Beers that Belong
Bates here. I write as I speak so assume a strong southern drawl and a pretty laid back tempo if it helps while reading. I’m no blogger and I don’t talk in tidy sound bytes, so I’ll just write what I have to say, and stop when I’ve said it. It may be a long read.
If you’re short of time, save this for later or jump to the end section to hear solely about the beer.
I’m here to write about the beers Duration Brewing will make, the ethos behind the company and why we deliberately chose a remote location in contrast to many of the UK’s favoured city breweries. We genuinely hope to add something new to the UK beer scene and drive beer forward in both the beers we present and as a destination where folk can enjoy a few beers embraced by the very surroundings that informed them.
Whether visitors are coming in from a neighbouring town for an afternoon, or are seeking us out cross country, we want to re-enchant everyone with an experience that becomes more than the sum of its parts. Our mission is to encourage all who come here to consider a less busy world where stillness can be celebrated and enjoyed and where great beer can be made with purpose and direction.
Nod to the past and present
We have huge admiration for any breweries striving to make ‘beers that belong’. From our Belgian fore-bearers to the modern greats of Jester King, Fonta Flora and Hill Farmstead. In the UK we want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Burning Sky, Mills Brewing and Wild Beer Co and all who champion yeast and the terroir of beer. We to hope to showcase the beauty and harmony of beer that exists in a union with the place where it originates.
Where is the brewery?
We’re setting up shop in Norfolk over in East Anglia. Flatlands with big sweeping skies where farming is the prominent industry and forms a big part of our daily life. Duration sits in the heart of pastoral Norfolk at Abbey Farm in a village called West Acre, miles east of King’s Lynn in a wooded valley along the River Nar. Amidst our few hundred residents, we have many artists including a stonemason, woodturner, writer and photographer.
Our village is frequented by cyclists and walkers. It has a theatre, a pub, a church and a post office. It’s idyllic like many of the villages in the region and we don’t want to go changing too much of anything. Perhaps just to add a few jobs and gently introduce our farmhouse beers from there. I’m from a small town: Laurens South Carolina, in the Appalachians’ and West Acre, felt right to me as a place to slowly become part of the community, to put down some roots and hopefully give back a little too.
We have a cluster of old barns nestled amidst centuries-old priory ruins (believed to be from the 1130s). We’re on the Nar Valley pilgrim trail that stretches over 30 miles, traversing medieval market towns, agricultural landscapes and ancient woodlands. For day-trippers coming from the capital, a train takes 90 minutes from Kings Cross to Kings Lynn with a 10-minute cab ride to and from the station. If you’re feeling adventurous pack a bike and cycle over from the station or better yet drive with friends and stay at one of the many BnB’s nearby. We are hoping we become a place you seek out to come have a beer with us, see some of the other breweries and attractions in the region and, for lack of a better phrase ‘slow down and stay awhile’.
I am a Southern man and I ‘belong’ to the Appalachians far more than I do to America. Norfolk seems similar, a place where people have become engrained with their land: fisherman, oysterman, shepherds and farmers all living in the rhythm of the place. Norfolks small towns have blacksmiths, tanners and carpenters that go back generations. Craftspeople of heart and of hand, living by their traditions and passing them down. As a peninsula, people have to want to come here, and those that remain have strong ties and deep connections.
Norfolk ticks a lot of boxes on the beer front too: most of the beer worlds barley grows here and plenty of other produce great for beer too; a chalk stream meanders just behind us so if we purify our water we don’t need to add to mains drainage; the national yeast bank which houses 2000+ genomes’ is a short distance from us in Norwich. Given we want to focus on yeasts contribution to our beer flavour and profiles, this is huge. Hops are grown in a few spots (though infant projects mostly).
West Acre seems the perfect spot for making beer with provenance and I find peace in that fact. We can get the terroir into our beer with small-batch speciality malts, mixed cultures and spontaneous fermentation, and the addition of seasonal locally grown produce.
What’s on nearby?
I won’t lie to you there ain’t a hell of a lot of action nearby, but there is an abundance of simple pleasures all around. Horse riding, golf, nature watching and beach walks with picnics, public gardens with coffee and cake, some windmills and an old bone mill. Small village pubs, with vintage car meets, poem and pint nights and the odd tractor show, car boot and farmers’ market. In West Acre there is a small music festival ‘Folk In A Field’ and a Summer Fayre – both in July.
