Master Brewer Insights

Photo of Phil Downes, Master Brewer

Philip is key to Box Steam’s success. We have his passion and expertise and the dedication of his team to thank for the award-winning range of beers we produce.

Philip is one of only a handful of real Master Brewers working in the UK today. That means he’s not just any old brewer. ‘Master Brewer’ is the highest level qualification in brewing and represents not only years of professional dedication and experience, but rigorous high level training in the art, science and technology behind the creation of beer.

We’re proud of the carefully crafted flavours and aromas Philip and his team tease from subtle combinations of malts and hops to make sure the brew behind every Box Steam label is worthy of the brand. We thought you might be interested too, so we’ve asked him to share a few thoughts each month. Read on…

July 17

July 17

Firstly, apologies for the gap in blogs. You’ll hopefully all be pleased to know I’ve been keeping busy with another delivery of 250 pallets (that’s 200,000 bottles) to Lidl in Europe, on top of the original order of 110 pallets. Yes we are exporting Derail Ale and Funnel Blower to Germany, Belgium and Slovenia.

I’ve also been helping the team get ready for BoxFest, a real highlight of the Box Steam Brewery calendar. A fantastic time was had by all, the sun shone and we beat the Bath Ladies RFC at the tug-o-war!

With the sun shining and the fields full of crops the next couple of months are all about taking it easy when you get the chance and for me watching Wimbledon is one of those opportunities and what better way to do it than with a cold Perfect Serve to keep you cool and refreshed?

It’s an easy drinker, copper in colour and has a hint of malt with a hoppy flavour, coming out at 4%. We have used roasted Crystal Malt; to produce perfect hue, glorious if you get the sun shining through your pint, and a blend of First Gold and Sovereign hops to invoke the aroma of warm grass. Whether at Wimbledon for the tennis or at the local park for a pic-nic, pour, relish and enjoy.

Until next month.



We were already up against it this month! We’re already getting a huge export ready for Germany, and they’ve only gone and re-ordered more than double the amount for the end of the month!

Our core beers - Tunnel, Piston and Golden Bolt - and our Spring seasonal beer Soul Train are also on the ‘To Brew’ list and we’ve been topping up supplies of our bottled ales.

And not forgetting May’s monthly special, Pole Dancer - a sweet, dark, chocolatey mild. We use roasted malts to produce its dark colour and sweet taste, and Sorachi Ace and Phoenix hops for its distinctive Chocolate and Coconut aromas and flavours. This month’s beer was suggested by the brewing team, who decided on the idea of a coconut and chocolate mild. I then tracked down the varieties of hop that could create this and found a hop merchant that had available stock.

This month I was also asked to judge a beer competition for a region outside the South West. I know I might be biased, but personally the brews just don’t measure up!

April 17

April 17

The sun is shining on the Brewery and the warmer air increases the aroma of hops and malts across the yard as we brew the usual favourites, plenty of our Spring beer, Soul Train.

We’ve also created a lovely brew for April, Out In Front. It’s a malty, ruby coloured best bitter, using roasted crystal and chocolate malts for colour and flavour. The addition of Fuggle hops lends it a grassy and pine note prevalent on race courses. As the beer is pitched at the start of the horse racing season we went for hops that could recreate the smells of fresh grass and fences being hit. You can always tell a story with beer!

If that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we are preparing 92,000 bottles of Derail Ale and Funnel Blower for export to Germany, Belgium and Slovenia. Nice to know what we craft hear will be enjoyed all over Europe.

March 17

March 17

Not sure where Spring has got to, but it’s March and it’s busy as always at the Brewery! Due to engineering work, our main bottlers were not able to bottle our beers in January OR February, so we’ve been working up a sweat catching up this month.

As well as restocking our bottles and brewing our core beers, we’ve been beautifully engineering our monthly special brew in celebration of St Patrick’s day, For The Craic.

