Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Long Drop

Beer, a nice drop and a long drink, generally. There are exceptions, like barley wine, imperial stouts and massive double IPAs, but on the whole beer is drunk in longer measures. In our fine and soon to be proudly independent1 island most beer is drunk in the fantastically traditional measure that is the imperial pint2. It's a cultural thing that has incredible resilience3.

I really like beers with a bit more about them. I believe a really good IPA has to be in the 6% region, or there or there about. This of course creates a few problems for people who sup beer all night long in pints. Indeed I've been asked many times if I can produce an "Azimuth Light"4

We've wrestled with this for a while. You see a beer at lets say 3.6% should never, in my view, have the letters IPA next to the name. I mean, just look at Green King and thier thing. No. Never. Brewing beer and calling at IPA at that strength only encourages the wider general beer drinking public to believe in that sort of nonsense.

I believe, with a fair degree of conviction that beer brewed, fermented and dry hopped at higher ABVs make for much more delicious beers. There are quire a few good scientific reasoins why this is probably the case.5

We wanted to have a go at a lower ABV beer, that we could still call an IPA. We thought about the hop rates, appropriate use of modified malt to retain some mouthfeel and body to the beer. We thought very carefully about dry hopping and maturation techniques so as to blast the sense of that general IPA ethos.

We've done it, we've made that very beer. We like it and we are sending it out to various places all over the country.

Can a 4.8% beer ever really be a session beer? Well, I drink beers much stronger than that during a session, and I know a few more who do. I'm sure there will be some who will disagree, but there you go, it's still more "sessionable" than Azimuth.....

Oh, and I did a video.

Long Drop Constant from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Are their still people who don't get why it is called "Long Drop"? Oh come on!!


1For the avoidance of doubt, yes I am being sarcastic.

2No, I haven't applied the closing </sarc> tag yet

3</sarc>yes, I do think it truly does have serious cultural inertia. Not that much of a great thing in my view.

4I kid you not.....

5Way back in my early days of brewing a brewing type from a significantly larger brewery came to the pub and we chatted about beers. As is oft the case, I started to chat about how much I liked a beer with a bit more poke. I forget his name or which brewery, and for that matter I'm fairly sure he had a fair bit of experience in several different breweries. He explained that in tasting panel tests a beer brewed and fermented at a much stronger gravity will be preferred by drinkers when cut back to a lower strength when compared with a beer brewed at target gravity.

The way the yeast works at higher gravities, the way the hop compounds are biologically processed by the yeast, the way the alcohol solution subsequently acts as a solvent on dry hopping all change the flavour profile of the finished beer.


Erlangernick said...

By the same logic (nothing under x.xx % should be called "IPA"), what should the upper limit for IPA be? What about calling a 3.6% a "half-IPA" like Gazza & Dave Unpro do, assuming you don't mind calling overly strong ones "double/imperial IPA".

Dave Bailey said...

Upper limit? Don't be daft!

"half IPA" kind of sounds better. More meaningful. I think my point is a session IPA is around the 5% mark. There is, in many drinker's minds, the false psychology of the units number changing. i.e. the difference between 4.9% and 5.1% is huge, in their minds, despite the fact that mathematically the difference is insignificant. (And I internally do an eye-roll when that silly person in the pub tries to defend their daftness over such a thing, bite my lip, and try to move on)

Moving that train of thought forward, the difference between 4.3% and 4.8% for instance is actually incredibly small. To get to 10 units of alcohol you need to drink just a shade over 4 pints of the weaker one, and just a shade under 4 pints of the stronger one.

Indeed, over a session of say 10 pints of the weaker version you are simply a pint adrift at 9 pints of the stronger one to get the same effect.

So this is the basis of my defence for calling a 4.8% beer a session beer. There are bound to be the drinkers that will try to tell me they can't have a session on it. They can't have a session on it because they are not real drinkers, because they can't pace themselves, because they are more interested in volume than flavour and really great beer.

This is an IPA, and that means there are certain qualities that still need to be there, that are simply not their in a beer at 3.8%. Because a session on IPA is just a grand thing, even if it might be 1 pint shorter, or drunk in 2/3 pints. Or even, god forbid, 330ml measures.

