We catch up with the iconic south coast brewery
Friday 12 July 2019
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Down the Danube
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Occupying former farmland in the bottom right corner of Sussex’s South Downs National Park is Burning Sky Brewery, one of the country’s most well-loved breweries. Famous for saisons and Belgian-style beers, they are quite the innovators when it comes to brewing, placing a lot of focus on barrel-ageing. Owner and founder Mark Tranter says: “as far as we know, when we started setting everything up in 2013, we were the first brewery in the country to put in oak foeders” which are basically giant ageing barrels. “It’s something we had planned from day one, as we knew what we were aiming towards. Saison Provision, our first brew, took about 3-4 months before it was ready.” There is also a coolship (a shallow metal vessel that speedily cools the wort, allowing wild bacteria and yeast that is already floating around to jump into the liquid and impart some funky sour flavours) on the premises, which they use for spontaneous fermentation — again they were one of the first brewers in the UK to install such equipment in 2017.
This year is an exciting one for Burning Sky. Mark says they will be taking on a new unit on the farm, likely August-time, which will be used as a dedicated oak ageing facility, and will have its own packaging area. All the oak foeders, wooden barrels etc. will be moved from the different units they’re in at the moment, all into the same place. According to Mark, the main benefit will be that they “won’t be squeezing it in amongst everything else that’s going on,” and the team can perfect this side of the brewing process. In turn, they can dedicate the main brewery to their ‘clean’ beers, squeeze a couple more fermenters in, and make the space more workable for everyone — and, importantly for us drinkers, aim to up production slightly.
Mark and his small team of six have certainly been busy of late, and have some exciting things coming out in the next few months. As well as the annual releases of its much-hyped Saison Anniversaire and Cuvee, Burning Sky has just released Rustique, a barrel-aged strong Belgian-style pale ale. We can also expect the release of Coolship 2 in the next couple of months — a blend of 1 and 2 year old spontaneously fermented beers, and the second iteration of Coolship Release 1, made for the brewery’s fifth birthday last September.
Mark explains that they are also ageing and bottle-conditioning a mixed fermentation saison that was part-aged on the grape skins and juice from a pressing at a local vineyard, which will be out around early July and will be called This Land. If that wasn’t enough, the brewers have also worked with a young up-and-coming cider producer, who brought along half a tonne of milled cider apples and some juice, which they put into an oak foeder alongside some of their Saison à la Provision, the results of which will be hitting shelves and taps late summer (and doesn’t it just sound like the perfect summer saison?).
Perhaps most exciting is the collaboration with The Kernel, Oliver’s Cider, and Mills Brewing — in April last year, everyone got together at Burning Sky to make a beer, and then divided the result into the four participants’ barrels, each dosed with mixed cultures. On release, each brewery’s barrel-aged result will be showcased, as well a blend of all four. Mark happily says: “those are the kinds of collaborations we enjoy working on — where everyone really does bring something different.” Look out for this fascinating experimental beer between October and Christmas (that’s around 18 months of ageing).
For a small brewery, Burning Sky certainly knows how to knock it out the park with its beer offerings. When asked about the brewery’s growing popularity and success over the last six-ish years, Mark talks humbly but passionately about his work: “if you look at us in terms of volume, we probably aren’t that successful, but I’m happy for us to remain relatively small. It makes us very precious about things, since we have the ability to take our time. I also think it’s just stubbornness. We do our own thing; we always have, and we always will.”
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