Flavourly’s own Anna Roper chats with Moor Beer founder Justin Hawke about the current state of the UK beer industry, his brewing philosophy and pioneering ‘Modern Real Ale’ for the craft beer generation.
Justin Hawke is a brewer who wholeheartedly embraces the challenge to meet expectations of real ale purists and the craft beer crowd. Now the founder and head brewer of Bristol’s Moor Beer Company, he succeeds in producing some of the UK’s finest beers.
Having revived the defunct brewery in 2007, of the early days he says: “Everything we did here is the complete opposite to the way you would if you were planning to start a business”. Today, Moor is thriving and celebrating their tenth year of brewing.
With a love of British real ale passed down by his anglophile dad, Justin knew he wanted to open his brewery in England. He began producing craft beer styles conditioned in the same way as traditional real ale, pioneering ‘Modern Real Ale.’ His beers were as hoppy as those he learnt to brew in his native California and cloudy like the natural beers he came across during a stint in Germany. If you tried serving a hazy, hop-laden beer in most pubs a decade ago, you’d be told your beer was off.
Justin had no desire to compromise his vision so without enough custom on his doorstep he began exporting early on. Now the traffic goes both ways and the Moor Beer tap room, sited right by Bristol Temple Meads station, is visited by beer-lovers from across Europe, New Zealand, Canada and the rest of the world. While Moor might be the draw, Justin is enthusiastic about it being a jumping off point to discover Bristol’s thriving beer and food scene.
Looking back over the last ten years, it’s hard to imagine how far beer culture in the UK has come.
Justin likens it to the progress made by British chefs. Once a synonym for bad cooking, British cuisine is now up there with the best.
While our tastes may be developing and more drinkers are prepared to try something new, there’s still progress to be made. One thing Justin would like to see in place during his next ten years of brewing is an end-to-end cold supply chain. Currently, the only country in the world with this for beer is the US.
Keeping beer at a constant temperature from brewery to glass preserves the quality, and means what you drink is likely to taste exactly how the brewer intended. Fluctuations in temperature can adversely affect flavour, shelf life and the level of carbonation in the beer. Currently, brewers have no way of knowing what conditions their beer will be kept in once it goes out of the brewery gate.
This focus on quality is typical of the Moor approach. Unusually for a smallscale brewery, they have invested in a lab dedicated to ensuring the quality and consistency of every beer they make.
Justin also points out that the live yeast in real ale cans and casks not only carbonates the beer but also acts to preserve it, eating up fresh beer’s number one enemy: oxygen. As well as tasting better, with a richer mouthfeel and sweeter aroma, can-conditioned beer will also last longer.
By producing something for all tastes, from English bitters to imperial IPAs, Justin sees there is a breadth of opportunity but he says it can be a double-edged sword. While they have a seat at the bar in traditional pubs serving real ale as much as cutting edge craft bars, there will always be those who are almost religious in their views about what a beer should be. But he did not get where he is today by bowing to every opinion and Justin says he’s not aligned to one side or the other. “I’m just doing what I like and enjoy… Brewing the beers we want to brew, selling to the customers we want.”
And he’s clearly not the only one who likes it. From early on, Moor has been winning prizes at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival & SIBA’s annual awards.
According to Justin, several Moor beers now set the bar for their styles. JJJ imperial IPA was launched in 2008, long before the current trend for DIPAs and it went on to win Gold then Silver awards two years running. Nor’hop, a consistently highly rated ultra-pale ale at a sessionable strength, is now imitated with more or less success by every up-and-coming craft brewery
Justin is justifiably proud of his company’s independent status. With no investors and no crowdfunding, all profits have been put back into the business to allow them to develop without any pressure to grow too quickly or go in a certain direction for purely commercial reasons.
This refusal to compromise, fierce independence and confidence is all underpinned by a wealth of knowledge and dedication to quality that ultimately produces consistently great beer. Which seems to me, a good reason to Drink Moor Beer.
Originally published in Issue 7 of Flavourly’s magazine. Written by Anna Romper.