Tap Tales: Jonathan Smith, Freedom Brewery

After studying biology at King’s College, London, Jonathan then went on to study brewing science at Heriot Watt. A qualified Master Brewer (IBD), he has chalked up stints at Bruce’s Brewery in Chelsea, Bass, Coors and Carlsberg. After accumulating thirty years of experience in the beer industry, Jonathan became head brewer at Staffordshire-based Freedom Brewery which specialises in producing craft lagers and ales. He lives in rural Staffordshire with his wife and has two children, who are now both old enough to enjoy the product of his labour. In his spare time he enjoys keeping fit, and cycling in particular.

When did you first get into beer?

Since studying biology I have been determined to work in a field that was a practical application of it, combine that with summer jobs in London and a love of beer and voila, the rest is history. Locally brewed beers were a rarity in London when I was first working, and I took a keen interest whilst at the Phoenix and Firkin, in Camberwell. This led me to my first actual job in brewing, using a 5 barrel Peter Austin designed brew plant, at the Ferret and Firkin in Chelsea.

What sparked your love of beer?

Early memories of local beers from the South of England remain lodged in my mind, especially Gibbs Mew Bishops Tipple and Gales HSB. These are beers from a different generation but they certainly sparked an interest.

What would you be as a beer?

Ideally a Bohemian style Pilsner, it’s a beer with good body and character that can be both subtle and complex; whether that reflects my character is another thing, but it is simply a style I really enjoy. The style also lends itself well to modern interpretations, Freedom Pils uses a combination of traditional Saaz with an addition of Centennial to provide an interesting citrus twist.

What is your favourite hop variety and why?

At the moment it would be Motueka from New Zealand. Subtle lime notes balanced with some soft fruit notes make this a versatile hop. We are proud to showcase this variety in Freedom Pale where it is used as a late addition and I am also keen to include it in some future lager brews.

Who is your inspiration in the beer world?

Definitely David Bruce, who I had the pleasure to meet when I was younger and who certainly put me on the right track in life. He is an entrepreneur that has been involved in the international brewing and leisure industry since 1966, and he was the founder of the original Firkin pubs where I worked when I was younger. He was supportive, encouraging, with a great personal touch. Passionate about the beer and local production, his pubs were quirky, great places to drink and distinctly different from the competition at the time.

Where are you happiest?

I have recently been bitten by the cycling bug. Pedalling through rolling Staffordshire countryside heading towards the Peak District on a sunny summers afternoon creates a real sense of freedom and well-being; it is also a great way to work up a thirst.

What is your greatest vice?

Easy, and probably expected – beer.

What is your proudest achievement in beer?

The continuing development of brewing operations at Freedom Brewery. Three years of work have seen installation of new plant, development of a core range of brands and the building of a strong team, full of like-minded, passionate people. Pulling all of these strands together provides a huge sense of job satisfaction.

What is your ultimate beer and food pairing?

My preference is for a beer to cut through a strong flavour or cleanse the palate between mouthfuls. Freedom Pils is a great accompaniment to Indian food, balanced bitterness with a zesty edge works for me.

Which beer style do you find it impossible to get along with?

Strong spicy Christmas ales, their style is just too overpowering. My preference is for a beer that invites you to have another and this is often not the case with some seasonal offerings.

If you weren’t working in beer, what would you be doing?

As my entire working life has been in the world of beer I simply couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

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