Friday, September 24, 2010

Brewer of the Week

Back in November 2008 I met with Barry and the Beer Nut at the Bull and Castle in Dublin. I came bearing three bottles of Primator's Exklusiv strong lager, which had recently been named the best lager in the world. The third bottle was for Thomas Prior, who unfortunately couldn't make it. Nearly two years on and Thom is carving out a career in brewing for himself, and so it is a return to Ireland for today's Brewer of the Week.

Name: Thomas Prior
Brewery: Trouble Brewing

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I suppose it started with home brewing and a desire to further develop and use the skills I had learned over the years. I started the process by studying brewing science via distance learning at Heriot Watt university. My primary degree is in biochemistry and large parts of a well rounded science degree are applicable to brewing. To be honest I could have happily buried my head in books for quite a while without realising the more practical aspects, but the combination of my egg head studies with the more business savvy minds of Stephen and Paul at Trouble resulted in a business model that shows great promise. As perhaps all micro brewers know too well, financial and business considerations are every bit as important as crafting the best beer you can.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

An unswerving attention to detail coupled with a true desire to brew beer that tastes great. It's hard to say which comes first because you can't have great beer without paying close attention to the process.

Before being a professional brewer, did you home brew? If so, how many of your home brew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I home-brewed for a number of years before taking the plunge into professional brewing. When it became apparent that I really was going to have a micro brewery to play with I sat down with the boys and we decided what type of beer to brew. We settled on a golden ale and I put together a few home brew recipes which eventually became Ór. I hope to brew a few other recipes as seasonals in the future and also put together some unique recipes too.

If you did home brew, do you still?

I haven't brewed at home since Trouble started, partly because I haven't got the time but also because I cannibalised some of home brew kit to use in the brewery. You'd be surprised how much home brew kit can be used in a microbrewery. In fact, despite its 12 hectolitres capacity, I see our brewery as a giant home brew set up.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

We only brew one beer at the moment; our golden ale Ór, so I suppose that's my favourite! It has a full combination of English and American hops along with a healthy measure of Munich malt to pad out the malt profile. We only have a few batches under our belt, so the beer is evolving all the time. Hopefully we'll settle on a recipe that balances well.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Trouble was the first brewery I worked in and I figured out how to brew with the equipment from first principles. I had years of theory behind me from my brewing studies, along with the hands on home brewing time, but in the end it came down to the three of us standing in front of our equipment as it it lay in a hundred pieces and figuring out how to put it together. There was quite a bit of head scratching but we figured it out. After that it was a similar experience on our first brew day. I knew what had to be done, and between the three of us we had a thousand litres of wort fermenting by the end of the day. It was very challenging and continues to be so.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Well, it's got to be Ór again. I greatly enjoy the upfront hop character which is followed by a wonderful lingering malt finish provided by the Maris Otter.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

You're not luring me into that quagmire. Things get pretty heated when beer lovers start on this subject. Let's just say that I don't feel at all bound to style restrictions and such but at the same time Trouble won't be brewing a 3% abv IPA...

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

I can think of any number of breweries I would like to work with, but Stone in the US stick out as the most interesting. Their beer is completely uncompromising and bursting with flavour. I find their marketing sharp too. I think it would be quite an experience working with them.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Fuller's London Porter blows me away whenever I try it. I seem to forget how good it is. I have tried to replicate it many times at home using various amounts of brown, chocolate and crystal malts. I like it so much because it is a porter that isn't a stout. That might sound funny, but I find a great many porters are nothing more than feeble stouts. Fuller's porter doesn't try to do that. It gives a dark beer flavour without any sharp roasted notes. It's mellow with a unique brown malt smokiness.

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