Colchester Brewery – Beer Festival Brewday #3

When I embarked on this ambitious tour of East Anglian breweries in an attempt to brew as much of our Beer Festival beer as I could, little did I know that I was following in the footsteps of my predecessors at The Thatchers Arms. My third brew day was to be at the newly opened Colchester Brewery just down the road from the pub, and Head Brewer Tom Knox had done his homework…

The Thatchers Arms has been serving beer since the mid 1800’s when the nearby Chappel Viaduct was built. The first full license was obtained by John Newman in 1863, however at an unknown date he sold the ‘Thatchers Public House’ to a Mr Downes. His wife Anne Downes was a registered brewer at The Thatchers around 1890, but once widowed she sold the pub to Greene King* in 1892, just five years after they had established themselves as a commercial brewer.

Anne Downes
Anne Downes (*this is only a representation of Anne Downes)

Tom was keen to involve the brewing history of The Thatchers in the beer so we have named the brew Anne Downes Extra Special Bitter. We were aiming for a traditional Extra Special Bitter style, full and fruity with a lingering hoppy finish. Our beer won’t be quite as strong as those that Anne Downes might have brewed, but the navvies who built the viaduct didn’t have to drive home like you folks…

Toms traditional ethos doesn’t stop there, the beers he aims to brew, the brewing methods and even the yeast he uses are all researched meticulously and hark back in to British brewing history. He has returned to an old style of fermentation for his beers with a ‘double drop’ fermenting vessel and the yeast (purchased from a yeast Bank for no small sum) is an old Hook Norton strain, itself a Whitbread descendant, chosen especially as it should be suited to the unusual fermentation style. A double drop fermenter is a vessel in which the hopped wort (unfermented beer to you and me) and the yeast are placed for 12-18 hours before being literally dropped in to another vessel below where the rest of fermentation is completed before the beer is finished and ready for putting in to cask. This drop airates the beer and helps the yeast get to work whilst leaving the undesirable proteins in the original tank making for a more consistent and trouble free brew.

Colchester Brewery
Colchester Brewery

After arriving at the brewery we got straight to work; pale, crystal, chocolate & black malts along with some torrified wheat were weighed out and put in the 10 barrel mash tun. While we waited for our beer to mash in we got to the hops. Tom had some Bouillion hops put aside for bittering and I got to choose the aroma hops, there was a bag full of Bodacia which I had previously used at Red Fox which got my sense of smell tingling, but the Boullion were so good we chucked a load of them in at the end of the boil too.

I must admit I had a particularly lazy day at Colchester, Tom even insisted on cleaning the mash tun out, usually a right of passage for guest brewers! Toms business partner Roger also treated us to a slap up lunch of bread, cheese, ham & pickles to which I added a bottle of beer from another brewer keen on historical recipes…

The Kernel Breakfast Stout
The Kernel Breakfast Stout

The Kernel Breakfast Stout 9.3%, an imperial coffee stout which had an almost vinous smell, it was deep dark brown with a tan head. The big bold malt flavours of coffee, chocolate and sweet fruits went beautifully with our cheese & pickled onions. You can try a similar beer, The Kernel Imperial Brown Stout at The Thatchers for yourself, although it’s not for the feint hearted at 9.8%.

*The pub was bought back from Greene King in 1977 and has been free of tie ever since.

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