This week, I had a new book delivered called “The Science of Storytelling” by Will Storr. The narrative goes, we rarely consider what makes a story engaging and compelling and is a great read about the science that goes into a great piece of fiction. Why mention this in a beer blog I hear you ask…well over in Sutton Weaver, a village in the north-west, there’s a brewery that connects the best in literature with the finest of beer, a compelling proposition.
Each of their beers is a new chapter in the brewery’s story and their artwork, their inclusion of reading recommendations with each beer and more make the north-west brewers one of my favourite in the UK.
I wanted to find out more though about the intriguing story this brewery are trying to tell, so recently caught up with Noah from the brewery who told me all there is to know about Chapter Brewing.
Let’s kick off with an introduction, for those that don’t know, who are Chapter Brewing?
Chapter Brewing is an independent brewery established in 2016 by Head Brewer Noah Torn, who was brewing predominantly alone (apart from occasional supportive barks from Corvo the Whippet) on a battered 10bbl kit until 2019 when Damian joined full time. Chapter create beers inspired by playfulness of the written word whilst ensuring we are pushing ourselves and our beers to achieve the maximum flavour and innovation possible.
How did you get into brewing, and setting up Chapter?
When I was still an English teacher, I managed to stumble upon the Mad Hatter Brew Tap on Jamaica Street in Liverpool. After striking up a friendship with Gaz the owner I started to use my holidays to help out in the brewery. After spending time with Gaz, Marc and Paul the Head Brewer I decided to forge ahead and start up Chapter – beers inspired by literature – and in doings so smash two things I loved into one happy mess.
Your slogan Fictional Beer Real Character – here does this idea of fiction and story telling come from in your brewing?
As a history graduate and former English teacher, literature and the written word played a huge part of my life until I started brewing. For me it was important to not be too overbearing with the idea that you have to be literary to enjoy the beers: we take inspiration from the book or poem or text and offer it up as a reading suggestion for anyone who wants to look deeper into the ideas behind our beers. It’s about inclusivity; not exclusion. I also really wanted to steer away from the tired trope of literary puns – we will never make a beer called “Catcher in the Rye” – there has to be more to it than that surely. Fictional Beer also did originate as a bit of a dig at CAMRA’s Real Ale campaign – And it worked as something to pivot around.
One of the first thing that strikes you, before you even drink your beer is the artwork, what’s the story behind the Chapter brand?
We are very lucky to be able to work with Boneface who has done amazing pieces for us. His expertise in bringing to life what I manage to garble to him over a pint in a local pub in Liverpool it exceptional. We sit, have a chat, a few pints and a week or so later we get the proofs through – it’s wonderful. To be able to combine his originality, flair and experience (having worked with QOTSA amongst other amazing clients) along with my ideas about the text and the beers is a real privilege and truly compliments the beers that his artwork encloses. Our move into cans has given Boneface a larger surface to exploit and is really turning heads.
It seems that Chapter is innovating in ways breweries haven’t before, combining art, literature and beer – where did the inspiration come from to start-up a brewery in this way?
Art and beer is something that has been heavily linked for a while now – striking imagery goes hand in hand with craft beer and is becoming something that is sought after almost as much as the styles themselves. My teaching and literature background (being the son of an English teacher too…) meant that once the idea to run with Chapter as a brand gave me a wealth of scope – finding Boneface and having him buy into what we are trying to achieve brought it all together nicely.
Looking back through my Untappd account, it seems Chapter 4 I Said Doctor, is my favourite of your beers. What is your personal favourite beer you’ve produced so far?
I Said Doctor is a funny one because it is actually the only beer that is named after a line from a song but I wasn’t prepared to let that get in the way of the literary theme so found a biography of Nilsson and got that book suggestion in that way! My favourite beer of ours is very dependent on mood: Chapter 8. Parabola is so solid and one of my favourite beers on cask, one of our newest Chapter 23. Aiwass I am very pleased with as it came out exactly how I wanted it to (sadly the launch was due the week following lockdown so who knows if anyone will be able to try it) but one of my favourites ever, in terms of concept, execution and wow factor I think has to be Roadside Picnic: A Celery Sour. This was the first in our Coauthored series of collaborations. The aforementioned Paul from Mad Hatter (now at Orbit Beers in London) had recently moved across the Fourpure and we got him down to collaborate on a classic Berliner Weiße but with a mad, vegetal twist. It came out effervescent, tart, crisp and with the undeniable celery flavour that, even though it really should have, did not split opinion as much as it had potential too: in short, it was a beast. Need to brew it again actually…
And other than Chapter, whose beers do you like drinking most?
