In a new series of blog posts, I’m going to explore how far the UK beer scene has come in the past year. This is more than just a post about 2014 in review. Each year sees craft beer in the UK gain ever larger exposure, but how do you measure that, how do we quantify what has been achieved and where this is going? It’s something I can only describe as The Distance. This first post on the topic is a personal one, about a beer with a name from a blog post.
In October, I wrote about the emergence of an ‘anti-style’, the Juicy Banger, a beer that could be lager or ale, 3% or 7%, but always pale, always juicy with pronounced citrus hop character and endless refreshment. The term gained a bit of traction, and caused a bit of discussion.
With the term Juicy Banger, I wanted people to think about beer differently, but I didn’t want to become the Supreme Chancellor of whether a beer is or isn’t one. People started asking me if X or Y or Z was a Juicy Banger, to which I would awkwardly respond “well, do you think it is?” More often than not, they did, and the fact they were asking the question often indicated that they already thought so. That was kind of the point really: to empower people to describe and determine the beers they like in a way separate to the established lexicon and parameters of the industry. Not long after writing the post, the opportunity arose to put the term to the test.
It’s no secret that I’m fond of Camden Town Brewery, its beers and many of the people who work there. It does good beer right and fights the good fight. After establishing themselves in London’s beer scene quickly in the earliest years of this decade, a lot of people have moved onto newer breweries for their hoppy kicks, and I regularly find myself urging people to rediscover Camden’s beers, especially since the launch of their barnstorming IHL.
What you might not know is that every member of staff at Camden gets a turn to brew on the pilot kit, and Sofia De Crescentiis had chosen a Grapefruit IPA, based on one of her favourite Canadian beers, what she calls her ‘eureka’ beer. After a number of discussions between myself, Matt Curtis and people who work at Camden Town Brewery (namely Sofia and brewing director Alex Troncoso), it was proposed that Sofia’s turn on Camden’s pilot kit would be a grapefruit IPA, and that Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel would join Matt and I in helping Sofia brew it and film our efforts.
The name for the beer quickly became apparent (considering all that grapefruit we bought), and whilst I was initially hesitant that Juicy Banger became a single, labelled product, I could also see the opportunity to use it to spread the idea of how flexible beer styles can be, and have some fun making a tasty beer at the same time.
Brewing the beer on cold day in early December was indeed a lot of fun, as seen in the Craft Beer Channel’s video, and the difference that a handful of grapefruit zest could make to 50l of hopped wort is etched onto my palate and brain for ever. The malt bill was 95% pale malt, which the remaining 5% made up by Victory malt to give a little colour and extra body. The hops chosen were Magnum, Amarillo, Citra and Centennial, with the grapefruit zest added at flameout and a further dry hopping of Citra after primary fermentation. One thing’s for certain: without the expertise of Camden brewer Pete Brown (not that one), the brew could have easily been a disaster. For example, we wanted to throw a LOT more grapefruit in there before Pete stopped us. You can read more about how we brewed it in Matt’s blog post.
I had been concerned that the beer would be bitter to the point of unpalatable tartness, that too much pith had gone in with the zest and that it would be slightly sour or even undrinkable. Happily, the resulting beer was far more nuanced than I was expecting. Whilst close to 7%, it had a rounded, orangey sweetness that reminded me of SKA brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, but with a much cleaner palate and a sharp bitterness that developed in a dry, grapefruit-accented finish with lip-smacking astringency. Simply, it worked marvellously well. There was some debate between us all whether it was too bitter or not too bitter enough, but for a first attempt I think it shows a lot of promise. Maybe, just maybe it will make its way into Camden’s brewhouse proper one day.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Boak and Bailey pointed out the closing of a feedback loop, an indication that the chumminess between people who write about beer on an amateur and professional basis and the people who make the beers those people write about has folded space somehow.
The thing is, the beer was going to exist in that form one way or another, with or without the moniker of The Juicy Banger. It was Sofia’s beer after all. So the beer always came first, but it’s also important to understand that it isn’t called The Juicy Banger because of my blog post. It’s called The Juicy Banger because of the response to the blog post, because people found the term applicable to beers they liked and took it for themselves. This wasn’t the closing of a feedback loop – this was the narrowing of the distance, between brewers and drinkers, between the beers people want and the beer brewers make.
How to measure that distance, though? Well, the entire batch of The Juicy Banger sold in just over 30 minutes, which is a testament to Sofia’s idea, to Pete’s brewing knowledge, and the zest of four pink grapefruit. Three bloggers just tried not to ruin it.