Stop a while?
If it strikes you to stay there is a great camp and cabin site at Bradmoor Woods just down the road from us served by the George & The Dragon with some great food and local beer, and in the next village, a converted barn complex called Great Farm Barn offers self-catering cottages with a pool. The neighbouring village of Great Massingham has the famed Dabbling Duck Pub (always great eats) with 6 rooms above, and a solid beer selection – hopefully we can add to their selection too!
While you’re here…
A wider exploration of our region will not disappoint. The North Norfolk coastline is hugely popular as a getaway destination – it begins just 14 miles from us at the Wash ad Old Hunstanton. Norfolk has 100 miles of coastline including 5 of the UK’s cleanest beaches.
What’s the brewery name about?
I like pondering on life. I’m a big reader and I also enjoy music. Duration as a word works in a lot of languages can be heard clearly over a busy bar, but for me, it is about time and tempo. ‘Duration’ in musical terms is the distance between two notes and I like that. Our beers will celebrate everyday drinkers produced fresh to be enjoyed in the moment. We will also have some beers that play out over time (spontaneous and agriculturally focused). These slower beers rely on the seasons and locale. They need guided experimentation and patience to allow them to come into their own.
Overall to me, Duration is about how we will punctuate our moment in time, but the name actually came from ‘Elon Vital’ – a theory by modern-day philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson mused that every living thing evolves, sometimes creatively, sometimes physically, in an attempt to remain relevant and to survive. When I think about this philosophy in relation to beer or any crafted process, it blows my mind. This school of thought typifies the life of yeast, playing out on a tiny, immensely fast window of evolution in just a few generations of fermentation and pretty much encapsulates the Duration Beer Project!
On the whole, in terms of the brewhouse and the work that takes place in it, we want the peace to immerse ourselves in our surroundings and draw from them. To give our brewers the space to think and create, to be inspired and focused. I’m happiest working quietly, left to it with just my music or the sound of birdsong, I’d get along just fine having my barrels as my constant companions.
I want solace to create our beer which is a big part of why we picked Abbey Farm. I have worked in railway arches with the noises of a busy city buzzing all around me. A folding space that is brewery by day, taproom by night – it’s distracting. I have worked in London with a hundred other brewery releases to think about and far too many beer events on offer, all competing to lure the fanciful crowd. I want it to be a choice to come to Duration, for brewers and drinkers alike. Like it’s a choice to get into mixed culture beer, Duration exists where it does for a reason. It’s somewhat self-selecting, and you have to want to learn about that to come there.
Sure we’ll invite brewers over for collabs and offer the customers who make the journey a great experience, and if people are in the countryside anyway and stumble upon us, all good. The visitors’ experience will be considered with a tasting room to try our beer, a shop for purchases and a viewing gallery or some form of brewery tour to educate about what we do and where we are. In time we will hold a few well-curated events to educate and bring the best of the brewing worlds’ knowledge to our neck of the woods.
I’m ultimately an introvert by nature, favouring nature to people. People joke I speak too much because I barely speak at all. I hope that means I’m not a rude man, just a quiet one, who doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence with noise – because silence is not the same as emptiness. Raised in a small town in the woodlands of South Carolina, where life is private and simple. I came to know people over years with the odd nod or wave, everyone knows everyone but at a respectful distance. Socially speaking I was most comfortable there.
I travelled to feed my creative ambitions to cook, to brew. I met people along the way and cities began to make sense – but the noise of a city is always a distracting energy for me and something I have to choose to be in. At Duration, I can be up with the morning birdsong and finishing with the evening chorus. The only buzz I want is from tractors working hard to crop the harvest before the rains come. I crave that, and the breeze carrying the babble of the nearby stream to my ear. Not 12 trains an hour hurtling past or the din of an over-excitable stampede of people descending on the Bermondsey beer mile.
For me, Yeast does the heavy lifting in the creation of beer, producing the alcohol and contributing hugely to the nuances of flavour. It is the final frontier that is long overdue some airtime. Sure the Belgian’s with their Gueze and sours have never strayed from heralding Yeast as their master and why would they? Research shows that our new world modern hops would pale in comparison without the interaction of their little yeasty helpers.
