Monday, 15 April 2013

I'm All Right Jack

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It was a cold Thursday morning in Fort Collins, Colorado and when I say cold I mean it was minus ten degrees Celsius and the ground was piled high with loose, powdery snow. My Dad and I were up at the crack of dawn and it seemed like I had finally shaken that nasty dose of flu I had succumbed to when I was in Portland. I poured myself a flask of Yorkshire tea (I had taken a box with me as I cannot survive for more than a couple of days without it) and jumped into the car. We were heading to Loveland which lies just a couple of miles down the highway from Fort Collins to brew a beer with the towns newest brewery, Verboten Brewing

My Dad and I had been invited to brew a beer at Verboten by Michelle and Kevin from The Mayor of Old Town who had arranged this collaborative brew day in the first place. We arrive at around 8.30am and are met by co-owners Josh Grenz and Joe Akers who have already begun milling the grain on a device that looks like it may have been fashioned by MacGyver himself. The brewery is housed in a modern, recently constructed building on a small industrial estate, as you enter you immediately find yourself in a smart, spacious tasting room. Thanks to the open plan layout of the brewery you can see the brew house and fermentation vessels at the back of the building as soon as you enter. Josh and Joe both comment on how small the brewery is but I'd wager British brewers would kill for a space such as this, especially considering Verboten have only been open for all of two months. Taking into consideration the amount of time they've been open Josh and Joe seem to have really got their act together, the tap room is a cool place to hang out that is regularly visited by food trucks on evenings and weekends and there are already several barrels full of ageing beer at the back of the brewery indicating Verboten's more experimental side. To complete the package their branding is strong, on trend and immediately recognisable down to the logo emblazoned t shirts and customised tap handles.

As we drink our coffee and finish the tour Michelle arrives and we prepare to begin the brew. We're brewing a type of beer that I'm completely unfamiliar with, an Imperial Kentucky Common which is an indigenous American style of beer that is similar to what we would call a cream ale. The guys are shooting for a seriously high gravity and several barrels are filled with the various kinds of freshly milled malt ready to be added to the mash tun. In addition to the huge amount of caramel and chocolate malt this brew also uses corn (or maize to us Brits) as would have been traditionally used when a beer such as this was brewed in the times before prohibition. The final variety of grain to be added was a soured malt which would add a classic Kentucky style 'sour mash' flavour to this beer. Michelle and I start pouring the malt into the mash tun as the hot liquor (for my non brewing readers this just means hot water) runs over the grains so as to extract as much sugar from them as possible, the more sugar we extract, the higher the alcohol content of this finished beer will be. As we add the grains and water we stir the mash to make sure all of the grains come into contact with the water and every so often Josh instructs me to add a bucket full of rice into the mash as this helps prevent it from getting stuck together which would be a most undesirable occurrence. 

Once the mash tun is full the mash needs time to complete its process as the hot liquor doesn't simply extract sugars from the grains, what is actually extracted is starch and the hot water allows enzymes in the grains to naturally go about their business and convert those starches into sugars ready for fermentation. Josh keeps an eye on this whilst Joe escorts us into the tap room for a few tasters, it's barely gone 10am but I'm under strict instructions to follow the brewers orders so it would be the height of rudeness to refuse. Verboten do not have any core beers, instead they have an ever rotating range that will depend purely on what Josh and Joe feel like brewing at the time. As they are only using a small brew kit this means that the batches of beer sell through quickly which soon frees up one of their three fermenting vessels and this also allows for plenty of experimentation such as with the beer we are brewing today.

Verboten name their beers after lines from movies (I'll let you guess which movies they come from) and the first beer of the morning is the 'Killer Boots' Caramel Porter. This porter is killer by name and killer by nature, it's a seriously impressive beer full of bitter coffee, rich berry fruits and just a hint of sweetness from the Caramel on the finish. The next beer, 'Angry Banjo' is the original Kentucky Common that today's imperial recipe is based on. It's incredibly drinkable for it's 5.5%, in fact it's what people in Colorado would refer to as a session ale, it's slightly sweet, slightly tangy and decidedly moreish. I wanted to name the beer we were brewing today 'Squeal like a Piggy' a line from the same film as 'Angry Banjo' but it was mutually agreed that it might be a little to non-PC for the people of Northern Colorado, this is a family business after all.

