On the 17th December 2017 an email came in from Greg Wells, one of the founders of the We Are Beer festivals:
I’ll send a more formal invite, but wanted to sound you about an idea we’ve been working on with Magnus and Tomas at Dugges. We’re wanting to launch a We Are Beer brew this year and it be an evolving feature across the festivals. Something that represents our festival and the collective of breweries we work with across cities and the world. Current plan is to brew a big stout @ Dugges during Gothenburg beer week. If it sounds like something you’d be keen to be involved in, both us and the Dugges guys would love you on board.
I’d replied instantly saying yes. We are huge fans of these festivals and have become good friends with the team at Dugges since our first meeting and our Head Brewer Will spent two weeks working with them last winter. They also happen to be brewers of some world famous and unique Imperial Stouts that we are in awe of, and the opportunity to brew one with them was really exciting.
If you haven’t been to any of the We are Beer festivals – in London, Edinburgh and Bristol they come highly recommended by Wiper and True. They are all about celebrating great beer from great breweries and from behind the bar, the subtle twist of their token-less approach is a powerful way of allowing people to feel comfortable about tasting and talking beer with the brewers that made it.
And so the planning started. Dates fixed, flights booked. As things progressed other brewers were confirmed into the mix to represent each festival – Gypsy Hill for London and Tempest for Edinburgh. Both breweries we were delighted to be in the company of. The idea began to emerge about brewing a beer that evolves into different forms for each festival, symbolizing the continuation of the spirit behind the events but also the uniqueness and infinite possibilities of brewing.
Collaborations are an important part of the beer industry and an endless source of fascination for me. They are statements of the camaraderie amongst the smaller players, of the willingness to share and learn from each other, debate, and ultimately to produce a beer that neither contributor would have ever dreamt up before. We have learnt from every collaboration we have been involved in, and each one has shaped how we approach brewing.
The most exciting part for me is gaining an insight into the creative process of other recipe developers. Some are very technical and clearly defined. Some are very spontaneous, and final recipes are put together on the morning of the brew day. However, in the last five years I’d never seen the approach used for this beer before. All four brewers submitted their favourite Imperial Stout recipes from their back catalogue. The team at Dugges then collated them, analysed each one and sent a report comparing and contrasting, getting the debate going. They fused the recipes together to create the super group of Imperial Stouts. We did a little editing here and there, a few tweaks, but in general the base recipe looked great and we were really excited about brewing it.
The recipe looks like this:
1300 kg (68.3%) Pilsner Malt
150 kg (7.9%) Munich Type I
90 kg (4.7%) Oats Flaked
150 kg (7.9%) Amber
50 kg (2.6%) Cara Malt
150 kg (7.9%) Chocolate Malt
12.5 kg (0.7%) Roast Barley
The discussion then turned to evolution. How could the beer keep developing, bringing something new to each festival whilst retaining its original concept? We decided that instead of brewing three different versions that it would be most interesting to brew one large batch of base beer that would evolve across time, with variations on the exact same batch at each festival.
Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival will play host to the straight up pure version of the stout, infused with a delicate touch of vanilla and cacao. Expect a lusciously thick roasty beer, oozing with chocolate, sweet malts and a smooth finish.
The same base beer will then be infused with more cacao, vanilla and Tonka beans – an aromatic seed from Amazonian giant trees – for release at the London Craft Beer Festival. They taste as exotic as they sound with sweetness reminiscent of vanilla and caramel but also an intriguing spice, cola like, with liquorice and gentle clove. The addition will bring a real complexity and intrigue to the recipe.
The third iteration will see the original beer aged in oak barrels that formerly contained cognac, and packaged just before the festival ready for tasting. The barrels will quicken the aging process and bring complexity, depth of flavor, tannin, oak and a warm spirit from the remnants of the cognac that has seeped into the grain of the wood. This will be ready for the Bristol Craft Beer Festival in September.
It’s going to be a fascinating journey observing how this beer evolves through space and time, and how each version will manifest at the festivals.
The brew day itself happened at the magnificently impressive Dugges Brewery in early April, amidst their shining stainless steel and vast high tech bottling line, as well as their ridiculous generosity. Myself and the other guest brewers stood in awe pretending we were contributing, but largely getting in the way whilst the highly skilled team did their thing. We followed the day with a four brewer tap takeover at the Brewers Beer Bar in Gothenberg in a moment that summed up the trip. As we raised our glasses to the day we raised them to something unique about our industry – supposed competitors coming together to create, share, learn and connect for the sake of a new beer. It felt like something worth celebrating and we hope you’ll join us in doing so at the festivals over summer.