Loosening the reins
Little else embodies Yeasts role in beer better than spontaneous brewing – working with bacteria present in the air to inoculate the wort and kick start the fermentation process is an art form all on it’s own. The brewer becomes an attentive guide that wilfully releases the reins to let the immediate surroundings steer the beer. In letting the world around drive the truck the brewer opens up a whole new dimension to the beers profile. What’s more the brewer allows the beer to truly belong – highlighting its unique terroir, discernible provenance and a DNA fingerprint unable to be replicated elsewhere. Sometimes the wheels fall off that truck and barrels have to be dumped, but shit, when you get that truck humming it’s a cacophony of beauty.
I trained under a German-American brewer where an all-together different approach beer making has developed about measure and full control. Front ended, focused on the technical skills of the brew day itself, that looks for predictability and regimen. This training gave me a lot as a brewer and I love well-executed examples of German beers, both to admire the skill involved and just a guy who likes to drink a 6 pack without complication or too much pretence, to chat the breeze in good company with a few cold ones.
I travelled the states a lot and followed the beer revival there with interest. I also dig the hop forward beers from both US coasts, and let’s face it these sell. I’ve been lucky enough to get to visit outfits like Jester King, Scratch and Fonta Flora and get stuck into foraging and brew days. I fully commend their celebration of locality in their ingredients while giving a modern twist to Belgian practises in their mixed culture and spontaneous focus.
If you wanted to jump to the end, here is the section on what our beers will be. Essentially four categories…EVERYDAY – SLOW – AGRICULTURAL – SPONTANEOUS
– 440ml can and keg
Hoppy Farmhouse Pale 4.0%
-Crisp, Dry, and Light fruit and funk, pronounced hop bitterness
House Saison 5.0%
-Dry, Fruit, Light funk and tartness, Evolving with the wood
German Pils 5.2%
-Clean, Soft malt, floral nose, Rounded but evident hop bitterness
American Pale 5.4%
-Round mouth feel, soft bitterness, punchy fruit forward hop aroma
*Note that these four house styles we work in daily but like a good person they are ever changing and evolving with the world around them.
So looking to what may be considered our core will be 4 everyday beers that undulate with ingredients, research or hell even my whims but will essentially be clean fresh beers you can come to know and trust repeatedly returning to them as we continually refine them. You will notice I include a couple of cleaner mixed culture beers in our core. These are not unapproachable at all and they won’t chew your mouth up with over the top sourness but will elegantly showcase how accessible Yeast forward beers can be. In the ‘top of the pops’ culture beer has become right now, seeking out the next NEIPA will wear thin. Having a solid beers your customers can become unashamedly familiar with counts for a lot in my view and that is what I want to present in our EVERYDAY a little juice and a lot of crisp, and a gentle walk towards the farmhouse.
– 375ml bottle and keg
As well as our Everyday beer Duration will make beers that take time. Slow beers if you will. These will be our Mixed Fermentation Saisons – Changing and exploring the conjunction of yeasts, bacterium and Brettanomyces to ferment our house saison using both woods and stainless fermenters. These will alter from our Spon in that we may culture them in our lab or be commercially purchased from a yeast lab and allowed to drift as we see fit in house, but they will be mixed cultures and not single strain beers. We don’t know exactly how these beers will taste until we get to know them and they have presented their character. Check descriptors with each release
– 375ml bottle, 440ml can and keg
Our agricultural series will be the true intertwining of the beer to the farmhouse. We are already getting to know local agricultural producers in both fruit and vegetable production. We will form partnerships to enable us to go back to the garden to pour Norfolk’s bountiful larder into our beer. In time we will begin our own crop program. We will use hyperlocal produce in the creation of our wort, primary fermentations and all the way through to secondary fermentations ( we will use both wood and stainless fermenting vessels). Our agricultural series will straddle all our ranges and may be in the EVERYDAY, SPONTANEOUS or SLOW series of course.
– 375ml / 750ml bottle and keg
The greatest expression of an areas terroir in a beer is via using the ancient method of cooling the hot wort overnight exposed to the air in a large vessel known as a “Koelschip”. A big shallow vat that allows maximum surface area for cooling and for letting the natural fauna to inoculate the wort before placing into barrels and allowing fermentation. Like the SLOW range only entirely using wild yeast found on site sometimes blended with AGRICULTURE, the SPONTANEOUS range will take time to evolve and releases will be far and few between. In time if we develop something we are happy with we may blend a percentage into our SLOW range.
Well, I think that’s about all I have to share right now. Sign up to our newsletters and join the Duration adventure here.
Thanks for reading,