This past autumn, Northern Monk Brew Co. introduced the world to our Trilogy series, an annual suite of three beers celebrating each of the three pillars of beer: Hops, Malt, Yeast. For this inaugural year, The Trilogy MMXVI (2016) kept the theme simple to showcase each ingredient's unadulterated purity with the help of three world class breweries. We brewed Hops India Pale Ale with New Zealand's Epic Brewing and Malt Imperial Porter with The Netherlands' malt maestros Brouwerij de Molen. The finale of The Trilogy MMXVI is Yeast Tripel which was brewed in collaboration with the world renowned Cigar City Brewing from Tampa, Florida.
However, there is more to the story of our relationship with Cigar City than meets the eye, so we've decided to post a double feature about our partnership with them with two back-to-back blog posts! Part 1 features our exclusive interview with Wayne Wambles, the Brewmaster of Cigar City, when he crossed over the Atlantic in November to brew our Trilogy collaboration with us. Part 2 features a journal entry from our brewer Adam Lyle which chronicles his two-week Transatlantic stage at Cigar City's HQ in Florida.
Back to master brewer Wayne Wambles. The night before our brew day, the NMBCo. crew had taken Wayne out to drink our way through Leeds, crawling from our Refectory taproom to the historic Whitelock's Ale House and downtown favourite North Bar. Having been bonded by beer, we got right down to business first thing in the morning after. While Wayne and our head brewer Brian Dickson were taking a lunch break at The Refectory upstairs, we spoke to the pair of head brewers about The Trilogy Yeast MMXVI and more.
Q: You guys are working on a yeast-centric style, so what are some of your favourite yeast strains?
BRIAN: Well, since we're doing a Belgian style here, I would say that the Belgian strains give you the widest range of flavours. We brewed with a Chouffe strain last year, and that gave us really good results. We brewed a sort of IPA with it, a Houblon Chouffe-style kind of thing which turned out really nicely. Lately, we've started using a Vermont dried strain in many of our beers. For us, it really complements the fruity, resinous hops that we work with like Citra and Mosaic. These combinations are always winners. I'm quite looking forward to next year once we move to the new site and free up downstairs for more experimental styles. We can really go to town and try all kinds of yeasts and have some fun in that area. Everyone likes to play around with different hop varieties and so on, but there's just as much fun to be had with yeasts!
WAYNE: I really like West Yorkshire yeast, because it produces these apricot esters. I also really like the Alchemist yeast that Brian mentioned which is also referred to as Conan and other things, because it has these incredible peach esters. Both of these strains work really well with hop-forward beers, complementing the hops that are being used. Right now, those are probably two of my favourite strains, because I tend to prefer more hop-forward beers. There are other strains that I think have a lot of potential, but I haven't used them enough to really find an appropriate way to place them in our recipes. But we've tried some things in the last year, where we blended several different saison strains in order to get more complex phenols and more complex esters. I think that this adds a lot more depth to a beer.
Q: How do you think the application of yeast in brewing will evolve in the future?
WAYNE: I think there's probably going to be more blending of single varieties. Instead of fermenting with just one single variety, you create more specialised products in order to achieve a fuller ester formation or a combination of both ester and phenol formations to create more complexity in the beer like I said earlier. I would say that that's probably the direction where it's heading.
Q: How did Cigar City and Northern Monk Brew Co. come to collaborate together?
WAYNE: One of our former sales guys named Eddy – he doesn't work for us anymore, he moved out west – he's a lead singer in a harder rock band, and he's a big fan of Opeth. I guess he found out that Northern Monk was making a beer for Opeth and somehow got in touch with [Director] Russell Bisset and then put Russel in touch with me. That was the beginning of this whole project!
Q: How would you guys describe our Trilogy Yeast collaboration?
WAYNE: It's been a positive experience and an experiment in showcasing these byproducts. It's also a different and non-traditional rendition of a Belgian-style tripel, because while we're within similar IBU levels that you might experience with a traditional tripel, we're using pretty much all-American varietal hops. We're doing quite a bit of bursting with them, so they're late additions. It's more of trying to get more of these tropical fruit notes versus the herbal or floral notes that you would expect from traditional hop varieties in this style.
BRIAN: We did change things a little bit, though. The project had evolved since the first time we spoke back in March or April when we began working on a recipe together. Initially, our beer was going to be a lot more hop-forward. We selected four really characterful U.S. hops – Azacca, Equinox, Citra, and Mosaic. As you see, our project has now become more focused on the yeast element. So we've reined those hops in a little bit, but you'll still have a definite U.S. hops element to it. Still, we mostly tried to be fairly true to style with Belgian tripels. The malt bill is fairly traditional, nice and classic – dry, crisp, clear. Then it's all about getting the best fermentation conditions to get as much of that estery yeast character in there as possible, making sure that the hops don't dominate it as I said, so that the yeasts are prominent in the aroma and flavour as they're meant to be.
Q: Wayne, what are your thoughts about the beer scene in the UK?
WAYNE: Umm... one of the things that kinds of makes me sad is the fact that cask beer seems to be undergoing a decline, and that's what I mainly drink when I'm here. This has been such a longstanding tradition and to see it go away would be a very, very sad day for me... But I also see craft beer emerging, and it seems to be rapidly growing. I was here last year and also a couple of years prior to that and to me, I can see a difference in quality and a difference in variety from since my first visit here to my time here now this year. So it's definitely heading in the right direction in my opinion.
To be continued in Part 2.