I've been working in the Brew By Numbers Taproom for two years now. It's not like most bar jobs, and I've seen a fair few. One of its many quirks is the rotating roster of bizarre and uniquely craft beer questions I get asked on a daily basis. They range from the fairly reasonable: 'got any lagers?', the dated: 'what do you have for girls to drink?' and the silly: 'do you have toilets here?'.
After a while, you get so used to these questions, you develop your own set of stock responses ranging from the accurate: 'Yes, the Keller Pils is tasting wonderful at the moment!', the witty: 'we let girls drink whatever they want!' and the silly: 'I hope so, I've had a half!'
One that I get with an alarming regularity is 'are you one of the brewers?'. I've been through a fair few responses: 'do I look like the type to be up before 5am' or 'No, but haaaaave you met Toby?' (we miss you already, Toby). My go to these days is 'No, I'm more of a drinker!'. Hilarious, I know. Of course, this spectacularly charming response is more of a deflection, a mask to disguise my insecurity. The fact of the matter is, the people asking this question are seconds away from asking something technical that I have no hope of answering. It's the moment I realise I know a lot less about beer than I pretend to.
It was precisely this inadequacy I saw a chance to overcome when Tom, one of the founders and owners of BBNo, said 'Hey Ben, you should make an Ice Cream beer with Terry and call it Ben and Terry's!'. While everyone else laughed hysterically (not because it was funny, but because we're all terrified of him and need to keep him sweet) I felt a wave of nervous excitement, this was my chance. I could become one of the brewers!
Admittedly it was only a joke, and a really funny one at that, Tom! But one jovial Friday evening Terry and I started to run with it. Terry is the only bartender that's been there longer than me, and with his home brewing experience he's picked up a lot more than I have about the process. Now, we like to play girl pop on a Friday, and we were getting silly. Pralines and Cream Brown Ale? Cookie Dough Porter? Passion Fruit Sorbet Saison? What started as 'who can name the most ridiculous ice-cream style beer' became serious brain storming. It was on.
We settled on Raspberry Ripple White Stout. It did sound delicious, but weren't white stouts supposed to be really difficult? They're all about getting a stout's fullness of body without using the rich dark malts. Seemed like quite an ask. I raised an eye-brow. Terry ignored me. White stout it was.
When brew day arrived, I must admit, I was nervous. I think it may have been the prospect of getting out of bed on a Tuesday before 9am (no, for real…). Either way, I was increasingly unsure I was cut out for the brewers life and I hadn't even weighed out the wheat.
Of course, it was not all that bad. In fact, it was pretty easy, at least on this scale. It was mostly just waiting. Wait for water to get hot, add grain, wait for water to get hotter, wait for water to become wort, wait for wort to boil, add hops, wait for wort to cool, transfer it, wait for fermenting, add raspberry and vanilla, wait, more raspberry, more waiting, cool and wait for force carbonation. You get the picture. A lot of waiting. I mean, in between these bouts of waiting there was a lot of interesting technical decision making going on amongst those that know. But I was elsewhere, thinking of all the really stupid questions I wanted to ask the brewers: 'Why are there so many weird sounding brew words like 'sparge' and 'wort'?' 'Who invented these grain paddles? Why don't they just use spoons?'. Of course, they were very busy doing their own jobs and making sure that what we were doing was up to BBNo standards. I got a taste of my own medicine with set of ironic answers in response.
We started with a big, oat heavy grain profile and a generous helping of lactose for the ice cream hit. We then hopped with Fantasia in the boil (no me neither, apparently they add a caramel note!) and dry hopped with the more delicate Cashmere towards the end of fermentation. About 6 whole vanilla pods and two delicious litres of sweet raspberry puree were added late too. All that fruit sugar has fermented out contributing to the solid 6.4%ABV, to leave only those lovely fruity flavours and of course a stunning hazy pink colour. Could be dangerous this one.
Now the wait is over.
It was kegged last week and we're going to tap it on Friday. We ended up going with 'Ben and Terry's Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream Pale Ale' (I knew white stout was a stretch). It's one of two twin 20l kegs, separated at birth like Luke and Leia, set for disparate destinies. One has been shipped off for a festival in Warsaw, I guess that one's Leia, and Luke is sat in taproom stock in Bermondsey until he's ready for the big wide world. I, Ben (Kenobi), will hook him up to tap 6 and set him on his path for a 3+ score on UnTappd, easily the craft beer equivalent of toppling The Empire.
With all that waiting around, you'd have thought I'd have learned something. Sadly not. I was too busy asking the brewers what they thought a Maris Otter would look like if it was a real animal. Now when someone asks 'are you one of the brewers?' I'll have to think of some alternative witty response. It needs to imply that I do brew occasionally, thereby making me a badass, but still protect me from questions about pH and hectolitres, which I think might undermine the badassery…and my façade.
Article by Ben Plumb, Taproom Duty Manager
Ben & Terry's Raspberry & Vanilla Pale Ale is serving at Warsaw Beer Festival and our Bermondsey Taproom this evening.