Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
It's early on a cold, bright December morning and I'm stood on Hackney's Broadway market, a long black from Climpson and Sons clutched in one hand and a bacon sarnie in the other. Here I'm joined by fellow beer writer Chris Hall, Jonny Garrett who produces the Craft Beer Channel and Sofia De Crescentiis of Camden Town Brewery. Today, the four of us are going to brew a beer and we're at the market to buy one of the key ingredients, grapefruit.
The basic concept for this beer was Sofia's, her 'eureka' beer, as she describes it, was a grapefruit IPA she tried in her native Canada several years ago. The idea for this brew day started as a slightly drunken conversation at The Hop and Berry in Islington, we wanted to brew the kind of beer we love, a tremendously clean-yet-bitter American style IPA but we wanted it to be more than this. Earlier this year Chris ably described the beer style that is defining the evolution of the London beer scene, the Juicy Banger. We wanted this beer to be a combination of the all the things that make IPA our favourite drink, bitter, juicy and bursting with intense fruit flavours but there was one problem; none of us really knew what we were doing.
So, armed with a carrier bag full of grapefruit we headed to Camden Town Brewery where Sofia had kindly arranged for us to brew on their pilot kit for the day. Sensibly, she'd also employed the services of one of its brewers, Pete Brown (no, not that Pete Brown) who was there to act as our guide while still letting us control the concept and direction of the brew. We mingled about in the cold for a while, slurping away on coffee while Pete set up the kit and brought the water or 'liquor' for the mash up to temperature in the hot liquor tank. He then sent us into the main brewhouse to measure out the grain we would soon be mashing in with. We were using predominantly pale barley malt with just a dash of victory malt which would give us a hint of amber colour and a small amount of non-fermentable sugar which should help improve the beers mouthfeel and balance out its bitterness.
Soon it was time to mash in which is probably my favourite part of the brewing process, if only for the fantastic smell produced when hot liquor meets milled grain. Once we'd finished the mash under Pete's watchful eye we retired to the bar to discuss the hop profile we wanted to give this beer. Sofia brought us all a glass of Camden Ink Stout and we made the tough decision of selecting our hop bill. Pete had sensibly steered us in the direction of using Magnum hops for a clean bitterness that didn't have too much of an overall influence on the flavour of the beer. Citra was an obvious choice, what better to use in a grapefruit IPA than a hop that brings with it intense flavours of pithy citrus fruit. We decided on Amarillo for flavour as we felt that the juicy, orange quality it has would compliment the grapefruit nicely. Finally we chose an addition of Centennial for both flavour and aroma, we hoped this would add a grassy, zesty lemon note to our beer.
A large amount of our hops were to be added at the very end of the boil or, to paraphrase The Human Torch, at 'flameout' in order to preserve the maximum amount of flavour and aroma. This is also when we'd be adding our grapefruit zest which we were currently busy removing from the fruit. Using the fruit itself would produce too much tartness in the beer but the zest would add the booming citrus aroma we were seeking. After our zesting session and a spot of lunch it was all hands on deck as it was time to boil our beer.
Tasting the unfermented wort before the hops are added is a real treat. The rich, sugary solution that will soon be devoured by yeast cells is both delicious and fortitude inducing, especially on a freezing cold outdoor brew day. There was a reason for us being outside though, we'd set the pilot kit up by the bar so that people could wander up and talk to us about what we were doing. It's quite something to visit a bar and drink excellent beer with your friends but to see it being made while you do so is just one of the many reasons why Camden Town's brewery bar is one of my favourite places to have a beer.
The boil progressed without a hitch and I got on with the arduous process of digging out and cleaning the mash tun, while Jonny scrubbed down our fermentation vessel. After an hour of boiling the heat was cut and we added our last addition of Citra, Centennial and the grapefruit zest. The smell at this point was quite remarkable, the hops themselves seemed to fill the air with a dank, green fog and we were enveloped by an explosion of grapefruit zest. After a few more minutes we ran our beer through a heat exchanger to cool it down to a temperature that would keep our yeast happy. We tasted the newly hopped wort, it was zingy, fruity and tooth enamel strippingly bitter. There was plenty of sweetness in there and after Pete had measured the beer in a hydrometer to check its gravity it looked like we were going to have a beer of about 7% ABV on our hands.
It was a long, exhausting and extremely enjoyable day, even despite the fact that at one point Sofia set her coat on fire (brew safe, kids) and now it was time to retire to the bar and reward ourselves for our efforts. Our yeast was pitched and the FV was sealed, once it's finished fermenting it'll get dry-hopped with more Citra and Centennial to really get the aroma singing. We've brewed enough for about two kegs worth of beer and we'll be attempting to drink the lot at the tapping party on January the 9th. It's open to everyone so please join us at the Camden Town Brewery bar to taste the Juicy Banger, in all its glory.
Thanks to Sofia, Pete and all the guys at Camden Town Brewery for letting us come and play with their kit. Below is a video Jonny shot of our brew day, please excuse his silliness.