On Tuesday, we shared a little about how we came to collaborate with Burnt Mill Brewery, a craft brewery based in Suffolk in the East of England. Today we would like to spend a little about the brewery Burnt Mill, what makes them special to us, and why we felt many of their challenges have overlapped with ours.
It is easy to look from Japan at the craft beer industry in the UK with a certain degree of envy. For an island with half the population of Japan, its craft beer sales volume per year dwarfs that of Japan, and has led to there being more than 4 times the number of breweries than exist within this country. As one of the breweries that have become so well respected in terms of technique and quality, it would be easy to think that it must have been a relatively easy ride for Burnt Mill. Catching up with them through this collaboration, however, we got to share a few war stories about the experience of starting up and growing during the rush that is the current craft beer boom. We realised that we have faced many of the same difficulties, including the struggle of maintaining identity within a market that is currently so infatuated with all things low in bitterness, opaque and high in juiciness.
Burnt Mill started up 2 years after we did, during the absolute peak in market growth in the UK. A peak, that is, in brewery numbers - competition - and with supply by then catching up with demand, and then some. From being a relatively blue one, the ocean was becoming redder and redder, and more and more people were flocking to beers with maximum haze.
While we loved Belgian yeast, Charles loved hops but in the form of the classic West Coast IPA, a style that 10 years ago would guarantee sales, but had fallen out of favour with the craft beer drinker in favour of the more approachable modern IPAs. Despite differences in our lineups, one element that united us was the appreciation of beers of balance. This might not be a word that excites people so much in the current market, always chasing the new taste experiences, but it is born out of a love of enjoying the second beer every bit, or even more, than the first. From a brewer’s perspective, it also represents the mark of true quality, not relying on crazy adjuncts or huge volumes of hops to make the beer taste good.
To make a quality beer with balance, though, you need good brewers. More than bricks and mortar, and the ingredients, perhaps, it can be said that great people is what makes a brewery, and thus the beer, great. Helping Charles from day 1 has been head brewer, Sophie. Described in one article as the “Beethoven of beer”, Sophie is allergic to all wheat and barley and thus cannot taste any of Burnt Mill’s beers, instead relying on her 14+ years of brewing, her nose, and the sensory capability of Charles and her team to help her make sure the beer is on target.
The road, while long, has been an ultimately fruitful one. Burnt Mill now have a reputation as a brewery who make a great variety of beers who are especially well known for making some of the best West Coast-inspired IPAs you will find, and many people are now coming back to this style. While a healthy appreciation for new trends and a willingness to find inspiration is important, what we think is more important is to stay aware of one’s own identity while venturing out and exploring new areas.
Coming around to the collaboration, it would be easy to have gone with what we are each known for, Belgian yeast in a West Coast inspired IPA. But then collaborations for us have always been about learning, and doing something that feels right at the time. With our mutual appreciation of balance, a keenness to share and receive knowledge, and the fact that this presented an opportunity to break expectations, we went for a style that neither KBC or Burnt Mill have done before - an English bitter - and make a Special Bitter and an Extra Special bitter respectively. Is it full of the latest, most popular hops? No. Is it hazy? No. Did we want to drink 2 or 3 back-to-back? Yes!
Our beer, New Worlds, is now out in the market and we can’t wait to see the stronger edition of the collaboration, Other Worlds, made in Burnt Mill’s brewery reach Japanese shores in December, and crack open a few cans ourselves!