Keeping it real … Real Ale
Beers like Proper Job and Tribute brewed by Cornwall based family owned brewery St Austell are beers that guided me through my early years of exploring different beers. Many a college pub session would have involved pints of Tribute, the classic Cornish pale ale which can be found all across the UK. As the years passed by the selection of beers grew larger, so beers like Tribute and Proper Job started to become less common during my trips to the pub. When the cask beer is looked after correctly by a pub revisiting these classics are a joy. St Austell featured throughout my friend’s stag do in Newquay, to the point of not only saving me from having to drink the boring beers expected to be seen in stag do venues, but also provided the entire group with a new beer for all to enjoy, St Austell’s kegged lager Korev.
To keep things fresh with an evolving market and to test the brewers experimental side St Austells have been producing a series of beers called Small Batch Brews, a series of beers that explore different styles outside their core range. Small Batch Brews are taking inspiration from all over the world, Belgian style beers, German brewing techniques, flavours from all over the culinary world and even ingredients not often seen on these shores. It is refreshing to see a well-known brewery broaden their style of beers. Beers like Sekrihan, a Japanese Red Rice Lager, Tamar Creek, a 7.2% Belgian cherry sour, or Cornish Tiergarten a 3% Berliner Wiesse. Just looking at their website and the lists of all the Small Batch beers can cause lots of feelings of feat to be missing out as there are some fantastic sounding beers.
Beer such as The Italian IPA with Sorrento Lemons pours a clean straw yellow like a lager, with a steady carbonation but minimal head. On the nose, it has a lemon aroma like lemon drizzle cake. On your first sip you are greeted with classic English IPA flavour, rich tea biscuits and slight tropical hop flavours, before being hit with big lemon notes. It is a great beer that would go well with a pasta dinner or even a nice slab of lemon drizzle cake, especially if you want to up that lemon intake even more!
Eureka APA started its life as a 5.9% American style IPA, which was brewed in collaboration with Thornbridge Brewery. It is a single hop beer brewed only with the Eureka hop, which has been allowed to take centre stage thanks to a back-bone blend of maris otter barley, crystal rye malt and a little flaked maize. Eureka is a nod to the West Coast American Pale Ales and has a lovely punchy pineapple, grapefruit and papaya flavour. I would love to try this on draught as I think it would really come alive coming straight out of the keg into my pint glass. Eureka APA has proved so popular that St Austell have made this a new permanent beer (all be dropping the ABV to 4.9%), showing that there is potential for these Small Batch brews to feature full time.
Kaffe Lager is a dark lager that has been lagered over a cold brew coffee from Brewer & Bean. It pours a marmite brown, strong coffee on the nose as well as in the taste but smoothly balanced with the caramel malt, I was really impressed with this beer, it can be hard to find a well-balanced coffee beer at times, hopefully we will see it brewed again.
Steady as she Gose is probably the style of beer I was most surprised to see from St Austell. Gose being a beer that splits opinions and couldn’t be further away from the style of beer that the traditional bitter drinkers would be used to. Gose is a Leipzeg style wheat beer which has been brewed with samphire, sea salt and coriander. Cornish sea salt has been added to the mash and sparge during the brewing process, which has resulted in this beer being crisp and refreshing.
A beer that visually stood out for me was Baobab, the artwork is so eye catching with lovely African style artwork. Baobab is a wheat beer that has been inspired by the Eden Project and brewed with Baobab, also known as the upside-down tree. The Baobab powder has been ethically produced and sustainably sourced containing more magnesium than bananas and more vitamins than oranges. An eye catching beautifully designed bottle label is only good if the beer matches the same level of quality, fortunately for St Austell it does. Pouring a hazy orange gold with a big fluffy head, on the nose you get all those aromas you expect from a Belgian Wit, banana, clove, bubble gum but it is much more subtle and softer than most wheat beers. Again, in the flavour it is very soft but with this wonderful winding banana flavour that curls through your taste buds to the tip of your tongue, reminding me of some homemade banana bread I loved when I was younger (note to self – get more bottles of Baobab to make banana bread!).
Sayzon pours a deep hazy dark orange with a big solid white head, which leaves lots of lacing around the side of the glass as you drink it. At first I found the aroma a little soapy but as I took a first swig I realised that it was ginger, it’s fresh powerful ginger too. I will be honest it took a little while to adjust to but once I did get used to it I enjoyed it. I struggled to pick out the typical saison characters but the ginger flavours produce a spicy finish that leaves your tongue tingling well after you take a sip from the glass. This beer would be great for pairing with food as well as cooking with.
