Inundation and Appreciation

Life post-brewing has been kind. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any source of income at the moment (which has a few downsides) but there is the hope that one day the house that I’m working on will be up to standard to sell and we get a bit of money for all the hard graft! On the upside, I’m learning a lot about renovating houses, I’m now close to being a master sander/scraper of windowsills and doors and my ability to remove wallpaper and rip up lino is improving every day.

Then there are the other upsides! I’ve managed to procure my brother’s homebrew setup and have promptly entered the world of the home brewer. Sure, I’ve played around on small kits before, mostly when I was with Epic and we cranked up ePicoBrewery to trial new beers, with both Epicurean Coffee and Fig Imperial Oatmeal Stout (codename: ePicobrewery Collision) and Zythos (codename: ePicobrewery Zythogeddon) beginning their lives on this 50 litre scale. 

Being away from brewing for a few months has been both refreshing and a bit disappointing. The last 20 months had been pretty frantic with the new brewery startup at Good George, the birth of our son and the passing of Dad as well as a move into uncharted territory of life PB (post-brewing) and moving ourselves to New Plymouth without any employment.

Laying down a mash in the garage and smelling that beautiful sweet, biscuity malt has been therapeutic. It’s times like this that you completely understand why your lifepath has worked the way it has and had me brewing professionally for close to a third of my existence. It’s been fun to get a little experimental again, something that I’ve always loved to do and I’ve been stoked with the Chamomile and Sage Saison (Sageson) in particular.

There are other things about being freelance that have also been wonderful. Dave Kurth has been extremely generous and sent me a few samples of his delicious canned Hot Water Brewing beers, with the Kauri Falls Pale Ale (my brother, Shannon’s 2013 Beer of the Year) and Walker’s Porter both showing the excellent drinkability that is Dave’s trademark. 

Our family was also very lucky to be supplied by Good George, Epic and mike’s with beer for Dad’s wake, again, it’s so amazing to have support like this from the brewing industry and there were certainly some palates opened up to tasty beer and cider, that’s for sure!

I’ve also just received a box from Mel and Phil of Beertique, a relatively new company based in Auckland who are importing international beers and ciders from around the world for our enjoyment here in NZ. Even though I’ve never met them, they’ve sent me a selection including Thornbridge Jaipur and Kill Your Darlings, Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit, Wild Beer Co (best beer website i’ve seen in a long time, especially the beer descriptions) Madness IPA and the Wild Beer Co/Burning Sky/Good George Shnoodlepip that I collaborated on in the UK last year. Thanks so much Mel and Phil!

Speaking of Shnoodlepip, this was the first actual time I have tasted the beer and I’m super pleased with how it has turned out. The last time I tasted it, it was still wort being pumped into an open fermenter and being dosed with Brettanomyces and Saison yeast strains. We had chucked a (possibly) ridiculous amount of crushed pink peppercorns into the end of the boil. Not a true peppercorn, these fuchsia-pink fruit have a lovely pepper-like note and always impress me with their sweetness and juniper-berry like character. If I recall, Andrew from Wild Beer Co cranked up the barbecue and we had the most amazing pink peppercorn-coated steak sandwiches for lunch on the brewday. A great flavourmemory.

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Myself, Mark Tranter and Brett Ellis hanging out in the open fermenter…

Post ferment, we were constantly in touch to chart the beer’s progress. Not only was this brew to be barrel aged, it was also to include passion fruit and hibiscus flowers. We wanted a little tartness and dryness form the yeast strains, depth of spice from the pink peppercorns (though not too much) that would blend in well with the vanilla and spicey notes from the oak barrels and then a little more tart fruitiness from the Hibiscus flowers. These were to be infused and added for both flavour and the fantastic hue that they give. Finally the passionfruit was there for that heady, rich impact. It’s unique combination of sweet and sharp and an uplifting tropical aspect would hopefully bring this unusual beer to completion.

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Shnoodlepip wort

Do you know what? It worked! A touch of pink in the colour, almost like a pale ale has been blended with a Rosé wine, a fantastic effervescence in the mouth with bubbles that almost seem larger than they are, but in a good way. That underlying tastness from front to back, balanced with body and sweetness from the fruit and vanilla-like oak. The passion-fruit finish, brining it into the realms of NZ Sauvignon Blanc but with in a tasteful one-dimensional way. It is just passionfruit, no gooseberry or lychee or anything else getting in the way.

