ALL the hops

I'm a big fan of hop forward beers done well, we've had decent pale ales and IPAs but until recently there was a dearth of the elder siblings the double IPA on these shores, other than the occasional bottle of hardcore IPA or an exotic flying dog appearing there was nowhere to turn for a strong n'hoppy fix. We at Beoir decided to remedy this and concocted a plan to brew the first Irish DIPA at a collaborative brew day with Blacks. Alas (though happily) we were foiled and beaten to market by not one but two double IPAs and with a brace of new entrants the number of DIPAs has reached double figures. I decided to catch up with the brewers to chat about their reasons for brewing DIPAs, the Irish beer market in general and what we can hope for in the future.

Appearing in March 2013 (and first to market) was Carlow's DIPA Some pineapple and lemon cheesecake on the nose. Overwhelmingly sweet at first, fairly heavy body, low carbonation. As it warms some lemon pith and mango comes through with a touch of balancing bitterness, but very much a bulked up UK style malt led IPA with a US accent and a sipper more than a quaffer. Some people suggest that at 7.5% it sits more in regular IPA territory, but given the regular IPA is 5% this one is certainly punchier! I got a few thoughts from Seamus and the brew team.
"DIPA is a real craft beer drinkers beer and a challenge for a brewery to get the balance of such a monster beer right. To make the beer we took the approach of a traditional DIPA in that we made a hoppier, maltier, higher alcohol version of our regular IPA. We scaled everything up so that it would be the bigger version of our own beer, making a full batch from the start.
From the first test brew we knew it had found its way into our core range immediately. It is always developing more of a following as the Irish consumer develops a pallet for these full flavoured beasts, and as the consumer learns to drink them as they would a 4.3% beer they are learning how to have a better relationship with the strong DIPAs"
BIK:And what of plans for future releases, how does an established brewery like Carlow stay relevant?
"There’s always a plethora of beers swirling in our minds, I would expect to see a beer of similar vein come out of our range and it is more a matter of time.   Its very exciting to see the growth in the sector. We want to always see ourselves as pioneers in craft beer rather than the old guys so we are constantly adding to our range and staying innovative."

The most recent release, Millennium, comes from one of my go-to Irish breweries, Eight Degrees; brewed to celebrate their 200th brew. I caught up with co-owner Scott on the phone to chat about it and hoppy beer in general. They're pretty busy at the moment having just taken delivery of a 5-barrel brew system, second hand via Mauritius and their planning permission has finally been granted meaning they can now start assembling everything! They hope that the brewery will be up and running soon.

Eight Degrees are well known for producing pale n'hoppy numbers & with a Kiwi (Scott) & an Aussie (Cam) at the helm its no surprise that antipodean lupulin features heavily. These hops are becoming increasingly harder to find; so how has a small brewery in Ireland gotten on? "We recently won a Bronze in the World Beer Cup for Amber Ella (well deserved! - ed); resulting in the Australian hop growing association contacting us; we leveraged this to become the second brewery in the world to be able to brew with Enigma hops* and at the same time we've secured hops for the next three years." When pushed on the best hop-growing nation Scott sighed, "as much as it pains me as a New Zealander to say it, the Australian hops are that much more tropical and aromatic than the new Zealand ones...a lot of them (NZ hops) are descended from Saaz and that comes out especially in the aroma whereas Aussie hops are much closer to the US flavours" Each to their own, NZ hops certainly still do it for me!

BIK:So how do they go about developing recipes? "We know what combinations of hops work well by now and often the hop bill comes first with the recipe designed to fit afterwards. We don't generally do trial batches like experimental home cooking we use intuition to come up with something that works. One of our most successful beers Full Irish (Beoir beer of the year 2014 - ed) was just a nice combo that we happened to stumble across and thought 'that's fuckin' awesome' and turned it in to a brew. We consciously push ourselves to use new hop varieties" 9 times out of 10 this works in their favour but on the odd occasion something might be "pretty good, but not quite there. We tweak recipes as we re-brew them, which is why Hurricane was rehashed at a lower ABV when it became a core beer."

