Changing Tides and Pearls of the Pacific

It’s amazing what 2 1/2 years away from a country can teach you. Coming back to the UK provided me with a huge lungful of fresh (and remarkably cool) air and sometimes the mind and soul needs inspiration. I found bucket loads…

So, as I talked about in my previous post, it was back to England for me with an invitation from the JD Wetherspoon pub group to come over and brew a tasty beverage for their biannual International Real Ale Festival. The ale of choice was a nice, hoppy, black number, brewed at the fantastic Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire with a liberal dosing of Kiwi hops in the mix. The festival just began a couple of days ago, so it has been brilliant to see people on social media enjoying the beer and commenting so positively!

It began (inevitably) with the long airway trek from the Land of the Long White Cloud via various countries to the ever welcoming London Heathrow airport. I was met there by Ian Jeffery of Naked Brands, the company that has the fun challenge of organizing all of us international brewers and ensuring we arrive and get to our corresponding breweries on time! After 50 hours of travel, I did find myself slightly dehydrated, so by luck, there was a pub in the airport. Fellow international brewer, Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery was obviously also feeling a little dry, so we shared a couple of pints, had a few yarns, as seems to happen in British pubs and made our way to the hotel in Euston. This hotel was conveniently close to the Euston Tap and even closer to the Cider Tap. Needless to say, we sampled like we hadn’t been there for years and slept like babies that night.

A thirsty Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery

The next morning it was up bright and early and on to the train to Lincolnshire. I was off to Batemans Brewery in the bustling metropolis of Wainfleet All Saints to lay down a couple of brews and freakin’ excited at the prospect! The train ride gave me a bit of time to reflect on the quality and diversity of the beers and ciders that I’d been sampling the night before. I thought back to 2006 when I first arrived in the UK and began brewing there and the offer of beers that was around. There wasn’t a lot of non big brand beer available, seldom did you see something from the US. The keg beer from smaller breweries in the UK was pretty much limited to breweries like Meantime and Samuel Smiths and even then, I could imagine the challenge to get tap space in bars was a tough one. Changing tides? Absolutely.

Leaving England in 2010, I remembered the beginning of the London Brewery Alliance, with its 9 or 10 breweries back then. Returning a couple of years later, I was absolutely staggered by the amount of intensive growth. The new wave of breweries, all working hard to promote and interest people with a good pint… An impressive 40+ breweries now operating in the London region. It’s amazing to see this change and how this industry is metamorphosing with a great combination of tasty keg and cask beer on offer in a growing number of pubs and bars.

My mind shifted back to the flat, agricultural fields of Lincolnshire and the heady, sulphurous Brassica aromatics that came from the surrounding countryside, cabbages abound. I made a mental note that fresh cabbage leaves should never make it into any speciality beer…

I met up with Martin Cullimore, Batemans’ Head Brewer at the train station and we made our way to the brewery. I was really looking forward to seeing the distinctive windmill tower that is heralded in their branding and was suitably impressed by the choice of flag that stood proud at the top…

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

It was up bright and early the next morning, with 120 UK barrels (around 19640 litres) to be brewed, it was going to be a decent days work! I met up with brewer Adrian Symonds and we began mashing in some tasty Pacific Pearl wort! Interestingly, Adrian and his family (including his parents and uncles) had worked collectively for around 180 years for Batemans Brewery. How amazing is that!!

The Pacific Pearl hop and grain grist came about from a bunch of phone calls and emails between Head Brewer Martin and myself. We chose to use some malt varieties that Martin used in his Batemans beers, in particular the Flagon variety of barley along with a blend of Munich, Chocolate, Black malt and a hint of Crystal to provide a bit of dextrinous richness to balance out the bittering hops. Hop wise, I chose a triumvirate of Kiwi powerhouse hops… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem and Pacifica. The plan was also to use some Nelson Sauvin or New Zealand Chinook in the dry-hopping, but due to lack of supply and the seemingly endless infatuation with Kiwi hops abroad, I decided that an alternative that would give a similar resinous, citrus kick would have to be the lovely US Chinook… It is grown close to the Pacific, so I thought that was enough for me to allow it into the mix…

Montage!

