All his life Steve Folland from Great Shefford has been a keen cook but his passion for beer brewing didn’t start until 2017 when friends introduced him to real ale at local pubs such as The Royal Oak in Wantage. It didn’t take long for this life-long lager drinker to become a total convert to the brown stuff and hooked on the science behind it all.
Perhaps because he is a relative newcomer to the art, Steve has felt free to experiment with ingredients to create the flavour he is looking for. He has even gone as far as making beer out of Christmas tree needles, appropriately named ‘Spruce Forsyth’ with a pine flavour instead of traditional hops.
Wood is a surprisingly key ingredient in beer brewing, with the flavour traditionally coming from the oak barrels the beer was kegged in. So when a friend offered Steve a chunk of oak from a tree that had been felled in a local wood back in 2017, he put it to good use: splitting it into small sections which he dried, charred and soaked in Jim Beam for over a year.
During this time, Steve started a stout brew of 12 different grains, yeast, honey, chocolate and coffee. When the time was right he added the infused wood to emulate the barrel-aged flavour he was looking for.
By 2019, the stout tasted good and had tested at 15.5% when it was first bottled, but it would continue to gradually increase in strength month by month. Fast forward to 2022 when CAMRA announced their first home brew category in the Great British Beer Festival to recognise the explosion of home brewing during lockdown.
“I only entered the Stong Stouts & Porters category to get honest feedback on my stout, ” explains Steve. “Friends and family are very complimentary but you never know how honest they are being. I never in a million years expected to win and that’s why I didn’t take the day off work to go to the GBBF awards ceremony at Olympia. O was gobsmacked when I got the phone call the next day.”
When Steve entered the competition, all he had to do was provide the name of his beer, Doggy in the Woods (a name inspired by a picture of a dog he happened to have on his computer screen at the time and the piece of oak he had been given by his friend).
He didn’t have to state the strength of the stout which was a whopping 16.1%, and is the strongest beer ever to win a CAMRA award (porter stout is normally 6 – 8%).
Steve’s prize is to have his beer brewed commercially by Brewhouse & Kitchen in Worthing.
“I am intrigued how they will replicate my recipe on a bigger scale,” admits Steve. “When you’re making a small, hobby batch you can be generous with the cost of the ingredients and you can leave it to ferment for years in the back of your garage.
“I think the judges have set Brewhouse & Kitchen quite a challenge and I am looking forward to working with them to make it happen.”
In fact Steve is looking forward to more brewing in general as this recognition from CAMRA has triggered a new chapter of his life which involves quitting his day job and moving to Cornwall with his wife to start a new brewery in Polperro.
We are sorry to see him leave the Lambourn Valley but wish him every success in his exciting new venture. Before he leaves, Steve will be giving people a chance to taste Doggy in the Woods at Inn at Home specialist beer, wines & spiritis retailer in Newbury at 6.30pm on Friday 12 August.