From Elland and back: classic porter picks up two top awards in beer competitions
Added: Sunday, September 8th 2013
A quiet toast turned in to a mighty celebration at Elland Brewery in Yorkshire in August. The workers were preparing to raise a glass to their 2,000th brew since the company was launched 12 years ago when the news came through that they’d won the most prestigious award in the brewing industry: Champion Beer of Britain at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival in London.
The beer that had wowed the judges at London Olympia was 1872 Elland Porter, which had already walked off with the title of Champion Winter Beer of Britain in January.
And, just to add to the joy of the moment, the beer that was being brewed at Elland when the victory was announced was...1872 Porter.
It’s a special beer. Dave Saunders, who ran the West Yorkshire Brewery that merged with Barge & Barrel to form Elland, discovered the recipe in an old brewery book from the late 19th century. So the 6.5% beer is an authentic example of a Victorian Porter, the style that helped create the commercial brewing industry and which spawned its stronger brother, Stout Porter or Stout for short.
The brewery, based on the inevitable small industrial estate, is in the town of Elland, close to Huddersfield and handy for the cross-Pennine route to Manchester. It’s in a spacious building measuring 3,200 square feet and has plenty of room for expansion. The additional space may come in handy as a result of the clamour since GBBF – a clamour that’s rubbing off on all the beers, not just Porter.
The 10-barrel plant is based around a wood-clad mash tun and copper that came from a former Firkin brewpub in Birmingham. They feed five fermenters, including one recent addition, a 10-barrel vessel built by Bavarian Brewers. Manager Martin Ogley told me they wanted to clad all the fermenters in wood but were stopped by officials from Health & Safety on the grounds that wood can get wet and rot. So can the brains of H&S jobsworths, but as a result the fermenters are covered in less appealing plastic.
Following the merger of Barge & Barrel and West Yorkshire, Elland has been owned by four partners, Dickie Bird, Mark Smith, Fiona Smith and Andy Parker. Along with brewer Michael Wynnyczuk, Dickie was at Olympia on 13 August to pick up the CBoB trophy. He says he’s the genuine Dickie Bird, as the famous former Test umpire was christened Harold, whereas Dickie at Elland is a true Richard. He hasn’t yet got a clock named in his honour at Headingley cricket ground, but it’s surely only a matter of time.
Porter is brewed with Maris Otter pale malt along with amber, brown and chocolate malts. Amber is a variety of malt rarely used these days but was a regular constituent of earlier porters. The hops are Northdown and Target, which weren’t around in the 19th century but are traditional varieties from the 20th century. The beer has a big and entrancing aroma of coffee and chocolate, balanced by smoky malt and spicy hops. Chocolate and coffee continue on the palate, with a chewy, Ryvita-like malt note and a building bitterness from the hops. The finish is long and complex, ending dry and smoky but with solid contributions from bitter, resinous hops, coffee, chocolate and a creamy note of caramel.
Elland’s main brand is Bargee, a firmly traditional 3.8% bitter, brewed with pale and crystal malts and hopped with Challenger, First Gold and Progress varieties: the brewery team is keen to use as many English malts and hops in its main brews as possible. Bargee has hop resins and tart orange fruit on the nose, with juicy malt and uncompromisingly bitter hops on the palate. The finish is bitter and hoppy with a continuing delicious note of orange fruit.
Martin says the brewery has been criticised for making its 4% Best Bitter exceptionally pale. It’s brewed with just Maris Otter pale malt and wheat malt, with English Progress hops joined by American Cascades. As Martin says, people have short memories. Down the road in Sheffield, Stones Bitter is fondly recalled and was a golden bitter long before golden ales were developed. And over the hills, there was once a straw-coloured bitter called Boddingtons that made Mancunians weep with pleasure.
Some drinkers are puzzled by the fact that Elland produces two golden ales of the same strength: 4.2%. They are Eden and Beyond the Pale. Dickie Bird says it’s quite simple: they are very different beers. Eden has six kilos of wheat added to pale malt in the mash tun and the two hops used are both American: Cascade and Chinook. The finished beer has a tart fruit – orange and lemon slices – aroma and palate, with a long, dry, fruity and bitter finish. Beyond the Pale has some Munich malt blended with pale: the careful preparation of Munich malt lends a rich juicy and biscuit note to the beer as well as a hint of bronze colour. Beyond the Pale is brewed with a single hop, Cascade, and the beer has a delightful nose of lemon jelly fruit and rich malt, followed by a palate and finish packed with bitter hops, lemon fruit and a full sappy malt character.
The final regular beer in the portfolio – there are several seasonals, including an excellent interpretation of a German Kôlsch called KSA – is Nettlethrasher at 4.4%. The copper coloured beer was developed by John Eastwood when he ran the Barge & Barrel Brewery. He was aware that Eastwood is also the name of the small town in Nottinghamshire where D H Lawrence was born. It’s alleged that Lawrence thrashed himself with nettles or may even have thrashed other people with the stinging plants. The beer named after this odd practice doesn’t contain any nettles, even though the plant is related to the hop, but uses three English varieties, Bramling Cross, Challenger and Progress. The grain make up is complex: pale, amber and black, with wheat and oats. It has a herbal and floral aroma with tart fruit and hop resins, creamy malt, fruit and hops in the mouth, and a long bittersweet finish with spicy hops and tangy fruit.
Elland’s sales are concentrated in the north of England, with beer going to Manchester in the west and as far as Hull and Scarborough in the east. They reach as far south as Peterborough and Scunthorpe.
There’s no resting on laurels at the brewery. A batch of Elland Porter is quietly ageing in whisky casks bought from Speyside Cooperage. The beer will be ready in December and I’ve been promised a bottle. Now that’s what I call a Christmas present.
Pictured below: Dickie Bird (left), Michael Wynnyczuk (centre) and Martin Ogley