Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

St Austell’s Celtic gold – a Tribute to brewing excellence

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England in the 1850s was a vibrant time for entrepreneurs and a new generation of visionary industrialists. One such was Walter Hicks, who decided to mortgage his farm and home for £1,500 and set up a maltings.

One thing led to another, first a pub then another and finally the decision was taken to build a brewery, which we now know as the St Austell Brewery.

Hicks’ vision was in step with the time and was a grand Victorian concept, of a vertically integrated company – from the farm to the glass – the whole process was within his embrace.

As this part of Cornwall prospered so did the brewery. Generations of mineworkers toiled mining Cornwall’s white gold, china clay, which was widely used by the porcelain and paper industries. And once the clay was dug, other workers toiled loading it onto boats to take it away to distant factories. It was thirsty work, and what better to slake the throats of thousands of working men than pints of Hicks’ beers?

One of the brewery’s best known beers is Tribute. It was first brewed as seasonal beer in 1999 to mark the total eclipse of the sun at 11am on 11 August and was called Daylight robbery.

The beer was brewed by the company’s then new brewer Roger Ryman. Unlike many brewers of his era he saw beyond the beers brewed within the British Isles and sought inspiration from brewers across the Atlantic in the US and the continent. His thirst for unusual beers was inspired by the late, genius beer writer Michael Jackson, whose writings were making faraway beers seem close to hand.

Previously Ryman was assistant head brewer at Maclay’s in Scotland, where he had to brew a new beer every two months “and then just move on”. And so one of Ryman’s first beers for St Austell, Daylight Robbery was born. But rather than sedate and demure English hops, tangy , citrusy hops from Washington and Oregon in America were thrown into the copper. Seemingly, handfuls of them. And so Daylight Robbery went on sale, but unlike the clouds which disappointingly covered and masked the eclipse, the beer was a shining success.

The two month sale period, became three and then to four and so it went on. The company’s directors had a success on their hands, and decided in 2001 to rename it Tribute and make it a permanent feature of the company portfolio.

Drinkers loved the beer’s look and taste. The white gold of Cornwall’s china clay industry was replaced by a new golden star. It success is undoubtedly is down to the beer’s look and taste.

A 21st century beer, Tribute is a glass of white gold with  intricate, intertwining floral and orange and lemon citrus aromas and more than a suggestion of elderflower, which comes from a cocktail of Willamette Fuggle and Styrian Goldings, which dance over the tongue.

And not forgetting the brewery’s Cornish roots and Hicks’ farming heritage, it used the new Cornish Gold barley which was grown in the county which gives the beer a soft biscuit malt embrace.

Ryman and his team continue to develop new beers. Many of these beers can be tried at St Austell’s Celtic beer festival which takes place in a labyrinth of cellars under the brewery for one weekend in November.

This year’s festival is on 22-23 November and is the 15th to be held. The festival is an X-Factor for wannabe beers. Every year there will be something different. It could be a barrel of Tribute which has been aged for two months in a cask which once contained bourbon, producing high flying wine and spirit notes. There have been strawberry flavoured lagers and beers fermented with a Belgian trappsit yeast.

The creativity just goes on and on. One of the early graduates from this academy of beer was Clouded Yellow. Who would have thought one of England’s traditional ale brewers, with a reputation for conservatism and playing safe would have produced a German style wheat beer, which was full of spice, apple and banana flavours?


Written by timhampson

October 5, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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