IPA – It’s worthy of having it’s own International Day. It truly is. Really.

Not too many sleeps left now! Click the pic...

August 4th is International IPA Day. For those who don’t know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale and is a style of beer that is often well-hopped. I’m not going to give you a history lesson on it. Pete Brown, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson are the masters of that domain and I recommend you read some of their brilliant works.

Courtesy of Ron Pattinson

I love IPAs. My little story below is part of the reason why.

Share an IPA with someone. It may make them happy.

Courtesy of Martyn Cornell

I thought I was tasting my first IPA as a trainee brewer here in New Zealand. I’d worked hard, had a couple of science degrees under my belt and here I was in my first job. I was yet to become a beer adventurer, the guy who is sitting here now with thousands of different beers tasted and pondered. I was fresh and young and keen and was about to begin brewing the most well known IPA in New Zealand.

But it wasn’t. I didn’t.

The beer that has once been based on the famous East India Pale Ale, turned out to be a 4% alcohol, slightly sweet, brown New Zealand-style draught lager. Strangely I was fine with that. It was okay with me to be in a brewery churning out 100 000 litres plus of the stuff in a day. I was learning. I was building knowledge. I was running the microbiology laboratory whilst training as a brewer. I loved it. Every day was a new challenge. Troubleshooting micro issues that we had, routine testing and garnering an understanding. Doing weekly beer tastings with brewery management and developing my palate as I had been taught at university. Hunting through the delicate aroma molecules and perceived tastes and flavours starting to become second nature. Fridays spent throwing crates on to a conveyor belt with the people that became my friends. What was not to like.

Was this faux-IPA I was tasting every week filled with flavour? No, and I loved that. There was nowhere to hide for anything that shouldn’t be there. Slightly high in fruity esters. Why? A hint of wild yeast spice. How? The faux-IPA and its kindred schooled me in brewing practice and analysis. Sure, it could’ve been called something else instead of an IPA, but that was irrelevant to me then.

It allowed my curiosity to continue seeping, my love of food and aroma and flavour becoming more apparent to me with age and understanding. I knew I needed more of these things in the beer that I was to spend my life creating.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Scotland. A craft brewery – my first job as a craft brewer with a brew volume that would take half a year to brew what my very first brewery could produce in a day. I worked for board and food and a bit of spending money and I fell in love over again with my chosen profession.

I was brewing, but this time it felt a little more real. Smashing up hops and burying my face into them, learning names that I’d only read in brewing books. Centennial, Chinook, Styrian Goldings – back then I was as familiar with the individual characters of these hops as my faux-IPA brewery was with hop character in their faux-IPA.

It was a brand new voyage of discovery. The myriad of malts, the heady intoxication of the heavenly hop cones. The hop-junkie journey was beginning and I was eager. It led me from the small slice of Scottish paradise to the picturesque Peak District. A grand Country House nestled in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, its behemothic presence softened by beautiful gardens and bubbling brooks.

I rediscovered IPA here. I joined the small brewing team of Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi, a Scotsman and an Italian who were forging ahead and developing beers with flavour. Thornbridge called it a contemporary take on traditional thinking.

It was. Jaipur was big and bold and hoppy. It was smooth and drinkable and bitter. It was a giant, angry fruit machine spitting citrussy, grapefruity, tropical tumblings of aroma at me. All this from one variety of malt and two varieties of hops. I was impressed.

Martin left to join Brewdog. I remember my first brew day. I had been there for one week. Washing casks, asking questions. The annoying Kiwi constantly prodding the Italian and the Scotsman. Learning from them as they learnt from me. Bringing big brewery ways to their craft. Talking sanitation and procedures and analysis and flavours and aromas and mash temperatures. Brewer porn.

That first solo brew at Thornbridge was nerve-racking. Jaipur. A few days of watching the boys and taking notes. They were off to meet Michael Jackson in London. A visit that was to change a certain Martin Dickie’s life path and resulted in Brewdog. I held the fort with Dave Corbey, the guru brewing consultant that helped set up Thornbridge. I brewed my first IPA. Lashings of bright yellow and green hop cones. Steam, sweat, nerves. I was hooked, green-tinged hop-filled veins and all.

From the first IPA to the development of Jaipur over years as ingredients change and as perceptions alter. As the brewer strives to make every batch better than the last. The English style IPAs, the Imperial IPAs. It was exciting.

It still is.

I found myself back in the land where I first brewed (what I thought was) an IPA. They didn’t teach me a lot about beer styles at university. Lots of ethyl acetate and citric acid cycles and glycolysis and the advantages of darauflassen, but not so much about the classic beer styles of the UK. But I came back with some knowledge.

