11 East Anglian craft beers you have to try
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Producing beers crafted with love and attention and bursting with flavour, we meet some of Suffolk and Norfolk’s microbrewers who are putting the region firmly on the map.
Artefact Brewing, near Bury St Edmunds
Just over a year ago James Phillips and his wife, Kat Lawson-Phillips, started their microbrewery (or nanobrewery to be precise!) in a converted shipping container on a farm in Ixworth near Bury St Edmunds.
The couple are running their brewery part-time while they test the market and find their feet.
“Artefact had been in the pipeline for us for a couple of years and was due to launch in March 2020, however this was delayed due to the pandemic,” says James.
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“Launching while the pubs were closed was not what we had in mind, but we've had to adapt and make it work and are pleased with how everything has gone so far.”
James started off as a home brewer, and is completely self-taught.
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“I started experimenting with making beer at home about seven years ago and just got more and more into it, really,” he says.
“Craft beer has seen a huge transformation in that time, and eventually my wife just got fed up of me taking over the house with my brewing and taking her to loads of different breweries and challenged me to make a go of it.
“So, together, we set out trying to make it work. It took us the best part of a year to actually install and convert the shipping container into the brewery, doing everything on a shoe-string and in our evenings and weekends, and to get everything set up and running, and then we had to shut before we had launched due to the pandemic.
“However, we were able to push our plans back by a few months and were lucky as breweries were classed as essential businesses, we were able to launch last summer and have been really pleased with the response to our beers so far.”
Artefact beers are brewed in very small batches. Most microbreweries are about six to 10 brewer's barrels, whereas Artefact is just over one barrel, James explains.
“Passionate about making quality, small-batch craft beers and traditional ales, Artefact is all about experimenting with different styles and ingredients and having a seasonal approach to a core range,” he continues.
“The number one priority is making quality, approachable beers and as we only use really natural ingredients and processes, all of our beers are vegan-friendly, too. “
The hands-on brewing process involving the malt, water and hops normally takes about eight hours from start to finish.
Then, once the beer is chilled down enough, James adds the yeast and leaves the beer to ferment for between a week and two weeks in a fermentation tank.
As they bottle condition all of their products, which means there is live yeast and a secondary fermentation process in the bottle or cask, they have to wait for the beers to carbonate before it is ready to drink.
“The main thing we've learnt so far from doing the brewery is that definitely didn't plan in enough space for storing everything we need,” says James.
When it comes to flavours, James’s ethos is to make beers that he enjoys, not necessarily ‘trendy’ beers.
“For instance, our very first release was a dark mild, a low-alcohol but rich, complex, chocolaty beer,” says James.
“We refer to it as a bit of a unicorn, as hardly anywhere makes a dark mild at the moment. People who like a mild though have really embraced my take on it which has given this random little beer I released a little bit of a cult following and it's still popular, even in the summer.
“The rest of our range is fairly classic with our Ixworth Blonde Ale, a homage to cask beer when the pubs were closed, and a range of pale ales as well as an Amber IPA and Black IPA. I also really love experimenting with tea in my beers, so our Jasmine Blonde, a jasmine tea version of our Ixworth Blonde, is really fresh and summery and has been really popular, too.
“In total we've done 13 different beers so far, including a sour version of our dark mild, which is really strong on the cherry and currant notes. I love experimenting and brewing new things but I'm making life difficult for myself, as I can't keep everything in stock. Given the small size of the brewery, the most I can brew from each batch is 600 bottles, which doesn't go all that far!”
During the pandemic they’ve been operating a drive through once a month and as hospitality opens up their beers are now available in a few pubs and restaurants.
“We recently worked on a beer for Pea Porridge, the very recently accredited Michelin Star restaurant in Bury St Edmunds, so working with them has been a huge boost for us, being such a small start-up, and a real privilege,” says James.
Find their beers online through www.beautifulbeers.co.uk.
Wildcraft Brewery, Buxton, near Aylsham
Wildcraft Brewery, based at Buxton in Norfolk, was formed four years ago thanks to a chance meeting between teacher and enthusiastic home brewer Mike Deal and entrepreneur Mark Goodman.
They got chatting and decided to set up in business together. And the brewery has grown to producing nearly 3,000 litres a week and selling all over the UK.
Mike says that their love of using foraged ingredients means that alongside their traditional beers, they create a range of craft and unusual beers that stand out in both taste and the designs on the bottles and cans.
“I had been homebrewing for many years before starting up the brewery,” says Mike.
The supportive community where he lived in Old Costessey convinced him that his brews were good enough to look into going professional.
