Interview by Kevin O’Donnell
We speak to Lost and Grounded co-founder Annie Clements to hear how the brewery came to be, what inspires the beers they make, and how they made what may just be the best lager produced on British shores…
First things first, how did Lost and Grounded come to be? Why did you decide to start the brewery?
Lost and Grounded Brewers has been 20 years in the making, if I’m honest. My partner and co- founder Alex Troncoso and I were home brewing beer in the late 90’s in Australia and beer was our absolute passion and remains so to this day. Alex went on to forge an incredibly successful career in brewing and we decided to stride out on our own around 2015 after we fell in love with Bristol – we decided to put down roots here after years of roaming the globe. The two of us spent countless hours developing the brewery from the ground up, as we continue to do daily. Our logo of a flying hippo carrying the globe symbolises our journey through the beer world – the hippo is a quiet achiever, but you gotta dream big, and through hard work and determination you can do anything – even carry the world!
Growing up in a typical working-class Australian home, my own cultural experience was very much entwined with sun, beach, beer and bbq! It was very much the norm. I have very strong imagery of the women in my (and most) families drinking dainty 5oz glasses of cold beer on hot days and I still carry a fond nostalgia for those simplistic and warm memories. I then quickly started becoming fascinated with American beers that were being imported to Australia, and I constantly sought out something more exciting! When I met Alex, a qualified chemical engineer, he was already a hardcore home brewing enthusiast – we brewed together nearly every weekend and successfully competed often in competitions, and so it began, and here we are 20 years later!
We started planning Lost and Grounded back in early 2015 when we were living in London after immigrating from Australia – Alex had become the Brewing Director of Camden Town Brewery after years of being Head of Brewing at Little Creatures in Australia. At some point the penny dropped and we thought about starting our own business if we could get the investment, sort out our immigration and find a place to live in Bristol – one by one we ticked all the boxes and here we are!
We originally discovered Bristol when we stopped for a night on the way to Cornwall when driving from London. What we found was an amazingly diverse and creative city, and we thought about building the brewery here. We became enchanted by Bristol, and spent many weekends here discovering the city and what would become our new home. After a good year and half of working on it, we were finally brewing in July 2016.
We often get asked about our name: Lost is self-explanatory, but does come from Alex and my journey to end up in Bristol. I’m from Tasmania, Alex was born in Guatemala but grew up in the USA and Australia, and prior to Bristol we lived in Tasmania, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Brussels, Melbourne and London – it’s been a hell of a ride! The Grounded part of the name is someone that is sensible and knows what is important: for us it was to finally stop, make a business where we feel that we can make a future for everyone involved. The jury is still out on the sensible part of Grounded, haha.
Now, four years into the journey, how have things changed and evolved?
When we started, we established a clear vision of what we want to be and how we want to work. We have four core values which are humble, inclusive, clever and raw, and to this day we still stick to those when making all of our day-to-day decisions – it encourages us to think out of the box, and to be thoughtful and considered about each decision we make across the board. From the outset we were one of only a handful of Living Wage Foundation accredited brewers and continue our involvement today. We have strong ethics and believe that businesses like ours work best with a flat and inclusive structure, where everyone’s opinions are heard. We do our best to give back to our local community, and never more so than during the COVID-19 crisis has this been true: in recent times we have supported organisations such as Caring in Bristol, FareShare Southwest, NHS workers via our webstore discounts and all keyworker teams in Bristol with our #thankyoubeers initiative where we donated approx. 2,000 beers to keyworkers across the city in the weeks of the lockdown to say thanks for keeping us safe.
Our focus from the beginning was always on making a flagship beer which is Keller Pils, and that still remains the majority of our sales. Whilst the beer is fundamentally the same, over the past four years we have worked on our malts, brewing, fermentation, hops and everything in between – a batch or two probably got jettisoned along the way at some point as well!
When we kicked off the brewery, we had a team of seven and now this has grown to a team of 15 fantastic individuals with passion and energy, all really focused on keeping Lost and Grounded amazing! We doubled capacity last year to about 2million pints per year and had a can line installed a couple of years ago – things just keep on changing, its only when you stop to look back that you can appreciate what we’ve achieved and how much has happened.
