Published on December 4, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Take it from the bottom

Reece Hughill is a brewer who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “shortcut”. Some 90% of beer production at his Donzoko Brewing Co in Hartlepool is the Munich-inspired Northern Helles Lager which sits in conditioning tanks for anything up to six weeks.

It’s a long and slow process necessary for a cool secondary fermentation and a long way from mass produced lagers that see the light of day in less than a fortnight.

“Northern Helles is our version of a Bavarian style unfiltered lager,” says Reece, who studied chemistry Newcastle University and in Germany at LMU Munich where Bavarian styles and the rich beer culture became a big part of his life. “It’s inspired by lazy days by the River Eisbach for a sweet malt, subtle floral hop flavour and a crisp refreshing finish.

“Northern Helles is a really clean lager. People are moving into things like Pilsner Urquell (premium Czech lager), getting back to really crispy styles. They’re talking about it more and we let the beer talk for itself, although unfiltered beer is not an easy sell. Customers are paying for that maturation time – but some will pay five or six pounds for a beer but quibble at four for a lager.”

Customers are also paying for high quality German malts, New Zealand hops and Swiss yeast but the point is, would you rather sip a beautiful, home-grown, deeply traditional beer that maybe costs a pound more than normal, or slug a mass-produced bland brand for under three quid?

Reece also fills in with shifts at the Free Trade Inn, Newcastle. He says: “It’s great when I’m working there and you can see them really enjoying Northern Helles. It’s nice to have a little band of followers and they’ll say, ‘Did you brew this? Really? Fantastic’.”

Lager actually has a long history in Britain but it’s never been fully appreciated. Breweries in London, Wrexham and Edinburgh all have legitimate claims to having produced the first British lager in the late 19th Century but further research leads to William Younger & Co starting brewing lager at their Holyrood Brewery in Edinburgh in December 1879 using a yeast strain imported from Carlsberg in Copenhagen. Perhaps mass-produced Carling and Fosters have made life difficult for other lager producers, but the likes of Donzoko Northern Helles and Thornbridge Lukas are certainly helping people reassess their opinions. (Donzoko, by the way, is Japanese for “rock bottom”.)

Reece Hughill says: “Everything is going well, getting really good consistency with our beers. We brew off-site at the Lion’s Den microbrewery at Cameron’s in Hartlepool and transfer the beer in thousand-litre sterile containers – basically a bag in a box – to my own place which is basically full of fermenters.

“I’m trying to put his own spin on things but there’s a lot of tweaking before you get it right. Each village in Bavaria has its own brewery and everything is delivered super fresh, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

“We were invited to take our beer to the Indy Man Beer Convention in Manchester a couple of months ago. Just to be part of it was brilliant – being among some of the best beers in the world was just amazing. I just want to make good lager and if I can do that and sell it locally I’ll be happy.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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