Tag: Brewing

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Odessa in London

Almost a year ago now I went down to Otley Brewing in South Wales and did a brew with them.  Unlike many collaborative brews, they made me come up with the recipe, select the hops and everything.  When I co-created Brew Dog’s Avery Brown Dredge with Zak and Mark, they did most of the work and I just said things like, “Yes. very good.” This time I was on my own.  Nowhere to hide.  (There’s a nice video of the brew day of you follow the link above).

Inspired by Martin Dickie’s ginger nuts (we were very hungover) I decided I wanted to brew an imperial stout with ginger.  And chocolate.  And then mature it in whisky casks for a year.You may say that’s showing off.  I say it was cruising for a fall.  As I kept chucking handfuls of crystallised ginger and Belgian chocolate drops into the copper when Nick Otley wasn’t looking (unaware that Nick was doing the same when I wasn’t looking) I was genuinely worried it wouldn’t work.

For ten months, some of this beer sat in bourbon barrels and some in mead barrels.  Nick finally tasted it last weekend and after he stopped saying ‘wow!’ (which took a while) he said it was pitch black, and very warming.

Tomorrow you get a chance to see if we pulled it off or whether I should stick to writing rather than brewing.  Odessa Imperial Stout is launching in four London pubs, and Nick and I are touring them to give it a try in each one.  Each pub gets either the whisky or the mead finish, randomly chosen.  So if you can, it’s worth trying at least three pubs.  The beer will of course be on sale all day until it runs out.  But if you want to see me or Nick (save the difficult questions for him) our rough timetable is as follows:

1.       The White Horse, Parsons Green, between 1pm & 2pm
2.       The Rake, Borough, between 3pm & 4pm
3.       The Jolly Butchers, Stoke Newington, between 5pm & 6pm
4.       The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town, between 7pm & 8pm

I’ll be tweeting events for as long as I can focus.  Though after the first couple of pints of this stuff, I may well ask someone to take my phone off me.

See you there!

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O-Lordy – caught on the hop(s) in the Welsh Valleys

Last Thursday in Pontypridd, the early summer seemed to have revealed itself as a false start.  A chill mist hung over the peaks and dulled the valleys.  The sombre mood was enhanced when I got off the train at the wrong stop, forcing Nick Otley to come looking for me on a hillside industrial estate he’d never been to before.

When he finally found me and took me back to the other industrial estate back up near Pontypridd – the one where the Otley brewery is – my first impression was that Otley will soon need a bigger unit, if not to expand their brewing operations, then to get a bigger office for all the framed awards certificates.  If they carry on winning stuff at the rate they have since opening shop in 2005, they’ll run out of wall space this year.

I’m not the first beer writer to brew at Otley – not by any means.  I would have been higher up the list if I’d got my shit together when they first invited me to brew, but since then Melissa Cole, Adrian Tierney-Jones and Roger Protz have all been asked to come down and get their hands dirty – Glyn from the Rake, AKA @RabidBarFly, was here before any of us – his Motley Brew has become a regular addition to the range.

The trend of collaborative brewing is an exciting one, but I think, dear reader, you could be forgiven for getting more excited about, say, a collaborative brew between Thornbridge and Brooklyn, or Brew Dog and Mikkeller, than one between a thrilling new brewery and a beer writer whose only experience at brewing before has been a kit from Boots in 1981.

I’ve been asked to brew before – several times.  But on most of those occasions ‘brewing’ meant I dug out the mash tun and basically got in the way.  The notable exception would, of course, be Avery Brown Dredge – and my write up of that experience is long overdue – but Zak and Mark had much more to do with both the recipe design and the labour than I did.

Like our ABD experience, Otley ask writers to get stuck in.  Not just the symbolic digging out of the mash tun, but designing the recipe, choosing ingredients and really taking responsibility for how it’s going to turn out.  Go brew with Otley, and there’s nowhere to hide.

The pressure was on.  I’d previously talked to Nick about brewing a big old Imperial stout, because when he first asked me to come and brew – at the end of 2009 – I’d only ever brewed IPAs, and was – not bored exactly – but wanted to spread my brewing horizons.