I’m brewing IPA again in New Zealand. Not so much the classic English, racked bright-jammed with hops-pitch lined barrel-in a boat-off to India for the troops version, but a modern take on the beer style that I love. Lots of American hop character, bright, shiny and fresh with a lovely caramel malt flavour and a palate impressing bitterness.

I shared this beer with my dad. He usually likes to drink the faux-IPA. Why shouldn’t he? It’s what he has drunk for years, he can buy it cheap and it’s easy to get.

“That has to be one of the best beers in the world”, he said*.

I am proud.**

* The beer in question is Epic Armageddon IPA.
** So proud that I will be celebrating International IPA Day on August 4th whilst at the BrewNZ Beer Awards Dinner and will then celebrate it again on August 5th. Because New Zealand is awesome and the first country in the world to see International IPA day, it just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t celebrate it again when it is August 4th in places like the UK and the USA. Luckily I will be at Beervana, the New Zealand Beer Festival (held in Wellington on the 5th/6th). If you are going, it is essential that you hunt out IPAs, give IPAs to your friends that have never tried them before and sing lots of fun songs whilst replacing the lyrics with IPA.

Burton on Trent, for IPA Pilgrims?

Don’t worry, everything’s Fyne…

How can you not love being a brewer. Or working for Thornbridge. Why the hell am I leaving!

Jim and Simon, the Thornbridge directors kindly gave me permission to head off on a couple of trips to brew up some fun collaboration beers with two of my favourite UK breweries. The Dark Star mash-up (see what I did there!) was great fun (I almost wrote tun instead of fun then… oh, how you’ll miss me) and I am assured the beer is as awesome as Mark and I anticipated. My brewing life in the UK wouldn’t have come full-circle unless I got a brew in at Fyne Ales though, so a few phone calls and emails later, the seed of a beer began to develop.

The Fyne team back in 2006... Sean, Archie, Malcolm and Me!

When I arrived fresh-faced and eager to leap into the craft brewing scene back in 2006, I got my first interview with Tuggy and Jonny Delap up in Cairndow, Scotland. Fyne Ales is located at the head of Loch Fyne, an unbelievably picturesque sea loch, complete with jumping wild salmon and roaring stags. It was amazing, but unfortunately the brewer job had already gone to ex-Oakham Ales brewer and hop ninja, Wil Wood. Definitely a good decision over a young Kiwi fella with only big brewery experience.

I ended up at Fyne Ales for two and a half months, staying with the DeLap family and learning the ins and outs of cask ale and craft beer. It was a revelation and set me on a path that was to bring me to Thornbridge just a few months later. I still pinch myself when I think about how lucky I’ve been to work where I have. I think that to make great beer, there has to be great people involved. Jonny and Tuggy at Fyne Ales and Jim and Si at Thornbridge are testament to that.

Bottling back in the day... I was a master on the capper 🙂

I had a chat to incumbent Fyne Ales brewer and workhorse Malcolm Downie about doing a brew together and bringing my amazing brewing experience in the UK full circle and we were good to go! A chat with Head Brewer, Wil Wood later and a Black IPA was in the making!

If you ever get the chance to get up to Loch Fyne, be prepared for some of the most amazing scenery you’ll ever see. Towering highlands and deep, rugged valleys. Then of course, there’s the beer! The deliciously hoppy, slightly malty Highlander, the intensely aromatic, pale Avalanche, the Amarillo- packed Vital Spark, every beer’s a winner!

A view further down the Loch. Awesome!

The brew day dawned and I found myself getting up at Tuggy’s place, warming my hands on the Aga and heading over the road to the brewery. Wil had already started mashing in, the familiar sweet-Horlicks aroma of Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter malt filling the brewhouse. Initially we were thinking of a 5.5% Black IPA, but in the end it ended around 5.9%, I reckon that’s a pretty good number as well! The mash tun was pretty much filled to the brim and it was a bit of a wait as those enzymes we all know and love got to work chopping up the long-chain jumble of carbohydrates into simple sugars. Our yeast were going to be happy!

Can we overflow the mash tun?

Meanwhile, hops were discussed. Wil is a massive fan of the German Perle hop… it just so happened that we love it at Thornbridge as well and use this is in brews such as Lord Marples, Merrie, even our Pilsener! The decision was made to use Perle and the floral/spicy/resinous Centennial in bittering and follow through with a heady mix of Centennial, Citra and Amarillo for aroma. The plan was also to dry-hop the beer.

Thank God there's no such thing as "Too Much Hops"

We also made a decision to have a bit of a play with some mash-hopping. “Why would you want to throw perfectly good Centennial hops in the mash!” I here some of you ask. There are a couple of theories at play regarding this. One is based on improved lautering/filtration and wort run-off… something that wouldn’t benefit us with just throwing the hops on the top of the mash. Another theory is based on stabilisation of hop volatiles. It is postulated that at the lower mash pH, hop oils will be slightly protected or bind with other wort constituents to result in a more smooth, clean hop profile and bitterness. Either way, it was a bit of fun, the brewhouse smelt amazing and I reckon it will have done more good than harm!

