Published on July 10, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Grounding control to major on
A young Northumberland brewer makes astonishing beer and has heart and soul in the right place. Alastair Gilmour meets him
You’ve started a small brewery, your ambitions are through the roof, your trial brews are just as you want them and your principles are unshakeable. But life is tough; you want to make your beer from the best ingredients possible but they come at a price and that price has to be passed on.
Other brewers seem to manage, but where is the difference?
There is no question that Jamie Robson from Hexham-based Grounding Angels Brew Co makes fantastic beer. But he has reached the point where he needs to scale up his operation and invest in a new brewhouse and kit, rather than flog his guts out a 125-litre experimental pilot brewery which equates to just under one brewer’s barrel (36 gallons).
You’d have to work every hour of every week to make a living out of that, but at present he brews his own recipes “gypsy-style” on much bigger kit elsewhere which is helping the awareness profile but imbalancing the books at the same time.
Jamie has big plans, however, keeping a look out for premises around Newcastle which would feasibly feature a brewery, taproom and grassroots music venue which he believes would be the perfect way of establishing the Grounding Angels brand.
But his uncompromising nature won’t let him settle for second-best. Grounding Angels Brew Co is on a continuous journey of exploring new techniques, It’s Jamie-good or nothing. Take his method of working and his preferred ingredients, for instance.
“I took a one-day Start-up Brewing course at Brewlab in Sunderland and loved it so much I signed up for the three-month one,” he says. “Arthur Bryant, one of the tutors, always used to say the soul of the beer is the malt and the soul of North East malting barley is Golden Promise. I really understand that now, but at that time I didn’t have a clue what he was on about.
“We’re grounded in the North East with our soul in the fields of locally-grown barley. We now use Golden Promise as a base of all our beers. The two-row barley is one of the best in the world and native to the North East coast.”
Golden Promise is often called the Rolls-Royce of barley. Grounding Angels also makes full use of Golden Naked Oats wherever possible, but both are prime products and both are therefore expensive – plus when you’re pushing kilos and kilos of top-level hops into a brew as well, the end result can work out on the hefty side, pounds and pence-wise.
“There’s so much money goes into our beers, for example there’s 50 kilos of hops in a brew of Lazy Rider which works out at a lot of money. So getting to a competitive pricing point is very difficult for a start-up brewery like us.”
The answer to that would be simpler and less flavourful styles but that’s not the Grounding Angels way.
Jamie says: “That would be driving us towards the real ale sector when everybody seems to be going in the Double IPA direction. It’s a real balancing act to find the right place in the market.”
The three core beers Jamie and right-hand man Jamie Hawkes have produced are Little Wing (3.8% abv), Chasing The Horizon (5.3% abv) and Lazy Rider (4.3% abv). All nod towards the US and are unfined, unfiltered and vegan-friendly. Others include Snazzberry Juice (5.8% abv), The Sequence of Ninkasi (6.2% abv), Public Hanging DIPA (8.0% abv) and Mr Stouty Pants (5.8% abv) which uses eight different malts – but regardless, you’d ask for it just to hear yourself say Mr Stouty Pants.
Grounding Angels beers – the name refers to being rooted in the local landscape with the “angel” representing the crucial action of yeast – are regular attenders at the Heart of Northumberland in Hexham, along with The Tannery in the town, with guest appearances at the Free Trade Inn in Newcastle, and Jamie is heading for Edinburgh for a tap-takeover at BrewDog with a Double IPA, “thick with Golden Promise, oats and wheat”.
He’s a great believer in getting his face in front of the people who matter, particularly in a customer-facing business like the pub trade. Ignore that you’re another salesperson selling Doritos.
“The more people you meet the more collaborations you pick up,” he says, encouragingly.
Furthermore, it’s safe to say Jamie Robson isn’t a big fan of plastic. As a North Sea surfer, he has first-hand knowledge of its effect on marine life – so much so that five pence from every Grounding Angels pint sold is donated to the charity Ocean Clean-Up.
His commitment to Ocean Clean-Up is wholly admirable. It aims to clear our beaches, rivers, seas and oceans from plastic waste.
He says: “The sea at Tynemouth where I surf isn’t too bad because people do a lot of beach clean-ups and so there’s considerably less waste blowing into the water than in other places. But basically everything that’s thrown away ends up in the sea.
“I’ve seen plenty of carrier bags in the water and there are stupid amounts of plastic around and in our water supply. We’re drinking it; cancer rates are going up. I’ve always been concerned since I was a kid about chlorine levels in water. Water quality is a serious issue and enough for a lot of people to have home filtering systems.
“The first thing I’ll buy when we set up something bigger will be a reverse osmosis system so none of this gets through. But first we need to find somewhere that would help us grow over the next five years.
“I don’t want to do it piecemeal as we’ve reached a point like a lot of people get to between seeking investment and capital outlay. It’s about balancing the books.”
Balancing on a surfboard might be easier, but is it as much fun as making fantastic beer? Discuss with Mr Stouty Pants.