Big beers and bigger ideas
Saturday 03 June 2023
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We amble uphill from Kemptown, with the sea at our backs, to find Unbarred Brewery wedged under the intersection of two busy roads. Festooned with murals of Norman Cook, David Bowie, Alfred Hitchcock and other pop culture icons, everything about Unbarred’s lively brewery tap screams ‘modern craft’, as do the bold, assumption-challenging beers with which it made its name.
We’re gate-crashing a collaboration brew between Unbarred and Pastore Brewing and Blending, a Cambridgeshire brewery famous for its superb sour and mixed-fermentation creations. Pastore’s Chris Shepherd doesn’t seem to mind the intrusion though, and lets us steal Unbarred founder Jordan Mower for a quick tour of the brewery floor.
Jordan is a very energising person to interview, with thoughts flying in at 100 miles an hour, but also a real sense of purpose. Given his general manner, it’s no massive surprise that he started this whole journey with “a period of absolutely obsessive homebrewing”. Since turning pro, he’s worked with a contract brewery, turning out 300 different beers over the space of a year (“That was a bit rough, socially) as well as helping out at some of the region’s coolest craft outfits, including Beak, Hand in Hand and Abyss.
Unbarred was named to set a stake in the ground of Jordan’s career, marking the moment he was free to take everything he’d learned at the coalface, and apply it to his own creative efforts.
“Unbarred actually started in a shed in my old house, brewing on a 50-litre kit, while I was working for other breweries, basically brewing to order,” says Jordan. “So Unbarred was my way of saying 'The bars are down. There's no boundaries'. At the time, the idea of putting mango in a beer was crazy, but it's interesting how it's evolved over time. We constantly challenge what a particular style of beer can and should be, and what that style means to us.”
Brighton born and bred, he’s clearly very proud of his town, which is reflected in the brewery’s strap line: Made of Brighton.
“Made of Brighton is a whole ethos for us. As a city, we’ve got such a diverse culture, which embraces the anti-ordinary, the weird and wonderful, so we try to showcase that in the beers. We’re not one of those breweries that’s known for a particular style, we’ve never settled into that trap of doing a pale, and American IPA and a NEIPA and that’s most of your volume.”
So where does the creative impetus for Unbarred’s impressive output come from? According to Jordan, each beer is conceived as a complete concept, from base ingredients to recipe and technique, right through to how the can art will influence and speak to the drinker.
“Today is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. We’re here working with Pastore, who are these legendary UK sour makers, and we’re learning a lot from each other. I really wanted to brew a beer with tamarind, so where do go from that as a starting point? It’s a natural product, like a lot of the products we work with, so how do you work with that as a brewer?
“In this case, we’re doing what we often do, which is essentially to make a tea with it. Then at the end of fermentation, we take that tea and layer it in with other flavours to create the profile we want. The whole team gets involved with balancing the beers, getting those flavours just right."
This need to constantly push the boundaries of flavour though, doesn’t come at the expense of quality control; Jordan runs a tight ship with clear rules, and any member of the Unbarred team will confirm the brewery doesn’t cut corners, even in the name of experimentation.
You can see evidence of this commitment in every corner of the brewery from the high-end centrifuge – which extends the shelf-life of Unbarred’s beers without compromising their character – to the water filtration system, of which Jordan is clearly very proud.
“My background is in the water industry actually, so pretty much the first thing I did was put triple water filtration into the brewery, which makes a huge difference with Brighton’s tap water. We got this guy bespoke made just as lockdown hit. It means we can program it to recreate the minerals of just about anywhere around the world, to mimic the style and that mouthfeel that you’d find there. One of the big things we always get complimented on is the mouthfeel of our beers, how easy-drinking they are, even at 8%. And I think a lot of that is down to how we treat the water before the brew’s even started.”
At this point, a huge stack of pizzas arrives to fuel the collab day, and a hungry mob from both breweries descend to claim their share. We occupy several of the long benches in the taproom, pour some beers, and indulge in some old-fashioned industry gossip. It’s striking how strongly everyone present clearly believes in what they’re doing – Jordan’s built a close, passionate team around his singular vision for Unbarred, and I personally suspect this plays in even greater part in the beer than water filtration.
“I’m confident we’ve got the technical brewing side of things absolutely nailed down here – I’ve always said that should be a given,” concludes Jordan. “That gives us all the opportunity to be really creative, knowing we’ll be able to execute whatever crazy ideas we come up with. That creative part is constantly evolving. We’ve still got more great ideas for beers than we’ll ever have time to brew, and that’s the way I like it.”
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