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Celebrating a "first time for everything": (from left) head brewer Phil Douglas, MD Rob Theakston, mountaineer Alan Hinkes OBE

Black Sheep first: now they’re a lager brewer

Black Sheep Brewery has produced the first lager in its 25-year history, one that’s fermented in Yorkshire squares using the company’s ale yeast.

Named for the latitude on which the brewer’s home town of Masham sits, 54 Degrees North is a 4.5% abv beer in the Bavarian Helles style.

It’s being distributed in 30-litre kegs by Black Sheep’s own fleet among 300-plus regular free trade pub and bar customers. The reception is receives from these core customers will determine whether production expands from its initial small-batch scale to something that might require investment in new equipment.

The adventurous move was encouraged by the 56% of cask beer drinkers who, according to the latest Cask Report, have drunk a lager in the last three months.

“There’s a first time for everything,” said marketing director Jo Theakston. “We were born and bred on cask ale, but we’ve never had a traditional attitude and we’ve always been open to doing new things.

“The world of beer has changed quite radically, too, since we began,” he went on. “We couldn’t have launched a lager 10 or 15 years ago, but the market today is more fragmented and there is more opportunity for brewers like us.

“We’re certainly not going to try to replace the big brands, we’re not going to get into an arm-wresting match with those guys, but there are a number of locally-brewed lagers around now, and we’re in that camp.”

Head brewer Phil Douglas carried out three experimental brews on the Black Sheep pilot plant before hitting on the recipe for 54 Degrees North. It uses German pilsner malt and is hopped with Magnum and Polaris as well as Germany’s respected Tettnang.

“We liked the classic German Helles style and knew that it wasn’t exclusively bottom-fermented,” said Theakston. “But we think that using Yorkshire square fermenters is a first, and we’ve been delighted with the results.”

Along with “good quality lager ingredients”, Black Sheep’s ale yeast “works well” in the open squares, he added.

“We launched the lager at the Yorkshire Show on July 10 and there was a really good response to it. We will look at putting it into smaller packs to suit the off-trade if does well in the pubs.”

Mountaineer Alan Hinkes, OBE, has given the beer a quirky celebrity endorsement, and it’s being supported in the trade by branded glassware, drip mats and bar runners.

Phil Mellows
17th August 2017

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