Funnily enough, inspiration came when we were sitting in Brew Dog, about to brew our Imperious Stout, weeping with hangover.  (The Brew Dog bar in Aberdeen is great – but almost every beer is one you want to have at the end of the evening.  The End therefore goes on for hours.)  I was sitting there, feeling guilty at not having contributed more to ABD, thinking, what will I do at Otley?  And Martin Dickie, Brewing Boy Genius, handed me a nice cup of life-saving tea and popped a packet of ginger biscuits on the table. I looked at the packet of ginger biscuits.  The packet of ginger biscuits looked at me.

And I thought, Imperial stout brewed with ginger, maybe a bot of chocolate, aged in whisky or rum casks.

Otley have so far resisted the cask ageing trend.  This was to be their first attempt.  The easiest casks to get were Welsh Penderyn whisky casks – and they weren’t easy to get.  So that’s what we’re ageing the beer in.  It’ll be ready late Autumn.

A man with a camera came, which I hadn’t expected.  I didn’t have my entourage, make-up or anything.  But, I reasoned, I never have an entourage or make-up, so it makes no difference.  So I hastily improvised a quick description of what and how we were brewing.  I insist all errors in describing the brewing process are down to necessary editing, but I think Wales Online did a really nice job here.  They turned up just after we’d finished mashing in, so I’m covered in malt flour.  I’m also pitifully knackered.  But it’s come out OK.  

After we finished brewing, I had several pints of ATJ’s excellent Saison Obscura down at the Bunch of Grapes, and even though I was falling asleep from mid-afternoon onwards, the beer somehow galvanised me into giving a competent account of myself during the evening’s entertainments, when I matched various beers with each of my three books for an audience bussed into the brewery.  The smell of chocolate filled the air by the time they arrived.  I think they enjoyed the multi-sensory beer experience.

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Brew Dog hires rank amateurs to create its latest beer

Entering the revolutionary spirit

Well, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.  Especially when, with their trade mark hyperbole, Brew Dog publicly referred to us as ‘the rock stars of the beer blogging world’*.

On 27th January, massively and pathetically hungover after hosting a beer dinner at Musa Aberdeen, Mark Dredge, Zak Avery and me were whisked up to Fraserburgh to brew a beer we had designed.  (When I say ‘we’, I mean mainly Zak and Mark thought about it and designed it and I said ‘yes’.)

We went into the hops store and chose the hops.  We tipped the frankly worrying amount of malt into the mash tun, which we filled almost to the top, and we made Young Dredge stand on top of a ladder and do a continuous addition of hops throughout the boil.  I’ve no idea how long this took him, because I bailed out early and was on my way home by then (to be fair, my flight was booked weeks before and brewing somehow took a lot longer – or started a lot later – than we had thought.)

The result is a 7.5% ‘Imperious Pilsner’.  Zak wrote some label copy that goes on about killing your ideals and worshipping your heroes and stuff, which is really good and adorns the bottle label.  But basically it’s doing to lager what new wave brewers such as Brew Dog have done to pale ales, porters and stouts.  (I’m not saying we’re the first – just that that’s what we did.)  It features an insane amount of Saaz hops, and was lagered for a full six weeks before being dry-hopped with yet more Saaz.

If we were music writers being offered the chance to go and make a record with a popular and influential band, the result would be horrible beyond belief.  One of the nice things about the brewing world is that an idea like this can actually work out quite well.

The result of our collaboration is a bitter, hoppy character that’s refreshingly different from the prevailing, ubiquitous Citra-sy trend.  It’s more elegant, more structured, more noble – a classy beer, a very firm, gentlemanly shake of the hand rather than a slap around the face.

We’re giving Avery Brown Dredge a triple-headed launch this Thursday, 31st March, at three separate locations.  Zak will be at the North Bar in Leeds,  I’ll be at the Jolly Butchers, London N16, and Mark will be at the Rake, London SE1, at 7.30pm.  We’ll probably link up with something like a #ABD hash tag on Twitter and try to do some Live Aid style three headed technology shenanigans.

Brew Dog MD James Watt will be joining me at JBs, and various other Brew Dog honchos will be at the other locations.  These will be the only three outlets in the UK with the beer on draught, with just one keg each, so get there fast.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other Brew Dog treats turning up as well…

Post launch, the beer will be available only from the Brew Dog online shop.  We hope you enjoy it!

*Being called rock stars, we had to decide which ones we were.  Well, I did.  Mark is obviously one of McFly.  Zak is Flea out of Red Hot Chilli Peppers (I did not see his sock).  And I’ hoping to be Hooky out of New Order, but am probably Gary Barlow.