“Having met up with Mark after a Norwich match, the pieces started to come together, with Mark knowing an ideal property for us to move into.
“After getting some initial funding through crowdfunding and some private investors, we were able to buy the initial brewing equipment and get started,” says Mike.
Wildcraft currently has 23 beers in regular production: five of which are traditional ales, bitters, IPA and stouts and six are now in can and are craft.
“Many of the others are either on our ‘Expery-Mental’ label or are some of our foraged range,” says Mike.
“This includes beers made with foraged stinging nettles, elderflower, cherries and even chestnuts!”
The brewing process always starts with water from the brewery’s own borehole, which is mixed with Norfolk grown grains, which are malted by local maltsters Crisp.
The grains combine to make the body of the beer, contribute colour and most importantly, flavour and sugars for the yeast to eat and make the alcohol.
The sugary water is transferred into a 1,000l kettle and is brought to the boil. Here, the hops are added.
The brewery currently uses more than 20 varieties, all of which provide different bitterness levels, flavours and aromas. It’s often at this point various foraged ingredients are added.
Once boiled the liquid, now called wort, is transferred to a fermenter where it will bubble away for a week, the yeast eating away at the sugars and producing alcohol as a by-product. It’s then transferred off the yeast into a conditioning tank where extra dry hops can be added for extra aroma and flavour, and often ingredients such as pineapple or mango which make up two of their craft range.
Wildcraft’s fanbase is growing across Norfolk – and the UK.
“The biggest problem currently is keeping up with demand so there are plans afoot to expand and maybe even move premises,” says Mike.
“There is already a new brewing system sat at the brewery ready to be installed which will take the capacity to 2,000l per brew rather than 750l. Its looking like exciting times!”
Duration, West Acre near Swaffham
Duration was founded by Miranda Hudson and Derek Bates in 2017. The couple had met when Miranda was travelling in America. Bates is a chef and brewer (he has worked for Brewdog and Brew By Numbers) and took Miranda on a tour of the east coast.
“We went to amazing breweries and pubs and tasted beer like I had never tasted before. It was fresh and fruity,” says Miranda.
Rather than setting up a city brewery, they decided to move to where the ingredients are, and found their perfect premises sitting in the ruins of an old Norfolk priory by the banks of a chalk river.
“We thought brewing only has four ingredients – water, grains, hops and yeast – so why not go to where so much of the world’s best barley grows?” says Miranda.
The priory renovation project was long and complex.
“Because the building is a scheduled monument, the same as Stonehenge, and Grade II listed, it was a year and a half in the planning. We had all the different bodies making sure that we were protecting and preserving it in the right way,” says Miranda.
In the meantime, they started to get the Duration brand out there, by brewing nomadically in collaboration with their friends in the industry.
They moved into their permanent home in October 2019 – and their first beer was ready on General Election day.
They describe their brews as “beers that belong” – inspired by the region and its produce.
“We want to give back more than we take,” says Miranda. So sustainability is built into the fabric of what they do. As just one example, waste water is cleaned and put back into the chalk river.
And many of the ingredients couldn’t be more local, including fruit and botanicals from local farmers.
“We try to keep about seven core beers on, rather than stick to one style,” says Miranda. Those include a German pilsner, an IPA and their flagship beer Turtles All The Way Down, a juicy American Pale, which has notes of pineapple and mango. Plus there will be specials and seasonal beers.
Head brewer Bates and Miranda love creating stories for their beers – the Italian pilsner Cuttin’ Grass was designed to be enjoyed when mowing the lawn on a summer’s day. With lemon and tangerine notes on the nose, it’s crisp and lighter on the malts than its Bavarian cousin, generously dry hopped with noble German hops of Saphir and Mittelfruh.
“Craft beer is quite a fast churn – people like to try something new and we get to be experimental,” says Miranda. “We keep our beers on the books all the time, improving them.
“We like being small enough that we can have the autonomy to focus on the product.”
Of course, little did Miranda and Bates know when they enjoyed their first beer brewed in their Norfolk home that a few months later the country would be put into lockdown.
“At times we didn’t know if we could keep people’s jobs going. Keeping going was our main objective,” says Miranda. And they are hugely grateful for the locals who have supported them, by stopping by to buy their beers as a treat during the lockdowns.
When it comes to future plans, Miranda says that it’s to “grow out of the last year and keep good beer flowing!”
“We’ve got our first non-vegan beer in a tank,” says Miranda. “A honey beer called Life Cycles, made with local honey, which is out on July 1.”
