The newly developed Melba hop will make its debut in Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2015, production of which will be constrained to its lowest level in years.
Coopers brewing manager Jon Meneses told Australian Brews News that Melba, sourced from Ellerslie Hop Estate in Victoria, will be one of three upstream hop additions in this year’s vintage.
Also in the whirlpool will be Vic Secret and Ella, sourced from Hop Products Australia in Tasmania, with Styrian Golding returning as the sole dry hop addition, having alternated with Cascade for the last few vintages.
The hop bill was decided in an annual selection process Meneses dubs ‘Hop Idol’, also attended by technical manager Simon Fahey and operations manager Nick Sterenberg.
“We look at what’s available and try to come up with a combination that is going to be suitable for a particular year,” Meneses said.
“We do dry hopping trials where we put a couple of grams of hops in a bottle of beer and let it ferment. We taste each individual bottle and see how the characteristics of the hops come through in terms of flavour and aroma.
“From then on we’ll take a vote and see which we think are the best three or four hops that are appropriate.”
The trio said they are very excited by the inclusion of Melba, which will contribute tropical, stone and citrus fruit characteristics.
“We’re always trying to better last year’s vintage and 2016 will hopefully surpass 2015,” Fahey said.
Stepping up in bitterness
For vintage 2015, Meneses said the team is aiming for similar bitterness to last year, which came in at a lofty 45 IBUs, the highest ever.
“We thought it was very well balanced and the bitterness was well integrated,” he said.
Sterenberg said the team has learnt over time that bitterness plays an important role in ensuring longevity.
“Unless you start at what would be argued to be a very high level, in two years time you’ve got something that’s unbalanced with no bitterness in it,” he said.
“When Coopers started vintage in 1998, I don’t know if there were many beers around at that point in time that were intended to be beers you could age, that was almost a new concept then,” he said.
“After 15 goes, we are beginning to understand what it takes to make a beer that lasts a long time.”
Two takes at perfection
This year Vintage Ale will be produced in two separate batches, each consisting of two brews.
The batch one brews happened last week and have now been packaged. There may be subtle differences in the second batch, scheduled for production in July, should the brewing team choose to tweak the recipe slightly.
“Every year vintage is a new experience because we’re changing the hops,” Meneses said.
“Although we do small scale trials to predict what the hops taste like, if when we taste it at the end of fermentation we’re not 100 per cent happy, we can make slight tweaks to the next brew coming along.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a pilot brewing plant, so we just rely on gut feel. And I think so far as brewers, we’ve done a reasonable job,” he said.
Scarcest vintage in years
Sterenberg said Coopers typically produces 25,000 cartons of each vintage, although production has reached as high as 31,000 cartons, which he said was “too much”.
“We might be making 22,000 this year. If it’s available all the time then it’s not quite so special. This year’s vintage hopefully goes like snow in summer!”