Bang The Elephant – Maverick Brewing in Langley Mill
Bang The Elephant are Nige and Mike (Shipo), who began as home brewers in 2017 on a modest Grainfather G30, learning the basics, trying out ideas, getting feedback and eventually double brewing in order to get a full cask to send to beer festivals. In 2018 they decided to dip their toes a little deeper and rented a 4BBL system from Mr Grundy’s in Derby. In 2019 they took the opportunity to buy a 4BBL kit from Abstract Jungle Brewing while retaining the knowledge and expert guidance of Abstract Jungles head brewer Simon King to navigate them through their initial phases. They are now selling casks, kegs and cans to pubs and the general public.
We arrive at their industrial unit in Langley Mill at 9am on a Saturday morning, and the place is already buzzing. They are brewing an Imperial stout in collaboration with Mike Wicks of Left Field Beer, which they began at 6am. The mash is on, there are customers collecting and the sun is shining. The mash smells great, it has roughly 300kg of malt, consisting of 65% pale malt, dark crystal, caramel, special b, light choc and choc (2:1 ratio), oat malt, flaked oats, roasted barley, cacao nibs and coconut flakes. Beside the mash tun are 10 litres of Golden Syrup and 7 jars of molasses loosening up in a bucket of warm water, and a 25kg bag of dark brown sugar. This is going to be big. They mash at the higher temperature of 68C, which produces plenty of long-chain unfermentables for sweetness, body and mouthfeel. They’ll be using a Belgian Abbey yeast in due course.
300kg of malt and flavourings
“Right then, who wants a drink?” Nige asks. I’m still feeling the aftermath of a post-lockdown Friday night session, and am thinking a coffee or tea would be just the ticket. Shipo appears with 5 glasses; Nige whips out a pipette and dips it in one of the barrels racked up along the wall. He fills the glasses with a 13% chocolate and cherry imperial stout, infused with the bourbon which originally inhabited the barrel. It’s 9.30am. Any thoughts of a nice cuppa disappear as the cherry smacks you in the face while the chocolate and bourbon tend to your wounds. This is the breakfast of kings. It doesn’t have a name yet, but they are going with the working title ‘Lumiere’, a reference to the 19th century French cinematographer brothers.
The Lumiere-barrels of flavour
The Steampunk/Victorian theme runs through a lot of their branding, which is littered with great references. The punchy DDH Pacific Pale “What Makes Larry Happy?” is a nod to the Australian boxer Larry Foley, a prize fighter from the late 19th century who collected so much prize money we now have the phrase “as happy as Larry”. The Rum and Raisin Export Stout ‘Diabolito’ (or ‘Little Devil’) named after the 19th Century Cuban Pirate. The Chai Spiced winter ale ‘Fezziwig’ taken from Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. The ‘Spirit of Man’ Dunkel and the ‘Thunderchild’ West Coast Pale both originate from H G Wells’ ‘War Of The Worlds’. Even the name ‘Bang The Elephant’ is a derivation of the Victorian slang phrase ‘Bang up to the elephant’ which means ‘A job well done’.
While the lads are controlling the sparge and preparing to transfer to the kettle, we have a chance to chat with Mike from Left Field Beer. Mike imports and exports fine and hard to find beers from around the world. He is a man who can talk eloquently and passionately about beer, and a visit to his online shop shows he clearly knows his stuff. We talk about the cons and cons of Brexit “I don’t even bother trying to export to Europe now” and how Israel has become one of his fastest growing customer bases.
The 90 minute mash is complete and it’s time to transfer. The wort is drained through a spider, into the under back where the sugar, syrup and molasses are added and dissolved, before being pumped into the kettle. A time consuming process and clearly thirsty work. Shipo grabs the glasses and returns with clean ones, and a couple of cans of ‘I Like Crumble’ – a 5.7% redcurrant and rhubarb Berliner Weisse brewed in collaboration with Trinity Brew Co.. A deliciously refreshing, beautifully balanced, summer pudding of a beer. Nige tells us about the day they spent with Trinity Brew, which ended with at least one person flat on their face, shortly before pulling the emergency stop on the train home, thinking it was the toilet flush. It’s 10am. I understand.
