Friday, 1 May 2015

Shot down in flames

Newcastle Beer Festival has always been an annual highlight of mine. The trade session is filled with the personalities that make up the region's beer scene from pub owners to brewers. But for myself and the staff of Mordue this festival would mark the end of the campaign 'Operation Gold Serpent Siege'. The prime objective of this campaign was to brew and represent the company with two of the most important brews of all time. The first; Mordue's 20th Anniversary ale, the second was our entry for the annual 'battle of the beers'. Big catch; the majority of the production's time I would be on paternity leave.

The second objective of the campagn was to win this year's Battle of the Beers, sealing the title for the third successive year on the company's 20th anniversary. Winning this would be more than just the ultimate dream, this would be an honour to the legacy of Mordue. The same brewery that won beer of the festival at Newcastle Beer Festival way back in 1995 was now aiming to win Battle of the Beers for the third successive year. There was a romance to the idea, like it was written in the stars.

 This year the rules were simple; to brew a beer between 3 and 6% with only British ingredients. Most entries seemed to go down the traditional best bitters/pale ale or porter route, our entry was named Best of British, which was shortened to BOB. A 4.1% deep golden best bitter brewed with Admiral, EKG and Jester hops. A symphony of English hops was the intention. Since my trial brew with Jester hops back in October I could see this working brilliantly, But the finished commercial product turned out a little differently. The tropical notes seemed lacking and cedar and pickled lime seemed most dominant early on. The beer became interesting as it developed and Admiral dry-hopping seemed to add more to its 'approachability factor'. A classic robust traditional British bitter jazzed up with Jester hops. Our 4.1% beer had a weight of flavour and complexity above it's abv. For a while their was hope.

 But sadly it wasn't to be. As it turned out this year's judges turned more attention to the porter style entries than anything else. The winner was the 5.7% Quayside Porter, brewed by the brew pub Hop and Cleaver. A smoked porter with clean, neatly orchestrated flavours of smoke, chocolate and coffee. Very well played in my mind. But after a rather quick, suspense-less announcement the dream was broken. Suddenly I could relate with the likes of Andy Murray, William Wallace, Yoda, Bobby Robson and the entire Italia 90 England football squad and anyone who strived so far to suffer failure. A part of me had seen it coming and I can see why BOB could divide the opinion of a judging panel. There's a little too much going on and it's not the most approachable of beers.

I have found British hops differ from new world varieties a bit like the French cinema compares to Hollywood. Hardened advocates love them but the majority turn straight to the attention grabbing, less-challenging Hollywood/new world hops. Our entry would have required a hardened set of best bitter fans on the judging panel to give it a chance and it's no surprise that the winning beer had virtually no English hop presence, or even fruity English yeast presence. Among the noise competitors striving in one direction or the other, Quayside Porter was obviously clean, composed and pleasant.

 Chatting away to the likes of Allendale, Cullercoats, Tyne Bank, Northern Alchemy and Anarchy a huge sense of mutual respect could be felt as we are all honorary servants to the region's beer scene. In the right form, and with the wind in the right direction, any of these respective peers could have won the very open battle of the beers. It's only now I realise just how well we have done to win it twice in a row. 

But 'Operation Gold Serpent Seige' was not just about the battle of the beers. We had to do justice to the anniversary at least. I remember 20th Anniversary Ale being a troublesome brew day. A 4.6% celebration pale ale is how I would call it, but it wasn't an easy verdict to make on what to brew. The Mordue brews of old were straight forward and characterful, and to honour the legacy this approach was taken. Amarillo and Challenger, the two all-time staple hops of Mordue, were used in abundance to bring jammy marmalade and grapefruit over a sappy toasty malt base. If this were released in the 90s it would be a beast, like a Ferrari F40 of its time. I realise the 'echoes of the past' theme might only be felt from only the hardened long term Mordue drinkers of the region but for me that's kind of it's niche.

And of course there was also the birth of our son, Harvey, to throw into the mix, our second and last brew baby.

So the final verdict at the close of this campaign, despite it beginning with the hope of joining the immortals by winning Newcastle beer fest for the third successive year, was that we are indeed not immortal. I am however very proud of the beers and children produced during the venture.