Highgate was my debut brewery. In 1997. Though I remember being tempted by Greene King in the early 1980s — a pub I frequented was organising a trip but I wimped out, frightened by the damage that I perceived Abbot would do to my young frame. Highgate was old school Victorian coolness, all bricks and chimneys, snug and secure in the midst of Walsall terraces, the brewery as part of the community, the butcher, the baker and the tallow guy, that sort of thing. After that it was mash tuns ahoy. Yesterday was Green Jack Brewery in Lowestoft, along with Mark Dorber and Rupert Ponsonby, two beer people whom I’ve learnt a lot from over the years.
Green Jack? Aren’t they the brewery that won the best winter beer CAMRA thing with Ripper (CAMRA call it a barley wine and Green Jack’s Tim Dunsford says a triple)? Yes they are and on the strength of that it went into 1001 Beers. Maybe you’ve heard of their Orange Wheat? This is an English wheat beer with orange peel in the mix — rather succulent and luscious and refreshing. So why are their beers a mystery to me? Is it something to do with the fact that they’re the most easterly brewery in England (as far as I know)? It’s a long way to Lowestoft, one of those end-of-the-line towns like Llandudno or Penzance, where the train can only go into the sea if it wants to go further; places where people want to leave as soon as they can walk. Oh the irony though — before I tasted their beers I always liked the logo (a sinuous and twisted looking folkloric human) and the name — it appealed to the side of me that loves folklore and mythology. So there I was on a wet morning, eagerly looking about Lowestoft, a new English town, somewhere I had never been to before; I do love English towns, especially ones that have an unfancied and lonely air about them. Look beyond Costa Coffee, Subway and Poundland and you will see the ghost of what once was. In Lowestoft’s case the smoking industry (lovely kippers for breakfast this morning).
The brewery is opposite the football ground (nicknamed the trawlermen if you must know), down an alley and based in a building once used for — surprise, surprise — smoking herring. One side is taken up with a pod of stainless steel brewing vessels, formerly at Oakham’s Brewery Tap (their head brewer the irrepressible John Bryan is a good mate of Tim). And as I have written about Thornbridge here, stainless steel can be irredeemably seductive, a reflective meditation on the nature of beer. Further enlightenment comes with the fermenting vessels (of which there are five) — they all have portholes through which I can see the restless and anxious nature of the beer as it moves onto the next stage of its existence. There’s also a fragrant and fruity aroma in the air that can only come from the hops, a delicacy at odds with the clash and bang of barrels out in the yard.
So what’s next: we’ve seen the kit, asked the usual questions and are looking forward to getting to the brewery’s town pub, The Triangle. We go upstairs, pass a chap with his hair whitened by dust from the malt he’s pouring into the mill, and Tim starts handing out hops. Try this, have a look at this one, he says. Citra has a Seville orange, grapefruit and pineapple nose; Bramling Cross is reminiscent of tealeaves and blackcurrant, while Pioneer has a trio of pineapple, lemon and spice notes along with a hint of liquorice in the background. I’m not very adventurous with hops says Tim, but I know what I like. A pause as we continue to rub the hops between our hands, a favourite part of a brewery trip. Some questions and that’s the visit over. What’s next? Shall we go and taste the beers says Tim. I think so, don’t you?