Q and A, UK Beer and Breweries

Poppyland Brewery | Q&A

Poppyland Brewery | Q&A
Originally Posted on Dec 16, 2015

Are you curious to know about the people behind the beers you buy? Or perhaps you want to know what inspires brewers to brew and beer bloggers to blog? Our “Q&A” posts are a light hearted way of getting to know people working in, and connected to, the beer and alcohol industry.
Today’s post features Poppyland Brewery.

Who are you/what do you do?   I’m Martin Warren, owner and one-man-band at the Poppyland Brewery in Cromer.

How did you get into this line of work?   It needed a kick up the back-side to do this. I was a museum professional and had a wonderful time for 35 years as a curator and collections manager, mostly in Norfolk. I always thought I would have a second career one day but I enjoyed what I did so much and it kept me interested that the second career never happened. But then the banking crisis and the down-sizing of local government saw my post deleted, so I had the chance to take early retirement. From the short-list of things I could do with my life after that I chose to continue running guided geology walks in North Norfolk and to start a microbrewery.

What is your favourite beer, wine or spirit?   I don’t have a single favourite (or at least it would change fairly frequently if I did) but a one-off experience comes to mind at the Nottingham Beer Festival 2014. Beyond Wonderland was an American IPA from the newly formed Three Blind Mice Brewery in Little Downham, Cambridgeshire; so deep, fresh and bright. My son Mark and I drank it, looked at each other and just said, “Wow!” while shaking our heads in disbelief that it could be that good. Then again I will buy a Fantôme whenever I get the chance, or Oersoep, or …there are dozens. I am with Adrian Tierney-Jones when he says that he likes “unclean” tasting beers. And at the Norwich Beer Festival very recently Elgood’s Plum Porter was outstanding; so fruity without being too sweet or too acidic. Heaven.

What do you think makes a great beer?   There are beers for all occasions. Sometimes you just want a clean thirst-quencher, or a big hit of alcohol and a lot of cheap beer will do that. But what really intrigues me however is beer that gives more than you were expecting: complex, deep and unusual flavours. Fortunately that’s what some of the more adventurous microbrewers are doing today both here and abroad and I am pleased to say that even the more staid of British breweries are beginning to explore off the beaten path.

Poppyland Brewery in West Street, Cromer. “Ales Gas ‘n Lager” is an anagram of the former business on these premises, Allen’s Garages.
The building dates from 1905.

What was your first drink and where were you when you had it?   As a boy in the early sixties I used to get some tasters of Dad’s Guinness or Mackeson at the Sunday lunch table but only in small amounts. I do recall the first time I got tipsy, at around the same time, from drinking a half pint of cider at Cockington village near Torquay and walking along Cockington Lane with my head spinning. Some of my schoolboy Saturday job wages went on sweeter beers at the tolerant Coach and Horses in Stevenage old town. I even succumbed to the joys of Double Diamond; such was my naïvety as an under-aged drinker.

What drink can you no longer face having had one too many?   It’s been a very long time since I had that problem but it did happen sometimes after drinking too much Greene King Abbot. It was different stuff in the 60s and 70s. When it was good it was fantastic but when it was bad it was dire.

What is your favourite style of beer?   I am a sucker for an American IPA with all those luscious hops, supported by a decent amount of malt and lots of alcohol. What’s not to love? But then again since becoming a microbrewer I have been exploring the big wide world of beer and have been delighted by all kinds of stuff from Europe and America. I probably most respect those small brewers who are brewing off-piste, so to speak.

David Whiteley (left) with Martin Warren during the filming of a brew day for BBC East’s Inside Out, June 2015.
The yeast is a 1958 Norwich yeast from the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich, ready to brew “Hawkey Frolic”.

Bottled or canned beer?   I haven’t explored canned craft beer very much but what I have tried has been decent enough and the efficiency of the packaging has many advantages (cost, materials, weight, and convenience). However, at the moment, almost all the beer I drink that isn’t draught is from a bottle. Most of Poppyland beer is bottled too.

If you have to pick, which would be your top three beers in the whole world?   It’s too soon to say. I’ve only tried less than a thousand so far and I am sure my mind would change all the time. I tend to go by brewers rather than beers, so…8-Wired Saison Sauvin, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon to snatch three great beers at random from my memory.

What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk?   That’s too private to say but the second silliest is to believe I can dance.

