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How I Created … Saltaire Triple Chocoholic

Saltaire Triple Chocoholic
by Tony Gartland

When I think back to the first time I sketched out a brew sheet for this beer, I allow myself a wry smile.

Tony Gartland SaltaireThere is no doubt Triple Chocoholic is a mongrel of a brew but it is one that has served us well over the last seven years or so.

It is a fantastic festival beer, winning just about everything that can be won in terms of beer competitions.

When jaded judges face a final round of beers, Triple Chocoholic has sufficient punch to leave a mark on the most exhausted palate.

Triple Chocoholic is a bit like a joke that got badly out of hand but, for better or worse, this beer is now indelibly part of Saltaire Brewery and, although we are sometimes uneasy bedfellows, we have learned to rub along together.

It's a beer that divides opinion, with some people loving the concept and the beer itself, while others see it as faintly heretical.

I started brewing in 2006, having spent six months at Brewlab in Sunderland and the next eighteenth months working with my colleague, Derek Todd, renovating an old Victorian power station and installing a fine twenty-barrel Moeschle brewhouse.

When the time came to push on and make beer, we knew more about construction than brewing, but in this brave new world of brewery start-ups that is not uncommon.

Left Field Brews

I was always interested in the possibility of flavouring beers and in the ‘left field’ brews that turned up in the American homebrewers' books. The only chocolate beer I had tasted was from Floris in Belgium, which was sweet, cloying and sickly, but, from a gift pack I received on Christmas morning 2007, I cracked open a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and was knocked out.

My wife bet me I couldn’t make anything as chocolaty as that. So in those pioneering times, I set to it.

The aim was to go one better than Young’s, hence the name, Triple Chocoholic. I also noticed that Young’s used the subliminal association of the dark blue of Cadbury’s branding, so that drove our own label design.

With our production increasing 30% year on year for the last four years, we work at absolute capacity and brew slots are at a premium.

Balancing the schedule to accommodate our best-selling Saltaire Blonde, beers for bottling and kegging, various seasonals and new beers leaves little space for radical experimentation so this beer always reminds me of more carefree days when an ‘anything goes’ attitude prevailed.

How do we do it? Saltaire takes its water from the Yorkshire Dales. It is soft and perfect to brew with. We acidify and Burtonise the liquor with calcium sulphide and calcium chloride – a standard treatment across all our brews.

We brew twice daily, so the day starts a little before 7am. We do a simple infusion mash, with Triple Chocoholic taking about 650kg of malt. A handover at about 1pm allows the second mash to go in and the first brew to have cleared the copper before the second run-off starts. Brew days finish a bit before 9pm.

The grist is pretty ordinary, with 10% chocolate malt and a good mix of torrefied wheat and malted oats to provide a rich, silky base and good mouthfeel. In hindsight, I would have gone for a higher ABV than 4.8% and, in terms of future development, we often talk about a version with a dessert-beer strength above 7% – time and space allowing.

The beer is bittered with Fuggles and Goldings to 35 IBUs. A good level of bitterness is needed to balance the large amount of unfermentable sugars left from the flavouring additions. This is one of the successes of this beer. That level of bitterness prevents the flavourings making the beer sweet and cloying.

Cacao Nibs

At the end of the boil we add a good charge of Fuggle hops and several kilos of cacao nibs. Although these can occasionally blind the hop filters, they provide a nutty chocolate base flavour.

The house yeast originally came from Thwaites in Blackburn. It has now undergone more than 2,000 generations and its performance is still perfectly acceptable. It produces some nice fruity esters and attenuates quickly.

Saltaire Triple ChocoholicThe yeast is roused from day two through to first stage chill, at which point we add a good measure of Belgian chocolate syrup into the fermenter.

With the unfermentable sugars that remain, the beer now has a pronounced chocolate flavour, deep and rich, and at this point could quite possibly stand on its own merits. However, there is one final twist.

We add a few milligrams of a chocolate essence when racking into cask or filling the transfer tank for beer that goes off for bottling.

This gives it a very full chocolate nose – one of the big features of the beer. It sends a loud and clear message of what is to come and draws people into the total chocolate experience.

Essences hit the nose hard but they have a lesser impact on the palate. The natural malt flavours, the heavy hopping, the sharp bitterness, the cacao nibs and the syrup build a really complex flavour that doesn’t disappoint when the aroma subsides. This always pleases me when I come back to this beer.

Triple Chocoholic has made me many friends, won us a SIBA Supreme Champion Beer title, a gold in the Brewing Industry International Awards and a gold and a silver in CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain contest, and has been recognised all round the world. But, it also has its critics who claim it’s not real beer.

So, if I had my chance again, would I have created this beer? Of course!

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