best thing on the bar and hold on tight.
Dan: It’s all about choice. Our parents and our grandparents drank whatever was available but our hands aren’t forced like that. There’s a world of innovative, magical brews out there, ripe for exploration, so why wouldn’t we be picky?

And what do you think to the current real ale and craft beer scene in Nottingham?
Ash: It’s fantastic. I’ve been to other towns and cities around the UK to sample their offerings, and nowhere compares to what’s going on in Notts. If you want something naff, you have to go looking for it; the good stuff is a given. Loads of people in Notts have put a lot of time and energy into making sure that their bars are the best they can be and it’s paying off. Only downside: it’s hard to choose a local when everywhere is so good.
Dan: I can echo that. You have this bunch of energetic landlords and pub staff, and you can tell they really care about what they’re serving. It’s made for a collection of outstanding watering holes, and the atmosphere is really special.

What are your all time favourite beers?
Ash: You may as well ask me who’s going to be the next president of Zimbabwe, it’d probably be easier to answer. There’s a ton of great stuff out there, picking a favourite would be like deciding which of my limbs is the most important to me.
Dan: I’ll always have a soft spot for honey beers. But nothing can top finding a beer you’ve never had before and it being delicious, zingy and tantalising. So, my all-time favourite beer would have to be the one I’ve just had.

You’re currently brewing up a beer with Black Iris – can you tell us more about that?
Ash: This whole thing is mine and Dan’s dissertation project. There’s a heap of history behind it: to start with, a group of brewing students from Heriot Watt in Edinburgh would design and market a beer that they’d brew with Stewart Brewing.  That’s been an annual thing for eight years now and when this course was set up at the ICBS, the idea was picked up and developed here too. So last year, it took the form of Zerogravity, where a group of Notts brewing students designed a delicious altbier – Alternate Universe – and brewed it with Castle Rock, and launched it in pubs around Nottingham last July. The project has now morphed into Cuckoo Collaborative and this time, there are two teams: us, brewing with Black Iris and going by the name of Cuckoo Collaborative with Black Iris; and the other team, Cuckoo Collaborative with Dancing Duck brewery.

Dan: Ash knew the guys at Black Iris already and when he introduced me to them, we just clicked. They’re total pros but they know how to have a laugh as well. A beer you make is like your baby, and you can only bring yourself to brew it on good quality kit, with people you trust. Black Iris ticks those boxes for me, and the beer they put out is second to none. I just hope that our beer will meet their high standards. Choosing which beer to make came out of some pilot brews, plus the responses to some questionnaires we put online and in bars around Notts. It’s going to be a Lime and Coriander Hefeweizen (German wheat beer) called Laima’s Luck – named after a Baltic goddess of fortune, who sometimes took the form of a cuckoo. Her sacred tree is the lime tree. Expect zingy, refreshing, citrus flavours with a good amount of complexity.

When does that come out, and are you planning anything for the launch?
Ash: We’ll be launching it during the first week of July, although we’re looking at some sort of pre-launch event during Nottingham Craft Beer Week (19th-25th June), so keep an eye out – we’ll be definitely be making lots of noise about what we’ll be up to.
Dan: Nothing is set in stone yet but we’re trying to line up something fairly awesome for the launch. To keep up to date with happenings as they unfold, keep an eye on our social media.

So what’s next – will you be pursuing careers in brewing after your course has finished? World domination?
Ash: I’ll be staying on with the guys at Black Iris. They’ve got some pretty exciting projects in the pipeline and I definitely want to stick around for that. Although who’d turn down the chance for world domination? I think my first order as Supreme Leader would be that anyone caught at any time without beer in hand would be sent straight to the gulag.
Dan: Laima’s Luck is my job application. To any brewers out there: like what you’re tasting?  Call me. I’ll have my phone on. All the time. Please…

Catch Ash and Dan’s beer Laima’s Luck by Cuckoo Collaborative with Black Iris in Nottingham from July.

Cuckoo Collaborative on Twitter


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