Monday, 4 May 2015
Beer In Essex
"I Want This To Be A Beer Destination"
Essex Brewery Company
Within half an hour of arriving at the Essex Brewery Company, Ian Chisholm, the straight-talking owner and brewer was outlining the plans he has for the site, and he has big plans indeed. Although still very much in the early stages, when this fifty-five year old ex-market trader and duck egg farmer talks about the future for his brewery and the outlying land then it suddenly starts to become clear that not only does he have the tools at his disposal, he also has the drive and ability to actually pull it off.
If you search for the Essex Brewery Company on the internet, as I did when Ian contacted me with an invitation to come and have a look around, you won't find a lot of information out there.
"This is deliberate," he tells me "I want to launch with a bang, to hit the ground running, come out of nowhere and take people by surprise". We are standing in what will be the brewery shop, surrounded by bottles, crates, hops (from Charles Faram), sacks of malt and wood, a lot of wood. Ian's son is welding in the corner of this two-storey building, and the upper floor will eventually be an on-site apartment so that he keep an eye on things. When you plan to have more than three thousand bottles of real ale from breweries from all over the country then having your security literally living with the stock seems sensible option.
I had been picked up by Ian at Blackmore, six and a half miles north of Brentwood, and a ten minute drive had taken me to Norton Field Farm. Whereas you won't find a lot about the brewery on your browser, the farm itself throws up a whole set of results regarding the giving away of his stock of ducks due to a legal dispute with the supplier. I ask him if this was the reason he decided to switch to brewing but I'm told that it was always a plan just that this legal altercation, which is still going through the courts, made the decision a whole lot easier
The brewery itself is exclusively a bottle-only affair, and whereas Ian has feels no immediate need to put his beer into casks and see his pump clips on bar tops he realises that this may have to happen some day in order to promote the brand.
When it come to the beer itself he's not afraid to experiment either. The first bottle he opens for me to try has yet to be named, but the aim was to get as close to a chocolate orange as they could. It's brewed with cocoa powder and marmalade, and whilst I only get chocolate up front after a few minutes of drinking it the orange flavour emerges and carries it onward to a pleasing citrus finish. This was followed by a lychee wheat beer which had a classic lemony wheat beer flavour cut through with the sweet grape-like flavour of lychee. In fact he has brewed a whole host of wheat beers, and in addition to the lychee that I had there are mango, morello cherry, lemon, lime, strawberry, white peach, a plain wheat, and a fruity mixed berry version that I tried a little later on.
"This" he tells me, "is where I'm going build my beer destination."
The plans are certainly ambitious. Not content with an indoor brewery, he wants to have an outdoor brewery too with demonstrations of 'hot-rock' brewing on a semi-covered outdoor area also able to stage barbecues and beer festivals. Indoor beer festivals are also a possibility with enough space in one of the outbuildings for hosting in the colder months, or to deal with the vagaries of the English weather. If that wasn't enough he plans facilities for camping, a potential accommodation block and even a children's playground. A local connection to fairground ride owners opens up other avenues of entertainment for young and old alike.
We move back inside and open another bottle of beer, this time it's the APA brewed with US hops, although Ian is at a loss as to which ones when I enquire. It's smooth and moderately bitter with those tropical fruit flavours I've come to associate with the style present, but disappointingly muted. Wild & Green is the next beer opened, and the first brewed under the Essex Brewery Company name. Despite being around eight months old it's clean and fresh tasting with loads of grassy hop character, a real winner.
Glancing at my watch I realise that I've been there just over three hours and I have another beer-related appointment, interviewing Steve Hindy the co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery and Logan Plant founder of Beavertown Brewery, in a few hours time and need to make a move. Before I leave however, Ian wants to show me one thing more. Taking me to an adjacent building he unscrews the lid of a fermenter, dips in a measuring jug and pours a golden liquid into my cup. This is his lager, and although it's still a touch raw and not yet primed for carbonation in the bottle, the flavours are all there, slightly spicy and fruity with a dry finish, and promises to be something rather special.
On the bus back to Brentwood I reflect on what Ian has told me, and although he is under no illusions that there may be a few hiccups along the way he is determined to make them a reality, and he has certainly impressed me. The first stage, the beer shop, should be open towards the end of June and I'll be back soon to see how things have progressed. Time will of course tell, but we could well have a purpose-built beer destination in the heart of the Essex countryside in the very near future. Remember where you heard it first.