Sunday, 3 July 2016
Georges Day - Visiting Great Wakering
Beer In Essex:
Visiting Great Wakering
It starts to rain just as my train pulls into Southend Victoria station, the end of the line, the grey sky fittingly echoing a melancholy you can almost taste in this rundown Victorian seaside town. I hurry through through the generic 'every-town' centre and catch the bus to Great Wakering.
The journey takes me just six miles inland but it seems a world away, and the sun breaks briefly through the crowd as I walk past the church and duck pond to Home Farm on whose land George's Brewery resides. I'd written a potted history of the brewery itself in June last year in the second part of my exploration of Essex bottled beer, you can read about it here if you want to, and despite having received an invitation to visit soon afterwards I finally had an opportunity to do so. Incidentally, should you wish to know the full history of the brewery, and the associated Hop Monster brand, then this link will take you to the official version written by owner Mark Mawson.
When I get there Sam (Martyn, George's very capable brewer) is part way through brewing a batch of Checkpoint Charlie, their 4.0% bitter with tangerine, peach and notes, ably assisted by their pony-tailed delivery driver/jack-of-all-trades Steve. Even though they are clearly busy I'm warmly welcomed and handed a box of beer that Sam had organised for me from when I first said I was coming. I'd previously met Sam and his German girlfriend Pia at the Essex Winter Beer Festival in Chelmsford earlier in the year, and my wife, Sarah, and I had spent a good hour or so in their company chatting and drinking quite a lot of beer, not all of it good sadly.
After making a cup of tea and taking a few pictures, I'm commandeered into hop duty and I'm soon up a ladder piling hops into the kettle. This is something I've done before at several breweries but it's the first time I've done this in a kettle where the lid flips up completely, it's certainly easier than pouring them (and mostly missing) into the small opening that I've previously experienced.
George's is a five barrel brewery housed in a converted barn that's thick with cobwebs around the exposed wooden beams, the spiders help keep the flies at bay I'm told, it is after all on a working farm. The brewery equipment came from Eddie Gadd when he upgraded his Ramsgate Brewery in Kent, and he had previously obtained from a Firkin brew pub, and considering its age it's doing rather well, although this does have a decent pedigree. Having a scout around I get a little excited when I find a now unused conditioning tank. Painted white, although it has got a little dirty with age, I see that it still bears the trade marks of Scottish and Newcastle, William Younger's, McEwan's, and Newcastle Brewers. Considering that these companies merged Scottish and Newcastle in 1960 (Younger's and McEwan's had previously merged in 1931) I'd anticipate that this tank is around fifty years old. It would be great to see it in use again.
Brewing, as you probably already know, involves an awful lot of involved and often frantic work followed by extended periods of waiting, and I use one of these to spend some time with Sam, talking about him and beer in general. He's easy to talk to and generous with his his time, and I start by asking about his background, both beer and non-beer related and how he came to be brewing at George's.
"I was born in 1993, and grew up in Rochford (Essex, around six miles west of Great Wakering). My earliest memory of beer and pubs in general was going to The Chequers in Canewdon (once owned by TV chef Jamie Oliver's uncles and closed in 2010) with my grandparents as a teenager. It was a great pub but sadly no longer there."
"My original plan was to be an actor, I'd trained as one at college and was going to go to drama school to continue my studies to BA level. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful at the auditions and had to wait until the following years entries to try again. Having an unplanned gap year to fill I got a job as the Guest Services Manager at a local activity centre, and this proved to be a big turning point in my life. It was during this time that I met my partner, Pia, and started dabbling with home brew."
"I stayed at the activity centre for three years, but decided that I really needed a new challenge, so I quit my job and used the money that I'd originally set aside for a new car to move to Munich in Germany and stay with Pia. I took German lessons, ate great food, drank great beer, and spent lots of time researching the things that really interested me. I even applied for either MI5 or MI6 at one stage, I can't remember which, but it was during this period that I realised that brewing was the path that I really wanted to follow."