BIK:So what about the general Irish brewery aversion to hops? 
"You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and brew modern styles. There's a great new-wave of brewers who began as home brewers, who perhaps produced fantastic recipes but just haven't quite worked out to scale up their recipes for commercial kit. Highly hopped ales need to be well balanced to prevent falling one way or the other and there are a lot of technical challenges to overcome with this."
Aside from variety in hop crops ("mosaic a few years ago was fantastic but this season it has a very 'oniony' aspect to it recently") there are kit limitations, physical limits on how many hops can be added to the whirlpool, clogging of pipes and pumps with hop sludge - "we've started using whole leaf hops in the kettle, in giant bags", and of course a limit to how high an ABV can be managed with a finite mash tun. "The easiest thing is to cram sugar in, but then you need a more alcohol tolerant yeast strain and need to make sure it doesn't end up to thin by building body with speciality malts. Every time we push the ABV up a few notches it feels like we have a mountain to climb, and then we mange it and think 'Jesus we can't scale another peak like that' but we've always managed it so far. We have something even stronger in the tanks."

Hopefully we'll see it this side of Christmas alongside some other specials (personally I'm hoping for a re-brew of Gasman A slightly more sensible but still pokey (8.7%) Rye IPA with (according to my rate beer notes) a super fruity tropical melange on nose.  mango, passion fruit, tangerines, balanced with fruity malt. Far too sessionable for its strength).

Of course (as is often the way with stronger beers) most of these were one off specials, but perhaps the best known of them, Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury (OFAF)is semi-regular and starting to become more widely available with brewery expansions. Its a masterpiece with mango, slight yoghurt notes and orange pith on the nose bring a pithy piney bitterness in taste and seguing to a Robust, bitter, mango peel with a slightly chalky, rich fruity finish. I've heard it compared to Pliny, and whilst the former does have the same clean hopping & is just as easy drinking (thanks to Jay for brining us a sample to try at EBBC!), OFAF is just a bit more robust in body.

I emailed Chris Treanor (Galway Bay's head brewer) to find out more.
"Back then (When OFAF was released - ed), I had a recipe bucket-list (of which I'm still working from) of beers that I not only wanted to brew, but brew the best examples of such in the country. And at the top of that list was a DIPA and subsequently an Imperial Stout.

That resulted in many hours of research and preparation to result in two brews brewed within a week of each other (Of Foam and Fury & Two Hundred Fathoms). It was an interesting assignment as I was brewing these, very expensive brews without getting the green light from the bosses to do so!

Upon the first iteration of the first brew, little has changed overall aside from scaling the recipe up to our larger tank sizes and trying to get better efficiency out of our ingredients. When the first brew came to fruition, I thought it had finished too sweet, I stressed and had bought a massive amount of dextrose for the second brew. Alas, the first batch went out, and there was a strong following, so little changed.

There is a strong place in my heart for those US IPA's that have beautiful delicate nature to, of which this year's Voyager IPA was an homage to."

BiK: Whilst its completely different to your own, did Carlow getting a DIPA out first annoy you at all? (we certainly wanted to be the first with Beoir #1 but we were far too slow off the marks!)?
 "It's not an annoyance at all - I find the pissing race to be the first brewer to a style, and the infatuation with cost to the consumer to be more of an annoyance (and hindrance) to the industry here. Honestly, the only true race is quality, if the consumer and brewer realises this, then the Irish brewing industry will push into the next stage and truly find its place in the beer world. Anything less than that, we're getting stuck in a whole pile of nothing and we'll constantly be second best to the UK brewing scene."

BIK: And how about hop availability?
"We're struggling with hops, as I think everyone is in the same boat this year. But I welcome that struggle really. (I love a good complain among brewers). But really, shortages in ingredients will bear many new innovations in the industry and will be a test to the true skill of a brewer."

BIK: and what else can we look  forward to - a black IPA perhaps?
"Yes, one of our brewers has a recipe in the waiting for exactly that but we've been putting it on the back burner until we can be sure of our allocation to not interrupt the brewing of our core ranges. It will only be a matter of time until we tackle the next level being a TIPA, but we're in no rush to get there, but it's tucked neatly in that bucket list. Also, we're about to take the plunge on our new brew-house. Which will truly be a game changer, as we're brewing on some of the most difficult to work with equipment in the industry (considering our output) this will help us dial in on consistency and free us up to focus in more on the nick-picky side of each beer."

