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Charles Wells head brewer Ian Jones and Fourpure head brewer John Driebergen: a learning experience for both in beer styles, brewing techniques


Wells, Fourpure extend keg beer collaboration

Charles Wells has taken its Wandering Brewer project into a new phase, teaming up with London craft brewer Fourpure for a series of keg beers.

Since last October Wells has collaborated on a cask beer with a different brewer each month in preparation for the opening its £13 million brewery in Bedford in the summer of 2019.

Now, alongside that, four brews developed on Fourpure’s new kit will be released over the next 12 months and trialled on the Wells pub estate.

The first, a 4% abv pale ale called Rucksack, is already available. It will be followed by Rhine, an unfiltered pilsner lager, Appalachian IPA and Bavarian Helles.

Wells head brewer Ian Jones noted that the extended collaboration is a sign that keg beers will play a significant part in the future of the family brewer. Charles Wells sold its brewery and almost all of its brands to Marston’s in May 2017.

“We are doing this to decide what the right beers are for our pubs. It’s really a huge market research job, and it’s partly about educating our customers, too, because we’re using new hops, new malts and new techniques.

“We have a diverse pub estate so we’re trying more familiar styles first. Once we’ve identified our core brands, we can do more funky stuff later.”

Wells’ new 30,000 hectolitre capacity brewery is designed to be flexible to meet the demands of the 21st century beer market, Jones added.

“It will have a really short brewlength, with small fermenters, and we plan to do five or six different brews a day.”

Jones is also hoping it can tap into the same water source as the old Wells brewery. Bore holes are being drilled on the new site on the outskirts of town just two miles away.

Feedback on the cask collaboration brews, gathered through licensees, social media and beer mat questionnaires, have already highlighted “one or two” contenders for a spot in the core portfolio. Jones wouldn’t reveal which ones have found favour.

“Each beer we’ve done has taken something from the partner brewer, such as the characteristic bitterness of Black Sheep, the new strain of green hops we used with Windsor & Eton, and the German aroma hops we are going to put into the English ale we’re brew at Bedlam in July.”

Distributed by Marston’s as part of a five-year agreement that will maintain supplies to the 200-strong Wells estate, Wandering Brewer beers have appeared in some 110 managed and tenanted pubs.

Jones said that demand and interest among licensees and drinkers has steadily grown.

“We have already increased barrelage from 100 to 200 and I think we’ll soon be looking at 300. People in the pubs are starting to ask when the next one is coming.”

Fourpure was selected for the extended keg collaboration project because of its “professionalism” he added. “Quite a few brewers wanted to work with us on this but we were most impressed with Fourpure in terms of technology and quality.”

Jones developed the four recipes with the Bermondsey firm’s head brewer John Driebergen, working on Fourpure’s new brewery. The GEA supplied brewery was commissioned at the end of last year and Driebergen reports that it is already producing striking results for consistency and yield.

“It’s been a highly complementary process,” said Driebergen. “I’ve learned a lot. We want to achieve the professionalism and quality of a larger brewery, the detail and the rigour, while continuing the experimental and innovative approach of a smaller craft brewery. So it’s been good to talk to Ian about best practice.”

With a career that began as a shift brewer with Whitbread, continuing with Guinness and SAB before becoming director of brewing at craft keg specialist Camden Town Brewery, Jones, too, is getting something out of being the Wandering Brewer.

“I’m always learning something new - and I’ve been brewing for 32 years,” he said.

Phil Mellows
8th June 2018

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