Far too long ago, armed with a couple of degrees and a few years brewing experience, I set sail for the fine shores of the United Kingdom with the distinct plan to move away from the larger brewery life I had known and delve into the realm of the microbrewery, hopefully learning about the art and science of cask and bottle conditioning ales at the same time!
As luck would have it, I cut my teeth at a fantastic 10 barrel (about 1650 litre) brewery at the head of Loch Fyne in Scotland called Fyne Ales, with an incredible family and team running the much heralded brewery. Thrown into the deep end, I began to learn (quickly!) about small scale brewing and the amazing array of flavours and aromas that cask ale could provide to beer. I quickly unlearned the whole "warm and flat" thing that some Antipodeans moaned about when it came to traditionally cellared and handpulled ales. It was an absolute revelation.
The year was 2006 and there was a small proliferation of microbreweries up and down the British Isles, meaning a trained brewer was in demand! After my stint in Scotland, I applied for four or five different jobs and managed to be offered most of them! The one that stood out the most was for a tiny little brewery just out of the township of Bakewell in Derbyshire, England called Thornbridge Brewery.
Set on a beautiful 100 acre estate and the home of Thornbridge Hall, the brewery sat nestled in an old converted stonemason's shed in some of the hall's outbuildings. Two young and new brewers, Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi were experimenting and making some amazing beers. They were already winning medals aplenty with their fresh and non-traditional outlook when it came to what traditional cask ale could be and I was impressed!
On the day of my job interview, Martin jostled me into the fermenter room, full of open circular vats, the top-fermenting yeast strain (originally from the late Vaux Brewery in Sunderland) that they had chosen as their house strain oozing from the happily fermented beers and asked me to breathe in.
What was this incredible combination of aromas? They had just put down their second batch of a beer called Kipling, which they originally coined a Pacific Pale Ale and it was brewed with a combination of Maris Otter, Torrefied Wheat and possibly even Lager malt (it was a long time ago!) and solely hopped in the kettle with a New Zealand hop called Nelson Sauvin.
They proudly told me that they were the first UK brewery to have a go with the variety and had decided that a single hopped pale ale was the perfect way to show off this incredibly fragrant hop. It was bursting with passionfruit and mango and gooseberries, with bright notes of grapefruit throughout. It was amazing. I even remember a few months after I had started at Thornbridge being contacted by a young and highly respected brewer by the name of Mark Tranter who had nothing but absolute praise for some cask Kipling he had tried. At the time, Mark was head brewer of Dark Star Brewery, just out of Brighton. Dark Star were the champions of well-hopped, pale cask ales (such as their Hophead and American Pale Ale) and to impress Mark was no mean feat! Mark now runs Burning Sky Brewery in the Sussex countryside and still brews some of the finest hoppy beers known. He is still one of my finest friends and it was Kipling that started our great relationship!
Somewhere along the way, a young upstart brewery manager at Thornbridge thought it would be a good idea to change Kipling's moniker to be a little more geographically specific, so a new style was born... the South Pacific Pale Ale! Kipling danced to its own bitter beat, constantly undergoing the smallest of permutations dependent on how the NZ-grown Nelson Sauvin was smelling and behaving year on year. Whether it be the addition of some Munich malt to temper the assertive bitterness, or even small scale trials with dry hopping, something that we hardly ever did back then at Thornbridge. Along with Jaipur, it was a big seller for us and we brewed it with passion.
13 years have passed since as a young and innocent brewer, I stepped into the old country and learnt a different side to brewing... namely the pursuit of perfection in flavour, aroma and drinkability. It's still an almost unobtainable goal, but I wake up every morning in the hope of coming close to making the perfect pint. 13 has always been a lucky number for my family, so maybe this year's collaboration brew with Thornbridge is the time for perfection? One can only hope...
The Thornbridge crew and I worked together and decided to do a stronger version of Kipling... a nod to a time when a Kiwi was nestled in the Peak District countryside using a bunch of small, dried, green flowers from his own country to make delicious English-style ales. So Imperial Kipling was born!
Imperial Kipling - Imperial South Pacific Pale Ale
ABV - 8.0%
Bitterness - Medium-high (theoretical 60 IBU)
Malt - Pilsener, Pale Ale, Wheat, Carapils
Hops - Nelson Sauvin (NZ Hops - Kettle), Nelson Sauvin (Freestyle Hops - Dry hop)
Yeast - House strain, warm fermentation
Other - Dextrose
Aroma - A veritable cocktail of fruit-led aromatics infiltrate the nostrils. Lychees and mangoes. Berry fruit and oranges. A hint of malt sweetness and candied lemon peel.
Flavour - Spritzy citrus zest tickles the tip of the tongue and a combination of blood orange, pine and grapefruit bound relentlessly across the tongue, harnessed by soft, sweet malt. The finish is fruitalicious with the frolicking tropical storm tempered with an assertive, yet restrained bitterness. Short and vibrant and balanced by the alcohol sweetness.
Appearance - Pours a clear gold, with a fine, white head and bouncing bubbles.
Imperial Kipling was launched at the international bar at Beervana.