Manchester brewery to revive historic barrel-aged brews

Manchester’s Beer Nouveau has launched a ‘heritage barrel-ageing programme’ to recreate recipes and methods used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Beer Nouveau is asking for funding for the purchase of old barrels to fill with beer created using historic recipes. It will begin by brewing an east India pale ale from 1868 and a Russian imperial stout from 1859.

Speaking to the drinks business, brewer Steve Dunkley: We were aiming to raise £8,000, not a huge figure as we’re not looking to make any profit from this, just to get the barrel ageing programme up and running.”

“When we set up Beer Nouveau just under three years ago, we didn’t intend to do any barrel ageing, so we didn’t budget for it. But the interest in heritage beer recipes has kept growing, especially since we invested in some wooden casks just over a year ago, so it made sense to take it a step further and get the beers into wooden barrels to age for the correct period of time”.

Since launching the crowdfunding page, Beer Nouveau’s barrel-ageing programme was 75% funded within 24 hours.

“When we made the £8,000, we were very surprised that it happened so quickly!” added Dunkley. “We added the stretch goal [£12,000 as of 29/07/17] because we’re really interested in the east India porter, a style that’s pretty much forgotten”.

Potential investors are required to purchase the refashioned beer in advance, choosing from either the IPA or the Russian Imperial Stout, or indeed both. The brewery will use the money to purchase the barrels and necessary ingredients.

According to Dunkley, the brewery will source the barrels from Speyside cooperage.

“They’ve got a stock of old whisky barrels that we’ll be able to steam clean to get rid of any whisky influence on the beer, something we’re not looking to use,” he added.

“A lot of barrel ageing programmes want to make use of that [the whisky influence], and produce some stunning beers, but it’s not what we’re after”.

Once the beer is ready, Beer Nouveau hopes to hold ‘tapping parties’ in its Manchester brewery and also plans to bottle some of the beer.

“We will definitely be bottling these beers, and making them available to the wholesalers, bottle shops and bars that we deal with,” said Dunkley.

According to the fundraising page, the brewery hopes to feature other ‘heritage styles such as east India porters and krieks.’

Traditionally IPAs were stored for a year in barrel and a further six months on a ship from Britain to India. The high hop level – which is associated with the IPA style – is often thought to have acted as a natural antiseptic, helping to preserve the beer during storage and transportation. However, this theory is actually a myth.

As Dunkley states: “Old IPAs had less hops than their contemporaries. If keeping the beer was an issue, they’d have shipped it straight away rather than ageing it for a year at the brewery first.”

Russian imperial stouts, on the other hand, were stored for two years before a two-week passage to St Petersburg. Beer Nouveau will follow these guidelines, only opening the barrels after the allotted storage time.

The Beer Nouveau brewery and tap room.

The programme will work with craft maltsters to recreate the actual grains used by contemporary breweries.

The Manchester brewers are currently scouring the archives of breweries, for example Tetley’s of Leeds, to uncover ‘their pale malt specifications for added authenticity.’

Beer Nouveau has also called on the assistance of beer historian, blog and travel writer, Ron Pattinson.

“Ron Pattinson is the main source of information for us, when it comes to beer history the guy knows pretty much all there is!” said Dunkley. “But he’s also the first to admit when there’s a gap in his knowledge and is keen to share information to help fill that. We also have a local beer history researcher we work with on a weekly basis to recreate old local beers”.

Beer Nouveau started out in 2014, operating out of a converted garage in Prestwich in Manchester. The brewery remains, in the words of Dunkley, a “one-man-operation.” In September 2015, it abandoned the garage in favour of larger premises located on the ironically named Temperance Street, scaling up from 40 to 1,200 litres. In 2016, it launched its brewery tap, offering locals the chance to visit the brewery and sample the beer every Friday from 4pm to 10:30pm and from noon to 10:30pm on Saturday.

The brewery currently works with two wholesalers and Dunkley delivers to local pubs and bottle shops.

“Apart from the ones I deliver to, I’ve no idea where our beer goes until someone checks it in on Untappd!” added Dunkley. “Pretty much all of our special stuff, such as the Kveik we’re brewing at the moment, goes out over the bar at our brewery tap.”

“There’s (almost) always at least one wooden cask of heritage beer on, alongside more craft beers such as mango and hot sauce IPA and a hop-forward pale we’ve brewed using sake yeast. It’s not just about the heritage, but also seeing what else can be done”.

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