Food & Drink: Dry, crisp and fruity. Not bad for a beer: Take the wine-maker's skills, let them loose in a brewery and the result is a blend called Ryman's Reserve, writes Michael Jackson

What would happen if a wine-maker were asked to create a beer? Would anyone with a reputation in the winery risk it in the brewery? The ubiquitous Hugh Ryman would.

A Briton who has worked in almost every grapey country, Ryman has turned his attention to the grist mill at the behest of the national brewer, Whitbread; the resultant beer, Ryman's Reserve, has just been distributed to a couple of hundred pubs nationwide.

Behind Whitbread's offbeat initiative is the notion of bringing to beer some of the glamour associated with wine. But why was Ryman tempted?

Perhaps because he thought it might help him to sell wine to Whitbread's pubs and off-licences. I suspect, however, that he has now caught the beer bug.

'I used to think an international lager was a good beer,' he says. 'I had forgotten how varied and complex beer can be.

'For the wine-maker, the grape is everything. All you have to do is utilise its potential. For the brewer, there is not only the choice of grains but also the malting technique, the infusion, the hops - what an unforgettable flavour] - the yeast, a multitude of elements. How on earth can you be sure what you will get out of all these permutations? If I had been left to my own devices, I would probably have produced something undrinkable.'

Ryman was first invited to chew over a selection of malted grains, nose some of the classic hop varieties and sample fermentations from different beer yeasts. Then he tasted a selection of well regarded styles of brew, ranging from lagers and wheat beers to ales, stouts and barley wines.

He decided to work with wheat as well as the more usual barley, seasoned with the famously delicate Saaz hop (from Bohemia) or the more assertively aromatic Styrians hop (from Slovenia). He wanted the lightness and refreshment of a wheat beer but the complexity of flavours in a bitter or pale ale.

So Ryman decided to use more than one yeast, a procedure less common in Britain than in Belgium. He also proposed maturing the beer on protein and yeast sediment, which occurs naturally to a degree in cask-conditioning; he was looking for a 'real ale', though he used the wine term 'on lees'. He also suggested that the beer might have more length if it were matured on oak chips; one or two beers still have this oaky character, though they are hard to find.

About 15 experimental versions of Ryman beer were made at Whitbread's pilot brewery in Luton, before two or three were deemed worth pursuing. Ryman made two visits to Castle Eden, a village 10 miles from Durham, where the smallest of the company's five breweries was to make the beer on a commercial scale.

Whitbread, established in 1742, is something of a Jekyll and Hyde outfit. One moment it seems determined to close its traditional breweries and make under licence an undistinguished version of Heineken lager; the next it is painstakingly recording its history, rediscovering its heritage and creating splendid beers at Castle Eden.

This brewery, which began as a coaching inn in the mid-18th century, retains a facade that reminded the art historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, of a stable block. It is very much the village brewery: the grandly moustached manager, Jim Kerr, employs his wife Michelle as his secretary; head brewer Tony Rowsell is helped by his daughter Lucy at the reception bar in an adjoining house called Beechwood (which, mysteriously, has its own Hammond organ). Kerr's sport is rugby, but the day I called the staff were preoccupied with supplying beer for a cricket match.

These beer-makers have doggedly co-operated with Whitbread's every whim in order to ensure the survival of a brewery in the middle of nowhere. All the staff took an interest when they were chosen to make a 'London' porter, and it left them with a thirst for speciality products.

But the news that a guest brewer was coming initially left them horror-struck, says Kerr. 'When I heard that Hugh Ryman was really a wine-maker, I asked a friend in that business about him. The friend fell to his knees. After that, I realised Hugh Ryman must be pretty good. Obviously, he knows a lot about the production of drinks in general, and his wine background brought a fresh perspective to beer.'

When it became clear that Ryman's role was to design the beer, not turn the valves, Kerr was even happier (one of a brewer's many nightmares is that an infusion becomes too thick and clogs the vessels). Ryman brought his samples from the pilot brewery. Kerr liked the 'different' character of the beers, but thought them a little light in flavour. He was impressed with Ryman's ability to 'play with ideas'.

The final version involved the brewing and blending of two beers. Three-quarters of the blend comprises a wheat beer, made with a lager yeast; the remainder is a pale ale. Both are specially brewed, though the pale ale does have some resemblance to a Whitbread beer sold in America.

The two beers are seasoned only with Bohemian Saaz hops, which are added on three occasions to increase the aroma. The hop is depicted on the label and on pump-handles in pubs.

Whitbread recently introduced a beer hopped only with the east Kent variety Goldings, and is planning another one, based on the typical Hereford and Worcester Fuggle hop. All these new beers, which have been dubbed the 'New Classics' and will be available for one month only, are aimed at what Whitbread describes as 'beer thinkers' (as opposed to beer drinkers?).

Ryman's Reserve, the beer for July, is bone-dry, crisp and lightly fruity, with just a suggestion of tangerines. No fruit is added, but that flavour could derive either from the wheat or the yeast.

There is, perhaps, a slight fruity-woody aroma like that from a box of dates at Christmas, but no obvious oak-smoke character (though a small proportion of essence of smoked oak was used). The only challenging element is its slight haze, which is typical of the most traditional of Belgian and German wheat beers.

'It's not cloudy,' says Kerr, 'it's opalescent.' A beautiful beer for a summer evening.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes