Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The New Boys (1): Bexar County

The conveyor belt of new brewery start-ups shows no signs of slowing. 'The New Boys' (title stolen from Private Eye) is intended to be an occasional series spotlighting new brewers I've encountered which for various reasons sound interesting. Of course, your own mileage may vary. First up, an American in somewhere beginning with 'P', but it isn't Gene Kelly...

The US Brewers' Association say there are now over 2,000 breweries operating within the 50 states. The seeds of a revolution sown when Jimmy Carter repealed the overlooked bit of Prohibition that prevented home brewing, has reaped a vibrant harvest which in its turn has cross-pollinated across brewing nations everywhere. Now, before I overextend the dodgy metaphor, the reason for this post.

Head 80 miles north of London, and you'll reach Peterborough, heartland of Oakham (will you ever finish The Mansion House, Oakham?) and now home to a new brewery. Stewarded by a former teacher from Texas. Bexar County Brewery (the 'x' is silent) is named for Steve Saldana's home county. Steve, who taught in San Antonio, is one of the new generation of homebrewers who continue to fuel the growth in US craft brewery start-ups. The difference is that he has decided to do it here.

There is a great history of beer being made in this country. There is great passion about beer here, as it should be seeing as though it is ingrained in the British culture. This is an exciting time for beer in the UK. For me, there is no better place to brew beer,” he says.

Steve homebrewed for some five years, and spent two years helping at San Antonio brewery and distillery Ranger Creek. “I was fortunate enough to get commercial experience helping out at Ranger Creek. I would consider it my internship.”. Once he decided to go commercial, Steve found premises in the Fengate area of Peterborough, and did a deal with the former Digfield Brewery for their 7 BBL plant. The brewery kit was installed and commissioned in October, and now Steve is developing recipes and brewing his first batches for release.

His philosophy is simple. “There is no box”. Straightforward and oft-heard among the new wave of craft brewers, but from an American brewing here, there's a twist. “Back in the States, the trend to brew aggressive beers is old news, while here, beer drinkers are finally learning to accept something more than “traditional” beers. I will not be looking towards style guidelines to tell me what to brew, instead I am going to brew what I feel will work. If the finished beer falls into a category, that is one thing, but I don't aim to brew any style in particular.”

Steve's first four beers make the point. 'Come and Get It' , a 7.3% Imperial Red with a strong malt backbone holding up a whack of hop bitterness; 'Texas Pecan Coffee Mild' (3.9%), a non-traditional mild with a cold-pressed coffee addition in the secondary; 'B4' (4.1%) surely an old Goon Show joke, but in this case a blond beer with a restricted hop addition. Steve has designed this as a session beer for the local clientele, and it's now on the bar at The Ostrich Inn in Peterborough. Finally, 'Lone Ryder' (5.1%), is a hoppy rye beer where the hops play second fiddle to malt and rye spiciness.

Initially all Steve's beers will be casked, but as things move along he hopes to explore bottling. London drinkers will have their first chance to sample Bexar County beer at the Pig's Ear Festival next week, where the Texas Pecan Coffee Mild will be featured.

Here's wishing Bexar County all the best.