Brighton Bier are World Beaters, receiving both Gold and Silver at the World Beer Awards. We talk to Head Brewer Gary Sillence about his Fat Boy and Imperial IPA.
It’s not often you get to drink beer with a man who’s creation has just been crowned Best in the World.
But on a muggy Friday evening down at the Brighton Bier Brewery – with the mellow twanging of soft rock in the background and aromas of Japanese gyoza wafting over from the pop-up – Gary Sillence and I cracked open a couple of award winners.
And as we learn, you can try these prize-winning beers for only £3 a can, and soon on draft, direct from the brewery.
Gary, two award-winners at the World Beer Awards! How does it feel? Was it expected?
We never expected it! We haven’t entered anything into awards since, Christ, something like 2017, because small pack beers, prior to Covid, had fallen off the radar and we’d gone 100% into draft since we had our own pubs. We had to go 100% into small pack with the first lockdown, and we thought while we’ve got some we’d put it out there. We’ve got quite a good record at the World Beer Awards – it’s a great event, I’ve been invited to judge there a couple of times. It’s super credible. All the big guys are there, the Belgians, the Germans, so it was a pleasant surprise.
Everyone who’s drunk Fat Boy has loved it, and feedback has been consistently good. And Double Bier has got resonance for us because it’s basically an amped-up version of our original beer that we were known for, and it’s not one we get to brew that often. It allows us to put a lot of alcohol into the beer, which is the most important ingredient. I mean if all beers were 8% they’d taste better, but the world would be a pretty f*ing crazy place. (laughter)
You want to win awards for things that people get to drink. Fat Boy, being a stout, wouldn’t ordinarily fall into that category for us; our mass market beers fall into the more predictable Pale space. With what we’re doing at the brewery, transitioning into the new kit and having a lot more freedom, it can be a destination beer that we can have on the roster permanently. So we can actually make a bit of noise about the recognition, and people can come to the brewery and drink it.
We’ll just have to phone Fat Boy Slim and check he’s not going to hit us up for royalties now that it’s gone mainstream. (laughter)
I’m hearing lots of detail – how about some emotion? How does it feel?
Well we had won a few before… but I don’t want to sound like a knob (laughter). I have to say, when Fat Boy won World’s Best this week – not just UK best – that’s just crazy, that’s a notch up. When we won Golds in the past they were always at domestic level, then you get put through and you’re way out of your league. So that was a pretty mind blowing moment, and it hasn’t really sunk in, because I just found out yesterday when I was working at the tap room. But it’s mega.
So when it sinks in, how are the team going to celebrate?
That’s a good question. All celebrations are on hold until the brewery transition is complete. We are spinning plates, juggling balls, lots of moving pieces until late October. When the paint is dry and the new stainless is in we’ll have a massive behind-closed-doors piss-up for the first time in about 18 months.
Do you get to find out why the judges chose Fat Boy as the World’s Best Milk Stout?
To the best of my knowledge you don’t get any feedback. I’ve had the opportunity to judge at these things; you get presented with a tray of incredible beers, and it’s a really difficult process to discern how one great thing is better than another great thing.
I always come back to balance, and what I love about this beer is that it’s not high on the alcohol and all the flavours are there. The judges wouldn’t have known what the ABV was, and it was probably up against some bigger things. There’s lactose in there, but it’s not dominant. There’s alcohol there, but not dominant. The flavours are all there but they are rounded. For me that, ultimately, in any beer, is the thing. Drinkability and balance for me is everything.
(Dave takes a gulp) I’m getting lots of really rich dark chocolate, coffee notes, but nothing is too bitter, nothing is too much.
It’s a pretty crazy recipe. There are two types of Belgian candy sugar – I could argue the reasons why they are there – but it all just pulls together, we’re hiding a little bit of the booze. Now I’ve sown the seed in your head you’re probably getting that (Gary gives me lots of credit here) but I can definitely reference some of those darker Belgian abbey beers, which will be very heavy on the dark candy sugar in terms of where they are getting their colour from. All of that is against a backdrop of a lot of mid-colour and dark malts, but there are no acrid flavours there. We don’t generally use any of the peaty malts; we tend to favour the dehusked malts from Germany, or chocolate malts, and this is a good example of that.
The more I’m sipping this it’s noticeable just how moreish it is. The lactose is so nicely balanced, its not cloying, and not so little that it’s too bitter.
Yes, and maybe it’s a it of a throwback to original milk stouts that I remember tasting in early 2000 when I was holidaying in the States. I hadn’t really experienced them here, and they weren’t aggressively sweet, whereas it’s easy to overdo it and think well, it’s a milk stout, so I’ll overdo it. It’s just finding that balance. You’re putting milk sugar in there to add sweetness, but I don’t want it to be sickly sweet, so it’s really thinking about what your ABV is going to be.
