FoulkesOkes Collaboration Beer – The story Part I

Hey there all you great and wonderful beer-people, this is the story behind the FoulkesOkes Collaboration Beer.

As some of you are aware, we are busy with the final stages of our business plan. Most of the research has been done. Beer festivals visited; copious amounts of beer sampled and a few festivals along the way graced with the presence of our beer. This has allowed us to collate data as to whether our dream of starting this brew pub is just a dream or whether it is actually feasible. We have acquired a chef along the way and are now four members strong. I have embarked on a twitter campaign while our Yeastie has done her thing on Facebook (she is better with words, I am better at short and sharp). All in all, the hype seems to be working. There is one thing however, that has been bothering me. The Americans say: “Build it and they will come.” While this boisterous American attitude seems sufficient to continue  – it is not enough for my naturally cautious nature, and definitely not enough to raise the funds needed with a venture of this size. Not to even mention the misgivings of my hesitant accomplice!

Over the Christmas downtime, I had a lot of time to think about this conundrum. How do we test that the beer is good? How do we get actual South African market data? Will people really come if I build it? As you may note, this all seems rather self centered. Very egocentric, if I may steal a word from our Yeastie.

This got me to thinking about events in the international craft beer world. To start off with, these guys worked together to establish and help each other in brewing their beers. They would lend each other equipment and share knowledge. They would get together and brew collaboration beers. These collaboration beers would typically be beers that none of the brewers would brew in their own right; a new recipe designed with insight gained from all the contributing brewers and then finally brewed together, in the same brew house, at the same time. The spoils and or failure shared by all involved – true synergy.

Intrigued, I set out to discover who, in SA, has done a proper collaboration brew. There were hints on the internet, but no actual facts. There are rumors within the dark halls that brew masters wander, such as:  “X and Y did a collaboration together, but it was actually a contract brew”. And thus the rumors abound. Nothing definitive to go by. The Brewmistress herself even pointed out some collaboration brews that may have taken place. Thanks for that ma’am.

Armed with my wealth of knowledge, or lack thereof, I approached someone whom I met a while back. This man, like many others, was trying to find out who was behind FoulkesBrau. Many of the home brewers know who I am, but not many people know that I am the man behind FoulkesBrau. Devious and sneaky, I know, but a very necessary part of the plan especially here in SA.

Now I am not saying that brewers in SA are not willing to help each other out, but there are a few devious people out there. Take any amount of time and speak to an established or want-to-be-established brewer and you will hear:”X, Y or Z interfered with my licensing application and or the health inspection”. Admittedly, this inside information takes many beers to extract from the brewer being interrogated and may just be bad blood between said brewers. This cat and mouse game is not really what we or our collaborators are about.

So, who is this man of whom we speak? Whom did we approach? Who is our collaborator in this collaboration brew?

Well this bear of a man is known as Hennie Kloppers to those of you in the brewing circles. He is also the Brewmaster at TwoOkesBrewery. Hennie is a gentle giant; he has a passion for brewing and is not shy to share his experiences of home-brewer-turned-pro. He has a very inquisitive mind and is constantly looking for feedback on the beers brewed at TwoOkesBrewery. He is always looking at ways to improve his beer and is not bothered by constructive criticism. In fact, he will try out this feedback and on a full brew house batch! Now that is the true dedication of a brewer as it highlights his bravery and/or stupidity and deserves some acknowledgement.

Before I go any further, I want to just clear up a point or two. The first being the title of “Brewmaster”. Each and every one of us that brews is a Brewmaster. If you develop your own recipes, brew your own beer and you do this on your own system, or that of another, you are the BrewMaster. You crafted that brew from the beginning until the end. The title of “Master Brewer”, however is something entirely different. A Master Brewer is someone who has usually served a brewing apprenticeship and has attained a formal brewing qualification. This is something that has weighed heavily on my mind while deciding on what to call myself (Chief Swinging Dick would just not fly with the team).

I spoke to a few work colleagues (all expert home brewers in their own right) about this “collaboration” idea. I was fishing again, I admit. I wanted to know what they thought was lacking and or good about the SA craft beers that they had tasted. I got all sorts of feedback from them. My favorites – lacking malt backbone, unbalanced and thin.

With this in mind, I sat down to design a recipe for a style that I have seen very few brewers produce here in SA. I took my inspiration from the American brew pubs. This beer style is really known as the “test” of a brew pub. While not difficult, it is tricky. Technique and skill play a huge part, but the secret is really in the recipe, water treatment and fermentation technique. This is what allows the flavor profile to swirl around in your mouth and make you wonder what the hell just happened. Style guide in hand, notes from colleagues, the design began.

