Old as the hills, young as the seasons

Being just four years old, and one of a handful of dedicated sour, wild, and mixed fermentation breweries in the UK, Pastore Brewing is the new kid on the block that we’ve fallen madly in love with


The UK wasn’t particularly well endowed with dedicated sour, wild, and mixed fermentation breweries in 2017. Pastore (Pas-tor-ay) co-founder, Ben Shepherd was then finishing up a degree in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt, having dedicated his thesis to brettanomyces, a yeast found on fruit skins, and which is used in brewing and the production of many natural wines for the musky, barnyard-like characteristics it produces. It’s hard to say whether Ben’s interest in the yeast was piqued by the UK craft brewing’s perception of brett as niche and risky, if it was inherited from his dad Chris’s lifelong love of Lambic beer, or if the abundance of brettanomyces clinging to the heritage fruit trees in his own backyard provided food for thought.

It was likely a culmination of all these factors that led Ben to found Pastore with his dad in 2019. 

“Our idea was to form a brewery that really encompassed everything that mixed fermentation beer can be,” says Ben. “From fresh, sour beer, to aged, blended and wild; we always wanted to have a clean sour programme of Berliner weisses and sour IPAs, and then in the background, just gradually be building up a really nice blendary that’s more focused on traditional and historic styles. Dad has always been massively into Belgian styles, but we both also admire that new world angle that the likes of Allagash and Firestone Walker have put on wild ales over the last number of years.”

The brewery will celebrate its fifth birthday in autumn of this year, a milestone especially worthy of celebration in the tough climate we find ourselves in, but which equally doesn’t quite do justice to the origins of the brewery. Pastore is so intrinsically connected to the landscape that surrounds it, and is so reverent of the historic brewing practices that inform how it uses local produce, that the nascent brewery simultaneously feels older than its years, and as fresh and new as the approaching season. 

Chris says that the Shepherd family home is located on old Chivers land — yes, that’s Chiver as in Chivers Jam — where fruit has been grown for hundreds of years. Not only has the striking seasonality of the region, and the abundant availability of fruit, inspired and featured heavily in Pastore’s beers, but the brewery’s mother culture started life under an apple tree in the family’s back garden. 

This mother culture was born of a spontaneously fermented brew from which Chris and Ben kept back some inoculated wort, and then back-slopped with fresh wort until it was a thriving ecosystem in its own right. In this instance, spontaneous fermentation involved leaving the fruits of a 20-litre brewkit in the back garden overnight, covered by cloth. The next morning, the wort’s soft acidity and gentle funk indicated that the wort had been successfully inoculated by a host of unknown and unaccountable microbes, and that fermentation had begun. 

Had Chris and Ben wanted to have their mother culture analysed, and the yeast strain producing a specific flavour and aroma isolated and banked with a yeast lab, they could have, but in a way, wouldn’t that defeat the point? The volatility of nature is so fundamental to brewing wild and mixed fermentation beers, that working in this medium not only requires an acceptance of the unknown, but the capacity to welcome and celebrate it.

“From the 20-litre kit we started on, we’ve now always got 1000-odd litres of our mother culture, which keeps developing and evolving over time because it's alive, and changing every time you feed it some fresh wort,” says Chris. “We assume that the bacteria and yeast, and all the other organisms and microbes in there, evolve and change and will fluctuate over time. It’s hard to be sure but I think the flavour and acidity profile has drifted over the last five years, but it still tastes good and makes great beers.” 

I’m always interested in a brewery’s relationship with its supporters and stockists, but especially when it specialises in wild and mixed fermentation beers It’s almost guaranteed, when working with wild yeasts, that you’ll never produce the same beer twice, which requires the drinker to place an enormous amount of trust in the brewery’s values, and how it operates. Chris is quick to point out that 80% of the brewery’s volume is dedicated to the production of fresh sour beers — here meaning mixed ferm beers brewed with the very approachable and recognisable kveik yeast and lactobacillus bacteria — which massively helps with introducing people both to the brand and sour beers in general. From there, he says engagement with drinkers at in-person events is not only crucial, but inspiring. 

“Particularly with wild brewing, if you get the opportunity to engage with people in the tap room, or at tap takeover events, the response is always phenomenal,” says Chris. “One of the most rewarding things, and probably my favourite part of this job, is getting to tell people about what we’re doing here and see them be like ‘wow, this is amazing’. We definitely see people who, once you have a chance to engage and explain what wild beer is, they just love it and find it so fascinating. They’re the people who want to try your next beer, and the one after that, because they understand that there's going to be variability, they're all going to be different, and I just think that’s so that's awesome.”

I never asked Chris and Ben whether they’d like to see Pastore get any bigger; our conversations around plans for the future got sidetracked by discussion of an upcoming collaboration with a sake producer. Obviously, one wishes Pastore only the best when it comes to its dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be, but I can’t help leaving our conversation restored, excited, and selfishly hopeful that they stay exactly how they are; small, personal, and primed for genre-defying experimentation and collaboration.

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