Members of Thorpe Bay Lodge in Southend have been making and selling their own bitter to raise money for charity. Imogen Beecroft raises a glass to Lest We Forget
People couldn’t believe it when we told them what we were doing, but I don’t see why it’s surprising. We’ve got so much experience between us – maybe not with brewing beer, but definitely drinking it!’ Gordon Goodall, then Charity Steward of Thorpe Bay Lodge, No. 4803, smiles as he explains how his charity fundraising plan grew into something much larger. Last February, he decided the lodge should brew beer to sell at their Poppy evening in November to support military charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion.
Unsurprisingly, the plan was an instant hit and lodge members Andy Rogers, Stephen Bateman and Paul Bates jumped at the chance to get involved. However, as none of the team had ever brewed a beer before, they knew they would need some expert help. Gordon approached several microbreweries in the area, but finally struck gold with Wibblers Brewery, based in the Essex countryside.
Wibblers head brewer Phil Wilcox says, ‘I have an understanding of Freemasonry through my godfather and have always appreciated the charity work they do. These are both fantastic charities, so we were very happy to help.’
Wibblers on board, the four men headed to the brewery for a hard day’s work. With Phil’s guidance, the masons finalised their recipe and set to work creating their drink: a classic English bitter with a malty taste and nutty finish. By all accounts, the day passed cheerfully, aside from a slight tussle over who would climb into the hot, cramped mash tun and shovel 300kg of grain out of it.
‘We told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’ Gordon Goodall
Laughing, Andy says: ‘As soon as this job came up, Gordon said, “Oh my back, I can’t go in there.” Steve said he wasn’t feeling up to it, and Paul started complaining about his arm. So muggins here got lumbered with the job of getting into the tun.’
But it wasn’t all hard graft. As Stephen says: ‘The great thing about brewing is that at a certain point you just have to let the beer do its thing. So we got the barbecue out and decided it was time to try some of Phil’s other beers.’ Once the beer was fermented and sent away for bottling and labelling, all the team had to do was sell it.
Aptly named Lest We Forget in honour of fallen servicemen, the bitter was promoted by the brewers in the lead-up to their Poppy night, which they opened up to non-masons. As a result of their campaigning, more than 80 people attended the event, and pretty soon they were receiving regular orders for cases of the beer.
The four masons used their lodge’s social media accounts to sell the beer, crediting the Master of the lodge with reaching out to his connections in the pub trade. But, as Gordon says: ‘It was mainly word of mouth – we told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’
Indeed, Lest We Forget has been a success by almost any measure: they’ve sold 2,000 litres so far, over half of their stock, and are planning on heading back to Wibblers to brew a second batch soon. They have raised £3,000 for the armed forces charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion, and expect to net at least £4,500 in total.
So are the masons surprised by how successful the beer has been? Paul certainly isn’t: ‘Freemasonry is a very sociable pastime, and we do like a beer – so I knew we’d have a reasonable audience to sell to. We’ve been well looked after by Wibblers, and we’ve got a good network of contacts, so I’m not surprised it’s done so well, really.’ Andy is quick to add, ‘I’m not surprised how well it’s sold, but I am surprised that we managed to make such a nice beer!’
‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future – we’re going onwards and upwards.’ Andy Rogers
It seems that the quality of the beer is something everyone can agree on. Andy loves it, although acknowledges, ‘it’s not great for my waistline’, while Gordon gives it perhaps the ultimate accolade: ‘Even my wife, who doesn’t particularly like beer, says she thinks it’s quite tasty.’ And Phil, the expert brewer, admits that he has to keep putting money aside to give to the masons for the bottles he’s sampled.
Although the ultimate aim of this project was to raise money for charity, the team have noticed that it’s had a more far-reaching positive effect for Thorpe Bay Lodge. Gordon explains: ‘We’ve had some struggles as a lodge in the past, but this has really galvanised our members and pushed us to try new things. Of course, the serious message behind the beer is that we must not forget the people who fought for us in conflicts, but there is also the aspect of having fun and trying something different.’
Andy agrees: ‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future, and we’re just going to go onwards and upwards.’
As well as uniting the current members of Thorpe Bay Lodge, Lest We Forget has also secured some new recruits: ‘As a result of this project, and people seeing what Freemasonry is all about, we’ve got four people lined up to join our lodge next year, which is great,’ explains Stephen.
Although they’ve nearly sold their entire first batch, Gordon reassuringly explains that this won’t be the end of Lest We Forget. ‘Because it’s been so well received we’re going to do it again on a bigger scale. We’re hoping to brew it in barrels now we know how quickly it’s selling. It seems like this beer might be the ideal thing to centre our 2022 Festival around, and hopefully some of the other masonic centres will pick it up too.’
With talk of selling at a few masonic centres and even going national one day, the project is a triumph. As Paul says: ‘It speaks for itself: it’s a damned good beer at a damned good price and it’s for a good cause.’ What’s not to like?
Phil Wilcox explains the art of brewing
Malted barley and warm water are mixed in a mash tun. It sits for an hour and a half while the starch in the grain turns into sugar. The grain is removed and the solution is boiled with hops, for bittering. At the end of the boil, more hops are added for flavour and aroma. The liquid is chilled and placed, with yeast, in a fermenter: it’s left while the sugar turns into alcohol. After a week (lager takes around seven weeks to ferment, while cider can take up to three months) the beer is ‘crash chilled’ and bottled.