Sir Toby’s Blog: Q&A with Ampersand Brew Co.

Simon Buck Photography

Images displayed with permission of Simon Buck Photography.

Ampersand are a brewery based in South Norfolk who are quite simply smashing it. The number of new breweries in the UK rose by 18% in 2016. The struggle to find a figure for 2017 could mean someone out there is still counting. Similarly, the growth of Ampersand from being granted permission to open a brewery in January 2017 to filling the fridges of Brewdog is both impressive and thoroughly deserved.

The modest first couple of lines on the web read, ‘We are a small brewery based in South Norfolk brewing seasonal beers that best showcase the ingredients and our skills as a modern progressive brewery.’. Sir Toby’s Beers popped along to learn more about brewing ‘seasonal beers’ and what’s what down in South Norfolk.

Q&A

Toby – One of most exciting aspects of your brewery is the permanent seasonal aspect. What beer are you most desperate to brew again?

Andy – It’s got to be ‘B.A.B’ our Amarillo Pale. Partially because this beer uses the awesome Amarillo hops which are my favourite and also because the recipe is one I have been making for a long time. It sold out incredibly quickly and I am definitely looking at getting another batch on the go soon so I can drink some!

Toby – Is it as simple as dark beer in Winter and light beer in the Summer? How do you decide what beer fits certain times of the year?

Andy – We don’t like to pigeon hole dark beers or light beers to certain times of year as both can be equally well enjoyed throughout the year. What we are trying to achieve is an ever changing/rotating line up of beers that include something for everyone whilst subtly adapting to the seasons. A good example of this is our session ale ‘Bidon’ where we adjusted hops and malt as we got into the cooler months. This adds a bit more body and a different flavour, but once the weather warms up we will subtly lighten the malt bill and bring back some more crisp and refreshing hops.

However some of our beer is more directly linked to seasons such as Redbrick (Autuminal Red Ale) and Ingle (Spring Dark Saison) and these won’t be brewed again until the relevant season.

Toby – Stouts, Porters and Impys – often described as having coffee and chocolate notes. Now that popularity is booming for these beers, can you add to this description for any keen beginners out there?

Andy – Big stouts are probably my favourite overall style of beer with one of the reasons being that they tend to have such great depth of flavours and variety. A good starting point is obviously looking out for the coffee and chocolate notes before looking a bit deeper into the flavours that sit behind these. A good example is our Experiments in Evil impy-stout that features liquorice and burnt toffee notes behind the more traditional flavours. The other good thing with this style is the change in flavours as you let the beer warm up. A beer that can taste fairly simple cold out of the fridge will develop into a completely different animal by the time it has reached room temp.

Toby – You’re a family team – what are the benefits and challenges?

 Andy – The main benefit is the unbridled support that family members give you. We are very lucky that this support has spread out to the wider family and friends allowing us to undertake this big adventure. We have had so many volunteers come and help right from the start by painting the walls and we get help even now when it’s the laborious job of bottling.

The main challenge is it can be very hard to get any down time when two people living together are also business partners and very focussed. We are having to be very careful that we save some small amounts of time to ourselves and don’t get stuck down the 24/7 work rabbit hole.

Getting Geeky

Toby – Umlaut is amazing. Lager is brewed less often here in Norfolk due to the hardness of the water. It’s great as it lends itself to some cracking porters and stouts. What’s the secret?

Andy – So Umlaut is a Köln style beer (basically a Kölsch but we are not allowed to call it one) that uses a traditional German Kölsch yeast. These beers sit somewhere between an ale and a lager (cool fermenting ale yeast with a lager malt bill) but they are the closest thing to a lager that we currently make and they definitely require soft water. To get the water right for this beer (and all our beers) we have installed a reverse osmosis filter at the brewery that allows us to blend pure filtered water with our untreated (very hard) water in different ratios. Due to how hard our water is this is the best way we can keep any minerally tastes out of our beers whilst providing the flexibility to allow us to adjust our water for each style of beer we make.

Toby – How about the name, is it relevant to the growth of specific large breweries – in particular S&P? Or is that a happy coincidence?

Andy – Naming the brewery was one of the hardest jobs when we started up as there are not a lot of names left and we were looking for a particular style. Ampersand comes from the & character which is shorthand for and. Being called Andy a lot of close friends and family are lazy and call me And. Hence cleverer people than me came up with the idea and name and we loved that it was a little different and provided a great opportunity for a bold simple logo.

Bonus Question

Toby – Who is Bad Ass Bob?

Andy – Bob is a very good friend and someone whom I brewed a variation of B.A.B for their surprise birthday back when I only had a pot and a kitchen stove. The name was a bit of a joke that was never intended to stick, but it gained a cult status with all the different people who drank my home brew and I was always getting asked to re-brew it. When we brewed the commercial version as a little nod to its beginnings we decided we had to call it B.A.B.

Shop for Ampersand Beer at Sir Toby’s Beers:

Delivery

Free delivery in Norfolk on 1st Tuesday of every month. UK delivery £4.99.

Norwich Market

We also stock a range of Ampersand Beer at Stall 182, Norwich Market, NR2 1NE.