The Session #41: Craft Beers Inspired by Homebrewing

Let's say you're a professional brewer. That you wake up, day in, day out, rain or shine, feeling shit or feeling great, and you go brew. You load hoppers, stir mash, control run-off, fire coppers, transfer and rack and clean, clean, clean, clean. Then you drag your bones home. Why the hell would you want to homebrew when you get back?

For the love of beer. For the passion that inspired you to become a pro-brewer. For the kick that experimentation gives. For the unalloyed joy that resides in a small-batch beast that was crafted on the kitchen table/ in the garage. And because, one day, that homebrew recipe may travel to work with you and get ramped up beyond your wildest expectations.

So here's the tale of a homebrew that the homebrewer never tasted but went on to become a cult beer after the recipe travelled half way around the world. Back in his native New Zealand, James Kemp was an award-winning homebrewer who specialised in heavyweight brews. Before he moved to the UK, his Dad asked him to brew a stout. Which, even though James can knock up an impy as good as the rest of them, he wasn't too keen on doing. So instead he devised a dark beer which, in his own words, he'd "hop the wahoo out of it"!

How did it turn out? Well, James only ever got a taster out of the fermenter before he left for England. But the joy of joining a progressive brewery like Thornbridge meant that the recipe was soon to be unleashed commercially. Perhaps it helps that the Thornbridge brewery manager is a fellow Kiwi. Perhaps it helps that Thornbridge aren't afraid of using huge clods of Nelson Sauvin, the hop that formed the backbone to the original homebrew. Anyhoo, that recipe was ramped up with additions of Centennial and Sorachi Ace and became Thornbridge's first black 'IPA'; Raven.

It's neither the time nor place for me to start unfurling my anti-black-IPA argument. Suffice to say, this beer starts awesomely and gets better from thereon in. Like citric chocolate; the deepest flavoured ganache with a tropical twang. And it's here because a homebrewer had the balls to say; this beer ought to be commercial. To have faith in a beer you never got to taste; for your colleagues to have that faith in you and let you brew it. Not too shabby :-)

So, award-winning homebrewer turns recipe into style-defying classic. What does he do for an encore? Well, he keeps brewing - at home as well on the 'big kit'. Because homebrewers don't stop being homebrewers just because they turn pro. Here's the experimentation, the craftsmanship. That's why James in insatiable on a homebrew kit - a wee heavy with a Trappist yeast, a smoked imperial oatmeal stout. That's where the next barnstorming Thornbridge beer may come from. And for that reason, I'm eternally grateful that some commercial brewers never stop homebrewing.