In my interview, I asked if I could brew a seasonal and after much negotiation I was challenged with brewing a big bold IPA in the American style. I started a recipe formulation and calculation process, incidentally trying out some really good beer from British and American breweries, tracing the recipes and writing what I liked and didn’t like about each.
I took a very successful recipe I had formulated for my previous brewery, which was more of an English IPA, 6% and all cask, and I played with that. I changed pretty much everything but kept the malt backbone of that recipe.
Once I came up with a prototype recipe, I did some experiments dry hopping 5 litres of Blonde to see if my combinations of flavours worked. The next challenge was sourcing the ingredients.
I was adamant at first to use dextrose to dry the beer out, like Pliny the Elder, and give it a cleaner flavour but I couldn’t source it organically. I also came to feel that it went against my German trained roots to add essentially refined sugars to a beer and it wasn’t quite fitting with the Back Isle ideology, so back to the drawing board…
In the end, I decided to use a long mash at low temperature to encourage higher fermentability and therefore that flavour I was searching for.
Malts used in making Migrator:
- Extra pale
- Low colour crystal
With hops I wanted to emulate the gung-ho hopping regimes of the American breweries but those hopping rates with organic hops, which are hard to come by, were near impossible. Also, in the Black Isle we don’t want to just waste such a beautiful ingredient by chucking heaps and heaps in. So together with my team and lots of textbook reading and consulting and seeing what other breweries were doing we looked at ways of creating that same hop flavour and hit with less hops, added in a much more efficient manner.
We finally decided on:
And a hint of Nelson Sauvin and Citra in the dry hop.
Next on the list was water, our water is very good for the beers we brew so it just need slight tweaking with salts to make the hop flavours sing.
As for the last but most important ingredient, yeast, we decided to try something new. At Black Isle we have our own special culture, a house strain, which gives Blonde its lovely estery notes and Red Kite its rich malt backbone, but for a hoppy IPA we decided to go with a classic west coast American yeast famous for its clean flavours and ability to showcase hops.
All in all, the recipe formulation took about 2-3 months and involved endless chats/tastings about what we were aiming to create. On the brew-day the team was really excited to brew something new so we all started at 6am. It went beautifully with everything going to plan, which is a first in new recipes for me…
Once she was put to bed we tested every day to assess the fermentation and flavour formation. The beer had come out good but didn’t have the quite the right blend of hops flavours I was looking for. We were going to dry hop but a series of quick recalculations was needed to work out how to put it back into balance which meant all those little experiments with blonde helped immensely. We gave it a full month to cold mature, to mellow out all these flavours. Now it’s in keg and bottle it’s really a beer I can say I’m proud of (though I’m not saying I won’t tweak around a little if I get to brew it again… I am a brewer after all).
The finished product is a bold hitting cacophony of sweet grapefruit lychee flavour with a strong piney undertone and a pinch of tropical fruit with enough malt to hold those flavours in balance. 7.9% so it’s a good 1/3rd of a pint job.
Name wise, this is literally the hardest part of brewing. Many suggestions were aired, with Bullfinch to tie in with Goldfinch looking likely but I felt that we should link it with our other special strong beer, Hibernator. To showcase the links with our amazing Scottish malts, organic hops from New Zealand and the Yakima Valley, Washington, we finally decided on the name Migrator.
I have this image in my head of the artwork being a silhouette of the farm with a ‘v’ of geese flying overhead, which when we brewed it was all the sky was full of! But I have no idea what they are actually going to do yet. I have worked for a few breweries now and made a good proportion of the core recipes for their brands but I can honestly say that this is the one I’m happiest with. Hopefully the sales team knock it out the park so I can brew it again!
Soon to be available in the brewery shop and online. We will also have it on draft when we open our brewery bar in June!
Head Brewer at Black Isle Brewing Co Ltd