Spotlight: Paul Hurley the head brewer at the Liberation Brewery in Jersey

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When I think of Jersey aside from many fond memories of childhood family holidays of the past plenty of other things spring to mind.  A small island with a lot going on both now and throughout the course of it’s fairly turbulent past which of course included a stint under German occupation during the war.  They produce great food possibly best known are the Jersey Royal potatoes but they are also famous for a variety of excellent fresh seafood.

A great place to visit not only in summer where they enjoy some pretty fine weather but also throughout the winter months where you can wrap up warm for invigorating walks taking in that good old sea air, before retreating to a fireside spot for a pub meal, is an experience that is hard to match.  It’s easy to get to from lots of UK airports too.

One thing that I was not aware of until recently though was that the island is home to the Liberation Brewery.  The Liberation Brewery is steeped in history and in one form or another, has been a traditional ingredient of Channel Islands’ life since Queen Victoria was on the throne, and they have not stopped brewing even during the First World War and the German Occupation.  The success of the beers continues to rise and they have not only won numerous awards but their range is now available beyond the shores of the Channel Islands.

Jersey was liberated from German rule of 9 May 1945 and every year on that date the island celebrates with a ‘national’ holiday.  The Liberation Brewery flagship cask ale, Liberation Ale, honours that special day and in 2015 the brewery produced a special bottle label and other merchandise to celebrate 70 years of freedom. 

Another favourite produced by the Liberation Group is Mary Ann Best, a dark bitter ale that has been brewed in the Island for more than 130 years.

Liberation Brewery’s other beers – Herm Island Gold, Liberation Blonde, Ambrée, Noire, Blonde, Rouge, Liberation IPA, Mary Ann Special, Bailiwick Best, Premium Pony and Christmas Ale – are available at selected Liberation Group pubs, bars and eateries and in free houses and many hotel bars across Jersey and Guernsey.

I recently caught up with Paul Hurley, the head brewer at the Liberation group to find out a little more about their ale’s and island life…

What makes Jersey ale so good? Best ingredients, Maris Otter malt and choicest hops, local water and a dedicated  team of seven with over 160 years’ experience between them. We also try to use local ingredients in some beers when we get the opportunity. For example, local honey was used in a Blonde beer. We use a chocolate produced locally in our Liberation Noire and have plans to do a brew with locally collected wild hops. All the beers have a distinct character imparted from the yeast and local water which taps into an aquifer believed to originate in Europe. Probably our most recognised beer using a local ingredient is our Liberation Christmas Ale as this uses traditional pudding ingredients and Jersey Black Butter – a local smooth, chutney made from local cider apples and spices which is produced annually.

What is your most popular brew? In cask Liberation Ale- light , golden with a sweet floral hop and a rounded maltiness.  This beer won the Gold medal at the International Brewing Awards in consecutive competitions in 2011 and 2013 and has become synonymous with the Islands in recent years. In keg Mary Ann Best Bitter – a dark, smooth ale with pronounced chocolate and coffee notes has been produced in various forms for more than 80 years. Also a multi-award winning beer

How are the names selected? The cask range all have a preface of Liberation and either French names for the seasonals (Ambree, Noire, Rouge) or a reference to the type of beer or theme it is associated with eg IPA, Sin Bin, EPA, Christmas etc  . This will also be the way we are looking to go for our keg beers in the future eg Liberation Blonde Lager, Liberation Best etc. Once the event/commemoration has been decided a group of us discuss the most suitable name – thus for specific Rugby tournaments we have had Sin Bin and Flying Ruck. We do a beer, originally exclusive to one pub on Herm, called Herm Island Gold which we have since added to our bottle range. We are also well placed if a specific event happens to have something in production at relatively short notice

Which foods best accompany the ales? The Islands are blessed with fantastic seafood, Jersey Royals and Jersey dairy products as well as an abundance of local fruit/veg. We have done a number of beer/food matchings including the Michelin starred Bohemia restaurant in Jersey and working with various chefs have found the following.  Liberation Ale goes best with seafood, salads, pasta but also with crumbly cheeses.  Liberation IPA – spicy food in general but surprisingly was used to make a sauce with capers to accompany local Sea Bass and was a perfect marriage.   Best Bitter – dessert dishes and mature Cheddar – but also as the main stock for stews. The food evenings, including the Old Court House in Jersey, and L’Auberge in Guernsey have proven extremely popular and give an opportunity for our brewers to talk about all the beers but also spend time with chefs getting the perfect food matches

Are you currently working on anything new? We have a whole range of beers planned for this year having replaced the smaller of our two Breweries.  Liberation Easter Sunrise, Liberation 145 – to celebrate our 145th year of continuous brewing, a cask Lager Pilsener Gold for the Euros, King of the Mountains for the Tour de France, Puffin Ale for 40th Anniversary of National trust in Jersey, Liberation Flame for the Olympics, a Ruby Ale for 40th Anniversary of Local CAMRA branch. We have lots in the pipeline and as you see we work to promote and benefit local causes. The brews we look to produce are innovative and frequently we have used new and experimental hops, and unique blends of malts. The installation of a new 10 barrel Brewery has enabled us to be more flexible

If we came to Jersey for a weekend which one unmissable thing would you recommend we do?  So many. Visit Durrell Wildlife – a Conservation park for endangered species originally conceived by Gerald Durrell . Visit either of two castles , Elizabeth and Mont Orguiel, or the Neolithic burial site at Hougue Bie or any of the Second World War tunnels/bunkers – The Islands were the only part of Britain occupied during the war.  Explore the North Coast or the various beaches and seafood restaurants. The Restaurants and , indeed , pubs in Jersey have a fantastic reputation and most use a whole range of local products, including our beers, to produce sensational food

What’s the best month to visit Jersey? Anytime in the Summer is perfect but also September (CAMRA beer Festival)/October are superb). There is always something going on throughout the year and this one is no exception. The Island is especially busy during August when the Battle of Flowers takes place. The Islands are very good for cycling (15mph Green lanes) and walking.

If you are interested in Jersey and want to find out more, visit here – a bespoke ‘Escape to Jersey’ hub that introduces you to local legends, shares ‘insider’ secrets and immerses you in the island’s key winter-time delights including its relaxing spas, stunning scenery, and first-class winter produce and cuisine.

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