It was the memory of my Nana and Grandpa’s passionfruit vine on a hot summer day in Oakura as a child. Cracking open the super-ripe crinkly-skinned passionfruit that littered the soil under the vine, usually with your teeth (sometimes to the point where the sides of your mouth hurt from eating so many of those addictive, acidic delights). I shared some with my Mum and Catherine, their eyes opening wide, both of them impressed with this beer from the other side of the world.

I love collaboration and I love doing something slightly different. And I am so appreciative of being inundated with these fantastic brews.

Inspiration begets Inspiration.

I’m off to write a beer recipe…

(By the way, another little side-project I’m involved with involves brewing, a nano-brewery and New Plymouth… Brew Mountain is getting closer!)

 

The Road to Building a Brewery…

Three months now since I left Epic and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind…

I moved here…

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This is a view from the balcony of my place on the mighty West Coast of NZ called Raglan. It has black sand, which is the proper colour of sand as every honourable Taranaki denizen will tell you. It has amazing surf and I seriously need to get a board and see if I can remember how to stand up and more importantly, it has a nice sheltered harbour which is perfect for me to go kayak fishing in!

I can be in Hamilton in around 35 minutes which is handy as this is where I’m going to be working in a new brewpub on Somerset Street in the suburb of Frankton. But more about that a wee bit later…

The last few months have seen me clock up a few air miles and head across the globe to help out a few breweries. Our brewery is coming from a company called DME who are based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island which was quite fortuitous as my first offshore job landed me in Charlottetown!

I spent 2 1/2 weeks at Prince Edward Island Brewing Company/Gahan House Brewery helping the team out. As with the majority of craft breweries across the globe, the team were a brilliant bunch and we had some fun (and long) hours spent commissioning new fermenting vessels, double and triple brewing, counting yeast cells by the million and commissioning a new canning line!

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This picture shows PEI brewer, Bryan Carver, checking out their awesome DME brewkit. Interestingly, one of the laws on the Island involving brewing is that no commercial beer can be brewed over 6.5% alcohol by volume. You can probably imagine how restrictive that is for a bunch of passionate and creative brewers and I really hope that this law is overturned and the guys can push out some big Imperial Stouts or Barley Wines!

PEI was also pretty cold. After a couple of weeks there I was definitely keen to head back to warmth. It’s not often that a Kiwi sees ice on a beach. Walking along the shore and seeing a load of razor clam, clam and oyster shells made me pretty keen to get a feed but the fact that it was only about 2-3 degrees celsius made that pretty damn unlikely! Lucky the local restaurants did incredible food and I was lucky enough to head along to Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar and have an incredible local lobster and some aged PEI beef which is up there with some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Contrast is a pretty cool thing and my next port of call was Nadi in Fiji. I spent a couple of weeks at Island Brewing Company, the home of Vonu Lager and had a great time with their brewing team. Aisea, Soneel, Ashweeta and the rest of the team run a fantastic setup and it was cool to come in and work on some of their processes and make some improvements. It’s not often a brewery has a full laboratory setup and designated staff for the roles and this definitely makes a big difference with regards production. Another thing of interest is the fact that most of the brewing staff have scientific degrees and have all completed qualifications with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK. It’s just the little things, but these all add up to make a real difference in a brewery.

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This is a picture of Soneel working hard on the DME kit in Fiji. Needless to say, the brewhouse got pretty warm…

Most readers will know of the legendary hospitality of the Pacific Islands and it was no different when we were there. Heading out to the brewery manager’s house for dinner, learning how to cook various curries, make roti bread and some seriously delicious dahl, or getting a delicious meal of mud crab, cassava and ota fern (similar to the New Zealand Pikopiko) dropped off by the brewery staff (thanks Etuate!). I can’t forget the big banquet that the staff put on for me on my last day either. No one knows hospitality like the Fijians!

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It was back to NZ for a couple of days or so to continue the process of getting everything sorted for the brewpub that is going in and then it was off again! This time it was to San Diego to judge in the World Beer Cup, the premier international beer competition that I was lucky enough to be invited to again. The WBC occurs every two years and with almost 4000 beers entered for judging, this was the biggest one yet. It coincides with the Craft Brewers Conference which we also attended. This is jam-packed with loads of seminars ranging from sustainability right through to brewing Berliner Weisse or using social media in beer marketing and has something for everyone within the industry. As well as that you get to rub shoulders with some of the world’s greatest brewers which is good if you have a few questions for them!