BIK:The use of the second runnings of OFAF for Via Maris is a great use of a potential waste product; what inspired you to do this and how do you go about choosing hops for each batch?
"We've actually had to reduce the amount of the Via Maris that we can run the partigyle of as we were skewing our efficiencies; we were finding a diminishing return in the quality of wort we were getting from the runnings of OFAF. We've now been finding better results in tailoring the OFAF to get better runnings for itself and to use an actual mash for the Via Maris.

Choosing hops for VM is really an experimental approach, we would do our research and figure out what would work well on paper, then receive the hops and figure out what would work well together when you look at the oil compositions and then finally bring that into the recipe itself."

BIK:OFAF has been extremely well received in the market, with some observers comparing it to Pliny the Elder and receiving Beoir beer of the year. How do such plaudits make you feel as the brewer?
"It's never really sunk in to be honest. Personally I feel there's a mile in the difference between the two, where Pliny is a truly delicate brew, with OFAF being a little bit more, furious!

I welcome the appreciation, using it as a guideline that we're doing something right. But we're way off the goal to be able to say we've done everything we can in terms of quality of DIPA's."

Following IMBC we chatted a bit more about consumer expectation, beer serving size and where the market could be going in Ireland, I'd heard people were refusing to try OFAF priced at £5 a third. (personally I'd never pay that as I know I can get a bottle for £5 but its a shame people missed out)
"£15 a pint is steep. But it's not a beer that should be ordered by the pint, whatsoever. And that riles me when that argument of cost comes up. There was no pint glasses in IMBC that I saw. Everyone has their margin to make on a beer, tax is very expensive, especially in the UK for anything over 7.5%. If people can't make a profit on a beer, where does the money come from to continue innovation in new recipes and general progression in the larger scene?
The same people who are fighting for pints to be the go-to serving size, complain when that expensive beer (that often goes through 2 stages of people trying to make a profit off of) arrives at an seemingly extortionate price (which in a pub often covers costs that the regular punter doesn't consider).
I personally prefer a smaller serving size, I find myself appreciating that beer in question that little more.
While the costs of beer is high to the consumer, it's high to the people manufacturing it also. As a producer its a difficult thing to be producing these beers at great expense yet still run a company that's still viable and profitable. 
Walking into the Italian pubs in Rome (Ma Che Siete), the ream of highly expensive bars in Copenhagen you're often given whatever the suitable glass is and the suited measure as small as a 1/3 in some cases, I'd never bat an eyelid personally. I appreciate that mentality much more than buying beers by the pint.
I know that that may not be a popular opinion by the regular beer drinker we have in Ireland. But if we don't allow some removal from the Pint serving, we will be limited by what the average producer may be able to produce.
It's this reason, that up until recently, we have had the most dull and lifeless craft beer scene in the world.
I'd like to think we're moving away from that, but there's always something that pops its head up in respect to pricing and volume."
Hear hear, shifting attitudes are something to be celebrated!

Blacks have made a number of DIPAs, including a crowd-funder special called Gold, a SMASH (single malt and single hop) Topaz DIPA and of course the Beoir collaboration imaginatively called Beoir #1. Another double IPA based on one of Sam's home-brew recipes (High Viz) is now a semi-regular with another batch due to be brewed in January. More recently an Indian Brown Ale Jester Brown has been seen in the wild (debuting at ICBCF15). I got speaking to Sam about his inspirations and how things are working out as they approach their third birthday.

Hi Viz has now been brewed four times, with the hops tweaked each time; the next batch will use new season southern hemisphere hops; so will be a bit different. How has it been sourcing hops?
"We've been around a bit longer than a lot of the recent start ups; so we've been able to secure contracts for a few years ahead, we'll have even more varieties next year, 20-something, which means we can really begin to play around. We should be able to spot-by any shortages we need. Some varieties are unavailable, for example the Jester hop we used in our double brown; so we'd need to rethink it if we were to brew it again."

