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“This is the only time you’ll ever see a brewer in a white coat,” says Crown’s head brewer Tully Hadley as he dons one for the 2012 Crown Ambassador blending session. “When the cameras are present.”
He may have a point. The last time The Crafty Pint saw a brewer in a lab coat was at Thunder Road when we joined the Brunswick brewers for the first brew on their mini-brewery – the Shamrock Dark Lager – when, again, there were cameras present. Mind you, on that occasion only the head brewer was attired that way; at CUB’s headquarters everyone in attendance was soon rekindling memories of school chemistry labs – and not just because we were all in white.
On the tables in the Brewery Development Unit were glass beakers and measuring cylinders, while in crates behind Tully were various large bottles filled with the two elements of this year’s Ambassador vintage – the unadulterated and the oak-aged. The only things missing were safety glasses, a bunsen burner or two and the kid at the back setting off small explosions.
For the most part, the setting was more than mere frippery. The aim was to bring in people from the beer, wine, restaurant and media worlds to sample the two versions of the beer and blend different proportions to help Tully establish the percentages of each that will go into the beer that is due for release in November, a beer that is the one product that comes out of the Abbotsford factory that one could call craft. It may have the same parentage of many beers that make craft beer drinkers shudder at the mere mention of their name and benefit from the huge marketing might of one of the world’s largest brewing companies, but it’s still a 10 per cent (ish) lager of high quality brewed in a small batch by brewers who handpick the hops that go into the brew, which spends months conditioning prior to release and features a percentage aged in French oak barrels from Dargaud & JaeglÃ©.
The lab session itself involved the participants sampling the oaked and unoaked versions separately before launching into their individual blending exercises. The unoaked version seemed more delicate than any previous release and certainly had captured more of the hop character the brewers have claimed for the beer in the past: some resiny green hop character plus some distinct orange and citrus aromas. The oak-aged, after a lengthy four months in the barrels, was firmly smokey, like a liqueur Tokay.
The majority appeared to favour 10 per cent or less of the oaked beer; certainly a lower level of oaked beer would seem necessary to preserve the character derived from the Galaxy hops. That said, when we accidentally mixed up Beaker A (unoaked) with Beaker B (oaked) and did a heavily smoked blend, there was much to be said for a smaller, accompanying release of a smokier blend. After lunch – and a few hours steadily sipping previous vintages (although not 2010’s release) – Tully appeared to be giving such an idea serious consideration as a dessert beer.
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