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The journey made by strong, hoppy pale ales from British breweries to the mouths of colonials in the British Empire in India is the most famous in beer’s long and colourful history. Not just because it showed the great lengths to which the Brits would go to keep their people merry but because the beer style that it spawned – the India Pale Ale or IPA – has, in recent times, become one of the major drivers behind the growth of craft beer and brewers’ and drinkers’ love of hops. It’s a journey that is being recreated by a Tasmanian brewer, who last week loaded two 100 litre casks filled with beer onto the Spirit of Tasmania II in which they will travel back and forth across the Bass Strait 24 times to recreate the 10,000km journey via the Suez Canal that some of the original IPAs would have traveled.
Willie Simpson, beer writer and brewer at Seven Sheds in Railton, came up with the idea after deciding to mark this year’s hop harvest with an IPA.
“We always do something when we pick the hops grown at the brewery and this year Evan, my assistant brewer, suggested we made an IPA using all the Leggett* hops to see what we get out of them,” says Willie. “We picked the whole row and ended up with 14kg of wet hops that, after I’d dried them in my oast shed, gave us 4.5kg. We used Millennium as the main bittering hop then four additions through the rest of the brew – three late in the kettle and one in the hopback.
“I pick up a sprucey, pine needle character in the beer, while Evan gets a real pineapple character. After brewing we thought about dry-hopping it but after tasting it I thought it was beautifully balanced with the high alcohol [6.8 per cent] and decided against it.”
Getting to that point was the easy part. Getting the beer ready for its sea journey has been rather more involved.
The casks Willie had obtained from Lark Distillery had previously been used for two other beers so had to be prepared with sulphur first. Once ready and filled, some beer soaked into the wood and some leaked so topping up was required. Then, due to concerns about the casks becoming airborne as they travelled across rough seas, Willie decided that they should be mounted on a pallet securely, so he brought in a handyman to construct a cradle with a yoke on top.
On top of that, they decided that the bungs in the casks should be strapped into place, while the whole caboodle – casks, pallet and cradle – has been wrapped several times in plastic to keep it away from inquisitive souls. Even that doesn’t even take into account the time spent negotiating with the ferry’s operators to convince them it was a really good idea to carry some experimental beer back and forth the Bass Strait for a month…
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