I was stoked to see a few mates from Australia pick up medals in the competition, super pleased with Lovibonds (from the UK) taking out a Gold Medal in the Barrel Aged Sour category and stoked to see the old crew from Thornbridge pick up a Bronze Medal for their Black IPA, Raven.

Five points if you can tell me who this bona fide HOPHEAD is in the picture at Lost Abbey brewery in San Marcos, California

So now I’m back in New Zealand and we’re all working hard at getting everything organised for the arrival of our brewery. As some of you out there know, it’s no easy task to get everything organised and I’m learning something new every day. It’s fantastic! The site is coming along slowly, we have a brewhouse wall (see picture below) and the floors are going to begin to be poured this week, meetings with suppliers and everyone in between are becoming commonplace. I am becoming a spreadsheet master at organising incoming quotations for all matters of equipment and the day where that first brew goes down is drawing ever closer.

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I’ll keep on posting here when I have the time and if you’re lucky I may even post a few pics of my super awesome engineering drawings. Let’s just say I should stick to brewing…

Things I Learnt This Weekend

I like yeast. I also have a soft spot for Lactobacillus. With this in mind, a few weeks back I decided to make the leap and advance my ridiculously rudimentary baking skills with the preparation of a wild yeast sourdough starter.

I used the amazing tool that is the internet and searched out a bunch of recipes for basic sourdough starters. I then transmogrified said recipes, decided that I knew best and whatever educated decisions I made would be worthwhile, had a great time telling Catherine that with Microbiology and Food Science degrees under my belt this would be a cakewalk (perhaps I punned it up and even said bakewalk) and began.

A blend of whole wheat flour, plain flour and a scattering of millet was hopefully going to provide the wild yeast and bacteria that I was to need for this to work. I threw caution to the wind and added a dash of cider vinegar (oh, how swashbuckler-like I can sometimes be) to slightly lower the pH of the water and grain mixture and then decided that a pinch of mixed Lactobacillus culture from a yoghurt-making sachet I had in the fridge would definitely help with sourdough action. I fed it daily, talked to it on occasion and even jumbled together a few songs on the guitar… Bake Me Up Before You Go Go, All My Oven, Po Atarau (Now Is The Flour)…

At day eight, I had a nice, slightly alcoholic, slightly fruity smelling doughy concoction that I successfully made my first ever Whole Wheat Sourdough Loaf with. I was impressed, patted myself on the back with flour and dough encrusted hands and began to think of all the interesting loaves I could make in the future.

Stop me if you've heard this one... A buckwheat loaf, a whole wheat loaf and a sourdough starter walk into a bar...

This weekend, I decided to make a Buckwheat Loaf with the starter. Buckwheat is interesting in that is free of gluten, meaning that I was likely to end up with a loaf that was more like a rock than anything else. Gluten is important in baking due to its elastic nature. When dough is kneaded, it acts like a big net, trapping the granules of starch and little pockets of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast, giving bread it’s nice soft, chewy texture. I cheated a little and used some whole wheat flour as well. I didn’t want something that could have been used as a projectile by some Middle Ages siege engine to take down castle walls.

This is where I come to the most interesting thing I learnt this weekend. When at Thornbridge, we brewed a beer called Bracia using Chestnut Honey sourced from Italy. Chestnut Honey has a very unique character. It borders on medicinal, is bitter and sweet and wholesome and has a fragrance that I can only really describe as smelling like Chestnut Honey. I’ve had a go before and come up with descriptors like “window putty” (which I found out gets its aroma from linseed oil), woody or musky, but have never been able to hit the nail on the head.

Bracia as it used to look...

Bracia smells like Buckwheat bread! As a brewer and beer judge, I spend a load of time smelling and eating as many random things as I can. It’s a great way to build up a repertoire of descriptors for describing a beer. Bracia had always stumped me, but now I can say it smells like buckwheat, window putty/linseed oil and woody, musky honey.

The snazzy new Bracia label!

That’s what I learnt this weekend! You know you wanted to know that…

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!

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!

