Earlier this year I had a beer that completely knocked my socks off.
I’d had beer by Mad Hatter Brewing Company before and had liked them all, but this was something else.
This was a beer that instantly made me want to find more of their beer, and which each new bottle I loved the brewery more, and over the course of this year this little brewery from Liverpool has become one of my favourites.
And so I thought I’d get to know them a bit, and as a result you could get to know them a bit.
This is what I found.
Have you always been brewers and if not how did you come to brewing?
We were previously life long students, with one and a half PhD’s, three masters and two undergrad degrees between us.
We realised we didn’t really like academia and panicked as we’d spent our whole adult lives training to enter it. Gaz had always been a home brewer, and we thought his beer was pretty good, and we were inspired by Dogfish brewery’s ‘Brewing up a business’.
Then we had a baby and decided that it was now or never to make a stab at this brewing thing before too many other people had the same idea.
This was back in 2012.
Gaz left his job, and we moved into Gaz’s parent’s loft and set up the brewery from their garage. We had literally £1,000 to start the brewery.
Gaz bought some big pans and started selling beer at farmer’s markets.
We then moved to Liverpool and got a tiny industrial unit on easy terms. Luckily a couple of places loved our beer from the start (Port St. Beer House and Londis Penny Lane) and their patronage, along with other smaller regular sales, plus some beer festivals that we organised at Sue’s brother’s partner’s café meant that we had enough cashflow to keep buying more fermenters.
A friend then lent us £10k and we bought some big fermenters, we had a pop up bar for 6 months, and then Sean Franklin, formally of Roosters brewery leased us our current 4bbl kit at a low interest rate.
I absolutely love your branding (I’m a bit of a geek for that kind of stuff, being a Graphic Designer). I get the white rabbit reference with your name, but who does your illustrations and how do you name your beer?
Sue came up with the idea for Mad Hatter and the logo.
She wanted a name that reflected that Gaz is a bit crazy and that the brews that he was going to make were always going to be unusual and a combination of different styles and techniques.
She was thinking of ‘alchemy’ for a while, but decided it sounded too, well, chemical.
Then she had an idea of a magician, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, which brought her round to the mad hatter from Alice in Wonderland, sent mad because of the mercury he used to shine the top hats.
She didn’t want to stick to slavishly to the Alice in Wonderland reference, this is just one facet of the Mad Hatter, along with the fact that we conjure up new beers using unusual ingredients and a combination of styles.
We have a really great artist that does the label designs.
She is a friend of a friend and we have never met her, and Sue had long admired her artwork. Sue sent her a rough sketch, and said that she’d like the logo to look a bit like the 1960’s folk music posters, and also to have an element of the May ’68 revolutionary street art posters.
We name the beer trying to make reference to madness in some form or another, or referencing films or books that we like.
Where are you brewing and what set up do you use?
We brew just outside Liverpool city centre, in an area called the Baltic Triangle, which at the moment is a pretty cool place but might turn into yet another development that is heavy on student flats (the bane of Liverpool right now!)
Any plans for the future?
We want to stay pretty small: we think 10bbl is the biggest we’d like to go. We like having the flexibility to brew lots of different beers and to be experimental. If you go bigger you have to make a lot of more standard beer. We think it would be pretty cool to have a bar as well, but we’re in no hurry to do any of this as things are working pretty well the way they are.
And here’s what I though of some of Mad Hatter’s latest brews:
Face Hugger (6.3%)
Man, this is intense.
Face Hugger has been brewed with a Belgian yeast strain that makes the beer smell of spicy fried bananas and adds a big earthy bread dough blast to the flavour, its salty edges boosting the chewiness of the sticky toffee, honey and shortbread malts.
Oh, and this is a single hop beer.
The hop they’ve used is Sorachi Ace.
And it would seem that absolutely mental quantities of it have been forced in here, making for a super strong lime zest, lemon pith, thyme and basil lip twisting hit right before the beer sucks the last residues of moisture from your body with its superbly dry finish.
Summer Pale Ale (6%)
This super sunny beer smells of mown lawns and nectarines, and it makes me smile.
From the bunny in the sunhat on the label to the long bitter lemon rind finish, this is a little bottle of joy.
There’s a Lager and wheat malt body that’s round and creamy, soft caramel and doughnuts, a pinch of sea salt and a dab of runny honey, and the hopping is fresh and damp, like walking barefoot in the dew.
No really, it is.
Apple juice and pine cones, lemon zest and peaches all wrapped in freshly picked metallic basil.
Cutting Edge IPA (7.2%)
Mosaic, Centennial and Simcoe literally burst out of this beer form the moment you open the bottle.
The aroma is toffee apples and fruit salad sweeties, and the beer is a lovely glowing amber in my glass.
There’ a superb malt body that’s round with toffee, crunchy with biscuits and sticky with burned Demarara sugar at the edges.
And then there are the hops that French kiss you with lemon and lime, pine resin and sherbet fizz, papaya and orange marmalade.
As for the finish, it’s super long and blisteringly dry and bitter.
