25 Apr 2014 BY Jim Taylor
As a brewery, we want to be known for our innovative beers. Quality, variety, creativity and innovation, are all key to us – and for a couple of very good reasons ….
Variety and creativity are part of the reason that consumers are increasingly drinking craft beers. Indeed, consumers are finding it somewhat of a revelation, the many different flavours that you can find in a beer ….
Furthermore, as a brewer, innovation is how you go from ‘good’ to ‘great’. I was watching Masterchef on TV last night and thinking of the parallels…. When faced with a box of ‘sweet’ or ‘savoury’ ingredients and given an hour to come up with an amazing dish, the chefs that coped best were those who had the widest prior experience. In other words, not those that had cooked longest or cooked most, but rather, those that had cooked the widest variety of dishes - who had pushed themselves to try something new each time they cooked, and therefore had a real understanding of the many types of dishes that could be made with different ingredients. Same with brewing; if you just brew 6 session beers, you’ll never be a truly great brewer.
Anyway, as we now gear up to move to a new bigger premises with bigger tank capacity, we will split our beers into a ‘Core’ range, that is always available and for sale in shops and online, plus an ‘Innovation’ range, where the brews are adventurous, come and go, and are only available online and at farmers markets.
To kick off the Innovation range, we are currently doing two things:
First, we have a barrel-aging programme. Here, we are maturing beers in ex-Ardbeg whisky barrels. Ardbeg, in case you don’t know, is an amazing peaty whiskey from Islay. We put three beers – a 9.5% Barleywine, plus 1917 (7.4% Imperial Pilsner) plus Little Snug (5.5% English Pale Ale) - in 200 litre barrels about 6 weeks ago; last night we tried them. Wow …. All of them have picked up a healthy dose of ‘peaty / smokey whiskey’ flavours, and are ready to come out and be bottled. So we will bottle them next week, and get them on sale as soon as we can get labels and packaging sorted.
- By the way, the 9.5% Barleywine is amazing. I think we will call it ‘Little Spirit’, given its strength and whiskey aura.
The second thing we’re currently doing is running a so-called Innovation pipeline alongside the regular brewing. Myself and Phil Wood, have devised a programme whereby each month we each home-brew a beer that is relatively innovative. For each beer, our recipes are 90% same, 10% different … Once each beer is bottled, a small bunch of us (Phil, myself, and friends) then try them next to each other. We are doing this across the year ahead, each month a different beer. The best of these beers, we will then bring in to the brewery and brew as one of the Innovation range.
This is proving an interesting process. I won’t divulge too much of what we’ve got planned each month; but this March we brewed a Saison beer that had a cider / perry ‘kick’. We did this by each brewing a slightly different Saison grain recipe. On Phil’s, he then put in some pulped apple half way through the fermentation (thereby ensuring the beer yeast was dominant) and for my beer, I split the batch, putting in pulped apple in one and pulped pear in another. We will try the 3 resulting beers in a fortnight.
So look out for the beers that are coming through, under our ‘Innovation’ range. As I mentioned, the first three should be out in about a month – all from our barrel aging.
Jim Taylor, 26th April 2014.