Take 5 with Justin Hawke

Moor Beer’s founder Justin Hawke talks what he’s drinking, barrel-aging and his desert island beers.

Let’s start with the most important thing first – the beer! Which beers have you been drinking lately? And what has the Moor team been brewing?

I, and it seems most people recently, have been certainly drinking lots of beer at home. It feels like perhaps more than usual but, thinking about it logically, all drinking during these strange times is done at home so it feels like more than normal but really isn’t. When I consider visits to the pubs and events that were a regular occurrence, I estimate I’m drinking the same as before, just differently.

Access to a variety of beer is obviously restricted during these times, so I’m very grateful to all the businesses continuing to retail and ship essentials like beer. That is certainly the feedback we’re getting as well from lots of happy fans!

Personally, I’ve been drinking lots of our Lager, PMA and Hoppiness, with some of the fun barrel aged and dark beers thrown in there for variety. Also, it’s been a great time to work through my cellar of sour beers, heavily skewed towards Cantillon Gueuze – always a favourite.

In the brewery we’ve been very busy doing local home deliveries and fulfilling orders for pubs and shops that are still selling, and of course Flavourly, who are doing a great job continuing to get beer out to people’s homes.

We’re also in the final stages of getting ready to launch our rebrand in June, so have been brewing eight of our core beers (All Dayer, Lager, Nor’Hop, Raw, Claudia, PMA, Stout, Hoppiness), as well as lots of extra Revival, Union’Hop and Return of the Empire. The team have been amazing adapting to the new conditions we’re all having to work within, so I’d like to give a special shout out to them for persevering and brewing amazing beer as always.

Earlier this year, you released your latest barrel aged beer in Scotch Whisky Barrel Aged Wee Heavy – can we expect more barrel aged releases from Moor in the future? What attracts you to barrel-ageing?

We’ve been barrel ageing since 2009 and have a special vault of barrels on London’s Bermondsey Beer Mile, which also doubles as our London tap room and distribution hub. We’ve got a couple of different Imperial Stouts barrel ageing in there at the moment that I’m really excited about. One is a historic recipe from the 1800s we brewed with Thornbridge Brewery and Italian innovators Nidaba. There is also our own Imperial Stout alongside it, which is a scaled up version of our Stout, and a really cool project where we demonstrate the same Stout recipe scaled up to 5% (Stout), 8% (Double Stout) and 11% (Imperial Stout). I’m not aware of any other brewery that’s done a project in that way before. The barrel aged version of Double Stout got released recently and is tasting amazing, so I have high hopes for barrel aged Imperial Stout.  We’ve also got Fusion laying down in barrels, which will be out later this year.

The attraction of barrel ageing for us comes from two angles. The first is adding flavour to the base beer through the use of clean, single use spirit barrels. With these, which is most of what we’ve released to date, we are looking for the additive effect that the wood and previous spirit flavours will bring to the beer. These are very much designed from the ground up, just like Wee Heavy, so we get something that is better than the sum of its parts.

The second angle is traditionally focused sour beers – think Lambic, Flanders Red, and the wonderful sour beers coming from Italy. These take time, multiple years, and here we’re looking for how different yeasts and bacteria will evolve the beer over time into something completely amazing and unique. We have done a couple projects with this, most notably our collaboration beer Sanbiki, brewed at Lover Beer in Italy alongside Lervig. These are a huge investment in time and money so, when things are back to normal, we’ll get working on more of these projects.

In the interim, we support the global sour community by offering some unbelievable and unique beers from our sour friends around the world alongside Arrogant Sour Festival. You can get these beers in our London and Bristol locations.

We’re delighted to have Hoppiness, Union’Hop, PMA, RAW and Return of the Empire amongst our Beers of the Month this month. What can you tell us about these beers and is there anything you’d want the Flavourly community to know about them, especially if trying Moor Beer for the time?

We are delighted that they are there! There is a story behind each of those beers, and all of the beers we brew. I’ll give you the short versions so I don’t put everyone to sleep, but before I go into each beer, it’s important for people to understand that all of our beers are naturally carbonated with live yeast and are vegan friendly. This means there will be a little yeast in each can, providing the natural conditioning and secondary fermentation, making them all technically real ale in a can. We were the first in the world to be certified by CAMRA for doing so.

