On the journey back from our Cornwall tour back in June, we paused overnight in Bristol. While there we were lucky enough to catch up with Brett Ellis, of the newly formed Wild Beer Company.
They're so new, in fact, that the brewery is still in the process of being built a little down the road, in Shepton Mallet. Instead of meeting in a building site, the nice folks at Corks of Cotham let us borrow a corner of their shop for a chat and some tasting.
For a new brewery, they're thinking big – the brewery will start with a capacity of 15BBL; way bigger than most breweries start out with. "A lot of startups are 5 barrel but hit a wall within a year or so then need to switch to 10 or 15 barrel." explains Brett. "We feel we can hit the ground running so would hit that wall in a few months."
All that production will be going into bottles rather than casks or kegs. Partly this is for reasons of taste; Brett explains that "we believe the beers really shine when they are slightly more chilled than in a cask and slightly more carbonated". But it's pragmatic too; most of the competition is in casks.
It's clear that Wild Beer are going for the high end of the market; they intend to have their bottles silk screen printed with that wonderful "is it one stag or two" logo.
Brett's training as a chef shows through with some of the more adventurous recipes; they've experimented with worcester berries, currants and elderberries, along with plans to play with roast yams and pumpkin.
Not satisfied with unusual ingredients, they also have big plans for ageing a lot of their products in barrels – red wine and whisky – and lots of, well I would say dry hopping but it's not just hops; there's bourbon oak chips, elderberries and who knows what else.
Personally I'm always a little wary of throwing strange ingredients in for the sake of it, but it certainly gives them a distinct angle in a crowded market. And the trial beers we got to taste reveal a real talent for keeping the balance of flavours just right.
It's not all weird and wacky though; the Red Ale is a relatively traditional beer with some nice malt flavours coming through - although with plenty of US hops in there too perhaps it's only "traditional" to London tastebuds.
There's also a lot of interest in the lambic flavours; for the new brewery they have "purchased an open square fermenter like the ones they use in Belgium for spontaneous wild fermentation". Brettanomyces features in many of their beers, again bringing that more unconventional, sour tang to the party.
To judge from our tasting, if this is a style of beer that appeals to you then Wild Beer could turn out to be a very special brewery – especially when you consider that these were all still in development.
I'm looking forward to seeing how their range shapes up when they finally open this autumn.
Uncredited photos are courtesy of Matt Gibson, an absurdly talented Bristolian.
Our visit with the Wild Beer Company was part of a week-long holiday in South West England, courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food and drink lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.
This review was originally published 25th August, 2012. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.