Hops. Malt. Yeast. No beer of our eon is complete without each of these fundamental elements. Nourished by the sun and soil and siphoned through the brewer's vision, the alchemy of these ingredients spawns infinite spectra of flavour compositions that imbue each individual brew with its unique identity. As a privileged purveyor of these gifts to the most fervent enclaves of beer lovers in the UK and beyond, Northern Monk Brew Co. is proud to debut the Trilogy series, an annual suite of three beers in honour of Hops, Malt, and Yeast.
(photo by Tom Joy)
For each year, we will designate an umbrella theme that unifies the three beers together. In this inaugural year, we deem it opportune that The Trilogy MMXVI (2016) series would take it back to square one, pursuing timeless beer styles that serve as the purest liquid canvases for showcasing each ingredient's trademark flavours.
The first of three releases, Hops India Pale Ale, was brewed in collaboration with Epic Brewing from New Zealand. For a worthy follow-up, Malt Imperial Porter was brewed in collaboration with Brouwerij de Molen, the world-renowned malt maestros hailing from the Netherlands. Sandwiched in between releases of the paler Hops and Yeast (ft. Cigar City), Malt marks the darkest chapter in The Trilogy MMXVI saga.
Back in October, Jaco Geerlof of De Molen was in the middle of an excursion across northern England when he stopped by Leeds for a couple of days to partake in our joint brewing project. Although Jaco is not a brewer himself, he is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about all things beer and could not have been more enthusiastic to step into the brewer's boots and bring our collaborative recipe to fruition. In between brewing duties, the Monk brew crew gathered together with Jaco for lunch at the locally beloved vegan Indian street food haven Bundobust (which Jaco enjoyed very much). So we took this opportunity to pick the brains of Jaco as well as NMBCo.'s lead brewer Dave Kerr and head brewer Brian Dickson about our sophomore Trilogy project and more.
Q: Jaco, how has your experience been with the UK beer scene and Northern Monk in particular?
JACO: In the UK market, I think quite a few good breweries are coming up recently, and Northern Monk is certainly one of them. I've seen quite a few such breweries in the past few days and also on my previous visits here in May and just a few weeks ago. Brewers like Northern Monk, for example, are doing very well in the craft beer scene. I think they seem to know how to do it amongst the crowd. Because in the UK, there's a lot of very traditional brewers, and they try to do something in craft as well. But it remains a mix of traditional and craft, and I think that it's very difficult to do both. So I think breweries like Northern Monk are focusing 100% on really getting into the craft side of things in terms of ingredients and recipes. From my personal point of view, what you see with traditional brewers who are trying to get into this scene is that they're not so willing to change completely. They're reusing the same yeasts again and again and again. They're not willing to apply a wider variety of different malts. They're not willing to achieve higher ABV beers. But brewers like Northern Monk are doing that, and that's a good thing.
Q: What are your favourite malt-forward beer styles?
JACO: From the malty styles, I prefer imperial porters and imperial stouts. I consider them to be the best. And what you guys are doing, building a very good body of the malt flavour and then pairing it together with honey, vanilla, chocolate, and those kinds of things, I like that. I'm not into barleywines very much, but that's just personal preference. I consider their malt application to be too sweet in general. I know they're popular, but that's just me, it's not really my flavour. [laughs]
Q: What kind of imperial porter did you guys want to cook up for The Trilogy MMXVI?
JACO: For me, imperial porters need to have a fairly high ABV. De Molen is well-known for high ABV beers, you know, so that's our standard to meet. And what the guys at Northern Monk also like to do is balancing the flavour profile with chocolaty and caramel-y notes and such. So we've put together a range of different malts, brown malts, chocolate malts, crystal malts, etc. for a varied and balanced malt bill. That's basically what we're going for.
Q: So brewers, what's in store for the future of malt in brewing?
DAVE: With regards to malting techniques across Britain and the rest of the world, I think we've reached that saturation point where there's not that much more to discover about malt, as in it's been really well-modified already. It tastes really good. The climate these days is suitable for producing good quality malts, which has made homebrewing and commercial brewing massively easier. Old brewing techniques like step mashing, you don't need to do anymore. All the flavours are there, so I don't think there's much more you can do with the malt itself. Nowadays, it's more about using your imagination through new ways of pairing malts with new ingredients. With malt, you can always get better at producing it purely for the sugars. You can always make that more efficient. But to get them to taste more flavoursome? Probably not. I think where it is now is probably where it's going to stay.
Q: Do you have favourite malts to brew with?
DAVE: In the UK for me, you've just got to take a look at your base malt, your pale malt. I think the fact that all these countries around the world import our base malt, which is the main component of any beer... that speaks volumes. We're really good at producing it here in the UK. It's one of our strongest attributes. So if there's one thing that I love about the UK beer scene, it's that we produce good malt, especially good base malt.
BRIAN: While I was in America, I was travelling with Against the Grain Brewery around Kentucky and up to Chicago. There are these breweries up there and wherever you went, they're all using Fawcett, Crisp, and Simpsons malts... which is crazy! Yeah, a lot of Fawcett's, this Yorkshire company from Castleford. They all swear by it. Over here, we want American hops, but over there in the U.S., they all want our malts. Beer styles go back-and-forth. They prefer the quality of the malts that we supply, and we prefer the hop flavours that they can supply.
DAVE: And now, for the first time in a number of years, American brewers are actually buying British hops for the flavours that they never had in their beers before. So yeah, it goes back-and-forth.