Waving goodbye to our latest tanker heading to the the USA laden with Jaipur, Halcyon and Medici (our new India Brown Ale), I started thinking about how the American Craft Breweries have influenced the British brewing scene over the last 10 years or so. During my formative years at Meantime Brewery I visited the US numerous times and was blown away by the craft beer scene there. However, some of my favourite beers have come from closer to home and from some of the most distinguished breweries of Europe. Over the last 6 months we have had the chance to brew some of those styles of beer with our European series of beers brewed at The Hall brewery. This series of beers was exclusively in keg format for obvious reasons! Myself and the brewteam were really keen to try our hand at brewing these styles, some of which I’d brewed before, but others that were new to me.
Brewing keg beers on a relatively simple system certainly presented us with some challenges that would have to be overcome if we were to make a success of the project, and I took it as a personal challenge to make a success of the series. What was key to them was to be as true to the style as possible and approach it with a ‘Best in Class’ mentality. To be honest, looking at the project at the beginning, it seemed a bit like trying to cook a gourmet meal on a camping stove!
The first issue we had is the infusion mash system itself – being unable to temperature step the mash and not being able to ‘mash out’ (raising the mash temperature to prevent any further saccharification). It was difficult to gauge accurately our desired final attenuations. We needed to select styles that suited themselves to this system; heavily hopped beers such as IPAs are a no-go, because invariably unreacted polyphenols pass through into the final product. Although the beer may seem reasonably bright on packaging, within a month or so, a heavy hop haze would be present in the beer as we had no way of filtering the beer, instead relying on natural sedimentation to achieve the clarity and final yeast count that we wanted. The fermentation vessels at the Hall also presented a challenge as we had to carbonate the beer using the carbon dioxide solely produced during fermentations with no opportunity to ‘trim’. Luckily, we’ve become well practised at this.
The beer styles we decided to brew included a Belgian Blonde, Weizenbock, Berliner Weisse, Biere de Garde and a Saison. All these beers required the selection of a specific yeast, so we obtained these from both White Labs in San Diego and some from our brewing friends in Europe, propagating them at our Riverside brewery laboratory. Yeast selection, pitching rate and fermentation temperature were central to the success of these beers, so these were factors that we obsessed about to ensure the correct flavour profile and balance that would make them enjoyable.
Overall, we were very happy with the results, getting the attenuation limits that we wanted (so important for balance) and we felt we had got them all true to style – where a native drinker would think the brew came from their homeland. As you know we have already brewed and bottled the Weizen Doppelbock, now called Otto, at Riverside and in the coming months we hope to brew and bottle the Biere de Garde too as we were so pleased with it . In 2014 we have decided to embark on another keg project at the Hall, however the next series will be known as the ‘left field’ project . I’ll tell you all about that when I get back from the World Beer Cup in the States …