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How I Created … Sharp's Quadrupel Ale

by Stuart Howe

In terms of competitions, Quadrupel Ale has been my most successful beer. Its development is also the most convoluted and interesting of all my brews.

Stuart Howe, Sharp'sI brewed a beer called Massive Ale on my days off from 2006–2010 and we sold it exclusively through the brewery shop.

Always sold before it hit the fixture, this beer went through the kind of evolution that any small batch beer brewed for fun always goes through and, by 2010, I was confident I had a commercially successful beer. 

Right to the point where it was going to be bottled, what is now Quadrupel Ale was called Massive Ale. Before getting the labels designed, we checked (as all brewers are required to do) with the Portman Group that the labelling was okay. To my amazement, Massive Ale is not acceptable.

Apparently, the word 'massive' would lead people to buy the beer on the basis of strength. I think this shows a pretty jaundiced view of beer. All I care about is flavour: strength is irrelevant.  

I’ve never been a proponent of having styles of beer defining what can and can’t be brewed. If someone tells me that my take on a particular beer isn’t true to style I take this as a compliment.

Tribute Band

As a brewer, you are never going to make better beer by brewing the same beer as everyone else. By making a clone of your favourite beer, you are doing the brewing world’s equivalent of forming a tribute band.

Stairway to Heaven isn’t quite as good when played by a 50-year-old bin man in a wig through a pub PA. I always set out to subvert styles, or at least tease out the elements of a style that I think will appeal to the most discerning palates.

In Quadrupel (Massive), I wanted to make a beer which bridged the North Sea gulf between the Trappist quad and the English barley wine.

The Belgian is a deceptive brew, using every trick in the brewing book to hide its strength. It’s fruity and fragrant with a dryish finish.

The English beer is brashly proud of its strength – rich, full, sweet and unctuous, balanced only with a generous bitterness. Barley wines were always designed for sipping.

My Quadrupel was designed to be the best of both styles – complex and elegant with a brewing process to match.
The grist was made up of four grains – pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt and roasted barley – with sucrose to guard against over-fullness and to give some alcoholic notes.

English, Slovenian and German hops were used in the brewhouse, with more than generous amounts of the US superstar Simcoe as a dry hop during the second cellar-conditioning phase. I think Simcoe works really well with roast and caramel notes.

Four by Four

Four yeasts were used – a saison, two types of English ale and a Belgian Trappist – all adding their own accent to the beer and there were four fermentations, lasting a total of eight months: open – for the first step, to try to achieve a steady rather than a run-away fermentation which would crash; closed – to build CO2 for maturation and to hold in the fruit from the saison yeast; then under top pressure and, finally, in the bottle.

It was conditioned with and without dry hops and at varying yeast concentrations.

Sharp's Quadrupel AleThe use of four of each ingredient (apart from water of course) was not a gimmick to tie in with the name Quadrupel. Because the beer was supposed to be called Massive Ale, I didn’t realise I had done this until someone pointed it out (cue Twilight Zone music).

The fermentation process did not start well. The Trappist yeast did not take kindly to the high proportion of sucrose in the wort sugar spectrum and stopped dead at 5% ABV. It was then Sharp’s yeast to the rescue.

Sharp’s yeast is bit of a beast and likes nothing more than fermenting strong wort but even she was defeated at 8.6% ABV. I then transferred the beer to another vessel and used the saison yeast to complete the attenuation. I usually expect a 10% ABV fermentation to be complete in seven days but Quadrupel took four weeks.

I wasn’t absolutely happy with how the beer was after fermentation and I was ready to send it to the pigs. It only avoided this fate thanks to the instance of my second brewer at the time, Alex Bell, who had spent the preceding five years brewing Hardy’s Ale.

I do get 'emotional' about beer when it isn’t what I had planned. As I was punching and head-butting the tank, Alex sampled the beer and really liked it. I thought it was over sweet and, in my brew rage, not salvageable but I bowed to Alex’s superior knowledge of barley wines and stuck with it.

After it had been on the dry hops for two weeks, I realised just how great a beer this was destined to be. Thanks Alex!

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