Download this Logo in PDF format (5 MB)
Download Acrobat Reader
By Chas Wright, Uley Brewery, Gloucestershire
What is English Beer?
I write this in the office of The Old Brewery, Uley. The winter sunlight gleams on the waters of the brewery spring flowing down the yard on its journey down the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills to join the Severn Estuary and the Atlantic.
This is the major ingredient of true beer, and like our other ingredients is pure and simple.
Samuel Price built the brewery here in 1833 on the lower outlet of the village spring. Our water has percolated through the oolitic limestone of the hills; Iron Age tribes built their fortress on the Uley Bury because of the water, and the Roman Invaders made an altar to the river and water gods in their temple to the north of the brewery.
We use a strain called Maris Otter. This is soaked and spread out on the malting floor at Tuckers Maltings in Devon, and then kilned. It is then distributed to some of the leading traditional craft brewers in England.
At the brewery the spring water, or liquor as we call it, is heated to 73.C and is mixed with crushed malt in the mash tun. We extract the fermentable sugars in the form of maltose; the remaining husks go to feed some Gloucester Old Spot Pigs. The liquid, or wort, is now boiled in a copper, (OK ,ours is now stainless!) with hops.
We add small quantities of crystal, or caramelised malt to darken the colour of some of our beers.
These were introduced to English brewing in the 16th Century by Huguenot refugees from Europe, and were viewed with some suspicion for many decades as a foreign adulteration of Englishmens' Ale, ale being of course, unhopped beer. Eventually we embraced this new weed, and cultivated our own strains. In England traditional brewers use seeded hops to give the distinctive bitter taste to beer; most other countries use virgin hops. English brewers use whole leaf hops; Multinational Brewing Giants use hop oils and pellets. When Britain joined the European Community the Brussels bureaucrats even tried to outlaw the English Hop, along with the Pint Pot! But we won! God save the English Channel!
Fuggles and Goldings are our main hops, the one for aroma and the other for taste.
Hops are also a very fine preservative, and keep the living beer clean and fresh.
In the Uley Brewery the wort is brought to the boil, and the hops are added, only a few ounces per bulk barrel. We boil for an hour and then the heat is turned off, allowing the hops to drop into the bottom of the vessel, thus forming a natural filter bed. The wort is now collected, i.e. pumped through a cooler into a fermenting vessel (FV).
The live ingredient! All authentic English beer is top fermented. This means, strangely enough, that all the vigorous fermentation takes place in open FV's or fermentation vessels, not in vast enclosed conical bottomed tanks. Top fermentation is now almost exclusively an English process, and we use a strain called sacchormyces cerevisea . Our traditional colleagues on the Continent use a bottom fermenting strain called Sacc. Carlsbergensis, named after the brewing chemist who first noticed it through his microscope. This is OK for lager, if you like that sort of thing.
The collected wort is in the FV at about 20°C when the yeast is pitched, and will rise to about 25°C, when it is gradually cooled. The wort stays in the vessel for seven days before it is racked, or barrelled up, and rolled into our vaulted cellars to mature for at least a month. This is live beer; the yeast is still working in the cask, it hasn't been filtered or pasteurised. When the beer leaves the brewery a little isinglass fining is added, to make the yeast particles settle in the belly o0f the cask when it is stillaged in the Pub cellar. When it has settled a tap is driven into the cask, and the beer drawn off. This should sparkle with bubbles from its own secondary fermentation; no CO2 cylinders are needed, and it best tasted at 13°C. Deliver us from chilled glasses and froth!
Now this is what really gives true English beer its proud place in the pantheon of drink. Real English beer is only available on draught. Beware of imitations!
Chas Wright. 15th February 2004