This months featured brewery is Hall and Woodhouse – the enigmatic entity behind those beautiful Badger Ales and fervent fans of punnery. (Which makes them pretty solid in our book!).
Hall and Woodhouse started out way back in 1777, that’s over 200 years ago, which is a bloody long time. Champion Charles Hall began brewing his beery beverages for the Napoleonic troops stationed nearby in Weymouth – rumours fly that their ales had a sizeable contribution in the win at Waterloo, something that MFBR can fully believe.
Since then the Badger set has expanded to over 250 pubs and a range of some of the finest, most interesting and well alliterated beers available in the UK. With Mark and Anthony Woodhouse at the helm it is still a voracious and passionate family-run brewer with much going on and a hell of a scope in the current beer revival.
We were lucky enough, thanks to Nickie at Positive PR, to get an interview with Head Brewer Toby Heasman. A passionate and clearly talented chap who gave us some great answers:
How long have you been brewing with Badger for?
I have been with Badger for 7 years, and it goes down as a fantastic life changing decision to come down here. On a personal and brewing front it has changed my life and given me some fantastic opportunities whilst having great fun
Could you explain to us the process of brewing a new Badger ale, where do you begin?
At any one time, I usually have a number of ideas in my head of new beers that I would like to try. Sometimes that then leads to a phonecall to a maltster or hop merchant to obtain new or different ingredients. We have just purchased a new pilot plant, which means we can now do trial brews as well. So I will usually sharpen my pencil and turn my ideas into a recipe, before we put the beer through the pilot plant. From this we usually have a trial tasting in the sample room (inner sanctum) for a select few across our Beer Company. Then we will put a cask on in the Visitor centre bar and ask for feedback from our team members.
Describe to us a typical day as the Head Brewer of Badger.
No 2 days are the same. I work on the mantra if my team are happy we produce our best beer and have our greatest inspiration. So first up I like to meet up with them in a relaxed environment. From there any day can take me to many places from working on new beers with our brands team, to meeting hop suppliers and maltsters, meeting new business partners in our public houses, photo shoots, writing tenders for new equipment the list goes on but it is never boring. Checking the quality parameters of our beers and a little bit of tasting just to check the house is in good order. In between that, obviously the full time job is brewing some beer and trying to get home before my children have gone to bed!
Through twitter, Badger is able to interact with their customers and you come across as an extremely entertaining and friendly brewery. Is working for Badger as enjoyable as we all imagine?
Yes we have got a really diverse small team. We try and respect each others individuality, which allows us to take responsibility for our own destiny. For me this makes it fun.
MFBR have always been incredibly fond of Badger, what do you think it is that makes the brewery so popular?
We tend to be a little bit quirky, whilst we pride ourselves on our professionalism we are never afraid to try something different. There is no them and us at Badger and I hope this comes through in our beers.
Do you have a most memorable moment working for Badger?
The new brewhouse will always feel like my baby and bringing my wife, son and daughter to the opening was very special.
Have you ever had a bad brew day, where everything seems to go wrong?
Not really, it is a natural process and we have high speed packaging lines. So yes some days are better than others. But as a team we are pretty positive. So even on a bad day, there is always a solution. Sometimes it just needs a dark room to see the light. I have had weeks of night shifts and months of 4am starts but when everyone is pulling together the camaraderie outweighs any negatives. Sometimes my wife wishes I would switch off more, but being the way I am means that is unlikely. Brewing is a vocation not a job!
Which festivals do Badger most look forward to each year?
We have something special on at the brewery on 5th October, bit cheeky but really looking forward to it. Can’t say too much more yet, but watch this space. Aside from that really enjoy the local food festivals, combining my passions of food and beer.
What have been some of your favourite ales you’ve tried this year?
My mainstay is Hopping Hare and in cask I am always a bit partial to Firkin Fox. But we have had some fun this year and done a beer called Roaming Roydog which is a 7.5% Porter using Galaxy and Bramling Cross hops, which gave amazing hop tropical hop notes. We have also brought out a honey beer called Brewers Bee which was great for ale drinkers and those who do not normally drink ales. Our limited edition beer, which had been conditioned in brandy casks and put through the champagne process went down well on Christmas day. Outside of our beers Wadworths kitchen IPA was very drinkable and I am always impressed with the diversity of beers from Meantime.
If there was any non-Badger ale you wish you could have brewed, what would it be?
I think Timothy Taylors Landlord is a fantastic beer and I have huge respect for their brewing team and what they have over the last 25 years.
Which is your favourite Badger ale and why? MFBR are particularly partial to a Poacher’s Choice…and alliteration.
Hopping Hare is a great beer for all occasions. Having said that when Firkin Fox is on in cask I will often try that.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start brewing?
Always be optimistic and get all the experience you can. I started home brewing when I was 15, then went on to work for an American Micro brewery before doing my brewing and distilling degree and training as a Master Brewer with Bass. But the main advice is follow your passion, stay optimistic and you can achieve anything if you believe in yourself.
And finally, if you could sum up Badger in one story/anecdote, what would it be?
236 years of history built for the future.
In conclusion, after speaking to the Head of Brilliant Tasting Beer, I have summarised that Badger now hold an even dearer place in my heart (belly? liver?). That Blandford Flyer is going to taste even better knowing the amount of time, energy and passion that goes into it on a daily basis by people as awesome as Tony and his team. Hall and Woodhouse, we salute you. And thanks for Waterloo!