Following on from the European Series, in 2014 for our limited edition keg range we decided to brew some left field beers to take a break from following style guidelines. In many way these beers were more challenging as myself and the team needed to assign more time to recipe development. All of my brewing team will tell you that I’m very style-oriented and I take some persuading to even put the slightest twist on a classic beer style. I was really pleased that we won the BBC R4 Food and Farming award a few weeks ago for the best drinks producer. I was especially happy because one of the reasons we won the award was our dedication to brewing classic styles, particularly when it goes against the current trend in craft brewing which is to constantly brew something ‘wackier’ than the last brew.
Pete Brown commenting on the judging at Thornbridge said “Every time I go there, there are new surprises, and they had plenty more this time. Thornbridge are exploring the vast library of beer styles that already exist around the world, mastering them in turn. Having made their name with cask ale and then American style craft beers, they’re now exploring classic German styles such as Kolsch and Weizen”
I’m loathe to ruin classic styles with ludicrous twists -. I have to say I am not even a fan of hopfenweisse – for me the key thing about Bavarian Wheat beer is the complex blend of esters and phenols produced during fermentation which should be the star of the show, and excessive bitterness or US hop aroma in this style are a distraction and an unattractive combination. There is a time and a place for experimental beers. I think the key when using novel ingredients is that it’s imperative that they’re used in the right way and complement the other components of the beer. Novel ingredients often only need to be used to the level where they are just perceptible and hint at their presence. So the base beer selected must engage with the novel ingredients and vice versa.
The first left field beers I ever brewed were coffee and chocolate porters, after tasting them in the States over 10 years ago. If you think about a robust porter with moderate hopping levels, this backbone of a beer lends itself to additional chocolate and coffee aromas, the dark malts complementing similar notes in the coffee and chocolate. Lighter beers again with moderate hopping levels, such as a summer ale, lend themselves to more delicate ingredients. Now I know I am leaving myself open to criticism here – summer ales and porters are gorgeous styles in their own right, but they do lend themselves well to experimentation particularly when modified, i.e lowering the bitterness and making sure the hop aroma is more neutral.
So far, the line for our 2014 range includes Parma Violet Porter, Peanut butter brown ale, Wye Cucumber summer ale and Mint Chocolate stout. The first beer in the range is released is the Parma Violet Porter. I have always thought about brewing this beer as I think the aroma of Parma violets is almost smoky and would certainly complement a darker beer rather than a pale beer. I also tasted a wine years ago in Northern Italy that had prominent Parma violet notes, almost certainly coming from fermentation and it added a really interesting dimension to the wine. Indeed the main component of parma violet flavour is a ketone, organic compounds which are found in beer. So I thought it would be interesting to try and get this kind of aroma in beer, unfortunately I am not a wizard with the ablility to manipulate a beer yeast to spit out Parma violet aromas, so we ended up adding the crushed sweets. However, in our lab I made sure the flavour was just at the perceptible level, so it could almost be a component of the base beer. We’ve now packaged the beer all into kegs so look out for it and tell us what you think!