The 4.8% IPA features a new hop from the States called Azacca. It lends the beer a refreshing mango like flavour, as well as a light citrus nose. For The Craic was specifically created to coincide with our Irish friends’ favourite holiday - after all, what day is thirstier than St Patrick’s? Sláinte!

February 17

February 17

Busy as always at the Brewery, the kettle is never off the boil. As well as brewing new batches of Tunnel Vision and Piston Broke, we’ve got our seasonal Chuffin’ Ale on the go - a traditional 4.0% chestnut brown bitter, smooth and rich with a fruity aroma.

And of course there’s February’s Six Nations themed brew, Sin Bin. A rich, dark copper bitter made with a combination of pale, chocolate and dark cystal malts. We’ve added Admiral hops too. Chocolate and dark crystal malts create the deep rich colours that characterise this beer, and Admiral hops add a good level of bitterness and distinctive aroma to the brew. When developing Sin Bin’s recipe we revisited a trusty formulation that has proved a hit more than once over the years, and we’re hoping it will bring the same to our rugby teams!

Talking of ‘tries’, we’ve held another very successful Lock In this month. We love seeing the Brewery full and receiving feedback (mostly positive!) from our customers about the beers that we work hard to beautifully engineer. By the sounds of it, our fame is spreading…

January 17

January 17

First off, a very Happy New Year! Hope you all had a lovely break. Where did 2016 go!?

It’s been non stop here at the brewery and after a manic Christmas period, we’re having to restock our bottle supplies of Tunnel Vision, Funnel Blower and Dark & Handsome.

We’re also brewing our seasonal beer Chuffin Ale, and our monthly special Gym Dodger - a full flavoured, light amber session bitter at 3.2% ABV. It’s made with a pale malt to produce a lovely amber colour and uses UK-grown Admiral hops to create its bitterness and aroma. Particularly considering the time of year, Gym Dodger was designed to be low strength without tasting like a weak beer. Selecting a high quality malt ensures the beer retains plenty of body, whilst a robust hop gives the depth to the flavour, creating a lower strength beer to be enjoyed, rather than endured!

Also this month, we’re hosting a Lock In at the Brewery for local CAMRA branches. The bar will be open, visitors can meet the Box team and take part in one of my speciality Brewery tours to discover more how we make our beautifully engineered beers. I’ll be needed for 2 or 3 brewery tours in one evening - thirsty work!

Every year we review the Christmas period in January to see what we could do better next year, and how we could plan to make it go smoothly. It always feels like there is plenty of time to put this in place - until it’s suddenly November again! Oh well. Here we go again…

December 16

December 16

December is here. With Christmas just around the corner, we’ve been very busy. As well as brewing the usual Tunnel, Piston and Golden Bolt in keg and bottle, we’ve been producing more of our vanilla porter, Funnel Blower.

And of course, it’s not Christmas without a sparkly Bauble! Our December monthly special is a festively spiced ale, golden in colour with warming spicy aromas and citrus flavours. Brewed using a blend of fine ale malts and a touch of crystal malt (to impart the golden glow). To create this special brew we’ve used Golding hops for bitterness and Cascade hops for the citrus aroma and flavour. Our not-so-secret ingredient is cinnamon - trust me, you’ll know it’s there!

Bauble has been something of a labour of love for us here at the Brewery, we’ve had to try numerous blends to find the perfect carrier beer for the cinnamon aroma and flavour - darker beers tasted too much like cough medicine, whilst traditional bitters tasted more like cooked veg. Once the beer was chosen, we then had to test again to get the level just right.

Keeping in the festive spirit, we held our annual 20% off Christmas discount days on the 9 and 10 December. I held a couple of brewery tours on Saturday and both days were a great success - I’ve never seen the Brewery so busy!

You know that Christmas is coming when the temperature suddenly drops. The recent cold spell brings back memories in various breweries of being confronted with ice in unexpected places. I remember the compressed air lines used for opening or closing automatic valves were a particular nightmare! As each year goes by the defrosting process becomes more routine due to my growing experience, but every New Year I can guarantee that I’ll find some new hidden point that’s frozen for the first time.

