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How Bang The Elephant are making waves in beer

“So I said to Shippo – I’ve got a great idea!” That was Nigel Patton talking to his mate Michael Shipman a little over four years ago and the seeds for Bang The Elephant Brewing Company were sown.

It would be wrong to call Bang The Elephant one of the fastest-growing of Derbyshire’s small breweries, because the pandemic has slowed many companies’ growth in the last couple of years but it would be right to say that these two are making waves.

The difficulties they have faced in the last two years have not stopped their reputation for high quality, quirky beers from growing and they are destined to make the company a full-time operation. For now, Shippo and Nigel remain Toyota production line workers, having met there a decade ago.

“That’s how we got to know each other, talking about our love for craft beer. Gamma Ray (the American pale ale brewed by Beavertown) was the beer of choice for us back then,” says Nigel. “In early 2017, I had an outbuilding available at the back of my house and I fancied making a home brew room. That’s when I said to Shippo: ‘I‘ve got a great idea…’”

Like Bentley Brook Brewery, which featured here a fortnight ago, they started with a Grainfather, one of the smallest pieces of kit which allows fledgling brewers to do the job properly, rather than with a kit. These can be picked up for around £450 secondhand and they are a terrific starting point. The Grainfather is so small that they had to brew twice to come up with one full nine-gallon cask to send to their first beer festival, in Newark, but it went down well and they knew they were on to something.

Within the first year, they rented out the available brewing kit at Mr Grundy’s in Derby and spent a year and a half stepping up their game. They were also helped by – and they highly recommend – A Place To Brew, in Daybrook, Nottingham, where aspiring brewers can rent out kit, get advice and have a go.

But things really started to move when they got to know Simon King, of Abstract Jungle brewery at Langley Mill. Simon was looking to take a step back, he had a ready-made brewery which he wanted to sell and he was happy to help them settle in.

“We call him the Godfather. He knows everyone,” says Nigel. “We got shown what to do by someone with 20 years’ experience. Commercial brewing is a different world and it was only when we came in here that we realised we were still home brewers, really. We spent three months brewing with Simon and you find that everyone’s got a way of doing things and everyone’s right. What you do then is cherry-pick all the information and work out what’s best for you.”

What’s best for them is brewing niche beers and experimenting, although they are not averse to brewing a more commercially friendly brew. It’s all about balance.

“We don’t brew enough to have a core range and if we’ve made a name for ourselves for anything, it’s for the quirkier beers. We’ve found a niche with those,” says Nigel.

Distinctive artwork and Victorian-themed names characterise Bang The Elephant's approach.
Distinctive artwork and Victorian-themed names characterise Bang The Elephant’s approach.

“That said, nothing pays the bills quite like a 4.5% pale ale does. You have to strike the balance if you want to do this full-time. It’s a Catch-22. We need to brew more to go full-time. We need to be full-time to brew more.”

It was October, 2019, when they spread their wings at Langley Mill, on the Bailey Brook industrial estate, behind the cricket ground. Little were they to know it was just before the pandemic.

“Things went downhill rapidly. Our end game is to do this full-time, but Covid has put us back a year and a half,” says Nigel.

They are undeterred though. They would like to get another unit as a cask store and future plans will include a tap room. One of the reasons they need more room is that one of their specialities is to mature beer in wooden casks, some bourbon, some sherry, some whisky.

The brewery is full of them and a couple are 500-litre monsters. They are great for letting the flavours infuse a beer to create something unique. I was treated to a small sample of a barley wine blended with their very popular Hobi-wan-kenobi imperial stout, which sells out rapidly every time they brew it.

The original beer comes in at a powerful 11.6% but the blend is 12% and is currently spending time in one of the casks. What I tasted was utterly wonderful. You would sip a half of it carefully and savour every drop.

Whatever the knack is to getting it just right, Shippo and Nigel have it. They have a knack for marketing, too. The name itself raises eyebrows, as does the artwork they use.

“Bang up to the elephant” is a Victorian phrase meaning perfect or beyond compare and the lads have incorporated a number of other Victorian phrases into beer names. It’s clever and memorable.

Nicely positioned between Nottingham and Derby, they send beers into both cities and points in between. You’ll find Bang The Elephant beers regularly at the thriving Sawley Junction micropub near Long Eaton railway station and, in Derby, at the Alexandra: “Ralf at the Alex has everything we do!” says Nigel. Ralf at the Alex has good taste. Whether or not this is the first time you’ve head of Bang The Elephant, I am pretty sure you’re going to hear a lot more.

Enjoyed reading this article? You can find more of beerhunter Colston Crawford’s columns here.