Thursday, 7 March 2013

Focus on: Harbour Brewing

Rhys and Eddie from Harbour
In the space of just over a year, Cornwall's Harbour Brewing have established themselves with an instantly recognisable brand and more importantly, an excellent range of beers. 

I spoke to Eddie Lofthouse from the brewery about their inspiration, future plans and how he feels about being part of the UK's brewing resurgence. Here's how he answered...

When was Harbour founded and what was the inspiration behind the brewery being started?
I was first introduced to ‘craft beer’ years ago in the States, drinking Pete’s Wicked Ales and from that point on, I always wanted to drink interesting beers. I was running my family’s pub and all we could get locally was really traditional British beer. Rhys was working just up the road at Sharp's and we had talked about wanting to put a brewery into the pub for ages. Then one day we both just decided it was the right time. A few beers later and Harbour Brewing Company was conceived.

What are the beers in Harbour's core range?
Our core range is still developing but at the moment it consists of:
Light Ale 3.7% (hoppy golden ale),
Amber Ale 4% (malt driven ale),
IPA 5% (British style IPA).

We are also just about to release a 5.5% Pilsner, which will be a permanent fixture in our core range. We wanted to make a traditional style Pilsner - so we have used all the traditional malts and hops you would expect and special yeast that we had propagated just for the job. It’s been maturing for just over 3 months and we are really happy with it. It’s going into keg and bottle next week, so keep your eyes open for it very soon.

What LTD edition beers are Harbour brewing at the moment?
We have been brewing Porter No.1 over the winter and a couple of different pale ales, but with spring in the air we have our minds set on our summer releases. We have Pale Ale No.4 going into bottle very soon, and it is easily the best pale we have brewed to date. Dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Centennial it has the bases covered when it comes to hop aroma and flavour, but it is really well balanced.

We have IPA No.2 coming out in March. Our core range IPA is really a session IPA, not too bitter or hoppy but IPA No.2 is designed to be a different beast. Higher IBUs and double dry hopped with some of our favorite American hops. We also have the first of our barrel-aged beer being released at the moment. Chocolate and Vanilla Imperial Stout aged in Jack Daniels’ barrels is now kegged whilst Aji Limon Pale Ale from Jim Beam barrels is due to be bottled at the end of March.

We have plenty of other casks aging some really interesting stuff, but it is ready when it is ready and we won’t be rushing it. I think the ones I’m really excited about are the Bordeaux barrels, which are nurturing a Lambic number we have been working on for a while.

What do you feel is the style that most defines what Harbour is about? 
It’s hard to say really. Rhys is all about dark beers, while I’m a pale ale man. Both of us chat about what we want to achieve with each beer and then we brew it. I think more than a certain style of beer, we are better defined as brewing well-balanced beers whatever the style.

How does it feel to be part of the resurgence in British brewing? 

It makes me really proud to be part of such a fantastic industry. It’s the people that make it special. We are all in it because we are passionate about beer. If you weren't, you simply wouldn't put up with the early mornings, late nights, general hard graft involved in brewing. It’s not just a job, it has to be a lifestyle choice and that takes a certain kind of person. Pretty much everyone we meet from the ‘craft beer’ industry is really friendly, massively passionate and always willing to help.

I love it when I go to a ‘craft beer’ bar, and hear people talking with passion about what they are drinking. I truly believe British brewers are creating some fantastic beers to rival anything in the world.

Harbour Amber Ale and IPA
American IPAs and Pale Ales have come to define the craft beer scene. Where do you think brewing innovation is likely to go next and are there any styles that you feel are likely to catch on in the near future?
It’s difficult to say if there will be another beer style that will be as well received as pale ales have been over the past couple of years. I think there is so much variety within the pale ale style that it will always be really popular. Year on year hops are getting better and just as importantly British brewers are getting access to the best hop growths. So I think you’ll see pales at the forefront of the industry for a while yet.

That said, consumers are becoming more willing to try different styles, which gives us the option to try more of a variety. Sour beers seem to be becoming more popular as are darker beers. I had real doubts about the viability of a Porter but it has been our second best seller over the past 4 months. Our Imperial Chocolate stout has been sold weeks before it is actually released. So to be honest I have no idea where the market is going, but if I had to put a bet on I would say Saisons.

What do you feel has been the impact of American and new world hops on the micro-brewing boom in the UK?
The impact has been huge. They are giving us the flavours we want and more importantly the flavours our customers want. I would love to support the UK hop growers, but as yet I’m yet to be convinced by any of the new hop varieties I have seen coming through.

More and more UK breweries are beginning to brew European beer styles such as Hefeweizen, Saisons and Vienna style lagers etc. Are there any European styles of beer that you would like to have a crack at brewing at Harbour? 
We are about to release 2 different Pilsners, originally named No.1 (4.9%) and No.2 (5.5%). We also have some Lambic beer aging at the moment. We will be releasing a Berliner Weisse in the summer.

Our new brewer is from Sweden and she has been working on some interesting new ideas with Rhys. She has a different take on things than we are used to, which is great.

What are the plans for growing Harbour and getting your beers into more bars and shops?
We are pretty stretched at the moment so we are just trying to keep up with demand. Export is going crazy for us right now with beers heading here, there and everywhere…from Sweden to Australia

Can you tell us about one new and exciting thing happening at Harbour at the moment... 
Everything is exciting. We have only just celebrated our first birthday so the novelty is still there in everything we do, with the exception of racking! But, I imagine you mean something more like the fact we are putting in our own bottling line so we can bottle more of our small batch beers. Almost forgot, I’m really excited we have been asked to brew a new beer for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular. I’m just not sure what we are going to brew yet!

Harbour's branding and label designs are instantly recognisable. What do you think is importance of a strong brand to go along with your beers?
I think it is really important to have a brand that gives an impression of what the brewery is all about. Something people can immediately recognise is a must, as long as the recognition is a positive one. We tried to make our branding clean and clear, stripped back but with subtle detail. We are really happy with our brand, but like all things we are contantly trying to develop it and make it better.

What do you feel are the beer styles that define the craft beer scene at the moment? 
Pale ales, Saisons and smoked beers

Do you have plans to be at any beer festivals this year? If so, which ones? 
We’re taking our beer out to the Washington DC Craft Brewers Conference at the end of March. We’ll be at the GABS festival in Melbourne in May, and we have been talking about the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival in the autumn but we’ll have to see about that one.  Closer to home we’ll be heading to the Edinburgh Independent Beer Festival, and we have been talking to the IndyMan guys, so hopefully we’ll be able to get up there towards the end of the year. There are some really great festivals popping up all over the country, but time is precious these days. If we feel the festival is right for us, we’ll make every effort to get there. So who knows…

English hop production isn't doing so well at the moment. Do you feel that there is space for highly hopped beers to be produced using just British hops? 
Yes, we just haven’t found the right hop for it yet.

Lots of breweries seem to be doing collaborations at the moment, do you have any plans to make any collaborative beers in the near future?
We have done a couple so far (Bristol Beer Factory and Arbor). They were great fun and also being such a young brewery, we learned huge amounts from brewing with more experienced brewers. We have some good friends in the industry and I’m sure we’ll get together with some of them at some point. There has been talk of something really exciting, but at the moment it is just talk.

A big thank you goes out to Eddie from Harbour for taking the time to answer my questions.

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