Tuesday, 22 March 2016
Music, Moving, and a Mystery too. The Franklins Tale.
Music, Moving, and a Mystery too
The Franklins Tale
I remember seeing an interview with Eddie Izzard, the cross-dressing comedian with a penchant for marathon running, a few years ago in which he described the town he grew up in as "Rock and Roll Bexhill-on-Sea". I am assuming that he had his tongue very firmly in his cheek when he made that off-hand statement but I am reliably informed that the music is turned up extra loud when they make beer in that particular part of Sussex.
Franklins Brewery was founded in 2010 when Gary Doel bought Whites Brewery in Pebsham, Bexhill-on-Sea and changed its name and also bought a brewery in Yorkshire at around the same time, moving the kit down to the south coast to replace the older equipment that Whites were then using.
In 2012 Steve Medniuk formerly of Dark Star, joined the the brewery, and in just over a year bought Gary out on the 22nd October 2013, realising a long-standing ambition of owning his own brewery.
They brew on a ten barrel kit, having recently added two new conical fermeters and currently have four employees, Steve, Andrew, Paul, and Tanvir.
I was contacted by Tan (who handles their social media) a few weeks ago asking if he could send me samples of their new bottled beer to try, a new venture for them, and provide them with some feedback. I'm always keen to try something I haven't had before, and as East Sussex isn't my usual patch I wanted to find out more about the brewery and the way they operate.
It is to the first sentence of the press release that accompanied the bottles that I alluded to in my first paragraph; "Our micro-brewery is nestled on the beautiful sunny Sussex coast and it is here with the music turned up loud that we make our beer." The bottles arrived with a very plain and distinctive white label, another musical reference (white label releases in the days of vinyl were generally pre-release copies, or rare editions or those with exclusive mixes, and not available for sale), so rather than dive straight in I sent back an email with a few questions, firstly asking about what music they listen to when they're brewing.
"We are largely into Electronica and 90s music" Tan replied, "With Andy Wetherall mixes, Daft Punk and the Stone Roses being amongst our favourites. Our beers aren't boring and we hope that this reflects our personalities. Living in Brighton we're all pretty liberal social and bohemian and collaborations with artists, bands, record labels, festivals, independent film makers are all opportunities we would love."
After being cask only I wonder if the bottles are just an experiment at this stage, or part of a longer term plan. Will this format be exclusively for seasonal or limited release beers or can we expect to see the full range of Franklins beers in bottle in the future?
"The white label releases are just an experiment at this stage. We're in the process of re-branding at the moment, so when the designs are signed off they will be uniform across both pump clips and bottles. We do hope to expand the bottle range to encompass all of our beers, with Pavilion 35 most likely to be next followed by our new kegged Pilsner (tasting great by the way, with a lovely bitterness and a fresh dry finish)."
It's a shame I haven't got any of the Pilsner today, but it should be appearing in local bars soon I gather. That aside, what future plans does the brewery have?
"Well we've outgrown our current home as our sales figures have sky-rocketed lately and the beer is selling very quickly. We have a brand new 15 barrel custom made kit on order but I think it's more likely that we'll move premises before that arrives. We already have a short-list of locations and we'll be staying in Sussex too. All four of us currently live in Brighton so we wouldn't want to be more than a hours travel away from there."
"You'll be seeing more kegged beer from us in the future too, and there's plans for a canning line in our new location at some point. Beer-wise, look out for a grapefruit pale ale at the start of the summer along with some experimental German inspired brews. Steve loves to visit Berlin, he has friends there, so something with a German influence seems an obvious thing for us to try."
With my appetite firmly whetted, I need get into those beers and find out what I've actually been sent.
First out of the box is Mama Knows Best (4.2%), described as a malty, modern Best Bitter brewed with English malt and Mosaic hops.
It pours a beautiful Rosewood-Amber colour with a creamy off-white head sitting in the glass very invitingly, precisely the colour I look for in this style and shows that they know how to use their malts well. The aroma has a hint of mango but this is dominated by the smell of a freshly unwrapped strawberry flavoured Starburst sweet, I can almost taste the chewiness and, like the advert used to say back when they were called Opal Fruits in my childhood, it's making my mouth water. A light prickle of carbonation down the length of my tongue releases a muted earthy fruity caramel with mango, chewy lime and some plum notes balanced against a mellow brown sugar maltiness before this playful party combination is crashed by a pithy bitterness. The finish is woody and bitter with a light creaminess, and it sits surprisingly heavily on the centre of the tongue for some time before it fades with a little more sugary sweetness.
