Published on March 6, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Hartlepool’s German beer is damn güt

There’s something unusual about the Donzoko Brewing Company method of producing beer. It’s not that they’re all German in style and brewed, fermented and conditioned in Hartlepool, but the two-stage process that involves 1000-litre plastic bags is not quite a normal process.

Donzoko owner Reece Hughill explains: “I brew at The Lion’s Den ten-barrel facility at Cameron’s in Hartlepool then fill huge sterile plastic bags with the wort – unfermented beer – and it a short distance down the road to ferment in one of two conical fermenters, then condition the beer and package it.”

Reece aims to have his own brewery up and running in due course, but it’s an expensive business, so his way ensures he can save up without being saddled with huge debt or by cutting corners.

“It seemed like an excellent stepping stone to getting our own equipment,” he says. Between brews and deliveries he takes on other jobs such as doing shifts behind the bar at The Free Trade Inn in Newcastle.

Reece studied for a chemistry degree at Newcastle University and in Germany at LMU Munich. Bavarian styles and the rich beer culture became a big part of his life, and upon graduating he put everything into the research and development of his own half-Bavarian, half-UK craft bastardised recipes, which have come to a lovely frothing head as Donzoko Brewing Company.

He says: “Donzoko is Japanese for lowest depths, or “rock bottom”; which is quite appropriate to our starting point. In 2014, with a coolbox and some copper piping, I made some half-decent beer in my parents’ back garden, even winning a gold medal in a national competition.

“I had brewed mainly IPAs, then I went across to Germany and pretty much didn’t touch IPA for a solid 12 months. It was there I started to notice the differences between ingredients. German beers are produced to strict purity laws, the Reinheitsgebot, but I put my own spin on things. I use all German malt and Swiss yeast with New Zealand hops Sticklebract and Taheke.

“I started the brewery straight out of university with no savings or real plan, and after a year of working, saving and making the most of support from Newcastle University and Hartlepool Council I was ready to go. The business start-up model is pretty unusual; we do the initial brew day – the combination of water, grains and hops – and we then pump the wort into 1,000-litre sterile bags and transport it to Donzoko HQ, where it’s slowly fermented in our custom-built steel conical fermenters.

“It’s oxygenated in-line to the unitank fermenter, then a huge amount of Swiss lager yeast is pitched to get the party started. We’ll crop some yeast, add a light dry hop, capture the natural carbonation, and settle the beer down for its long cold lagering to eventually be kegged. Ultimately, we can give you the best beer we can.”

Northern Helles (4.3% abv) is Donzoko’s flagship beer with the style of an unfiltered lager. Bike Bier (2.6% abv) is a “Radler”-type weak wheat beer enjoyed by cyclists in Germany and Belgium. Damn Güt Coffee Stout (5.3% abv) is a classic stout smoothed out with oats and lactose with finely ground coffee added.

It’s German beer with a Japanese name and a Hartlepool accent. Of course it’s unusual, but it’s damn güt unusual.

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Alastair Gilmour

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