Scott Wilson-Browne continues to surprise and delight craft beer fans with his prolific output of unconventional and extreme, some may say exaggerated, beers from his Red Duck brewery.
A year after moving to his new brewery on the outskirts of Ballarat in Victoria, the adventurous brewer continues to produce a reputable core range of traditional to-style beers while regularly releasing crafty experiments in extreme brewing.
One such recent release is Hop Bach, a collaboration with Danish brewer Anders Kissmeyer, a former Carlsberg brewmaster and co-founder of Norrebrø Bryghus, who recently established his own company, Kissmeyer Beer & Brewing. Anders joined Scott at Red Duck during March this year to brew three beers together, which were released earlier this month: Hop Back, Rebellion Strong Pale Ale and a Belgian Lambic Golden Ale called Gnaume.
Hop Bach is a double IPA with a hefty 9.8% alcohol by volume. This big beer incorporates the use of 25 different (and undeclared) hops. Two of the hops were used for bittering and the rest were used to create a smacking big hop aroma and flavour, then all 25 hops were used to later dry hop the beer.
Elegantly bottled in 750ml bottles and sealed by green wax and a flip-top lid, only 650 are available. This very limited beer has been sold through the Red Duck cellar door, specialist craft beer shops and beer-centric restaurants. By the time this article is published I expect that all will be sold and any remaining bottles will be very hard to track down, such is the current popularity of collaboration brews and highly hopped imperial ales.
Hop Bach pours a deep copper-orange colour with a very cloudy appearance and a small and creamy white head. Expecting a robust and sharp aroma from such a big hoppy beer, it is surprisingly soft of the nose. The earthy characteristics of American and English hops dominate, suggesting at least Centennial, Cascade and Chinook, possibly even Fuggles, have been thrown into Hop Back. The aroma develops into a basket full of tropical fruits and there’s even elements of a pungent cheese.
As soon as this beer hits your mouth, the multitudes of hops become very evident as layers of flavours wash over the tongue. The hops do work in symphony, which is no accident, as the beer’s label explains:
“There are more hops that we could have used, but for this bitter sweet harmony, we carefully picked as many as worked together.”
The hops are big but the malt profile is just as weighty. The taste is deeply complex, dominated by those aroma-present tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, as well as oranges and some lemongrass on top of a little caramel sweetness. Each ship offers something different to taste, granted by the number of components that make up this beer.
Hop Bach is a soft and smooth drinking experience that belies its specifications. It maintains the drinkability of a regular IPA, unlike many high alcohol and extreme beers that evoke the experience of spirits or a fortified wine. This is achieved through a full and well rounded malt body providing a silky mouthfeel that does not suffer from becoming syrupy or sticky. The 10% alcohol has also been masterfully cloaked, leaving a warming impact without any hint of burn on the nose or throat.
In comparison to the Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, which many Aussie craft beer fans will be familiar with the since it arrived on our shores earlier this year, Hop Bach is much more gentle and easy to savour. It doesn’t smack you in the face with hops and alcohol but lingers long and hoppy without being overly bitter.
Hop Bach has divided the beer nerds who have rated and reviewed this beer online and through social media. Some find pure delight in its richness whilst others believe the beer is not well balanced and its complexity is misshapen. Such a description from those detractors fits perfectly with the beer’s name sake, Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer associated with a period of music and art that is categorised by a word meaning “rough or imperfect pearl”.
Just like music of the baroque composers, for which Bach remains the most famous proponent, this beer will be for drinkers of a certain taste. It is a brewing symphony that may not make sense in parts and may seem out-of-tune to unfamiliar palates, while also a compositional delight to fans of the style.
Currently, Scott is in California discovering the latest American craft beers as well as collaborating on a gooseberry Gose brew with the Marin Brewing Company (the Larkspur based offshoot of Moylan’s Brewery). Unfortunately, it is unlikely the packaged Gose will reach Australia, with Scott hoping that at least a keg will be sent down under.
For 2013, Scott has declared an ambitious target to compose and commercially release 50 new beers. Whether his new beers come from the classical, baroque or romantic era is currently unknown, but it is certain that this good beer symphony is far from finished.