After brewing five of the beers for our beer festival in May I had a kind invitation from Tom Norton of Mill Green Brewery to brew with him for our October festival. Being a ‘Hoptoberfest’ Tom decided to raid his hop store for us and use something he hadn’t brewed with yet, I jumped at the chance when he suggested brewing a Black IPA*. Mill Green was established in 2008, built next door to the White Horse at Edwardstone. The brewery, in keeping with the ethos of the Norton family, is exceptionally eco friendly, recently winning both ‘The Greenest Business Building’ and ‘Greenest Small Business’ in Suffolk at the regional business awards.
Dylan, chief brew dog for the day, and I arrived just as Tom was mashing in. The grist comprised mainly of their home grown organic pale malt with healthy doses of crystal and chocolate malt for colour and some roasted unmalted barley giving both body and a rich toasty flavour. This was going to be a strong 6% beer and with a full brew on the 4.5 barrel plant the mash tun was full to the brim with all that malt. Now everything takes time when you’re brewing but luckily there is plenty to see when you’re in the company of the Nortons…
John, Tom’s father, is also a keen cider maker, according to Tom it’s the simplicity of the product that his father enjoys. His Castling Heath ciders have been sold at the White Horse since before the Norton family even owned the pub. While we waited for the mash Tom took us up to his fathers’ house for a tour of the cider shed. Dylan had a good sniff around and Tom & I sampled some fantastic dry rum barrel aged cider and a rather delicious naturally sparkling elderflower and apple cider. Before we got too carried away we headed back to the brewery and transferred our jet black wort into the copper.
Tom had picked out two Australian hop varieties, Topaz and Galaxy from his store. Aiming for quite a bitter beer (60 IBU’s) a healthy amount of Topaz was added as the wort came up to the boil, and we saved a further 3kgs of each of the two hops for aroma at the end of the boil. With another wait on our hands we headed over the road to the Nortons newly acquired plot of woodland where the plan is to cultivate and, in time, coppice to fuel their wood burners and become more energy self sufficient. Dylan was in his element much preferring to gallivant round the woods rather than being sat by the door to the brewery watching supervising while we had all the fun!
I was lucky enough to be there on a day when the Sudbury Rotary club were having a brewery tour and got to listen to the fascinating story behind the building and ideals of the brewery and their two pubs. John talked enthusiastically about the small carbon footprint of the brewery, the local wood sourced for the build, the efficient sheep’s wool insulation, the lime plaster and the solar and wood fired energy sources which supply almost all of the energy required for brewing. They also farm 16 acres of barley and hop fields to supply the brewery, another eco feather in their already green cap! The green ethos, the local sourcing, the self sufficiency all hark bark to times in our past when things were more straightforward.
As the 20 strong brewery tour said goodbye to Dylan and strolled across to the pub to enjoy their lunch, we chucked the remaining hops in into the copper and filled the brewery with wonderful of aromas of marmalade, orange pith and passion fruit. With the hops steeping in the copper as the brew slowly transferred to the fermenting vessel there was time for a cheeky pint and some lunch for us. After a quick check on the brew, we pitched the yeast and headed off for one last excursion to the hop garden. The hop harvest had only been brought in a few weeks ago and although there were plenty of hop bines waiting to be cut back, there were only a few stray hops to sniff. The aroma of a fresh green hop is really intense; the Goldings in particular were exceptionally grassy. When I got home Sarah was insistent I had a new aftershave on, I can only assume she rather liked the smell of fresh Suffolk hops! Tom has just brewed a beer using these fresh green hops and you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve secured some for our festival. Having tasted some from the fermenting vessel I am really looking forward to the finished product, and I guess Sarah will like it too!
Another interesting piece of history I picked up from the Rotary’s tour was that brewing is not new to The White Horse. Production is thought to have ceased when previous brewer, Thomas Rice, died in 1839 whilst trying to retrieve a candlestick he’d dropped. He was reportedly suffocated by the excess CO2 from the brewing vessel he climbed in to. Around the same time as the poor brewers accident things were changing a lot on the Essex Suffolk borders. There was a large drain on the local population as many people emigrated, lured to countries like Australia with the promise of agricultural labouring work. This exodus of the workforce appears to have coincided with the decline of commercial hop growing, a very labour intensive practice, which ceased in the area altogether around 1906. I like to think that the fantastic Australian hops we’ve used may have been grown by descendants of the emigrated Suffolk hop growers who probably supplied the late Thomas Rice while he was still brewing at The White Horse in the mid 1800’s.
Our Tazmanian Hop Devil beer will be available, alongside the rest of our hoppy selection, at The Thatchers ‘Hoptoberfest’ from October 18th – 21st. We’ll have live music on Thursday and Friday evenings, beer & food matching on Saturday and a tutored beer tasting with Cask Marque on Sunday afternoon. We look forward to seeing you there!
* Whilst I love drinking it, I don’t like the oxymoronic name of this particular style of beer. However the other popular name for the style is Cascadian Black which indicates American hops, cascade in particular, which we didn’t use.