Yeah, it feels rootsy. Not like you’ve tried to force it in a direction.
That is why I decided to use the Belgian candy sugars in there, it’s almost offsetting. So we’ve got milk sugar delivering non-fermentables delivering sweetness, then we’ve got very fermentable candy sugar, that’s giving us principally alcohol, no residual sugar, but also some nuanced flavours. The dark Belgian candy sugar is just the most beautiful ingredient ever, and something we want to do a lot more with.
Lets move on to the Silver medallist. Take us through what an imperial IPA is.
More booze essentially… (laughter)
So it’s an IPA at heart?
Double IPA for me means more…
So it’s a DIPA then, not an Imperial?
Well ahh no, no, that’s semantics territory… (laughter). I like the expression imperial IPA, because it doesn’t come with such a prescriptive title. When we thought of doing an amped-up version, well what do we do? The easiest thing to do was double it. The underlying recipe for this is our core pale ale; we knew it was a good recipe but you can only go so far with 4% ABV.
Alcohol is the most important ingredient in beer, there’s no getting away from it. It doesn’t necessarily preach to your skills as a brewer, because you don’t even make the alcohol – the yeast does it – but there’s no getting away from it. You cannot make a 3% beer that tastes as good as that same beer at 7%. The description kinda says that. We wanted to see how our signature recipe would work with a dialled-up ABV.
What was really interesting though was how the beer had aged. By the time they were judging these cans, that beer was easily five months old, and in the New England hoppy space there’s a massive obsession with freshness. But this is essentially an old-school double IPA. It’s got a pretty simple ingredients list, we don’t hop during active fermentation, there’s no oats in it, the liquor treatment is sulphate orientated; so mostly it’s about showing through the bitterness.
With 8% alcohol there’s a phenomenal preservative value, and I genuinely think this beer tastes better now than it did when it was fresh. Which is really interesting to me, because it sort of pokes a finger in the eye of the establishment and what we’re supposed to believe. That’s been endorsed by the fact that in a blind tasting people respected it, against what would have been some serious opposition. So that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, you still get the bitterness with this version, but the beer is just more interesting and fills the mouth beautifully. And it’s going down a lot quicker than the milk stout, which at 8% is, well… (Dave indicates he’s feeling it)
That’s what we see here – nobody has just one, and they always get a can of Double to go. It almost has an old-school Anchor, Foghorn barley wine character to it that I really like. This, out of a proper whisky-type glass, is really nice, and it’s another beer that fits really well with our business model going forward, of being able to offer this to people regularly. I expect Double Beer or Imperial Freshman will be available at the taproom nine times out of ten.
With so many brewers out there in the craft beer market – locally, regionally, nationally, internationally – how important is it to be winning awards and getting that level of acclaim? Does it make a difference?
It’s a really good question. Historically we found it difficult to leverage the awards – that’s a terrible business word there (laughter) – but I think it’s more important from a creative perspective, it gives you a sense of vindication. When you work in the creative space you’re forever doubting yourself, whether you’re a musician, an artist, a brewer or a chef. I really like that the competition is a blind testing, because you take all the branding out of it.
And the hype…
…all the hype and all the fuss is gone. It’s just a generic glass of beer on a table being tasted by people who know what they are tasting. I think that’s why it’s important to me. You have to pay for the privilege of entering, so there are plenty of excuses not to; and maybe going forward we need to market our successes better.
I find it creatively very rewarding and self-affirming, which is good after the sea of doubt that was the last 18 months.
So finally, we note that right now cans are a massive bargain at only £3. How long is this for?
It’s a bit of a sell-down really. We’re transitioning the brewery over the end of September and through October. We’ve got kick-ass new brewing equipment coming over from the States so we need to clear space to re-skim the floor, and the fewer pallets around the better. The new kit is much higher spec but a lot smaller brew length, and a lot more fermenters, so essentially we can be more creative, brew a wider range of beers, and much wider ABV.
We’ll have a full ten line bar on site. Half the building will be dedicated to the taproom from Thursday to Sunday; it’ll be a full-on production space for rest of the week.
It should be a very cool space. I mean we’re siting in a car park essentially, but if there’s a cooler car park in Brighton I’d like to know where it is. (laughter)
So people can plan their Christmas parties at the brewery then?
Absolutely, we can take bookings online, it’s going to be nice and intimate with capacity for about 45–50 people inside, seated with table service. On sunny days over winter we’ll have the forecourt open so we could be maxing out at 120 people. It’ll be a good vibe.
Not bad for a car park…
Best car park in town my man. (laughter)