Here be the big dog


When the country was ordered to stay at home in March 2020, I lost more than half of my work as a freelance marketer for independent pubs and breweries. For someone just at the start of their career, it was a bombshell. So it’s probably no exaggeration to say that a single message from Duration co-founder Miranda Hudson changed the course of my professional life. This message led to nine months of intense work together, as I helped to develop the brewery’s online presence and pivot its business to the brutal realities of brewing in a pandemic. We weathered that storm together, with many tinnies and video calls in the garden after another day's work was done. To be honest, Miranda and the rest of the team really got me through, just as much as I helped them.

If you haven’t heard of Duration Brewing, you must have been living under a rock. A big, beer-free rock. From deepest Norfolk, Duration has taken the craft world by storm since 2017, initially releasing collaborative brews with some of the country’s most esteemed brewers, while building its own high-end brewhouse in a majestic converted 16th century stone barn amid the barley fields of the Nar Valley Way. It brews beers that belong – from nature with purpose – pouring time and place into every can and keg.

Inspired by the creative solitude of its rural location, Duration showcases how beautifully brewing and agriculture can exist in tandem. It makes everyday fresh pale ale and crisp pilsners using local grains and crops, seasonal releases brewed in small rotational batches, and limited releases of slow and spontaneous beers from its barrel store. Its wild mixed fermentation ales are developed at a slower pace, inoculated with native cultures, aged in wood and blended to taste.

Head brewer Derek Bates has a great brewing pedigree, with a deep culinary knowledge honed in the US and the UK. He invites the inquisitive and the discerning to pull up a chair, raise a glass, be present in the moment, in conversation or in silence and come enjoy life at the farm. Bates is from North Carolina in the US and speaks with a quiet Southern drawl in a pretty laid-back tempo. It was in London, working at Brew By Numbers, when his partner Miranda convinced him that they could take the plunge and set up shop together. They even ran an Airbnb there to maintain an income before making the final push to escape the city and move to Norfolk.

Moving out of London to set up a brewery may seem counter-intuitive, but was entirely deliberate; a decision was born from the pair’s genuine hope to add something new to the UK beer scene, with a destination where folk could enjoy a few beers embraced by the very surroundings that informed them. It’s a less busy world, where stillness can be celebrated and enjoyed.

Bates says he ‘belongs’ to the Appalachians far more than he does to America, and Norfolk seems similar. It’s a place where people have become engrained with their land: fishermen, oystermen, shepherds and farmers all living in the rhythm of the place. Norfolk's small towns have blacksmiths, tanners and carpenters that go back generations. Craftspeople of heart and of hand, living by their traditions and passing them down. As a peninsula, people have to want to come here, and those that remain have strong ties and deep connections.

Norfolk ticks a lot of boxes on the beer front too: most of the beer worlds' barley grows here and plenty of other produce great for beer too; a chalk stream meanders just behind us so we purify our water and we don’t need to add to mains drainage; the national yeast bank which houses over 2000 genomes is a short distance from us in Norwich.

Duration finally began brewing on its own site by the end of 2019, and the two-year build in the remote wilds of West Norfolk posed several challenges. The most complex was how to sympathetically renovate our stone barn. The heavily protected, crumbling structures were dislocated from any mains services, and the site was in a very run-down state back in 2017.

Piecing the plan together needed a sympathetic approach for the grade II buildings. The site is sanctioned as being of national historic importance both above and below ground. The priory site at West Acre is one of 134 sites deemed a ‘scheduled monument’ by Historic England. Bats, archaeology and the night skies were all as important considerations as functionality, budget and timeline.

It took 18 months to deliver the design phase and 12 months to deliver the build and install phase. But the risk, the money, the work and the wait were all worth it. Since then Duration has gone from strength to strength, winning an abundance of awards, for a broad range of styles catering for newcomers and craft veterans looking to try the latest or most experimental thing. 

As lockdowns eased, Duration opened up for takeaway beers which started the building of community experiences that they had been longing for. These have now developed to full tap days and nights with pop-up food vendors and plenty of pints for people to enjoy directly from the source where the beer has gone from grain to glass. These are only going to continue to grow as Duration has completed a successful crowdfund for an impressive and immersive taproom.

Duration has a honed, methodical and mindful approach to everything it does, and its latest core beer, Another Day Done is testament to this. A 4.5% Juicy Pale is now a flagship part of its streamlined core range, which will be available all year round, alongside specials, collaborations and foeder releases.

Cover photo © Lily Waite

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