Badger Ale’s head brewer tells us how Hall & Woodhouse’s centuries old Blandford brewery remains ahead of the times
Hall and Woodhouse, the home of Badger Ales, celebrates its 240th anniversary this year. That it has survived and thrived for so long can partially be attributed to the company’s willingness to innovate. Take Golden Glory, for example-this peachy, light ale was developed before every pub in the land had a golden beer on tap. Then there’s the thrice hopped Hopping Hare, which was produced ahead of the American inspired craft beer revolution. This is a company that not only uses the finest English ingredients for its traditional Tanglefoot ale but is prepared to experiment with Slovenian and American hops to produce new, exciting flavours-flavours that also go well with food. Head brewer Toby Heasman told us about the secret of the company’s success.
How have things changed since you started working with Badger Ales?
In the last five years we’ve built a whole new brewery-the previous brewery we had dated back to 1899. As for the beers themselves, some of them are the same-the mainstay brands such as Tabglefoot and Fursty Ferret but we’ve also got newer beers within the range, including an American Venture, which is hoppy and a more craft orientated beer. For all the beers, we have the same core principles of only using the finest premium ingredients. For us, that’s our ale malt-we use a very high quality brewing barley variety called Flagon which is used to make our ale malt. The speciality malts we use come from Simpsons Malt, and again, are considered the highest quality roasted malts in the world. Alongside that, we use the highest quality hops and our own pure water that’s been filtered down through 50 metres of chalk.
Where do you get your hops from?
In Tanglefoot we use English varieties of hops, including Goldings, First Gold and Challenger- we see Tanglefoot as quintessentially English. If you then look at Fursty Ferret, that combines some English varieties in Goldings alongside some Slovenian hops, which adds a different twist. Then there’s American Venture and Owlers-they’re using Moasaic, Cascade and Amarillo, and those three American varieties give a very strong aroma and punch to that beer.
Whats the difference between American and English hops?
Part of it is the variety, and part of it is where they’re grown in the world. If you take the American varieties, you tend to get a greater intensity of flavours then the UK ones. In the US, the hops are grown predominantly in Washington State on the Western coast-they get a high amount of heat in the summer, but they’re irrigated from the glacial lakes. So you get a high amount of water but relatively low humidity in high heat-the perfect growing conditions. Also, some of the UK hop growers are starting to develop new varieties that are bringing forward different and new flavours. Jester would be a good example of that-we’ve got a new beer coming out next month, which is called Union Joker; it uses all British Hop Association hopes, but still has a good hop character to it.
What makes your beers distinctive? You have a lot of fruity flavours coming through…
Our yeasts naturally produce a lot of fruit flavours-we’ve got Golden Glory with peach notes in it, or Golden Champion which has got Elderflower notes in it, or the Flyer, which has ginger; then there’s the Poacher which has damson and liquorice coming through. Some of those beers are quite different, and that provides a uniqueness, but then alongside that, you’ve got the heritage and history that goes with the company, which would be where Tanglefoot comes in.
How do you get those fruity notes into your ales?
Without giving too much away, we’ve got different ingredients that we use to bring those flavours to the fore, and then we look at the balance between them and the traditional malt and hop flavours. So if we’re doing the Blandford Flyer, we add the ginger quite late in the process, just before we bottle the beers-we produce a lightly hopped beer that doesn’t conflict with the ginger.
Hoppin Hare is thrice hopped-what does that bring to the beer?
We’re adding hops at three different stages of the brewing process. When Hopping Hare was developed it was quite a hoppy beer, but the market continued to move and we’ve seen an increase in the amount of craft-style beers that are coming out, which means that Hopping Hare is not exceptionally hoppy now, but the hops provide a great deal of balance to the beer.
Do you have any Favourites?
My Favourite at the moment is probably An American Venture in bottle ( which is available from Waitrose) and Owlers in keg, which is available in our pubs on draft-it also uses American hops, it’s 5.5% ABV and it’s a really refreshing beer; quite strong, but the hop characters come through. If I went into one of our public houses right now, the beer I would have would be an Owlers.
Are any of your beers great with or in food?
We brought out a collector’s edition beer called Mer Chicken that has some basil in it, and that goes particularly well with Italian food. The depth of the malt characters and the fruitiness of Poacher’s Choice works well with strong cheeses, particularly a Dorset Blue Vinney. Gold Champion, with the elderflower notes coming through, make it a good summer beer that works well alongside barbecue food. Then you’ve got Blandford Flyer which has got the ginger in it-it’s quite a sweet beer that works as a dessert beer and with spicy food.
Finally, which pubs in Dorset do you enjoy drinking Badger Ales in?
The Crown at Marnhull is an award winning public house that is steeped in tradition and history. Then there’s The Duchess of Cornwall in Poundbury-great beer, great food and a stunning building. Also, The Olive Branch in Wimbourne has a lovely beer garden and is the ideal place to while away the time, sipping a nice pint or two of Badger.