Take a sip of your pint, settle down in a settle, and catch conversations from corners of pubs. That’s how legends begin.
In Suffolk’s foggy past, tall tales whispered in Walberswick’s inns spawned stories of ghostly ships sailing the shore. The seeds were likely sown by smugglers trying to keep people away from their nefarious evening activities, but everybody loves a legend and those rumours ripple on.
We think it’s a strange coincidence that the first chapter in the legend of Ghost Ship was written in conversations and observations in pubs along the Suffolk Coast.
When we asked Production Director, Fergus Fitzgerald to regale us with the legend of Ghost Ship, it turns out it’s a tale of opportune moments and chance meetings by pub firesides – all quite fitting for a beer that conjures up images of sheltering in haunted hostelries.
“In 2010 the brewing team was asked to make a seasonal beer for Halloween. There were rumours of an old bottle of Deathly Pale Ale in Southwold’s Red Lion and originally, the idea was to make something that resembled it. It had been spotted on a visit and we thought it was a good starting point for the project,” he said.
Deathly Pale Ale never really existed… Sounds eerie, but in fact, it’s the tale of a beer that didn’t make it out of the crate. It was brewed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Adnams family involvement with the Sole Bay Brewery and rather than simply name it Centenary Ale, they went with Deathly Pale and the label featured a skull and crossbones. On delivery, they thought better of it, as it looked a bit like poison, but a few hand-labelled bottles vanished from the brewery, and one ended up in the pub down the road.
“So, we planned to make it pale. There was even talk of resurrecting the skull and crossbones, but it hit the same barriers it encountered back in the 70s,” laughed Fergus.
The creative was reimagined and we became inspired by smugglers, shipwrecks and the ghost stories told in around our seaside home; but Deathly Pale still maintains legendary status among the beer label collecting community.
Earlier that year, Fergus had visited The Anchor, Walberswick for an evening of hop talk and hospitality with proprietor, Mark Dorber. He was hosting Brooklyn Brewery’s Brewmaster, Garratt Oliver and the team from brewing ingredient suppliers, Brewers Select Group, and they invited him over to have a few beers.
“Talk turned to hops and there was considerable enthusiasm around the table for a new American variety called Citra. It was clear it was tasting great. Ian Ward of BSG promised me a sample, which duly arrived. They were right, it was, and we said the next time we got the opportunity to use it, we would.
“When it came to brewing, we didn’t do any trials as it was only going to be a seasonal beer. We simply built the recipe around Citra and just went for it.
Ghost Ship arrived in a crash of waves, and the response was amazing. Who’d have thought that Gyle 281, bubbling away in fermenting vessel 27 would have taken us on such a journey. It sailed down the racking line on 15 September 2010 and was shipped out to pubs ahead of Halloween.
“It went so well we made plans to bring it back in 2011. It was due to run from May to November, but we barely made it to Halloween before we ran out of hops. That was a real indication of just how well it went. In 2012 it came back again (along with a fresh crop of Citra), and this time it was permanent. We’re much better at forecasting now."
“When we select our hops, we’re looking for that same lemon and lime flavour and a slight hint of elderflower we loved back then. People’s preferences were changing and with Ghost Ship we just seemed to get the timing right. It all just came together.”
What’s great is it has been a customer-led story. Demand brought it back after the first outing and its fans have kept it there ever since. How many legendary stories begin with a pint - taking the chance to relax, share ideas and make spontaneous plans?