Running Wild

From one bad year comes some great beer


Mixed fermentation may be all the rage these days, but Wild Beer Co has been all about the bugs since it opened its doors during the first wave of UK craft brewing in 2012. While 2020 has been brutal, it’s given the team there an opportunity to get back to its roots and put the finishing touches to an amazing new core beer that’s been four years in the making.

“This year has been awful,” says sales director Giles Jenkinson. “I don’t mean to sound negative, but there’s no support and you all of a sudden had no pubs, effectively. The latest figures are that hospitality turnover dropped 88% over lockdown, and I’m just amazed it was only that much. So yeah, that’s really hurting the business.

“Then there’s Brexit. It’s too early to say exactly what the damage will ultimately be, but I was speaking to a brewer last week who’s had three orders from the continent cancelled because of concerns about shipping. And in the worst case scenario, once you factor in duty, tariffs and transport, you’re looking at British beers increasing by 30% over cost in Europe. You can’t compete on that basis.

“But we’re still here, and all of this has forced us to get better in some areas we’d neglected. In terms of off trade, we’re speaking a lot more to independents, and focusing on supporting them through exclusive ranges that we’re not offering the multiples they’re trying to compete with. We’ve also invested in ourselves to reach new customers. We’ve bought new equipment, we can now do wrap-arounds and fill into 440ml cans as well as 330ml. So we’re not just waiting for everything to blow over.”

Perhaps more excitingly from a beer drinker’s perspective, Wild has undergone what Giles calls “a bit of a reset” in its core range, at the heart of which is its new Wild IPA. Although mixed fermentation brews have always been at the core of Wild’s brewing, it’s really been the distinctive pale ales and IPAs like Pogo and Bibble that have provided the high volume success. Wild IPA finally unites both sides of the brewery’s personality, with a modern IPA brewed with multiple yeast strains for a truly unique aroma, flavour and mouth feel. For fans of the superb but limited Murmur, this is very, very good news.

“We always wanted to create a beer that was great for just everyday drinking, but also represented at the heart of what we do. It’s taken four years to achieve that, because working with different yeasts and to get just the result you want is a long process. We’ve settled on three yeast blends for wild IPA: an ale yeast, a red wine and a white wine, yeast, each of which does a very different thing. The red wine yeast really dries it out, but the magic is in the white wine yeast. Brett calls it ‘Kamikaze yeast’ because it’s job is to die; it autolyses, so you get a really nice, unusual mouthfeel.”

All the way through its development, Wild IPA has been tested next to food, and Giles confirms that, apart from desserts, they haven’t yet found anything it won’t match with. “It has this hinted acidity to it, with a certain amount of tannic balance, which makes it work a lot like wine, but it also has carbonation which can be a great flavour enhancer.”

The brewery has also put out another beer in its popular Millionaire/Billionaire series, called – wait for it – Trillionaire. Somewhat contentious among the brewing team (“bloody pastry stouts”) Trillionaire saw Wild tackling a brewing technique it had never tried before.

 “After the first mash, we used the runnings to do the second, and then again for the third, so it was getting more and more concentrated each time. So we ended up doing three mashes to produce I think about 1800 litres. It was expensive, as you can imagine, but Brett’s argument was that it would teach the guys certain techniques that would come in useful later. It was a real team effort and the results at the end of it were extraordinary. We just brewed our second batch and it sold out almost immediately.”

We the refresh, we can expect Wild to be a lot more communicative than it has been in the past; Giles admits that, despite the big characters of the people involved, the brewery itself has always been quite softly spoken. That’s all about to change, with a new focus on marketing and the hiring of a new social media specialist and a new marketing director to spread the good word. 

“My target for next year is to reconnect, particularly direct with the consumers, so they understand what we’re doing, how we are different as a brewery. I think that’s always something that was under-resourced; you need to hire people who are specialists in their roles, to help translate that message to the consumer,” says Giles.

“Fundamentally, we’re a farmhouse brewery in Somerset, in the middle of nothing. This is what we’re about. We have really strong relationships with food, we’re on a dairy farm with a cheese maker and we are passionate about all these things. That’s the message for 2021: we want to keep conveying to people that beer is great standing in a bar, but it’s is equally relevant sitting down with a meal. There’s been good work done by a number of retailers in the UK around beer and the relationship with food. But we’ve got a long, long way to go in the UK, and Wild is going to play a big part in that.”

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