Salopian Brewery, Oracle
If you're a true Shropshire lad or lass then you're a "Salopian".
The Normans found it difficult to pronounce Scrobbesbyrigscir (old English for Shrewsburyshire) so started calling it "Salopesberia". Because that’s much easier to say.
An abbreviation of that, "Salop" stuck until 1972 when Salop County Council decided they didn't like the name (partly because if you add the letter 'e' and make it Salope, it translates in French to 'Loose Woman') and changed it to "Shropshire".
Former chef, Martin Barry, set up Salopian Brewery in 1995 in the county town of Shrewsbury. He brought the brewing equipment from the old Snowdonia Brewery over the Welsh border (the brewery's casks are still painted in Welsh colours) and launched what was then the second smallest brewery (not attached to a pub) in the country.
They started churning out some of the best, and at the time, obscurest beers on the market.
Whilst they gained a solid reputation amongst a small band of beer geeks, the brewery was struggling. Step up Wilf Nelson, who is still MD today. He joined the brewery in 1998 and put them on a firmer footing, insisting on a more traditional range of beers, developing a new yeast strain (essential for consistency) whilst rebuilding and modernizing the brewery, quadrupling its output capacity.
Until a rebrand a few months ago, Salopian's beers weren’t much to look at, but we'll put our neck on the line by saying it's one of the best core ranges of traditional beers we've ever tasted.
Beers like Shropshire Gold, Darwin’s Origin (named after Shrewsbury's most famous son) and Lemon Dream are all wonderfully balanced, distinctly British, consistently good golden ales.
Oracle came about because of the employment of a new member of staff and a trip to a local pub. Jake Douglas joined the brewery in early 2008 having spent a decade at a brewery synonymous with hoppy beers; a promise was made early on to brew a beer to his taste.
Jake talks us through it. “The intention of the hop character is to be pronounced but not all encompassing, dry but not overly bitter and a tiny hint of sweetness to add body. Its one of the most expensive of the Salopian beers to brew as it relies heavily on US hops.”
Salopian Brewery have been getting back to their roots more recently by getting their craft on again. Beers like Automaton (7% IPA), Vertigo (7.2% Black IPA) and Kashmir (another juicy 5.5% IPA) in sexy 330ml bottles, are all corkers. Jake explains the reason for dabbling with these new beer styles "I hate the term 'craft' but it's important we get out of our comfort zone. The industry has changed a lot in last couple of years and we have to up our game. It's very easy for a small brewery in sleepy Shropshire to be forgotten about". Darwin would almost certainly have agreed.