New Bristol Brewery
Monday 26 November 2018
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New Bristol Brewery is a small, daring brewery located slap bang in the middle of Bristol, owned and operated by husband and wife team, Noel and Maria James. It prides itself on being a small-batch, hands-on operation, which constantly pushes new ideas, ingredients and flavours, exploring the progression of traditional styles to create forward thinking, great tasting beers.
In particular, Maria and Noel have earned a reputation in the crowded Bristol scene for their wild flavour combinations and foodie sensibilities.
“When we started out about four years ago, I stupidly completely forgot that you have to contract out for hops,” admits Noel. “So in our first year we didn’t have access to some of the ‘Big C’ hops from North America and New Zealand. We had to be very creative and started to experiment by getting flavours from other ingredients like spices and tea.”
One of New Bristol’s early successes came from its India Sugar and Spice ale, a pale ale brewed with cardamom, coriander and lashings of jaggery palm sugar. Perhaps its best-known brew – the multi award-winning Super Deluxe Stout – is likewise brewed with blowtorched brown sugar and vanilla pods. When hop supplies eased up in the brewery’s second year, Noel and Maria realised they were onto a winning formula and continued their bold flavour experiments rather than reverting to tried-and-tested craft staples.
“For us it’s all about creating beers that won’t be forgotten and have a real wow factor,” says Noel. “Next week we’re going to be doing a bacon, maple and coffee porter, which we’re really excited about. For Bristol Craft Beer Festival we brewed a coconut and mango DIPA, which some people said was their favourite thing there. Other recent brews have included a pineapple and grapefruit pale, a marshmallow stout, a cinder toffee stout and a maple syrup stout.”
A key part of New Bristol’s appeal is what Noel and Maria call the ‘know your brewer’ philosophy. They put themselves, as a couple, at the heart of the brand, and love meeting customers in person at beer festivals and tasting events.
“For us, its more important that, for every pint that’s poured, the drinker knows that Noel brewed it – we dont want to be a faceless brewery. We love meeting people and talking to the people who love our beers. So, for example at Bristol Craft Beer Festival we didn’t hire anyone in for it. Noel and I did the whole thing – it was like a challenge on The Apprentice! We were desperate to do that; we want to promote our beer, not have other people do it for us.”
Sharing and learning with other brewers is also clearly important to the pair, who have traveled the world meeting their brewing heroes and finding inspiration to bring back home.
“For example, this July we did three weeks up in California, from LA up to San Francisco. We met with about 30 breweries, from the massive ones to the little tiny ones. Our favourite was Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz. Off the back of that adventure came four recipes which have just flown, and now we’re about to go to Paris to meet with the brewers and work on some European recipes.”
In October, New Bristol’s beer was rated fifth best out of 52 breweries at Brewdog’s #Collabfest2018 (the largest collaborative festival in the world).
“Our toasted coconut and mango DIPA was poured in just about every Brewdog in the UK and Europe, and we’ve been super stoked with the response. We’re just a little, family microbrewery so super chuffed,” says Maria.
Despite having honed its recipes and craft for four years, New Bristol only really started to push for growth over the past year, and has seen sales increase 400% during that time. Prior to this big push, the brewhouse and fermenters were crammed into a tiny space, and capacity was so limited that it could only supply pubs in Bristol. Having struggled to find a suitable alternative home, Noel and Maria were delighted when the much larger adjacent building became available, allowing them to move their kit on the Friday and start brewing again on the Monday.
This new freedom has also allowed them to start the Bristol Brewery School, where members of the public are invited to spend between one and five days learning the ropes from brewing legend Jonny Mills and participating in a full-scale commercial brew. There’s also a beautiful “Scandi-rustic” taproom, which hosts weddings, parties and ad-hoc public events with live music (including on occasion the likes of Hot Chip).
“When we open, we want it to be an amazing party every time,” says Maria. “So nights at the New Bristol taproom are events that people look out for, they don’t want to miss them because they’re always special. That’s the way we like to run the whole brewery: always daring, never boring. You’ve got to have fun with it!”
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