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?

Why Beer Matters (well, to me that is…)

Back in January, guru beer writer Pete Brown offered the trip he’d won to Budvar brewery in Czechoslovakia to any budding beer writer that was able to whack down 1500 words on Why Beer Matters.

So, I quickly whacked together a piece on why beer matters to me in a bit of a stream of consciousness way (and in a way that was never going to win an award… I’ll stick to brewing I think!)

The piece below is my own personal account on Why Beer Matters…

It is a hard, steel can with a pull-tab from my childhood. It is what I watched the grown folk around me drink, laughing, barbecuing, tanned limbs and New Zealand sunshine. It is my first sip – metallic, bitter, fizzy, but adult and grown up. The first few beers given to me by trusting parents. Beginnings of laughter and fun with friends around this most social of lubricants. Good times and those not so good.

The first sip of cold lager after walking up a mountain. A swig of dark ale sitting on a beach in summer, driftwood campfire glowing, hair still wet from the last surf. Warmth inside. Warmth outside. My first six pack, all consumed with comrades around.

Blending in at a rugby club, one litre jug of cold draught beer and glass so small your hand almost hides it. Replenishing liquid after a hard game, of course. First pub visit with ID in hand. At last.

Leaving home. Sharing a beer with Dad. Cheers son, good luck. University and a calling. Sciences and biology and bacteria and yeast. Yeast. Flavours and aromas and a love of gastronomy. A melding of technology and art. Fascination.

A hero in the shape of a Professor. A legend from Belgium transported to New Zealand. An inspiration for the path my life was to take. His nose was his tool, instincts honed and palate ready. Teaching the way of beer, the way of brewing, the way of tasting. Epitome of passion now long gone. Rest in Peace, JP.

Fermentation science, flavour chemistry, gowns and caps and suits and furore. Another piece of paper on the mantelpiece. To the pub with the family, with the girlfriend, with mates. Share a beer together. Enjoy the beer, talk about the beer. Follow your nose. Wisps of sadness and end of an era. Profession awaits.

Trainee brewer. Apprentice. Tank scrubbing, toothbrush and caustic in hand. Detail, care, attention, perfection. Laboratory. Microbiology and microscopes. Yeast and agar and bottling and testing. 10am – palate at its best. Tasting beers, conference calls, discussions on flavour and aroma and esters and wild yeast . Fascination.

Brewing and malt. Maltings and grain. Hop farms and bines. Marketing, accounting, sales, engineering. The life of a trainee. The beer, what about the beer. Can I develop a recipe? Laughter. Could we change this? No. Why do we do this? Because. Frustration.

Leaving and sadness and a change in life path. Foreign. A foreigner. The Land of the Morning Calm and beer made with rice. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s not what I want to drink. It’s not what I want to make. Kindergartens and teaching  and Kimchi and seaweed. Three years and a love for a foreign land. Korea. Its food. Its culture. Its people. Student loan gone but something else missing.

Brewing beckons. The great Overseas Experience. The OE. UK. From Thailand and heat and elephants and Singha and mosquitoes. To Scotland. Lochs and laughter and learning anew. Fyne Ales. Microbrewing. Tasting the malt and talking malty talk. Rubbing and sniffing green hop flowers. Heady perfume. Flowers and resin. Pine and mangoes. Blackberries and raspberries and lemons and oranges. Caught by a hop cone. A temporary job over. Must move on.

Up and down a country. From Argyll to Derbyshire to Oxfordshire to Kent. Which brewery should I choose. Can a brewery choose a person? Instincts. Important in brewing. Important for a job?

Thornbridge. A house. Megalithic. Almost foreboding in its angles and corners and rooms and ceilings. A job. Another job. A pub. Coach and Horses. Dronfield. Decisions. Maybe I’ll have a Jaipur while I think it over. A smooth, bittersweet hop slap. My type of beer. Well made, well brewed. This brewery isn’t afraid. Neither am I.

Assistant brewer. Farewell to Mr. Dickie. Scotland beckons. Farewell Scotland for me. Hello again for him. My girl, Catherine. A pub. Now, our house. Brewing by day, pulling pints by night. Tired. Focused. Loving it. Stefano Cossi. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. An Italian and a Kiwi were brewing beer in Derbyshire. You’ve heard it.

From assistant to brewer. Crafting beers, challenging and trialling and experimenting and implementation. Our mantra runs true. It’s in our ears and in our blood. Passion, innovation, knowledge. We believe in this. I believe in this. All consuming. Morning, up, brewing. Evening, home, cellar to deal with. Stillages, customers, feedback, chatting, learning. The perfect pint and the quest for this elusive beast. I found it. It slipped. I found it again! Sleep.

