• • • Best Newcomer • • •
Saturday 25 September 2021
This article is from
Beer52 Awards 2021
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In fiction, a utopia is a perfect society, whose citizens thrive in ideal conditions for happiness and fulfilment. For Utopian Brewing though, these ideal conditions exist right here in the UK, with home- grown hop varieties holding a cornucopia of aromas from tangerine and citrus, to marmalade, spice, mint, honey, floral and molasses. It’s also home to the best malting barleys in the world, thanks to an optimal growing environment alongside centuries of malting expertise. That’s why this year’s Best Newcomer proudly uses 100% British ingredients to create some of the most thrillingly perfect beers (particularly lagers) we’ve come across in years.
It’s been an interesting 12 months for the brewery, which only opened in 2018, beginning with a gamble on growth, in the form of a 70 hectolitre fermenter and conditioning tank duo. “Sales were picking up and so we thought we’d best get some new tanks ordered,” says CEO and co-founder Richard Archer. “Of course, within a month we were back in lockdown. At that point it didn’t seem like my smartest decision, but now with all the tanks full and a bunch more on order I can call it good planning.
“Then of course we found ourselves embroiled in a major international incident. We had ordered a new shiny fully automated labelling machine for our canning line. Due to be delivered in April, we discovered in March that it was in a container on the Ever Given, the ship that was then stuck into the bank of the Suez canal. That was a tad inconvenient. Pleased to say the replacement has now arrived and proving a really useful piece of kit.”
Pandemics and global logistic meltdowns notwithstanding, this has really been Utopian’s year, as a thirst for local produce and the resurgence of lager has vindicated decisions which even two and a half years ago may have seemed a little naïve. Richard plays down the significance of ‘right place, right time’ though, when contemplating Utopian’s success.
“First and foremost that’s down to the skill of [head brewer] Jeremy and his great team in the brewhouse,” he says. “You can have as many interesting recipes and amazing ingredients as you like, but if the technique's not bang on then the beer won’t be either”.
“This is certainly borne out by the phenomenal Černé Speciální Black Lager in this month’s box; honestly one of the most interesting beers we’ve sent out in recent memory. Not only is it a black lager, which always raises eyebrows, but also a rarely tasted variant of the seldom-brewed Černé style. It’s clean and soft, with a subtlety that allows its phenomenal depth of flavour to shine through.
“Bohemian style beers are traditionally brewed using decoction mash with lesser modified malts than traditional UK ones,” continues Richard. “We worked with Warminster Maltings last year to develop our own, lower modified, base lager malt and we are sure this helps to develop the depth of flavour and body which are both particularly important in a dark beer of this type. The double decoction also helps develop the darker colour without needing to add large amounts of ‘speciality’ and roasted malts. The result, we think, is a softer mouth feel and less harsh coffee and chocolate flavours, which work much better with a lager than the harshness of roasted malts.
“We used four additions of Fuggles. You can’t get much more English than that, but we think it works perfectly to give the beer great balance in the bitterness, but also enough hop interest to compliment the flavours from the malt. Finally, of course, it’s about time. Making great lagers demands patience, to let the yeast take its time at low temperature so it doesn’t get stressed, and then never trying to rush a beer out from conditioning tank until it’s ready.”
Utopian’s brand and design partner Kingdom and Sparrow has worked with the brewery from the very beginning and has been instrumental in the development of the brand, particularly the distinctive black and gold colour scheme for the can.
Richard says: “We took inspiration from William Morris the author, designer and philosopher when we created the business. A lot of our core principles come from that arts and craft period, of reusing and recycling, of making the work place a good place to be and respecting that it’s the artisan who operates the machines that create great products, not the machines themselves. Our brand imagery tries to encapsulate those values and the connection between the producer and the natural world and how we have an obligation to look after it.”
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