Art of craft: Badger beers
Toby Heasman, head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse, proves experimenting with hops is not the preserve of bearded hipsters
We have had several different brewhouses in our 240-year history, the latest of which opened in 2012 and will hopefully last at least 100 years. We had tenders from US, German and Italian specialist engineering companies, but at the last minute, Musk Engineering from Burton upon Trent swooped in and beat all its competitors for quality of design and price, so we were pleased to have a British brewhouse.
We have two wells on site – one 164ft deep, the other 115ft – and they produce great-quality water, high in calcium, which is excellent for brewing, particularly pale ale. Over thousands of years, the water seeps through the chalk into the well and there's plenty of it because Dorset is one of the rainiest counties in England - we can pump it out at 50 tonnes an hour and not empty it.
Traditionally, beers from the south-west are relatively malty. The main malt we use is flagon, a high-quality malted barley from the south-west and East Anglia which is low in nitrogen and protein so helps produce beer with lovely clarity.
Put simply, the process is to gently mill the malt, just to crack it open, then mix it together with hot water ("liquor") to form the mash, which has the consistency of porridge and is when the starches begin to convert to sugar. Next, the lautering tun acts as a giant strainer to produce the sugary wort, which tastes like Horlicks. That liquid is transferred to the copper, essentially a kettle, which is where we begin adding the hops. After running through a whirlpool to separate out solids, the wort is transferred to a tank where the Badger yeast is added to begin the fermentation. After around two-and-a-half days of fermentation, it stands for a few days cooling, before bottling or putting in casks for our pubs.
We can trace our yeast back to 1933, when Mr Douglas was head brewer, and there is no other brewery in the world using it. It is high in esters, which give flavour notes such as banana and pear drops.
The hop variety Badger uses most is Goldings, which is found in our best-known beers, Tanglefoot and Fursty Ferret, alongside First Gold and Celeia hops, respectively. But we aren't stuck using old European varieties – for example, we use an extrovert US hop, Amarillo, which has orange and spice notes, alongside a more subtle English hop, Fuggles, in Leaping Legend. Likewise, for Hopping Hare, we use the grapefruit-citrus Cascade hop balanced with Goldings. And we're exploring other New World hops in our limited-edition seasonal beers. There are some really interesting hops being propagated these days, and not only in the US – there is a relatively new English hop, Jester, which we're finding offers strong citrus, spice and earthiness all in one.
It's not only ingredients that determine what beers we produce. The timing of adding hops is important: the earlier you add them in the boil, the more bitterness you will extract. We tend to add a lot of hops towards the end of the boil, which produces more aroma and flavour because you're only releasing the essential oils and not the acids. It's changed a lot in the past 20 years – brewers are using more hops than ever and adding them later. In some of our newer-style beers, we even add hops into the fermenting tank to produce really dry hoppiness.
Also, the temperature of the liquor will affect the amount of sugar released in the mash. We tend to brew at around 65-66C; plus or minus half a degree is critical – higher temperatures reduce the activity of enzymes, therefore less fermentable sugar is produced so it will have a lower alcohol content eventually.
We have a small pilot plant in a little corner of the brewhouse where we make experimental batches, trying different recipes: malts, hops – we even tried a Belgian yeast the other day. It's great fun. It's an opportunity to try different things and it reminds me why I got into brewing in the first place. Some of those brews will be available at our beer festival on 24 June 2017 and we will produce special beers for new pub openings. In November, rather fittingly, we managed to persuade the Duchess of Cornwall to pull the first pint of Duchess of Cornwall at The Duchess of Cornwall in Poundbury, near the brewery.
TOBY HEASMAN is head brewer of Hall & Woodhouse, generally known by its brand name Badger. His first job in brewing was at a craft brewery in the US before continuing his career in Burton upon Trent and then moving to Blandford Forum, Dorset. Hall & Woodhouse was founded in 1777 to brew beer for redcoats waiting to be deployed to the American War of Independence. The Badger brand was launched in 1875. In the 20th century, the company brewed Hofbrau lager under licence and launched Panda Pops soft drinks. It now owns 250 pubs in Dorset, London and elsewhere.