The beers you brew take a lot of inspiration from Germany and Belgium, what attracted you to brew these styles of beer? And are there any beers in particular that inspired you?
Back in 2015 we had already spent several years enjoying the amazing assortment of beers on the market in the UK, but ultimately our own passions meant we were drawn back to the classics and the concepts of how do you make an amazing German-style Pils or Belgian-style ale, why are those beers still around and going strong, what are the techniques that go into producing those beers? We thought back to all of our trips around Germany and Belgium (we also lived in Brussels back in 2006 when Alex worked in brewing there), and just wanted to create beers that could become stripped-back classics, with a focus on balance and technique.
We’re inspired by some of the great German lagers like Schonrommer or Tegenseer (but there are so many!), as well as Belgian beers like Duvel, Orval, La Chouffe, Rochefort 8, Westmalle Tripel amongst others. It’s amazing what you can learn by just looking at what works in making various styles, and then apply that to your own creations. We think it is important to not imitate, but just take inspiration – we have to be ourselves: we are Lost and Grounded and we follow our own path.
Now, talking about your brewhouse itself, you’ve once again taken a lot of inspiration from German brewing tradition with the inclusion of a lactic acid propagation plant – how important was it for you to get the brewhouse right, in order to brew the beers you really wanted to produce?
We are fortunate that Alex had many years of brewing experience and had already built several breweries prior to Lost and Grounded, so when it came to making our own brewery we knew we had to get it right. We are so proud of our brewhouse that came from Steinecker in Freising, Germany – one of the best brewhouse suppliers in the world. When we decided that we wanted to focus on lager and some other continental styles it became really important to us to have the right
technology – this enables us to use the malt that gives the character we are after – in our case this means German and Belgian pilsner malts. The lactic acid propagation plant is an important aspect: in essence, it is a traditional German technique for naturally dealing with alkaline brewing water, such as the water in Bristol. We are really proud to be one of the few breweries outside of Germany that actually use this technique. In the lactic plant we have a strain of lactic acid bacteria that originally comes from the husk of malt – we keep feeding it wort every week, and it keeps making acid for us to dose into the kettle to adjust the pH, almost like a sour dough culture that just keeps going. This gives our beers, especially Keller Pils, nuance and additional depth of character, and a little bit of “je nais sais quoi”. The current culture has been going since December 2016!
Onto some of the beers featured in our Beers of the Month. We’ll start with Keller Pils, a beer which has become a bit of a cult classic of the UK beer scene and is consistently referred to as one of the best lagers produced in the UK. What can you tell us about the beer, its recipe, and what do you think of the amazing critical reception it has received within the industry?
“Kellerpils” is a style of unfiltered lager made often by smaller family brewers in Germany, and our Keller Pils takes its inspiration from a visit to the hop harvest in Tettnang back in 2014 when we discovered the style. It’s almost like the lager equivalent to real ale, and is a labour of love. We firstly focus on the malt (currently a blend of German and Belgian), use traditional hops (Magnum, Perle and Mittelfruh) and have a very specific brewing, fermentation and maturation regimes. It is naturally carbonated by “spunding” (closing the tank when it is nearly done fermenting): in this the fermenting yeast consumes the remainder of the sugar, building pressure in the tank, helping to produce a fine carbonation.
It’s a simple beer with depth of character – sometimes it’s more bitter, sometimes it’s more hazy – but it’s always “Keller Pils”. We have been blown away by the following it has obtained in its four years and are extremely proud of Keller Pils – it certainly hasn’t been easy and stands up with the best!
It is extremely difficult producing such a simple and understated beer, and that is exactly what keeps us going. A lot of people imagine it is easy to make lager, but there is nowhere to hide, and doesn’t take much to get it wrong. It’s important to appreciate that we are making traditional lager with depth of character that takes time and love – Keller Pils is not an industrial product simply made in a factory, it is made by people, for people. We are called Lost and Grounded Brewers as it’s the people that ultimately make a difference, otherwise the brewery is just a chunk of stainless steel in a big old shed.
Another beer we’re showcasing is your IPL, Running with Sceptres, what can you tell us about this beer?
