IT’S amazing how much, and how quickly, tastes can evolve. From food to fashion, to literature, to music – what was disregarded might be loved and vice versa.
Just ask architect Owen Luder. His Brutalist architectural creations such as the Trinity Square car park and the Dunston Rocket, heralding the North East’s new age, have been ripped down in recent years; his life’s legacy a heap of dust. On a much smaller scale, I used to think I was the height of fashion in a shell suit.
It’s not just generational; personal tastes can change too. Appreciation of olives is meant to be a mark of sophistication, but I don’t know how true that is; after all, I like them (perhaps I’m the exception that proves the rule). Yet I remember badgering my mum for a jar when I was 10. My dad had to finish them in the end.
Beer is a classic example. The tradition of pretending you liked your first few bitter sips is a rite of passage, until the magical day you realise you actually like it.
Even then, hop bitterness takes a while to master. I remember my brother laughing as I struggled with the bitterness of a pint of Young’s Triple A – which seems mild now.
More and more these days, tastes have actually moved to more hops, more bitterness; milds are out and hopheads rule. Breweries such as Brewdog, Magic Rock and Summer Wine, as well as American independent brewers, push the boundaries further, needing bigger hop hits. But the latest offering from Tilleys Bar, part of the Head of Steam Group, on Westgate Road, will put that to the test this weekend.
To mark the achievement of stocking 150 types of bottled beer, manager Graham Frost and assistant manager Anthony Ellis have collaborated with four North East breweries to brew something special – four 150IBU beers.
International Bittering Units is the standard by which hops’ alpha acids, the bitterness, is measured. To put it in context, a standard bitter might be about 35, while an IPA could be about 60. Some breweries have pushed it beyond 1,000IBU but they are the exceptions – and after a certain point our tastebuds can’t register extra bitterness anyway.
Graham chose breweries who had tester kits to produce, in some cases, just one cask, and went for Tyne Bank in Ouseburn, Brew Lab in Sunderland, Anarchy in Morpeth, and Allendale Brewery. It’s new territory for the breweries, and provided a challenge of how to accommodate the big-hitting bitterness. Sometimes, a beer’s bitterness can be masked with malt, but at 150IBU, it would be like trying to hide the Tyne Bridge behind a shrub, so the only way forward is to showcase it, embracing the bitterness.
Some have gone for an American style paler beer, while others have produced a stout.
More used to teaching brewery students, the challenge was a welcome project for Brew Lab.
“Not many people ask for 150IBU,” says training manager Arthur Bryant, who modified Brew Lab’s Darwin Brewery Galapagos Stout (5.8%). “To do a little project like this is quite nice. We normally brew Galapagos Stout at 40IBU. It just means we’ve had to add an awful lot of hops!”
Ten times the Magnum hops, to be precise; 200g in a 42l cask.
But Arthur disagrees that beers are becoming more bitter. “Tastes are not moving to more bittering hops. A lot is moving towards hop character; bitterness has crept up a little but it’s moved to different varieties and mixtures,” he says.
“I’ve had bitter beers before at 200-300IBU and we were all for it,” says Rick Lee, assistant brewer at Allendale. “It’s probably twice as bitter as the beers we normally brew. But it’s surprisingly drinkable. I like a lot of bitterness but I thought it would be a sipper, but it’s very drinkable with a massive lingering flavour.”
Called Tilleys 150 (6%), it might be described as an American dark amber, and there’s a cask and 48 bottles – surely collectors’ items, which Rick recommends will smooth out nicely in six months. The brewers added American high alpha acid Simcoe hops halfway through the boil for its pine resin flavour, then later on Cascade, more for aroma. Towards the end, they added Australian Galaxy hops for a passionfruit aroma.
“We looked at upscaling it, but we don’t think we can afford to buy the hops!” adds Rick.
Graham and Anthony were there for the brew day, as well as at Anarchy, who are so pleased with how their cask has turned out that they might be looking to do a full brew. Meanwhile, Tyne Bank have gone with a different take and Graham says they might be providing some maple syrup with the beer – an exciting idea similar to the flavoured syrups served with sour Berliner Weisse beers.
“We’re dead excited and hoping it all goes smoothly,” says Graham. “It’s just extreme. People want a little bit more, and something different going to the pub, and it’s harder bringing people in and giving them what they want. I hope we get a lot of people coming to Tilleys.”
The beers hit the bar tomorrow. A perfect day out for tickers, hopheads and curious cats, it will be fascinating to see the breweries’ different takes on the challenge – and whether tastes have changed and drinkers take it in their stride.
And by the way, the shell suit I used to wear? It was purple, green and cream, thanks for asking. Perhaps taste, or lack of it, isn’t always subjective.
THE SEVEN Stars on Main Street in Ponteland was judged to serve the best beer in the 1,300-strong Star Pubs and Bars pub group. Paul Gibbs came out of retirement to reopen the pub in August last year investing £25,000 to give it a new lease of life, having managed the pub years ago.
Paul received the coveted award at a gala celebration night from Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling. Paul said: “I’m chuffed to bits. It’s nice to have our hard work rewarded especially when there were over 1,300 pubs competing against us.”