He's probably only here for the beer
Netheravon In Wiltshire has a new local brewer. His name is Stig Ander Andersen and he has taken over Bunce's Brewery. Now he's making Pigswill, says Michael Jackson
The Vikings never lost their thirst. Earlier this year, Carlsberg swallowed half of Allied Breweries, producers of Tetley's in Yorkshire and Cheshire; now Stig Ander Andersen has left a senior management job at Slotsmollen, of Kolding, Jutland to acquire Bunce's Brewery, producers of Pigswill in Wiltshire. Pigswill is sometimes served in the House of Commons bar, so its future well-being is a matter of national interest.
Stig had seen too many mergers in Denmark, leaving ever-fewer breweries making ever-blander lagers and selling them more and more cheaply "for people to buy at the supermarket, take from the fridge and drink in front of the television.
"It happens in Britain, too, but not so much. In this country, more people go to the pub and have a tasty beer pumped from the cellar. That's how beer should be served. Every British bitter has its own taste; I like that, too. I also like the idea that so many new breweries have started in Britain in the last few years." Stig wanted the freedom to be his own boss, to spend more on ingredients and make beer with a greater character. His chance came when he saw Bunce's advertised for sale in a brewing industry magazine.
"As a child, I had been on holiday in the New Forest with my parents. When I was 16, I came again - to London on a school trip. We tried the beers here. They were very different, but I liked them very much. You should try everything once. If you don't like it the first time, you can always try it again." He came again, this time to Netheravon, on Salisbury Plain, to visit Bunce's Brewery and try the beers in the two local pubs, the Dog and Gun and the Fox and Hounds. When he decided to stay, he found temporary lodgings with the vicar, whose wife is Danish.
Stig's wife, Anna Marie, had just become pregnant after some years of trying, and was uncertain about the upheaval of the move. "It was a bit of a challenge," she said, "but we have that Viking blood to see us through." Her parents, who are from Greenland, shed a tear at the thought of losing her to distant climes. Now she and Stig live on the top floor of a brick tower overlooking a tree-lined meander of the river Avon, with baby daughter Amalie; and Basil the brewery cat, bought as part of the package, which cost £200,000. Their eyrie had already been rendered cosy by a Danish stove, made from cast-iron and fired with wood, and their view includes the village's 12th-century church.
On the next floor down is the malt barn, beneath that the brewhouse and cellar. The kettle (or copper) makes 10 barrels a time. The building, which looks remarkably like a traditional tower brewery, was originally constructed in 1914 as a power station for a nearby military base. On the ground floor were turbines, driven by a channel from the river.
The building had been a silent-movie theatre and a boxing venue before it was bought in 1983 by Tony Bunce, who had just retired as a scientist in the Civil Service.
The building had been a silent-movie theatre and a boxing venue before it was bought in 1983 by Tony Bunce, who had just retired as a scientist in the Civil Service. He and his wife Robin turned it into Bunce's Brewery, and ran it for 10 years before "retiring" for a second time, to a barge in the Netherlands.
The new owner is 34, trained as a brewer and has considerable experience, but had never worked with equipment quite as "Heath Robinson" (his phrase) as at Bunce's. Nor had he made British-style ales before, though the Bunce's showed him how.
He has the skill to know if there is anything technically wrong with a brew, but has he enough experience in the tasting of this type of beer? "No, but I will know if l don't like it - and the customers will soon tell me." Stig has no inclination to tamper with the flagship product, Bunce's Best Bitter. This is light but smooth in body, with a delicious, almost syrupy, malt character, a hearty smack of hoppy dryness in the finish and just over 4 per cent alcohol. It is made from East Anglian malts, with Omega and Goldings hops from the Malvern area of Worcestershire.
"I really like hoppy beers," says Stig. "I like to taste the bitterness. We don't have beers like that in Denmark." Pigswill, originally made for a pub called the Two Pigs, is fractionally lower in alcohol but has only the Geldings hops. It is thus more aromatic, with a more earthy, oily, hop character, and slightly less dry.
The brewery also has a malty, but dry "ordinary bitter" called Benchmark; a winey-tasting dark ale, Old Smokey; and a summertime wheat beer, light and fruity, known as Bunce's Vice (a play on the German Weissbier, which is also made with wheat).
Stig may give a bit more fullness of body to the old ale, and has been disappointed with sales of the Vice. He may add a seasonal Yule Ale, perhaps with a Scandinavian touch, at Christmas time.
He has two assistants in the brew-house and cellar, and Anna Marie uses her computer skills to keep the business on track. A drayman delivers to about 40 regular customers, and there are wholesalers stretching as far north as the Scottish Lowlands.
Some trade customers are slow in paying, and I suspect that offends Stig's Scandinavian sense of propriety, but he has few criticisms of Britain. He can even cope with the lack of rye bread in the Netheravon area. He finds the British friendly, outgoing and individualistic. "We are not that different - I mean, we Danes laugh at Fawlty Towers."
Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: SEPT 4, 1993
In: The Independent
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