Little Earth Project in Suffolk is a producer of historic, farmhouse and sour beers that is set to launch this August. I first became aware of it in February via its Twitter account, which features some seriously stunning beer photography – think black and white shots of oaken barrels struggling to contain the fermenting ale within, and bottles sealed with ruby red wax.
It is essentially the reincarnation of the multi-award-winning Mill Green Brewery, and I was so captivated by the story that I decided to contact brewer and co-owner Tom Norton to find out more. I began by asking him to describe the origins of Little Earth Project, and the vision behind it. “In 2005 my family bought our local pub, The White Horse in Edwardstone in south Suffolk. It had been struggling for some time, but despite being in a village of only 300 people and on a single track road, we saw its potential. It also came with a small outbuilding which we decided to convert into a brewery, and in 2008, Mill Green Brewery was born. My dad John, our family friend Jimmy Robinson and I all co-owned the business; we bought a small, very basic kit comprising of some old Grundy Tanks, and I enrolled on a course at Brewlab. Over the following seven years, we brewed some interesting beers and the pub’s turnover trebled – it had become a destination for beer drinkers who wanted something more challenging than a 3.6% IPA brewed down the road in Bury St Edmunds…”
I have no idea what Tom is referring to here, I really don’t. Moving on.
In the years that followed, British beer enjoyed a renaissance and Mill Green had played a part, albeit a small one. Tom, John and Jimmy wanted to move the brewery forward, but increased competition from breweries with the space, money and hop contracts to make better and cheaper hoppy cask beer meant that they started looking at new possibilities. Tom had become more and more interested in sour, mixed fermentation and wild beers; ironically, his dad has been making cider fermented with wild yeast for years, a product with many similarities to sour beer (a point made by Jeff Bell, AKA Stonch, when he visited Mill Green in 2007).
Having resolved to fully embrace historic, farmhouse and sour beers, the brewery faced a tragic setback last year when close friend and co-owner Jimmy passed away at just 58 years old. At the same time, the White Horse had been leased out and things weren’t going to plan with the new tenants. The very loose tie that Mill Green had established started to break and national brands began replacing its own and other local beers on the bar. Sales of Mill Green dropped by over 60%, and Tom and John decided that life was too short to continue to sell beer to people who clearly didn’t appreciate it. They were at a crossroads, but rather than lament the demise of Mill Green, they viewed it as a positive and put all of their energy and focus into Little Earth Project.
There are six beers currently listed on the website, and while they don’t represent a core range as such, they will be the first beers to be released. The names (and the website, for that matter) are a work in progress, but at the time of writing they are as follows:
- Organic East India Pale Ale (6.9%): Made with organic Suffolk barley and organic Goldings hops, this beer is aged in wooden barrels for four months with a mix of brewer’s yeast, the brewery’s mixed culture and more hops. Tom describes the resulting beer as “very dry, slightly sharp with a hint of herb and orange from the hops and earthy leather from the wild yeast.”
- Hanseatic Porter (9.4%): A recipe based on a Baltic Porter brewed at Mill Green, Tom describes it as having “an aroma of alcohol and under-ripe cherries, dry with a leathery quality with dried fruits and slight liquorice from Polish Marynka hops.”
- Stock Ale (10%): This beer also undergoes a secondary fermentation in oak, this time for at least six months, and according to Tom it has “a lovely complex flavour with enough body to carry it”. He expects this one to be popular.
- Estuary Stout (10%): A strong, barrel-aged stout. Personally, I find any whisky barrel-aged 10% stout an enticing prospect, and this sounds an ideal beer for my
- Small World Sour (2.3%): A very low alcohol beer brewed purely with Suffolk ingredients, which Tom describes as “refreshing with a slight cider taste, fairly clean tasting with lactic sourness and a very dry finish.”
- South Island Sour (5.3%): The result of an experiment when Tom split a batch of pale ale, fermenting one half with brewer’s yeast and the other with a wild culture from the Mill Green cider. Dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin six months ago, according to Tom it’s very wine-like, and the result is “something that is unrecognisable as beer.”
If you don’t have a thirst on after reading that, you’re not human.
Sustainability is fundamental at Little Earth Project, just as it was at Mill Green, and I asked Tom how this is reflected in the brewing process. “We have a field 3 miles away in Chelsworth where we grow a large amount of our own malting barley and even our own hops, and we also have a borehole providing water for brewing. Around 50% of the brewery’s energy comes from a 3000L heat store powered by solar panels and a wood boiler, which we use in the brewing process. We can brew four barrels at a time with the heat for the mash and sparge drawn from the heat store, and the boiler is fed with local coppice wood that we buy from Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Groton Wood.” How nice it will be to feel smugly virtuous when drinking Little Earth Project beer…
With the beers scheduled for release on 1st August, I asked Tom where we can expect find them. “We hope to have the beer available online on 1st August or soon after, and are in talks with a number of pubs, bars and specialist beer shops. Once we’ve finalised the details a list will be published on our website.” Winding up, I asked whether any events or festivals are planned. “In the long run, we want to hold a sour beer festival, as well as beer and food matching evenings and regular brewery tours.”
Set in the scenic Suffolk countryside with a campsite with two Scandinavian style chalets on site, it seems Little Earth Project is well placed to host such events. Summer holidays in Suffolk next year anyone?
All photos reproduced courtesy of Tom Norton at Little Earth Project