It was in 2008 that George and I had our first taste of a Belgium Gueuze, a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old Lambic beer, from Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon located in the centre of Brussels. Lambic is a beer style dating back to the 13th Century and made from 100% spontaneous fermentation; therefore, no cultured yeast or bacteria are added at any stage. We were both blown away by the complexity of this drink and had never had anything quite like it; dry, vinous, funky with champagne-like carbonation. From that day on we went on a sensory exploration of these beers which turned into an obsession. Although it was always very hard to get your hands on Belgium Gueuze as little of the production made it across to the UK back then.
Fast forward to 2018 when a group of us made it across to Brussels for a weekend beer tour. We spent the majority of our time visiting traditional Belgium beer Cafés which I’d highly recommend to anyone in Brussels. These cafés are steeped in history and are often run in the front living room of someone’s house. The focus is on community and drinking local beers often served in terracotta jugs. The main reason for our trip, however, was to make the pilgrimage to Cantillon brewery and join a tour to learn more about the production of these unique beers.
The tour of Cantillon was a pivotal moment in the creation of Crossover. Walking around you really feel the history of the brewery, full to the brim with oak casks and old brewing equipment. Speaking to their employees you sense their commitment to making a world class product. Once the tour is finished you end up at their tasting room/bar which feels like a British countryside pub, cosy and inviting. The complexity and long-ageing time of this beer lends itself well to the addition of further ingredients such as fruit and herbs. We were lucky to try many of their specials that day, making our way through apricot, elderflower and cherry beers. Off the back of the tour at Cantillon we concluded that we were going to start a UK brewery focussed on 100% spontaneous fermentation. And to champion British fruit/grains with the goal of creating a product of equal complexity and drinkability.
After we both quit our jobs in London, we spent over a year researching and raising money to start Crossover. In the lead up to the launch of the project George worked in a bottle shop in London to suss out the current market and I went off to the US to meet breweries making barrel aged beer.
The best thing about the brewing industry is how open and friendly everybody is; all the people we’ve met in the last couple of years have always given us the time of day and answered every question.
However, we were soon to find out that making this style of beer is no easy task and a logistical nightmare. At the start of planning, we thought we were going to invest in a brewery but instead decided to follow the Belgium model of a ‘blendery’ (or ‘geuzestekerij’). For that reason, we don’t brew on site. Instead, we get the unfermented beer (wort) made for us by Elgoods Brewery in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Furthermore Elgoods have the specific bit of equipment needed to make spontaneous beer: the coolship.
The coolship (pictured below) is effectively a shallow open-top copper tray used to cool down the wort once it’s been brewed. As the name suggests the wort cools in these trays for 12-15 hours. We only brew in the winter when night-time temperature is below 10°C as this allows for a quicker cooling period and to stave off any unwanted bacteria growth. This part of the process is key to inoculating the wort. While in the coolship, wild yeast and bacteria from the brewery and its surroundings will drop into the wort and later initiate spontaneous fermentation. Post coolship we transfer the wort down to Crossover where it is decanted into oak casks. Fermentation will normally start within about two weeks. Our beers will then age anywhere from 1-4yrs.
From the outset we’ve wanted our beers to showcase the best of British fruit, grains and herbs. We grow some incredible produce in this country which is often forgotten. Our priority is to build relationships and promote as many growers as possible. Further to this we want to support and collaborate with as many local businesses as possible.
Most of our grain so far has come from Crisp Maltings based up in Norfolk, they have a great selection of malts grown here in the UK with a lot of it being sourced locally. As a small business with no revenue, we were unable to afford organic barley/wheat in our first two brew seasons. But it is a key target of ours in the future. The farm our business is based on grows interesting heritage varieties of wheat which we are keen to start experimenting with next season.
Sourcing fruit has been an exciting challenge. Finding growers of top-quality fruit has not always been easy but we are starting to put a strong list together. What we’ve found so far with any of our fruit additions is that if the fruit is good, it will reflect well in the beer. So far we have used five plum varieties (Purple Pershore, Yellow Egg, Guinevere, Pond’s Seedling as well as wild picked White Bullaces), raspberries, blackberries, Morello cherries, forced rhubarb, Ben Gairn blackcurrants, Pinot Meunier grape pomace (the stems, seeds, and skin of the grape) and Montepulciano grape pomace.
We are constantly on the hunt for old orchards and esoteric British varieties of fruit. Over the last year we’ve managed to visit some amazing orchards. Recently we went to an amazing small Morello cherry orchard in Kent that we sourced fruit from last year. Morello cherries were once widely grown but now there are very few orchards left with most producers switching to the sweeter varieties. Morello’s acidity and suitability for long-aging (we age our beer on Morello’s in barrel for 9-12 months) works very well for us.
The farm Crossover is based at organises an international agricultural conference called Groundswell which ties perfectly into our ethos when selecting producers to work with. Earlier in the year we worked with them on an agroforestry project whereby we planted a plethora of fruit trees (apples, pears, plums & cherries) in one of their arable fields, turning it into mixed use and helping benefit soil health, biodiversity, carbon sequestration (to name a few). In the years to come, and with all things being well, we will use the fruit from the trees in our beers.
Quality ingredients are integral to making the best beer we can. So rigidly sticking to British ingredients might seem restricting. But from our experience this is far from the case and there is plenty to get excited about.
We are only at the start of our journey here at Crossover and look forward to seeing how our beer matures over the next few years. There are new businesses moving into premises around us on the farm which promotes entrepreneurial collaboration. Our brewing is seasonal by nature; therefore, no two batches will ever be the same. This allows us to push the boundaries when experimenting with new ingredients and combinations. We will continue to build our relationships with fruit growers and farmers which, for us, is one of the best parts of being involved in creating a product which relies so heavily on agriculture.
Crossover launched just before the pandemic so the traditional routes to market like beer festivals haven’t been running as normal to get our name out there. Fortunately we have built a small, loyal following through Instagram which has allowed us to sell-out of our first two beers (The Count & Skimming Stone). Instagram also allows us to talk about our process and interact directly with our customers at a very important time for our business. A more immediate target for us is to open a tasting room on site so people can properly experience these special beers at the source of their creation. If you’d like to visit us or learn more about our process, please contact us through Instagram @crossoverblendery or email email@example.com.