Awards and kudos and people chatting. Chatting about beer. At last. Listening to words. Citrus, says one. Biscuity, says another. I like that, she says. Education and understanding and opening doorways. Achievement. Pride. What’s wrong with pride? Stoic in my job and my life and my profession. My vocation.

Living and breathing and sleeping and dreaming beer. Are you a fool? No, this is what I do. I read beer. I taste beer. I talk beer. I think beer. I can’t help it. It has captured me.

A new brewery. Technology and pumps and sensors and a reversion to the wide-eyed days of apprentice-dom. Learning. So much learning. Systems and techniques and processes and training and staff and production and management. It’s all important. It all matters.

Yeast. The same. Water. The same. Malt and hops and brewers. The same. Brewery. Oh, so different. Where are the stone walls, weeping when it rains. Still there. Still brewing. Still experimenting. Now we can clean and keep clean. Brew with exactness. Find those flavours. Preserve those flavours.  Can we master this wild horse. Technology. Break it in. Keep her steady. Amber and gold and brown and black liquids all flow pure and clean and crisp and tasty. So far. So good.

Does beer matter? It does to me. Different for you? A pint at a pub, that’s all it is, no need to dress it up. Not for me, my friends. Not for me.

The fantastically talented Mark Dredge was triumphant in the competition, with Shea Luke as second runner up and John Bidwell as third runner up. John Bidwell’s great piece can be read here. Really looking forward to reading the other two!

Well, time to go and get ready for Chicago, where myself and Stefano are judging in the World Beer Cup, followed by the US Craft Brewers Conference. Please don’t swell too much, my precious liver…

British Guild of Beer Writers Dinner 2009

I don’t know if it’s normal or not for brewers to join the Beer Writer’s Guild, but to be honest, I really enjoy writing about my favourite subject in the world. I began writing when I spent a 3 year stint teaching English in South Korea. Just a monthly article for a local community paper back home highlighting what I was doing over there and how interesting and fascinating the Korean culture and country was. I’ve always enjoyed writing. If I hadn’t followed my other passion, science, at university, I would have definitely studied English.

Before I came to the UK, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a Guild of Beer Writers. I had studied for an Institute and Guild of Brewing (now the Institute of Brewing and Distilling) exam whilst a trainee brewer back in NZ and this was my first encounter with the world of Guilds . The Dungeons and Dragons geek in me always thought it was pretty cool that there were still such things as Guilds in the Old World and I half-imagined dudes in hooded cloaks walking through dusty, pillared halls and discussing the Secrets of the Yeast, shifty eyes looking for random assassins from the rival Wine and Whiskey guilds that were bound to attack and steal secrets aplenty. It’s always good to have an imagination.

So there I was, attending my first ever Guild dinner as a fully fledged member. Simon, Alex and I arrived at the venue and began chatting to the myriad of familiar faces that had already gathered in the reception area. There was a fantastic selection of welcome drinks. Offerings from Brains (SA, SA Gold, Dark and the Rev. James), Caledonian (Deuchars IPA, 80/-, Flying Dutchman, Double Dark), Molson Coors (Blue Moon, Grolsch Weizen, Worthington White Shield, Zatec), Shepherd Neame (Bishops Finger, Spitfire, Whitstable Bay) and Well’s and Young’s (Bombardier, Young’s Special London Ale, Young’s Bitter). But I also noticed that one of my favourite lagers, Budvar had a stand. We made a bee-line for the fridge, sampling a few of the nibbles on the way. Tuna Nicoise tartlets, Maki rolls, Pear and Stilton on crumpets, Lamb kofta… yum! The Budvar lager was a great first beer, quenching the palate perfectly and easily blending into the Budvar Dark that followed, all cappuccino and hints of sweetness.

We caught up with Alastair Hook from Meantime Brewery, who excitedly told us of his new brewery expansion and briefly chatted to Sean Franklin from the esteemed Roosters Brewery and Alastair Gilmour, beer writer extraordinaire, resplendent in his tartan tie.

Eventually we were called into the dining area where we were welcomed by the Guild Chairman, Tim Hampson and introduced to the menu by yet another esteemed beer journalist, Adrian Tierney-Jones and the Hilton London Tower Bridge’s Head Chef, Christian Honor.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the tables were all named after hops, and we sat at Perle. As I type, we have a fantastic Dry-Hopped Light Ale sitting in one of our conditioning tanks that we thought would be a fantastic tribute to European hops. At 3.3% AbV, it sits at the more challenging end of the spectrum in terms of creating a beer with a lot of flavour. We used Vienna malt as our base malt instead of the usual Maris Otter pale ale and also went for dextrin and caramalt to give a bit of a nutty, biscuit flavour and a little body. Hop-wise, it was all about Saaz, Tettnang and Santiam. “Santiam?” I hear you all cry? Well, its parentage is mostly European (Tettnang and Hallertau Mittelfruh) with a hint of the US, so we thought it was close enough. As well as using first wort hopping (that’s adding the first load of hops into the copper as you begin running off the wort from the mash) we also dry-hopped in the fermenter with the wonderfully fragrant Perle and again in the conditioning tank with Celeia from Slovenia. The Perle from this season is so good, that I thought we should really honour this beer and named it Pearl (we had also previously done a similar ale at 2.7% with the brilliant German noble hop, Saphir… yep, we called that Sapphire). So to cut a long story short, sitting at the Perle table was quite fitting.

