Wednesday, 7 May 2014

In brewing, 13 is lucky for some

Sara, Derek and Jane
“I've only retired from Fuller's, I haven't retired from brewing!” splutters former Fuller's (and Young's) brewing manager Derek Prentice, when I ask how retirement is suiting him. That's just as well, because we're talking over a couple of pints of Brewer's Dozen, the 5.5% Special Bitter that he has just co-brewed with Sara Barton at her Brewsters Brewery in Grantham.

It's a luscious and hoppy strong beer – dry-sweet, yet full flavoured with touches of blackcurrant, honey and orange, plus earthy and spicy hints, and it's entirely made with English ingredients. Indeed, it is a showcase for what's possible with English hops now – First Gold, Fuggles and Admiral in the brew and then dry-hopped with Target and Admiral. That's in addition to East Anglian barley malt, caramalt and crystal malt, and Sara's brewing yeast.

The two brewers were brought together by beer sommelier Jane Peyton – Derek was named British Brewer of the Year 2013-14 by the British Guild of Beer Writers, while Sara held the same title in 2012-13. Jane suggested that they brew a beer commemorating the year when they both held the title, and given that beer is sometimes referred to as liquid bread, they decided that a baker's dozen could also work for brewers!

The first question was how to work the number 13 into the recipe. “We could have gone for an Original Gravity (OG) of 13˚ Plato, that's about 1052 OG, or for 13 brewer's pounds, which would have given about 1030 OG,” Derek explained. “So that meant either an Ordinary Bitter or a Special.”

They chose the Plato route, aiming for an English Special Bitter – although the result could easily be mistaken for an English IPA (not surprisingly, given that the two were historically very close or perhaps even the same).

“The one unknown for me was Sara's yeast – it turned out to be very clean, with a bit of fruit,” Derek added. “I was expecting 5.2% but it's turned out at 5.5% - the yeast worked a bit deeper than I expected.”

So what's next for him – does he have his own brewery yet? No, not yet, he says, with the 'yet' getting just a bit of a stress, “although I may have a small share in one.” In the meantime, grab a Brewer's Dozen if you can find it – there's only one brew of it, but it should be around in Brewsters outlets, plus there might still be some (but only a little!) left at the Mad Bishop and Bear where we talked and drank.

Disclaimer: Derek and Sara bought me beer....

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