The Ship’s come in for Peter’s beer

Peter Austin (left) with Alan Pugsley

Peter Austin (left) with Alan Pugsley - Credit: Archant

A superb beer with roots in both Britain and the United States is available in Morrisons and selected branches of Tesco. Shipyard IPA is brewed in Portland, Maine, in the USA, but the inspiration – down to the yeast culture and hops used – is firmly British.

Peter Austin is not a household name but he was a key figure in world brewing. He died last month, aged 92, having built craft breweries in Britain and in several other countries. If he’d worked in the wine industry he would have been given a knighthood but as he was a humble brewer he received no recognition from the establishment.

I first encountered Peter in 1978 when I went to inspect something new in beer: a micro-brewery. Peter, who had worked for several large beer-makers, had opened his own small brewery in a former bakery in Ringwood in Hampshire. At the time, brewing in Britain was dominated by six giant national groups that were intent on foisting fizzy, bland keg beers and lagers on the drinking public.

Ringwood, with its Best Bitter, Fortyniner, XXXX Porter and Old Thumper, proved that beer could be rich in flavour and character. The brewery was such a success that Peter was forced to move into much larger premises in Ringwood and started to supply pubs throughout the South-west and further afield.

When he eventually sold the brewery to his business partners, he went on walkabout, acting as an adviser, consultant and builder to aspiring new brewers. He was instrumental in helping to set up some 40 new breweries in Britain at the rate of one every three months. He was rightly dubbed “the father of micro-brewing”.

But he didn’t confine his activities to this country. His nickname was “Austin Rover” and he set up breweries in such unlikely outposts as China, France, Nigeria and Russia. His biggest impact was in the USA, where drinkers were crying out for good beer in a country dominated by insipid lagers. Around 74 breweries in the USA have been built, using his system – and one of them is the Shipyard Brewing Co in Portland, Maine.

It’s run by an ex-pat, Alan Pugsley. Alan picked up the brewing skills, working with Peter Austin at Ringwood. He then moved to the U.S. where he opened Shipyard and brewed, with Peter’s blessing, Old Thumper under licence. He even supplied Shipyard with a sample of the Ringwood yeast culture in order that the beer would have an authentic flavour.

Most Read

Today all the Shipyard beers are made with the Ringwood yeast, including IPA. As regular readers will know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a style first brewed in Britain for export to India in the 19th Century. It’s been revived with great enthusiasm by brewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many modern American IPAs are massively hopped and have a big citrus/grapefruit character from locally grown varieties. Alan Pugsley’s interpretation is truer to the English style. He imports the English hop Fuggle, which imparts an earthy, spicy and pine note to the beer. The grains are pale, crystal and wheat malts that combine to give a biscuit, nuts and creamy character to the beer. Malts and hops are underscored by the distinctive orange fruit note from the Ringwood yeast.

Try a Shipyard IPA from Morrisons or Tesco at around £1.79 a bottle or sample a draught beer from Ringwood. Then raise a glass to the memory and remarkable achievements of Peter Austin, the beer lovers’ friend.