Interview with a Brewmaster

Interview with a Head Brewer – Sole Man

We are on somewhat of an English brewer kick at the moment with our head brewer interviews. The latest brewer was recommended to CellarMonk from an avid beer drinker (thanks @broadfordbrewer) and luckily he agreed to sit in the Comfy Computer Chair of Fame (well, somewhat) and hold court on all aspects of his brewing life (well, the exciting bits at least). Please welcome to CellarMonk, the head brewer for Adnams Plc, Mr. Fergus Fitzgerald.

 Fergus Fitzgerald  @Solebear

Brewery Name: Adnams Plc

How long have you beer head brewer/brewmaster there?
I joined in 2004 and became head brewer in 2008.

Any type of formal training in brewing science or art? If not, how did you learn the craft?
I studied Biotechnology in Ireland, which touches on brewing, my formal brewing training then came on the job whilst training and studying for the IBD exams, http://www.ibd.org.uk/qualifications/examinations/ starting with the certificate in brewing, then the diploma and finally the Master brewer Exams.

If you will, a brief history of your brewing experience (where have you brewed)?
I studied Biotechnology in Ireland and then took up a temporary laboratory job at Fullers brewery in London, that was my first real introduction to brewing and it kickstarted my interest in brewing. That led to another temporary lab job in Murphys in Cork, and then back to Fullers for a second time for a permanent job in 1997. I then circled my way around the brewery, going through various quality and production jobs. During this time I’d passed the diploma in brewing exams which gave me the chance to move into the brewhouse. I then moved up to Adnams as assistant head brewer in 2004, working under the then head brewer Mike Powell-Evans.

Mike retired in 2008 having installed a new brewhouse in 2007 and I took over as head brewer.

When did you move to this location, or have you always been there?
I moved up here from London in 2004, we were actually looking to move to the North West, closer to my wifes family but the job at Adnams came up and it was too good to turn down.

+++ Tell us a bit about the brewery +++

How large is the brewery (# of barrels annually)?
We produce about 160,000 HL per year. (About 136,000 barrels)

Is it automated or is there a lot of exercise involved in your brewery’s operation?
Yes, lots of automation. I’m lucky enough to have worked on the old manual brewhouse at Adnams when I arrived in 2004 and now the new, more automated brewhouse. There are still lots of malt sacks and bags of hops to shift around but the temperatures, timings and transfers are mostly automated.

Have you ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
A couple of times. All breweries say quality is paramount and every now and again you have to make that call and follow the words with some action. Last time was when we’d stored some of a batch of Tally ho, our barley wine, for a year in cask. It’s something we’d done before to great effect but this time some of the firkins were showing an acetic note. I quite liked it, but we didn’t think our usual customers were ready for Flemish Tally Ho so we destroyed it.

Is there more pressure put upon you as head brewer in a smallish brewery to try and match other small breweries in offerings?
I think the pressure here comes more from wanting to make sure that the brewery I leave behind when I eventually finish, is ready for the next 150 years. That means we need to stay relevant and brewing beer people want to drink, sometimes that means making sure the beers that Adnams is built on, like Southwold Bitter and Broadside stay true to their origins and sometimes that means coming up with new brews. By happy coincidence I enjoy messing about with new beers but there is still a quiet satisfaction in maintaining an established classic.

Can you give a hint if anything might be coming from your brewery (new brew, special brew, etc.)?
There are a couple of hoppy sessionable beers coming out soon and one at the higher end of the scale with more of a Belgian influence. Next year we have a barrel aged beer that is due to make an appearance. We’ve also been doing a few new beers for M&S recently like a Sorachi Sasion and a White IPA which are really fun, and there will be a couple more in 2016.

Please describe the weirdest ingredient you have ever put in beer.hoppickin
I’m not sure we’d describe any of them as weird anymore. We have a distillery on site where we make Gin, amongst other things, so we usually have plenty of botanicals to play with on the beer side. The more unusual ones are probably pineapple weed (wild Chamomile), lemon verbena, earl grey tea, thyme or lavender. The most fun thing we add is actually some wild hops donated by members of the public, picked from their gardens, hedgerows etc. which we use to make a green hop beer. Its great seeing people make the effort to get hosp to us, some in carrier bags, some in bin bags, even a few in envelopes.

Do you or your brewery attend the large beer gatherings (i.e. Great British Beer Festival, Zythos, etc.)?
I like to get to a few, the CAMRA Peterborough beer festival, craft beer rising and the Indyman beer con are some of my recent favourites.

Any awards, either for you or your brewery?
Yes, plenty for the beers.

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.?
There’s a nice tradition where the engineers have made a leaving gift using some old parts of the brewing equipment. They’ve made a model of a motorbike from old bits of our cask washer and a sundial from a plate in our old old mash tun

+++ Misc +++

Have you traveled outside of England to experience another beer culture, in say, Belgium or Germany or the USA? If so, what was your impression.
I’ve been to Denver a couple of times and loved it, great range of beers and fantastic service. My current love though was Rome, we found some great beer bars, really family friendly, lively atmosphere and they combined beautiful beer with fantastic food- buttered rosemary potato pizza is a revelation!

ghostshipIf you had to pick a favorite beer from the brewery and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why? 
Depends on what they like maybe some Sorachi Saison, maybe some Smoked beer, maybe some Mosaic pale ale. Probably Ghost ship though, it blends a bit of the modern with the more classic Adnams style and shows a bit of both.

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?
I’m not keen on sitting down with dead people, its mostly just the smell that puts me off. I’d make an exception for Douglas Adams though.

If you were omnipotent, what would you change (first) to improve our beer universe? If I was omnipotent I’d probably need to stay away from the beer, brewers droop and all that…..what, oh not that, I guess it is spelt differently, I see.

Well then I’d take away preconceptions of what beer is and what it’ll taste like. Too many people decide they wont like something before they even try it, it closes off a whole world of flavour and experiences.

Any advice for those aspiring (kitchen/homebrew) future pro brewers out there?
Brew what you like to drink. Don’t always accept brewing advice as gospel, sometimes you need to stretch a few rules.


Favorite beer and food pairing?
I don’t have a favourite but the last thing I had that I thought was amazing was the buttered rosemary potato pizza with a beer called Saracena from Birra del borgo. http://birradelborgo.it/ The beer had lovely lemon and dill flavours which went perfectly with the pizza

In the kitchen I make a mean? (beer related).
I like making sourdough and my starter has some Adnams yeast in it, does that count? Yes (Cellarmonk)

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
I don’t understand the question. I’ve got a smartphone now, I’m never away from the brewery.

Are you married? Any children?
Married to Julie, who I met at Fullers, and we have a son, Conor

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).
Every year, just before new years I escape with my family and a couple of friends and their kids to a wood somewhere. We spend a 2 or 3 days in camping huts/pods where we laze about outside by the fire, talk, laugh, cook, drink and gently ease ourselves into the new year. That’s pretty perfect.

Adnams plc., Sole Bay Brewery, East Green, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6JW