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?


It all began a few years back when we asked Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster and author of The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver to collaborate with us on a brew. Our own brewing ninja, Stefano Cossi, took to the project with gusto and had a fantastic idea to use Madeira and Pedro Ximenez barrels to age the barley wine in. We used a blend of our own house yeast and Garrett’s yeast strain for this beer and the process involved over a year of maturation in conditioning tanks as well as a couple of months in the oak. The resultant three beers, the Alliance series, were fantastic, we got great feedback on them and we learnt a load in the progress.

We went a little closer to home next time, and invited Italian brewing maverick, Agostino Arioli and his talented team from Birrificio Italiano over to brew with us. Again, collaboration wavelengths were intertwined and we came up with a luscious 6% Rustic Ale that we coined SuJu (Super Juniper). Packed with loads of smoked, amber, chocolate, Munich and Vienna malts and a blend of delicious Hallertau Mittelfruh and Vanguard hops, a serious amount of sweet, resinous Juniper berries were also smashed to within inches of their lives and added to the brew. Again, the power of collaboration taught us a lot and was loads of fun.

Epic Halcyon came next with The Impish Brewer, Luke Nicholas, from Epic Brewing in New Zealand joining us whilst on a trip to brew his delicious Epic Pale Ale with Everards for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. We took our own Imperial India Pale Ale, Halcyon, and went crazy on the hops with over 100 theoretical bitterness units, resulting in a fantastic beer that oozed hop character and was far too drinkable for a 7.7% beer!

Since then we’ve revisited Birrificio Italiano, with Stefano brewing a barley wine destined for oak at their brewery. The BI guys have also been back to us to brew the same barley wine that is also aging away in oak here at Thornbridge Hall and I’ve also headed over to New Zealand to do our own collaboration brew which ended up as Epic Stout.

We’ve loved every collaboration we’ve been involved with, it’s always an education and due to the diversity of the brewing world, every single brewer you meet and work with adds something else to the mix.

That’s where Doug Odell comes in… We first met Doug last year when he popped in to the brewery to say hello along with a selection of his beers, which we tried and fell in love with. They showcased drinkability, from his multiple award winning IPA, right through to his 5 Barrel Pale Ale and seasonals, including St. Lupulin and his Red, every beer oozed class and balance with rich hop character or luscious, juicy malt flavours. To be honest, our jaws dropped as we took our first sips… we had developed a brewcrush 🙂

We met up with Doug again at the Great British Beer Festival in 2009 and had a chat about the possibility of a collaboration. Doug judges at the GBBF and comes over to the UK often, getting a lot of inspiration from British cask ale industry in the process. Our paths crossed again this year in Chicago at the World Beer Cup and US Craft Brewers Conference. It was there we made a decision… a collaboration was going to happen! In fact, myself, Doug and Little Creatures’ (of Australia) Chief Brewer, Alex Troncoso stood there chatting when we all realised that we were a select group of brewers! At this stage there are only four breweries in the world that use the fantastic Rolec Hopnik hopback, a vessel especially designed to capture as much hop character as possible without the loss of delicate aroma volatiles (the other brewery to use this vessel is the Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania). If Bill Covaleski from Victory had been there, we could have beer-geeked it out to the maximum and bored most of you normal folk with tales of our exciting hopbacks… The self-proclaimed Hopnicks perhaps??

I digress…(imagine that!). Emailing back and forth, a date was set, recipes began to be formulated, concepts were thrown around and a decision was made on the beer style. But before I share that, I thought I’d mention a little of Doug’s background.

Doug (with beard!)

A keen homebrewer on the US West Coast, Doug spent time in the 1970s at Anchor Brewery in San Francisco before making the leap and starting his own brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1989. At that stage, it was only the second microbrewery in the state and Doug specialised in a draught product, building up a reputation for his well-balanced, full flavoured beers. The mid 90s saw the installation of a bottling line and the rest is history! With a fantastic brewery tap, a 50 US barrel Brewhouse and the recent installation of a 5 barrel pilot brewery, Odell Brewing has introduced a massive range of scope in their beers while retaining the balance that Doug found so important in English-style ales.

