In preparation for the 4th Harwich & Dovercourt Bay Winter Ale Festival the organisers decided that the theme of the festival, the 400th anniversary of the granting of the Harwich Royal Charter, demanded that a special beer be brewed.
By coincidence some members of the local branch of CAMRA had been talking about Arctic Ale as brewed for Commander Belcher's 1852 Arctic expedition that departed from the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. After some interesting research one branch member suggested a recipe and several quiet words were had with potential brewers.
After some interest and a bit of "been there, done that" it was suggested that Frances Moore, the owner of the new craft brewery Elveden Ales was approached. The response was so positive and the result so fabulous that the phrase "the rest is history" would be entirely appropriate.
It is, however, interesting to explore a little more of the detail leading up to that moment in September 2004 when that first ale was brewed at Elveden.
The research had revealed, with vital assistance from the Brewery History Society, that no recipe existed for Arctic Ale and so the beer would have to be a modern copy. This idea was embraced by Colchester CAMRA member and keen homebrewer Colin Miller who carefully interpreted contemporary Artic Ale tasting notes uncovered by Ray Anderson of the Brewery History Society and produced a recipe.
This recipe then formed the basis of discussions with experienced brewers adding their ideas - not least Brendan Moore, Frances's father and owner/brewer at the Iceni Brewery
So it was that on Thursday 9th September 2004 the first brewing of Harwich Charter Ale took place. It was certainly an eventful day with the thick wort lapping close to the top of the copper and hydrometers sticking a long way out of the wort! Once fermentation was complete the ale was sealed into casks to mature.
On Monday 9th November 2004 the historic Guildhall at Harwich hosted the launch of Harwich Charter Ale. It was a moderately formal but really enjoyable occasion with the Mayor and members of Harwich Town Council, members of CAMRA and the Brewery History Society and members of the Royal Harwich Yacht club. The ale had been specially bottled for the occasion but following the Guildhall launch many people retired to the New Bell public house to sample ale that had been matured in an oak cask. Although it is known that Belcher's expedition carried bottled Arctic Ale with caged champagne-type corks it is probable that the ale was first matured in oak. Most agreed that the oak-matured varient was superior with some spicy and even fruity notes adding to the already massive complexity of flavours present.