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How I Created … Brains Atlantic White

Brains Atlantic White, 6%
by Bill Dobson

I joined SA Brain as head brewer in February 2007.

Bill Dobson BrainsAt the time, Brains had just launched two new beers: SA Gold, a golden ale available in cask and bottle, and Brains 45, a continental-style keg beer.

SA Gold was a significant move by Brains to fill a gap in its ale portfolio, to feature beside existing brands Bitter, SA, Dark and Reverend James.

Maybe Brains 45 was ahead of its time. Launched today, it would probably sit comfortably as a craft beer (subject to your definition, of course!), but at the time was pitched up against a growing lager portfolio and sadly is no more.

Eight years ago, the opportunity to produce a new beer didn’t come along too often and, therefore, new beers in my first years with Brains were restricted to a few one-offs and seasonals.

These included a beer to celebrate the company's 125th anniversary and Milkwood, a beer brewed with oats and rye malt that quickly highlighted to me the difficulties of innovation and new product development in a brewhouse where the minimum brewlength is 150 barrels.

A brewer is naturally cautious when faced with such a potentially wasteful and costly failure.

My frustration at not being able to compete with variety and innovation from smaller brewers was shared by our brewing, sales and marketing teams and, as a result, in 2011 Brains decided to invest in a smaller production facility.

A 10–15 barrel plant would be installed at the Crawshay Street site in Cardiff and much of the latter half of the year was spent finalising designs and ordering equipment.

First Brew

The first brew was produced in May 2012, with one of the first beers – and arguably our most successful to date – Barry Island IPA. More than eighty new beers have now been produced on the plant, with styles ranging from simple single-hop ales to bacon and chocolate porters.

Brains Atlantic WhiteSo why feature Atlantic White? Well, for a number of reasons, it sums up what we aimed to achieve in our new brewery.
The inspiration for the beer came from a visit to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2012.

There probably is no better event at which to research potential new beers and, alongside the myriad of American pale ales and IPAs, I discovered a style of beer described as a white IPA – a fusion between a Belgian wit and an IPA.

Having sampled a few, I found them to range from the mouth-puckeringly sour to a typical American high-IBU hop bomb. They were certainly not all to my taste, but the best I found to be very drinkable, refreshing and, above all, different.

Back in the UK, I was keen to create my own white IPA. I wanted to keep all the core elements of a Belgian wit so I selected a grist containing 70% lager malt and 30% wheat malt and planned to add coriander seeds and curaçao orange peel at the end of the boil.

Summit, Cascade and Simcoe hops would be added late to the copper and dry hopped into the fermenting vessel, with the aim of providing additional citrus character whilst adding a bitterness which would prevent the beer being sweet and cloying – a characteristic of some wit beers that I find makes them not very drinkable.

Finally, the key ingredient was to be the yeast. This is another reason why I choose to talk about this beer as it was the first time we had looked to use a yeast other than our own house yeasts or dried yeasts.

Some of the white IPA beers tasted in the States clearly had not used an authentic Belgian wit yeast and, as a result, whilst very nice beers, were nothing more than hoppy wheat ales. After a bit of research, we found the most readily available supply of yeast came in small vials or pouches of wet yeast from home brew shops.

The challenge was to have enough to pitch for a 10-barrel fermentation. A quick calculation based on the recommended pitching quantities indicated that several hundred would be required!

Finding a Solution

After a bit of thought, head scratching, and a beer or two to stimulate the brain cells, the solution was found in a corner of the brewery. By utilising the lab stage of our yeast propagation equipment, we could look to grow up enough yeast to pitch the brew.

Brains Atlantic WhiteWe pitched two vials of White Labs WLP400 yeast into two 20-litre Cornelius vessels of sterile wort, oxygenating for twelve hours and then allowing the yeast to grow for three or four days.

We pitched the resultant yeast into our white IPA wort and waited patiently, with fingers crossed.

Twenty-four hours into the fermentation, looking into the top of the fermentation vessel was like staring into a millpond but, later that day, there was evidence of small bubbles rising from within.

I resisted the temptation of giving it a pump rouse and left it another twenty-four hours. I returned expectantly the following morning to find a lovely fluffy white head of yeast and all the signs of a healthy fermentation kicking in.

A week later, the beer had fully attenuated and, after a short period in maturation tank, we racked it into casks, also filling a small amount into bottles and kegs without filtration.

I was really pleased with the beer in cask, and it received positive feedback from our pubs, but it was the carbonated beer in keg and bottle that I preferred as it better suits the beer style.

The beer is now permanently available in bottles and features regularly amongst our craft brewery beers in keg.

And the final reason for choosing to feature this beer? Well, quite simply, it's one of my favourites!

Check out  Brains and Brains Craft Brewery to discover the latest beers from Bill and his team.

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