A return today of the Brewer of the Week series, and it sees us heading off to a part of the world I think is one of the more beautiful in the UK, Norfolk. When my younger brother and I were kids, my elder brothers already having flown the nest, our dad decided that it would be fun to have a week boating on the Norfolk Broads. For about 3 years we would head over to Norfolk and cruise the Broads for a week, occasionally mooring up near a pub with a beer garden, it really was idyllic, and other than one particularly fierce thunderstorm, I can only remember warmth and sunshine.
The Grain Brewery in Harleston near Diss is an award winning brewery and hosts an annual Summer Festival tomorrow at the brewery, which from the press release that was sent to me seems to be the kind of event I would very much enjoy. The festival has a "Darling Buds of May" theme, steeped in 1950s rural nostalgia, complete with hand made ice cream, a barbecue and live folk music, it sounds like a lovely way to spend a day. So if you are in Norfolk tomorrow between 2pm and 10pm, pop on over to the brewery and join in.
In the meantime, here is the interview with their brewer, Phil.
Name: Phil Halls
Brewery: Grain Brewery
How did you get into brewing as a career?
I have been a river inspector, a cartographer and a publishing project manager none of which involved beer within my job description, so I felt a job in brewing was long overdue. Becoming a brewer was not a particular dream of mine, but I was keen to get away from the desk, do something that was more hands on, and work for myself. I easily had my arm twisted by a long-time friend who though starting a small brewery would be a ‘good idea’. As it turned out, it was.
What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?
Firstly you have to love beer or else you will never get beyond the heights of ‘just above mediocre’. Lots of energy, lots of patience, and a small dose of OCD probably helps too when it comes to cleanliness and pH.
Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?
Yes, a bit, and I was rubbish at it. I don’t think I ever brewed a decent homebrew beer, and I certainly wouldn’t want to scale any of them up to try and sell them.
If you did homebrew, do you still?
What is your favourite beer that you brew?
Without a doubt Redwood. I love watching the blend of Dark Munich, Rye, Wheat, Crystal and good old Maris Otter as it is drawn down into the grist hopper. And the intense smell of Citra is always a pleasure.
If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?
Grain is the one and only brewery for me.
Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?
My favourite varies depending on the time of year, time of day, and mood I’m in. That said, a pint of Oak at 3.8% abv, gulped down on a hot day is when I enjoy a beer the most.
How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?
I’m not a purist by nature and use the end product as my yard stick. I don’t like seeing anything unnecessary added to a beer, but it’s good to experiment and try out new ingredients. That’s how all the authentic beers started out originally.
If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?
Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville to find out what it is about us they don’t like and to see what the collaboratve results would be like. But also Darkstar Brewery in Sussex – great, finely tuned beers and I’d like to see what we could come up with between us.
Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?
A true Irish Guinness brewed in Dublin.