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From Cali to Bristol: Brewing Old Ale the Moor Beer Way

Moor Beer’s Old Freddy Walker is among the most acclaimed strong ales in the United Kingdom, often medaling among the barleywines and old ales that compete for Champion Beer of Britain. Its brewer, however, hails from California. Here, Moor owner and head brewer Justin Hawke explains how Moor and Freddy came to be—and he offers advice on brewing a great old ale.

Justin Hawke Mar 17, 2023 - 9 min read

From Cali to Bristol: Brewing Old Ale the Moor Beer Way Primary Image

Photo: Courtesy Moor Beer

Beer always seems to have been part of my life. One of my earliest memories is my father letting me have a sip of his dunkel—which, surprisingly, I liked. He told me that one day I’d drink beer, so I should know what good beer tastes like.

Growing up in California in the ’70s and ’80s, I’d go with him to specialist liquor stores to see what imports they had. Pickings were pretty slim back then. Craft beer wasn’t really a thing yet. (Dad always was a fan of Anchor Steam yet suspicious of the sediment in Sierra Nevada.) Germany, Belgium, and Britain were the inspirations, with Michael Jackson’s and Roger Protz’s books in hand to learn about styles and history.

My parents are Anglophiles, and they often traveled to England for business. My dad would always tell me about the pubs, which seemed to be full of fun adventures and random characters (whom I now know more personally as crazy landlords and locals). On my 13th birthday, they took me with them—and I got to try beer in pubs myself. That was the beginning of my long-running romance with British real ale.

I had never really considered brewing as a possibility until a serendipitous dinner at my West Point tactical officer’s house introduced me to homebrew. His was delicious and got the wheels turning. Being stationed in Germany after graduation helped me to fall in love with properly brewed lager. I quickly took a strong liking to the unfiltered naturtrub beers that had better aroma, mouthfeel, flavor—and, importantly, didn’t seem to give me a hangover during those morning PT runs.

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When I left the Army and returned to California, I was determined to learn how to homebrew. The timing and location couldn’t have been better—San Francisco in the mid ’90s during the West Coast IPA boom. So I added a love of hops to my love of real ale and unfiltered lager. I decided that at some point I wanted my own brewery, but I wanted it in England. One company transfer and a decade later, I spotted the opportunity to buy a defunct brewery near Glastonbury in England. I restarted Moor Beer in 2007.

Breaking New Ground at Moor

In my brewery, I wanted to combine my love of hops, real ale, and natural lagers. Most of the time we were usually too far ahead of the local market, constantly battling to educate a very traditional group of drinkers. Selling expensive, hoppy, hazy beer with an American accent in the middle of cider country wasn’t easy. Common criticisms in the early days were “too much flavor” and “too hoppy.” Fast forward 15 years, and our beers are now considered very flavorful, but balanced and drinkable—which they always were. I believe this is what Vinnie Cilurzo calls the “lupulin-threshold shift” in action.

At Moor we implemented a couple of things that have helped to change the British brewing scene somewhat dramatically. The first was getting rid of isinglass finings (which are made, famously, from fish bladders). After a successful campaign to the Society of Independent Brewers, I got them to allow hazy beers into competition. That started a movement of “unfined” vegan beers. The lupulin-threshold shift has been accompanied by a haze-threshold shift. While I’m proud to have changed the market acceptance of hazy beer, things have arguably gone too far. No one wants to drink yeast slurry—at least, I don’t. Ultimately, balance and drinkability win out.

The other game changer was can-conditioning. After a lengthy and technical process, Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) recognized us for producing the first 100 percent naturally carbonated real ale in a can. We still package all our beer (can, cask, and keg) with live yeast; we believe natural carbonation provides better mouthfeel and flavor. To do this properly takes a lot of lab and quality-assurance work. It also drastically increases the time and cost of production, but it’s worth it.

Having done these initiatives, alongside winning many awards for our beers, we were named Brewer of the Year in 2017 by the British Guild of Beer Writers. Then CAMRA presented us with a Golden Award as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations—one of only 16 breweries to receive one, and by far the youngest and smallest of them.

About Freddy

One of our most awarded beers is Old Freddy Walker. Stylistically we consider it an old ale, and we describe it as liquid Christmas pudding. (For those who don’t know, Christmas pudding is a traditional cake made with dried fruit, dark sugars or syrups, and soaked in alcohol—think dark, treacly, and vinous.) Even if it’s not our top seller, Freddy is a beer that connoisseurs and fest organizers regularly request.

Old Freddy Walker is the only brand I kept going from the original Moor Beer. That being said, I sought to improve the recipe and better align it with the style. It was first brewed as a birthday beer for a resident of the village, Ashcott, where Moor started. (I’ve subsequently moved the brewery twice as we’ve expanded; our current production and tap room are in Bristol, plus we have a taproom in London.)

Freddy Walker had been in the Royal Navy, and a sketch of him in uniform was the original branding for the beer. We’ve kept that heritage by weaving a ship into the artwork. We’ve also kept in touch with his daughter, who named her son Freddy after him. She is always really pleased when her dad’s beer wins a major award.
Old Freddy Walker is a great beer in the kitchen and at the table. You can marinate or stew with it, and it pairs perfectly with game and red meats. It also goes fabulously well with Stilton and similar blue cheeses. Personally, I love Freddy best at room temperature to allow the flavors to really pop. It’s best enjoyed by a fire with a dog at your feet and your loved one by your side at the end of an evening.

If you’re looking to brew a similar beer, it’s important to focus on the hallmarks of the style. For me, those are:

  • rich, dark malt flavors
  • fruity esters from fermentation
  • minimal yet complementary hop character
  • the right amount of bitterness to keep it from being cloying
  • of course, the element of time (i.e., age)

To brew your own version, here are some starting points:

  • Our base malt is British pale at about 70 percent of the grist; it doesn’t have to be Maris Otter or a specific varietal (we use Best Pale).
  • The rest of the grist is equal parts wheat malt, crystal malt, and dark malt. The last can be black malt or chocolate, depending on which notes you want to highlight.
  • Go with a British ale yeast and ferment warm to promote ester formation.
  • Use British hops (we prefer Bramling Cross), about half for bittering and half for aroma. We shoot for 40 IBUs to help balance the sweetness.

Then be sure to give it enough time to condition, at least a month. This is a beer that continues to mature and improve for many, many years.  We’ve also done barrel-aged and Brett versions that take it to another level, but the original version is arguably the most drinkable and versatile.

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