Meet the Makers: Charlie Wood and George Stagg

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After years of talking about it and a trip to Belgium to visit their favourite Lambic producers, Charlie Wood and George Stagg finally decided to take the plunge and start up their own brewing venture in Hertfordshire, UK.

Charlie and George spend their days producing 100% spontaneously fermented beers aged in traditional vessels such as oak barrels. Many of the same techniques, methods and concepts behind wine/cider/perry production are also found in their unique processes. Crossover Blendery sources ingredients as close to their Blendery as possible and work with farmers and growers directly to create a truly seasonal and local beer. Each beer they make is of that year and season and it cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.

We sat down with George Stagg to ask him a few questions about his venture and how he got into the trade.

What inspired you to start your own brewery?
Our passion for beer has, for a long time now, been centred around spontaneously fermented beers. A spontaneously fermented beer is one that has had no yeast or bacteria added to it at any point during the process of its creation. It is a totally natural product that utilises native microbes for fermentation. This is mostly found in the Lambic producers of Belgium, but lately also in the US and other small producers around the world. To us, these beers are unrivalled in flavour and complexity.
To clarify we don’t own a brewery. The wort (unfermented beer) is brewed offsite and then transported to our Blendery where it is racked straight into oak barrels for fermentation and maturation. In Belgium, a blendery (or ‘geuzestekerij’) does not brew the beer itself but instead receives wort (unfermented beer) from a range of breweries. The beer is then aged/fruited/blended/bottled by the blendery to sell on. This model works very well for us. 

Any type of formal training in brewing? If not, how did you learn the craft?
No formal training. Spontaneously fermented beers are very rare in the UK, so there are few options in terms of gaining practical experience. Instead, we researched, travelled, and spoke to anyone we could who produce these types of beers. Most brewers are transparent and very open to talking about their methods and processes. We have received some pretty crucial advice over the last few years. 

Have you ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
Not yet (touch wood). We have no control over fermentation due to its natural occurrence therefore many off-flavours arise during the course of our beers life in barrels. But with these beers taking years to make, the unattractive characteristic has time to diminish and, hopefully, disappear. This is not to say they don’t remain, and with these types of beers, you should factor in a % dump rate each year.

If you could sit down with anyone (living or dead) and have a beer, who would it be and why?
Our first taste of lambic was when a friend’s father gave it to us 15 years ago. The brewery that made that lambic remains one of our favourites today – Cantillon. They have a rich brewing history that nearly came to an end as lambic fell out of fashion in the 1970s. Jean-Pierre Van Roy was the 3rd generation of the family to take charge of Cantillon and, at that time, had to fight to keep the business afloat and the tradition of lambic alive. We would love to have a beer with him.

 Any advice for aspiring future pro brewers out there?
Reach out to as many people as you can – the industry is incredibly welcoming and there are some very talented folks out there who will give you their time.

Can you tell us an interesting thing about your brewing process?
After the wort has been boiled in the kettle (and spent a brief stint in the hopback), it is turned out onto two 4000 litre copper cooling trays (or ‘coolships’). Imagine two very shallow swimming pools. It remains there overnight and is taken off the trays once the temperature of the wort has decreased to around 15-20 degrees celsius. The time spent in these coolships is very important because the wort is exposed to the natural microflora present in the brewery. We do not pitch any yeast or bacteria to our beer, so it is at this vital stage the wort is inoculated by wild microbes.

What is the dream end goal for Crossover Blendery?
Hard to think that far ahead. We are very early in our journey and ultimately we want to produce delicious beers we are proud of. We are both very critical so this, combined with the fact it takes years to make these beers, means we are probably quite a long way off.

 A more immediate goal is a tasting room. We are based on a beautiful farm in rural Hertfordshire. It’s the perfect setting to have these beers and relax. We hope to open something soon.

What is your go-to recipe – whether to impress friends or simply share with the family on a weeknight?
Our go-to recipe is traditional spaghetti carbonara.

You will need:

  • 350g of spaghetti
  • 150g of chopped smoked pancetta lardons, or bacon
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 50g of Pecorino Romano, grated plus extra for serving
  • 1 dash of olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put the egg yolks into a bowl, finely grate in the Parmesan, season with pepper, then mix well with a fork and put to one side.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente.
  3. In a pan with olive oil, add the pancetta and cook until it starts to crisp up.
  4. Reserving some of the cooking water, drain and add the spaghetti. Toss well over the heat so it really soaks up all that lovely flavour, then remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Add a splash of the cooking water and toss well, season with pepper, then pour in the egg mixture – the pan will help to cook the egg gently, rather than scrambling it. Toss well, adding more cooking water until it’s lovely and glossy.
  6. Serve with a grating of Parmesan and an extra twist of pepper.

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