Don't you just love starting your day with a good rant? - thanks Nick for the comment!

Andy Mogg said...

I sessioned thornbridge halcyon once, it seemed a good idea at the time.

StringersBeer said...

Who made you the IPA police? And what are these "qualities that still need to be there" which you can't get into a 3.8% beer?

Dave Bailey said...

Much as I'd like to be able to entire my beliefs into law, I can't. But I can set forth my convictions and make clear my opinion.

And Mr Stringers/ Are you really telling me you cannot tell the difference? Really?

StringersBeer said...

Well go on then Dave, make clear your opinion. What are these qualities?

Dave Bailey said...

Are you trying to kid me that there is nothing that the extra alcohol does to the beer by way of flavour, body, aroma etc?

StringersBeer said...

No, of course. Are there not other ways of building "flavour, aroma and body"? It's the effect we're after isn't it? The means are down to us. Surely?

Dave Bailey said...

I do not think I have very much more to add that isn't already contained in footnote 5. I apologise for this being insufficient for your needs. I obviously need to think more carefully about the eloquence and convictions of my writings.

Tyson said...

Of course 4.8% can be a session IPA. Plenty of good American examples to point at. If it's good enough for the Yanks etc.

Paul J White said...

I dimly remember a whole day drinking Vitesse Noir in the Free Trade. Despite the ensuing hangover, it's still one of my favourite beers :-)

StringersBeer said...

But @Tyson, no-ones actually saying 4.8% isn't sessionable. Dave's saying low strength beers shouldn't ever be called IPA. And don't wave "good enough for the Yanks" about - a 16oz pint is good enough for the "Yanks" - you go pint for pint against them and you'll end up downing 25% more.

I don't see what's wrong with making a lower strength beer that's got the attributes one might expect from an IPA (apart from strength) if that's what folks like to drink. It's an interesting question (see here for instance).

Dave doesn't want to drink (or make) these beers, which is fine by me, but to characterise folks who do want them as "not real drinkers" is going a bit far, I'd say.

Yvan said...

I have had some very good sub-4% beers that have IPA-like attributes... but so far never had one that has all the attributes of what we'd expect from a modern stronger IPA*... there's generally something lacking in the body, richness, and umami of the beer. Same goes for "Session IPAs" - which really just mean a hoppier (almost certainly dry-hopped) ultra-pale ale and it's the hop character which is the only thing they really have in common with the modern "IPA". One beer that comes to mind here is Redemption Trinity... it's excellent, certainly "drinks above" 3%... but still, just not quite *IPA* (but more IPA than some 4.0% attempts!)

I've had lower strength IPAs that use hotter mash, all sorts of malts, and even lactose to try and capture the "body" - but not had anything convincing yet. (On the other hand I've had 6% IPAs that lack the body I'd want too...)

What the hell is "IPA"?! Crystal malt laden brown oxidised mank? Super pale malt base dry-hop tea? A rich woody resiny late-hopped traditional ale? Sometimes black? Sometimes red? ... argh.

The thing about brewing a 4% beer versus "diluting" 6% beer is really interesting. Would like to know more about that... (Not liquoring back? You imply something like addition of (deoxygenated?) water after fermentation?)

* IPA is pretty much an entirely fucked term for beer now ... so I mean a hop-forward pale (not brown) ale with the hops generally being of the new world variety. And I think this is what we're talking about here. It's the predominant form of "modern UK IPA" - albeit the US roots are darker (brown). Brown is sooooooooo unhip.

Greene King IPA is a valid thing... some have used the term "20th Century IPA" for this sort of beer (there are a lot of examples of such beers too). Generally it's a bitter with more than the average hop hit... a beer folk in the 80s would have considered "hoppy" I gather? (More bitter and herbal than most.) We might disparage these beers, I certainly do for the most part, but they are a thing and for a large chunk of a generation of people typify "IPA".

