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Mild contemplation

By Fergus Fitzgerald, also posted in News on

Fergus FitzgeraldToday is February 29th, and despite the encouragement from Radio 4 I am not doing anything different with my day than I normally do. (You could argue that my writing something for the blog is in itself quite unusual, but I know you’ll be too polite to say so). Before I go on, we may as well get it out of the way: Yes, I do listen to Radio 4 from time to time, okay most days, except when the Archers is on, I can’t really get on with the Archers. I also own a pair of slippers, have started to get a few grey hairs, but I’ve not yet felt the need to rein in my relatively good lung capacity by smoking a pipe. Anyway as part of my normal working day, I’m trying to think up ideas for some new beers for later this year. How new beers come into existence is one of the more frequently asked questions on brewery tours and I see that Adrian has been thinking about it recently, too. The idea or request for a new beer doesn’t always come with any indication about what it should be like. They are the most fun, but also the most terrifying, and they are the ones I’m mostly thinking about today. I’m thinking about a couple of seasonal cask beers for this Autumn and Winter. They should be 'sessionable' but interesting beers. In terms of strength, that usually means somewhere between 4 and 5% abv. I have to bear in mind that most cask beers should be drunk within 3 days of the first pint leaving the cask so it needs to appeal to enough people in that pub for this to happen. There are some pubs who can do that with whatever you throw at them, but not enough of them for me to completely forget about the abv. Fergus in the brewery control roomSo what style of beer do I go for? I’m looking at doing something different to what we’ve done before, something that pushes our boundaries, so it’s not just about swapping malt or hop varieties, but I still need to make it approachable enough to take people along with us. So it’s not going to be a Jalapeno infused pale ale matured in tabasco sauce barrels (sorry Andy). For a seasonal beer it helps to think about the time of year it will be on the bar. What might be interesting then? What do people want to drink at that time of year? There may be no physical reason why a Kölsch should taste better sat in the summer sun than on a rainy day in winter (there are some reasons why it might taste worse) but for most people it simply does, and similarly darker beers with more body and sweetness tend to do better in the winter. So I don’t want anything too pale or too thin, I don’t really want to describe it as refreshing and crisp. Sometimes I take inspiration from what’s happening out there, you know, where you are. Maybe something I’ve tasted or remembered, maybe something that I just liked the sound of, something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and just been waiting to shoehorn in somewhere. I have had that sample of Cherry smoked malt on my desk for ages, and the hazelnut syrup looks interesting, maybe I should look to the distillery and see what lovely new herbs and spices are there, I did like that peppercorn Saison in Denver. Plenty to think about... Once this has swirled around for a while I try and write some tasting notes about what I want the beer or beers to look and taste like. Then it’s time to see if anyone else likes the sound of it as well. Then once we agree on something it’s time to start worrying about making a recipe that will deliver on those flavours. Oh dear! Anyway back to the here and now, Oyster Stout has finished for this year and the last of this season's Old Ale (Champion Beer of East Anglia, don’t you know) has been sold, so next up in our seasonal calendar is our Mild Ale. This is its second year back as a seasonal beer - same recipe as last year but we think it’s come out with slightly more roasted flavours than last year. Let me know what you think and if you have any ideas for a new cask beer feel free to share.


Fergus Fitzgerald