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How I Created … Windsor & Eton Republika

Windsor & Eton Republika
by Paddy Johnson

The very first thing I’d like to say is … I didn’t make Republika by myself. This beer is very much a team effort as I hope the following notes reveal. In one way though, the story of Republika begins with my own brewing background.

Paddy JohnsonI joined the brewing industry in 1979 and I've worked at eight different brewing sites in the UK, from Manchester to Newcastle and Bristol to London, with another four in between.

Most of these breweries produced very good cask ales but some were also predominantly lager breweries. I was heavily involved in the production of international lagers under strict ‘franchise brewing’ disciplines.

Now whilst most of these lagers were very ordinary, some were very good and, along with my passion for cask ales, I developed a real thirst for excellent lager.

There are days when only a cold lager straight from the fridge will hit the spot and, if it’s a really good lager, then it’s not a quick fix but the start of a great drinking occasion. So, a long built-up love for the best techniques and the resultant lagers is heavily ingrained.

A Beautiful Thing

Windsor & Eton brewed its first beers in 2010. Naturally, for a small start-up craft brewery, we began with cask beers. These sold well and became popular with the public, many of whom visited the brewery for tours and beer tastings.

Usually, these ended with much back slapping at the excellence of the beers but, occasionally, someone would say something like: 'You must love not having to brew that bland lager muck anymore'. They were always surprised when I made it clear that lager is a beautiful thing: it just needs to be done right. By no means is all lager either bland or 'muck'.

From the very earliest days at Windsor & Eton we have had a friend called Mila who helps out at the brewery in his spare time. Mila is Czech and has a high-level job in mobile telecommunications but also a passion for craft brewing. One day he wants to open his own brewery in Prague.

Mila shares our love for cask beer but he also has the occasional need for a great lager ‘hit’. Following one of our evening tours, he asked me casually if I thought we’d ever brew our own lager and was surprised to hear me say: 'Of course, but we only get one really good shot at this so it has to be bang on from day one'. The die was cast. All we had to do was find a way to make the lager from day one.

Simultaneously, we both set to work. I consulted all my old brewing notes from long-forgotten exam courses and previous brewery records. I tried to drag details from old colleagues, many of whom had left the industry years before and some of whom had worked on the Continent.

Meanwhile, Mila came back from an extensive trip around the breweries of Prague with a car-load of sample bottles for us to try – every style and strength of lager imaginable.
Along with Will Calvert, one of the partners of our business, we drank, argued, drank, re-sampled, drank, rejected, drank and eventually agreed on the beer style and strength we wanted.

Windsor Eton RepublikaThe beer was to be a clean, pilsner-style lager, just below 5% but with a full crisp flavour in which you can taste the herbal, fresh hops. That was great, but how could we bring this about?

At this point, we decided to invest heavily in some international collaborative brewing. For a whole £29, we flew Tomas Mikulica, head brewer and owner of Pivovarsky Dvur, over from Prague to Luton airport.

A week’s free board and the chance to visit as many London breweries as he wanted were also part of the irresistible package.

Very importantly, Tomas brought with him pressed yeast inside his jacket pocket – genuine Prague lager yeast, just right for the beer we wanted to make.

Now all we had to do was to decide on our process. We’d already agreed to use pilsner lager malt and only Saaz hops. We tried lots of others, but we wanted this to be classic and we always came back to the purity of flavour and aroma from Saaz.

So, with our raw materials settled and our yeast growing up nicely in a culturing vessel, the discussion about process was going to be easy. If only!

Tomas speaks the occasional word of English. Will and I speak absolutely no Czech. Mila was an excellent interpreter but there was a lot to resolve.

Our traditional UK infusion mash was a concern for Tomas. We didn’t want to decoct, not least because the flavours formed were not what we were after in this beer, but Tomas insisted we find a way to have a varied-temperature profile mash. How do you do that in an infusion mash tun?

Jim Morrison, our third partner, is an excellent engineer. Not troubled by the 'can’t be done' response of this brewer, he set about conceiving what we think is a unique process.

He has engineered a way that gently lifts the whole mash temperature up, without the use of additional hot mash liquor, from a protein enzyme start point to full sparge heat, at which point we run off to the copper and commence sparging.

Further details are definitely not available as we believe this is the key to our beer's authenticity and final flavour.

New Raw Material

With the wort in the copper, Tomas – troubled by our stainless steel vessel – insisted on introducing a new raw material for us, namely copper piping. Consequently, every brew of Republika has a few sawn-off pipes of copper added to our copper.

Windsor Eton RepublikaNext we agreed on a very cold slow fermentation using our Prague yeast. We allow three weeks of fermentation before we 'box-up' to allow the beer to build up its own natural carbonation.

At the same time, we dry hop with further batches of Saaz to give a fresh, grassy aroma. And then we wait.

Lagering takes a whole six weeks: nothing rushed, nothing compromised. If it’s good enough for the very best lagers in the world, it’s good enough for us.

Finally our beer is packaged. The beer is not pasteurised. These are subtle flavours that we’ve waited a long time to capture and we don't want them to show any sign of a cooked note.

Bob, the fourth partner in our team, is our marketing man and he designed the branding. The name Republika and the ‘two-tailed lion' on the badge reflect the Prague heritage of this beer and the collaboration that has gone into it.

We’re very pleased with this beer. In its short history, it has won gold medals and countless plaudits from beer writers, and been featured in 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die.

But the best accolade is from Tomas whom we have visited in Prague several times and who always asks with a grin: 'Have you brought some Republika with you?'

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