The meal began with a Black Shetland mussel and Margate clam chowder with chilli. Creamy and decadent with some delightful edible garnishes, this worked brilliantly with the Meantime Pilsener it was matched with. The Pilsener come across with touches of bready malt and a lovely noble, slightly grassy hop aroma. The bitterness was crisp and clean and a brilliant cleanser after each mouthfeel of silky soup.

Smoked venison with goat’s cheese on a fig and apple juice terrine was next. Cylindrical like some type of meat-lovers Sushi roll, each mouthful was heavenly. The creamy goat’s cheese saturated the tongue with fats and oils and softened the beautiful, thinly sliced venison that surrounded it. Small cubes of beetroot held hands with the venison, that slightly earthy flavour from both combining wonderfully, eagerly balanced by the slightly tart-sweet combination of apple juice and red wine vinegar.  But it was the beer that brought it all together. Duchesse De Bourgogne by the Verhaeghe brewery in West Flanders is an exquisite example of the sour red-brown beers that the Belgians do so well. Hints of soft acidity, balsamic-soaked cherries, a background of oak and even a touch of fig that works perfectly with the terrine upon which the venison roll rested. Everyone needs to taste food like this with beer like this. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

Our main was a slow braised rabbit leg in a roasted rabbit saddle on a white bean puree and with good old chunky chips. As great as the chips were, they could have easily been left off as the rabbit was great on its own. Not as gamey as some wild rabbit I have eaten, but wonderfully moist and tender with hints of both chicken and pork in its full flavour. This was matched with Ringwood Old Thumper. This was the first time I had tried this beer and I have to admit, I think I need to try it on cask. There was a touch of ketone, almost acetone-like and the alcoholic character (it weighs in at 5.6%) was quite dominant. There was some dry fruit there which had the potential to work well with the rabbit, but for me the rawness pushed this away from being a great match. I think on paper, this would have been bang on, but it just wasn’t quite right. That and I’m very diplomatic 🙂

The cheese course was next and it was already going to be tough to fit it all in. Luckily, for every course we were sharing four bottles of beer between ten people, which meant we were having just enough of each beer to allow us to have a great beer-food experience without bloating ourselves with excess liquid. A whole baked camembert with soused (pickled) black grapes and nice crisp breadsticks married perfectly with a 2005 Fuller’s Vintage Ale. The beer was full of fig and green sultana with just the tiniest hint of Brettanomyces (which was hotly debated by James McRorie of the Durden Beer Circle who insisted it was a character that came from some old speciality malts). No matter, the match was fantastic, all warm, creamy, luscious cheese and lashings of fruit (yeah, I loved Enid Blyton as a kid). Yet another reason to shake John Keeling from Fullers’ hand every time you see him!

Last but not least, even though my tight-fitting suit pants popped a few stitches in protest, was an incredibly rich chocolate tower with walnuts, Tonka beans and heavenly caramel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’d never heard of Tonka beans before (though had played with Tonka trucks as a child… does that count?) and upon researching found that they often have vanilla and almond like aromas. Would love to play around with these in a brew but apparently they have quite a bit of coumarin in them and in large doses this can affect the liver and act as an anti-coagulant. Funnily enough, this compound is also present in the herb Woodruff, which we grow at Thornbridge and has a wonderful almond aroma. Woodruff was traditionally used in brewing and is still added in syrup form to the sour Berliner Weisse beers. The desert was incredible, though I just couldn’t finish it. The beer that was matched with this was Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, an incredible beer. Its nose smacked of lemon-sherbert balls covered in milk chocolate, it was light, yet rich in the mouth and I was really looking forward to tasting it with the dessert. But the dessert was just a bit too chocolaty (if that is possible), a bit too rich and the beer suffered slightly. It didn’t help that I stuffed excessively large helpings into my mouth… maybe if I’d had smaller tastings, it would have allowed the beer to come through a lot better. I would have loved to see this rich treat matched with the intense Harveys Imperial Stout, which isn’t loved by all, but is definitely an intensely flavoured beer that may have matched this lush dessert. It would have also been fitting considering Miles Jenner took out the Guild Brewer of the Year award this year.