Bad Habit Abbey Tripel is a serious beer to sit back with a slowly enjoy. With an ABV of 8.2% it isn’t a beer you want to rush. It pours a glowing hazy tangerine orange with a white head that sticks around for a while. On the nose, you get hints of Belgian yeast aroma with candy sugar and slight amounts of typical Belgian banana bubble gum, similar to the aromas found in the Baobab wheat beer. The flavour takes me straight back to a brown café in Brussels, it is perfectly balanced, slightly spicy, sweet, lots of Belgian yeast and dangerously moreish! This is not only my favourite of the selection of St Austell Small Batch beers but also up there with one of the best Tripels I have had recently. I would love to see these bottles widely available but for now you can buy them on their website.
To help give even more insight into the Small Batch series I sent a few questions over to Brewing Team Leader Rob Orton, who happily replied to my questions.
What is the planning process when creating a new Small Batch beer?
Our current small batch beers are normally first brewed for our annual Celtic Beer Festival in November by one of our brewing team on our pilot kit. From there they could be progressed into a small batch brew for our Small Batch Beer club or our World Beer Series.
What set up and scale are you brewing the Small Batch beers?
New brews are released to the Small Batch Beer Club (around 40 pubs) once a week, with bottled beers in the World Beer Series being released around once a month. Each brew is 12 brewers’ barrels, producing around the equivalent to 48 x 9g casks or over 3,000 pints!
A few of the beers are collaborations with other breweries and other companies, is this something you are looking to do more of? How do you decide on who to collaborate with?
We enjoy doing business with people that we like and respect. This has led us to doing collaboration brews with Thornbridge Brewery and Rooster’s Brewing Co. We are always looking to work with other companies with the same philosophies. Roger our brewing director is heading over to Boston to visit Harpoon Brewery in March. When he comes back we’re going to be brewing a collaboration beer with them.
Where can you find Small Batch beers? Are there plans to make them more accessible around the country?
Our current Small Batch Beers are found in a very select group of 40 pubs ranging from Penzance to Cirencester. The bottled brews are exclusively sold through our online shop and visitor centre shop at the brewery. Some of the beers have been extremely well received at beer festivals around the country but no plans to go national just yet! The best place to read more is http://www.staustellbrewery.co.uk/smallbatchbrews.
Could you see any of the Small Batch beers becoming part of your core range or a permanent feature in your line up?
Eureka was the first small batch brew to go into bottle and sold out within days. Due to demand, we did a second brew and that went just as well. Eureka is now the first beer that was born from the Small Batch Brewery to become a brand in its own-right. It’s now available in bottle, and keg to the on-trade nationwide.
What sort of impact as the Small Batch beers had on some of your long serving St Austell beer drinkers?
We feel this has had a hugely positive effect. People’s taste buds are changing and are always looking for the new tastes or flavours. Drinkers are continuing to become far more educated in the beers they drink and the ingredients they like. The feedback we’ve received shows that St Austell fans are also loving the innovation of some of the new beers. Drinkers appreciate the passion, knowledge and skill that goes into making a pint of St. Austell beer. The brewers also appreciate feedback about the different beer styles, flavours and ingredients. We always say the next Tribute could be born in the Small Batch Brewery!
Supermarkets have recently been filling their shelves with larger craft beer selections, I personally think the Small Batch beers would be perfect fit, is getting these new beers in supermarkets alongside beers like Proper Job a target for the future?
Increasing sales and supplying customers with quality beers they want is always our goal but we are really enjoying producing one-off beers for our customers to try. Keeping up with the production for Tribute, Proper Job and Korev is tough enough!
What is next for Small Batch beers?
We want our small batch beers to go from strength to strength and we will continue to introduce new beers into our range – we want to keep providing beer fans with the innovation, variety and quality that they crave. Keep your eyes peeled this year for lots of great new beers including red rice lagers, bocks, barley wines, imperial Russian stouts, session IPA’s and some good old cask conditioned beers
I’d like to see these beers closer to home, ideally seeing the Small Batch Brews in the same places you see bottles of Proper Job and the rest of their range. Supermarkets are diving head first into a craft market and not always hitting the right notes, Small Batch Brews would be a big improvement on some current “craft” offerings. It could also open a world of traditional beer drinkers, those who view St Austell as their firm favourites, into trying something new, which in my eyes is a great thing. I’m all for your average bitter drinking exploring the flavours which can be found in the different style beers they are brewing in the Small Batch series. I think it’s brilliant that a brewery the size of St Austell is finding time to experiment still, it is easy to criticize a big brewery when they try and do something “Craft” and get it a wrong, St Austell is the opposite I feel that the Small Batch Brews are the perfect example of how larger breweries can keep things fresh while pushing their brewing comfort zone and in doing so it appeals to a newer market. It has not been created under a mystery new brewery name, it wears it heart on its sleeve and says, “this is St Austell brewing some new, exciting and experimental style beers as well as anyone right now”.
Disclaimer – I was sent the beers from St Austell for free. However, this has not affected my opinion on the beers.