Collaboration – The Post I Almost Forgot to Post

My last blog detailed the background to what we think is the World’s Largest Collaboration Brew. At our latest count, we have 44 breweries involved, all having been visited, brewers contacted and concepts for the brew discussed (resulting in the aforementioned recipe).

It has definitely got me thinking about collaboration. Does it count as a collaboration if you don’t have 50 or so people crammed into a building, each one lined up and throwing in a hop cone in some type of ritualistic manner? I did the usual thing of looking up what collaboration means. It spoke of the act of working together with a person or group of people to create or produce something. This pretty much answered my question… of course it’s a collaboration!

This is a word, though, that some in the beer and blogging world cringe at. Overpriced, luxury beers (in mind’s eye) due to the expense of flying brewers from around the world so as to pay for the cost of such a marketing gimmick. I recall the excellent A Good Beer Blog making reference to this last year, disagreed wholeheartedly and am quite happy to explain why I think collaborations are amazing.

1 – FUN. I used capitals here because they ARE so much fun. You have to remember that the majority of craft (or micro, or larger-than-micro-but-still-completely-awesome, or artisan, or great beer, or well-thought-out-and-perfectly-made-beer) brewers got into doing what they’re doing because they love it and are ridiculously passionate about their jobs. Getting all of these people together, whether in person or as a collection of thoughts, ideas and recipe variations is an absolute blast. For myself, having been out of the NZ brewing community for eight years, this has been amazing. Meeting all of these like-minded, energetic people, having a laugh and putting something together that encapsulates the fun.

2 – Education. What brewers do involves two things. Science and art. I always look at beer development as a bit of a picture. I visualise a pint glass and imagine the flavours that I want in there, the aromas that cascade from the foam of the glass, the colour, the marriage of grain and flower, of malted barley and hops, the balance in the mouth and after the first and second and third swallow, the texture of the beer. All of these things I see and imagine. This is the art. The science then involves the actual process of creating the beer. How to tease the picture from the raw materials. Getting that pint glass just right using that which has come from the soil. The tiny seed that has become the barley grain… the germination, the biochemical process, the malting. The hop bine and it’s shoots bursting from the soil in the spring. The little fungus that changes the wort into beer. The water that has flowed from aquifers or fallen from the skies. You can see how the science and the art meld together so well. The education of collaboration lies in the different experiences that each and every brewer has had. The equipment and the flavours that they have pulled from the ingredients. This is what makes collaboration great.

3 – Creation. Brewers do what they do for a couple of reasons. They want to survive off their hobby (or jobby as I like to refer to it). They want to promote something that they believe is great. They want as many people as possible to taste what they have produced and (hopefully) enjoy it as much as they do. They want to realise their beer-dreams and put these into something tangible. They want to drink beer. Collaboration results in creation of beer. How can that not be good!

4 – Marketing. Like it or lump it, it’s essential for us to get the word out there. If you have not one, but two or even forty four breweries talking about a beer that they’ve been involved with and then push the recipe out there for them all to brew and generate excitement in their local areas with, then it has to be great for beer in general. Most of us have little to zero marketing budgets. We have to be a little savvy and use things like social media and word of mouth to let people know what we’re doing. Collaboration is great for this.

5- Family. That’s what brewers are. Whenever a bunch (or hopsack or zentner or bushel or tanker or flocculation or whatever other great collective noun there is that involves brewing) of brewers gets together there is always a sense of belonging. A sense that we’re all slightly whacky, just like most families are. We laugh together, we disagree, we argue, but we’re all still trying to do the same thing. Collaboration enforces this, brothers and sisters getting together and working on something fun.

Wendy from Valkyrie adds hops into the NZ Craft Beer TV ale

I’ve had the greatest times collaborating on beers. The Thornbridge/Brooklyn Brewery Alliance series with Garrett Oliver from the US, a couple of brews with Agostino and Mauro from Birrificio Italiano in Italy – SuJu, Sparrow Pit (not yet released) and Italia, the hoptastic Epic Halcyon and the Epic Thornbridge Stout with Luke from Epic in NZ, Colorado Red with Doug from Odell Brewing in the US, Coalition Ale and ThornStar with the awesome MarkStar Tranter from Dark Star Brewing in the UK, the sumptuous Fyne Bridge Black IPA with Fyne Ales up in Scotland, each one has been amazing.

