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How I Created …

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Best Bitter, 3.7%
by Toby Heasman

In 2013, as part of a plan to forge closer links between the brewer and the grower, and to give brewers a better understanding of the provenance of their ingredients, I visited Slovenia with hop merchant Charles Faram.

Toby HeasmanWe were able to see some great hops on the farms, visited the hop breeding institute and were taken round the advanced programme Slovenians have in place for bringing new varieties to the market.

Our main host was a grower and merchant called Bostjan Taish, whose family grow hops. He also runs a trading company called SloHops and acted as our interpreter.

Two years later, the visit was reciprocated and Bostjan, his elder brother Simone and a number of other growers visited the Badger Brewery in Blandford St Mary, Dorset, where our beer has been brewed since 1777.

I wanted to repay the hospitality we had received in Slovenia and I was interested in doing a brew with them using three Slovenian hop varieties.
We all stayed in The Crown Hotel in Blandford, had an excellent meal and a couple of pints. The next morning we got up at 5.30 am and spent the day developing and brewing 200 pints of beer in our pilot plant using their hops, which were a combination of Bobek, Dana and Celeia.

Initially Seasonal

The beer was developed to be a seasonal beer. We pitched the strength at 3.7%, following feedback from houses that specifically asked for a lower ABV beer that would be ideal for both lunchtime and evening drinking.

The pale malt we selected was Flagon – the main barley variety we use in all our ales. It is a premium variety grown on the light soils of north Norfolk, delivering low protein content. We have been using it for over eight years and it has consistently given great conversion in the mash tun and crystal-clear cask beers.

Badger Best BitterWe combined it with a small amount of crystal malt to give a subtle malt flavour and a rich auburn colour. The liquor came from our own 50m-deep, on-site well. It is naturally high in calcium from the local chalk but we also add some gypsum brewing salts to Burtonise the water a little.

With regard to the hops, we had used Celeia before, predominantly in our Fursty Ferret beer. However, we were keen to try Bobek and Dana alongside it.

As well as adding them to the copper, we dry hopped the beer in the fermentation vessel, to deepen the hop flavour and ensure the beer retained character to the last drop.

Fermentation was achieved using our Hall & Woodhouse house yeast. This is a yeast that will both top and bottom ferment and provides a strong secondary fermentation that helps maintain condition in our cask beers.

When the beer was ready, we sent a cask to Slovenia, which was very well received. It also proved successful at home, so successful that, in April 2017, we decided to roll it out to our pub estate of 200 public houses, relaunching it as Badger Best Bitter.

It is now our biggest selling cask beer, with over 15,000 pints sold a week. Its ABV, colour and unique hop character – a combination of citrus and pine-like notes – not only make it stand out within our beer range but also among other cask ales of this strength.

It’s a great, easy-drinking session ale.

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