The next ingredient is very much a novel one for me. When we decided to do a big hoppy beer, we initially discussed a crossover between Avalanche and Jaipur. WIl though, had played around with a PureMalt extract called RB when at Oakham and mentioned that you got an incredibly black beer with little impact on flavour. I’ve spoken about beer education before with regards to big, hoppy beers that have little roast character and how they can really open peoples eyes with regards to the types of beer they usually drink, so this was to be another fun experiment. Sure, we can’t turn lead into gold, but this is definitely our twist on Alchemy 🙂

Wil poured the RB extract into the underback. The extract itself comes from the finest Simpsons Malt. It is malted as per usual, then PureMalt mill it to a flour, mash as per usual in a mash filter, boil, ferment, clarify and then evaporate the excess liquid off. What you end up with was once an unhopped beer! It is then heat treated for sterility leaving a thick, black almost molasses-like liquid that has the faintest whafts of roast barley and mild coffee with an unmistakable molasses and liquorice note. It’s all very subtle and most interestingly, has hardly any sweetness at all. It tasted good enough to put on a sandwich!

Wil whacks in the RB

Sparge complete, it was time to boil and add hops, something I hadn’t done for a long time at Fyne Ales, that’s for sure! Probably the coolest part of the day was cleaning out the mash tun. In fact, as you can see below, not much has changed! (Well maybe the hair cut, the extra stone or so of weight, the grey hairs and a few more wrinkles…)

Cleaning out the mash tun in 2006

Cleaning out the mash tun in 2010

Casting kicked off, with the oily-black wort making its way to fermenter. The aroma was fantastic, the last massive charge of US hops had worked perfectly, in fact I would have eaten the Citra hops raw if they weren’t needed in the brew, freakin love those flowers!

Another amazing brew (to be dubbed Fyne Bridge Black IPA of course) was complete, life was great and it was a fitting end to my time over here. Thanks Fyne Ales and Tuggy for everything. Malc, Wil and the team are gonna keep brewing cracking beers… In fact, a little birdy told me to keep an eye out for their Sublime Stout, it’s, well… sublime!


You know you love it!

Catherine deftly balances a giant pint glass

Catherine deftly balances a giant pint glass

After a great beer festival earlier in the year at the Coach and Horses in Dronfield, we’ve decided to give it another go, albeit in a very toned down way for New Years Eve.

I’ve been lucky enough to have briefly lived in Scotland, where I began my micro-brewing career at Fyne Ales at the head of Loch Fyne. The beers were fantastic, from their ridiculously drinkable multi-award winning Highlander through to the light, citric twist of Pipers Gold or a relatively new addition to their stable, the awesome Avalanche. They produce, somewhat understated in my opinion, a fantastic range of great, extremely drinkable brews. It was a real shock to the system, having come from a brewery that would brew around 120 000 litres of wort in a day, to land in the middle of a towering glen, using water collected from the local burn and brewing a mere 1640 litres three or four times a week. But under the watchful eye of Malcolm Downie, Fyne brewer if ever there was one, I began to learn the ways of the craft brewery and it was a great opportunity to take what I knew from brewing with the big boys and began the process of sliding it sideways into the exquisite joy that is microbrewing.

While in Scotland I had the chance to try many a fine brew and it has been an annual pilgrimage for myself and Catherine to head up that way to sample a few of the local brews. Whether it be a delicious Black Cuillin up in the Isle of Skye, which now has a couple of breweries, a pint of the good stuff at the Ben Leva Hotel in Drumnadrochit (where I first tasted and fell in love with the joy that is Stornoway black pudding) or sharing a Zephyr with the Brewdog guys up in their brewery in Fraserburgh, it’s always a choice drop. It probably wasn’t until Catherine and I went up to judge in the Beer of Scotland competition last year that we realised how diverse and interesting the craft ale scene is up in the far North. We were hooked! (well, I suppose it could be argued that I already was…)

A little suggestion from Tuggy, the owner of Fyne Ales and a good chat with Malcolm about what beers to get in and the New Years Eve festival was well on it’s way. It’s not going to be a big one like we did in May with marquees and barbecues and bands-a-blaring, but instead we’re aiming for something a little quieter, a bit of live music inside, haggis, neeps and tatties for the hungry amongst us and a great selection of good old hand-crafted ale.

For the thirsty… we have beers from Fyne Ales, Harviestoun, Isle of Skye, Orkney, Highland and of course Thornbridge!