This is a good example of an English Best Bitter, very balanced and tasty without delivering anything remarkably different. The hopping is well done but I wouldn't immediately have picked it as Mosaic, although on consideration all the clues were there, and I think that's probably because I've become more accustomed to it featuring in heavily hopped Pale Ales, IPAs and Lagers. The big question is of course whether I'd have it again, and if I saw it on a bar in cask then I'd definitely give it another go as the added carbonation it would get from being hand-pulled would release more of the fruity creaminess in this beer that I absolutely love.
According to the notes I've been sent Franklins Citra IPA (5.5%) is "zesty, full and punchy", whilst the description on their website plays on the hop shortage and how they've "moved mountains" to make this beer available to their customer. Admirable stuff, but the real key is how it actually tastes and as there are already some very well known and widely available single hopped Citra hopped IPAs available that will be the real deal-breaker here.
The signs are promising from the outset as it has that classic citra beer aroma of caramel drizzled pineapple and mango that you might expect. Pouring a light but fiery copper colour with a thin white head I need to drink the thing to find out more than it's telling me at the moment. My first impression is that it's a bit of a bruiser, as full and punchy as I was promised, big on bitterness and big on flavour, but whilst all the right citrus and tropical fruit pointers are there it seems a little squashed together in a big gooey burst of intensely overwhelming and slightly muddled flavour. The caramel courageously beats it's way through the mire before being brutally stamped on by a clean and mercifully brief boot of bitterness. Thankfully there's still some life left in it, and even though it's swansong is fleeting it's well rounded, light, sweet and rather lovely.
You may feel I've been a little harsh on this beer but as I mentioned earlier the citra IPA market already has some well regarded champions and while this is good it doesn't quite step up to the next level. I'm sure that many of you will like this beer, and like it a lot, so if you see it around then give it a try. This is another that I'd like to find on cask or indeed keg, just so that I can give it another go.
The final beer of the three is Old Smokey (5.0%), a "dark, smokey Porter" brewed with beech smoked malt, oatmeal and chipotle chillies. The best Chilli Porters have a slow building heat that works alongside the chocolate toastiness of the malts but never quite over-powering them. Adding the beechwood smoked element, surely a nod to German Rauchbiers brewed in Bamberg, will hopefully give it an extra twist.
It pours a little thinner than I expected, its deep brown revealing ruby red highlights as I hold it up to the light, but its thin beige head dissipates disappointingly quickly possibly meaning than the oatmeal is being used for body here rather than head retention. The aroma is just as I'd hoped it would be, lightly smokey with the distinctive 'hot' smell of chilli heat, all on top of some sweet and deep milk chocolate. My suspicions about the oatmeal are confirmed when I drink it as it has more body than I first thought, and although it's undoubtedly smooth there's a touch of oiliness about it too, adding a hint of unctuousness. The chocolate is certainly the first thing that you notice as it sweeps across the tongue like the strokes of a flamboyant artists brush, gently depositing a burst of chilli heat perfectly at the top rear of the palate. The finish has an initial mineral taste before it slides away with a different, slightly fruity chocolate note leaving that prickly warmth gently tickling the back of my throat.
Of the three beers I find this the most interesting, its combination of elements giving it different layers to explore. Unlike the other two however, I think the 330ml bottle it comes in is exactly how I'd like to drink it as personally I think a pint would be a rather too much.
If you're curious about any of these beers then they can be found at Eebria Trade online, Bison Beer and Trafalgar Wines in Brighton, Borough Wines in Eastbourne, direct from the brewery itself of course, and at various pubs, restaurants and bars across Sussex.
I did receive these beers for free, they were sent to me to appraise and feed back to Franklins, writing about them was my decision and I don't feel that my opinion has been altered because of this. If you'd like another opinion though you can read Rach Smith's recent review here on her excellent Look At Brew blog.
Finally, it's time the mystery I promised in the title. Having made enquiries, reading local press cuttings online and asking the chaps from the brewery itself, nobody seems to know where the name of the brewery actually comes from. I used the Chaucer reference mainly as it suited my purposes here, but if anyone can enlighten me, or indeed them, I'd love to hear from you.