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How I Created … Adnams Ghost Ship

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Adnams Ghost Ship

by Fergus Fitzgerald

I moved to Adnams in 2004 having spent seven great years at Fuller's in London.

Fergus FitzgeraldThe new job was assistant brewer (ass brewer for short) to the then head brewer, Mike Powell-Evans.

My introduction to the rest of the Adnams brewing team came at their Christmas party, held in March, where I was told as a matter of fact that people only ever come to Adnams to retire!
 
I had joined in the midst of a regeneration of the brewery. Cask beer sales had grown quickly for Adnams over the previous five years and the brewery was struggling to cope with the demands now being placed on a brewhouse that was in excess of 100 years old.

Mash tuns made of disintegrating cast iron and kettles made of wafer-thin or non-existent copper had persuaded the board that the time was right to renew.
 
The first phase of the plan, to install new fermentation vessels, was almost complete, and the next part, to replace the brewhouse, was in the beginnings of its design. It was quite an exciting time.

Optimism

Bitter and Broadside were both growing strongly, we were investing in the brewery at a time when very few others were, and there was a lot of optimism about the future.
 
The new brewhouse was duly installed and we were brewing on it full time by the summer of 2007. Mike, having ushered in this milestone, hung up his saccharometer and I took over as head brewer at a time when the beer world was changing rapidly.

Nationally, more traditional beers started to go into decline, being replaced by golden beers. There was also increased competition from new breweries and as a result of pubs opening up their beer lists.

Adnams had always been seen as a traditional brewery in terms of its beer styles and the growth of the previous decade didn’t suggest we needed to alter this approach.

However, the growing interest in new beers and beer styles gave us confidence that we could, and should, take advantage of the capabilities of the new brewhouse.

Mike had already started using Columbus and Chinook hops when he created a seasonal beer called Explorer but, in 2009, we developed a whole programme of new seasonal beers, looking outside our comfort zone of English bitters and pale ales and instead using yeasts, hops and malts we’d never considered before to brew styles such as kölsch, American IPA, Belgian wit, bock and weissbier.
   
The reaction was great. Some beers went better than others but overall it worked. We continued the series the following year but I had a slot for autumn to fill. I had a few ingredients in mind for a new beer but nothing to hang it on until the idea of doing a Hallowe'en-themed beer came up.

Mysterious Bottle
 
The idea came from seeing a mysterious bottle of beer in a cabinet at The Red Lion pub in Southwold. This centenary ale, around 9% ABV, had been brewed in 1975 but, rather than simply call it Centenary Ale, the brewery had decided its name would be 'Deathly Pale'.

The label, featuring a skull and crossbones, was duly designed and printed but, at the last moment, it was pulled. Perhaps the artwork was too similar to the symbol for poison but, whatever the reason, new labels were quickly commissioned and the beer was finally renamed Centenary Ale.

Only a few bottles hand labelled 'Deathly Pale' escaped from the brewery, including the one at The Red Lion.

Adnams Ghost ShipIn 2010, the cycle repeated itself. I had wanted to call my new Hallowe'en beer 'Deathly Pale' but, although this time we didn’t actually print any labels, the name was again dropped, to be replaced by 'Ghost Ship’.
 
The recipe for what would become Ghost Ship had really begun to take shape the previous year. Ian Ward from BSG, a raw material supplier in the US, and Brooklyn brewer Garrett Oliver were visiting landlord Mark Dorber at The Anchor at Walberswick, close to the brewery.

Mark had invited me and a few other local brewers to have dinner with them. My recollection of the night isn’t totally clear but I vividly remember Garrett and Ian enthusing about a new hop called Citra.

I managed to get a sample and immediately decided we needed to brew with it. It was just a question of when. And then Hallowe'en presented itself the following year.
 
The final concept for Ghost Ship would be for a beer light in colour but with a little more sweetness and body from the addition of some caramalt and some rye to our pale ale malt. The Citra hops were complemented by a few other varieties, including Columbus and Centennial, but all the dry hops were Citra.

The beer (4.5% ABV) emerged and became, at the time, our best-ever selling seasonal ale.

It was repeated as a seasonal in 2011 for a slightly longer spell. It ran out earlier than planned, because I couldn’t get any more Citra, although it just about managed to stay on the bar until Hallowe'en.

Ghost Ship was then made a permanent beer in 2012, once I had managed to secure enough of the new season's Citra crop.

Now available in cask, bottle and can, it is one of Adnams' most successful beers.


Photograph of Fergus by Anthony Cullen


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