In our monthly column,
investigates a local producer that’s cooking up a storm on our food and drink scene
Anyone who calls themselves a proper beer fan will have their favourite microbreweries, independent brewers creating small batches with a focus on quality, flavour and creativity. For those seeking something even more unusual and limited-edition, there are the nano-breweries – and then, right at the limits of exclusivity, are the pico-breweries, working on the very smallest batches available commercially. You won’t find their bottles on the supermarket shelf, you need to seek them out – but it’s worth it. The latest must-find bottles on Bath’s indie beer scene come from pico-brewery
Albion Brewing C
Founded one year ago in April 2016, by brothers Harry and Robert Speller, Albion produces just 65 litres (around 170 bottles) of beer in a batch, using professional-grade equipment from the US home brew market. In the true spirit of home-brewing, they do everything themselves – right down to bottling, labelling and batch-numbering the beers by hand. Creating such tiny batches means that they focus on quality, not quantity, and on the subtleties of the brewing process itself. Part of the ethos of creating high quality is being fastidious about the elements used, with a focus on sourcing local, natural ingredients and avoiding nasty additives like isinglass, which you’ll find in many of your supermarket beers. The famous German Beer Purity Law, or
states that only three ingredients may be used to make beer in Germany: water, barley and hops. While the rules at the Albion Brewing Company aren’t quite so strict (to allow for a little more creativity), the principle is one that they deeply admire.
Brewing in small batches also means that Albion can constantly refine and perfect their end product, which is a great help when you’re learning as you go along. Harry jokes that the first batches involved spilling most of the beer on the floor, but after a year of constant practice they must be doing something right. Albion is in demand all over the city – head to Green Park Station’s indie booze experts Wolf Wine, to pick some up for yourself, or find it on the menu at Barton St Wine Bar, Castle Farm Café, and even the Montagu Bar at the Royal Crescent Hotel.
Despite their popularity, The Albion Brewing Co isn’t going to be rushed into expanding. The plan is to take things slowly enough to make sure that the quality never suffers – and, of course, to make sure it’s still really good fun. One of the best parts for Harry so far has been the personal journey of learning a new skill, a hands-on process that’s both physically tough and mentally creative. Then, too, there’s becoming part of the local community, getting to know regular customers and stockists, and hearing their feedback first-hand.
There’s also a feeling of tapping into local tradition. Until relatively recently, Bath would have had a great number of small independent breweries, all with their own unique output – perhaps most famously, the Bear Brewery, which was once part of a thriving coaching inn (also called the Bear) on the Wells Road. In tribute to the nearby Poet’s Corner area of Bath, where the streets are named after literary heavyweights, Albion’s beers are all extremely well-read – Paradise Lost is an amber ale with a dash of Belgian maltiness, The Tempest is a rye ale with a touch of juniper, and the newest addition, Knight’s Tale, is a
, essentially a full-bodied lager. On every label is a carefully-chosen snippet from the literary work in question – something that’s more than a little different in the world of indie beer marketing.
In just one year, starting from scratch, the Albion Brewing Co has become a huge success. So what’s next? The boys are constantly experimenting with new styles and techniques, and have been busy making batches for a limited edition range of beers, including a Belgian-style Abbey Ale, infused with oak chips soaked in sherry, which they plan to condition for at least a year in the bottle. With such demand from stockists, there’s also the tricky question of bigger premises too. One thing that’s certain, though, is that whatever direction Albion heads in next, they’ll continue to put an enormous amount of care and attention into creating seriously good beers. I’ll drink to that.
Words and pictures by Sal Godfrey for
Taste of Bath