My tastes seem to vary but I am particularly enjoying international offerings from Jackie O’s, Cantillon and Eik & Tid and closer to home it is hard to beat Unity, Track, Donzoko, The Kernel of course, and whatever Gaz (formerly Mad Hatter, formerly Gibberish and now who knows where he will go) brews up is always worth seeking out. But you cannot, at any time, fail to enjoy a lager shandy from the Liverpool Grapes on the corner of Knight Street and Roscoe Street.
Would you say Chapter have a core range, or are you more experimental in your production?
Our core range kind of made itself – 03. Dead Man’s Fist (CAMRA Champion Beer Of Cheshire 2019) 08. Parabola, 17. Taller Than A House, 19. Suffering Is An Art series – these are the beers we keep running out of time and time again. But we are always trying to develop new beers and improve upon the ones we already have. I understand the excitement and the enjoyment of having a continually new and developing beer range but there is a real pride that can be taken in smashing out that perfect pale or porter or sour again and again – innovation is good. New is good. Both important. But having something solid that you are proud of is great.
All being well in a few months, what are the breweries plans for the rest of 2020 in terms of brewing?
This is more difficult – we were meant to be expanding dramatically by increasing production, staffing and moving to a new site. We had also just been shortlisted for a hefty grant scheme to develop more rural areas but due to the pandemic we have had to withdraw as we were unable to get things moving quick enough to meet the grants timeline…and that is a real shame as we had some really exciting plans.
But in the meantime, we are focussing on getting our online store fully operational, leaning heavily into small pack and focussing on the all-important groundwork to ensure that we can hit the ground running when all this is over.
Oh, and beer festivals. As many of those as possible…if we can.
You recently brought out your first can, which due to the pandemic wasn’t quite what you hoped, what made you take this decision to move into canned beers and why that particular brew?
We have been thinking about canning for a long time – the benefits of can over bottles have been discussed endlessly elsewhere so I’ll leave that for others to seek out – but we were predominantly focussing on our cask sales which we were unable to keep up with demand for. We decided to move into can for a couple of reasons: firstly I think it is the best presentation of our beer in small pack – the conditioning, carbonation, size and freshness just feels, looks and, most importantly tastes, right for what we want from our own beers. The cans also are much easily for us to distribute to both trade and the public. And finally, and as mentioned above, the larger canvass gives Boneface’s amazing artwork more space to shine.
During this time, how can people continue to support you, and how has it affected you guys so far?
We are in the same position as everyone else. It’s been a huge blow and I’d point you to Mark from Runaway Brewery’s BBC interview – sales are obviously down. It’s now just myself onsite and it will remain that way until it is safe for everyone to return. But it has had a positive effect too: we have built up the website and webstore, people from across the country are drinking our beers in can, putting up our art prints in their houses and it gives time for some reflection, study and scheming.
Hopefully everything gets back to normal very soon – when it does, if you could have any brewery run a tap takeover at your place who would it be…and if you could do one anywhere, where would you like to go?
As far as getting anyone in to do a TTO at our brewery tap I think it would have to be Mad Hatter – I know they’re gone but that brewery started it all for me really and to spend time with that group of people and drink the bonkers range of beers they had at any one time would just be great, boozy fun.
As far as us doing one somewhere… it’s a bit tricky to even think about that now. I’d love to go back to Copenhagen or Oslo and wax lyrical there. But in the UK I think I’d like to go back to some of my old haunts like Edinburgh where I was at University, or my hometown of Exeter. And you never know: those could even already be in the diary…
Lastly, tell us one fact about Chapter most people don’t know.
The whole headband thing was genuinely an accident.
Support Chapter Brewery by following them and purchasing some beers when the webshop is back up and running!