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

Larger – An Imperial Pilsner

Person Number 1: “You spelt it wrong, it’s l-a-g-e-r.”

Me: “No, I didn’t. It’s Larger. It’s like a lager, but it’s bigger.”

Person Number 1: “Oooooh, I see what you did there!”

Me: “Yes, yes you did and I am funny.”

Person Number 1: “No, you’re not. Puns are never funny.”

Me: “I’ll have to agree with you. They’re not funny… they’re punny.”

Person Number 1: <Punches Kelly>

Me: “Ouch. Did you just punch me because that action includes the word, pun?”

I was going to leave this blogpost at the above conversation, but thought the avid readers out there would want a little more information about our new beer, Larger and were less concerned at the fact that someone hit me for using puns. So, I’ll do what I always do and tell you a little story about how this beer came to be.

Our pretty new label...

Often here at Epic we get enquiries via email asking what beers we have, sometimes it may even be a sales order and sometimes, there are spelling mistakes. It’s most likely that the word that is spelt wrong is lager, where an erroneous “R” makes it’s way in. So, it made sense that if we were going to brew a big Pilsner-style beer, that we would annoy everyone out there and call it Larger.  This now means we’re likely to get a load of people ordering the wrong beer at bars, bottle-stores getting confused and generally, a bunch of folk being miffed at us. Which is why it meant we had to make this beer taste awesome enough, that people wouldn’t worry about it’s slightly frustrating name.

So how does one go about doing this? I’ll be honest. My lager-brewing skills are somewhat limited. Sure, the first two years of my brewing career were spent with DB Breweries, pumping out hectolitre upon hectolitre of bottom-fermented lager-style beers and in my time at Thornbridge, we worked together with Birrificio Italiano and brewed a Pilsener called Italia. Here at Epic we brew our nice dry-hopped Epic Lager, but apart from that, my knowledge was sparse. The best thing to do in such a situation is taste beers similar to what you want to brew and read as much as you can about the brewing techniques.

Thornbridge Italia (courtesy of Leigh from goodpeopleeats.blogspot.com)

If we bounce back a bit to February 23rd of this year… Myself, Luke from Epic and a very important chap who ferries super-fresh bottles of beer from the USA to our own doorsteps, Dave “The Beer Mule” Summergreene sat down and tried a Port Brewing Panzer Imperial Pilsner. It had a big, rich malt backbone, quite sweet in character with a touch of caramel to help fight back against the huge noble hop character. It was big, bitter, balanced and beautiful. We were all super-impressed with the brew and pretty much decided there and then, that we wanted to do an Epic Imperial Pilsner at some stage. Dave had met Julian Shrago, Head Brewer and Owner of Beachwood BBQ Brewery in Long Beach whilst in Los Angeles and put me in contact with him. Julian had originally been a US National Homebrew champion with one of his IPAs. Obviously knowing his hops extremely well he then teamed up with the Port Brewing crew and they brewed the Panzer Imperial Pilsner as a collaboration. Julian told me how he’d been inspired by the Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner back in 2003 and based on his knowledge of Double IPAs, went about creating the brew based on big hopping rates, but went with German Pilsner malt, German hops and a German Lager yeast strain. With that advice on board, we began thinking of a recipe…

Our inspiration! (Pic courtesy of fullpint.com)

April rolled around and The Beer Mule arrived with another selection of fine beers. We sipped our way through Uinta Brewing Company’s Tilted Smile and Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Whistler Imperial Pils. I remembered back to a year before, drinking an Odell Double Pilsner that Doug had delivered to Thornbridge when working on a collaboration with us. They were all great beers and had seemingly taken the Double/Imperial IPA model and modified it with the use of cool fermentation, bottom-fermenting lager yeast strains and a big whack of hops more typically indicative of German and Bohemian Pilsner/Pilseners.

