A few weeks ago I got hold of Stroud Brewery’s Alederflower and was so taken by it, and by the fact that the brewery tries to be wholly organic where it can, that I felt the need to contact the brewery to find out more about them.
I got talking to Richard Taylor and this is what he had to say.
Hello, please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is Richard Taylor. I’m one of a small brew team sharing responsibility for production and recipe formulation at Stroud Brewery.
When was the brewery established and have you always been in the brewing industry?
Stroud Brewery was established in 2006 by Greg Pilley who had his beery epiphany whilst weeding a local field whilst working for the Soil Association.
I have been drinking Stroud beers from their start but only joined the company in 2014 leaving behind a self employed career in Garden maintenance.
I’m really just a jumped up home-brewer lucky enough to be handed a 36HL brewhouse to play with. Over the years Greg has employed some very knowledgeable and experienced Head Brewers who have built and established the core beers and brewhouse.
As they moved on, Chloë and I joined, and are trying to build on their hard work.
I’m really interested in the fact you are brewing with organic ingredients and that you are trying to make your beer vegan friendly. What made you take that decision?
As I mentioned, Greg worked as a consultant for the Soil Association in a previous life and is passionate about the ecological impact of agriculture on the environment. With the advantage of this knowledge and contacts with previous colleagues it was not long before the brewery produced the first bottled organic product and our first core cask organic product which was called Stroud Organic.
When we’re using 40-50 tons of malted barley a year this means we make a very meaningful impact on the local environment and biodiversity that makes the area we live in so attractive to visitors and locals alike.
Now all of our packaged beers are organic (with the exception of Melissa which is made with organic ingredients but uses local honey which is not organic as you can’t guarantee the whereabouts of harvesting bees).
Over the last year we have been gradually throwing the occasional Organic seasonal beer into our cask offerings. This has been an exercise in getting our head around the process of creating organic beers. The main issue is organisation and timing. All of our recipes and corresponding artwork and processes need to be signed off by the Soil Association well before we can actually brew the beers. We also get an annual audit from the soil association and require corresponding certificates from all our suppliers at all times. It can be a headache at times but we think worth the effort.
The vegan thing is just a no brainer as none of our bottling and keg processes require the use of isinglass finings. Why not let everyone know there is nothing fishy about our beers?
Our cask ales are all mostly fined where necessary. With the exception of our darkest beers and a couple of seasonal experiments, we don’t think the presence of yeast suits the style of our cask beers. However it’s a shame to exclude anyone from drinking our beer and will happily provide unfined casks for customers if they want them. For example our local football club – Forest Green Rovers – is Vegan and take a few casks every match day.
Is it more tricky to source organically grown ingredients? I’m thinking specifically about the malt and hops that you use, especially the international varieties.
We are lucky enough to have a very good relationship with Warminster Maltings. They are one of the oldest floor maltings in the country with a long history in the British beer industry. Chris Garrett, who has kept the place running since organising a buyout when Guinness wanted to mothball it, has been able to source Organic malting barley from farms within twenty miles of our brew house.
He also offers us the odd rarity, such as Plumage Archer barley, a grandparent to the better known Maris Otter, which we get to play with and let people know about it’s story and significance to modern beer making.
For our speciality malts, again timing and organisation are important, they have to come from Germany and therefore have a very long lead time.
Hops are our biggest limiting factor.
We just don’t have the range available that non-organic producers do. It would be nice to support our local growers in Herefordshire but a long history of hop cultivation in the UK has ensured that hops in this country have pretty much all the diseases going. Whilst the regular farmers can do plenty to ensure they counteract this, Organic Farmers are really too exposed and we had to say goodbye to any UK Fuggles last year.
For this reason we use a lot of new world hops. We’ve been using a lot of New Zealand hops such as Wakatu and Rakau for years before they became trendy.
New Zealand being isolated by sea and having very strict bio-security means that organic farming doesn’t have the same obstacles that the soggy UK has.
And they are very tasty hops as well.
A lot of the new hops coming out of the US and Germany are also available to us as they have been bred for disease resistance so adapt well to organic agriculture.
You’ve recently started canning some of your range. Will you be moving entirely away from bottles?We’re very excited about our cans.
In terms of environmental impact, beer quality protection and storage space they are fantastic. It also means I can control all aspects of production in house and ‘finish’ the beer in our tanks.
The market however is still very suspicious about cans.
I spend a lot of time reading beer blogs and following people who talk about and enjoy beer on various social media outlets and it’s clear that there the argument is won.
However I have remind myself that most people who drink beer are not nearly as interested in it as I am. This is the market which buys the majority of our beers, and they expect filtered bottled beer. So the education is still happening.
This year we are going to move all of our bottles over to bottle conditioning, including our best selling pales, hopefully we won’t take a hit from that. We know it will be a better product but customers will be iffy about ‘beer with bits in’.
What are the plans for the future?
The big one on the horizon is new premises.
We’ve far outgrown our current home and are looking for a new place to hang our hoses.
We have a very busy and thriving bar on site so getting the location right is going to be crucial.
The other big news this year is our intention to move all of our cask beers over to Organic versions. It’s always been a question of of raw material supply but we feel we’ve secured enough on contract to make the leap. We’re very excited about this and have been tinkering with the Organic substitutions for a few months, working very hard to make sure no one notices the difference. It’s very important to us that our Organic beer is as good if not better than non-organic and that it doesn’t just get used as an excuse for poor quality. Some of the Organic substitutes we’re getting this year from Germany and the US are so good and probably better than the non-organic varieties we have been using up until now.