Wetherspoon’s Blog

I don’t know if it’s classified as blog-cheating to blog about another blog, but I’ve started doing a bit of a blog timeline on the Wetherspoon Real Ale & Cider Festival website blog that you can read about if you enjoy reading beer blogs.

I managed to get blog into that sentence six times.

Nice, Kelly… Nice.

For the record, we’re releasing our new and improved Lumford (3.9% New World Pale Ale) for the festival. It’s tasting awesome!

Those Bloody Aussies…

Are ridiculously good brewers! If you’ve ever sat down and supped a Cooper’s Sparkling Ale or been lucky enough to get out there and visit places like Feral with their amazing range of breweries out in Swan Valley close to Perth, you’ll know what I mean. If you’ve seen what the legend that is Chuck Hahn has achieved with the Malt Shovel/James Squire range or look at the beers from places like Redoak and Wig and Pen, you’ll see a vibrant brewing community that’s bursting at the seams with inventiveness, creativity and cracking beers.

In fact, Extreme High Lord of Beer, Roger Protz chat’s a bit about it in these posts.

There’s one brewery over in Australia that we’ve started to make a few links with. Not only are they in the select group of breweries around the world that have a specialised piece of brewing equipment called a Rolec Hopnik (along with Meantime, Victory and Odell’s) but they also make one of the finer pale ales in the world. In fact, it’s one you can get quite easily over here and I recommend that you hunt it out and give it a try.

The brewery in question is Little Creatures, based in Fremantle. I’ve never been, but heard that it’s a must see with an awesome waterfront location, great food, awesome beer and top notch Australian custom. I’ve heard they even bowl overarm when playing cricket on that side of the country (ouch, low blow!!!).

The good ol' underarm incident. Nothing like reviving a bit of Trans-Tasman rivalry!

I got to meet Little Creatures’ Chief Brewer, Alex Troncoso when judging over at the World Beer Cup in Chicago earlier in the year and he mentioned they had a young, keen brewer who was keen to come and check it out over in this part of the world. A webcam interview and a blimmin’ long flight later, we had our newest brewer, Caolan Vaughan who comes to us with a well-established pedigree… not bad for a pipsqueak of 25 years old! He already has three years brewing experience with Creatures as well as some time at a few other Aussie micros. Couple that with his Brewing degree and we have a Thornbridger in the making!

I think the photo below sums up Caolan’s commitment to the cause… He’d been travelling for between thirty and forty hours on a series of planes and buses, yet still managed to make it to the Sheffield Tap where his first UK beer was none other than Jaipur! Not bad for an Aussie!

This Aussie is no Jaipussy!!

Already, Caolan has began to make some fantastic changes to the processes here at Thornbridge and is full of new ideas and a load of experience. I think he’s pretty chuffed that he doesn’t have to work rotating night shift anymore, but reckon he’s chomping at the bit to get things moving and help us get more Thornbridge brews out the door.

Our brewteam seems to get stronger by the day, which is brilliant to see. What with our two Italian Food Scientists, one a bona fide Doctor of the Zymurgical Arts, the other the UK Brewer of the Year, our other resident Kiwi, himself a former Homebrewer of the Year, a talented British ex-Chef and our newest assistant brewer, the  ex-IT ninja with a love of homebrewing and recent Brewing Diploma under his belt, I think the team is beginning to reach full circle. Great people make great beer.

As for Caolan… if you see him around Sheffield, say G’day and I’m sure he’d be keen for a beer and a yarn.

And at long last… finally I’m not the youngest brewer on the team! Hooray!!!

When I grow up I want to be like John Keeling

The Great British Beer Festival* has been a whirlwind of people and laughter and celebration of all that is amazing about beer and brewing. The cornucopia of flavours and aromas that beers from not just the UK but around the world has been mind and palate blowing and even though I still have another day there, I don’t want it to end.

My left leg and recently snapped Achilles tendon has another agenda though… So I sit here now in Knightsbridge, wallowing through an inbox of emails, my ankle wrapped in an ice pack and a large egg-sized lump of scar tissue pulsing away under my skin where the healing continues. Stupid rugby!