Rhys from Peak. Quality Control is essential!

Creating something and putting out there to be scrutinised by others, however, is always a slightly nerve racking experience. I’m talking lying awake at night, wondering if you made the right choices in the grain bill, querying the beer name and the label design, pondering the maturation period… could it have been longer. All that kind of stuff runs through your head. Beer drinkers are often a vociferous lot (usually more so when it comes to the internet as a communications medium as opposed to telling a brewer to their face), you know that flavour and taste and aroma are completely personal, you know that it’s not going to be for everyone, but you still worry how your baby is going to be received.

Ron from Mike's gets stuck into the hops!

Generally it’s great. Beer is exactly that. Often people pull out the whole beer is just beer call. That is just like your personal preferences when it comes to what beers you like. For the guy or gal who finishes work and is thirsty and wants something liquid to pour down their throat, beer probably is just exactly that. It’s definitely something different for brewers.

Our NZ Craft Beer TV collaboration brew day was amazing fun. Thanks to those who made it… Wendy From Valkyrie, Paul from Croucher, Ron from Mike’s Organic Brewery, Rhys from Peak, Shane and Sam from Steam and David and Tom from Cryermalt. Oh yeah, and Luke and myself from Epic!

Brew Finished!

What Kelly? Another Collaboration!

Yes. That is correct.

My first six weeks of work at Epic Brewing have been exactly what the name of the company I am working for would suggest. Day one consisted of flying south, jumping in a camper van and beginning a trip to visit the great breweries and bars that make up the New Zealand craft beer scene. What more would one want in a job!

Luke takes the campervan cross country...

As we went around the breweries of NZ, we chatted to the brewers and asked them what they thought made up the essence of craft beer. Our goal was to encapsulate this and end up with a brew that reflected the passion, terroir and craft that has resulted in some freakin’ awesome beers. We ended up with a bunch of concepts and ideas. From Canterbury artesian water, through to New Zealand Hops, organic ingredients, New Zealand Malt, offers of help with label and graphic design, the beer began to take a rough shape in our heads. Yet another concept was to help us bring this beer together, coming from 8 Wired’s Soren Eriksen… “No compromise”.

The Three Boys Brew Crew meticulously labeling their bottles

Who is this beer for? I’m going to say everyone, even though this is an impossible statement. The thing with doing a beer like this is that every person has individual tastes. Some like malt or dark, sweet, rich beers. Others prefer the fruity, estery drinkability of Belgian-style beers. Others want a hop-punch. Bitter and massively aromatic and flavour intensified. It was going to be a tall ask for us to please everyone, so we decided on a style that is probably going to do two things. One, it’s going to make some of  the beer cognoscenti around NZ moan about being narrow-minded and spout the usual “one-trick-pony” comments that I seem to have picked up on in my short time here (a shame really, beer and brewing is about getting a family together, something talked about by John Duncan from Founders, and as we all now, every one of our family members brings something different to the mix) and two, it’s going to reflect a modern trend in NZ brewing and that trend, like it or lump it, is Pale Ale.

Mmmm... Pale Ale...

Why did we decide to make a Pale Ale? Apart from the aforementioned reason, we really wanted to showcase New Zealand hops and a Pale Ale is a great vector for this. We could have gone a beautifully subtle NZ Pilsener (think Tuatara, Mike’s or Three Boys Pilsener) or light, malty, quaffable Bitter with subtle hop undertones. NZ hops make amazing examples of both, but tough decision made we stuck with it! I think this is something to think about when you try this beer (either that, or think nothing at all, just enjoy it!).

Hops from around the world generally have their own characters. The earthy, spicy, citrus and marmalade notes form British hops. The pungent, resin, pine and citrus characters of American hops. The delicate, noble notes from German hops. Then there are Kiwi hops. You have to remember that we’ve been growing hops here for 150 years, ever since the first British immigrants brought the beloved plant here to continue the brewing of the ales of their forefathers. New Zealand is where the first triploid cultivars were developed. Triploid cultivars contain three instead of two sets of chromosomes and are seedless (some brewers dislike the impurities that seeds can attribute to their beers due to the presence of oils and fats) which is of a great benefit to commercial brewers. The NZ HortResearch Centre and NZ Hops limited have been working for years and developing new varieties of hops with various characters that suit the brewer and beer. With this development has come fascinating flavours and aromas that I think are unique to New Zealand hops. Then of course there is the disease resistance. This means we don’t need to use any pesticides and a number of varieties are certified organic. Chatting to hop farmers, it seems that even the non-certified varieties are closer to organic than not!

