It’s the age of craft beers and everyone from your dad to your Nan is enjoy this popular tipple, but what’s all the hype about? We spoke to local expert Tom Guy to find out more
Beer has taken on many forms in its lifetime. In fact, beer probably has the longest history going when it comes to alcoholic beverages; dating back some would say to the dark ages, and beyond. Its relatively simple makeup means the ability to produce it goes far and wide, you need just four basic ingredients, namely barley, water, hops and yeast – all naturally grown – and then, in the simplest of terms, it goes through a process of extracting, heating, fermenting and aging, but the techniques and unique practices of each individual brewer make them all different.
We caught up with brewer Tom Guy from Lichfield’s latest brewing establishment, The Brewhouse & Kitchen, which has its own microbrewery, producing a range of beers, as well stocking an impressive list of craft beers, and offering a beer-based food menu.
It must be an exciting job, what made you decide to go into the world of brewing?
I think the tipping point was a chance encounter with a Master Brewer (in a pub of all places). I was working in the food industry and felt disenfranchised by the lack of personal connection between employees and the consumer; so the Master Brewer told me that brewing would be the best career move for me. He was kind enough to offer me some of his contacts and put my foot in the door. Now I’m using my technical knowledge in engineering and science along with my passion for brewing at home.
What goes into making a brew?
On a basic level, only 4 key ingredients constitute beer; malted cereal (mainly barley), hops, yeast and water. There are variations between countries and even within regions, some being able to add other flavoursome ingredients like herbs, spices, fruits, chocolate – basically anything edible can go into a brew! Looking deeper into the question, high quality ingredients form only a part of the bigger picture. The brewer makes a fingerprint on the beer they make based on their technical skill and flair for the job; that’s why the same recipe will always taste different when brewed by others, quite like cooking. There you will certainly see the passion of the brewer and, on an esoteric level, the ‘art’ within the science of brewing. Modern beer can now be scrutinised in the same vein as a fine wine or a musical or artistic masterpiece – to some it’s just a style of beer, to others a revelation!
Do you have a signature technique?
For me as a brewer I’m fortunate to have a lot of hoppy beer in my range. I favour a couple of techniques that maximise the flavour and aroma of those styles; hop-bursting and low-temperature steeping. The former is so-called because there is minimal hops used at the start of boiling (to impart a subtle bitterness), the majority (90-99%) is steeped at the end of boiling, allowing most of the flavour-active compounds to be retained. Coupled with the latter technique where, instead of steeping hops in near-boiling liquid (like a strong builder’s tea, which is strong and tannic) a lower temperature between 75-85 degrees retains those aromas for longer (like Japanese green tea) so that they can make it into the final product. Adding hops during and after fermentation (ironically called dry-hopping) creates even more layers of aroma and flavour.
Are the core beers significant to Lichfield and Staffordshire at all?
All our beer pays homage to our roots in Lichfield and the wider Staffordshire area. We always honour the pub we take over with our best bitter (Gatehouse), as well as paying attention to prominent local figures (Spellman Sam for the late Samuel Johnson) and key moments in history (Handy Man denotes the clever use of the triple-knotted noose by the hangman of Staffordshire, now the symbol of the county).
The Brewhouse & Kitchen is located on Bird Street in Lichfield and 6 Birmingham Road in Sutton. A two-hour Beer Masterclass is available to book at Lichfield on Wednesday evenings and on Saturdays for an afternoon and evening session, priced at £20 per person.