Strangers No More

It's a beer. But it was a pain in the arse to brew.

An interesting name for a beer?

A pleasant stroll around the old bits of Norwich might leave an observant person asking ‘why are there places called ‘Stranger’s this’ and ‘Stranger’s that?’’, ‘so what is madder?’ and ‘why do those buildings look Dutch?’.

Here’s why…

In the 1500s, Dutch and Flemish protestants came to Norwich to escape persecution from the Catholics, and although initially met with suspicion and fear, over time these ‘Strangers’ became an influential feature in Norwich’s history. They brought with them textile skills, and Norwich became known for its fabric industry, such as ‘rose madder’, a deep red cloth worn by the lower classes in Elizabethan times.

And that’s the theme for this year’s Norwich City of Ale festival, and also the theme for our latest Grain Storm beer ‘Strangers No More’.

But there’s a bit more to the story. Fast forward to almost modern times, and Roger Protz is thinking about beer again, and an idea is brewing. He has a vision to bring together the two great brewing cities of Norwich, UK with Leuven, BE, and this beer is part of that vision becoming reality.

So in late 2022, four Norfolk brewers set off to Leuven to find their brewery twins, and plan a joint brew for the City of Ale 2023.

Hilary Halls and Joris Brahms at Braxatorium Parcensis

Grain teamed up with Braxatorium Parcensis brewery, an impeccably shiny brewery built within the buildings of the ancient brewery at Park Abbey, Heverlee, just outside Leuven. It’s a beautiful setting of old farm buildings, tall clock towers ringing out, and the odd monk scurrying around doing whatever it is that monks do.

The beer

The beer bit was hard work. Strangers No More is a Belgian Brune (that’s Belgian for ‘brown’), smooth, yet slightly spicy, with a mellow aroma of caramel, and a rich amber colour. To make it special, we used some raw wheat and rye (hence the spicy), grown within the grounds of the abbey at the hands of the monks. A lovely idea but a big load of hassle to get it here. To ship 30kg of grain from Belgium was going to cost 1200 Euros (really?) and a load of paperwork. That’s just silly. So me and Mrs Grain hopped in her little Audi TT and drove over to stick it in the boot, nice and straight forward.

We missed the ferry over because of brake problems. We missed the ferry home because I stupidly left the lights on and flattened the battery. The grain was not crushed as expected, making it ‘seed’, a prohibited export. I assumed customs would simply give us a friendly wave and a smile, but instead they searched the car twice, yet somehow missed 30kg of raw grain both times. Hiding it under boxes of Braxatorium Parcensis beer must have done the trick, but also made the back of the car much heavier, so we scraped every ferry ramp and speed bump we met, and were left waiting for the clunk of a left-behind exhaust pipe.

grain from Park Abbey, Heverlee

It was a palaver, but the result is good, so almost worth it.

We have even sent a cask over to Belgium, along with a beer hand pull, so I can serve it in the traditional English style at the Innovation Beer Festival in Leuven on 20-21 May.

Strangers No More pump clip and brewing process

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Phil Halls
16 May 2023