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Going for Gold: Exmoor toasts 30 years

Added: Wednesday, July 13th 2016

jonathan price exmoor ales

It’s the beer that transformed brewing in Britain and its 30th birthday was celebrated, fittingly, on a day of rare summer sunshine. Exmoor Gold, brewed by Exmoor Ales in Wiveliscombe in Somerset, was Britain’s first golden ale and it created such a storm of interest that breweries throughout the country rushed to make their own versions of the new style.

On 9 July 2016, CAMRA members joined managing director Jonathan Price and his team at the brewery to celebrate the birthday. Phil Emond from the local CAMRA branch,handed Jonathan a framed award that will join the many plaques and certificates on the walls won by the brewery for Gold and its other ales.

Exmoor Gold wasn’t meant to be a regular beer. It was brewed in 1986 as a one-off, to celebrate the brewery’s 1,000th brew. But news of a beer that was as pale as lager but hummed and boomed with rich malt and hops spread like a forest fire and it became a regular beer.

Today it competes with Exmoor’s other beers – Ale, Fox, Stag and Beast – but it’s now the best-seller and has won some 30 awards in its 30 year history. If the first brew was a meant as a one-off, it was in keeping with the fitful start of the brewery itself. Exmoor Ales was founded in 1980 in the redundant Hancock’s Brewery in Wiveliscombe that had closed in 1959. The omens weren’t good. The founders, with brewer Jim Laker, moved into the buildings in the depths of winter with snow blowing in through a hole in one wall.

Against the odds, they cranked the brewing vessels back into life and to the founders’ astonishment – shared by the rest of the brewing industry – won CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain award with the 13th brew of Exmoor Ale. When Gold came on stream, the brewery achieved national status with beers available through the South-west and nationally via wholesalers.  

Exmoor

Jonathan Price (pictured) bought Exmoor 10 years ago and in 2015 moved the brewery down the hill into spacious buildings previously operated by a building supplies company. Jonathan’s background was in the baking trade and it was a short journey from making bread to brewing beer.

“The big difference was yeast,” he says. “When you’re baking bread, you use up the yeast. With beer you create more yeast with each brew and use it for future batches.”

With head brewer Adrian Newman, Jonathan produces 13,000 barrels a year and they have room to double production. The kit includes some fermenters from the original site but the core vessels – mash tun and copper -- are new and were built in Eastern Europe.

“It’s traditional infusion mash kit,” Adrian says. “No lauter tuns or hop whirlpools here!” He is assisted by Dan Frye, who hails from North Carolina in the United States. He brewed in Wales before moving to Exmoor and adds a transatlantic enthusiasm to the brewing operation.

Adrian and Dan use whole hops and the varieties used in Exmoor Gold include Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings from England, German Perle and Bobek from Slovenia. Grain comes from the specialist Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot in Devon. The local water is, Adrian says, extremely soft and he “Burtonises” it with sulphates to make it suitable for brewing ales with good malt and hop character.

Exmoor Gold is 4.5% in cask and 5% in bottle. With just 10 colour units it’s as pale as a Pilsner but the hops deliver a big punch of 40 bitterness units that most lager beers can only dream of. The beer has earthy and spicy hop resins on nose and palate with rich biscuit malt and a delicious touch of lemon fruit. A stronger 5.5% version, on draught and in bottle, called Export Gold, will be on sale during the Olympics.

At a time when packaged beers are taking a bigger slice of the market, Exmoor is still a mainly draught beer brewery, with 85% of production in cask. Bottling is carried out for the brewery by Marston’s in Burton-on-Trent.

Exmoor Gold deserves its plaudits and its prizes. It won younger drinkers from the cold and fizzy embrace of fake lager and in so doing helped restore the fortunes of the cask ale sector. Its 30th anniversary was worthy of celebration.

Exmoor Gold clip