They have been awarded a West Norfolk Small Business Grant to expand their al fresco taproom event Tap Days, where families can enjoy a farm to glass beer and a tour. They will also be holding more events like Yoga + a Pint and are talking to West Acre Theatre about an Oktoberfest collaborative event.
They are also recruiting for three new positions at the brewery and are waiting to hear about funding to expand their brewhouse with additional cellar capacity and a centrifuge for improved efficiencies and a better yield.
Ampersand Brew Co, Diss
Ampersand Brew Co is a small family brewery based in South Norfolk. It opened in May 2017 and was started by Amy Hipwell, her husband, Andy, and his parents Gill and Adrian on the family farm at Bungay.
They are currently in the process of moving the brewery to bigger premises at Diss, with room to expand and a dedicated taproom where people can enjoy their beer.
“Both Adrian and Andy started home brewing as a way to make beers less readily available in our local area,” says Amy.
“This started off with making historic porter and IPA recipes, which in turn led to making more modern American hopped IPA’s, big stouts and Belgium style beers.
The jump into opening the brewery started with the availability of some buildings on the family farm that needed some use.
To help get the brewery up and running it was operated for the first year entirely in evenings and weekends allowing them to re-invest all their turnover into adding and improving the equipment.
By 2018 the brewery had grown to such a level that both Amy and Andy quit their jobs to run the brewery full time.
The brewery started with a focus on seasonal beers with an ever-changing beer line up. As Ampersand Brew Co grew and their customer base increased they have incorporated a core range of beers.
One of their most popular is Bidon, a 3.9% session ale.
“It’s designed to be easy drinking and refreshing whilst still packing lots of flavour,” says Amy.
“We use oats combined with a heritage barley (Golden Promise) to add depth of flavour to the body with the main hops being El Dorado and Citra providing flavours of peach and citrus.”
Another favourite is On The Wing, a 4.7% session IPA.
“We pack some big IPA flavours into a modest abv with this beer. Again oats and Golden Promise barley provide depth of flavour and body whilst large amounts of American hops (Amarillo, Ekuanot & Citra) give bitterness and tropical aromas for balance,” says Amy.
“We also have started a mixed fermentation beer project leading on from some exciting naturally fermented beers we produced with fellow Norfolk brewery All Day Brewing,” says Amy.
They currently have four people working for the brewery making, packaging and selling the beer.
“Being a small team everyone gets stuck in with whatever needs doing meaning you can go from serving a customer to operating the canning line in a blink of an eye. Recently with our opening of a taproom we have employed Stuart as our full time taproom manager who runs a small team of taproom staff. We also have a team of staff running our pub, The Cap in Harleston,” says Amy.
“Since August last year we have been unable to produce enough beer as we ran out of space to install new or bigger tanks at our original site. The new site is 10 times larger and as well as allowing us to produce more beer it also has a dedicated taproom space. This was opened in April and gives people the chance to come and drink our beer, with a choice from 14 taps, whilst sitting in the brewery surrounded by the brewing tanks and equipment. We also have a great selection of wine, including from local vineyard Flint (who we share our original site with), as well as local gin from Gyre and Gimble.”
Burnt Mill, Bradley near Stowmarket
Sophie de Ronde is head brewer of Burnt Mill. The brewery was founded by Charles O’Reilly and has just celebrated its fourth birthday.
Sophie fell in love with beer when she worked in a real ale pub in Essex.
“I made the leap into brewing with Brentwood Brewing company, as I wanted to learn more about brewing,” says Sophie,
Burnt Mill’s core beer is Pintle, a pale ale which they supply in can, keg and more recently cask.
“And we have a range of beers that we brew regularly but not as a constant brand like Pintle,” says Sophie.
“One of our regular ranges of beers is our single hopped Fog series, which is a range of IPAs showcasing single hops and their characteristics.
“We have other series of beers as well. In the past we have done Gardens of Green, a dual hop series, and we are currently running a Constellation series, where we are matching the number of hops with the number of core stars within a constellation.
“The beers and the thought process behind them is a team process,” Sophie continues. “Ingredients wise, we source all our malt from local East Anglian suppliers who are committed to sourcing the raw ingredients from local farms.
“Our hops are sourced from all over the world which gives us the opportunity to be creative with our flavour blends and the characteristics of our beers. “
Looking to the future, Charles adds: "We've built a great team here over the last four years and there are now eight of us here. Looking forward we are planning to expand the brewery so that we can keep up with demand in the UK and overseas.
"As well as this we are looking to make the brewery more sustainably focussed by reducing our energy and water consumption as well as installing solar power here."