Hops growing in Wakefield, Nelson

Let’s take the Nelson Sauvin hop as an example. Into its 11th year of production, this hop has big Sauvignon Blanc characteristics. From gooseberries to lychees, from cat-pee and passionfruit to grapefruit. It’s character is diverse and fascinating and is still only just begun to be shown off to its full potential in beer. From the early days when Lion Breweries were using it (now still used to good effect in Macs Hop Rocker) through to Twisted Hop’s Sauvin Pilsener, 8 Wired’s Hopwired and Yeastie Boys’ Europa, the hop is used to great effect and is very close to my heart (this was used in Thornbridge Kipling in the UK and won us many awards). The US have also become interested in NZ hops and are using them to great effect in their beers, notably Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale that uses Pacifica, Motueka and Southern Cross (they want them so fresh, that they even fly the hops over straight after harvest!).

With this in mind, we decided on a few hop varieties. First up, we thought of Riwaka, with its citrus, grapefruit and floral notes, this has always reminded me of Nelson Sauvin’s younger brother. Originally developed from Saaz parentage (and previously known as Saaz B), I have noticed a sweaty, turpentine/kerosene note when overused, but when balanced out with other hops or used delicately in a subtly flavoured brew, this is incredible.

We also decided on NZ Cascade. Cascade is originally an American hop released commercially in 1972 and is the aroma hop that has helped the amazing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Little Creatures Pale Ale become the success it has. Closer to home, Epic Pale Ale has also made a point of showcasing this complex and fascinating variety. With citrus as it’s backbone and a combination of gentle spice and floral rose-water characters, it’s a fantastic hop and I was excited at smelling the NZ-grown variety. I was amazed at the similarities between the US and NZ versions, similar citrus and floral, with the NZ variety maybe showing a slight hint of Nasturtium flower, a tiny bit of mown grass, maybe a little more green-ness. Either way this is an impressive hop and I was looking forward to the contribution it would make to the brew. Another reason we chose this hop was because of the diversity we have in NZ with regards our brewers. With Dave from Wanaka Beerworks being originally from California, Paulie from Dux de Lux from Portland, Oregon and the Renaissance* duo, Andy and Brian also from the West Coast, it seemed a logical choice.

Finally, for use as a bittering hop and for a welcome addition to our dry hop concoction, we decided on the NZ Southern Cross hop. I’d used this back in the UK in a collaboration brew with Dark Star Brewery called ThornStar in which we took their American Pale Ale recipe and twisted it around, using solely NZ instead of US hops and then playing around with the grain bill to change its colour from pale to black (but in doing so, trying to impart as little dark malt flavour as possible). Luke had also had some experience with this in a collaboration brew with Dogfish Head in the UK called Portamarillo, but we were both curious to see how the lemon and spice character would come through and whether the low cohumulone content would soften out the bitterness.

A crazy looking hop growing at Mike's Organic Brewery in Taranaki

Hops sorted, we sat back and thought about what malts we could use that would help us define what NZ craft beer is about. With a style in mind and some impressive beers tasted throughout our travels that had been using some local malt, we thought that using some Canterbury-grown Gladfield ale malt would be a great idea. Talking to brewers that have been using Gladfield malt for a few years, it was evident that the maltsters had gone from small scale with the odd inconsistency that can come about from this, through to a much higher quality, consistent malt. Some of the lagers and ales we tried had fantastic malt characters to them, making the choice to use some NZ malt an easy one. We also wanted something that would reflect on the number of British brewers that are resident in NZ and making some amazing beers. Martin from the Twisted Hop, Martin from Townshend Brewery, Matt from Monkey Wizard and those who spoke of the huge influence the British brewing scene had on their choice to get into brewing – Carl from Tuatara, Keith from Galbraith’s, Chris from Rooster’s, Dave from West Coast Brewing, Richard from Emerson’s*, Ralph from Three Boys. You get the picture. So we also chose some Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, grown in East Anglia and floor malted in North Yorkshire. It just seemed right to give this nod to the country that is responsible for so much diversity in our brewing.