Likewise "IPA" that was marketed in the 19th century would have been another beast entirely with little to do with either of the above. The US may have been "inspired" by them, but their (and now our) IPAs are nothing of the sort. Even the supposedly faithful re-creations.

Dave Bailey said...

Wow Yvan, a blog post-worthy comment!

Not much to add, comprehensive and thoughtful, just the way it should be.

I stand by my GKIPA comments though. It's no way an IPA. It in no way differentiates from any other sub 4% pale bitter out there. I find its existence offensive. You might not and I appreciate your view point, but perhaps we should just accept we see that slightly differently.

StringersBeer said...

@Yvan, I think it's mainly that high gravity brewing produces more esters / a different ester profile - it's not a linear thing, so even after dilution the final beer will be different from the the one fermented at target gravity. That aside, there's loads of ways of making a weak beer somewhat more like a stronger beer. "IPA" is of course, just a tag that gets applied to a great slew of beers nowadays (and has done for decades), but some folks seem to get hung up in some mythical terminological purity - "IPA should mean what it meant when I first heard about it", it's as daft as saying you can't have a black IPA, or whatever variation we're up to now.

Yvan said...

GK IPA is innocuous at best and often offensive. That pretty much defines the style - house bitter for crap pubs. It's the Carling of cask ale. But one cannot deny that these beers are a "thing" - and in this region at least these beers defined "IPA" to more than a generation of cask ale drinkers.

StringersBeer said...

... course @Yvan, the issue's not about GK IPA being any good or not - that's a bit of a red herring Dave's dragging around there. Rather, does it make any sense to call a sub 4% beer any kind of IPA? Is it possible to make a low strength beer that's part of the "IPA family"? Dave says not. He says a "really good" one has to be 6% or so, although he's managed to squeak down to 4.8%.

But I see people wanting a pale, moderately full, new world hop-forward, low strength beer. I don't see why we can't have a stab at making one or calling it a "session IPA" if that's meaningful to the consumer. It's not something I was planning to do, but then I didn't realise anyone was so down on the idea. I'm thinking about it now, just to wind Dave up.

I think the observation that IPA converged with regular bitter in some brewers hands as not terribly pertinent. GK IPA is amongst us. That doesn't mean "session IPAs" can't have a future.

Yvan said...

We're all just trollin' along here right... ;)

I'm open to any use of the term "IPA" because, like I said above, it's pretty much meaningless. I sell a load of "Session IPA" styled beers most of which are between 4% and 4.5%... in fact it is by far my "core" beer category! Five years ago we'd probably have called them "pale ale" to differentiate them from less-hop-forward "golden ale". But someone has blessed them with the term "Session IPA" and the market has run with it and the sort of folk who drink it know what to expect. (And now we have folk brewing what I'd call "golden ale" and calling it session IPA too... just like we have Marston's brewing "craft"... folk will call things what they will... some of us will laugh at them bemusedly.)

I sell IPAs, Session IPAs, West Coast IPAs, New England IPAs, Black IPAs, Red IPAs, and no doubt a bunch of other IPAs... oh, yeah, a 2.8% "quarter IPA" too... and double IPA, and triple IPA, probably a quadruple IPA or two. And Sour IPA to boot! About all I think I can say "IPA" means is: it has hops in to a level you're really going to notice, and almost always a focus on aroma hops (but not necessarily of a dry-hop nature.)

Sure, that does not fit Greene King IPA into it... but like I said, it is of a style that also takes the "IPA" moniker. I'd never personally sell anything like it, but I don't doubt that in the minds of many a drinker it is a valid "IPA" and many of them are confused by this 6% stuff. I see them in the pub... there is a common type of drinker in this region who will walk into a pub and ask for "A pint of IPA" when they mean really is what we'd call "bitter" - but they expect most pubs to have GKIPA or something along those lines and most normal pub landlords will understand what they mean.

The hipsters like Dave can cry and moan about this, but it is what it is. ;)

Dave Bailey said...

Guys, slightly disappointed to be honest.

As you probably both know, I'm doing some work with SIBA on various policy issues. Green King is a massive business and is a direct threat to us small guys. I haven't got the figures to hand, but I believe Green King might be in the top 6 along with Marston's.

