Interview with a Head Brewer – For What Ales Ya
Name(s): Ben Bullen
Brewery Name: Elixir Brew Co.
How long have you beer head brewer/brewmaster there?
I have been brewing beers as Elixir Brew Co. for almost 2 years now.
Any type of formal training in brewing science or art? If not, how did you learn the craft
My father was brewing his own beers at home in Australia and I got the bug from him. I began home brewing when we moved to England as a means of producing the beers I wanted to drink. I have certainly benefited from having some great friends in the brewing world who have been very helpful with advice and the odd bag of hops.
If you will, a brief history of your brewing experience (where have you brewed)?
I began experimenting with my own house ales once we moved to England in 2007. After a calamitous kvass experiment and a few somewhat encouraging extract brews I moved on to all grain and set about filling the house with massive double IPAs, imperial stouts, Belgian bad boys and a host of specialty ales. My wife and I moved to Edinburgh in 2010 and began sharing these beers with friends and colleagues where I met Barry at Cloisters Bar. We formed Elixir Brew Co. in 2012 and began brewing at Alechemy Brewing in West Lothian.
How large is the brewery (# of barrels annually)?
Beers have been produced using both the 100L and 10 barrel kits at Alechemy.
Is it automated or is there a lot of exercise involved in your brewery’s operation?
There is no automation in the production process at Alechemy. All exercise undertaken brewing beer is usually negated by the macaroni cheese and chips combo I have for lunch on a Friday.
Have you ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
Is there more pressure put upon you as head brewer in a smallish brewery to try and match other small breweries in offerings?
Elixir is certainly a small brewery. The biggest challenge is trying to keep a range of beers available all year round. As we use other breweries equipment, it can be challenging keeping a core range in stock while also wanting to experiment with new ideas.
Can you give a hint if anything might be coming from your brewery (new brew, special brew, etc.)?
The latest beers coming out now are both collaborations with home brewers. The Sugar Lumps Imperial Stout was brewed to Ben Hislop’s excellent home brew recipe and features Demerara and Belgian candy sugar. My wife, Sevare, and I have also just produced her Sevy Saison featuring hemp seeds for the summer. This has been a home brew staple every summer since 2011 but this time it will be brewed on a much larger scale.
Please describe the weirdest ingredient you have ever put in beer.
I enjoy using unusual ingredients but the weirdest would be the Lancashire bonfire black peas used in Peas Pipe. I am indebted to Dominic Driscoll for turning me onto these delicious peas. I wanted to make a smoked ale and these seemed a great ingredient to accentuate the pea and ham soup characters of a traditional German Rauchbier. I also added pineapple and smoked paprika making this one of my more unusual beers to date.
Do you or your brewery attend the large beer gatherings (festival, conferences)?
I certainly try to get along to as many beer festivals as possible. It’s not always so easy with the workload but it’s always great to see people reactions to my beers at these events and to catch up with great mates in the beer world.
Any awards, either for you or your brewery?
In 2012, Benedictine Groove was voted one of The BeerCast’s Beers Of The Year and, alongside Coal Porter, helped earn a Best Newcomer Award at the 2013 Stockport Beer and Cider Festival.
Most every workplace has some type of tradition. Does your brewery have some type of tradition on brew day or at another time? For example, using a special tool that has been around for a very long time, play specific music while brewing, etc.
Macaroni Cheese with Chips! No brew day is complete without it.
Have you traveled outside of Scotland to experience another beer culture, in say, Germany or the USA? If so, what was your impression.
I’m originally from Australia although the beer scene has certainly changed there since we left in 2007. We have experienced the beer cultures of the USA, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Sweden which are all very different.
If you had to pick a favorite beer from the brewery and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why?
Good question. It always depends on the person and their preferences. If they love their hops, I would definitely give them Conviction IPA as it packs a serious punch at 120 IBU.
If you could sit down with anyone (living or dead) and have a beer, who would it be and why? What would be the first question you would ask them?
That’s a tough one!
If you were omnipotent, what would you change (first) to improve our beer universe?
A beer tap in every home would be nice.
Any advice for those aspiring (kitchen/homebrew) future pro brewers out there?
Keep brewing and make sure to share your wares. Beer is meant to be shared and there are plenty of people out there who will happily give you feedback.
*** Let’s Get Personal ***
Favorite beer and food pairing? Although Ben did not provide an answer to this, I will take a guess as to his favorite pairing. Any of his beers & macaroni cheese and chips
In the kitchen I make a mean? (beer related)
My speciality is sake glazed salmon but I’ve been loving the 5 spice lately too.
What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
Travelling is great, particularly if there is a beer festival involved. Always great to go camping too.
Are you married? Any children?
Married, no children, 1 budgie.
Describe your perfect beer day (outside the brewery). For example, a day with family or friends at the brewery, a picnic with family or just a quiet day at home (sipping your brewery’s beers).
I don’t know that I have a perfect beer day as there are so many great choices. The Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation in Belgium with a big table full of mates and some serious sours is a hard one to beat though.
*** Elixir Trademark Dispute ***
What did you think when you first got the C&D letter from Everards Brewery?(example “This must be some kind of joke”)
When I first received the letter from the Trade Mark attorneys, I was shocked. The letter was very strongly worded and demanded I stop using the name Elixir within a very short time frame.
Were you given any warning prior?
No. The first I knew of this opposition was when I received the letter.
What kind of response did you get from fellow craft brewers?
The response from fellow brewers was amazing. I spoke with close friends and also sought the advice of other brewers who had been in a similar position in the past. The willingness of these people to offer their own experiences and advice was invaluable. Through these networks, I was able to find a lawyer to support my position. I am very grateful for all of the advice and support!
We saw the response from the internet community. Did you think it would be that swift?
I had no idea that the Save Elixir Brew Co campaign would be as successful as it was. I was actually hard at work when Rich Taylor’s BeerCast blog went up around 1PM. I knew my phone was about to explode from the Twitter notifications alone but really didn’t get a chance to see what was happening until 6:30 when I finished work. At that point, the momentum was already incredible. I watched with amazement with everyone else when the official Everards response was posted on their Facebook page. CellarMonk’s Save Elixir article.
Has Everards made it official (that they will not seek the trademark) in paper form?
I was copied in to an email from Everards to their lawyers requesting that they not pursue the Trade Mark dispute any further. The Trade Mark was entered onto the official register on the 18th April.
Will there be a beer brewed to commemorate this little kerfuffle?
I know there are a few people who would like to see this but I don’t have any immediate plans to release Ire of the Tiger, sorry guys!
Elixir Brew Co.