You can pour gently leaving the yeast behind or add it as you prefer. It is this live element of our beers that make them have such a fantastic mouthfeel, and really rounds out the flavours by pulling the malt and hops together. It also helps preserve the beer for longer. I had the pleasure of trying a 150 year old bottle of naturally conditioned beer at a talk I did a while back, and whilst it didn’t taste like ‘beer’ as we now know it, being able to experience and safely consume something so old was a real treat.

On to the beers you have in front of you now! Let’s start with Raw, which is our best bitter. Originally it was called Merlin’s Magic back in 2007 when we revived the then defunct brewery. We were the first in the UK to start the unfined beer movement, and one of our customers at the time liked the unfined version of Merlin’s Magic so much that they kept it on as their house beer in their two pubs; one of which was called Real Ale Weston, so we called the beer Raw as it was the raw, unfined, version of Merlin’s Magic, and was a nice acronym for the pub. Very quickly we stopped fining all our beers, and so Merlin disappeared and Raw remained. It is a rare example of a canned best bitter, even more so for being can conditioned – effectively it’s a nano-cask.

Hoppiness is our Crossover IPA. We call it that partially as a nod to the seminal D.R.I. album Crossover, but also because it crosses over hoppy elements of a modern West Coast IPA (I’m from California so love those!) and a balancing maltiness from an English IPA. One of our earliest champions, and now our head of retail, James Scrancher, on tasting it for the first time years ago pronounced, “Hoppiness is happiness” so we keep that slogan with it.

Return of the Empire started life as a trial for the then experimental hop Jester back in 2012. Based on the success of the trial, Jester went into full planting and is now a very influential and modern tasting English hop. The beer was originally called Empire Strikes Back and had a fun story around it about English hop developers rebelling against the might of new world hops. Once the hop, and then the beer, went into full production, we thought it prudent to make the name less direct, and changed it to Return of the Empire. Union’Hop is the British version of our cult beer Nor’Hop. It also features Jester, alongside its sister hop, Olicana.

Finally, you’ve got PMA, which is a fantastic pale ale and a fantastic project. It was a beer I’d wanted to brew for a while, the name PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) coming from the reference in Bad Brains’ song Attitude. The decision to finally brew the beer came when I was introduced to Basque punk band Berri Txarrak. The singer, Gorka, was wearing a Hardcore Hits Cancer t-shirt. Being a big fan of hardcore punk and, like everyone, knowing people who have been impacted by cancer, I wanted to join the beer with Hardcore Hits Cancer. We make a donation from every batch of PMA to cancer charity, so you’re not only drinking an amazing beer, but you’re doing some good at the same time. Taking it further, we are giving cans of PMA to NHS workers during this crisis.

You’ve produced a few Star Wars inspired beers over the years, and even hosted a live tasting on May the 4th – what inspired these brews and the connection with Star Wars?

Aside from beer and punk rock, my other obsession is Star Wars; isn’t it everyone’s? Being completely independent and family owned as a brewery means I get to do what I want. We only brew beers I want to brew, and we get to have fun around them. Every time there is a new Star Wars film, we brew a beer to celebrate it, and we always do stuff for May the 4th. Beer is serious business, and we take it very seriously, but it is also incredibly fun, and we want people to have fun with us.

Finally… You’re stranded on a deserted island, and you can only bring one beer along with you. Which beer are you bringing and why?

I always hate this question because my beer decision does really change with my mood! Considering it loosely by style and not going for blatant self-promotion, on the beach part of the island it’s sunny, sandy and great surf, so it has to be Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA. I’d have a little cellar on a hilly part of the island, and in there it would be an incredibly hard decision whether to have Monchsambach or Knoblach lager – probably both (and Elch Dunkel for the winter). Somewhere near our hut I’d build a local pub and it would have Timothy Taylor Landlord. Around mealtimes it would be Cantillon Gueuze. And for a nightcap by the fire it would be Rochefort 10. In fact, can you take us there now please?!

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