In December the Theberton Lion Beer Club was visited by Colchester Brewery, in the form of founders Tom Knox and Roger Clark. As it happened, I had sampled a couple f Colchester Brewery beers just a few weeks earlier at a local beer festival; I had found both of those beers to be fair to middling, and so I didn't have the highest expectations going into this particular beer club.

Tom, who is the head brewer, took the lead in telling us about the brewery, and introducing the beers. He started off by giving us some background, explaining that he and Roger had worked together in the industry formore than 20 years prior to setting up Colchester Brewery. In particular, Tom had been head brewer at another Suffolk brewery before deciding that he wasn't happy with changes that were taking place there following a change of ownership. Tom was coy about naming the brewery, although he dropped a hint that made it possible to work out the puzzle**, preferring to stick to talking about his own brewery - all credit to him for that. 

Tom Knox of Colchester Brewery

Colchester Brewery was set up in 2011, with its first beer released in February 2012. Originally Tom had wanted a town centre brewery, but a combination of site availability, rents and rates made that impractical. Instead they set up the Viaduct Brewhouse at Wakes Colne, which is still inside the borough of Colchester. The brewery consists of a 10 bbl (brewery barrel) kit using a double drop system, which enables the production of 8-10 thousand pints each week. Double drop brewing was the norm up the early 20th century although now Colchester is one of just 3 breweries in the UK to use it. This system involved dropping the wort from one fermenting vessel to another within the first day of fermentation. As it involves the use of extra kit it is a little more expensive to brew this way; however, Tom strongly believes that improves the flavour and clarity of the finished beer. 
Colchester Brewery sells its beer direct to pubs, and to a few local retailers, rather than dealing with wholesalers. However they also swap barrels with other breweries, and so you can sometimes find their beers further afield. In 2017 they took over the running of the Odd One Out pub in Colchester.

The first beer we sampled was Modraniht, named after an Aglo-Saxon pagan festival. This festival, which translates at Mother's Night, was celebrated on what is now Christmas Eve, and is attested to by the 8th century historian Bede. The beer is described as an amber session beer, and it certainly fits that bill at 3.9%. It is very much a traditional English bitter featuring a bready malt with the faintest hint of caramel flavour; all of which is perfectly balanced by the moderate bitterness of the Aurora hops. Overall it is fantastically smooth beer and I could easily imagine drinking several pints. 

Next up was Colchester No. 1. This was actually the first beer that the brewery produced, but the name actually derives from the Colchester No. 1 oysters. The beer itself has no connection to oysters, other than the name. It is a best bitter at 4.1% with a beautiful floral flavour form the Boadicea hops. For me this wasn't quite up to the same standard as the Modraniht, largely because it seemed a little too fizzy. That was probably partly due to the fact that it had come from a bottle. I would certainly like to sample it from the cask as I am sure that it would be even better in that format.

Our third beer of the evening was No Man's Land, which was brewed to commemorate the centenary of the  Christmas 1914 truce and its famous football match. This is a clean tasting blonde ale with a delicious fruity character. Originally it was only intended to be a one-off brew, but it proved so popular that it has been re-brewed each year since.

We then moved on to a beer that had only been released a few weeks previously. Jumbo is a hefty stout at 6.6% and is the strongest beer that Colchester Brewery has ever produced. The flavour starts off all rich fruitcake before gradually developing a coffee bitterness in the aftertaste. Clearly this isn't intended to be a sessionable beer, but I could certainly enjoy a pint or two on a cold winter's night.

The final beer was Brazilian, a coffee and vanilla porter, which Tom explained was originally brewed partly as a joke. I was a little concerned that this might not stand up so well coming after the Jumbo. However, it was immediately clear why this was the Champion Speciality Beer at the 2018 Great British Beer Festival. As soon as the glass was placed in front of me I could smell the vanilla. On tasting I was put in mind of an Irish Coffee, despite the fact that this beer is only 4.6%. 

My initial expectations had certainly been exceeded this evening with the five beers ranging from good to great in my opinion. The Brazilian was the best of a very good bunch. In fact I think this was probably the best set of five beers that I have yet had the pleasure to sample at beer club. Colchester Brewery should perhaps have been a contender for my brewery of the year. I will certainly make a point of drinking their beer next time I see it on the bar.

* The Theberton Lion holds its Beer Club on the first Monday of the month, unless that is a bank holiday, starting at 8.30. For £5 you get samples of five different beers, usually around 1/3 of a pint. Sometimes the beers come from one brewery, in which case there is sometimes a representative from the brewery. On other occasions they are sourced by Tom from different breweries. We score the beers, and Tom uses these scores to consider which beers he might get into the pub.

** Nethergate


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