Brighton Beer Blog and Mark Dredge Unbarred Stoutzilla
Mark Dredge at Unbarred Brighton

On a wintery Tuesday afternoon in November, beer writer Mark Dredge journeyed on the train from Eastbourne to Brighton to take me up on my suggestion of an interview-come-dark-beer-crawl. We met in the dankly lit alley next to Unbarred where Manager Brett and their yet unreleased Stouzilla were waiting for us.

It might sound counterproductive to start our beer crawl with an 11% barrel aged imperial stout, but Mark bravely followed my plan and we faced the monster sober.

So whilst sipping and comparing Stoutzilla to barrel-aged Stoutzilla I fired off a few opening questions…


So where did your beer journey begin? Was there a beer that got you going for instance?

Well I remember my first bad beer before my first good beer.

Oh really

I was probably about 17 and one of my schoolmates’s Dads worked at Southern Water. This was when a lot of workplaces had social clubs, you could go in and get £1.50 pints, and they had Ruddles. So for some reason I ordered a cask ale, maybe I wanted to be contrarian or something, and I ordered a Ruddles, and it was absolutely disgusting. Absolutely hideous.

Laughter

In my last school year, a friend’s stepdad would buy him interesting bottled ale, so I would go to his house, and we’d drink that and go out to this rock pub in Chatham called the Tap and Tin.

We’d drink Newkie Brown Ale there. I have this distinct memory of this really hot girl and she had a belt made of Newkie brown bottle tops, so I don’t know what came first, us drinking it, or us seeing her.

Laughter

But I didn’t care for beer at this point. It was different. I didn’t necessarily love any of the beers I drank.

Conveniently at my halls in Uni there was a guy living there who loved cask ale. And you find if there’s one person who wants to drink good beer, they take you to the good places. The more we would go to these places, the more we’d drink cask ales. We’d go to festivals, we’d do beer nights where we’d all go to the shop and get different things and rate them at the end of the night.

I remember distinctly, it was a Weatherpoons in Reading near our University, around 2005 or something. They had Old Peculiar, and I remember because it was my mates beer and the one I had was shit, so I had a mouth full of my mates beer and I was like, “fuck that’s so good”.

Beers like Old Man, Old Peculiar, Dark Mild. Rich sweeter dark ales. They were the first beers I really liked. And they changed my thoughts about beer.

stoutzilla imperial stout 330ml cans Unbarred
Brighton Beer Blog and Mark Dredge at Unbarred

Finishing our cans of Stoutzilla we thanked Brett for their hospitality and wandered the backsteets towards the lanes.

As Mark’s a frequent visitor to Brighton, I had made it my mission to try and find us a great pub that he hadn’t yet visited, and I nailed it.

We entered the Great Eastern on Trafalgar Street via the wonderful, old, curved saloon doors and entered it’s warm, cosy wooden cocoon.

The Eastern is a very popular pub which can be inexplicably busy at any time. We were lucky though and found a couple of stools at the bar, and so made ourselves comfortable in front of the cask options.
Mark’s eyes lit up at the site of Longman’s Old Ale and we both gulped back some mouthfuls of the deep, sweet liquid, then continued chatting about the genesis of Mark’s beer writing…

 

I was interested in beer. I wanted to be a writer. And food and beer seemed like something I liked, so why not write about that?

I timed it quite well. In 2008 I was about 24, everyone else in the scene was like 40, so I was coming into this as the young person, just as Punk IPA was being released. Just as Thornbridge was out there. Just when these modern beers came along.


Many people were talking about heritage beers, trying to keep the classics going. Whereas I didn’t have a clue about all that. I just know this modern stuff is really interesting, I didn’t know any better.

I got lucky, right place, right person, right time. But I worked hard for it. I would get up at 5am and write about beer, which as a 24 year old is an unusual thing to do. I really liked telling stories about beer and somehow, 15 years later, I’ve made a career about it.

So how did the book writing start?

So I started full time in beer in 2011. I was working at Camden Town brewery full time doing their content, marketing, branding, website. When I started they didn’t even have a website. But I was writing on the side. My first book, ‘Craft Beer World’, came out in spring 2013.

I was still working at the brewery then, but was struggling with a few things personally, and decided to cut my hours. I moved back in with my parents and thought I’d try and make it as a writer. But I just couldn’t earn enough, and in the end I started applying for jobs.
I remember, I went for an interview to do social media for Kent Police (a really weird job). I got back to the car and immediately they phoned me, and I got the job.

But just before the phone had rung, I got an email from my publisher offering me my second book, Beer and Food’ and £5,000. As apposed to a career job offering me £30,000.

And I said fuck it, Im taking the book. I just couldn’t turn a book down.

Haha. So over the years have these opportunities found you or have you found them?

A bit of both. I guess I didn’t really start making proper income from beer until 2014 because after that book I was like, “Now I really need to have a job”.