As for the brew day and the beer itself… will fill you in tomorrow!

*Unfortunately the guys were a bit busy for us to get there and film them. Love their beers!

 

When Dark Star met Thornbridge

I have a small wine-tasting glass sitting in front of me. In it is a light copper-orange liquid. A small gathering of tiny white bubbles huddled off to one side. I smell it. Big perfume hit. A little caramel and toffee, like one of those hard chocolate-coated caramels from the chocolate selection box. Fruitiness begins to come forward. Light, estery pear-drop notes, some prunes and figs soaked in sherry, a hint of ripe, green apples, not too much though.

I take a sip and wonder what the yeast have been doing over the last 20 months. Subtle toffee and fruits meld together in my mouth, I get the faintest savoury autolysed note balanced by a lovely sweetness and a bitterness that tickles the roof of my mouth. A lovely subtle warmth follows. So clean and made for slowly sipping.

Myself, MarkStar, Matt, Stef and Dave at the end of Coalition Ale Day

This is our Coalition Ale that was brewed back on the 25th February 2009 with the amazing Mark Tranter from Dark Star Brewing in Sussex. It’s hopefully sitting around 7.3-7.4% at the moment and is going through a slow steady refermentation process in the brewery changing rooms. We would have usually put it in our warm store, but this is being refurbished to allow us to use it as a dual warm and cool store. Needs must!

We put our heads together many moons back and decided we’d do our own version of an Old Ale. We threw ideas back and forth, looking at various hops, what type of beer we wanted to brew, and whether we wanted to do anything interesting post-fermentation. We thought of various concepts including aging on sour cherries and even doing an Orval-style Styrian Goldings dry-hopping followed by a Brettanomyces bottle refermentation.

A recipe finally agreed on, Mark came up from Dark Star and the brewday commenced! We mashed together the finest Maris Otter Pale Ale malt with a small portion of Crystal malt and a very low liquor treatment profile consisting of a dash here and there of calcium, chloride, sulphate, sodium and bicarbonate ions. We were going to be aging this baby for a while and new that mellowing of palate, through bitterness and through softening of any astringency, would occur over time. To aid the fermentability we also used a small portion of Demerara sugar which was added throughout the runoff from mash tun to copper every 6 minutes. Let’s call it the continuous sugaring technique. We were hoping some of the rich, brown sugar-esque creaminess would find it’s way into the beer.

We used Atlas, Aurora and Liberty to hop the Coalition Ale and made a decision that if this was to be a beer made by Thornbridge and Dark Star, that we wouldn’t be shy. Again, this was a tough decision. We didn’t know how kind time would be on the hop profile, but we did want there to be a ghost of bitterness left in the final beer. I’m actually sitting here now looking at the brewsheet. It’s great to look back on our records and read the small notes Stef and I have made throughout the fermentation. I mention the delicious fruity character at the beginning of fermentation, backed up by Stef a few days later taling of peaches, fruit and raisins. After 5 days we chilled the beer down and transferred it to a maturation vessel where it sat doing it’s thing for 20 or so months.

Coalition Ale is now in a bottle below my feet. This is what it looks like as the little yeasties weave their magic.

Refermenting Coalition Ale - Is there a more exciting photograph anywhere?

I’m not likely to be in the UK when it’s released, but hopefully we’ll put it out to sale at two years old. An Old Ale not just by name!

We had a load of fun with Mark, so it would have been rude not to head down to Dark Star and complete the collaboration circle. I was lucky enough (well, when I say lucky, I mean I put my name forward and closed the ballot before anyone else could) to get down South via a speedy train trip after the British Guild of Beer Writers Style Seminar. Welcomed by MarkStar at the train station, it would have been rude for us not to head to the Evening Star for a quiet beer with Matt and Karen Wickham, publicans extraordinaire! The Dark Star beers were tasting cracking, but it was the American Pale Ale that I was most interested in. We had decided to Kiwi this recipe up a bit. Instead of the usual Chinook, Centennial, Cascade combo, I thought it was time to introduce Mark to the joys of New Zealand hops.

