Cotswold Brew Co’s Jake Salter takes us through their rather bold decision to focus on lager, the challenges they face, how they innovate within that niche and the future of lager in the UK. It all starts with a question…
You just brew lager?
It’s a question that we’ve become used to over the past 15 years, one often asked with surprise. We all know that, for three or four decades, the UK has mostly been subjected to sub-standard, one-dimensional, macro-brewed lager, and the craft beer revolution that began to emerge in the mid-noughties was a protest of sorts against the dominance of those large breweries.
New microbreweries started brewing a variety of ales offering up a bouquet of flavours, and the humorous ‘Lager Boy’ depiction seemed to carry weight at the time. Our response was different – the problem did not lie with the style, but how it was made by those macro-brewers.
That’s when, in 2005, Rick and Emma Keene, armed with the extensive brewing knowledge of the former and the sales and marketing expertise of the latter, opened up Cotswold Brew Co with the aim of changing perceptions about lager in the UK – a hugely popular style, but not revered nearly as much as it deserves to be.
How we brew it
It takes dedication and patience to brew a great lager. We use our local water supply in Bourton-on-the-Water, do our own milling, use a cold-adapted alpine lager yeast, and we make use of characterful hops from Germany, UK, USA, Slovenia and Czech Republic.
The fermentation process takes 1-2 weeks, and we allow the beer to mature at cold temperatures for a further 4 weeks – which is the minimum time we feel is required for the yeast to purge any off-flavours in the beer and give its clean character.
The process is similar with all the lagers in our range, but each has a distinct recipe and character that sets it apart from any other. The lagers you have from our brewhouse will be distinctively us. We are inspired by traditional lager brewing principles, but there is no attempt to brew an imitation lager.
Innovating with lager
We’re constantly looking for ways to give people something completely different to try. 2019 has been a turning point – we brought out our long-matured lager range, including a 3-month matured Dortmunder, 8-month matured Munich Helles, 9-month matured Imperial Pilsener and, most recently, our smooth-drinking 12-month matured Doppelbock ‘Nutcracker’.
Why did we do this? For us, it was an experiment. The aforementioned styles are more commonly found in continental Europe, but not so much in the UK. We wanted to give these styles a proper introduction, so we kept them in tank beyond three months, allowing the yeast to develop them over time.
In between launching those big and bold lagers, we got hold of some ‘American Noble Hops’ – these are the debittered by-product of Cryo hops – and, with Oktoberfest closely followed by Halloween, we saw an opportunity to blend these hops with German hops and endeavoured to brew a modern interpretation of a Märzen – and so Shoktoberfest was born.
And next… We don’t know quite yet. All we can say is that it will be wildly different to what we have brewed before!
Lager as a process, not just a style
An encouraging, steady development in the UK is that we are moving towards that perception change around lager that was alluded to earlier. People are starting to appreciate distinctions between lager styles, and that’s clear from the number of breweries that are adding ‘Pilsner’ and ‘Helles’ to their packaging to define the character of the lager they have brewed.
Those are the two most commonly brewed lager styles in the UK currently, which does still lend to the idea of lager being a pale beer. That’s why we love pouring the darker styles at events, as we’ve had a few people say, “I don’t drink lager,” who are then pleasantly surprised when they have a few sips of Imperial Pilsener and then ask: “Is this really a lager?”
With our range, we want to take you through the spectrum – low ABV, Pilsner, Helles, Dortmunder, Doppelbock, Märzen, filtered, unfiltered, long-matured, light and full-bodied – each with their intricate Cotswold Brew Co twists.
We brew all this lager because we love it and we want to give people the choice they’ve never had before. There’s so much more to explore through the ‘lagering’ process, which we have found can add complexity, depth and balance to a lot of our seasonal brews, and not just the ‘clean’ and ‘crisp’ character that is often associated with the style.
The future of the UK as a lager brewing nation
We often look to the Germans and Czechs as prime examples of excellent lager brewers – and rightly so, as the originators who have been brewing it for years. However, we’re now pretty damn good at it in the UK too and, not only is it getting easier to find a great lager that’s brewed in the UK, but you can also find something incredibly different.
2020 will mark our 15th year of brewing lager and, as well as continuously brewing the core range that has endeared many to our brewery, we will be introducing something very different here and there as a means of championing lager beer and giving beer enthusiasts yet another reason to love it.