I love visiting breweries. Big ones, small ones and all sizes in between. So when young Nate informed me that he had arranged for a small select group to visit Norwich's newest brewery, Redwell Brewing, during the City of Ale weekend I was more than delighted. I had better whisper the next bit but Redwell Brewing only produce keg beers and lagers. They describe their products as being hand crafted English ales and lagers brewed in small batches.
Redwell Brewing are located to the east of the centre of Norwich under a bridge alongside a railway line. There is no big sign or anything at all really except for a small board with the words 'Redwell Brewery' to indicate where you are. We were met by Patrick Fisher, co-owner and marketing man behind the operation. The brewer behind the operation has spent many years honing his craft in Sweden. Their beers have only begun to appear in local pubs in the past month and they have also managed to get them into a number of popular specialist craft bars in London. Patrick explained that the idea behind choosing the keg route was to ensure that they had control of the quality of their product wherever it may be sold. More on this later.
When we stepped inside the large cavernous building we saw five conditioning tanks and plenty of wide open space. They are certainly thinking ahead with plenty of room for expansion. Steps at the back led out to a large gravelled area ideal for trainspotting and Patrick showed us a second building they have. The plans are to open up the land as a car park which could be used by football fans as Carrow Road, the home of Norwich City FC is not too far away. Plans to convert the currently empty second building into a small bar will make it a popular place with fans looking for a lunchtime drink before the game.
As soon as we arrived at the brewery we were given a glass and this was filled direct from the conditioning tanks. The first beer we got to try was their first attempt at an IPA coming in at a little over 6.0% ABV. It was hoppy and reminiscent of the new American-style IPAs. For a first attempt I would say it was pretty much spot on. After this encouraging start we moved on to the 4% Pilsener (both filtered and unfiltered) and the 5% Pilsener (both filtered and unfiltered) followed by the Steam Lager (5.0% ABV). Lager manufacturers in the UK have given lager a bad name and I rarely drink it but these drinks were refreshing and had plenty of flavour. Whilst preferring the unfiltered 4% pilsener, with the 5% pilsener I preferred the filtered version.
After standing around the conditioning tanks we moved outside to enjoy the sunshine but the samples kept on coming. I am convinced the amount in the glass kept increasing with each sample too. This was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and it was extremely kind of Patrick to give up his time so generously for us. The last couple of drinks we had were from the keg although they had not been cooled in any way. This was my complaint when visiting the Brewdog bar in Birmingham last year where the beer was cooled to such an extent it was impossible to enjoy.
Redwell Brewing know what market they want to tap into and I think they will be very successful. Once they have established their name I'm sure they will experiment more too. I respect their comments regarding why they are going down the keg route. It is true that cask brewers can get bad reputations through no fault of their own if their beer is not looked after properly at the point of sale but I do feel that cask beer always has more depth of flavour to it than any keg product I have tried. Even in America where I have visited many craft breweries I have always preferred the cask version of beers on the few occasions where they have been produced alongside the keg version. So yes whilst you may get consistency of product I do feel you are losing something too.
A big thank you then to Patrick Fisher from Redwell Brewing and to Nate for organising the trip. I will always look out for their beers if I am visiting a craft bar in London or visiting Norwich. As a postscript to this trip we finished off the day at the Norwich Taphouse, a new Norwich pub specialising in keg craft beers from around the UK. Located on Redwell Street it is no surprise that Patrick Fisher is the man behind this enterprise too. It is a very lively bar and the blackboard lists up to 20 keg beers and of course we had to try the Redwell Steam Lager (5.0% ABV) to compare it to the one we sampled earlier. Yes it was a little colder and yes it did seem to be a little fizzier but it was still a full-flavoured modern beer and nothing at all like the lagers you would find in most pubs.
Good luck to Patrick then with both enterprises. He is providing something a little bit different in a city of ale that is awash with excellent cask ales and I'm sure there is room for the very best in keg beers. Let's not forget it is the big brewers that gave keg beer a bad name and Redwell Brewing are showing that good beer is good beer in whatever form it is served.