A brewery that needs no introduction
Saturday 19 November 2022
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It’s hard to know where to start with Verdant. This brewery has a reputation for disarming drinkers and industry professionals alike, both with the caliber of hop character cultivated in its beer, and the global recognition it has received for planting its flag in a style as significant as New England IPA. But beyond that, visiting the esteemed brewery’s home in the unsuspecting maritime town of Penryn, I am taken aback by the atmosphere and approach that lies behind Verdant’s essence and identity.
I speak with James Heffron, one of Verdant’s three founding partners, about the brewery’s origins, trajectory and recent rise to the Lallemand hall of fame. Like many breweries, Verdant started out with a couple of home-brewers. In 2014, James, who came from a catering background, began brewing recreationally with friend and now brewery director, Adam Robertson. At the time Adam worked in marketing, and so already the duo had a solid and complimentary skillset to base the beginnings of a brand on. The missing piece of the now Holy Trinity, Richard White, joined Verdant as the brewery’s third founding partner just under two years later, bringing with him his extensive and vital experience as an engineer.
Fast forward eight years and we are standing in a state of the art facility equipped with a 40hl SSV brewhouse, 12 fermenters, a lagering kit, canning line, offices and an elegant taproom. This has been Verdant’s home since December 2019, when the bulging brewery moved here from its original and much smaller facility in Falmouth. “Coming from kitchen brewing, then learning to brew a bit better in a shipping container, people often ask if when we were at that stage we thought we would grow into this, and my answer is always yes, yes absolutely” says James.
He is serious and considered in saying this. Verdant has always taken a technical approach to brewing but any confidence that comes from the feeling that science is on its side, is curbed by the belief that new knowledge and better practice is always possible. To complement and contrast this, James says the brewery’s ultimate driving force has always been gut feeling, an internal answer to the question “is this the right thing to do?”.
It was a combination of this instinct and intellect that led to the development and later success of the Verdant yeast, the use of which is still often a boasting point for breweries that incorporate it into the production of their NEIPAs. The story of the Verdant yeast finds footing in 2017, when the team were at Drinktec, a trade fair in Munich that takes place once every four years to showcase the brewing world’s best in tech and kit. “I remember going up to the Lallemand stand”, James recalls, adding that everyone in attendance had, at this point, had a few drinks “and telling them that they’d just recently released 'the wrong' New England strain.”
He laughs and hangs his head before continuing, “It got the conversation going anyway, and I kind of just said ‘look, we’ve actually got our own strain that started out as London Ale Three [a very popular strain of yeast for brewing New England styles], but mutated slightly after we’d harvested it and re pitched it several times. We’ve got it analyzed and we've got it banked, you’re welcome to have a look at it.’ It wasn’t until about a year later that I heard back from Lallemand, who said, ‘we did what you said and took a sample, had a look at it, brewed some up to see what it’s like and it was actually amazing. It’s one of the easiest yeasts to grow and dry, and so we’d like to push it into the next phase of development’. It all just snowballed from there; it was released in 2020, and was Lallamand’s second or third highest volume yeast last year.”
Obviously, the skill and attention of the team is what ultimately produced the Verdant yeast, but beyond that, James says that “deep down, I just knew that it would go down well, it was so obvious with there not being a dry form of that yeast yet. That first wave of New England had already crashed over the UK’s shores from America, as it had over the rest of the world, and not only from a drinking perspective but a production perspective also. So I’m not surprised it succeeded the way it did, given that the need for it was there”.
But intuition informs so much more than operations at Verdant, there is evidence of the space given to effect and aesthetic everywhere from the brewery taproom, to its Seafood Bar in Falmouth; both of which are distinct from one another but remain undeniably Verdant. I ask James what unites the two and he replies in all honesty that he can’t be sure; “All Verdant venues have to remain individualistic, we’re not just a brand that can be bolted onto the next project. It’s about personality and tuning into what sits well for us and what doesn’t. A lot of the credit for navigating that has to go to Adam but the whole team just really cares about who we are, which is priceless”.
So, where does a brewery go from here? What does it do, once it has developed a yeast so widely used to produce a style so celebrated in craft? Much to my surprise, James says that the Penryn site we stand in will be Verdant’s forever home. They have space to add a couple more rows of six meter high fermenters, but still have capacity in a set of tanks just recently installed; between these and a quiet confidence that there’s still more Verdant can get out of its brewhouse, improving production planning and efficiency with the tank space it has will continue to be the brewery’s focus for the next year.
Interestingly, James mentions that where he sees future growth happening is most likely in beer styles, particularly cask and lager. Verdant has repurposed a set of its old site’s original tanks for lagering, the space and resources for which James assures me they would never have had at the old site; “It’s great to be able to lager properly, and with steps, mash at temperatures we can monitor and control more easily, and be able to do a mash out decoction as well. Just recently we were talking about maybe doing larger volumes of these, as we’re really happy with where we’re at.”
“In essence, we love hops, we love lagers, cask ales and the New England or West Coast stuff, beyond that we just want to make the best versions of those that we can. I have this vision of a home refrigerator you can open up at the end of the day and find those four beer styles in – though perhaps not cask – and in my mind’s eye they’re all Verdant, that’s the dream.”
And dreaming has served Verdant well so far. As James and I grasp at those fuzzy strings that must be wrangled and woven together to talk about intuition and what that means for Verdant, we suddenly get talking about Cornwall. “We’ve never really made a song and a dance about being based in Cornwall. We didn't ever want to be a Cornish brewery, flying a Cornish flag” he says, “but we all wanted to live here, and keep living here, our families were here. Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but the average income here is also one of the lowest in the country. It’s often the case that if you want to live in a place like Cornwall, you kind of have to invent a job, and you have to really want to live here.”
At this moment, I feel I have understood Verdant, but with an entity as complicated as this, I may be far flung in my observations; perfection, practice, and craft seem a requirement of its existence. Intellect, intuition and rigor all resources it has had to cultivate by and for itself. Whatever that gut feeling, it is driven by a passion that cannot be possessed by all, for it is forged in the fires of kitchen brewing, and shipping containers.
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