From their brewhouse in rural Suffolk, the team at Burnt Mill have spent the past four years building up a reputation for outstanding beer. In this time, they’ve released over 120 beers and collaborated with some of the most recognisable names in both UK and US craft brewing, including heavyweights like Finback and Cloudwater.
The beginnings of Burnt Mill…
Despite entering the beer world, “probably somewhat naively,” as founder Charles O’Reilly puts it over a Zoom call in March, the tight-knit team has kept to a mission of “quietly brewing” the best quality beer that they can. From the sounds of things, the early days were a little, well, chaotic.
Charles describes sales trips to cities, shouldering a rucksack of ice packs and samples pulled fresh from the tanks, occasionally shared with opportunists from whom he never heard from again. With no means of distribution, it was also on Charles to act as a delivery driver, and in those formative months, he could be found hauling up to 500 kilos of beer around in his car, while dispatching to those all-important first customers. Try not to think about the petrol that required…
Once the team found their feet and could ensure that their keg offering was of the highest quality, they expanded into cans, and so began Burnt Mill as we know them today.
“We started doing cans and we struggled to keep up from that point on,” quips Charles, with a nod to the relentless pace of the craft calendar. From here, Burnt Mill’s understated-yet-spectacular identity blossomed, embodied by the memorable artwork of their cans, and the beers’ perfect drinkability.
“It worked out in the end, but it definitely took longer than we thought. We ended up working with a lot of the people we always dreamt of working with too. It’s really nice to be among a group of peers who we’ve looked up to for so long. I used to homebrew and give my bottles to Evin (founder of The Kernel Brewery) to try. He was… encouraging.”
Though the UK craft beer landscape has changed dramatically over the past four years (not even accounting for the effects of the pandemic), Burnt Mill haven’t felt pressure to do anything artificial to stand out. Their identity is a natural result of their commitment to quality, which enables them to capture a drinker’s attention in an organic way. When they began to brew, it was the height of the hazy beer craze, and many were surprised by their focus on clearer, bitter offerings,
“People used to ask us, ‘Do you hate hazy beers, then?’, but the truth is we just hadn’t got round to brewing one yet,” recalls Charles.
“The beers themselves will always stand out, because of the quality, but also having such strong artwork tends to intrigue the purchaser,” adds Sophie de Ronde, Burnt Mill’s Head Brewer, and we’re inclined to agree.
Burnt Mill’s array of cascading waterfalls, star-strewn skies and idyllic mountain ranges reflect the refreshing and intriguing nature of the beers in a way that’s clearly different to a vibrant and busy crowd of attractive cans.
While speaking of the changing beer world, we ask if Sophie, a founder of the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day event, had noticed a change in attitudes towards women looking to begin brewing careers:
“Of course, you still hear the odd story about women interviewing for brewing roles being asked if they could lift a bag of grain by themselves. That is, despite the fact no one should be lifting 25-kilo sacks on their own, in terms of health and safety. However, on the whole, I feel that there are more women believing that they can do it, and most breweries don’t seem to be fussed or biased about who they employ in terms of gender, as long as they’re good at their job.”
“I’ve always been fairly gung-ho, but I’ve spoken to women who have said if you asked them five or ten years ago, would have loved to get into the brewing side, but didn’t believe that they could and ended up in another aspect of the industry, such as marketing. I think that this is changing now,” she continues.
Charles also describes Burnt Mill’s approach,
“We’ve always had it in mind that if someone’s a nice person they can come work with us. You can train someone to brew, but you can’t train them to be nice.”
This inclusive attitude even permeates through to Burnt Mill’s beer-naming process, ensuring that there’s nothing to prevent a curious drinker to be deterred from ordering their beer.
“I used to regularly drink at the Earl of Essex and look at their big menu on the wall and think if I could see our beer’s name up there and consider whether I’d feel comfortable ordering it at the bar,” explains Charles.
While keeping things simple and accessible, these names also nod to the brewery’s foundations, with long-time staples such as Pintle and Green Path taking their names from a piece of windmill (which you’ll find by their brewery) and one of the many neighbouring fields, respectively.
Picking out names has also helped Burnt Mill hone their craft. Charles tells us of his decision to name a new beer ‘Fieldwork’ only to discover, through Untappd, the Californian brewery of the same name; regarded as masters of the West Coast IPA. Fast-forward a year or so, and there the two breweries were, putting their finishing touches to the collab beer Dank Mode, the kind of crisp, resinous Double IPA that we’ve now come to expect from the Suffolk brewers.
Burnt Mill’s secrets, signatures, and stouts to come…
West Coast IPA, the clearer bitter and piney yin to the New England IPA’s thicker, tropical and hazy yang, is a signature style for Burnt Mill, and when asked if they’d share the secret behind their success with this type of beer, Sophie points to two key factors: classic hops and water profile. The hops used are usually Citra, Cascade, Centennial and Chinook (all the C’s), and similar varieties, although there’s often room for a little bit of experimentation, too. Meanwhile, the brewers are often tweaking the mineral make-up of the water used to achieve the crisp mouthfeel that we expect of this beloved style,
“Getting the balance right will either emphasise the soft notes and mouthfeel of the malts or the crisp bitterness of the hops,” explains Sophie.
The overall dedication to excellence is apparent with the latest arrivals at HonestBrew. Great Thaw, a collab with Lost & Grounded, adds a sprinkling of less-conventional El Dorado hops alongside Chinook and Cascade for a classic, dry and crisp homage to West Coast classics. Over on the hazy side of IPA, Gardens of Green Double IPA II is an extravaganza of tropical tones, combining the Enigma, Moutere, Galaxy, Idaho-7, Talus, Sabro, Citra and Strata that have featured across their dual-hop series for one final flourish. If you’re looking to see what Burnt Mill are all about, these are two really strong examples that are well worth a try.
As for future beers, there’s something dark and delightful resting in barrels for towards the end of the year, but our conversation turns to gluten-free beer, and a perhaps over-excited interviewer proposes adding a stout to their range of paler options, to which Charles responds diplomatically,
“We only brew about four dark beers a year, so we’ve never thought about it — but it’s possible!”
Maybe we’ve sown the seeds for a delicious dark gluten-free beer somewhere down the line…