After the recent launch of Odell beers in the UK (through the fantastic Vertical Drinks who are also responsible for all of the delicious Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory beer we get over here), Doug joined us to brew a Thornbridgified version of his World Beer Cup winning Red Ale. Full of a range of speciality malts, including Caramalt and Wheat malt and with a list of hops that is enough to make your mouth water, including Nugget, Centennial and Bramling Cross earlier in the brew and an amazing blend of Admiral, Phoenix, First Gold and Pilgrim in the hopback (in a tribute to UK hops and our decision to put an English twist on the American Red Ale style of beer), yesterday’s brewday was awesome.

The Colorado Red brewteam - Nigel, Andrea, JK, Stefano, Matt, Doug and Kelly

Had to put this one in... our attempt at a stupid photo just has JK doing something weird with his hands and Matt getting his teeth out there!

My first taste of the brew this morning, as the fermentation just kicked in, yielded a nose filled with dried fruit and resinous undertones with background candied peel, sweet banana, toffee and some underlying roasted character. A hint of spice lingered and the bitterness (aiming at around 45 IBU to help with drinkability) was already showing integration, even though the brew was a long way from finished. I am excited!

Our next stage is dry hopping. We’re all thinking about possible hop varieties to use… are we going to stick with the UK hop theme and go with Target, Admiral or perhaps Phoenix? Are we going to mirror the brew itself that is English brewed with an American, throwing in some big, bold US hops at the end in tribute to Doug and his home country? Do we go crazy and whack in the new uber-fruity Citra and mega-resin action of Warrior? All I know is that Doug wants us to expand our horizons and really dry hop it, going even further than we have before. With the malt backbone this beer has, I know that it’s going to be able to handle a good whack of hops. At the projected 6.1 – 6.2% alcohol by volume that we’re aiming for, it should be robust enough. We want a hop bomb, but of course we want drinkability! With 100 or so casks of our Odell/Thornbridge “Colorado Red” (that’s the working name at this stage) going to hit the shelves in the coming weeks, my mouth is already watering!

Cheers, Doug! It was an absolute pleasure and we can’t wait to get this beer into the pubs! Even more exciting, we can’t wait to get over to Fort Collins and collaborate again! (Thanks also to Andreas from Vertical Drinks and Alex from All Beer who came along for the day!)


Some businesses seem to hit the nail on the head when it comes to their mottos or catchphrases. The first brewery I worked for, Tui Brewery in New Zealand, has a fantastic advertising campaign entitled “Yeah Right” which pretty much takes the piss out of anything and everything it can. I would probably be right in saying that this campaign helped to cement Tui’s place as one of the top selling beer brands in the country.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about Tui as a beer though. It’s touted as an East India Pale Ale, which I’m sure it would have resembled way back in 1889 when Henry Wagstaff stopped off at the Mangatainoka River, made a cuppa, thought it was fantastic and set up a brewery there, but it’s definitely moved away from this style of beer. People will probably laugh at me, but I think it’s a pretty good beer. It’s consistency, like any beer from larger brewery groups is second to none, it’s served nice and cold and slakes the thirst as well as any 4% brown draught lager will and I know for a fact that DB Breweries quality control is awesome (yeah, okay maybe I was a brewery microbiologist for them for a while).

As always, I digress. Breweries often come up with great slogans or mottos that help market their products for them. I think that Dogfish Head with their “Off Centered Ales for Off Centered People” is a cracker and completely epitomises Sam Calagione’s fantastic, whacky and wonderful approach to brewing. I guess even Wychwood Brewery’s “What’s the matter Lagerboy” campaign is effective, even if it does create a divide between cask ale and lager and insinuate that you can’t enjoy both.

