Now the media storm around Red Bull-gate* appears to have died down, Norwich’s Redwell Brewing can carry on with what they do best, as their name so clearly implies: that’s brewing beer. I expect people will be asking, is there substance to build on the brouhaha?
The publicity from clashing with Red Bull has led to a boost in orders for Redwell. Now they have to back it up, and they will because the beer is very good. You might think “surprisingly good for such a young brewery”. But then they have a secret weapon from Sweden. Johan Elmander is not the only Swedish signing Norwich has made recently.**
Redwell’s Swedish import is head brewer David Jones. You might think “David Jones” doesn’t sound terribly Swedish, and you’d be right. David is a Londoner. You’d also be forgiven for not having heard of David Jones – the brewer, but he’s much better known in Sweden, and arguably, one of the most influential brewers in Scandinavia.
So how come Redwell recruited David Jones from Sweden, and why the Dorothy Parker quote in the headline?
From IKEA to the Norfolk Broads? Redwell’s roots
The early 90s were were doldrum days in Sweden for beer lovers. Flat-pack international lager alleviated here and there by Guiness and London Pride in keg. Then in 1995 David Jones joined the fledgling Jämtlands Bryggeri in the forests of northern Sweden, and with Nils Oscar in Stockholm following closely behind on a moped, the two breweries double-handedly kick-started craft beer in Sweden. I’ve been a fan of David’s beers ever since.
When I heard Redwell had recruited David, I knew it was quite a coup, and I was keen to make the trip to Norwich to see how this mult-award-winning brewer was fitting into the now burgeoning British craft scene. I finally made it in July, visiting the Redwell brewery site, and to renew an acquaintance with a trip to the Norwich Tap House.
Redwell is the epitome of a micro-brewery. Five small fermentation vessels, a bright beer tank and a mash tun that’s smaller than some Jacuzzis. David has an assistant brewer, Ben. Director Patrick was also on hand.
Drinkability and freshness, no “wings”
The beers are filtered (at the time of writing) and kegged fresh, without pasteurisation, into one-trip polykegs, which I’ve not come across before, but David swears by them. They look like depth charges. Or how I think depth charges ought to look. There’s a small amount of bottling, but not of the cowering kind.
The Redwell range consists of beers that do what they say on the pump clip: Pilsner, a crisp, dry and refreshing, er pilsner at 4.2%, Steam at 4.6%, in the style rescued by Anchor Steam: lager yeast, warm(er) fermentation, Pale Ale, at 4%, the recent addition a lovely, fragrant IPA (6%), which was in the process of being dry hopped, when I was there. And lastly, there is Orignial Lager, of which, more later.
They are very much in the Jones style: crisp, clean, distinct flavours. Above all, they are beautifully balanced and eminently drinkable. David makes a point of saying they’re desinged to be drunk fresh This is not an extreme brewery, which is not to say that they’re stuck in early 21st century Sweden.
There’s plenty of American hops: Citra, Cascade and Centennial, as well as a hop pellet blend Falconer’s Flight, which brings a mix of Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, amongh others, to the Pale Ale and IPA. These beers deserve a more thorough appraisal than I have room for here.
The “tour” over, and with the final chores of the brewing day complete, we head off to a new(ish) craft beer destination in the city centre, on Redwell Street, in fact: the Norwich Tap House, to do some sampling of Redwell in the wild, as it were. Steam, Pale Ale and Pilsner sat alongside other delights from Magic Rock, Buxton and Camden Town (see photo below). However, no Original Lager.
The origins of Swedish craft beer
And so back to Dorothy Parker. The “fresh Hell” I’m alluding to in the headline is Original Lager. Let me explain. In 1995, David Jones at Jämtlands Bryggeri, brewed a reinvention of a German Helles lager for the world-renowned Akkurat bar in Stockholm. It was called Hell. It won awards so often at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival it was almost embarrassing.
It’s not far fetched to say that the current Swedish craft beer scene, which now boasts micros sprouting up faster than I can keep up with, can trace its lineage back to the days when Hell ruled. Then when David wanted to come back to Blighty, Redwell wanted his pedigree. Not unsurprisingly, they were keen to do a version of the beer on which he built his reputation. That’s why Original Lager is called “Original”. And they have it at the Norwich Playhouse.
The Norwich Playhouse bar is not your average theatre bar. It has good beer. including Redwell Original Lager on draught. It is as lovely as I remember Hell, but hey, it’s not the same as Hell, how can it be? We are all stepping in a different river. Original at 5% is not as strong as Hell, but it is still a Helles with a hefty backbite and a great wodge of satisfying malt backbone. Plenty of hops – presumably still lots of Cascade, but without tipping over into grapefruity US West Coast IPAs.
So when all the jokes about Redwell winning the Belgian Grand Prix have gone away, those extra orders will have been fulfilled, and beer drinkers will know there is more to Redwell than the unintended hype. You can bet the orders will be repeated. Now you can understand why. These beers aren’t just from Norwich, you could say they are from Hell.
*Red-Bull-gate: the backstory The story hit the big media, with the reports in The Independent on 14 August, among other places, that energy drinks giant Red Bull had attempted to put a stop to the trademark application of the startup Norwich brewery because “Redwell” was supposedly too similar to “Red Bull”. Thankfully Red Bull’s people appear to have seen sense (or the swaithes of bad publicity) and a settlement is, we hear, on the cards.
**Johan Elmander the Swedish footballer was signed in August by Norwich City from the Turkish side Galatasaray on a season-long loan. He has played more than 65 times for Sweden. David Jones is not on loan from Sweden, nor has he played for Sweden (or England). But he was honoured by the Swedish region of Jämtland a few years ago.