The criteria I formulated for the beer is as follows (taken from my own notes and the requirements of others):

  • Golden amber color
  • Clear
  • Nice white foamy head
  • Must have lacing
  • Nice malty tastes, but not overwhelming
  • Nice hop aroma, but subtle
  • Normal drinking strength ~5%ABV
  • Nice bitter, but not too much
  • Flavor must change from malt to bitter
  • Light to medium body
  • Must be drinkable, i.e. you want to have more than one

There was one style that kept coming up with all these criteria. I sat down, penned the base and specialty malt percentages as well as their gravity contributions. It all looked good on paper. The color and flavor profiles looked good. I then designed the mash profile that would give us all the things needed to give body; flavor; head etc. I looked at the hops and the hopping schedule. I had an idea of the percentage IBU I wanted to add at each addition – but I was torn between the hops to use. Eventually, I decided to use all of the initial selections. Finally, I looked at the water. What water profile would highlight all the above requirements?

With all the calculations done and the ingredients at hand, there was only one thing to do – brew a pilot batch.

The brew day went off without too much drama. The fermentation ran off without a hitch. All the numbers were hit spot on. The beer was kegged and now it was time to test it out on unsuspecting colleagues and Hennie.

A few bottles were tapped off the keg and distributed to said colleagues and it was time to meet with Hennie to get his opinion…

Hennie’s schedule was playing havoc with him, with keeping a day job down and having to brew after hours for various festivals and to keep his supply chain running, so it was touch and go.

We met at a pub not too far from me. I had my grubby little paws on two bottles of the brew. I grudgingly handed them over to the waiter to put in the fridge. Hennie and I got to sampling the house beers and chatting about the recipe. And then, I heard the most glorious thing: The couple sitting next to us were conversing in German.

Now as we all know – the Germans know beer. Right?

I apprehensively approached the couple and asked them if we might “borrow” them for a few minutes. They were quite intrigued by this and agreed to join us. The waiter bought us some empty glasses and the first bottle. I had to use my lighter to open the bottle as the waiter did not have an opener. I poured equal amounts into the four glasses before me and handed them out. I waited with bated breath…

The lady looked at the beer in a way that startled me. She then took a sniff and then a mouthful of beer and put her glass down. Alarm bells started to go off in my head. The man held the glass up to the light, then took a sniff that looked like he was going to snort the beer instead of drink it. “Oh f@ck” I thought, “Now what have I done?”

The lady promptly declared – this is X style beer. I almost fell off my chair. Hennie started to look at me funny. The man declared that he thought it was Y style beer. The lady vigorously disagreed with him. He deferred to her.

It just so happens that I had picked the two worst people on the planet to taste our beer. You see dear readers, these two Germans were out here on holiday. The lady, as it turns out is a master beer judge and the man, is a master brewer at one of the well known German breweries. These two sneaks were out here touring all the South African Micro Breweries and I, in my innocence and naivety, had asked them to taste our beer.

We proceeded to taste the second bottle. And the same ritual of snorting the bottle carried out by the master brewer was preceded by the master beer judge. It was all rather unsettling. Hennie took a vigorous gulp of his own beer and I could see his eyes darting from side to side. I don’t blame him.

So this is where I reroute the whole story and piss the Yeastie off as she has to edit this and make sure it is readable.

In the interim we have started a twitter campaign where we have given pointers and clues as to the beer style. You get to win a tasting session with Hennie and I (well worth it in my opinion). Not only will we taste and talk you through the beer, but we will give you a rundown on the actual brewing of the beer in a live brewery. The campaign – #GuessWhatsBrewing #FoulkesOkes on the twitter.

So as to the feedback from my beer geek colleagues:

  • God, that was bitter, drinkable but way more bitter than Pislner Urqel!
  • WTF did you brew here?
  • I had this in the states and it tastes exactly like…..
  • That was very bitter!
  • Where is the mint?
  • Classic example of the style – but only for the beer nerds!
  • It was sweet and lekker, but then it became bitter!
  • I want more – where can I buy it?

What did the Germans say? Well:

  • Clean.
  • Well balanced.
  • Have not tasted anything like this in SA.
  • IPA – him.
  • Drinkable.
  • Where can we buy it?

So, in conclusion of this first part dear reader. I can honestly say: This beer is for the beer geeks and nerds. This beer is really going to make you rethink the styles that you are tasting in SA. Are they really what they say they are.

I will leave you with my own tasting notes based on the BJCP format:

  • Aroma – Hints of honey and caramel toffee. This is intermingled with citrus and mint. A slight hint of spice.
  • Appearance – Nice amber, gold to copper color. Nice white head that lasts. The beer is nice and clear, almost like looking through a window. Nice bubbles flowing up the glass that last until the very end. Very nice lacing
  • Flavor – initial malt sweetness with hints of honey and toffee that changes over to the bitterness of the hops. Nice taste of biscuit/bread. Definite late hop additions that swing the malt character to the hop bitterness. The taste of the beer lasts way past the initial mouthful. Nicely crisp without taking too much from the malt or hops. Carbonation does not detract from the mouth feel.
  • Mouth feel – light to light medium body. Carbonation adds to the acidity of the beer. Not puckering or grassy from late hops.
  • Overall – well, this would be notes to the brewer on how to fix or change anything. So the only thing that Hennie and I did tweek was the whirlpool hop standing time and this was only to bring forward a bit more hop aroma.

We look forward to penning part II for you – where we get stuck into the nuts and bolts of our collaboration brew.

Cheers in beers

Craig

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