Pacifica (formerly Pacific Hallertau), the incredibly aromatic and alpha-acid filled Pacific Gem and the resinous, lime-juice and peppery Southern Cross were chosen as replacements for the American hops and we decided to go a step further and use a portion of CaraFa. This is a really interesting roasted malt. It is de-husked and gives a lovely deep-brown hue to the beer without contributing the characteristic roastiness that other dark malts provide. It is CaraFa that has aided and abbeted the style known as Black IPA or India Black Ale or whatever else you want to call it.

I find this type of beer fascinating. By nature we tend to eat and drink with our eyes. It is not until you get the chance to be involved with a sensory evaluation complete with red lights and black drinking glasses that you realise how important your eyes are when it comes to flavour perception. Sight can trick us and make us think strange thoughts and taste and smell unusual things. It has even been known to fool the unsuspecting pubgoer who awakes in the morning to find a naked, scary troll in their bed… a troll that was ludicrously beautiful/handsome after a mere six pints the night before. Never trust sight…

If you take a big, hoppy beer… generally something the average person imagines to be a pale beer and twist around it’s colour, straight away people think it’s going to taste roasty or like coffee or chocolate or be extremely strong and rich. When JK first came up with Raven, the Black IPA we brew at Thornbridge, I’d often ask customers to close their eyes and give them a sample of the beer at the Coach. “Pale and Hoppy”, would be the general consensus and the surprise when they saw the beer was always great. I really think brews like this are a great way to educate people. They teach us that all is not what it seems in the world of brewing. A dark beer doesn’t have to taste big and roasty and malty!

The DarkStarShip Enterprise

With this in mind, we kicked off the brew, mashing in at around 68-69°C and transferring the mash straight to lauter tun. The smell was fantastic with the Maris Otter, Caragold, Munich and CaraFa filling the brewhouse with a incredibly rich maltiness, all HobKnobs and Digestive biscuits and other fine McVities products.

Happiness is a Lauter Tun

We eagerly waited time for runoff, glasses poised under the sample valve to taste the first runnings. Deep black and as malty as the aroma suggested, we were two happy brewers!

A Blacker Shade of Pale...

A change in the late hopping regime was made to really bring out the intensity of the Kiwi hops and the final wort was wonderfully bitter and rich, with wisps of spice and tropical fruits. We were stoked! Matt and Karen from the Evening Star had also come along to help out and ably assisted by Dark Star Brewer, George Juniper we found some time to sample a few of the Dark Star beers in tank and cask.

The still fermenting American Pale Ale blew me away with it’s intense elderflower and passionfruit aromas but it was Mark’s new Green Hop beer that really blew my mind. Target was chosen as the freshly picked hop to season this Simcoe-fuelled beer with and it definitely delivered with it’s heady mix of pineapple, pine and orange peel. Even the tank and fittings that Mark had designed to help capture the green-hop character looked like something from a Mad Max movie…

MarkStar and his HopGun 3000

The intensity of the Green Hop still on my lips, we headed into the cellar and popped open a cask of Mark’s Triple. Originally formulated as a Belgian-style IPA and fermented with Ardennes yeast, this beer is hugely hopped with big American beasts… Warrior and Columbus being among them. But it it the yeast that has the starring role in this beer. Even straight from cask, the head was rich and tight and foamy, peaks and troughs like an Arctic landscape, it had me smacking my lips in anticipation. The mouth was smooth and creamy and built to an intense, yet integrated bitterness, the hop flavours melding perfectly with the Belgian yeast character. This was heaven and proof that Dark Star are one of the best practitioners when it comes to translating different beer styles to the cask.

The next step for Mark is to dry-hop the beer and we decided on Southern Cross and Nelson Sauvin to do what they do best.

Almost enough hops for 12,780 pints of beer!

The brew has been christened ThornStar (no, not Porn Star) and I can’t wait to try it! Keep an eye out at places like the Sheffield Tap and the Coach and Horses and any of those fantastic drinking establishments in Sussex that stock Dark Star beers!

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