From the Earth
PICTURES: Cherry Beesley - www.simplycphotography.co.uk
Thursday 01 March 2018
This article is from
The Isle of Eriska Voyage
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At a glance, there appears to be little connection between Austin, Texas and the sleepy town of Edmundson in Suffolk. The latter is a little tiny village, barely made up of three hamlets, whilst the former is the state capital of Texas. Suffolk experiences harsh, cold winters and mild summers, whilst Austin is renowned for it’s humid subtropical climate.
Norton’s fascination with natural forms of fermentation comes from his father’s cider-making business, Castlings Heath organic cider, which he grew up helping to produce by hand from their tiny orchard. The move into brewing, however, was initially in the more traditional sense, when his family bought the local village pub and installed a small microbrewery next door..
Enthused, Norton set out to revive a number of historic beer styles using wild yeast cultures from his father’s cider on the old Mill Green kit, buying up as many whisky and wine barrels as he could to store the beer along the way. “I was a history student once upon a time, so I do have that interest and have partnered that with my interest in beer,” he says. “As a family the history of pubs and ale houses, and the history of different beverages and local specialities has always been fascinating to us.
“With our historic beers, the main premise is that over 100 years ago there wasn’t such thing as single cultures of yeast, and beer was either drunk very quickly or it was left to age,” he continues. “The stuff that was left to age would have been full of all sorts of types of brett and anything else that happened to be in the brewery. Old IPAs and stock ales and porters were all basically bretted beers, just not done on purpose.”
As a result, Little Earth Project’s beers are often highly complex and acidic, and contain characteristics that could be considered flaws by the more traditional cask beer drinker. Last year the brewery sent a cask to CAMRA’s East Anglian Beer and Cider Festival
It’s just about changing people’s perception of beer in baby steps.
only to have it rejected on the grounds that the organisers thought attendees would complain the beer was off. Norton admits the experience was frustrating, but stresses he believes attitudes towards sour beer will change over time.
“Our type of beer is very new to the UK really. Ok we have had the occasional Belgian import but up until a few years ago you’d almost never see a sour beer in a pub or a bar,” he says. “It’s just about changing people’s perception of beer in baby steps. The more craft brewers get into it the more people’s attitudes will change.”
“I think if it says ‘barrel aged in’ on the label, the beer should have been aged in a barrel,” he says. “It’s fairly frustrating but the problem lies in the fact they are allowed to do it rather than the fact they are doing it. If you leave loopholes open like that then people will take advantage of it.”
“Their beers are obviously going to not be as intense [as Little Earth Project’s], but its all about educating people and getting as many people to try your beers as possible, and if yours have got a more interesting and stronger flavor then you can hopefully draw people in with that.”
On the subject of expansion, Norton adds: “We’re still very small. I think we are on target to brew 9,000-10,000 litres this year. Adnams have probably brewed that amount of beer since we started this conversation! We have fairly modest aims of where we want to be, but in the long run maybe we’d like to make ten times that amount of beer, but that may be some time off.”
In the meantime, Norton is happy to continue seeking inspiration from his surroundings and learning through experimentation. “Part of the fun is the unpredictability of it; we are very much
on a learning curve ourselves to find out what our beers are going to taste like,” he says. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that is part of the character and charm of what we do.”
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