In early September Green Duck uploaded a photo onto Facebook. It was both pleasing but certainly teasing as I set about wondering what creation was to come. The taste bud floodlights had very much been triggered without even knowing what style of beer was fermenting, in any case I had a good feeling about this. The said photo was that of the bold Salopian logo above the visitors’ entrance of the brewery based in Shropshire. I should mention, that other social media platforms are available.
Salopian have long been one of my go-to breweries, from the old reliable friend ‘Oracle’ on cask to their formidable ‘Black Label’ range. This is a brewery who have consistently kept me in good supply. To Green Duck just a stone’s throw away, I have had the pleasure of watching them grow since the day they moved to their current premises in Stourbridge – pals indeed, I can’t reiterate enough that you won’t meet more friendlier folks in the industry than Alan, Alex, Nathan & Sally. With this in mind, something special was to be announced.
A few anticipated hours later all was revealed. ‘Hollow Point’ a 5.8% Brut IPA containing grape juice and elderflower to lighten the ‘Nelson Sauvin’ hops, with oak chip and aroma-hop ‘Lemon Drop’. Well I was sold. But what exactly is a Brut IPA?
A new style of IPA very much on trend with brewers, it is a super dry IPA that is aromatic, crisp with a light bitter finish. Not sounding massively different from other beers I hear you say? What makes it so different that it’s catching brewers’ imagination? Taking their name and flavour profile from champagne sparkling wine, the innovation comes from the addition of an enzyme (Glucoamylase more often than not) that breaks down and converts unfermentable starches that would normally be too complex to digest into fermentable sugars to create a drier beer. To furthermore make this style stand out from the crowd, the champagne theme gives it that sparkling element which aids the fruity flavours above the bitterness making it lean towards the more modern juicy styles like NEIPA’s which are seemingly revolutionising the beer scene all over the world. Of course, there are many BRUT IPA’s already on the market all with different variations. Interestingly, some do not use wine or grape juice but one thing is common: the lightness is as pale as possible.
When ‘Hollow Point’ finally landed on the bar at Green Duck’s tap room I was delightfully presented with the headscratcher choice of cask, keg or can. What great innovation to showcase their new beer! BRUT IPA is new ground for me, so with that sparkling element in mind I concluded that keg would maximise the full potential of this style and deliver that juicy finish. I was not disappointed. I found it quite complex with lots going on. I did not feel it was overly dry which I concluded was likely beneficial. I enjoyed the fruity aroma although if blindfolded I’m not sure I could pick out the elderflower if I’m being Brut-ily honest. If you’re not one for a huge malt profile in your beer or a massive hop head so to speak this could be one to have on your radar if and when it is to be re-brewed.
I caught up with Alex Hill, head brewer of Green Duck, who had this to say “Named because of its similarity to champagne, we chose to mimic this further by bringing in similar characteristics. Hopped with a combination of Lemon Drop and Nelson Sauvin hops. The latter was used for its strong fruity flavour and aroma that is described as resembling white wine, or fresh crushed grapes or gooseberries. The beer was then conditioned over oak chips with an addition of grape juice and dry hopped”
Furthermore, I very much found Hollow Point intriguing and with an upcoming bottle share club for which I obtained the ‘wild card’ category, meaning I could bring with me any two separate beers of separate styles of my choosing, naturally it made sense to pick up a few cans on leaving to share and deliberate over with my pals.
Alex adds “I was really happy with the finished product, the flavours of the grape and wood balance really well with the dryness of the style and hops. Collaborating with Salopian was a brilliant experience. We’re looking forward to the return leg at Green Duck!”
I have to say I love a good bottle beer club. There’s a certain uniqueness to it – whether it’s simply because you’re sitting comfortably in your pal’s living room outstretched with your shoes by the door holding a ‘borrowed’ piece of glassware from your favourite bar (yes we’re all guilty of it) several beers in with takeaway pizza on the way – I don’t know, but it’s sort of reminiscent when you were once a student and a house party sounded a much more stellar option than an expensive night out down town. Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to take anything away from supporting pubs, far from it, but occasionally maybe no more than two or three get-togethers are a nice way for like-minded beer lovers to huddle around someone’s living room coffee table and chew the fat over the wide collectively – sourced beer that each individual has brought.
When it got to the turn of Hollow Point, I boastfully announced my chosen ‘Wildcard’ entry stating that not only are both my beers from English breweries but both are collaborative brews. My other selection was Siren Craft/Deya – The Sky Was Pink 6.4% IPA. Whilst pouring I continued that we were about to sample a Brut IPA and to my knowledge a first-time introduction of this style at bottle club. I’m equally chuffed to report that Hollow Point was extremely well received amongst an eight-man strong group of beer lovers. Of course, not all being about my opinion I asked good friend and host Matt Trickett for some comments – “For the past 5 years, I’ve been much more of a high % dark beer fan, who loves a flavourful imperial stout. However, I keep in touch with the latest trends in lighter hoppier beers – including this current craze of ‘Brut’ beers. Having previously not had a good enough one to turn my head, this beer changed everything. During a 20+ beer tasting session, it was a stand out winner. It had a hoppy flavour, yet a dry, creamy undertone that made it super easy to drink! I’m onboard!”
Whether you see breweries knocking out Brut IPA’S as chasing trends, who are we to say otherwise when seemingly consumers are spending their money on this style? I read daily of breweries, particularly microbreweries, finding it hard work to make ends meet, so perhaps it’s easy to slip into the temptation to brew according to trends just to survive. Personally, I love exploring and discovering new beers but I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll be before the on trend NEIPA’S & East Coast styles passes, we go full circle and those breweries wanting to create something ‘different’ revert back to classic styles. I feel, perhaps naively, there’s room for a wealth of styles to sit side by side. Long may it continue that you can walk into a pub to be presented by the choice of 1 or 2 darks, a couple of IPA’s and personally, I will always be an advocate for bitters & milds.There are only two beer categories in my book, good & bad…and maybe the ugly.
Brut IPA’s certainly hit the ground running in 2018, and I predict they will continue to trend throughout 2019. It’s these styles of beers, whether they are to your taste or not, that potentially we need to see coming through to keep the modern beer world ticking over. Brewers will always look to experiment, to try to transcend the market, keeping their fingers on the pulse of latest fads to satisfy the modern drinker who is constantly chasing those latest trends, that something lip-smacking that makes them hold up their glass, give a little nod of appreciation and proceed to continue to talk about the beer on Monday morning to their work colleagues.
Hollow Point was done just right, a super dry champagne finish with little bitterness.
Words: Matt Merrick