I don’t quite know how Guinness would get away with “Guinness is good for you” in this day and age, even though recent research has indicated that beer actually is good for you, being full of antioxidants (like the ever-touted “oh-so-great for your heart” red wine). Then there’s the recently discovered research that certain hop compounds (Xanthohumol in particular) have testosterone blocking abilities, thus helping with the prevention of prostate cancer (links in well with the recent Movember event we held at the Coach and Horses, raising over £2,500 for prostate cancer awareness). I should also mention that brewer’s yeast is a great source of B vitamins, lots of riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, even folic acid as well as a bunch of trace elements and minerals. Maybe we should be arguing against the fining of beer… de-yeasting it surely makes it less nutritious for us?

But I suppose my favourite motto of all, and I know I sound as cheesy as hell when I say this, our motto. Innovation, Passion, Knowledge. Everything that beer means to me is encompassed by this simple slogan. It probably means bugger all to some of you, others probably think it’s quite pretentious or a bit wanky, but I’m sure there are a few of you out there who read it and understand it. Maybe you’re a brewer, or someone who loves beer, in fact it can apply to anything you do and that’s yet another reason why I think it’s pretty cool.

Thornbridge as a brewery has been built on this creed and I really hope it rings true as we progress as a brewery. I look around me now as I sit at my desk tapping away at the laptop. I see Stefano, arms cleaned like a surgeon, working away fastidiously in our microbiology plating room organising the new yeast propagation that moved into 200 litres of fresh wort today. I see Mauro, a student we have from Sardinia, already initiated into the way we do things and carefully pipetting yeast nutrient media into sterilised glassware. Andrea slaves over a couple of computer consoles, meticulously recording every part of the process, leaping out of his chair as an alarm sounds and he has to go and see to another part of the brewing process, earlier, his nose deep in hops as he weighs them out. Dave and JK on the brewery floor, cleaning and chatting and talking about beers they’ve tried recently while making sure every thing is done perfectly and to the letter. Matt, brewing up at the Hall brewery today but always in contact, telling me about the new technique he is using to extract as many aromatics as possible from the vanilla pods that have been used in today’s brew. Hell, even I still have the intense warm and aniseed-laced character from some Tellicherry Black Peppercorns that I chewed with gusto… all in preparation for a cool new beer we have on the horizon.

That’s what brewing should be about, it should be about excitement and interest and fascination with new ways and ingredients and approaches. We have this here and it’s awesome!

Which brings me into the plan that has been devised for the coming year. I was going to describe it, but might as well just show you the email I sent out instead!

The Concept – Do what we do best. Create innovative, interesting and unusual beers using choice ingredients and a range of different processes.

This element of innovation is essential. It may involve different types of brewing practice, different yeasts, unusual or different beer styles than we have done before, different post-fermentation modifications or bottling techniques etc.

The Approach –    One of these beers will be brewed per month at Thornbridge Hall with a different beer to be chosen every month.

The brew-plan is to include all relevant information, be well researched, methodical, analytical and scientific and explain everything from the initial thoughts behind the beer, your inspiration to brew it, why you want to brew it, what ingredients you are going to use, how you will approach the process, any relevant research you have done on the internet or by reading books (correctly referenced) and anything else that you think is important with regards to the novel processes, ingredients and beer style that you are to develop.

The Action – In the plan, you will be expected to outline all raw materials including extracts, IBUs, pitching rates, times and temperatures etc. If you are looking at using other ingredients, a link to these materials would also be of use.

So hopefully this will mean we’ll get some really interesting craft beers coming out in cask (and maybe even in very limited bottlings) with all of us brewers already strapped firmly into our thinking caps! In fact, I’ve edged in to do the first one of these beers next week, so you’ll just have to watch this space to see what it is! The beers will all be brewed at the Hall brewery and this is really a continuation of what we used to do on our one barrel pilot plant with the Alchemy range. Ending up with only a couple of casks that I would put on at the Coach and Horses meant that not many people got to try them though. This should mean a batch size of 30-40 casks, so we’ll be able to get them a little further afield to see what people think.

I can’t wait!!!

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