Beer and brewing with West Berkshire Brewery

In the first in a new series of chats with breweries, we talk to Katy and Will from West Berkshire Brewery about pairing beer, the brewery itself, and working Christmas Eve.

Hey Katy, what have you been up to today?

It’s Christmas Eve so we came in together this morning, whoever manages to get all their work done first will be the one to have a few beers whilst the other drives us home, so we’re both cracking on with work!

And where are you right now?

I’m sat at my desk in the office with views across the countryside and Will is in the Brewhouse.

So, obvious question first, how did you get into working for a brewery?

Will has been at West Berkshire Brewery for 12 years now and was at first looking for a career in a practical trade and friends with the family who set the brewery up. Dave Maggs offered him a couple of weeks work experience and he’s never left! ‘The thing I’m most struck by is the practical application of all the biology I’d been enjoying at school. Brewing is a true definition of being a science and an art, and that’s what keeps me interested.’

I originally started by helping out in the shop at the old site but then started helping with the marketing side of things. Since then we’ve grown considerably and I now run the Digital Communication side of the Brewery. My first experience of beer was real ale and that’s still where my heart lies but I also appreciate the complex ‘craft beer’ scene and I’m training to be a Certified Cicerone at the moment (no that doesn’t just mean drinking copious amounts of beer).

Will and Katy

Give us the big sell tell us about West Berkshire Brewery?

Our founders started WBB back in 1995 by with a passion for beer and a respect for the local community. Since then we’ve grown considerably and now have the capacity to brew up to 50,000HL/year (originally 1280HL/year in 1995). We’re consistently dedicated to quality, if we’re not happy with the beer at source, it won’t leave the Brewery. We’re committed to building a sustainable future, using locally sourced ingredients where possible and driving environmental responsibility at the same time. Our range stretches from traditional real ale to crisp clean lager with everything in between. If you choose one of our beers, no matter what the style, you can be sure it’s going to be balanced, true to style and delicious.

And tell us your most interesting fact about the brewery.

One of our team is a Guinness World Record holder...

So I’ve got some pairing questions… your best brew to have with a curry?

That’s a broad question, what kind of curry?!

A Hyderabadi potato curry with Vienna Lager is a match made in heaven. The creeping heat, acidic tomato and subtle sweetness from the potato form a tasty counterpart to the complex toasted malt characteristics and balanced sweetness within this particular style of beer.

You best brew to have with steak?

‘Smoke on the Porter’ smoked rye porter - The complex caramel, spice & umami flavours within this beer perfectly match the intensity of rich meat.  

And on a Saturday night, relaxing in front of Strictly, what’s the beer to relax with?

Haha, we’re not ‘Strictly’ people but we do enjoy a beer of an evening. I wouldn’t say we stick to one beer though, we tend to get a few different styles to enjoy with food. If Iwas going to pick one beer that I keep going back to again and again it would be our India Session Ale, at 4.2% you can have a few and it’s crammed full of passionfruit, guava and pineapple flavours.

The brewing kit

What’s your best selling beer?

Good Old Boy 4% Best Bitter has been our best seller since it was first brewed in 1995 on our Founder’s hob! Being the second brew WBB ever did, it’s a traditional best bitter with a touch more caramel-like sweetness and a slightly darker colour than some, with flavours and aromas of chocolate, coffee and blackberry.

Renegade Lager comes in a close second and is our fastest growing line.

What’s Renegade?

Renegade ‘Brewery’ was launched in 2015 as our Craft range but we’ve since realigned our structure to bring everything under West Berkshire Brewery (WBB), it feels like a more honest approach and makes more sense as we’re the same people in the same place. The Renegade name will remain on our Lager as it’s what people know and it’s a nod to our heritage. All of our brews are craft whether they be cask or keg, the same processes are undertaken and the same skills are used. It’s a shame cask beer doesn’t get as much recognition as it should, it takes us right back to our ancestors and harmony with nature.   

I’ve got one of your Mashed & Wired IPA’s but haven’t tried it yet. Is branching out into quirky beers a must for breweries these days?

Will - I think the main focus for any brewery is providing quality beer in a range of styles that your customers want. We’ve been working on developing a new and varied range, that partners well with our recent expansion into a fully automated brewhouse. The new equipment allows us to play around and brew many styles that we wouldn’t have been able to do justice with the old system.

What does a day in the life of a brewery look like?

There are so many aspects to the Brewery now, from the Taproom Staff starting their day with line cleaning, to the Brewers coming in from 5am for a  double brew day. It really depends on your team! The Draymen come and go, most of our sales team are out and about for the most part and everyone else has plenty to keep them busy. We all work together as much as possible, if any department needs help, there’s always someone willing to muck in and that’s what makes us different. Even though we’ve grown from under 20 to over fifty staff in the last year, we still feel like a small team and everyone’s voice is important.

Will - Running around fixing problems mostly! But it is also very varied and can consist of: wort production, tank CIP, filtration, operating the centrifuge, cask or keg racking, beer QA, canning or bottling, the list goes on….

What’s the hardest thing about running a brewery?

Will - Having enough hours in the day to get everything done! There is always a lot going on and keeping up with a constantly changing schedule is probably the most hectic part.

How important, in terms of revenue, are the brewery tour and membership club?

It’s great because it encourages customer engagement and creates ambassadors for the Brewery who help spread the WBB word, but in terms of actual revenue it’s a very small percentage of our turnover.

Tap Room and kitchen

What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?

What do we have coming up in 2019!

Our seasonal specials in both cask and keg have names and quotes with positive vibes and we’re trying out some new styles. The next one up is ‘Stay Grounded’ our 10% Imperial Mocha Stout in collaboration with Pharmacie Coffee Roasters, Hove (they also provided the coffee for Mashed & Wired Pale Ale) The first cask special we’ve got coming up is ‘Have a Great Day’ 4.2% Rye Pale Ale and all of our limited edition artwork for 2019 is being created by the fabulous Lis at Milk & Bone Design. We’ve got a number of collaborations lined up with some amazingly talented Brewers and we’re currently in the final stages of a complete rebrand. 2019’s going to be another busy one!

Finally, how do you take your coffee?

Katy - Black with two

Will - White with one

To find out more about the brewery, to book a tour, or to buy some beers you can visit their website. You can also follow the brewery on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or check out their pics on Instagram.

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