We spoke to Jon Hosking, the co-founder of GYLE 59, a West Dorset brewery which launched in 2013 and produces a range of “spring-fed, log-powered, propane-driven, unfined, hazy crazy artisan beers”.
How did you get into brewing?
As a life long homebrewer (making too much beer!) I first decided I wanted to brew commercially back in 2007. It was when one of my drinking buddies was in my garden in Wokingham drinking some of my homebrew saying: “Jon, I’d pay good money for this beer!”
I undertook training at Brewlab in Sunderland and got some hands-on experience in other independent breweries. My first proper brewing job was setting up the Town Mill Brewery (now Lyme Regis Brewery) in Lyme Regis in 2009/10. Back then the pubs in Lyme had a very limited range of fairly uninteresting beers. However, my fondest memory of the town was meeting Amanda, who is now my wife!
What led you to Sadborow?
When I found the brewery site for GYLE 59 at Sadborow it had already been partly converted into a brewery. It was a huge bonus to find that we had a wonderful source of spring water with almost the same water profile (for brewing purposes) as the water in Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
Dorset is famous for its brewing, is there much of a community of brewers around you?
There is a good community of brewer’s locally, but its far more widespread within the industry. Brewers tend to be very co-operative and helpful to one another. We’re in competition with each other, but also very happy to help out. You just need to see the number of collaboration brews made to understand that. We have done collaboration brews with Brew Shack, Eight Arch, Brewhouse & Kitchen, Cerne Abbas and Project Venus.
And you made a commemorative beer for Abbotsbury subtropical gardens?
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens approached us to produce a commemorative beer for their 250th anniversary. We had a lot of fun nailing down a recipe and incorporating a plant grown at the gardens. With the help of their head gardener we found a shrub called drimys lanceolate or Tasmanian Mountain Pepper whose leaves could be infused in the beer to give a delicate spicy edge to the aftertaste. We have no one-off’s planned at the moment due to the current uncertainties. However, we have just reintroduced our SIBA Gold Award winning Caribbean Cocktail, an unusual wheat beer with tropical fruit hop flavours (available only in bottles).
Where in Weymouth can we get your beers?
Chalbury Food and Wines. Their two outlets in St. Mary’s Street and Littlemore Road have been stockists of our bottles for many years. Also, the Doghouse takes our cask ale from time to time and currently has our Vienna Session Lager in bottles.
With craft beers so much more readily available in pubs and supermarkets, has CAMRA’s battle been won?
CAMRA’s battle was won before I became involved in commercial brewing. Their efforts made the craft beer revolution possible. However, in the last decade or so they have lost purpose and have really only been a festival organising drinking club. CAMRA now have a huge opportunity to use their lobbying power and membership base to get behind the Society of Independent Brewers‘ opposition to the proposed Small Brewers Duty Relief cuts. The current government proposals could lead to a massive reduction in choice from independent breweries and the return of an industry dominated by a few large breweries with the loss of many artisanal breweries.
You’ve described your brewing process as having “a very elemental feel” — do you think that comes across in your beer?
It certainly does. To use a domestic analogy, my brewing style is more akin to cooking on an Aga than a microwave. We heat our liquor (water) with a highly efficient German log burner fuelled by logs harvested from the managed estate where the brewery is located. We then boil using huge propane burners. It’s fire and water and you can’t get more elemental than that!
Brewing is an ancient process — do you see yourself as part of the longer history of brewing?
Of course! Brewing hasn’t really changed for centuries. GYLE 59 produces beers with a very traditional, if quirky set up. We have very little mechanisation and our brew day is a very “hands-on” operation. This is not so true of some of the large breweries mass-producing huge quantities of cheap, bland uninteresting beer and lager. Also there has been some movement towards computerisation and mechanisation in a few of the more modern new breweries which takes some of the “magic” out of the process.
What do you see as the future of brewing?
I believe that the future of brewing is fairly secure, however breweries are having to adapt to survive. For example, we have the benefit of an on-line shop built into our website which experienced a 2000% increase in sales of bottles and minikegs during the lockdown! The shop was further developed during this period to accommodate local deliveries, collection from the brewery and Parcelforce deliveries for those further afield. Plus, we now offer a range of bottles and cans from other independent local, national and international breweries.
The future of pubs, in particular “wet led” pubs is less secure. Pub closures are already happening due to the pandemic and there will be many more to come. The government has chosen to ignore wet led pubs and breweries whilst giving vouchers and tax breaks to many other operators within the hospitality industry. Combine this with the double whammy of the proposed cuts in Small Brewers Duty Relief and I can see a very different landscape ahead of us.
Socially distanced drinking is hard to achieve in cosy high street pubs and bars so outside spaces need to be found to cater for beer lovers. We have produced a Beer Garden at GYLE 59 to meet this need as we have the space and the benefit of a beautiful rural safe location. We’re only open on a Saturday afternoon between 12pm and 5pm, but this is already proving very popular.