What is the best part of your job?   I do get the privilege of meeting many of my customers face to face and when I meet a person who has a good palate, knows about beer and tells me they appreciate what I am up to at Poppyland Brewery; that really fills me with pride. It’s even better when I see them as repeat customers. But it’s the creativity too. It beats attending meetings and writing reports any day.

You are stuck on a desert island, what three things are you taking with you?    Well I am perhaps dull and practical but it has to be a good knife, useful for so many things. I’ve seen Ray Mears, so a good tarpaulin too but you don’t want those kind of answers, do you? I’d have a large jerry can; then I could crack open the coconuts with the knife and spontaneously ferment the milk in the jerry can and drink it under the shade of my tarpaulin.

What was the inspiration for starting the brewery?   I was a half-hearted kit home brewer on and off. Then, after renovating our kitchen in 2008, I saw the opportunity to get into all-grain brewing. I only ever had basic primitive equipment but I liked the ability to control the brew and be creative with ingredients so I experimented and mused about microbrewing one day. When redundancy came a few years later it compelled me to think of something to do with myself. Having a pension it took away the risk of starting something crazy like a microbrewery. Complete naïvity also took away the fear! When Allen’s Garage near my home became available too I went for it. It was a challenge and a completely new direction. It was the second career that I thought I might have had but I didn’t know it would be brewing until the moment came and I invested that redundancy cheque.

Are there any other breweries which have influenced you?   Many. See below but at the time I was getting in to the business The Kernel was a rising star and I was in awe when I met Evin O’Riordan at the Bodegraven Festival. Also, a young lad I took on at the museum (Matthew Clark) went on to become a brewer at Thornbridge and what Stefano Cossi was doing there just before I got started greatly impressed me. Locally, I met Allen Thompson at Old Chimneys with a very similar-sized set up to Poppyland. Boy, can he brew! But he said “I wouldn’t go in to brewing at this moment in time.” I chose to ignore that remark and here I am.

How long have you been brewing at Poppyland Brewery?   I discovered Allen’s Garages near my house was empty and available in March 2011 but didn’t get a lease and into business as Poppyland Brewery until June 2012.

Some of Poppyland’s diverse output in 2015, together with a couple of books in which the brewery has appeared.

Out of all the beers you brew, which is your favourite? Why is that?   I try to keep exploring just what beer can be but I and my customers just love Poppyland East Coast IPA, so I have brewed it more times than any other. It’s given me the opportunity to refine it with each brew.

Where did you learn to brew?   By chance I called in at the Iceni Brewery while I was working in museums, to buy a corking machine from Brendan Moore. I told him of my ambition to enter microbrewing at the premium end of the range and he took me under his wing. He’s been a mentor, a teacher and supplier of equipment and he encouraged me to visit brewers in Norfolk and Italy before I got going and he also lent me his brewery and some equipment at the start too.
I have read a lot of books and surfed the net and did the Brewlab ‘Start Up Brewing 3 day course in 2010 (before I left museums) but I really learned most from brewing initially with Brendan Moore at Elveden and then doing the odd day here and there with other brewers such as Craig Fermoy at Humpty Dumpty (some bottling); a week long study visit with Steve Dawson at White Dog near Modena, Italy; Angelo Scarnera at Brew Wharf (a collab), John Bates at Ole Slewfoot (another collab) and more recently a two-way collab with David Holliday at Norfolk Brewhouse. We haven’t brewed yet but Steve Saldana at Bexar County Brewery has also been very supportive of the direction I am travelling. He likes to stray off the beaten path too and passes on many tips or encourages me to stick with it.

What is the hardest thing to master when learning to brew?   Keeping the yeast happy and keeping other bugs at bay whilst playing around with souring beers and adding fruit and flowers into the beer. As Wright Hollingsworth at Voss Bryggeri said to me recently, “As well as being a brewer it you need to be a plumber, an electrician and it helps if you are a microbiologist.”

Have you always been a brewer or did you do different jobs before this?   I first brewed in my mother’s bucket in 1970 but I am a geologist and I’ve had a very enjoyable career in museums from 1976 to 2010.

Where do you see, or hope to see, the brewery in 5 years time?  I’ll probably be properly retired, if my wife has anything to do with it.

Thank you to Martin and Poppyland Brewery for taking the time to take part.

You can view and buy beers from Poppyland Brewery here.