The flipside is that there have been a couple of highlights already in this manic week. Firstly, having around 150-200 people turn up on Monday night for a Meet the Brewer event at the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico was absolutely awesome. I’ve never had to shout myself hoarse to such a group of enthusiastic imbibers before, and the brilliant Martin from Cask even put ten of our Thornbridge brews on tap, meaning there was something for everyone. Just when I thought the night was as good as it could get, Doug Odell from Odell Brewing arrived and we got to taste our recent collaboration brew, the 5.9% Colorado Red together and discuss what subtle improvements we could make. I was also really pleased with how well the experimental Bolvig went down… a little decadent twist on Saint Petersburg with the addition of coffee beans, vanilla pods and coconut.

Tuesday afternoon saw another beery highlight, with Tony from Fuller’s inviting me along to the release of their second Brewer’s Reserve. This time expertly aged in Cognac barrels (the first Brewers Reserve had its time in Glenmorangie casks). Beer writer extraordinaire Adrian Tierney-Jones does a lot better than I do at explaining the event, but needless to say, it made me want to be just like John Keeling

The legendary John (photo from the Fuller's website)

Sure, I’d never have the telltale Mancunian accent, that Northern drawl on the last enunciated words that is characteristic of John’s delivery, but I’d love to be able to hold an audience like John does. To enthuse and quip and amuse with brewing anecdotes and the voyage of discovery that creating beer holds. Hell, the patience to save as many Vintage Ales as he can to do parallel tastings is a gift in itself isn’t it!?

I’ve just looked through the brief notes I put into my phone about the beers we tried… The 2009 Vintage Ale with its concerto of cereal, barley sugars (the sweet that is – sucked and sniffed, not straight from the wrapper as John explained), tangerine and subtle lemon. The slightly vinous finish, whisper of almond and clean bitterness. It was a cracker and one to put in the cellar for a few years for sure.

The 2006 Vintage Ale showing the benefits of the aging process with an almost creamy texture, even a shade of Highland whiskey, some yeasty goodness and undercurrents of, well, currants actually. It was mouth poetry.

It didn’t stop there and the Brewer’s Reserve No.1 was brought out, having been aged in whiskey casks. I remembered trying a bunch of John’s experimental beers back in 2007 at a Barrel-Aging seminar that the British Guild of Beer Writers had held. Culminating from this research, it had been expertly blended… a mixture of the wood aged brew, Golden Pride, ESB and 1845. I tasted this when it first came out last year and was amazed at the  difference the year had made. From something that had shown a lot of whiskey character, this now came out all caramel malt-like, with warming wisps of boozy heat, sherry and fruitcake. Adrian Tierney-Jones picked up a hint of Brettanomyces which I also noticed. For those that don’t know what this is, I recommend you all go and buy a bottle of Orval from Belgium and you’ll get the finest hints of horse-blanket and funk and medicinal band aid that characterises this fascinating yeast.

Last was the Brewer’s Reserve No.2 aged in Cognac casks and coming through with perfumed pear drop and apple esters (my notes say Pink Lady Apple juice, probably helped that I’d had some of this the day before!), warming alcohol and the finest hint of marzipan. This was an exquisite beer and I already look forward to tasting it again in a year or two.

Brewer's Reserve No.2 (from the Fuller's website)

You can probably see why I want to be like John. To have the ability to craft beers that can stand the test of time and do it in a way that shows the innovation that has been lacking for too long in British Brewing. This year the GBBF had the ever-popular BSF bar, showcasing the great beers from the US and the rest of the beer world. It was always busy and seems to get larger every year with people waxing lyrical about the quality and diversity of the beers.

Let’s see this begin to happen for British beers too! Cheer John, you’re an inspiration.

*Our Jaipur took out Gold in the Strong Bitters section at the Champion Beer of Britain competition at this year’s festival… yay for us!

Epic Thornbridge Stout

After a wee hiatus I’m back again to finish regaling (or boring, the terms are interchangeable) the world about the fantastic New Zealand craft brewing scene. My beer tour of New Zealand near an end, it was time to hit Auckland and jump back into a brewery to take part in New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration brew!

Some of you may recall this time last year, Luke Nicholas from Epic Brewing was over brewing his brilliant Epic Pale Ale at Everards as part of the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. I’d never met Luke, though heard and read a load online about his positive impact on the NZ craft beer scene, his unwavering devotion to education about beer and his sheer, unrivalled enthusiasm. Coupled with the fact that when I tried his beers I was blown away by how good they were, there was no choice but to ask him if he was keen to do a collaboration, which I wrote about here.

