Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Beer is a wonderful thing, but brewing it involves getting up at stupid o'clock in the morning. That's why at 6am I'm standing in the lobby of the Park Inn, Aberdeen loosely clutching at a lukewarm cup of coffee. I'm soon joined by the venerated beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones and young, hot Youtube sensations Brad Evans and Jonny Garrett, otherwise known as The Craft Beer Channel. The four of us have been brought together to help design and brew a beer with perhaps the most important brewery to emerge in the UK within the last decade, Brewdog.
This was a huge deal for me. Before I started writing about beer I spent a lot of time reading about it and I fondly remember observing Zak Avery, Pete Brown and Mark Dredge come together to create a lager called Avery Brown Dredge. I couldn't quite believe that I was here to do something similar.
Even Brewdog's energetic Project Manager Sarah Warman is subdued at this hour as she and her colleague Johnny Moran chaperone us into a taxi. After a short drive through Aberdeen's neat, granite streets and along the gorse bush lined coast that leads to Ellon, we arrive at the giant tin shed that houses Brewdog's sizeable brewhouse. There we're met by lead brewer Nick Zeigler (who incidentally has just parted company with Brewdog to take up a position with Magic Rock) who was to be spearheading todays brew. We're also met by Richard Taylor, who along with Rob Derbyshire of Hopzine, brewed his own collaboration with Brewdog, Dead Metaphor, a couple of years ago before recently being hired by the brewery.
"I tried my very best to stay cool, it would not be pertinent to lose my shit in front of so many Brewdog staffers"
After a short tour of the pilot facility, which sits at the end of the brewery's tap room, Dogtap, we then embark on a very early tasting session. The pilot brewery's fermentation vessels are responsible for increasingly interesting prototype brews. I'd already tasted Brewdog's delicious, deconstructed whiskey sour in its Shepherds Bush bar some weeks ago. Now we were tasting spiced cherry sours, mango gose and even a couple of braggots, beer/mead hybrids that have been brewed in collaboration with Detroit's B. Nektar meadery. Not one of these beers was sub-par, in fact all of them were impressive and this filled me with confidence that our own creation would be a success.
In the weeks leading up to our visit the four of us had deliberated via email over what we should brew. We had settled on brewing a Belgian style Tripel but this being Brewdog, it was going to have to be a little bit different. First of all, we had settled on the decision that we wanted to ferment the beer on fruit and peaches were voted as the fruit of choice. It was then suggested that to balance any sweetness from the fruit we should add a small percentage of acidulated malt to the mash in order to lower the beers pH and create a subtle tartness. Thankfully there was to be no arduous peeling and juicing of a thousand peaches as Brewdog use fruit concentrates in any of its beer that receives a fruit addition. Nick also suggested that as well as peach we add some apricot, as this would help to create a more rounded, balanced beer.
With the the final recipe decided upon we headed into the massive brewhouse next door. We strolled past neon lights and graffiti covered walls and up into the malt store where we found several pre-milled sacks of grain ready to be added to the mash. The next few minutes were spent heaving these sacks into the pilot brewery before eventually we started mashing in. Around this time, Brewdog co-founder James Watt arrives holding a pitcher of beer that had been drawn straight from a conditioning tank. This was Born To Die, a brand new double IPA with a very short shelf life, inspired by Stone Brewing's 'Enjoy By' series. One whiff of the beer revealed massive notes of mango, melon and pine, it smelled incredible and tasted just as good. I tried my very best to stay cool, it would not be pertinent to lose my shit in front of so many Brewdog staffers as well as one of its owners, but I was pretty confident I was tasting one of the best beers to have been brewed this year.
Brewing takes a long time, most of it is heating stuff up, cooling stuff down and cleaning, constant cleaning. While our brew heated up we were given a lengthy tour of the main brewery. Nick hands us Punk IPA straight of the bottling line as thousands of bottles clink there way into hundreds of cardboard boxes. Eventually we're led to a refrigerated shipping container that Brewdog use as a hop store. We set about opening up various backs of pelletised hops, rubbing them between our hands to break them and release their pungent aromas. Eventually we settle on two varieties for our beer.
"Naming the beer proved to be almost equally as difficult as we all sat around a table attempting to out pun each other."
The first is Strisselspalt, a French variety that's perhaps most famous for its use in the Trappist beer Orval. We also pick a relatively new German variety, Mandarina Bavaria as we felt that its herbal, citrus character would boost the characteristics were were hoping the finished beer would contain. Our beer's flavour would be provided predominantly by fruit and the esters produced by our Belgian yeast so we were not looking for a hop to provide any dominant flavours, more to act as the seasoning for what was rapidly developing into an increasingly complex beer.
Brewing doesn't always go to plan and by the look on Nick's face when we returned to check on the status of our mash it was obvious that this had not. The mash had collagulated into a sticky, gloopy mess, it was no longer a liquid but a singlular gelatinous blob. We were not entirely sure what caused this to happen, although we suspected that the acidulated malt may have been to blame. After a little bit of soul searching and a fair amount of lamentation, the entire batch had to be dumped, the mash tun cleaned and the brew started again. It was a good job we were there for two days.
Naming the beer proved to be almost equally as difficult as we all sat around a table attempting to out pun each other. Titles such as 'Storm the Peaches' and 'James and the Giant Peach' were thrown into the mix but eventually it was put to a vote and we unanimously decided to call the beer 'Peach Therapy'. It seemed appropriate given the nature of the brew day. It's a good job there was plenty of beer available after a long day.
It was an interesting, educational and enjoyable couple of days. It was fascinating not only to see how our beer was created, but also getting to observe the process of other beer communicators first hand. I watched as Adrian carefully analysed everything, asking all the right questions and jotting the information down into his notebook before tearing into another entertaining anecdote from his many years as a professional journalist. The effort that Jonny and Brad put into creating their videos is incredible. They've invested in quite a bit of kit, including a GoPro camera mounted to a headband for a first person view and a second camera recording a time lapse of the brew day. The Craft Beer Channel might seem a bit chaotic at times but here was two guys who knew what they were doing. It was a pleasure to work on this beer with the three of them. Over these two days I learned as much about beer communication from them as I did about brewing from Nick and his team.
Eventually the beer was successfully mashed in, boiled and hopped before being cooled and safely tucked up in a fermenter for the next few weeks. Now we were to play the waiting game, would our collective creation actually be any good? Well you can come and find out with us when we tap the beer at Brewdog Shepherds Bush at 6pm on Friday the 17th of July. Adrian, Brad, Johnny and I will be there along with several of the team from Brewdog to answer any of your questions about the beer. We've also been let loose on the bars 'Forty Taps of Awesome' so expect to see some fantastic beers on tap. I'm confident that Peach Therapy will rank well amongst them.
For more information on the Peach Therapy launch party head to the events page by clicking here.