Having gone to school in a brewery town it’s the smell that got me – a lovely warm, nostalgic aroma, slightly nutty with hints of malt and yeast suggesting gentle hospitability. On a cold, wet Friday with the rain snaking down the windowpanes, there are few more pleasing olfactory sensations to be found than standing close to a brewery when the heat is being turned up.
That the smell can now be found in Wimborne – a town where once there were as many as five breweries – only adds to the feeling.
The man with the mash that’s pushing sensory buttons is Steve Farrell who founded the Eight Arch Brewing Co. in 2014 after his family’s haulage business Farson Transport was wound up. What began as a few home brewing experiments with extract kits soon turned into a calling to try all-grain brewing and after a year spent finding the right premises and then preparing them, the first brew emerged on 30 January 2015.
‘What I didn’t know at the time was that January is traditionally a dead month for brewing,’ says Steve, ‘but having made the beer I had to go out and sell it, so that’s what I did. I can’t stand selling, but I pressed on and sales went up and up through the first part of 2015. The first time I opened the taproom we sold out of beer in less than two hours. Everyone cheered and came back the next week.
‘We had more people turning up on Fridays wanting beer until I closed on the first Friday in January last year and had people banging on the door wanting me to open. We put the beer back on the following week and we’ve opened every Friday since.’
Steve is now brewing twice a week producing around 1500 pints each brew and the experts seem to like it. His Parabolic pale ale won a gold award at the West Dorset CAMRA festival in Dorchester – the first new brewery in the group’s history to do so in its first year – and the Corbel IPA won a regional award from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) that will see it compete on the national stage.
‘We also got our Bowstring bitter in the House of Commons bar thanks to our MP Michael Tomlinson. We were on sale for five days or so; we got a certificate, which is all very nice.
‘But I’ve stopped making Bowstring. Rightly or wrongly Dorset doesn’t have much of a reputation in the beer world, it’s seen as pretty staid – old-fashioned brown beer country. I’ve nothing against brown beer, but I’m more interested in fresh ideas and trying to put Wimborne on the beer map.’
Standing on the banks of the River Allen, the Eight Arch Brewing Co. takes its name from the eight arches of Julian’s Bridge and its dark, rich roasted porter Quarterjack is named after the red-coated grenadier who strikes the quarter hour bells at Wimborne Minster. It’s about as Wimborne as it gets.
Perhaps surprisingly, Steve doesn’t drink his own beers – at least not for pleasure. He samples every brew though and knows precisely how the beers should taste. Nothing goes out to customers unless the taste is spot on – he once poured a thousand litres of Corbel down the drain because he felt something wasn’t quite right about it.
‘If I drank our beers all the time I might not be able to spot any imperfections,’ he explains. ‘We’re tweaking things all the time, but consistency is everything with beer. If you’re asking people to spend their money on your beer, once they’ve found your beer and decided they like it, they want to know it’s going to be the same every time. This is my living now and I love it, but it’s a serious business – my wife tells me I’m a beer snob and I’ve a feeling she’s right.’
The new wave of British brewing is driven by a renaissance in small, independent breweries producing so-called craft or artisan beers. It’s easy to see where Eight Arch fits in the current commercial landscape, but how long can it last?
‘It might go boom one day, but that’s all the more reason to make sure we stick to what we do best and keep doing it as well as we have been. Having said that, I like finding new beers and trying other beers because it gives me ideas and there is still room to experiment so for our one hundredth brew we did the Centurion, an 8.5% IPA that was a bit out there for us and it’s selling well.’
Steve begins to explain the brewing process and although his passion and knowledge are admirable, it’s a complicated business and it comes as a relief when his brewing partner Mark invites us to inspect the mash before he begins the ‘sparge’, the hot water rinse that extracts the sugars that, once boiled, will later ferment into beer. It’s an organic operation and although trial and error has a part to play, it’s mostly about the chemistry.
‘We do get the odd home brewer turning up asking for advice and I always tell them to pay close attention to the water profile, that’s the key,’ he says. ‘I went on a couple of brewing courses, which were great, but I have given myself some real headaches trying to teach myself the science of it all.
‘I find it all completely fascinating but to be honest, sometimes you just have to get down and brew.
• First published by Dorset Life The Dorset Magazine