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Going Native

By Fergus Fitzgerald, also posted in News on

Adnams brewer Fergus FitzgeraldA number of months ago we were asked by Jonathan Reekie, Chief Executive at Aldeburgh Music, if we create a beer to celebrate the forthcoming centenary of the composer Benjamin Britten’s birth. For those that don’t know much about Benjamin Britten, then you can read a bit more about him on the Britten Aldeburgh, Britten-Pears, Britten 100 and Familiar Fields websites. It would be quite straightforward to produce any old beer and label it as Benjamin Britten Centenary Ale, but that’s too easy. It doesn’t say anything about Britten or his music. Native Britten - three label designsNot being native myself, I wasn’t overly familiar with Britten’s music or indeed his life and trying to create a beer for someone I know very little about didn’t seem to make sense to me, so I talked to a few people about him. Our logistics manager in particular recalls delivering wine and some German Pilsner to his house. I also talked to Jonathan Reekie, listened to Britten's music and read a biography. There were a few things that stood out for me. Britten said that “My music has its roots in where I live and work”. This was also a theme in his opera ‘Peter Grimes’ in the exchange between Peter Grimes and Balstrode. Peter: I am native, rooted here. Balstrode: Rooted by what? Peter: By familiar fields, marsh and sand, ordinary streets, prevailing wind I really liked that phrase ‘familiar fields’ and it seemed to make sense to build a beer around local ingredients. Barley and wheat are fairly common crops in East Anglia and all our barley comes from here, but for this beer I wanted to use them in a different way and let the wheat be the lead character. I already had First Gold hops from Suffolk, the last year for a while that I will, as the hop grower in question has unfortunately had too many poor harvests to keep going. In the past few years we’ve used honey as an ingredient in two celebration beers. I’ve mostly used heather honey as it has an intense floral and herbal note that I really like. Last year I also added in some local wild flower honey which worked well. Keeping with the theme of using honey for celebratory beers I thought we’d source some local honey. I’d also got to know a local beekeeper, so thought that would be a nice link. [caption id="attachment_12962" align="alignleft" width="200"]Benjamin Britten on the Suffolk coast Benjamin Britten[/caption] However, last year was a very poor year for honey and the timing of the brew meant I wouldn’t be able to wait for this year's honey, so a little wild flower honey from last year's harvest was all I could get. The amount I managed to get wasn’t going to give me the intensity of floral and herbal notes that I wanted so I thought about what else I could get that would add that sort of flavour and eventually hit upon the idea of using a little thyme. Thyme has that herbal floral mix, it also adds an earthy woodiness that I thought might work well with the spiciness from the wheat. Using Thyme had come to mind after listening to ‘A midsummers nights dream’ for which Britten wrote an Opera. There is an aria which features the words ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme grows’, so it seemed to have a nice poetry to using it in the beer. We brewed a trial batch and quickly worked out that thyme is a very potent herb and a little goes a long way. So we brewed another batch with less thyme which worked much better. I’m not going to claim this is beer is the embodiment of Britten or his music but I have tried to let what I’ve learnt influence the creation of this beer and I think what I’ve ended up with is a beer that draws inspiration from elsewhere but is rooted here. Lee CookWe also wanted the label of the beer to be creative and inspiring, so we asked our label designer, Lee Cook from CookChick design, for his interpretation. Lee explains: "Whilst researching his life, one rich visual area was how Benjamin Britten's inspiration was often drawn from the Suffolk landscape. We set out to symbolise the flow, texture and rhythm of his music in the landscape, visualised in a Adnams coastal way. In an attempt to express the variety in his body of work we developed a range of 3 designs, inspired by the different landscapes which would have surrounded him. The Suffolk land, sea and marshlands were chosen to summarise these landscapes. Each with its own colour palate but clearly part of a range."


Fergus Fitzgerald