Published on November 5th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour


Strong beers with a light touch

After a quarter century of brewing commercially, Durham Brewery’s c0-founder Steve Gibbs has stepped aside from the daily grind to concentrate on experimenting with beer styles in his garage – where he and his wife Christine first started making beer.

Christine’s daughter Elly Bell is now the Jill-of-all-Trades, wearing numerous hats from sales to marketing, accounts, purchasing, dealing with customers on the phone and in the brewery shop, emails, queries and social media. 

“Basically I don’t get time off, but I try and grab some here and there,” she says. “We also do a lot of research and I always have my eye on what the market’s doing.

“Steve handed me his shares in June, but he’s still a director. He’s doing a lot of home-brewing now, back to his roots. He’s got a fantastic Braumeister kit and uni-tank in his garage and he’s really enjoying home-brewing again.

“Recipes are decided between me and him, but yeast is still a bit of a mystery to me and it takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s a live product so anything can happen. It can be an awkward so-and-so, so bottle-conditioning is still his responsibility. But I’m really doing what I’ve been doing for seven or eight years anyway.”

Durham Brewery has come up with a beer for the annual Lumiere light event in Durham on behalf of its producers Artichoke. Originally planned as a one-off in 2009, Lumiere is a programme of interactive installations and groundbreaking artistic commissions such as 3-D video-mapping, stand-alone light sculptures and neons.

“We’re hoping to have a pop-up with Steam Machine Brewing Company for Lumiere, plus a tap-takeover at the new Holy Grale pub in Durham,” says Elly. “We’ve brewed a collaboration Mash Up IPA with Brinkburn St and S43 breweries on Steam Machine’s new kit that they bought from Marble Brewery. It’s interesting to see how other people do things – for example, shorter boils and later hop additions seem to be the way the market’s going.

“There’ll be a couple of our stronger beers on keg at their Mash Up Beer Festival on November 7-9 which is a celebration of beer styles. We’re also providing Benedictus Barley Wine (8.4% abv) – one of only two kegs filled – and Temptation Imperial Stout (10% abv), also in keg.”

Elly reports that Bede’s Chalice – “a beast of a beer at 8.4% abv” – has been chosen by Roger Protz for his upcoming book, 300 More Beers To Try Before You Die. But she says the hardest part at the moment is keeping up with demand for best-seller Magus, followed by Cloister and Evensong in bottle. 

She says: “We’ve introduced brettanomyses to Diabolus so it’s a bit of a sour Christmas cake in a bottle, at 11% abv. (Brettanomyses is something of a wild yeast that can be responsible for faults in beer but is sometimes used for interesting flavours.) We’ve also got a new version of Imperious, using casks for ageing from a different distillery than previously – with burnt wood and peaty notes. Barrel-ageing is a lot of fun and interesting to see what comes out at the other end in a year or so.

“Steve is writing a book on the whole history of brewing while making the beers at the same time. He’s recreating a 3,800-year-old beer called Bappir, mentioned in the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, from the time that they didn’t use hops – it’s the first one he’s explored, so the book might take a long time. 

“It’s made using barley bread with honey and grape juice as well as coriander and cardamom. It’s already fermenting and will be on our brewery bar when it’s ready. It won’t be commercially available, but it’s got him excited again about beer.”

It’s not only Steve Gibbs who is invigorated – you only have to say “Durham Brewery” to get excited about beer. (AG)

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Alastair Gilmour

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