CBC BLOG | Head Brewer Mark Goes to the UK

I recently received the opportunity to travel to the UK and brew Coastwise Session IPA in collaboration with Banks’s Brewery in Wolverhampton. It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, so I decided to jot down my thoughts while abroad.

Tuesday was the big brew day at Banks’s. The Assistant Head Brewer Simon picked me up from my hotel. I was full of nervous excitement. Banks’s has been brewing beer in England since 1875 and they are a big contract brewer and distributor for other brands. I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what I was now looking at.  We parked on the top floor of the parking structure across the street from the brewery which was more of a brewing campus consisting of several buildings.  Simon walked me through the office side which was a multi-story labyrinth of desks and offices.

Mark and Simon at Bank’s

I met some of the brewers and looked over the recipe with them.  After talking to them I realized how different the beer culture is in the UK.  They were explaining to me they were a little short staffed at that time because it was exams. A lot of the brewers were out studying and taking exams to get their master brewers certification. I feel like studying is something people do in the states just to get their foot in the door, but once you’re in there isn’t that same emphasis. I then began asking them how long they worked at the brewery.  Simon had worked for Banks’s for 33 years, one of the shift brewers had worked there for 17 years. I noticed a plaque on the wall that said the average length of employment with the company was over 20 years. These guys had worked for this one brewery longer than 90 % of the breweries in San Diego have even existed.  It was a sobering juxtaposition.

Bank’s Brewery in Wolverhampton

Simon gave me a tour of the brewery which was so fascinating. He walked me through the twisting hallways and corridors that connect the several buildings and explained to me what I was looking at.  They have had 143 years to evolve and expand so there were processes and equipment you just don’t see in American craft beer.  I was amazed to see all the open fermentation vessels happily bubbling away.  At Coronado we are so cautious to avoid contamination and here I was, watching the krausen spill over the sides and through the catwalk that I am standing on.

Open fermenters at Bank’s
The original control room at Bank’s

Simon then took me to where they fill the casks. For those that don’t know, Cask Ale is the original English ale where everything had to be hand pumped from the root cellars. This style of beer is still very popular in the UK. He explained to me the processes and equipment to achieve the perfect blend of beer and yeast for proper cask aging. By the time I finished what had to have been at least a 2-hour tour of the facility, I was blown away by the scope of their work and portfolio of beers.

Cask filling station at Bank’s

Simon and I went out for beers at the end of the day.  We talked about the changing landscape of the craft beer scene. I told him after seeing his operation I didn’t need to be there, it was obvious that Banks’s was more than capable of brewing an exceptional beer.  I maybe didn’t need to be there, but I am sure glad I was.  I have brewed Coastwise probably a hundred times, but one thing was for sure, I would never forget this time.