Moon Gazer Ales at Norfolk Brewhouse | www.moongazerale.co.uk
David Holliday of Norfolk Brewhouse reckons there’s no such thing as originality
If you were a beer loving astronaut just back from a five-year trip to Mars you could be forgiven for thinking that a new wave of breweries had reinvented your beloved beer. You’d be faced with a plethora of new styles, techniques and ingredients launching this most traditional of drinks into a whole new stratosphere.
Well, fret ye not. Whilst there are indeed lots of great beers about for us to embrace, any claims to them being new, progressive or radical may be more down to the marketer’s prowess rather than the brewer’s skills and inventiveness.
I’m reminded of a beer I brewed a couple of years back as part of the City of Ale festival, where we created a gluten free beer using oats, lemon, orange with lots of late hopping to craft a very hazy, creamy, fruity, sour, hoppy delight. Bang on trend you may think.
Well, actually the recipe was taken from a Hoppenbier style commonly brewed in the 1600s in the Netherlands. As I said, all is not always what it seems.
The same could be said for many so-called new wave styles; sour beers for example are mainly associated with Belgium over the last couple of centuries, but using wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation has been the way of beer for thousands of years.
Herbal beers? See 12th century German monks, IPAs were all the rage in Britain’s colonies in the 1700s, black lagers? Nip off back in time and chat to the good folk of Saxony in the middle ages. I could go on but you get my point. Beer is thousands of years old and pretty much everything has been tried across the years.
However, taking inspiration from the past is a good thing, let’s just fess up and say that’s what we are doing, with pride. Indeed, our latest brew Bob’s Tale is our take on an old-style barley wine.
Barley wine can trace its UK origins back to around 1870 when Bass brewed their No.1 barley wine weighing in at a strength of 10.8% abv, and back then lauded by medical professionals as a ‘nourishing food-beverage for the winter months’. Oh, how things have changed.
Those of us of a certain age will probably associate barley wine with Whitbread Gold Label – which appeared in bottles and cans (I told you nothing is new) and although having a relatively disparaging image, stood the test of time.
So, just what is a barley wine? Well, the definition is pretty loose – it was called wine as typically its alcoholic strength was closer to that associated with wine, and the word barley was used as unlike wine the sugars were obtained from brewing barley. Genius!
But for beer lovers, it’s a wholesome strong ale. Typically, British barley wines would be darkish brown, and have more malt character than hop character, while the US variants would be lighter in colour and hoppier in flavour. But both would distinguish themselves with malt, toffee and hop flavours which could be swirled around the mouth like a fine wine – a beer to be savoured.
Our take will blend both the US and UK styles. A rich amber colour created with the addition of chocolate malt and dark Muscovado sugar, with the background maltiness coming from two great Norfolk malts. Firstly, there is Maris Otter malting barley, but also Chevalier malt, a variety last brewed commonly within the 1920s but resurrected a few years ago by Crisp Maltings of Great Ryburgh.
Hops used again blend influences and flavours from both sides of the pond, with American Amarillo and Cascade offering bold citrus notes, while the less assuming British hops of Admiral, Challenger and Goldings play an important supporting role. Chuck in some orange peel and there you have it. A new beer which is more than 150 years old.
Bob’s Tale, by the way, was first brewed with and named after Rachel’s dad Colin Bobbitt as a way of capturing the essence of his two favourite beers, Fullers 1845 and Oakham Bishop’s Farewell, in one Moon Gazer brew before he sadly passed away. Originally it was brewed to 4.8%abv and tasted fab, so we have high hopes for this barley wine version.
Look out for it in spring, since again, going back to tradition, it needs time to age and mature.
So, if you are looking for something new in beer, take a trip down memory lane.