"My last month in Germany was filled with brewing related research. I crammed my brain with as much information about the brewing process as I could and applied for an apprenticeship at Partizan Brewery in Bermondsey, London. On my return to England I went for an interview with Andy (Smith, Partizan Brewery founder and brewer) but it didn't work out, so I decided to look a little closer to home to see what I could find. I contacted Mark at George's and we met for a chat. He clearly saw something in me that he liked as he invited me for a brew day trial, and the rest, as they say, is history."
"I've been here for about eighteen months now, starting as the assistant initially but I'm now the only brewer with an assistant of my own who I'm now training. My first recipe, Checkpoint Charlie, a batch of which we are brewing today, is now part of our core range, and my latest, Huell Melon is also going well. I'm still saving for that new car though!"
I'm sure he'll get that car soon if he continues along these lines, both beers are very good indeed.
Huell Melon is a German hop, and as he spent some time in Germany I ask him whether there's any German influence in the beer that he brews, or if there's anything due along those lines.
"Of course", he replies, "but I can draw inspiration from anywhere I go. I went to Berlin for my birthday last year, and it was touring the city that I got the inspiration and the name for Checkpoint Charlie. I like the beers I make to have a personal connection as I think it makes it a more enjoyable experience for the drinker when each beer tells them a little about the person who made it."
Leading on from this then, is there a beer that you'd love to brew but haven't yet had to chance to?
"I'd love to do a Weiss Bier, a proper traditional Bavarian one, and I love drinking Hopf when I'm in Munich. In fact I love that beer so much we have it on most of the time at Mawson's (George's micropub in Southend), it proves popular too. Wheat beers are a style that I feel are a little under-appreciated in England, and when a brewery brews one over here it tends to be an American-style hoppy version or a Belgian Wit.
So are there any beers from a UK brewery that you'd wish you'd brewed yourself?
"Easy one, it has to be Dark Star's Espresso Stout. I absolutely love that beer, and in my opinion it's exactly how a stout should be. I can't believe that it's not permanently available on cask."
Any other beers you look out for?
"Anything that is new or different to be honest. I'm really interested in finding new flavours and different takes on a style, whatever it may be."
That's a feeling I know well, and I'm sure many of you do too., so lastly I ask him about what's next for George's, which direction are they going in?
"Over the next year we plan on putting our Hopmonster Freakshow beers and maybe Wakering Gold into KeyKeg. We'll also have two strong ales being released later this year; Gaspar's Star which we've used an Abbey Ale yeast in, and Nebuchadnezzar which has a Saison yeast. We're hoping that our bottles may soon be available from an online retailer."
"The Huell Melon is selling incredibly well, the first cask was sent to Mawson's and sold out in under four hours, and I've been told it's gone down well in other pubs as well. I really want to see George's Brewery continue to grow and I'm sure that it will."
I'm sure that it will too.
Owner Mark arrives at this point, and I have a brief chat with him before I leave. I have a beer tasting for another Essex brewery to attend that evening, but I want to head to Mawson's before that as I've never been before.
Just missing the bus, I have to wait twenty minutes for the next one, but find that Mawson's was worth the wait. I settle down with a half of Brew By Numbers fantastic 05|15 (Citra & Azacca) on keg just as Sam arrives. Having finished for the day he has decided to join me, getting me a half of Gerorge's excellent Columbus before I have to go. His generosity doesn't stop there either and he drives me into Southend, close to where the tasting is being held. I feel thoroughly spoilt.
George's Brewery beers are available in a wide range of pubs all over Essex, usually as guest beers, and you can find the bottles in many places as well. I have to say that I prefer them on cask, and even though the bottles are very good they have recently switched where they are being bottled and I've had some issues with yeast in suspension in some of the early ones. I'm sure this problem will be ironed out by now however.
Should you want to know more about the brewery and their range, and to be honest why wouldn't you, then you can follow this link to their website: www.georgesbrewery.com where you'll also find a link to my reviews.
I had a fantastic day at George's Brewery, and I hope to catch up with them again soon. Should you want to try there beers then you'll get a chance to do so at the Chelmsford Summer Beer Festival that starts this Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at Admirals Park, Chelmsford and runs until Saturday 10th July. A link to the website, beer list and events can be found right here. See you there.