So now it was my turn! After regular email, twitter and phone contact over half a year, we’d managed to come up with a recipe we were both pleased with. Luke had never brewed an Epic Stout before, us Thornbridgers were relatively deft at dark beers (I can say that, it’s my blog…) and Luke was also really keen to have a play with some UK hops.

The decision was made to go with the brilliantly aromatic Target hops that we’d showcased in our Halcyon Green Hop Harvest beers in 2009 and 201o, as well as Bramling Cross, the key hop in our Hopton. Considering Bramling Cross had been tough to get a couple of years back, it’s great to see it back on the market and as brewers, it’s a case of use it or lose it. The world doesn’t need any more of these great hop varieties to disappear into nonexistence. So with the orange marmalade, yellow stone fruit and pineapple characters of Target coupled with the slightly earthy, citrus-dusted and berry-smacked delights of Bramling Cross, we had the makings of a beer!

Epic Thornbridge Stout - the pre-label (Photo: Jed Soane)

Luke weaved his malty magic and a backbone of British Maris Otter was accompanied by copious amounts of Munich malt to add a layer of caramel (and sometimes even strawberry-like) intensity and this was also joined by a good whack of brown malt. Brown malt is something we’ve played around a bit with at Thornbridge, noticeably in Bracia but also in our raspberry infused porter, Katipo. It gives the beer quite a bit of astringency, a tarry, almost charred treacle note and a hint of dryness. It is the maturation of beer with brown malt that is interesting to me. As the beer develops over a period of months, the brown malt character softens. There is less of that burnt acridity but no loss in the fantastic flavours that it provides. It softens and improves and is a great addition to any dark beer that is to undergo extended tank or bottle maturation (the longer the better, I reckon!). The brown malt was joined by the full, rounded flavours that CaraMunich give, the soft, colour-rich CaraFa, Pale Chocolate for a hint of chocolatey goodness, Dark Crystal for that toasted nut and dried fruit character and some Roast Barley for a touch more dryness and burnt coffee edge.

Our final recipe tweaks done a couple of days before, we were ready to rock! I arrived in Auckland the night before, checked in to the hotel and had a sleepless night. I was transported back to childhood, that Christmas Eve feeling when you can’t get to sleep, eyes wide open, ear canals stretched for the jingle of the reindeer’s bell. My alarm was set for before 6 as it was an early start. Why were the digits on the alarm clock changing so slowly? I went through the recipe in my head. The usual doubt and worries that accompany a new brew rang loudly. Was the malt bill okay? Would that much dark malt overwhelm the hop character we were trying to acheive? How much dry hopping did we want to do? Should we have got some other British varieties to include? How many times before had I lay in the dark and thought about these types of things…

Don’t be afraid of the dark…

The day dawned, fresh and sunny, I went outside and waited for Luke to pick me up. “Sorry, dude, running a bit late,” was the text. So I waited. Luke arrived, fully amped. “Dude! Had an EPIC night, hardly any sleep,” he said as I jumped into the car. He didn’t look like he’s only had a couple of hours sleep, Luke always emanates an almost impish exuberance (they don’t call him the Impish Brewer for nothing, I guess) and I was about to find out why! Luke had been at a Faith No More concert the night before, the same band that came to fruition with an amazing song called, funnily enough, Epic. Luke had sussed some Epic brews out for the band, got backstage and been drinking with Faith No More all night! Lucky bugger! I forgave him for being late.

We arrived at Steam Brewery, and I met brewmaster, Shane Morley, a brilliant brewer who manages a vast array of beers and beverages, no mean feat for such a small brewteam. We finalised the recipe, altered the salt profile slightly and began mashing in!  The brewery itself has been cobbled together from a mish mash of old dairy vessels and brewing equipment and like most breweries, is a marvel of engineering. Steel, pipes and steam, pumps and cyberpunk imaginings coupled with that rich, biscuity, malty aroma… William Gibson discovers brewing… now there’s a novel…

Luke and I checking out the mash (Photo: Jed Soane)