Speaking of the awards, was absolutely awesome to see the omni-enthusiastic Mark Dredge from the acclaimed Pencil and Spoon blog pick up the New Media award and Ben McFarland win the Beer and Food Writing Award with his fantastic World’s Best Beers: 1000 Unmissable Brews from Portland to Prague. I think this is one of the best presented beer tomes around and the section from El Bulli is brilliant! Was great to see another new blogger, Dave Bailey, pick up an award for his brilliant Woolpack Dave blog about life brewing and running a pub. A great social commentary on life surrounded by beer and one I can relate to very easily.

Pete Brown picked up the Budvar John White Travel Bursary and the coveted Michael Jackson Gold Tankard Award as Beer Writer of the Year. Completely deserved in my opinion, what with his epic journey and the resultant Hops and Glory (which you should all buy for your beer loving Dad’s this year for Christmas) on the history of India Pale Ale.

It was also great to see Alastair Gilmour and Jeff Evans get awarded. Jeff contributes a plethora of information, both in books and on the internet and I love Alastair’s writing style – it’s very user friendly, factual and a pleasure to read.

All in all, it was a great night and I’d recommend you all start tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard or scribbling frantically on random pieces of A4 paper, join the Guild, don some robes and start whispering to each other while reading ancient leather-bound books about the secrets of fermentology…

Hops, Glory and Beers of the World

With all of the challenges that come with being a brewer, there’s also the fun stuff! Last Wednesday saw myself, Simon, Alex and Stuart Ross (Head Brewer of Crown Brewery at the Hillsborough Hotel) head down to Burton upon Trent to meet up with everyone’s favourite beer writer, Pete Brown at the launch of his new book.

As it’s summer and Sheffield is just a stone’s throw away, it is inevitable that it was going to rain. And rain it did, not being one to dodge the odd cliché, the heavens did open! In fact, I found later that we got a month’s worth of rain in 12 hours!

We made it to the fabulous Coopers Tavern, one of the coolest pubs I have ever been in. A stone’s throw from Coors Brewery, this unassuming pub opened up into a couple of front rooms and right at the very back, through a narrow door, was the tiny bar. Sitting behind it were a row of casks, all on gravity and jacketed up, making it as authentic an ale boozer that an innocent Kiwi like myself has been.

The reason for the visit was to go and see Pete Brown unveil his cool new book, Hops and Glory which I think you should all buy here. Pete was in fine form as always, and we also got to try the fascinating Calcutta IPA that had been his constant companion throughout the journey. Okay, so it wasn’t the actual beer that had crossed the equator a couple of times, but it was from the same brew that Pete and highly awarded Worthington’s White Shield brewer, Steve Wellington had brewed. We also got to try a cask version of Worthington’s White Shield, which was great. Nice and fruity with a solid malt base and a great amount of body.

Pete and Si share a laugh... or was it just for the camera...

Pete and Si share a laugh... or was it just for the camera...

I guess the Coopers being the pub that it is, I got chatting to the ladies behind the bar about Thornbridge beers, which they said sold really well. Always great news for a brewer to hear! Later in the evening, she came up to me and said I meet like to meet a group of home brewers that come in bimonthly to compare their beers. The crazy thing was that they were all comparing their clone brews of Thornbridge Jaipur! They’d based their recipes on the Bombay IPA clone recipe that Sara Carter had won the UK Craft Brewing Association Overall Champion Award with! I tasted a few of their attempts and was really impressed. I was stoked that people liked our beer enough to want to have a go at brewing it.

We finished up and hit the trains, only to be delayed as it had been raining. One thing I’ll never understand is that in the country that most people associate rain with, that when it rains, everything stops working! The tracks looked like rivers, but we eventually made it back to the Coach and Horses, had a couple of pints of Thornbridge beer and finished the evening with some Lost Abbey Inferno and Judgment Day and a Port Brewing Green Hop IPA… the latter a fitting finish to the evening, even if reading Hops and Glory at that stage was a little out of the question.


Friday saw myself and fellow Thornbridgers, Dave and JK head down to Birmingham NEC to the Beers of the World Live which coincided with the BBC Summer Good Food Show. We arrived a bit early and I parted ways with the guys as I was judging at the World Beer Awards. This is the third year in a row that I’ve judged in this and I absolutely love it. It’s fantastic to be able to sit around with your peers and analyse a few brews with like-minded people. It’s also great to test out your palate against other trained brewers and 99% of the time we all seem to come to the same conclusion. We tried a few interesting beers, a few great beers and a few that weren’t so good and were potentially infected, which was a shame.

Afterwards we walked around the stalls, all offering samples of the beers that had been entered into the awards, as well as a large selection of local and imported brews from breweries as diverse as Rogue, Samuel Adams and Redoak. Beers of the day were Rogue XS: Imperial Porter and Thornbridge Bracia (yeah, okay I’m biased).

Was a great day out and good training for next year’s World Beer Cup that Stef and I are judging in. Can’t wait!

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