Choice is the name of the game for new brewery; BEER.
CHOOSE. Choose ale, choose lager, choose stout, pale ale or bitter. Choose a chalice of mass-produced fizz in an achingly cool bar. Those hip young gunslingers have chosen not to choose.
Choose a pint of best in a country pub, choose half a mild in a 1960s working men's club. Choose cask. Choose keg, choose not to choose keg. Choose CAMRA or BrewDog, Sierra Nevada or Shepherd Neame. Choose local ale - what a great scene we have. Choose imported American craft beer, choose European brews that emerge blinking in the light from dusty medieval breweries. Choose New World hops, bursting with passionfruit choose Fuggles, Goldings and Northern Brewer for an earthy taste of home.
Choose homebrew - then you can brew your own choices. Choose Reggie Perrin-style parsnip wine, all 1970s buckets of brown sludge; choose full mash brewing with professional-grade yeast, choose Ken Oliver's stainless steel homebrew kits - even better.
Choose brewing fads, choose old-time classics, choose session beers and high-end rocket fuel. Choose to change your choice, change your mind; choose, choose, choose...
What a beer world we inhabit, so anciently diverse and strewn with choice that it is difficult to know what to choose, and some refrain from choosing at all.
So choose Brew Star. The Morpeth brewery, which had its official opening at the weekend, is all about choice. Its aims are high but not insurmountable, evangelically trying to get lager drinkers to choose ale instead, by providing the knowledge to help them choose.
It also fuses together the latest tastes and trends with the most ancient of British brewing recipes - experimentation that will inevitably give drinkers more choice.
Run by Simon and Dawn Miles, 46 and 45, from Widdrington, Brew Star is an impressive set-up and well worth a visit.
They chose the Whitehouse Farm site near Morpeth rather than a far-flung industrial estate, and it is uncluttered and modern.
Clearly-labelled vessels crouch side by side, and control panels to choose the right temperature standing sentinel outside the fermentation room.
A back room holds two conditioning tanks, and stainless steel tables show off varieties of hops and grain.
It is not just a brewery, but a visitor destination. But that's one of their aims. Brewing a pale ale, like their Blonde Star, to tempt lager drinkers into choosing ale is nothing new, but Brew Star is going one further than most breweries.
Dawn and Simon have chosen to turn the brewery into an early learning centre for ale, with clear labels, boards showing the brewing processes and history, and their beers on tap - to educate people in choosing what to drink. The local, artisan, natural aspect of ale should be one of its biggest selling points: Simon and Dawn are using it.
This will help both Brew Star and the industry in genera,l but Dawn, who herself chose not to drink until she was 21 because of a bad experience, says it's not just a matter of education about how beer's brewed.
"When I've said to people we're doing a 7% lager they say you can't, because they're thinking about pints of lager. But I can sit and have a couple of glasses of wine at 13%. I like to sit with a couple of glasses of strong ale and enjoy it, too."
It's education about how to enjoy it, too, so that people can make the best choices.
Brew Star is also about bringing together the old and the new, acting as peacemaker between the mysterious arts of ancient recipes and the slick urbanity of the latest trends.
Is this an area where the brewery itself needs to make a choice? Simon and Dawn are going to call on their knowledge of ancient country wine recipes for some beers - expect a carrot and orange beer in the near future - while also pursuing the current American hop fashion with others. Surely these aims are at odds and the brewery will have to choose one or the other? "That's the hard part - bringing the two together is the challenge," says Simon. "We produce two beers with the American and New Zealand hops and there're a lot of brewers doing that now, but we want to bring out beer that shows it's not all about the hops, that there's the malt and other ideas."
Maybe these two angles aren't so inconsistent after all. Perhaps there's an overriding direction, a theme of innovation, that while this slick new brewery produces beers on the cutting edge of the American hop trend, it will also be on the cutting edge of experimenting with history, too. Perhaps the brewery that helps people to choose won't need to choose at all.
CHOOSING THE BEST Simon and Dawn Miles, owners of the Brew Star brewery in Morpeth
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||May 11, 2012|
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