In a tiny hamlet in the north of England, close to the Scottish border and within striking distance of Hadrian’s Wall, locals are helping save lives in Ukraine by doing what they’ve done best for millennia: making impressive quantities of beer.
Twice Brewed (the real name of the place) is located at the southern end of a vast nature reserve and has a brewing tradition going back to Roman times.
One of the closest archaeological sites, the ancient fort of Vindolanda, was home to the first-named brewer in British history in 122AD, a Belgian named Atrectus.
Today the aptly-named Twice Brewed Brewing Company is part of a consortium of Northumberland brewers and suppliers, led by the nearby First & Last Brewery, joining a transnational effort to raise money for the Red Cross with a Ukrainian-inspired non-profit pint.
‘RESIST’, described as a ‘Ukrainian Anti-Imperial Stout’, was developed by displaced Ukrainian brewers for the campaign Drinkers for Ukraine.
Apart from pale, chocolate and black malt it features a quantity of mashed beetroot, a staple of traditional Ukrainian cuisine. This version, brewed in collaboration with Allendale Brewery, Alnwick Brewery, Brewis Beer Co, First & Last Brewery, High House Barn Brewery, Muckle Brewing and Rigg & Furrow Farmhouse Brewery is coming in at about 7.5% ABV – potentially lethal, but 100 per cent for a good cause.
About 750 litres are now waiting to be canned and kegged, with most of it already pre-ordered.
Twice Brewed opened in 2017 and only houses five barrels overseen by just two people.
One is head brewer Matthew Brown, who told Euronews it was the Ukrainian partners who came up with the idea of calling the drink ‘Anti-Imperial’ (‘Imperial stout’ generally being used as a catch-all term for punchy, strong dark ales, but also originally associated with Russia).
When the conflict broke out, Brown said, “We all thought, ‘How can we help?’. This is a beer that Ukrainian brewers have designed; it was a great thing for us to do.”
Not only that, he said, but in their part of the world, “everyone has really pulled together for it. The grain was supplied for free by a grain supplier. The grocers supplied the beetroot for free.”
Another facility processed the beetroot for nothing, while others have stepped in to can and label the beer. One person has even volunteered to pay the not-insubstantial duty. This means as much of the takings as possible can go toward the Red Cross's vital humanitarian work on the ground in Ukraine.
Raising a glass to the past
This is not the only special beverage being developed by Twice Brewed this year. To mark 1,900 years since the construction of Hadrian's Wall, today’s experts have created an experimental blend working to an ancient recipe.
“We’ve been working on a recipe for a Roman-inspired beer for several years,” Brown said. “When COVID hit we ended up putting it on the back burner, then, happily the anniversary came around and it seemed like the perfect time.
“The most unusual thing about this beer is it has no hops. Hops weren't used in beer until a lot later; back then the flavours was from grain and whatever else they could get their hands on.
“With guidance from archaeologists we settled on three botanicals to flavour the beer: mugwort, meadowsweet and elderflower. All three grow in the wild locally and have medicinal benefits.”
The end result is a hazy half-wheat, half-barley pint brewed with Belgian yeast – a nod to Atrectus – with light floral notes, standing at a civilised 3%.
“It might not be to everyone's taste,” Brown said, “but it is a great way to experience history.”
Twice Brewed is taking part in the Hadrian's Wall 1900 celebrations which last for the whole of 2022.
A British drinking culture change?
Twice Brewed has expanded its range since the pandemic but remains a stickler for high-grade ingredients. Amongst other accolades, this has helped them earn two golds and a silver at the UK-wide SIBA Awards and double gold at the European Beer Challenge for its Czech-style pilsner, Juno.
Also a stone’s throw away is the iconic Alnwick Castle, which was used as the set for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. Staff are now trying their hand at developing a fan-friendly version of the wizards’ favourite low-alcohol, butterscotch-flavoured brew, Butter Beer.
Brown says they will not compromise on quality despite soaring rents and the cost-of-living crisis now gripping the UK. “We hope people will get used to paying a bit more for beer.
“We don’t have the economy of scale, and the ingredients we use aren’t cutting corners. I’m hoping to see a bit more of a shift – and we’re starting to see it – where people are more bothered about quality over quantity.”