In this months Ferment, we took a cycle across Yorkshire to the Ilkley Brewery. We’ve sat down with Director and Beer Evangelist – Luke Raven to find out more about this incredible brewery and the wonderful beer you have in your box this month.
Luke Raven: Like all good ideas, Ilkley Brewery was conceived by a couple of friends over a pint after they had enjoyed setting up a charity beer festival in the town. Fast forward 7 years, and the idea to make a little bit of beer for the local rural community has grown somewhat: We now employ 20 people, brew nearly 40,000 pints of beer each week and ship our beer not only all over the UK, but across the world.
B52: You use a blend of traditional English recipes and modern techniques and technology to make your beer. How important is that balance for you?
LR: Balance is the key word there. It’s our core focus when brewing so that each beer is easy to drink – that permeates everything we do. We’re respectful of the rich brewing heritage in our region, and a large portion of our customer base is still rural and traditional pubs. So if we’re going to make beers for this audience, then our aim is to make them as tasty as possible! But we also always have an eye on the future, and the broadening demographic of beer drinkers, and have tried to cater for these tastes too. Brewing rhubarb saisons, chipotle and chocolate stouts and the like have been part of our DNA for the past 4-5 years, and we’ll continue to push ourselves and innovate as much as possible.
B52: In our members Beer52 box this month we have a new Dinner Ale from you, can you tell us a little more about how it came to be?
LR: There was a brewery in Ilkley founded in 1873. Although it was swallowed up by Bass and stopped brewing in 1920, the local area is scattered with reminders of the rich brewing past. We discovered an archive booklet from 1894, in it was mention of a beer called Dinner Ale. After a little more digging, we learnt about the Victorian practice of having a table beer, and we set about recreating it, with a thought on the modern palate of course!
B52: Dinner Ale has quite a low ABV, which is something we’ve noticed a few breweries tackling recently. Was this a conscious choice when your brewed it?
LR: We first brewed this back in 2011, and wanted to carry on from our success with Mary Jane at 3.5%, but even lower. The challenge at that abv is that you’re extracting less from the malt, and it’s a delicate balance not to overpower with hops. We’ve always extolled drinking for pleasure not effect, and this could be the perfect beer to allow a decent amount of pleasure, without much effect!
B52: Heritage is obviously key to the Ilkley story and a lot of your beers. How important do you think this is to the UK craft beer industry?
LR: I think it’s extremely important never to forget where we’ve come from, collectively within the industry I mean. That said, tradition comes with drawbacks – often expressed as rules. If you look to America, unencumbered with tradition, brewers are unleashed to push the boundaries… that growth, although happening in the UK, has been tempered somewhat in its veracity, by a deference to the past, and the potential outcry/suspicion of change, a trait seemingly enshrined in the British psyche.
B52: Do you think an education of that heritage and the processes behind the making of beer is important to the craft beer industry?
LR: At Ilkley we’re proud of our history, and believe passionately in the importance of provenance. I think drinkers in the UK really do care what they eat and drink, where it’s come from, and who made or grew it. Independent brewers only make up just over 5% of the beer market in the UK. If we’re going to continue growing this, it can only be through educating people about the story, the process and the people. We all have a responsibility to establish beer back as our national drink – no longer a source of embarrassing stereotypes (lager louts and beerdy-wierdies). We can do this by making sure that there is a continuing conversation around beer, where it’s come from and how it was made.
B52: What does the near future hold for Ilkley?
LR: Like so many small breweries, we’re hampered by a lack of capacity. We’re passionate and proud of our beers, and want as many people as possible to enjoy the,. So our brewing site is in a constant state of ongoing expansion! Most exciting is the near fruition of our canned range. We have been developing this project for some time now, wanting to ensure that we’ve nailed the brewing, packaging and the branding.
We loved speaking to the guys at Ilkley about their brewery and of course we are thrilled to have their amazing Dinner Ale to share with you this month. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks for reading!