Midway through the tasters Kevin from the Mayor of Old Town arrives and is unsurprised to see me and my Dad drinking already, to be honest I doubt he'll ever see us without a glass in our hands. We move on to 'Five Second Frencher' a delicious Belgian style Witbier that is flavoured with lemongrass and it positively sings with lemongrass flavours along with rich, banana and clove tinged yeast esters. The 'Mantooth' Imperial IPA' is my kind of beer, a deep, rich, biscuity malt base provides the platform for a grapefruit tinged, almost herbal bitterness. It's not as in your face as some IPA's I've had but it's very well balanced for the ABV, another solid brew. Surprisingly it wasn't an IPA or pale ale that was my pick of the bunch but instead it was a beer called 'As You Wish' a 6% Porter brewed with raspberries. As with the caramel porter there was rich, dark chocolate and bitter coffee in spades but this was followed by a fruity, tart kick of raspberries which really lifted this beer onto another level, it was superb. 

Not a single one of these beers fell short of being great, clearly Josh and Joe, who had been home brewing together for three years before opening the brewery have a lot of skill. The mashing process had finished while my Dad and I were working our way through our tasters and we returned to the mash tun to discover Michelle had volunteered herself for the job of digging out the mash tun. Josh poured me a glass of the wort as it was being transferred into the kettle for boiling, it was slick and viscous and smelt almost like raw molasses. The rich, sweet wort proved to be an excellent pick me up after several glasses of beer and we were now ready for the all important process of boiling the beer while adding the bittering hops. The wort was given a 90 minute boil and during this time it was given three additions of pelletised Hallertauer hops which had a lovely aroma of lemon and freshly cut grass. I was given the honour of adding the first load of hops to the boil which made a nice change from taking photos and generally getting in the way as we bloggers tend to do.

We tucked into some pizza that Joe had kindly picked up while the beer finished boiling and Michelle was busily working away on some beer orders for the Mayor. I told her that I'd love to see some of the new wave of British brewing on tap in the Mayor and I was delighted to see Thornbridge's name come up on the list of available beers. Naturally I instructed Michelle to order kegs of Halcyon and Raven so hopefully the beer drinking citizens of Fort Collins will soon see just how good British craft beer has become. Over lunch we discussed what we should call the beer and Kevin suggested 'I'm All Right Jack' a lyric from Pink Floyd's Money which features in the cinematic version of The Wall. This isn't the first collaborative brew the Mayor has done with a local brewery and all their others have had their names taken from Pink Floyd lyrics and with 'Jack' being a good reference to a sour mash beverage made in the Kentucky style it seemed to be a good fit and thus 'I'm All Right Jack' was born.

After the boil had finished we began to prepare to run the beer into a fermentation vessel but sadly my Dad and I ran out of time before this was finished. Despite this I had loads of fun being involved in my first ever commercial brew day and I would like to thank Josh and Joe for hosting us and Michelle and Kevin for making this whole thing possible, thanks guys!

Now here's the embarrassing part, I had intended to publish this blog shortly before the beer became available but it's taken much longer than anticipated to get to this stage of my trip. Jack ended up being a 10.8% monster, it was tapped in the Verboten tasting room on Friday and as you might have already guessed... it already sold out. However fear not, if you live in or near Fort Collins rumour has it (ooh) that a second keg is being tapped at the Mayor of Old Town this coming Wednesday the 17th of April, if you want to try it THIS IS YOUR ONLY AND LAST CHANCE! I also understand that there is a growler full of this beer on its way to me so I will of course be letting you know how it tastes when it arrives. The other exciting news is that a quantity of Jack has found it's way into a rum barrel so in a few months Barrel Aged I'm All Right Jack will be rearing it's monstrous rum-soaked head.

If you ever find yourself in Northern Colorado the town of Loveland is not to be overlooked, Verboten are the fifth brewery to open up in this town and along with Big Beaver Brewing and Grimm Brothers these breweries are helping to turn Loveland into a must visit beer destination to rival even Fort Collins. The Verboten tap room is open Tuesday through Sunday and you can find the opening hours on their website here, if you're ever in the area be sure to pop in and say hi to Josh and Joe from me!

Coming up next, I try a beer with a name that rhymes with 'Whiney the Plunger...' Whatever could that be?

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