BEHIND THE BEERS
This is for anyone who's interested to know the story behind each of our beers; how they were conceived, more about the style, what happened during the brewing process and so on. It will, in places, be unashamedly geeky.
BIG IDEAS SERIES 02 SMOKED RYE PORTER
Deciding the first two beers to launch the brewery with took a while. The aim was always to represent the brewery’s (my) ethos while also producing great tasting drinks with a reasonably wide appeal. I settled on the European Pale Ale first; it was a style I’d been working on at home and was pleased with the results. It seemed to fit the bill nicely in that it uses lesser-known European ingredients to deliver the sort of big fruity flavours more often found in US-style pale ales and IPAs.
This second beer took longer to arrive at, and was eventually inspired by the line “Comin’ thro’ the rye”, taken from a Burns poem (and referred to in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye; which I was prompted to re-read recently by the excellent Adam Buxton podcast). I’d been working on a smoked porter for a while but wasn’t over-excited by the results. Adding the rye, and a good dose of chocolate rye, brought the extra dimension it needed. A rich, dark, smoky, spicy, chocolatey porter suddenly seemed like a great companion for the EPA. It wasn’t just the rye that brought the whole thing together though; upping the hardwood smoked malt considerably made a big difference to early versions. Another milestone was delaying the addition of the chocolate rye and black malt until the end of the mash, just before the sparge. This dialled back the roastiness and let the smoke come billowing thro’.
While this was the second of the two beers to be settled on, and the second to be packaged, it was the first to be brewed - in the brewery I’d only just got working. What could possibly go wrong?
In the end, things ran surprisingly smoothly. I was mightily relieved to find that most of the decisions I’d taken during the installation phase had proved sound. That’s not to say there were no hiccups… more or less the first thing I did was to pick up the wrong tub and add (vegan) finings to the mash tun, rather than lactic acid, when attempting to adjust the pH. I also used the wrong upstand in the fermentation tank, meaning more beer left behind and lost to the drain than necessary. But, considering the likelihood of the whole lot ending up down the drain was pretty high at the start of the day, I was very happy with the way things had gone.
Smokey, spicy, dark and chocolatey… what’s not to like? Especially at a fireside-friendly 6% ABV. During the last few weeks, as the temperatures have dropped and nights drawn in I’ve been loving the trial versions of this beer. In fact, with the endless stresses of getting this new business started and these first two beers done, I’m not sure what I’d have done without it.
BIG IDEAS SERIES 01 EUROPEAN PALE ALE
The starting points for this beer were:
A fruity flavour derived from the yeast more than the hops, in the same manner as a Beligian ale but with less of the phenolic/spicy character.
An easy-drinking, balanced beer not too far removed from an English Bitter.
So I was looking to update an English Bitter by giving it a punchier, more fruity flavour, without resorting to the use of New World hops. During the various trial batches I tried quite a few English ale yeasts, fermented on the warmer side, and numerous hop varieties from all over Europe but mainly from Slovenia and Germany.
The first batch I did with a Kveik yeast strain told me that this was the way to go. Plenty of fruit, but still a fair bit of spice. This was the Voss strain; a couple more trials later and WHC Labs ‘Bjorn’, which is a Hornindal strain, gave loads of fruit and minimal spice. Bingo.
There’s a bit more going on with the malt than a standard Bitter, the yeast was pretty full on so something a bit more robust was required. Hence a fair chunk of Vienna, along with some Crystal, just as a nod to the classic English Ale style really and some Carapils for body, mouthfeel and head retention.
I trialled a lot of Solvenian hops for this beer, including the newer varieties that look to emulate the big, bold New World flavours, however it seemed to me that there was always a spicy contribution too, which was something I wanted to minimise. I used Celeia in the end, which is a great, reliable hop and adds a nice floral citrus note with just the right amount of complexity. The majority of the hop character though comes from the German Hallertau Blanc, with a bit of Huell Melon to compliment it. Blanc is another of my favourite hops and much underrated I think. Tons of passionfruit with a crisp white wine finish. This will be appearing front and centre in a future brew, no doubt.
Brew number 2. While this is release no. 1, and was the first to be bottled, it was actually the second brew in the new brewery and as a result things went considerably more smoothly on the day, with vital statistics such as mash temperature and pH, boil gravity etc all pretty much according to plan.
Things got a bit more interesting during fermentation. The yeast was pitched at 35oC as per usual practice for Kveik yeast, however the following morning the temperature had dropped to 24 and by the end of the day it was at 22. The next morning we were at 18 and fermentation looked to have more or less stopped, with quite a bit of the job still to be done. Minor panic time. The tank needed to be warmed up, so I wrapped as much garden hose as I could find around the outside and pumped warm water through, wrapping the whole lot in some fairly grotty foil insulation. Over the next few days though, the temperature came back up and the yeast got started again, and eventually completed the job. A quick dry hop and into the Conditioning Tank, tasting great.
Bottling was another journey into the unknown. The semi-automated filler bought from Stewart Brewing wasn’t going to be brought back to life in time so a last-minute purchase of a £300 Italian gravity filler was made, and proved a decent, if quite leaky, substitute. A few more technical hurdles were overcome and, with the help of Ciaran from Acid Brewing Cartel, we got there eventually. Fingers crossed that the priming sugar calculations that worked on a home brew scale work here too.
As I write this, the packaged beer is sat next to me, bottle conditioning in a cosy 20oC, and the carbonation does appear to be happening as planned. The fruity, estery yeast character is there big time, and is the major contributor to flavour as was always the ambition. The malt bill is holding up well, providing a solid backbone and some delicate caramel notes, and there’s a lovely freshness in the aroma from the German and Slovenian hops. It’s an easy drinking 5% that delivers a lot of body and flavour for its ABV.