Copper Dragon in Skipton is a real business success story. Well known for its ales, the brewery is excited by rising young star Robert Percival. Jenny Cornish met up with him to discuss one of her favourite topics - beer
A young brewer is applying science to beer and producing magical results at the Copper Dragon in Skipton.
In the sparkling brewhouse off Keighley Road, surrounded by state-of-the-art technology, Robert Percival has developed a brand new beer – Radka Pilsner.
It’s been an exciting year; Robert, 28, has also recently been named The Institute of Brewing and Distilling Young Person of the Year.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Robert. “It’s obviously a very prestigious award.”
The award means he wins a trip to the Asia Pacific international brewing convention in Vietnam in March next year – but he’s still focused on what matters most; brewing the beer.
“I’m really enjoying having the opportunity to brew and bringing my skills to a really up and coming Yorkshire brewing company – it’s very exciting,” he said.
“Brewing in the UK is experiencing some really exciting changes and has done over the past five years. Customers, particularly in relation to beer, are becoming increasingly more discerning.”
Copper Dragon had already built up a reputation over the last ten years for producing quality cask ales, and Robert wanted to do something different with the Radka Pilsner.
“As a brewer there are romantic connotations of Pilsner – it’s the most popular beer in the world, but in different regions of the world people put their own twist on it,” said Robert. “Technically it’s a completely different animal. I thought it would be a fantastic challenge to take on. It also gets the Copper Dragon name out there and brings it to a new audience.”
They use the same Copper Dragon yeast as for the other beers, along with a Pilsner malt and Czech hops. “We’re taking the traditional elements of Pilsner and making it into a Copper Dragon beer,” said Robert.
“The ultimate point is to prove to people that lager isn’t just bland and fizzy – it can be a fantastic beer.”
Robert studied history at Leeds University but, with a family background in brewing, he couldn’t escape his destiny. After graduating, he went straight into a laboratory at Scottish & Newcastle, and then moved on to Heineken before arriving at Copper Dragon. “I didn’t think I’d end up in the brewing industry but I love it,” he said.
“The brewhouse here is very modern – it has the reputation of being one of the leading brewhouses in the north of England. I thought this would be the perfect place to cut my teeth as a brewer.”
He set up the Copper Dragon laboratory, which tests the beer in a number of scientific ways to make sure the quality is consistent.
They have a density meter, which measures the spectrum of sugars, a spectrophotometer, which looks at the colouring, and a turbidimeter, which measures haze and helps them produce clearer beer. They even have a tremendously complicated way of measuring bitterness.
“Customers have expectations of the beers we produce and consistency is a big part of this,” said Robert. “A lot of people drink with their eyes – getting that quality and clarity is really important to us.
“It’s a completely natural process. We’re not using any means of filtration. We’re using barley and hops that have been grown in countries around the world. We’re dealing with natural, raw materials. To deliver a real consistency you’ve got to have that level of control.”
Robert’s passion for brewing shines through; he has also been representing other young members in the North of England, and through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling he has set up a bursary scheme to help young brewers get started, train and study.
Mark Evans, brand manager for Radka, says the pilsner is proving to be very popular. “It’s going very well for us,” he said. “We’ve got it in pubs around Skipton including The Venue, The New Inn in Clapham, the Devonshire, and in pubs and bars in York, Wakefield and Manchester.
“It’s something a little bit different – we’re giving people more choice and quality. The soft water here is perfect for brewing because it’s low in ions. It’s a very clean product – if you get a headache with Radka it’s because of the quantity, not the quality.”
Copper Dragon is continuing a history of brewing in Skipton – the old Skipton Brewery was opened in 1816, next to the Leeds Liverpool canal, and supplied fine ales to local pubs for more than 90 years. However it closed in the early 1900s.
A hundred years on, Copper Dragon founders Steve Taylor and Ruth Bennett decided to build a new Skipton Brewery, which would benefit from a great geographical location and a supply of high-quality soft water from Embsay Reservoir.
Since opening in 2002 Copper Dragon has gone from strength to strength, expanding from a 10-barrel plant to a 60-barrel plant. It’s a modern-day Yorkshire fairy tale – and it deserves celebrating. Cheers!