Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend a day at Bristol Beer Factory (you can read about it here). I spent some of the time with Brett Ellis, a very likeable Californian ex-chef who upped sticks from the OC (I don’t actually know if he is from the OC, it just sounds cool) to live and work in rainy Bristol. Brett very kindly took the time to show me the ins and outs of the brewing process, despite very obviously getting in the way, and I still haven’t had a chance to buy him a beer.
Since then Brett has left BBF, along with Andrew Cooper, the Business Development Manager and one of only a handful of accredited Beer Sommeliers. Together, Brett and Andrew have concocted the Wild Beer Company. Their first beer, the dramatically named Modus Operandi, is beginning to hit a few bar tops. Ska Brewing in Colorado have already used the obvious word play opportunity with that name, but I get the impression the Wild guys are taking things a little more seriously. The Company’s mission statement is equally grandiose:
At The Wild Beer Co we want to produce Wild Beers that are different! We must re-write the rules, excite your taste buds and wildly challenge your perceptions of beer. We believe beer can be better and want to inspire people to drink beer differently.
Unfortunately, I am not one of the lucky few to have tried any of the Wild beers yet but I gather from those that have that they’re really rather good. I’ve heard the phrase “game changing” used a couple of times which seems a little strong for a beer but it’s definitely exciting times for the Bristol beer scene.
Not content with taking up his whole day at work, I managed to grab another couple of hours from Brett to ask him a few questions.
How did you get into brewing?
I was into beer to a small extent back home and when I first tasted a pint of London Pride, on gravity, and then a pint of Thatchers Traditional, you know the proper scrumpy version, I started to research about why they tasted different from the beer and cider back in Cali. Also when I moved over from California I was not allowed to work for few months and was nearly broke, so I naturally bought a cheap homebrew set up.
Has coming from a catering background helped you progress as a brewer quicker than most?
I think it has. Basically since I was 17 years old I have spent at least 40-70 hours a week focusing on how things taste and how to make them. I absolutely loved working with raw, fresh and quality ingredients and getting to know the people who grew or raised them but I was not quite the adrenalin junky that you needed to be to enjoy the rush of dinner service. I like to think that brewing has been a natural evolution for me as a chef and don’t really see too many big differences in the two.
Tell us about the Wild Beer Co, what are your plans?
Oh man, the Wild Beer Co has come from the imagination and experience of both Andrew Cooper and I. We started the journey about a year ago with light conversations over a few beers and it quickly progressed into a business plan that included barrel aging and blending and a slight irreverence for the way beer ‘should’ taste or how it should be made or even, god-forbid, dispensed. There is going to be red ales, sours, barley wines, stouts, pales, saisons, IPAs, lagers and so on and so forth.
We have spent the last 3 months setting up the brewery in Somerset. Being foodies, Andrew and I are dedicated to cooking with beer and creating beer and food pairings. There is even a Wild Beer Chef, Chris Boddy, who is a good friend of mine. At the moment Chris is setting up a makeshift brewery research kitchen of sorts, so he can start pumping out some mouth watering delights made from all things beer and food. At the Wild Beer Co we are deeply inspired by artisanal products and processes. Luckily next to our brewery is the artisan dairy, Westcombe, that makes one of only three cheeses entitled to the Slow Food designation ‘Artisan Somerset Cheddar’.
Do you have a launch date yet?
We are due to have about 3 bottled beers out at the end of October, including our Modus Operandi, an English old red ale aged for 90 days in bourbon and red wine barrels with some brettanomyces. This first bottling is absolutely beautiful, full of vanilla and deep red berry flavours. Our Bristol launch event is still being sured up but check out our website for more details soon.
What advice do you have for home brewers looking to break into the industry?
Find out what is that you like about brewing, the industry and beer and focus on that. Is it brewing, or is it converting people to good beer or is it tasting and analysing? There must at least 100 different occupations within the industry that you could dive in to and do a PhD on. I guess what I am saying is focus on what it is that makes you happy with beer and you will go far.
What beer or brewery have you been most impressed with recently?
I always pick up a collaboration brew when I see one. I just know that it is going to be a beer with a story and a face behind it. I enjoyed the white wine barrel aged Southern Conspiracy between Mark from Dark Star and Chris of Bristol Beer Factory.
If you were on death row for murdering the head of Greene King, what would your last beer be?
I am pleased to say that I would never find myself in that situation but I find it hard to answer because I tend to drink to the season or mood. The first beer that pops into my mind is Brewbakers IPA brewed by Randy. Brewbakers is a brewpub in California and was seminal in how I view and drink beer. Or maybe Firestone Walkers Pale 31, it is a great every day beer, so why not make it an end of days beer?
Thanks for your time Brett and I hope the launch goes incredibly well. I can’t wait to try some of your Wild beer!