In an exclusive interview with The Morning Advertiser, Andrew Madden, head brewer at Molson Coors-owned Sharp’s Brewery, told us what is required to be a head brewer, what we can expect from the brewery for the remainder of 2019 and what he believes the future holds for cask ale.
Originally from Northern Ireland, my career in brewing has literally taken me all over the globe and has seen me at home here at Sharp’s for more than three and a half years. My day-to-day key responsibility is managing the brewing department to ensure we maintain the high quality of our core portfolio at Sharp’s, including our best-selling cask ale Doom Bar. I head up a passionate and experienced brewing team, committed to driving innovation at Sharp’s and developing exciting new products to match consumer demand.
How did you become the head brewer at Sharp’s?
After studying a degree in biology I then did an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. My career then kicked off with Diageo in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to join Scottish & Newcastle. In 2009, an opportunity came up with Lion Brewery for a new role managing the commissioning of a new brewhouse in Auckland, New Zealand. It was here that I really found my calling: brewing craft beers, national brands and large-scale global brands.
After doing this, my family and I decided it was time to return to the UK. That’s when the opportunity came up to join Sharp’s. It was just too good to turn down the opportunity to work with such a great company, making exceptional beers.
What does a head brewer do and what skills and qualities are needed?
It’s really a varied role managing a brewing team. One minute I could be working with the brands team, planning our limited-release range and the next I could be managing the intricacies of fermentation. Brewing, particularly at scale, needs passion and care to get consistently high quality. My whole ethos has been to drive consistency in everything we do down to the nth degree. That way any deviance stands out and we can rectify it straight away. Building and ‘upskilling’ the team has also been key. I head up the department but it’s the skill, care and attention of our brewers that really keeps us on the straight and narrow.
What can we expect from Sharp’s in 2019?
It’s already a really exciting year at Sharp’s. It’s our 25th anniversary and there’s a lot going on. To celebrate this quarter-of-a-century milestone, our limited-release seasonal range is especially exciting this year. The 2019 range harnesses the creativity of our adventurous brewing team, while revisiting some of our most popular and memorable beers from over the years. Look out for the next brew in the range – Manu Bay – a flavoursome golden ale inspired by my time working with different hop varieties in New Zealand.
This month we also launched Doom Bar’s first ever above-the-line brand campaign ‘In Our Elements’, which not only showcases our exceptional beer, but celebrates our Cornish provenance and our passion for connecting with the local surroundings.
What makes up the ideal cask range?
Our team works hard to advise pubs on how to create the perfect cask range, which appeals to a broad range of customers. It’s crucial to focus on the quality of beer, but we also encourage pub owners to think about cellar management and front of house.
We have seen real success with our seasonal additions to permanent pub ranges – they offer something outside of the normal portfolio while keeping in touch with Sharp’s accessible and drinkable mantra. We believe the perfect range should include a popular amber ale such as Doom Bar alongside a national or regional pale or golden ale, such as Atlantic, and if the volume is there, rotational, seasonal casks.
At Sharp’s, we’re really proud to produce a range of quality cask beers to suit any bar range. The key is quality and we would advise any publican to only stock cask that they can sell in the recommended time-frame (three days from broaching).
What is the future of cask ale?
With consumer tastes constantly changing, we are always adapting to keep pace. We want our beer to be enjoyed by a broad demographic and to excite and widen the appeal of cask to more consumers. In recent years, we opened a pilot plant at Rock as a training and innovation facility, giving our brewers the freedom to experiment and create the next series of unique seasonal brews.
It’s fundamentally important that we listen to consumers and respond appropriately to challenge perceptions of the category and offer more choice to consumers. Acknowledging, for instance, the fact that 64% of cask drinkers would like to try cask served at less than 11°C, we are currently running a trial of Doom Bar Chilled, looking at seasonal demand for a cask beer at a lower temperature than is traditionally served.