Mash in, we turned our minds to the avenue of brand new medium toast American Oak barrels. They had just arrived from Napa Valley in the US and were ripe for filling with Luke’s ridiculously hoppy Epic Armageddon IPA. First up, the Steam Brewing lads drained the fermenter cone of dry hops. Now, I like to think we use quite a liberal amount of hops at Thornbridge, albeit more on the hot side than in dry-hopping, but the hop slurry that erupted from the base of the vessel seemed to go on forever! Luke just grinned… of course he did…

If you could smell the aroma coming from these barrels... was soooo good (Photo: Jed Soane)

Oak casks filled, I showed Luke the correct way to put a bung in (didn’t want him whacking it with a mallet, getting full rebound and smashing himself in the face did I… well, not unless a video camera was ready…) and the beginnings of another beer, Oak aged Armageddon IPA, were complete. The great thing about being there for the inaugural filling was the fact that half of our Epic Thornbridge Stout was also destined for these casks. Can’t wait to try that one!

Discussing the intricacies of crappy wort run-off with Shane (Photo: Jed Soane)

Lautering began, but with a few difficulties as the mash stuck slightly, restricting runoff. Shane did a few tweaks but was worried that the extra calcium carbonate we had added to the mash hadn’t dissolved properly (further research indicates it’s pretty much insoluble in water). Gypsum and baking soda all the way I reckon! The reason we’re keen for some carbonate or bicarbonate ions is that some of the compounds that result from the kilning of darker malts can be quite acidic. Carbonate ions are alkaline and help to mellow this character.

I managed to stay right up until the end of the boil, with the wort tasting fantastically rich. Nutty, sweet and chocolatey with just the right balance of acidity and hop character. I’d had a brilliant day with the Epic and Steam crew, the Epic Thornbridge Stout was bang on target. Already I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration brew, I was stoked to be part of it!

Shane working hard, Luke and I sampling harder! (Photo: Jed Soane)

A few months later I found myself in Chicago, having been invited to judge in the incredible World Beer Cup. Luke was also there with his judging hat on and he’d even managed to bring a pre-release bottle of our Epic Thornbridge Stout. It finished bang on at 6.8% AbV and a well rounded 54 IBU. I tasted it and was instantly impressed by the smoothness. The hand bottle conditioning was slightly overcarbonated, but the potential was there. Wafts of chocolate malt goodness, great body and drinkability and that charred dry brown malt character. It needed longer though, another month or so maturation, even a couple of months in the bottle and it would be spot on. I’m hoping like hell that Luke has saved me a couple of bottles! Stan Heironymus wrote a post about the tasting here.

The inaugural ETS pouring (Alex Barlow from All Beer is very excited!) (Photo: The lovely Melissa Cole)

Luke wasn’t afraid of the dark… neither should you be! 

Now that’s beer and food!

For the past couple of years, Rowley’s Restaurant and Bar in Baslow, Derbyshire has hosted a Thornbridge Brewery evening. Rowley’s is run by Max and Susan Fischer (who run the one Michelin star, Fischer’s, at Baslow Hall) with head chef Rupert Rowley the star of the show. The event is brilliantly run by manager Alistair and is definitely one of those things that I look forward to every year.

The event kicked off with a welcoming reception Jaipur matched with some delicious hot and spicy nuts, a veritable assortment including two of my favourites, pecans and cashews, with the lovely honey sweetness and subtle heat from the snack combining simply with the sweetness and bitterness from the IPA.

From there it was upstairs to the intimate dining room and we were welcomed with a lovely Hopton. I’m always pleased every time I taste this beer. It was brewed as an ode to the Bramling Cross hop. There were a couple of seasons where we couldn’t really get much of this and as brewers we really missed it. When we nosed last seasons hop cones at Charles Faram Hops in Herefordshire, we were blown away by the delicate citrus and wildberry characters… something that Bramling Cross isn’t known for. I’m sure there was a crop many moons ago that was characterised by blackcurrant or ribes characters and from that moment on every brewer that ever used it was convinced that no matter what season or what crop or what batch they came across, it would always have this blackcurrant character.

Not any more! The new crop has even more pronounced citrus characters as I mentioned here and there was quite a lot of variation depending on what farm and in what county it was grown. That’s one (of the many) things I love about brewing, so many variables that are all combined to make a (hopefully) great pint time after time! But, as per usual, I digress.

