In the year since Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer bade America farewell we have enjoyed many excellent locally produced ales at CAMRA LocAle accredited pubs in and around Reading. Our local breweries, such as West Berkshire, Binghams and Loddon, would not be disgraced among the best that Seattle, Portland or San Francisco have to offer. However there has been one local brewery in particular that grabbed Mr Fueled by Beer’s attention early on, kept him interested all year, and left him impatiently awaiting an opportunity to visit…
That opportunity recently presented itself: you’ll find Wild Weather Ales on the Berkshire/Hampshire border in the Easter Park industrial estate between Aldermaston and Silchester.
If coming from Reading, take Burghfield Road and after passing through Burghfield Village and Burghfield Common, follow signs for AWE. Just before reaching the AWE complex take the first left off the roundabout (signposted Easter Park). If using satnav dial in RG7 2PQ and head to unit 19.
Wild Weather Ales was a brand new start-up when we arrived in January 2013. Founded by Mike Tempest and his wife Karen the first brew – Stormbringer – represented the culmination of four years of work planning and building a 12 UK BBL (16.4 hectolitre) brewhouse that was completed in December 2012. Wild Weather’s first month in operation and my reacquaintence with UK real ale coincided at the Monks’ Retreat pub in Reading where I had my first taste of Stormbringer.
Wild Weather has enjoyed a very successful first year. After coming out of the gate with an immediate winner in Stormbringer, Mike quickly followed with Little Wind and Big Muddy, then there was Sundowner for the summer and Black Knight for the fall. Most recently added to the lineup is Shepherds Warning, a pale IPA hopped with Citra – which of course hits all the right buttons for Mr Fueled by Beer, lover of citrusy west coast brews that he is.
The current Wild Weather Ales lineup:
- Stormbringer – to me this is closest to a ESB (4.5% ABV)
- Little Wind – an Amber Ale (4.2% ABV)
- Big Muddy – a sessionable Pale Ale (3.8% ABV)
- Sundowwner – a sessionable Golden Ale for summer thirst-quenching (3.4% ABV)
- Black Knight – a sessionable Dark Ale, not a porter or a stout (3.9% ABV)
- Shepherds Warning – a pale IPA hopped with Citra, reminds me of Elysian’s Space Dust IPA (5.6% ABV)
During our brewery visit we talked with Mike about his background and future plans for Wild Weather. The first thing that struck us was that Mike himself is a complete departure from the typical start-up brewer we encountered so often in Seattle. He doesn’t come from a brewing background — not even home-brew — his background is in engineering.
According to Mike much of his engineering experience involved a deep understanding of processes and by applying this expertise to Wild Weather Ales he has been able to establish and maintain brewing processes that deliver uncompromising quality and support controlled, steady growth.
At the end of the day Mike’s ultimate goal was to create a brewery that would produce beers he himself would want to drink. Part of this process involved spending time at Outstanding Brewing Co in Manchester learning the brewing craft and taking some brewing courses. Then he set about creating Wild Weather Ales.
Mike believes the quality of his beer should speak for itself every time you down a pint however he also realizes it goes beyond producing great tasting beer. So his approach to quality extends way beyond the brewing process to all aspects of his ‘brand’ – hence Wild Weather’s beautiful and eye-catching artwork from award-winning artist and author Caroline Downey.
From the brightly decorated delivery van you might see tootling around in an ever-expanding radius of Silchester, to gorgeous bottle labels that stand out from the crowd on supermarket shelves, to distinctive pump clips in the pub, Mike’s attention to detail is everywhere. He sums it all up in Wild Weather’s mission statement: “helping to save the world from mediocre beer.”
In planning Wild Weather Ales you could be forgiven for thinking that Mike took a leaf out of Dick Cantwell’s (Elysian Brewing, Seattle) book on brewery start-ups. One of Dick’s mantras is to always start with the largest brewhouse you can afford. Too often microbreweries start-up with 3 BBL plant – bigger maybe than the typical home-brewer can envisage outgrowing – yet within a year they find themselves in the catch-22 of being unable to achieve enough economy of scale to break even, let alone make any money, and they are also unable to expand production capacity to meet demand without trashing their startup kit and starting over.
Mike shrewdly invested in a 12 BBL brewery comprising a 10 BBL brew kettle and three 12 BBL flat-bottomed tanks for fermentation/conditioning. He has plenty of spare capacity to keep his current lineup in production year-round and, with the addition of a fourth fermentation vessel, he can meet additional demand for his current beers and/or add to the lineup.
Looking to the future, Mike does plan to add two more beers in 2014; Raindancer awaits a shipment of fantastic Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand – can’t wait for that one. And then there’s Blizzard, a winter ale that didn’t make it in time for 2013. As for that fourth fermenter, Mike talked about introducing a real ale version of a Pilsner and how the addition of a cylindroconical unitank or “CCV” might help facilitate this.
Updates Autumn 2014
- Raindancer has turned into Can’t Stand the Rain, a wonderfully sessionable Rye IPA at 4.0% ABV
- Blizzard is an immense Imperial IPA at 8.0% ABV.
- Wild Weather is now making inroads in the craft keg marketplace. I write about it here.
- Combining core, seasonals and specials, the ever increasing lineup of Wild Weather ales is listed at Untappd.
Where to purchase Wild Weather Ales?
The brewery shop is usually open most Fridays and Saturday mornings. At other times, please call ahead first. Besides the brewery shop, you can order for home delivery via the online store. The following outlets carry Wild Weather Ales in bottles: Grumpy Goat, Harris Arcade, Reading; Fielders Farm Shop, on A340, Theale. The following pubs should always have at least one Wild Weather Ale on cask: Old Bell, Grazeley Green; Back of Beyond, Reading. I’ll add to this list as I discover more.
Right now, with all things considered, the outlook for Wild Weather Ales looks bright and sunny to me. 🙂
Interesting side trip: Roman Silchester
As a truly Fueled by Beer destination I’m afraid the brewery is a little off the beaten path. It is possible to take a train to Aldermaston station on the Reading-Newbury line and from there take local bus routes 104 or 105 to AWE (note: limited service Mon-Sat, no Sunday service). But be aware that you then have a 1.6 mile hike between AWE and the brewery.
Since visitors to the brewery will almost certainly have driven there an interesting side trip I thoroughly recommend is a visit to the ruins of Calleva Atrebatum – Roman Silchester.
From the brewery follow signs for Silchester (Soke Road) then when you reach Silchester village turn left on Kings Road (signposted to the Roman ruins). Stay on Kings Road which becomes Wall Lane. Then keep following signs to Roman Silchester.
Beware of a sharp bend to the left: as long as you make the right turn to stay on Wall Lane you will come to a small parking lot on the right. Park there and then take the public footpath to the wall. You can circumnavigate the entire perimeter visiting the medieval Church and the Roman amphitheater along the way.
During summer weekends teams from the University of Reading conduct publicly viewable archaeological digs which over the past 40 years or so have been uncovering Roman Silchester’s hidden secrets. Unique among Roman sites in southern England, Calleva was not occupied by Anglo-Saxons after the legions left, leaving the town’s remains buried and mostly undisturbed for almost 2,000 years. Many of the finds recovered so far are now displayed at Reading Museum. Roman Silchester and Reading Museum: fascinating places to visit at any time.