Words by Will Hartley, Head Brewer
To brew a traditional beer with a modern, creative approach has often seemed to us to be a beautiful thing to do. Respecting centuries of brewing heritage and drinking culture, but also bringing something new to beer is a balance that a lot of people in the industry get excited about. It makes me think of the similarity between a professional kitchen and a brewery: both teams of people looking to produce a modern take on a classic; something that makes perfect sense, at the same time as surprising and inspiring the people who will be enjoying the creation. For us, collaborating with Fuller’s is a perfect opportunity to showcase modern, progressive British brewing.
We have been planning to make a beer with George Young for quite some time. Just before she became Head Brewer at Fuller’s, we met George at a food and beer pairing event. A little while later she very kindly showed a few of us around the brewery at Chiswick (I still feed bad how much of her time we took up!). Since then we have kept in touch, discussing recipe ideas, and I even got to spend a couple of days hanging out in their packaging department.
One recipe idea that we had been bouncing around was to make an IPA with all UK hops. It is a great thing that a lot of brewers are looking to use more UK varieties, and we found that Fuller’s share our interest in new varieties such as Ernest, Jester and Olicana. These have been released in recent years - after lengthy breeding programmes - as fruity alternatives to New World hops. We have found that they are not just fruity; they have complex flavour profiles, including hedgerow-herbiness, sweet nut pastry, and even liquorice or hints of something spicy. Recipe discussion focussed on the fact that these characteristics don’t necessarily lend themselves to the juicy New England style IPA’s that are so prevalent at the moment.
The big fruity flavour and full texture of New England IPAs tends to be driven by the type of yeast used. This is usually a yeast strain that - rather than tasting sharp, dry or bitter - has a creamy and juicy flavour, it will also stay in suspension, giving a hazy or even murky beer. Our English interpretation then would need a fruity, flavourful yeast. Using the Fuller’s house yeast, which produces beers like ESB and their magnificent Vintage Ale, seemed to be the perfect fit.
With the banana and marmalade-like esters produced by the yeast, and the dried fruit, apricot and herbal notes coming from the hops, using rye in the malt bill seemed to fit nicely. Its dryness and spice could contrast well with and balance the fuller body, but it could also complement the bitterness coming from the hops.
We had a great time with George on brew day; she brought the yeast, we brought the cupcakes (our brewer Amanda had made some fantastic treats using London Pride!). And - of course - we put her to work in digging out the mash tun, in true collaboration tradition.
The theme of tradition-meets-modern continued into the packaging of the beer. We casked nearly all of it, but also filled a few kegs to see how it serves from the two different containers. It will be really interesting to hear from drinkers what differences they pick up on.
On the nose we have been getting dried apricots, plenty of banana and dried fruit esters. There are also notes of rye bread - slightly savoury-dry, as well as some grape-like notes. Almond and marzipan are right there on the aroma too. To taste it has full, fruity, banana-y flavours and a finish that seems to be a lovely balance of the rye and hops working together. It has a dry and peppery finish with herbal flavours ranging from hedgerow greenness to hints of hay. The stewed fruit, marmalade and orchard fruit notes dominate though.
Tasting it, we were struck by how nicely it fits the name of New English IPA, given that it seems to be the yeast that is bringing fullness of flavour and tying in all the other things going on. But in a completely different way and flavour profile to the US NEIPAs.
New English IPA will be launching at London Craft Beer Festival this weekend, it will be pouring in cask at the Fuller’s Cask Bar and in keg on our bar. It will also be available at our brewery tap room this weekend, and in venues across Bristol and further afield in the next few weeks.