2017 marks the year that Castle Rock take a serious step into experimentation. No, we’re not talking about wild wood-aged sours (yet..!) or weird & wonderful ice cream beers. We’re talking about experimenting with a brewing process that has served us so well for almost twenty years; a process that has been honed and tweaked and resulted in us developing consistent and good quality beer that nowadays some would call “conservative” or “safe”. For me and all the other folk that drink our beers on a regular basis, people can label it what they like. But this isn’t about Castle Rock’s core output.
When I talk about experimenting with the process I mean taking a serious look at what our 40bbl kit is capable of – with reference to the 2.0v1.7 series of new beers, which will rotate yearly and are more reflective of some of the more modern/postmodern styles we’re seeing proliferate across the UK and beyond (influenced by here, there and everywhere). I suppose the reductionist way to look at this would be “Castle Rock are doing craft beer” but I find the term so ill-defined that it almost seems crude to use it. No-one knows what craft beer is, but everyone claims they are doing it.
This is about more than that though, this is about looking at a culture within our brewery, a thought process, and addressing it. That’s been the most challenging thing for me so far – we have amazing people in our brewery, people with excitable vigour who want to progress forward with new beer styles and processes, and we have more seasoned professionals who know how to brew great beer and have the years of experience and accolades to prove it. Unstoppable force meets immovable object maybe? What I do know however, is that both these groups of people that form our brewing team REALLY give a damn about beer. That’s what makes these beers so exciting for us. We’re not approaching these beers with a culture of leftfield brewing ready and waiting to be unleashed. We’re approaching these new beers with a history of long-standing experience, balance, subtlety and the delicate citrus sessionability of beers like Harvest Pale combined with a desire to bring something new to the table. Experimentation and innovation with beer is here to stay.
I want to keep you all in the loop about these new beers. Your ongoing feedback is vital. So here’s the lowdown so far.
We’re planning to brew this in mid-February to be available in March after a LOT of deliberation over recipe (the result of months of research and years of combined experience). Our brewery consists of a mash-tun, kettle, hop back and seven fermenters (5 40bbl and 2 80bbl). We don’t have conditioning tanks, or much flexibility in terms of how long the beers can stay in fermenting vessels. The outlets and pumps on the fermenting vessels are also at risk of clogging. Big hop loading = potential clogging = unhappy brewers! So – you can see how my idea of brewing an aromatic, juicy hop forward session IPA with more back end hop than front end hop was a challenge. To give you an idea of our hopping rates, we normally hop at between 200-300g/bbl – which is great for our core range. But we’re talking around 1kg+/bbl for this beer – most of which is dry hop. We’ve settled on a two stage dry hop method: Starting with Summit hops, loose, just before the beer has attenuated (fermented all the sugars), and then Chinook at the end of cooling using nylon mesh bags to contain and infuse the dry hop – all over a two week period.
We’d also looked at ways we can utilise our hop back to extract additional aroma; usually the temperature of the wort when it hits the hopback is about 100 degrees celsius, and the utilisation (in terms of extracting bitterness) is reasonably high – so aroma compounds are lost. We have come up with a way to address this – using a bit of pipe wizardry and cooling the wort which will help aroma-wise.
But these are all new processes for us and we want to get these beers right. Throwing loads of sexy hops into a beer doesn’t necessarily equal a sexy beer – it has to be considered. It is for this reason that we’ve decided to run a trial brew, and in the name of transparency we are calling it “Open Beta 1” and we’re asking you to be our beta testers! The beer is a reflection of our experiments with the process which we can then apply to Session IPA: low hop addition in copper, hop back wort cooling and increased hop loading, mesh bag dry hop infusion and extended residence time in the fermenter to maximise aroma.
Open Beta 1 is available from early February and we would very much welcome any and all feedback you have about it which we will take to subsequent brews in this range. We do brew for you after all and we are determined to do all of these styles justice.