Mike and Andy doing their best Mitchell Brothers impersonation
They clearly enjoy a collaboration. As well as today’s effort with Leftfield Beer, they have had a couple of collabs with Abstract Jungle (including a Raspberry and White Chocolate Wheat Beer); ‘A Trip To Trumpton (Make Christmas Great Again!)’ Christmas Pudding Porter with Urban Chicken Ale; the ‘Benjo Bironga’ Brazilian Lemonade and Guava Summer Ale with Castle Rock Brewery; and the award-winning ‘Forward With The Goat’ Belgian Blonde with Beeston Hop.
“Tell us more about the award you won” – much to Shipo and Niges amusement. “Well, we’re not sure if we actually won it”. “What do you mean?” Shipo produces the winning certificate which reads ‘Band The Elephant – Follow The Goat” and we all fall about laughing. They tell the story of the day CAMRA decided to pay them a visit before the judging , which involved a coach load (approximately 80 people) turning up unexpectedly, drinking the store room dry before jumping back on the coach, leaving them slightly dazed.
And the award goes to….
The wort slows to a dribble, the sugars have been added and the kettle is set to boil. Nige takes a gravity reading – 1.095! (Nige later tells me that the post boil gravity was 1.126) While we wait for the kettle to get up to temperature, it’s time for a drink. Glasses refreshed, Nige pulls out a couple of cans of the ‘Benjo Bironga’. A 5.4% crisp, refreshing, lightly sour Gose with a hint of tequila. The name translates as ‘A Righteous Party of Beer’. Seems apt – It’s 11am and I realise resistance is futile.
Nige on the refractometer
Shipo prepares and adds the bittering hops – 2kg of Magnum for bittering and 1kg of Columbus at 30 mins for around 75 IBU’s. They use leaf at this stage as it will also act as a filter when transferring to the fermenter. As we chug the Bironga, the local farmer arrives to take the malt away for his animals. Shifting 300kg of malt is not easy work, but luckily Matt from Alter Ego Brewing Co arrives with a selection of his latest creations – ‘The Big Bad 8.1% Barleywine’ and seriously nutty ‘Is It Safe? 9.5% Chocolate, Caramel & Peanut Butter Imperial Stout’, all of which must be sampled immediately.
While the boil is going on, we find time to chat more generally. I ask ‘“Which bit of kit has had the biggest impact on the quality of your beer?” Shipo laughs “It’s probably the broom handle we use to stir the hops, or ‘The Stick of Destiny’ as it’s known”. Nige, rather more helpfully, chips in “The best bit of equipment we had was our original Grainfather. It allowed us to learn the fundamentals of brewing before scaling up.” He adds “my advice to a beginner would be (and always is) don’t short cut the learning; resist the temptation to let software brew your beer before you know how to brew beer yourself”.
“Which of your beers are you most proud of?” They both mention that they are very excited about the Lumiere, our first sample of the day, and rightly so. The ‘Benjo Bironga’ also gets a special mention, Benjo started life as a 4.5% Brazilian Lemonade and Guava Summer Ale, a collab on their rented kit with Castle Rock in 2018. It has since been up-cycled to a 5.4% Brazilian Lemonade and Guava Gose. We tried the Tequila version. There is also a Mezcal version.
“Given your love of a good collaboration, which other breweries do you admire?”The lads explain that they’ve had a lot of help since they started, and they name-check Castle Rock and Beeston Hop in particular. Nige also mentions Dom at the Navigation, who “in terms or knowledge and experience, we think he perhaps doesn’t get the recognition he should”. In terms of nano-breweries, they are fans of Urban Chicken, Alter Ego, Linear, and Lenton Lane.
At this point I’m starting to flag. I’ve had a late night, I’ve been forced to taste delicious beer after delicious beer all morning, and I’m wondering if an emergency bacon cob might be in order. This was obviously written across my face as moments later 2 huge pizzas appear. I shed a small tear of joy. Of course they’re not going to wash themselves down, so we crack open a couple more imperial stouts – the ‘Work is Not a Wolf’ Russian imperial at 12.6% and the ‘P.S I Love You’ chocolate and caramel imperial at 12.8%.
P.S I Love You – is what Andy whispered to the pizza delivery guy
Despite being fully refreshed and revived, time is against us and we have to get back to Brew Day HQ. I ask about their future plans. At the moment, both Nige and Shipo have full-time jobs at a local car manufacturing plant. Brewing is strictly for the weekends. Obviously they would both love to turn this runaway hobby into a full-time job, but they have decided to err on the side of caution, for now. While they have no immediate ambitions to increase their volumes, Nige turns slightly glossy-eyed as he describes his dream tap-room out the front of the unit. Judging by the quality and volume of beers on offer today, they are perfectly capable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.