General consensus seems to be that innovation belongs to the young and agile while the old timers are all past it. Brewers are deemed no different in this polarised view. While the young craft brewers are pushing the envelope, the larger brewers are viewed as pushing up the daisies.
Charles Wells is a brewer of decent scale and like others of its size and heritage it does not feel that innovation is a thing that is only confined to its past. It is working hard at bringing in more of a mindset that drives innovation and results in the brewing of beers that takes it away from the core range for which it is well known.
Chris Reid is the brewer with responsibility for innovation at Charles Wells and he suggests there is now a commitment from the top at the brewery to try out some new and different things. “Brewers like to tinker and we’ve a group that throws around ideas and then looks to narrow it down. We’ve been told to rip up the rule book and bring out a couple of new beers per year,” he says.
In reality this is not a completely new diversion because let’s not forget that we are talking about the same brewery that developed Banana Bread Beer many years ago. It attracted the attention of Dog Fish Head founder, the renowned Sam Calagione, which led to a collaboration between the two companies to produce DNA.
The business has clearly not been averse to experimenting and more recently it launched London Stout and Dry Hopped Lager – that took it on some way down its innovation journey with both produced as keg beers.
But it is the launch of Triple Hopped IPA this week that represents its opening gambit in a planned programme of launching beers that Reid says will involve exploring recipes from the brewery’s archives, looking at the beers of the Durden Park Beer Circle, and working with beer bloggers.
Triple Hopped IPA is a traditional IPA that mixes the subtle British hop Goldings (in the boil) with dry-hopping from Australian Galaxy hops and Simcoe from the US. At a modest 5.2% it is not seeking to push the boundaries too far because Charles Wells is not looking to divert too far from its recognised core markets. But it does represent major steps for the brewery on its path to engendering more innovation.
Reid produced test runs of the beer on his home brew kit at home, which worked successfully, but he now recognises the need to put things on a more commercial footing and talks of the installation of a small scale test plant on the Charles Wells site. Alternatively he says the company is considering putting a small brew kit into a pub near the brewery on which it can experiment ahead of transferring any recipes to the main plant.
Next on the horizon are possibly wheat and fruit beers, which could involve it using various yeasts as well as pulling the regular levers of diversifying the types of malt and hops used. The reality is that youth will always be the most adept at cutting edge innovation but that doesn’t mean they have the field all to themselves. Just like beer itself, innovation is not just black and white.