“I was at a recent awards event in Scotland where Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, was asked what people in the US thought of the Scottish brewing scene.
His response was blunt: “They don’t think it exists. All you’re doing is copying US styles and that’s not what we want. We want to drink rich, malty wee heavy beers and heather ales.”
It probably wasn’t what the room wanted to hear but according to Robert Percival, Oliver was right.
“We are following the US too closely and if we continue to do so, we’ll lose more of our identity than we already have. We have too much quality here to not become a poor imitation of what US breweries are producing,” he explains.
Percival adds: “Let’s be honest, we have much that is unique to offer drinkers both in the UK and overseas. I look at countries like Italy and Spain where I feel that they’ve done a better job in embracing tradition, techniques and flavours more effectively than we have.
“But equally, I know we’re having conversations where this issue is being recognised and people want to rectify it. We have quality raw materials and fantastic knowledge here, so let’s celebrate it and retain it.”
Dealing with a wealth of breweries in his role at Lallemand, Percival has observed some marked changes taking place in recent years.
“The UK is historically around five- to 10 years ahead of many other parts of Europe when it comes to engaging with the macro trends of craft brewing. It’s exciting for a consumer but also for companies like us,” he explains.
Percival adds: “We are seeing a great change in the actual yeasts and products people are ordering for their beer production. Previously products such as our Nottingham Ale Yeast were the go-to. It’s a no nonsense British ale yeast but as time has gone on, that spectrum has diversified.
“We’re seeing diversification in fermentation, not just with smaller, newer breweries but with older regional breweries, too. We’ve worked with them and been approached by those wanting to diversify the flavour and styles they can offer. And yeast is an essential part of that.”
Robert is a qualified brewing professional with extensive experience in quality and technical roles in beer production, having been a Technical Brewer and QA analyst, with quality experience across manufacturing and packaging for both multi-national and regional brewing companies in the UK.
Now working for yeast and bacteria specialists Lallemand as technical sale manager for Europe, he was the IBD young brewer of the year 2013/14 and is an expert in the fields of fermentation and cask beer production. In 2016 Robert qualified as a Doemans Beer Sommelier via the World Brewing Academy program. He speaks at the Brewers Congress in London next month.