I got offered a job working for Pilsner Urquell. It was to do all their Global online content, so for every market other than Czech Republic. And that job was amazing! 4 days a week in London. The job was just to tell stories.

That lasted about 3 years and after that I took some time, did some travelling. But from there I managed to make it full-time, freelancing. So lots of writing, education, lots of training. [Mark has been prolific, releasing a book a year between 2013 and 2022]

You have to find your way and figure out how you can make it work. You have to be looking for these things, the stories, your writing. You have to be pitching those ideas.

Barman pulling pint at the Great Eastern Brighton
The Prince Albert bar mat and pints of porter
Mark Dredge and Brighton Beer Blog in the Prince Albert Brighton
Mark Dredge beer tasting Flavour Wheels

It was time to move on again and I had a pub in mind. I was sure Mark would have visited this Brighton institution before. So it was a total shocker to hear that this would be his first taste of the Prince Albert.

We entered the Albert and proceeded to the bar to check out the dark beer options. As expected there was plenty of Burning Sky on the bar, and as luck would have it The Albert had both the cask Porter and kegged Robust Porter. So of course we ordered halves of both to compare them side-by-side, while we discussed one of Mark’s most ambitious creations…

How long were you working on the flavour wheel for? And is it actually complete, or still a work in progress?

Haha. Well I finished it about 2 years ago. It came out November 2021. And I’ve looked at it every single day since then. But I think I’ve done a good enough job of it that it doesn’t need major changes.

The first flavour wheel I did was in 2012 whilst writing my first book. The original beer wheel by Morten Meilgaard was really scientific, and it was essentially designed by a bunch of big lager brewers in collaboration with lots of large breweries around Europe. But it’s basically off flavours for lager. This is the 1980s, it’s not romantic. It’s not descriptive language. It’s brewery-centric, sensory language. It’s breaking down the negatives that are there.

I was trying to write this book and there were no tools to help me find the good, or the right words. So I thought fuck it, I’ll try and do it. And in the end I managed to come up with this wheel. I shouldn’t have been doing it as it was a massive disruption from the book…

laughter

…I just remember days and days of lying on the living room floor, drawing circles around plates onto big pieces of paper, drawing lines through them and writing lists of words on the side, trying to make it work. It was very analogue. A huge amount of work.

Making it work coherently and logistically in a wheel was as hard as finding the right terms. There are so many more descriptive words that we have for beer now, it’s more evocative in terms of the breadth of fruit character, more tropical. I don’t think we would have said guava much, or gooseberry 10 years ago. And there’s the general flavour wheel and then there’s a hop, malt and fermentation one as well.

The way the wheel works at the moment is, essentially the top half is hops and malt, then you have, water, fermentation and off flavours. It was important to get a visual balance to it.

So is there another evolution of the wheels from here?

The best answer for that is, the wheel could be more global. As in it could have more fruits and more flavours that are not just for the white western palate. So there could be a broader palate of tropical fruits, or bread and baked goods.  So more to do with the comprehensiveness of it for a global audience.

Who is the flavour wheel aimed at, and are the people why buy it actually the audience you aimed it at?

I was actually looking at this earlier, I was trying to see where it’s been sold. About half have gone to breweries and bars, the other half it’s hard to say who purchased them so I can’t tell if they’re in a bar or brewery.
For me its aimed at anyone who’s interested in beer. I didn’t want it to be a brewery tool, as that would be too technical. And I didn’t want it to be a consumer tool, as that would be too simplified. I really wanted it to be this useable, user friendly flavour tool that could work for anyone.

I had to get that balance so you could use it in a brewery, sensory environment. Or you have it behind a bar when you do staff training. Or you could have it at home, someone who likes drinking bee, likes writing notes on Untappd, but doesn’t quite have the right words.

It must feel good that breweries are using and endorsing your interpretation of beer flavours?

Yeah totally, because in my mind it’s designed for them. I’ve been writing about beer for 15 years, I’ve worked with breweries on the marketing, communications and content. So most of the time I’m writing about flavour, reading tasting notes, writing tasting notes and understand what works and what doesn’t work.

I guess the higher aim of the flavour wheels is to be this collection of words that everybody can understand.  The brewer can say, ok I’m getting this chemical compound which is giving this aroma, but the consumer doesn’t know that chemical, they know a fruit.

It doesn’t matter what our level of beer knowledge is. The simplest aim of the wheel is someone at the bar describes the beer they want, the person behind the bar understands the beer they want, that person spends £5 and gets the beer they want.

£5…? wishful thinking

Laughter

 

Mark’s beer flavour wheels sets retail for £17.50 each, purchaseable from   www.beerdredge.com/product-page/beer-flavour-wheel

1 Comment

  1. boilersuit

    Thanks brightonbeerblog, a most entertaining read!

    Reply

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