I believe we should be sticking to together to generally improve the marketability of what we are all doing. Sorry you don't see it that way. I am going to have to really disagree with you both on Green King IPA. It is ripe for a really big attack that could benefit us all. If you don't agree that there is no future in having a go at these big boys then fine, but I think there is, and we can all ride that wave of successful message against the big boys. We are the underdogs, we are the ones fighting to make beer great. Are you guys with me or not?

I would like to think we are all allies, not enemies. We do not have to accept the way things are, and we can really make a difference if we up the anti, stop our internal navel gazing and really fight for what we believe in. If we believe in just piddling about with wishy washy bollocks or arguments about fuck all then we all deserve the lack of success we feel.

Doing something to wind up someone who hoped he was an a ally seems a little churlish, but I suppose it would be very interesting to see if Stringers could make a beer at 3.8% percent that was as good as Long Drop, a challenge perhaps?

Of course, I could always chose to censor the comments thread, that seems to have gotten a brewery to the point of being that fastest growing food and drink business in the UK. Or perhaps just tone down a little the intent to wind up someone who is basically on your side.

Hipster? OK, that made me laugh at least.

Dave Bailey said...

BTW, sorry I wasn't very engaging yesterday. I had a very long day delivering and like to just get the job done rather than spending hours looking at my smart phone.

Yvan said...

I do not say I _approve_ of GKIPA - buy you simply _cannot_ deny that is it a _thing_... as much as I'd like to, and I have in the past taken that insufferable US-craft-beer-nerd angle of it being "not IPA". But the fact is that to at least 2 generations of living people here it typifies the term "IPA". Also: Why Greene King doesn't care that the haters hate its IPA. And there are at least a dozen well known beers in this region that are of the same ilk and use the term "IPA". Pre-dating the coming of the US-style IPAs we love to the market here.

It is a bit of history and you cannot deny it exists is all I am saying. This does not make the beer or the brewery "good", but alas it does give them a claim on the term "IPA" that is no less valid IMO than the modern "session IPA"... hell, maybe the way this style of IPA developed makes it the original "session IPA" - a watering down of the much revered IPAs-of-old. It's just language at the end of the day, and I just describe some, IMO irrefutable, extant and historic use of language.

I think Greene King, Sharp's, Martsons et-al are ripe for having the piss taken. And are subject to regular piss-taking at their fumbling attempts to launch "craft" in various guises. I don't think there's any danger of any of us being complacent about things they get up to. And I'm multiply on record as a voice against most of this.

But "IPA" is not a battle-ground on which to fight IMO.

And "IPA" != "good", just as "craft" != "good"... saying GKIPA has a claim to "IPA" does not make it a "good beer". It's the Carling of cask ale, reliably bland.

Alas I mostly sit at a desk these days, on my own, in an oddly isolated part of the country. So all I've got to distract me from spreadsheets it social media and blogs. Sometimes I try to fit some work in ;)

Dave Bailey said...

Well, as your link points out, people who like Green King IPA probably don't like my beer. That I think is the point.

We would like to sell more of our beer. It is as age old message tactic to point out what a thing is not. It is more powerful that trying to point out what a thing is. Everyone uses the tactic, at least everyone who has a powerful and successful message.

I think IPA is a good battle-ground, just as craft beer is a good battle ground. People I'm trying to get the message out to understand what Green King, Marston's and many other over-sized, overbearing breweries are about. I also know that some of the people who would like to see my beer, and other beers like it, more available are forced to drink more successful, blander brands because that might be all that is on offer in the places that they might stumble into. I do not believe that is fair. They would rather drink better beer, and I'd like them to drink better beer. We cannot change that by being defeatist.

I do not see what is wrong with me saying stuff that is effectively "You know them Green King people? You don't like them do you? Well, we're not like that"

I do not deny IPA the way Green King does it is a thing, and something that means something to people, but that does not mean we have to lie down and let them trample all over us. Trust me, trample all over us they do. I've seen my message diluted and attacked from all sides, but I believe deeply in what I am trying to do. I know that people like Green King, Marston's and others are attacking our sector, so I am happy to have a go right back.