Sam is fortunate enough to have a pilot kit; which the Indiegogo specials were brewed on & also some of the festival one-offs. This is great for R&D and scaling up of old home-brew recipes.
"I brewed a lot of double IPAs in the year before starting the brewery, they're a favourite style of mine. Its much harder to dry hop on a commercial scale; you just don't get the same contact with the liquid but we're getting there. US beers are hard to beat (a particular favourite of Sam's is Drake's Hopcocalypse -ed) particularly because they just have access to a better quality of hop & more importantly fresher. We don't get to choose which batches our hops come from and need to make adjustments from delivery to delivery for alpha acid and see how the flavour works out. That aside though, Irish breweries can match US brewers on most things and come up with pretty decent results". And of course we get to drink them much fresher here than the majority of American imports; so I think we're pretty fortunate that we now have some breweries willing to punch the boat out a bit!
So what of plans for future big beers?
"Well that double brown was pretty highly hopped, 5kg in just 200l on the pilot system but I'll continue to revisit home-brew recipes that worked well, will certainly look at a double black IPA (fab news! - ed) At the moment we're pretty busy developing our spirits range with the 200 litre still. we've just made a corn mash moonshine which is selling locally and also developing a gin which will see wider release. We have the gin basket and can experiment with botanical in there or in the boiler; so there are a lot of variables to play with! We also have an increasing amount of our KPA going in to cans (currently taking place at C&C in Clonmel) and plenty of demand for bottles which will keep us busy."

I've got a vested interest in Blacks being one of the initial crowd-funders and it helps of course that they produce great beers (am hoping we get more of their stuff up here!) Sam hinted at a special wood-aged poitin release in 2016; so look out for that!

Trouble Brewing have gone from a more traditional core range to producing a number of hop forward specials culminating in a DIPA, Chasing the Dragon (hazy, pithy, sticky, resinous, full on hop heavy DIPA. Plenty of fruit from some of my favourite hops: Motueka, Amarillo, Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra) and Ireland's First Triple IPA Hop Priority (sticky, pithy, fruity, well hidden booze but growing warmth, plenty of body to tackle the bitterness with Mandarina Bavaria, Equinox, Amarillo & Vic Secret hops). I spoke to Mark about the change of focus and plans for the future."I'm a big IPA fan so I was keen start brewing some more hop focussed beers. When we started brewing more frequent specials the hop-forward beers would always sell quicker and we were always getting better feedback on those styles. So, we're happy to brew them and people seem happy to drink them!  

There wasn't any one particular beer that inspired me (for chasing the Dragon), I just picked elements that I liked from other beers and from some of the specials we had brewed. I wanted to keep the malt bill as clean as possible so we used only pale ale malt and also used 10% table sugar to get a lower final gravity. I wanted to get as much aroma as possible but also keep the beer balanced, so all the bitterness was achieved by the sheer volume of aroma hops at the end of the boil. It was also then dry hopped 3 times.

Hop Priority was brewed to celebrate 5 years of Trouble Brewing. We had already brewed loads of hoppy beers of various strengths and a triple IPA seemed like the the right beer to fit the occasion! We used ~3kg/hL of some of the best hops available from all over the world."

I managed to draw out some thoughts on Irish beer quality and DIPAs in particular...
"Overall I think the quality of Irish beers is quite good, there is some really bad beer out there but most of it is decent and the quality is improving all the time. I was particularly impressed with the standard at the recent festival in the RDS and I think the more competition we have in the market the higher that standard is going to be raised. The Irish DIPAs are a mixed bag, some are among the best DIPAs I've ever had (freshness is key!) and there are others that aren't strong enough in ABV or hop character to be classed as DIPAs, though still good beers in their own right."

Mark has no current plans to re-brew either of these or indeed any "imperial" beers though he did like my suggestion of double oh-yeah (their black IPA)...He does intend to produce some sour styles of beer and perhaps non-traditional ingredients such as fruit, syrups and herbs. Imperial gruit anyone?

Bo Bristle made a DIPA for the ICBCF in 2014 with more of an East-Coast USA influence, the malt being assertive alongside high herbal+piney hops. Hempy , full bodied bitter IPA with a pithy, herbal and resinous sticky malt taste. Intended to be a one off beer but is now an inspiration for upcoming strong beer range. I spoke to Andy about their influences and recipe development.
"We're huge fans of Hops at Bo Bristle so developing a DIPA was a very enjoyable & rewarding process.  The development of the DIPA, as with all of our beers, was using our pilot brewing system, experimenting with recipes  on small batch sizes but ludicrous amounts of Hops.