It was time to develop the recipe. We contacted Wyeast to discuss the possibility of getting a decent amount of Bohemian Lager Yeast sent over for us to grow up in a batch of our Epic Lager. We usually use California Lager Yeast in Epic Lager and were really interested to see how this strain would effect the flavour profile in this beer, as well as it being an essential part of the process in which we got a pitchable quantity of yeast for the Imperial Pilsner. The Bohemian Lager Yeast brewed Lager showed a slightly cleaner, crisper finish, a touch more bitterness and the tiniest amount of sulphur throughout fermentation. Although it was a longer fermentation and maturation with this yeast than it was with the Californian Lager strain, I was personally impressed with the characters that this yeast had brought to the beer. It probably wasn’t enough to make a considerable difference to the overall character of Epic Lager, but it exhibited characteristics that we knew would be perfect with our Imperial Pilsner.

The wonderfully fragrant, and lightly biscuity Pilsner Malt

For the grist, we decided on Weyermann Pilsener malt as our base. We wanted a nice, clean malt grain character and the German malt was perfect for this. It makes up part of our grist in the original Epic Lager (along with Bohemian Pilsener malt), so we knew how it behaved in a brew and were pretty pleased with it’s flavour profile. The aim for this beer was to hit around 8.5% alcohol by volume with an Original Gravity of 1.077 and a Final Gravity of 1.012-1.013. This would mean we’d need some good attenuation from the yeast to get the beer as dry and clean as we wanted it. I was nervous about this… the last thing we wanted was an underattenuated strong lager!

The bitterness we were aiming for was quite high at 70 IBUs, but this was tempered by the fact that we chose one of my favourite bittering hops, Pacific Jade. This hop exhibits an intense Noble hop character in that it is very low in a hop alpha acid called Cohumulone. This alpha acid is often responsible for a harsh bitterness, so a low level can give a softer perceived bitterness in the finished beer and in my opinion, Pacific Jade is one of the best at giving a well-utilised, soft, clean bitterness.

This little guy helps us with some nice, soft bitterness at low levels

Pacific Jade was paired throughout the brew with three hops of German parentage. Liberty and Santiam, both grown in the US and the hops used in our Epic Lager, were used liberally throughout the flavouring and aroma additions, their Hallertau ancestry lending well to the character we were after in this brew. These were joined by US Tettnang, another of the noble hop varieties and finally finished off with some Kiwi-grown Kohatu. The blending of US and NZ hops had worked well for us in our earlier Hop Zombie, so it made sense to do something similar with Larger. The plan was also to do a massive dry-hop with Larger, using Liberty, Santiam, US Tettnang and Kohatu over a number of dry hops based on how the flavour of the beer was progressing during the lagering process.

When it came to water chemistry and the mash regime, it was all down to compromise and trying to coax as many fermentables as possible from the grains. The temperature-stepped mash started low to really work the maltase, peptidase and β-glucanase enzymes and this was followed by an increase to push the proteases and β-amylases. The majority of the mash rest was done at 66°C to favour α-amylase activity and limit dextrin content. The grist itself was mashed quite thin, emulating the type of liquor:grist ratio that is used in continental decoction mashing (even though this was solely infusion). This thinner grist was chosen as it helps to aid amylase heat resistance at the water mineral content we were looking at using. Because Auckland water is very soft (in fact it is quite similar to the water profile of Plzen), it was decided to use only a small amount of Calcium Sulphate in this beer. The lower calcium concentration was part of the reason a thin grist was used and hopefully the low level sulphate ions would bring some crispness and dryness to the finish.

Just like the blog before this one, we now wait for our beer to be finished. It is sitting patiently in tank, exactly one month from brewday today and developing the flavours that we want. It’s slowly picking up the aromatics from the massive amount of dry-hopping. The finish and bitterness are exactly where we wanted them, the lower alpha acid hops are working in a different way than the big high-alpha beasts we used in Hop Zombie, providing us with something big, yet refined. The body is perfect, nice and light and summery, which is convenient considering this is to act as our Christmas release beer from now onwards!

Less than a month to go…

Our keg tap badge... who will be the lucky recipients of our small number of kegs??

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