Baron on Tour: Bushy's

Back in October I was lucky enough to meet Martin the owner of Bushy's Brewery from the Isle of Man, at the Great Northern Beer Festival. We chatted about all sorts of things (beer does that to me!) and he ended up offering to run a brewery tour for me and a few pals when I'm over on the Isle of Man next.

In early December I was travelling to the Isle of Man on business so I got in touch with Martin, and true to his word a brewery tour was arranged one evening for myself and five colleagues. Martin opened up especially and was there to greet us in the rain as we arrived on a rather wet and cold December evening.

He quickly ushered us into the small bar area where he cracked open some bottles of Bushy's Bitter (a great amber bitter with that classic nutty bitter taste) and then took us on a tour of the brewery. We started off in the grain room where Martin said they they only use three types of Maris Otter malt, pale, crystal & chocolate. All their malt comes from Warminster Maltings in Wiltshire. We got to taste a bit of each type of crushed malt and then he moved onto the hops.

The have to use hop pellets at Bushy's due to the equipment they have and he listed most of the hops that they use: Cascade, Challenger, First Gold, Fuggles & Styrian Goldings. They 'burtonise' their water to give it that familiar mineral content but I wonder what their beers would taste like with Manx water? Maybe a mix of the two could be used depending on the beer type?

We then moved into the brewing room where Martin explained that he started brewing in 1986 on basically a large home brew kit in the basement of the pub that he was running. They now run a 10 barrel plant getting through 8 25kg bags of malted barley a day - most of it brewed to make cask Bushy's Bitter, a 3.8% quaffer of an ale.

In 1990 they moved to their current location and their yeast was originally from Thwaites but has now mutated (in a good way) that much that it's now unique to Bushy's. Some of their strain of yeast is now stored in a yeast bank - think sperm bank for brewers. He ran through the brewing process saying how they normally do 3-4 brews a week but in preparation for the TT Race, they brew 7 or more times a week - well over a quarter of their ale consumption is done during those two racing weeks!

They bought their brewing equipment from the liquidating Phoenix Brewing in Brighton (the brewery is now a student hall of residence) and got it for a tenth of the price. It's an all-in-one brew kit, like a tower brewery just all in old big piece of stainless steel. It's not a piece of kit I've seen before. Martin mentioned that very few were made and he now knows why! (their head brewer Curly is not fond of it as it's quite restrictive in what it can do).

The beer legend Michael Jackson opened the new brewery and Martin said it was very tough trying to get anywhere in the brewing business for the first five years but things picked up each year and now they are doing just fine!

Martin then moved us through to the conditioning room where row upon row of little tanks sat there doing their job. Martin poured out some samples of Bushy's Bitter direct from the tank whilst talking about cooling the beer down to make the yeast drop down into the conical part at the bottom of the fermenting vessel. They leave the beer around 3-4 days in the tank before cooling it to kill fermentation and drop some of the yeast.

(Watch Martin pouring Bushy's Bitter & talking about yeast)

After some talk about putting beer into casks, how that tap a cask and talk of finings were we led back into the bar area for more bottles (Martin had been topping us up all the way round the tour - what a gentleman!).

He talked about the famous Bushy's Ale van which has spent some time at Beaulieu as well as where the name Bushy's came from.

See the stuffed fox in the photo? That's "Bushy" and it he was a mascot of Mount Murray Brewery when it was suggested that the brewery change name and be called Bushy's instead.

I was also able to snap martin reading a section from Enid Blyton's Bushy the Fox - complete coincidence but fantastic none the less.

I asked what their strongest beer was and Martin said that their Christmas beer 'Humbug' was 5% and 'Lovely Jubbly' was 5.2% (we got to try Humbug in the pub near the brewery and it was an excellent Xmas ale, spicy but easy to drink - I had two!). They used to brew their own lager and have all the pressurised kit to do it but haven't for a while now.

Bushy's Bitter is the only beer that they bottle and they get Thwaites in Blackburn to contract bottle it for them. It's stronger than the cask Bushy's (3.8%) being 4.5% in bottled form. It's a very nice bottled bitter (probably would score a [baron rating 4/5]) but you can't buy it here as it's all shipped back to the Isle of Man.

Martin then pulled out something rather special, some small 330ml coke bottles with some experimental brews that he had been playing with. This one was an Orval-inspired ale which was unlabelled, unfined and sat around 4.5%. It had a gentle floral aroma and good interesting taste. Martin mentioned that he was interested in doing some hand-bottling for these small batch brews as it wasn't worth sending it 'over the water' to get it professionally bottled at Thwaites.

That pretty much concluded the personal tour, and myself and all my colleagues would like to thank Martin for taking the time out of his evening to open up, show us round, feed us drinks and entertain us for a good couple of hours - Martin, you are a star!


Anonymous said...

As one of the 'colleagues', I just want to second the Baron's thanks to Martin. A very relaxed, informative and entertaining tour. Many thanks again!

Anonymous said...

oops... and to the Baron for organising the evening :)

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