I thought I’d add the tasting notes for the beers here, just in case you’re curious… The festival itself runs throughout the week (or until the beer runs out… maybe it will be New Years Eve?), should be a good’n!

From Fyne Ales

Avalanche 4.5% Dry and delicious, this straw coloured golden ale has a fragrant lemon foretaste, and a hint of grapefruit in the finish. Refreshing, delicate, beautifully balanced. Winner of the golden ale section at the World Beer Awards 2009 & bronze medallist at the 2009 International Beer Challenge.

Holly Daze 5% An antidote to Christmas. No fancy spices just a really good stronger ale with a crisp hop flavour and plenty of malt. A refreshing beer to clear the palate.

Maverick 4.2% A fine, robust fruity ale with reddish mahogany colour and warm roasted malt flavours. A full ‘mouth’ taste and fruity hop aromas generate a distinctive character to this beer. 

From Harviestoun Brewery

Bitter & Twisted 4.2% A sharp, blond beer with a superb, fresh hop profile combining aromatic Hallertau Hersbrucker with spicy Challenger. It is finished by late hopping with Styrian Goldings, which gives sharpness like the twist of a lemon. A truly refreshing & strangely moreish beer.

Mr Snowball 4.5% The colour of dark copper with a nose that is hoppy and spicy, a balanced palate and a long, hoppy finish. There are crystal and chocolate malts in this tawny beer – it’s full bodied with a delightful hop character from Challenger and Styrian Goldings.

From Orkney Brewery

Dragon Head 4% Dragonhead is dark, intense & full flavoured, Orkney’s tribute to the Vikings & their cultural legacy in the area. On the nose, there is a smooth roasted malt aroma giving bitter chocolate, dark roasted coffee, and smokey notes balanced by hints of spicy Goldings hops. On the palate, the dark roasted malts combine to give a rich, rounded palate with chocolate, toast & nut flavours with the Goldings featuring again with a hint of spice.

Northern Light 4% On the nose, this straw-coloured beer offers appealing citrus fruits, apricot & hop-resin aromas. These fruits combine on the palate with a delicate malt character to give a hoppy, zesty approachability.

Dark Island 4.6% Hints of bitter chocolate, figs & toffee feature on the nose of this dark beer. These resolve in to a silky smooth, coffee & chocolate flavours, followed by figs, dates, & dried fruits. The aftertaste has a lingering sense of the fruits & hop bitterness.

From Highland Brewing Company

Scapa Special 4.2% Golden & sparkling in the glass, with hints of fruit esters and malt, with light hop notes on the nose. Brewed with Maris otter Pale Ale Malt & a blend of four hops from America, Germany, New Zealand & Slovakia. Each one selected for their spiciness and aroma and all giving that certain something to back up the wholesome maltiness provided by the Maris Otter. Champion Beer of Scotland 2008.

Dark Munro 4% Soft chocolate malt ‘coffee’ notes are evident on the nose with the slightest hint of hop. Depending on at what stage you are drinking this beer, fresh the chocolate malt is crisp and may have a hint of phenols when fresh, when well vented or halfway through a cask, the chocolate is soft & velvety with a perfectly balanced hop and a hint of fruity fermentation esters. Becomes dryer and ever so slightly hoppier as it ages. Champion Beer of Scotland 2007.

From Isle of Skye Brewing Co.

Red Cuillin 4.2% The Skye Brewery’s much-praised flagship ale. Reddish-hued, slightly malty and nutty in character, smooth to the taste. A multi-award-winning ale, named after the well-known hills of the Isle of Skye.

Black Cuillin 4.5% A distinctive dark ale brewed with roast barley and rolled roast Scottish oatmeal, giving an almost stout-like bitterness, smoothed through the addition of pure Scottish heather honey. It is believed that this is the only ale, as distinct from stout, which uses rolled roast oatmeal.

We’ll also be having a good line-up of our beers, namely Ashford, Pearl, Jaipur, Kipling, Lord Marples, Wild Swan, Brother Rabbit, Merrie, Raven, Saint Petersburg and Seaforth. We also might just have something a little special… Early in 2009 we did a couple of collaboration brews with both Dark Star Brewery and Birrificio Italiano. With Dark Star we brewed a fantastic Old Ale which is still happily maturing away in our stainless maturation vessel. We also brewed a Barley Wine with legendary Italian brewers Birrificio Italiano which is now ageing away quietly in a couple of ex-Burgundy and ex-Bordeaux barrels, previously used by Nyetimber (winners of the IWSC trophy for the best worldwide sparkling wine not once, but thrice!).

I managed to put aside a small pin (4.5 gallon cask) that contains some of the unoaked barley wine and a little of the old ale, so fingers crossed it makes an appearance sometime in the first week of January. Yummy!

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