VISITORS to the Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst have been raising a glass to a rejuvenated brand of New Forest beer created in its microbrewery.
Henry Wilson, son of hotel owners Chris and Alison, is marketing his first American-style pale ale as an HPA – or Henry’s Pale Ale – under the Smokin’ Deer marque.
Developed at Brockenhurst Brewery, based at the rear of the hotel, the HPA will be sold exclusively at Balmer Lawn, which features a new front terrace bar and pizza oven overlooking the cricket pitch.
Henry (22) had originally planned to spend this year cycling across the US but when the coronavirus lockdown put paid to that he rolled up his sleeves to help his parents improve the hotel, including laying a new patio area.
He explored brewing as a potential side business and enlisted local experienced hobby brewer Will Millard for guidance. Now Henry has completed a 300-litre batch of a fruity and herbal flavour, with undertones of grapefruit and lychee.
Henry feels it fulfills one of his main ambitions of creating a tipple which both beer lovers and occasional drinkers will enjoy. He plans to refine the process and also produce a lager and seasonal offerings, such as a Christmas speciality and an IPA.
“I’ve had a couple of really nice compliments – one of them from a lady who said she doesn’t often sample beer but really liked the easy-going taste, and asked for another glass,”
Henry said. “I’m not about creating a strong, dark beer that someone can sit in a dark corner and have 10 of at once. I think people don’t want a really strong beer, they want to have something they can enjoy, that doesn’t make them feel too full or heavy.
“Hopefully that way they won’t feel too full to try some of our lovely food here out of the new pizza oven – and also have some more beer!”
The Smokin’ Deer brand was created by Henry’s father Chris and a business partner. But they parted ways and others tried to make a go of the brewery before Henry and Will teamed up.
Brewed using Maris Otter barley, Munich malt and oats, the mixture combines to produce a golden glow and initial sweet malt flavour. The HPA batch took an initial 14 hours before going into the fermenter for four to five days.
During that time Henry monitored its levels of sugar and measured its alcoholic content, then chilled and casked it for two weeks as part of its secondary fermentation process, before finally selling it over the bar.
Having developed his brewing skill, the first batch contains less hangover-causing additives, and is clearer and tastier.
Smokin’ Deer already has a sizeable following on which Henry intends to build, and he believes there is an appetite for local artisan beers reflecting the New Forest’s heritage.
So far it has appealed especially to staycationers and locals underwhelmed by generic lagers produced by multi-national corporations, said Henry.
“There’s a lot more craft involved in this and it’s nice that it’s a locally produced thing. When customers find out it’s produced here they’ve had a lot more questions about that and like speaking with someone who’s knowledgeable about the product,” he continued.
“People have seemed really interested in how it’s been made, and it’s much more enjoyable for them to taste and for me to sell.
“Customers like the fact it’s local, it’s made at the hotel and is a reflection of the New Forest. They know Smokin’ Deer and have found the HPA nice and easy to drink.”
Henry’s parents have owned the Balmer Lawn Hotel since 1997. He grew up in the area before studying environmental science at York University.
“Having been in laboratories at uni and involved in chemical processes, the brewing hasn’t been such a jump at all, really. It’s been quite a good fit for what I’m used to,” Henry said.
“Since I’ve come back to the hotel, the brewing has been the most enjoyable part of it. It’s given me an opportunity to make it my own thing and it’s an opportunity that most people would not get, so I want to make the most of it.”
While Henry plans to build the brewery brand, he also wants to do some travelling and has his sights set on a career in London, so in time would like to hand over the brewing.
He said: “I want to build something that when I leave the hotel the beer and the brewing will have taken off and I can leave it in a place where anyone can come in and take it over and keep it going.”