Inside 3 great microbreweries in Essex
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A boom in micro breweries has seen a huge increase in the variety of beers available and some of the best are crafting their brews right here in Essex. Stephanie Mackentyre picks out three to try
Harwich Town Brewery is a five barrel micro-brewery established in 2007. It's run by Paul Mellor, who is passionate about reviving a centuries-old tradition of brewing, which died out in Harwich in 1876.
Using the world's finest malting barley from East Anglia, and hops from around the world, Paul produces a range of beers which combine both traditional and modern brewing styles.
'All of our products contain nothing but natural ingredients and, where possible, are sourced locally,' explains Paul.
Paul began as a home-brewer, working as a customs officer by day. An inheritance gave him the chance to realise his dream and he opened his own brewery.
'I don't have premises anymore; the unit was being sold from under me, so I'm now what they call a Cuckoo Brewer, hiring the Red Fox Brewery based in Colchester to make my beer,' adds Paul.
Because of his beer's own unique flavour, he has built up a following for Harwich Town beers.
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'I have a core range of six beers and I like to try different recipes as I have 30 to 40 different hops to choose from. Beer recipes are basically hops and barley in different quantities. It's like a chef using chicken; he'll cook it every week but in very many different ways. I would say I brew a fairly crisp ale with lots of hops.'
So are beers and their flavours seasonal? 'Sour beers are very popular at the moment,' says Paul, 'they are very refreshing in the warmer months. CAMRA has a Mild Month in May and golden ales are seen as summer ales, although you find people drink them all year. Stout is perhaps more popular in the winter.'
The industry has expanded enormously in recent years. 12 years ago, when Paul started out, there were 600 breweries in the UK, but now there are well over 2,000.
'It's very friendly competition though,' continues Paul. 'You have people like me who started out as home brewers and some who have been brewing for years. There are also online forums where you can ask for advice and help if you're thinking of starting your own micro brewery.'
To taste Harwich Town Brewery beers check them out at the Alma Inn in Harwich, the Hanover also in Harwich, the Victoria in Colchester and also The Ship at Kirby le Soken.
The double drop brewing method is the unique selling point of the Colchester Brewery. Tom Knox is head brewer and a partner with 32 years of experience.
He explains: 'I've always been interested in the traditional brewing methods. The double drop method is an old fermentation system which imparts lots of flavour into the beer. Originally it was used to compensate for bad harvests.
'Basically if you don't get the rain at the right time, it doesn't wash the nitrogen off the malt. That manifests itself as protein later in the process. The job of the brewer is to get rid of as much of that protein before it goes out to the trade, to give them the best possible quality.'
'During the fermentation process you boil the beer to remove the protein. But when it cools it produces more protein.
'We allow our beer to go into a primary fermentation tank where the dirty heads and the protein starts to coagulate. We then 'drop' the beer away from that tank to leave all that dirty beer behind and we are left with a crisper, cleaner-tasting product. Ours is classed as cask condition beer, but what you don't want is cloudy tasting beer.'
Tom 'fines' the beer to drag all the yeast to the bottom of the barrel, that's why a barrel lies on its side or belly, he explains.
'The yeast and any protein lies in the belly and the tap goes above the belly to pull off nice clear beer. Beer is a living organism and so it's still fermenting in the barrel.'
As well as a range of special recipes, Tom also uses different styles of water to change the taste of the beer. 'Darks need a sweeter tasting water while light beer is a dryer water, which is why you find dark beers coming from London and light beers from say Burton on Trent.'
For an extensive list of places which stock these foaming ales, check out the website linked above.
In South Essex you'll find George's on Pendrils Farm in Great Wakering. The brewery began in December 2012, offering a range of bottle-conditioned ales, mini-pins (18 pints) and polypins (36 pints) both direct from the brewery and also from selected local off-licences.
Head brewer Sam Martyn not only works at George's but is also a cuckoo brewer, brewing his own beers on site under his own brand, Fable Brewery.
'It means I don't have the overheads or set up fees and I can also use other breweries when they have their down time, rather like a photographer renting a studio,' explains Sam.
Sam has been head brewer for the past two-and-a-half years, although he began working at George's four years ago. George's Brewery generally has nine to 13 beers, with enticing names including Wolsey Wench, Check Point Charlie, Broadsword and Black Hop Monster, but they also produce specials too.
When the brewery equipment has down time, Sam rents it for Fable Brewery which he began in 2017.
'It's a great way for me to be able to start my own label. Originally I intended to use as many breweries as possible, but unfortunately the red tape made that difficult. I did collaborate with Leigh on Sea Brewery and I am in the process of deciding whether I use a brewery in London to do some modern keg beer,' continues Sam.
I wondered how Sam decides which beer is for which label, George's or Fable?
'I have a natural distinction in my head between both types of beers. George's are a lot more traditional English bitters, while mine are a lot more hopful. I make mine with dry hops; none of George's are dry-hopped.
'Also the Fable Brewery is 100% vegan so I don't use isinglass which comes from fish to fine my beers. I'm quite passionate that beer doesn't have to be clear to taste good, it's part of my brand.'
You can find George's beers in lots of pubs throughout Essex and their bottled beers are available direct from the brewery and in outlets in Essex. Sam's Fable Brewery beers are available on subscription delivered from hoppily.co.uk or from the Hoppily shop in Leigh on Sea, on London Road opposite The Elms pub.
Sam is also organising a beer festival, FABfest19, from Friday, July 5 at the Freight House in Rochford. You can find full details on Facebook.
'It's a chance to come along and sample some of the best beers in the industry,' says Sam.
It sounds like plenty of them will be from Essex.