American Psycho (6.2%)
An American style Brown Ale brewed with a shed-load of coffee?
American Psycho is a fitting name for a beer that belts you with booze but leaves you with a wide awake wild stare.
The smell is peanut brittle and brandy, and there’s a seriously boozy Rum Baba body from the malts.
You get honey and brown bread too, and then the hops get to work, all knife sharp on your tongue, slicing and dicing with lemon and lime, kiwi and grapefruit.
And all the while a fabulously rich and woody earthy coffee keeps your senses on edge, prickling and prodding through the long dry finish.
Nightmare On Bold Street (5.3%)
Nightmare On Bold Street is a Milk Stout infused with coffee beans from the Bold Street Coffee Co.
And it’s good.
Pouring a deep dark purple brown with a fuzzy cappuccino head, the smell is woody coffee and prunes.
The malting is burned toast and runny honey, malted milk biscuits and fence posts, and there’s a super hit of nettle tea, dandelion and burdock and flowerbeds form the hops.
And then there’s coffee.
Lots of brain jangling coffee.
Warm and earthy, it’s so strong it makes your heart race as you head toward the roasted pine nuts and treacle tart of the finish.
Liverpool Tart (4.2%)
Gose isn’t my favourite beer style by any means, but this one isn’t too bad.
Maybe it’s because the salt isn’t as overpowering as it can sometimes be, meaning that this bright golden beer that smells of orchard fruit tastes mainly like a good old sour.
You get plenty of lemons, juice, zest, the whole shebang, plus a fistful of green herbal leaves with sweet silage at the edges.
What the salt seems to do here, and does very well, is pop up in the finish, right at the end, adding a dryness and stopping the sourness dead, leaving you with a lovely light citrus and green grape fruitiness.
Tzatziki Sour (4.5%)
What a weird and wonderful little beer this is, soured with Greek yoghurt and brewed with cucumbers and mint that have been steeped in Ouzo.
In fact reading that back to myself it sounds like it could all go horribly wrong, but Tzatziki Sour works remarkably well.
It’s fresh as a daisy with a pin sharp sourness that turns into a soft creaminess from the lactose in the yoghurt.
The malts are super light shortcake and honey, and there’s the subtle prickle of lemon tinged herbal hops.
As for the cucumber and mint, they sit right at the heart of this beer, wafting up at you from your glass and tasting fresh and cool in the dry sour finish.
Absence Of Melon (6%)
Not a single melon was harmed in the making of this beer, and there’s not really any melon flavours to be found, it’s more of a psychological trick to make you hunt around your senses for some melon flavour.
But once you’ve got your head around the absence of melon you find a fine little Saison packed with an earthy yeast spice, bitter and pithy green herbal leaf hops, and a lovely salted honey brioche malt body.
The aroma is peaches, apples and Band Aids, fruity, clean and hygienic smelling in the most lovely (if slightly odd) way.
And then, in the long and dry bitter finish, do I detect just a hint of…no…it can’t be.
Cranberry Rye (5.9%)
As a man who may actually be becoming obsessed with rye beer, this is an absolute favourite.
A deep red beer with an aroma that’s earthy, dirty, rainy fence posts, conkers and red currants rolled in spice.
The malting is round and sticky, barky, chewy, it’s a thick toffee malt loaf, honey and bran flakes, and there’s a rich soil underbelly too, tasting like you’ve just dug your garden.
The hops are sharp shards of sherbet lemon that cut across all this malty goodness, and the cranberries add a dry bitter pith at the edges.
They’re nowhere near as pronounced as you’d have thought, but they’re definitely there and they add a steely cleanness to the long dry finish.
Mojito Saison (7.4%)
“Limes and mint. Lots of them. In a delicious Saison. Yum,” says the bottle.
And it’s right.
The aroma of this beer is nothing short of amazing.
Deep rich lime juice and metallic mint tinged with honey.
Taking a sip you find a lovely soft brioche and caramel malt and an earthy warmth from the Saison yeast, a little mushroom here, a hint of damp woodland there.
The hops are nettle tea, hazel and mango, sharp, bitter and sweet, and over them the limes are mega fresh and zingy and the mint is, well, to put it bluntly, minty, which when all combined makes for a long crisp and very feisty finish.
Afternoon Tea (9%)
I’m drinking it at eight in the evening.
Mad Hatter say that this should be drunk in the afternoon while eating cake.
I get the cake bit, but I’d struggle with remaining conscious if I drank this in the afternoon.
I am a lightweight.
So, this is a “Carrot Cake Triple”.
Yes, it’s brewed with carrots, and yes, it makes me love this brewery even more.
This beer smells like carrot cake, really it does.
The aroma is cinnamon vanilla sponge cake and the beer is a beautiful amber in my glass.
The malting is toffee apples, sponge cake and magic, and there’s a very good chamomile tea and lemon zest hopping.
But the magic here lies in the warm alcohol hit, the mace and cinnamon earthiness of the yeast, and the carrots, because the carrots add that delicious thing that they add to carrot cake.
That sumptuous chewiness that you love but can’t quite describe in a good carrot cake is in this beer.