Montage!

Always a fan of the montage, here is a bit of an explanation of the odd picture to the left (clockwise from George…)

Interestingly, Batemans Brewery was founded by George Bateman in 1874… Is it sheer coincidence that a brewer from Good George Brewery should be brewing beer there a mere 139 years later? I think not!

Next is a picture of Pacific Pearl in the later stages of fermentation in one of the many open fermenters that Batemans use.

That strange looking fella is a brewer at 5am in the morning loading the giant grist case with a little under 2 tonnes of malted barley.

This Batemans pump clip montage appears on a wall of the bedroom in the brewer’s cottage.

That bright red glowing light is what the Pacific Pearl wort looks like as it rushes through the heat exchanger.

The crazy, creamy stuff is the yeast at a stage known as High Krausen… it’s right at the peak of active fermentation and smells incredibly fruity!.

The final picture is of the four separate wort samples after all 240 barrels were brewed… Good to see that colour consistency!

All in all, I can’t speak more highly of my experience with the Batemans team. They looked after me really well, it was amazing to brew in a place with such heritage and, as always, you learn so much from hanging out and brewing with brewers. Everyone will always do something slightly different and its always an extremely educational experience. The thing that impressed me most was the loyalty that the staff had… I think Adam, who was in charge of quality assurance and the brewing laboratory was still thought of as a newbie after being there for 12 years…

Lincoln Cathedral by night

Lincoln Cathedral by night

I also got the chance to head into Lincoln for a night on the town with Andrew, the Batemans Sales Director. It was brilliant and many pints and curries were sampled 🙂

Next stop was back to London where we headed to the impressive Cross Keyes pub to meet up with all of the other international brewers and have a meet and greet with the Wetherspoons staff. As well as Jason from Devils Backbone Brewery, the international team included Cam O’Connor from Deschutes Brewery in the US, Evgeny Tolstov from Vasileostrovsky Brewery in Russia, Klaudio Mouzakitis from Corfu Brewery, Lodewijk Swinkels from Bierbrouwerij Koningshoeven (La Trappe) in the Netherlands, Gary Lohin from Central City Brewing in Canada and Honza Kocka from Brewery Nomád/Kocovnik in Czechoslovakia. Needless to say, a few pints were enjoyed in a few of the local Wetherspoons outlet before we made our way to Borough Market and the celebrated Rake bar so that we could continue to enjoy the plethora of delightful brews that the UK has to offer.

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

 

The following day saw a bunch of us head for a brewery tour at Fullers Brewery out in Chiswick. I had never had the chance to visit this brewery and (as you can imagine) was pretty damn excited about going to check out this important part of London brewing history. In my mind, their London Porter is the epitome of this style of beer and I always find myself absolutely amazed by its richness, body and the incredible chocolate character. It’s one of those beers that is great on either cask or keg.

Speaking of which, there is some crazy, weird debate going on in the insular world of brewing, beer blogging, beer social media etc. about whether cask can be craft (Mark Dredge of Pencil and Spoon puts forward an interesting blog here), whether it’s okay to refer to keg as being craft or non-craft, whether breweries are allowed to put forward cask dispense and keg dispense options for the same beers, why keg beer costs more than cask beer, blah blah blah.

Two words. STOP IT.

How on earth is this industry going to keep moving forward at the rate it has over the last 10 years if everyone is riding the wave of pedantry, getting pissed off with terminology and generally alienating each other. So brewers… Please, please, please spend lots of time brewing great beer and promoting it and educating people about it, not moaning about your dislike of the term “craft keg” which exists in the minutiae of beer marketing and promotion. We’re an industry that works really well together, let’s aim to keep it that way! Make good beer and let the moaners moan.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough and will fill you all in on my tours of Fullers, Meantime, Camden Town, my road trip with brewer extraordinaire, Mark Tranter and super-fun collaboration brew with the Wild Beer Co guys in Somerset, a trip to Bristol and their great Beer Factory, as well as a couple of days at the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield (and a brief interlude or two at Thornbridge Brewery) in my next blog. I’m also pretty keen to let you know about my 5 favourite beers of the trip!!

Cheers and Beers!

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

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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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