At some point in the middle of the last month, probably during a week when there were midterm exams, I was surprised by an email about the Ontario IPA Challenge. I knew it was coming up, but usually Volo sort of organizes their events independently and it seemed a little too early in the process for them to be sending an email to me, even as a save the date sort of thing for the judging. I was part of the panel of judges last year for the event, so I figured that’s probably what it was and assumed that I didn’t need to look at it immediately and went back to pretending to learn more about centrifugal pumps and turbulent flow than I was actually managing to do.
As it turns out, I was actually being invited to compete independently in the Ontario IPA Challenge as a brewer. This was not, as you may assume, a situation for that called for unalloyed joy. There are a lot of things to take in to account in a situation like this one:
First of all, I’m not really a brewer. I’m a beer writer who’s a bit of a dilettante brewer on the side, sometimes, when I have a good idea and I’m pretty sure I can make a drinkable beer out of it. I’ve done two semesters of brewing school at Niagara College (initially pretty dashed well and then subsequently less well as I realized that taking on writing a book and 20 hours of commuting a week were mutually exclusive goals that only a madman would actually attempt. I mean, sometimes I require sleep.) and I’ve got about five collaborative brews under my belt.
Secondly, sometimes my beer actually turns out alright. Usually, when this happens I give credit to whomever I’m brewing with, whether it’s Paul Dickey or Mike Lackey or Jason Tremblay or Jon Hodd. The fact that not one of them has been a complete stinker is testament to the talent of these guys who are kind enough to let me borrow their brewing systems and make sure I don’t do anything really stupid. Probably, though, I can afford by now to take a little bit of credit for one thing: my beers have not actually killed anyone. Sometimes people even like them.
Thirdly, there is just no way that I was ever going to win the Ontario IPA Challenge. I was relatively sure that if I could get time on a system somewhere in Toronto and actually manage to brew a beer, it would probably end up being palatable. It might even make it to the second round, depending on the way the first leg of the contest was drawn up. Beyond that, probably not so much, especially since Mike Lackey continues in his seemingly endless path of IPA dominance.
Mike Lackey, as you’ll recall from previous years at the IPA challenge, has a reputation approximately the size of mechagodzilla. He had the top two beers in 2010. Karma Citra won last year, but I’m relatively sure that it crushed the competition by a wide margin and made grown people weep with its beauty. No one felt bad about losing to that beer. I’ve had that beer on tap since then, and honestly, I cannot envision a situation in which anyone will ever beat Mike Lackey in this challenge again unless he takes some ludicrous risks. Possibly, if someone shaves his beard, he will, like Samson, lose his powers.
It’s for that reason that I decided to just relax and have fun with the thing. Since I usually find a concept for a beer that I like and work backwards from that, I thought that it would be fun to work the other way, and I was obliged by my fellow Niagara College student Austin Roach. Austin is from an engineering background and a pretty analytical guy. I like working with him because we’re from more or less the same place geographically (East York) and we have a pretty similar sense of humour (huge nerds). When we talked about the recipe for the thing, he had just a bunch of ideas he wanted to try and I agreed with all of them.
For instance, you can’t win the Ontario IPA challenge by emulating the West Coast IPA style anymore. Great Lakes has that covered. What you could do is emulate the water in Chico, California. We like the hop presence of Sierra Nevada beers and suspect it has something to do with the water profile. He wanted to play with the myrcene and humulene that would come out during the boil in various different types of hops. Those are both hop oils. My favorite hop oil is Linalool because it sounds like something you’d name a Fairy Princess.
What? It does.
We have used a pretty odd assortment of hops in our entry for the Ontario IPA Challenge, including a couple that were completely off my radar for this kind of thing. I think the only one I’ve used before is Galaxy, which made an appearance in the Gin and Juice beer I did at Volo last month. We’ve got some Galena and First Gold and Bullion in there as well. We have not done a test batch. We are making it up as we go along, footloose and fancy free. This is really about playing with the way these hops express their character, rather than some esoteric conceit that I’ve come up with. (I know! Let’s make a welsh mild that utilizes Peruvian maca root espresso and then find some tenuous connection between Wales and the Andes. I’ve got it! Double “L”. Llama Milld. Brilliant!)
Paul Dickey receives our thanks for letting us brew on his system at Black Oak. He’s a most gracious host, and I’ve only had to write a Standard Operating Procedure for his pilot system in exchange for the time. That’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me.
We’re referring to the collaboration as St. Roach. It will be available at the 4th annual Ontario Cask IPA Challenge. All I can promise you is that we enjoyed making it and that it should be substantially different than the other entries while still falling within the BJCP American IPA definition.
Also, expect to see St.John’s Wort Llama Milld on tap somewhere just as soon as I can convince someone that a Peruvian maca root espresso Welsh Mild is a good idea.