The Hopton was paired with Scottish Salmon cured in Hops alongside a smear of Apple Puree, some finely julienned apple and some tiny cubes of Hopton Jelly. The cold-smoked salmon, as it does, had that lovely subtley smokey,fishy character and I was impressed how the hop and the biscuity malt (provided by a good amount of Amber malt in the beer) actually stood up to this. It highlighted how important it is to have quite a flavourful beer to muscle it’s way through when pairing with smoked fish. The jelly and apple accompaniment provided a nice textural contrast to the soft salmon and the puree, when used sparingly, also added a layer of sweetness to the dish. Too much puree though and the apple overpowered the flavour of the salmon. It was an interesting start to the meal.

Next up was a ridiculously tender Ox Cheek that had been braised in our Raven IPA and Black Treacle and was accompanied by Colcannon Potatoes and Crispy Bacon. This dish was amazing. The glutinous cheek crumbled away into moist strips when touched by the fork and the creamy, light mash was so smooth in the mouth. This was matched with McConnel’s, our Vanilla Stout and I was really pleased that it was our latest batch. We have just sourced some amazing vanilla pods that are so intense, I can still smell them every time I walk into the Hall Brewery coolstore. The vanilla and berry character of the beer worked well with the sweet beef and the crispy bacon, with it’s slight charred character also brought out lots of roasty characters from the stout. Another good match.

After that came one of the best versions of cheese on toast I’ve ever had. Our Black IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale, or whatever the hell you want to call this style of beer… it’s dark in colour and smells and tastes like an IPA, so it’s Black IPA for us!), Raven was used to make a moist, slightly dense bread that was toasted and topped with Swaledale Old Peculier cheese. I have since found out that this cheese is soaked in Theakston’s Old Peculier, hence the name I guess (I is smaart). This was served with liberal dosings of Hendersons Relish and we were even treated to a sample of Rowley’s Hendersons Relish puree, a lovely addition. Paired with the Raven, this was another great combo. Pretty much beer and cheese on toast is awesome no matter what! With a big fruity nose, all unripe mango skin and unripe gooseberries and the almost stinging top palate bitterness, this allowed the soft, smooth cheese to reign supreme, it’s fat coating and dissipating the BIGness of the Raven. Then you’d have another sip of the beer and the former cheesy king would be relegated into the underworld and the fantastic combination of American and New Zealand hops would weave their magic on the olfactory bulb and the bitterness receptors. Good stuff.

On an aside, we love Raven, it’s a great juxtaposition of a beer. It might not meet the style guidelines that it’s meant to, it might not be the ideal pint of the nation, but some people love it and that’s what matters to us! Interestingly, Maggie, the lovely lady I was sitting next to at the dinner confessed she’d never really drunk beer and didn’t like it at all. She really enjoyed the Hopton (win!), couldn’t get her head around the McConnel’s (due to the colour) instantly thinking it would be too heavy (loss), but then the Raven came around and I asked her to take part in my little test, got her to close her eyes and have a sip and she loved it (win!). She loved the fruitiness and the big, bold, almost grapefruity bitterness and that definitely put a smile on my face. If only we could get more people to just taste beer!

It was now last course o’clock and we were on to a decadent Frozen Malt Parfait, Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, Hop Crispy Crunch and crazily, Lord Marples “Butter Beer”! The Butter Beer showed off the bitterness of the Marples but was deftly blended into an almost eggnog like drink with hints of nutmeg and  a creamy texture. Served warm this was an interesting contrast to the deliciously sweet parfait. The Hop Crispy Crunch was a sugar and crumbled hop flower affair, essentially a sweet for beer lovers and made the dessert look fantastic with it’s added dash of green.

Check out that Lord Marples Butter Beer!

Finally, it was local chocolatiers, CocoaDance of Castleton with their lovely Jaipur chocolate truffle and a lovely, mild coffee to finish the evening. Alistair came out to tell us the recommended way to eat the chocolate – place it in your mouth, crack open the milk chocolate shell, then let the truffle mixture coat your tongue to allow the Jaipur character to make itself present before phagocytosing (that’s my word, I made it up) the other chocolate with reckless abandonment. I love chocolate 🙂

Another incredibly brilliant night was over and it shows me, yet again, how brilliantly beer and food can work together. I know it has it’s naysayers, but I bet you that none of them were at Rowley’s enjoying what I was enjoying! Already can’t wait until next year!!!

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