I am trying to get my version of what I think great beer is out to more people and in doing so trying desperately to make something that is just about viable enough to make me a living. It's not that easy from this corner of Cumbria. I make no apologies for having a pop at Green King and am unlikely to ever do so. I believe the people who like really great beer will appreciate the attack.

Scott, Ann and I are really truly passionate about what we are doing, and are really very keen to make it work. Yes, there is that overused word, but it is difficult to identify how to say that without using such a word. It is essential to get our message out the way we feel works, and in a way we believe in. Attacking Green King for the use of the term IPA on something that clearly is not is a thing that fires me up, that drives me, and making a beer that is just so much better is really important. Marking out the many very varied ways in which it is different is important.

I know there is a section of the general drinking public that will not see 4.8% beer as session strength. There are many cultural reasons for this. However, those people are not my target audience. Or at least those that might disagree might actually see the slight irony that I place on making a 4.8% session IPA. They are the sort of drinkers that get the fact that Green King IPA is not a fucking IPA in any way shape or form.

The beer market is shrinking, at least on a long term time-scale. There are more breweries than ever. The only way we can increase market share for the increasing number of really great small brewers is to fight against the big boys. This is what I've always tried to do, it's a message that I think is important. It is certainly important to me and is the voice I want to maintain. It is what drives me, gets me out of bed in the morning, and is what has made Hardknott what it is and is likely to be the thing that drives it into the future. If not, then what else can?

Yvan said...

One thing I'm definitely NOT saying is that you shouldn't bag out Greene King et al and their beers. I'm all for that. :) I do it all the time.

But not sure how much mileage you get out of specifically saying "this isn't Greene King" sorta thing though...

Like you say - *your* market knows what it is expecting from "IPA" and "Session IPA" and that Greene King et al are not it. In fact that's sort of the point actually, folk know what that shit is and don't really need reminding about it - not the audience for anything you're writing/etc for anyway.

And, basically, I don't actually think GKIPA is the competition. To some extent their "double hop monster" etc might be... mostly around here the folk who'll sell that are tied and you've no hope of having your beer on those bars anyway, and those who buy it FoT are interested in the £60 price tag more than the actual beer. Same goes for the rest of their ilk. I'm not convinced that rallying against them isn't mostly a waste of time.

The "session" thing is another point entirely... the UK obsession with <4% beers is interesting. The "pint" is part of that definitely. I mostly hate pints, but neither session beers or pints are likely to be going away in a hurry. I think modern bars/pubs are doing a good job of promoting "sessions" on slightly stronger beers in smaller measures though. I think of about 4.5% to 5.0% as my "session" range personally... you get more bang (flavour) for your buck. I respect and will have a whistle-wetting pint of <4% bitter for sure, but rarely more than one. And almost always only in cask where these beers shine their best.

I think at present the increasingly crowded microbrewery scene vying for limited free-of-tie volume in a market constantly seeking novelty is the main challenge facing most micros. I think as an industry we're successfully whittling away volume from the "big guys"... but we'll never make the Greene King pub estate free-of-tie (OK, I *do* have a couple of GK pub customers one of whom *likes* your beer;) - and this is the market of the £60 cask... another place we don't want to (can't?) go -right? Out in "the market" I don't feel competition from big brands... I feel competition from other small operations - breweries and distributors. (Many of them significantly larger than me mind.) So I work to create more new market - helping folk set up new business, installing kit, etc.

Not to say the battle against the Big Boys is unworthy... I just know what I can and can't achieve and focus on what is achievable. SIBA and folk like you who're helping drive it have a different set of achievables of course. I personally still see SIBA as being part of the problem, or at the last not (yet) a part of any obvious solutions (relevant to me).

I don't really feel I was having a go at you at any point in this. Wasn't my motivation anyway... I was just being a nit picky cunt about the increasingly useless term "IPA".

Yikes, quite enough of the hasty inadequately-thought-out essay-writing from me for today I think.