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How I Created … Marble Earl Grey IPA

Marble Earl Grey IPA, 6.8%
by Matthew Howgate

The idea for Earl Grey was born in 2012 after a visit to Belgium and a chat with Brouwerij Emilisse head brewer Kees Bubberman in the crucible of all good discussion – the beer festival. The similarities between Earl Grey tea and citrus fruit hops were floated and the inspiration for a great collaboration beer was born.

Marble Matthew HowgateAt Marble, we have a long history of pale, hop-forward beers so it felt natural to create something similar but really special.

The result was a big, Marble-standard, hoppy IPA packed with fresh, fruity hops and with the addition of something a little different – a few kilos of Earl Grey tea-leaves.

Sourcing the tea proved slightly more difficult than coming up with the concept until – after dismissing the idea of buying several thousand individual tea bags – we discovered our supplier to this day, Powell’s, based in Manchester.

Just as with our hops or malt, we didn’t want to skimp on tea quality. Powell’s product is top drawer and gives some absolutely brilliant notes of bergamot and citrus to the beer.

Our aim with Earl Grey was to create a beer that would perfectly complement the flavours and aromas we’d be getting out of the tea-leaves themselves and keep things big and bold.

We knew we needed enough sweetness to offset the tannin character of the tea so we used both crystal and caramalt to give a well-rounded malt base and a deep golden colour.

Fermentation Controls

This year, we’ve had a new temperature-control system installed for our fermenters and conditioning tanks. It helps us keep an eye on our fermentations and we can manage the progress of our beers really well.

For Earl Grey, this lets us keep back enough sugars at the end of fermentation to both add a little bit of residual sweetness to the final beer and give a really good condition to both our cask- and bottle-conditioned versions.

For hops, to run alongside the citrus fruit from the tea and to give our beer that punch that we want from all our IPAs, we went with the definitive US citrus hop, Citra.

A smaller addition of Goldings provided a little traditional character and kept things decidedly English. Just like England’s historic love of tea, our Earl Grey is a beautiful fusion of new and old worlds.

We dry hopped our beer in fermenter with more Citra, but using pellets this time. These have more surface area than whole-leaf hops and infused the beer with even more flavour. This was also the time when we added the crucial ingredient – our tea – using the only way we Northerners know how: a giant teabag.

The tea (5 kg of it!) was left to steep in the beer. No heat was applied so all the delicate aromas were preserved through to the final product. The beer and the tea were then transferred to a tank where it was cold conditioned at around 0°C to let the beer mature and the flavours develop. In total, the tea infused for about ten days.

Part of Core Range

We started producing Earl Grey a couple of times a year and it absolutely flew out of the brewery. It was not uncommon for casks of it to run out in a single night. Many of the regulars of our pubs couldn’t get enough of it and the bottles were just as popular.

Marble Earl GreyIt was only natural then that, around the middle of 2013, we made Earl Grey part of our core range of regular products. We dropped the original 750-ml bottles to fit in with the rest of our newly-branded bottles.

Since then we’ve continued to tweak and improve the recipe to keep Earl Grey as one of Marble’s iconic products.

Over time, we’ve only made minor changes to the hops or malt as the original recipe has been one that we’ve been very happy with. But one of the biggest steps forward has been the introduction of Earl Grey into kegs.

We’ve recently started using 30-litre PET Dolium kegs (another great thing to come out of Belgium) for a few of our bigger, more premium products and Earl Grey was an obvious choice.

The more vigorous condition of the beer in keg really helps Earl Grey’s already quaffable character and gives a subtly different aroma from cask – you can really taste the bergamot from the tea. A few too many hangovers show how easy drinking Earl Grey can be for its strength.

Every time someone first tastes the beer, they are blown away by it. The tea adds something familiar and yet a little bit out of the box, which, combined with a solid, drinkable IPA behind, makes it a real winner.

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