Over the past few years we've developed a close working relationship with our hop suppliers, so fortunately getting hold of most of the hops was not a problem.We're big fans of the American brewery Odell's 7% IPA. (technically not an DIPA but lovely). Feedback from our DIPA was terrific & everyone wanted to know when the beer would be available in bottles. ....Answer:  2016, hopefully!"

North of the border only one brewer has gone north of 7% on a pale n' hoppy beer and That's Hilden, trialling various iterations under the Mill Street name and finally releasing the beer as Buck's Head. I preferred some of the more New-World versions but what they arrived at is also very enjoyable and more in keeping with British IPA. Herbal and slightly earthy  with sweet biscuit in the nose. Lively spritzy carbonation full bodied, shortcake, vegetal hops, lemon peel, minerally & finishing fairly sweet. Didn't hear back from Owen on how the recipe was developed.

Recently O'Brother released Brutus (9.3%) which I've not yet had a chance to try; so hope it makes it to bottle. I was kindly sent up a bottle by the brewery as I couldn't make it to the ICBCF this year (busy beering in Belgium!). I spoke to Barry at the brewery:

BIK: How has Brutus been received and are you likely to re-brew it?
"It was really well received – as it was its first outing it attracted quite a bit of attention as people wanted to try the new beer. A lot of people had it as their personal beer of the festival – we got a mention for it on the Beer O’Clock Show (one of only 2 beers highlighted – the other being 8 Degrees Millennium coincidentally!), and it is our highest rated beer on Untappd.  The Blackrock Cellar had a taste-off with Brutus and Of Foam and Fury and the crowd were split down the middle, so we are delighted with the response we are getting, and to be even mentioned in the same company as OFAF is great considering this is Ireland’s top rated beer!

Brutus is a one-off beer, or at least that was the intention – just like Bonita. We don’t have any plans to re-brew it but having said that, never say never. We might make it an annual brew or something like that."

Having tried it I'm inclined to agree that its very much in the vein of OFAF, though perhaps leaning towards sweeter malts and less aroma hopping. Like Chris at Galway Bay they intended for a West Coast Style of DIPA
"We did quite a bit of reading on beers like Pliny The Elder (though we have never actually had the pleasure of tasting it) Hoptimum etc, and also the East Coast DIPAs like Dogfish 90 and 120 mins.  Like everything in brewing (at least in our brewery) it’s coming up with the best of everything within a style, trying to get a recipe to match the concept, and then throwing a bit more at it on brew day!! 

We brew the beers we love to drink, and pretty much as frequently – so we don’t drink DIPAs all that regularly but we do love them. I think there is  a lot more fun to be had in doing the bigger beers and packing more and more flavour in there. We wanted the ABV to be over 9% - we were shooting for 9.2% but ended up with 9.1% as it was tasting pretty damn good and we didn’t want to push it any further."

As well as  tasting decent their labels also stand out; both in the core range and the more colourful "character" range. I asked Barry how these came about:
"We work with an incredibly talented artist called Marian Noone, who is from Sligo but based in Belfast. She does work under the tag Friz (www.thisisfriz.com). We basically float the idea to her about the character and she bounces some ideas back and then it very quickly takes shape. More down to her artistic talent to be honest but we do throw in the odd good idea or two, hopefully representing a little bit of what the beer is about – Brutus is a bit of a bruiser, not to be taken lightly!"

Despite Brutus being intended as a one off its been so well received that I'd be surprised it didn't make a reappearance and they certainly intend to branch out with more big beers in the future, I'm certainly hoping for a double up version of their Black IPA Bonita (see a pattern developing?!)

Rumours of a Porterhouse DIPA called Hop to F*ck are as yet unproven... are now proven with the beer spotted in the wild at a number of Porterhouse establishments; but I'll need to head back to Dublin to drink it...

*These were featured in a single-hopped pale ale and a recently released Tasmanian IPA named Big River (alongside Ella (formerly stella until a certain behemoth took umbrage at the name)). Superb juicy IPA - look out for it!

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