And here are some thoughts on Stroud’s beer:
Melissa (6%) is a honey beer, a well made pale ale brewed with honey and lemongrass, and it works beautifully.
Pouring a pale gold with a little frothy head, the aroma is honey, vanilla pods and hedgerow, and that’s pretty much where the favours begin when you take a swig.
You find a sharp and pithy green nettle leaf and hazel hopping, and a solid caramel and shortcake malt body, and all this is made rich and sticky by the round a chewy honey sourced from Highgrove Home farm.
The lemongrass prickles in the background, adding a lightly perfumed lemon zest to the sweet comforting finish.
Stroud’s Organic Lager (4.9%) is an absolute delight, pouring a pale gold with a fluffy white head of foam.
The beer has undergone a cold maturation which has brought out some lovely round fruitiness, orchard fruits to be precise, and this works really well with the soft caramel and ice cream cone flavours from the malts.
The blend of Wakatu and Cascade hops add a sharp lime zest and Kiwi freshness and a good hit of green herbal leaves to the crisp refreshing finish.
Plumage Archer Vintage Ale (7.5%) is brewed with a variety of barley, Plumage Archer, that’s a grandparent of Maris Otter, and I for one like it very much.
The beer gives you lots of round chewy caramel, some digestive biscuits and a little rum and raisin in the background, along with a good hoppy hit of hedgerow greenery and nettle tea.
There’s a very nice honey stickiness and a whisky warmth that heats your chest as you head toward the comfortingly creamy bitter sweet finish.
And if you try the whisky barrel aged version you’ll find that the beer has become mellow and warm, the damp oak flavours making the beer feel extra smooth while a deep and earthy whisky warmth builds as yo work your way down the glass.
There’s a vanilla pod richness and lots and lots of bruised apples too, making this version a beer to take your time with.
Gegarang Village (6.9%) is a Sumatran Coffee Ale that’s brewed with Stroud’s Stout malt bill meaning that it’s big and biscuity with chocolate at its edges.
The beer smells of cold pressed black coffee and plums, and taking a swig you find the coffee sits front and centre in the beer.
But it doesn’t overwhelm.
You can still find lots of lovely treacle tart and pancakes, honey and a big swipe of green herbal leaf hopping, the coffee adding a rich woody warmth to the chewy toffee finish of the beer.
And as good as I think this beer is, it’s made a whole load better by being aged in whisky barrels.
The barrel ageing rounds out the beer and adds a delicious boozy warmth tinged with vanilla and giving some creaminess to the body of the beer that is reminiscent of a good Irish coffee.
It becomes a beer to sip and savour, a beer to spend the evening with.
Chartist (6.5%) is a Smoked Porter aged in whisky barrels and it’s every bit as good as it sounds.
The beer pours a deep purple brown with a creamy head and smells of walnut sideboards and stone fruit.
Taking a swig you find a good treacle tart, coffee and honey malt along with a very nice red wine tannin dryness and a meaty leatheriness from the barrel ageing.
It’s round and damp, lightly fungal and very satisfying and it works well against the smokiness that slowly builds as you drink creating a warm bonfire fug as you head towards the toffee apple finish.
In my opinion, Stroud’s weakest beer, Big Cat (4.5%) is still pretty decent.
It’s a Stout that isn’t quite Stout enough.
It pours a nice deep purple brown and has a good prune and chocolate aroma, but taking a swig you find that the coffee and chocolate, Madeira cake and honey of the malts and the red and crunchy autumnal leaf litter of the hops are a little bit thin.
Not enough to spoil your enjoyment altogether, I’d just like a little more body, a little more weight, something to get my teeth into.
Even after all this modern “Craft” beer I still love an old fashioned well made Bitter, and that’s exactly what Tom Long (3.8%) is.
Pouring a rich amber with a little creamy head, the aroma is chestnuts and toffee, and those aromas continue into the flavour where you find a lovely roasted nuttiness, brown bread, honey and a dab of treacle, there’s peanut brittle as well before the crunchy leaf litter of the hopping gives you crisp autumnal hedgerow in the bitter finish.
I really like Stroud’s IPA (5.6%) with its peach and melon hoppiness and its apricot and orchard flower aroma.
The beer pours a bright gold from its can, its little frothy head fizzing with life, and as you take a swig you are immediately met by a soft gala melon and peach fruitiness, some fresh green herbal leaves and pithy lemon rind.
This is complimented by a soft and supple malting that’s full of creamy caramel, waffles and honey.
All this and a delightfully crisp bitter finish.
Schwarzwälder (5%) might be my favourite Stroud beer.
It’s a cherry Stout that pours an inky black with a little cappuccino head and smells of chocolate and port.
This is, unsurprisingly, a malt heavy beer, a beer full of treacle tart, plum compote, honey and brown bread.
A beer that’s thick with toffee and bran flakes and a heap of crunchy autumnal leaf litter hops on the side.
But it’s the addition of cherries and molasses that make this beer special.
The cherries give you the most deliciously meaty chewy fruit flavours, sharp and fresh and chewy, and the molasses stop everything becoming too astringent by making the beer feel round and sticky, sweet and satisfying.
Yes, this is definitely my favourite Stroud beer.
Thanks to Richard and the Stroud Brewery team for their time and their beer.
Visit them here.