Merry Christmas all of you. See you in 2017!

November 16

November 16

We’re stepping up the brewing here in Holt. As well as the regular Tunnel Vision and Piston Broke brews, we’re creating a batch of Golden Bolt for 30 litre kegs. We are also brewing more seasonal Chuffin’ Ale and Broad Gauge. Nice to see it going down so well with you lot.

And on top of all that we need to start on our Christmas beer (Bauble) and we could do with some more Funnel Blower!

Quite chuffed with this month’s special. Bengal Flare is a real cracker - a crisp golden ale infused with Lemon Drop chillies grown by Simpsons Seeds near Warminster and current holders of the “World’s Hottest Chilly” title.

That said, we decided that we didn’t want a really hot chilli beer, but one that had interesting flavours and aromas that could be enjoyed in a pub or with food. Many of the current bottled chilli beers are vying for explosive heat to appeal to the macho challenge rather than to fans of good beer. To this end we set up trials with different chillies of varying heat levels until we settled on the final recipe - chiefly pale malt and Cascade hops which work perfectly with a small number of the Lemon Drop chillis for a new and interesting flavour.

Just had word we’ve picked up Gold for Tunnel Vision in the Q awards. That’ll be something to share with the North Wilts CAMRA folks. We’re hosting their meeting here at the Brewery later this month.

A couple of weeks ago I attended an Institute of Brewing & Distilling meeting at a local brewery that only produces unfixed beer. I know it is different and looks cloudy, which doesn’t make it wrong. And it tasted and smelled OK but to me, but that doesn’t make it right. There are well established beer styles that are cloudy by design, but British beer is not one of them. That much is clear!


October 16

October 16

Our kettle has been brewing non-stop this month. As well as our classic core beers –Tunnel Vision and Piston Broke, and newly upgraded Golden Bolt (back on as a core beer and now available as a 30 litre keg, we’ve been making our seasonal Broadgauge and Chuffin’ Ale and last, but not least, our award-winning Funnel Blower for bottling.

Of course we’ve still managed to summons something special for October too. Ghost Train is a ruby bitter with a creamy smooth taste. We’ve made good use of roasted malts again, but changed the proportion of roasted crystal and chocolate malts to temper the intensity of the colour from red to ruby. The use of UK Golding and Fuggle hops has produced a traditional, robust English bitter flavour.

Ghost Train is actually the resurrection of an old favourite we first brewed in 2011 at the original 10 barrel brewery. We aimed for a dark and mysterious brew for the Halloween season!

Managed to find a bit of time to get away from the brewery with the rest of the guys. Everyone still intact after a team building away day in Lacock - archery, clay pigeon shooting, axe throwing and relatively safe quad bike racing. The hardest challenge was waiting until after the competitions and tap the beer!

Bye for now.


September 16

September 16

Busy month of brewing here at Box Steam. We’ve had Tunnel Vision, Piston Broke, Golden Bolt, Chuffin’ Ale, Broad Gauge and the September special, Leaf Kicker.

Leaf Kicker has given us another chance to explore a new recipe. We’ve created a smooth ale. Earthy, with a hint of Autumn berries. Bit like a stroll through the woods captured in a pint glass.

Creating a new recipe with nuance is all about the careful choice of malts and hops. Leaf Kicker uses roasted Crystal and Chocolate malts, paired with Admiral and Motueka hops.

If you shine a strong light through a glass of our Dark & Handsome it looks deep red. This is too dark for what we had in mind for Leaf Kicker but we wanted to create a beer with a hint of this same redness. That’s why we used roasted Crystal malt instead of the standard Crystal, and we reduced the level of Chocolate malt in the mix slightly.

Of course brewing is its own reward but it’s always nice to gain some recognition. Delighted to pick up a couple of medals at the International Beer Challenge – Gold for Full Steam Ahead and Bronze for Funnel Blower. Making plans for the International Medal presentation brought back memories of other National Golds in 2014 and 2008. Not quite Team GB, but hey.

Cheers for now!