We LOVE Running with Sceptres! In the world of lager Running with Sceptres is the life of the party! It started life as a Vienna-style lager (originally described as “Special Lager Beer” on our labels), and
eventually morphed into an India Pale Lager – lager’s answer to IPA. This beer is certainly one that has come into its own over time and is Keller Pils’ BFF and lifetime sidekick. It has the distinctive Lost and Grounded mouthfeel and goes through the same cool and clean fermentation as Keller Pils which give an excellent foundation to showcase ingredients.
The beer uses a high proportion of Vienna malt, with a little bit of caramalt, to give it a biscuity edge and slightly more colour than Keller Pils, and is dry-hopped with US hop varieties. It’s piney, peachy, citrusy and delicious – modern lager at its best!
Running with Sceptres provides a great gateway beer for drinkers that say they don’t like lager – it opens their eyes to another world, and in our own taproom it can on some days even overtake Keller Pils – even the most die-hard cask drinker can be tempted to the dark side with this beer!
For many drinkers, the first thing they’ll encounter from Lost and Grounded is the incredible artwork found on your bottles, cans or keg badges. Where did the idea for this art style come from?
As a brewery we took some inspiration for our artwork from some of the traditional Belgian beers. Beer culture is a prominent part of Belgium’s history and its folklore, with many beers having distinctive illustrations on their labels. When we started Lost and Grounded Brewers, we knew that for our core beers we wanted to have illustrations that told our own personal stories, that were a modern interpretation of the classics.
At the early days of dreaming up Lost and Grounded we spent a lot of time at our local pub in Islington thinking of how our future brewery would look and feel. Late one night on the way home we came across a fox cruising down the road, and between that little guy and a few pints, we started to think about how to incorporate animals and scenic imagery in telling our story. I went on to develop the concepts working closely with a local independent illustrator named Alexia Tucker who brought all of our ideas and values to life, including our beloved flying hippo. Over the months leading up to the brewery I would often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, beer names and stories, and somehow Alexia converted those thoughts into magical reality. We still laugh about one of our first meetings when Alex reckoned we just put a mortar and pestle on one of the labels – we just laughed, and Alex doesn’t work on branding anymore, haha… Amazingly Alexia actually hid a mortar and pestle in one of the labels of our six core beers – maybe one day you’ll find it! A clever aspect of our original six core beer labels is that they actually join together to form one big panorama, the wonderful world of Lost and Grounded!
Coming on board at the start, Alexia introduced us to Sammy Davis who was also a local creative, and joined as our graphic designer, pulling everything together for us. To this day I still work closely with Sammy on all of our limited release beers. I really enjoy working with Sammy and we have some really fun times and we’ve had the chance to work together on projects with Martin Parr for the National Portrait Gallery and the Art+Beer project curated by Pig’s Ears Beer at the Tate Modern. The creative process we use is that I magic up a beer name, ideas, imagery, and general creative direction, and then Sammy makes it come alive adding his own spin on the project. We both push each other to keep getting bolder and more clever each time we create a new limited release label – it’s a continuous evolution.
And finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell the Flavourly community about Lost and Grounded, especially if they’re encountering your beers for the first time?
Firstly, we’d like to say thank you to Flavourly and all of the subscribers – it’s fantastic to be part of the Discovery box! Alongside Keller Pils and Running with Sceptres you will also find Bingo Night, a 5.6% citrusy, piney and punchy American-style Pale Ale, and Wanna Go to the Sun, a 4.6% light and zingy super-refreshing Pale Ale.
It’s been great doing this interview as it has actually given us time to pause and reflect on our achievements in our four short years – it’s easy to lose sight of what you’ve actually created when you are surrounded in noise. We’ve collaborated with some of the best breweries in the world, we export to Europe and Australia, have won awards for our lagers, are stocked in Waitrose and won the award for Best Drinks Producer in the Southwest at the Annual Crumbs Award in Bristol in 2018. The brewery has enabled us to not only do what we love, but also to give back to the local community – we’re really grateful. We have a wonderful taproom in Bristol that is currently closed, but hopefully in 2021 we’ll be back in action – make sure you stop by to say hi if you are ever in town!