Going To England (Again)
We just made arrangements today for me to fly over to England in September with our Lead Brewer, Jeremy Moynier, to brew a beer with an English brewer for the Wetherspoons pub chain. Wetherspoons puts on an International Real Ale Festival twice each year, and has a program where they invite brewers from other countries to brew beer at select English breweries. All the beer is made as Real Ale, meaning it all goes in casks, is clarified to brilliant crystal clear without filtration, and is naturally carbonated, and served from the cask using a beer engine.
Stone Brewing Co. has participated in this program with Wetherspoons twice over the years. In fact, we were the first American Brewery to participate, back in early 2008, when Stone Brewing Co. cofounder, President and original Brewmaster Steve Wagner and I got to brew at the Shepherd-Neame Brewery in Faversham, which bills itself as the oldest operating brewery in England. That beer we brewed with the great brewers at Shepherd-Neame was an IPA, weoriginally wanted to do an 8-9% abv Double IPA, but the Wetherspoons folks balked at that because it was too high in alcohol. After some negotiation, we settled on a 7% West Coast style IPA.
Steve wanted to call this beer “California Mild” which still makes me laugh, but what I really found interesting is that when Stone cofounder and CEO Greg Koch and I went back for the release party at one of the Wetherspoons Pubs in London, there were many people, including some fellow brewers, who would not even try the beer because it was “so strong”. There were some I couldn’t persuade to even try a small taste. I learned then a bit of the real differences between the beer scene in England vs. the beer scene here in the United States, especially with regards to alcoholcontent. In the United States, many craft beer drinkers look for high alcohol, and are happy sticking to 1-2 pints over the course of an evening. In England, many of the beer drinkers want 3-4%, and that’s it. Anything above that teeters dangerously close to the dreaded “binge drinking” label. The pub drinking culture in England is totally different, and revolves around drinking many pints among friends, so the lower alcohol is an important consideration. And to be fair, there were many brewers, including David Holmes from Shepherd-Neame and John Bryan from Oakham Ales in Peterborough who really enjoyed our beer as well. It was during this trip that I gained a very deep appreciation for traditional English brewing and for good Real Ale. It was a fantastic experience, and I was really glad to be able to help set up some of my craft brewer friends to participate in the same program over the past few years. One of the nicest surprises that came out of this particular trip was that for a short while, the beer we brewed had the highest ranking of all British Beers on ratebeer.