Fierce Beer

Let's talk barrels and black IPA


Fierce Beer’s co-founder, Dave Grant and I speak to each other through screens and a fine sheen of sweat. Though calling across the distance between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, we’re connected through our shared experience of an unusual problem in Scotland; the nationwide absence of aircon in a truly spectacular heatwave. In spite of our sticky discomfort, Dave is on form, as Fierce has been swinging from strength to strength since we last spoke in late 2021. 

At that point, Fierce had just launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund its move to a larger site, with the planned extra space supporting increased demand, and making way for an on-site shop and packing facility. Fast forward a mere six months and it seems the reality is proving better than the dream. “When we walked into the new site we absolutely sh*t ourselves,” says Dave, “it was so big, and now it’s completely full.”

Now working with quadruple the capacity it had last year, Dave tells me Fierce has just about caught up on orders, a sure sign that expansion has happened at the right time, and that the brewery has plans to ramp up the production of its limited release beers. “We really want to make a larger volume of our specials,” says Dave. “These used to be so small that they would sell so quickly. It was nice to do that, of course, but I think we were missing a trick in not making a bigger volume of these.”

Another significant development to come with the brewery’s expansion is an investment in its barrel programme. Dave tells me that the plan is to barrel away a much larger volume of Fierce’s flagship beer, Very Big Moose, and release this on a yearly basis, eventually getting to the point where you can compare beers from various annual releases. “Up until now, we’ve had barrelled beer that we make and release when we can, or when we remember,” he says. “That’s been fine, but it will be quite cool to have a programme, so you know when to expect releases.''

After catching up on what’s been new at the brewery, I ask Dave about his choice to make a Black IPA for the Beer52 box this month. The answer does not disappoint, and indeed traces back to the origins of Fierce Beer. “Fierce started out about six and a half years ago in my kitchen,” he begins. “The first beer I ever made was an IPA and, quite honestly, it was terrible. The second beer I tried to make was a Black IPA, because at that time, I was also spending a lot of time in the first Brewdog bars, drinking a beer called Sublimely Self Righteous.”

At the best of times, BIPAs, or Cascadian Dark Ales as some might know them as, can be difficult to wrap your palate around, being well hopped while also brandishing a deep, dark, roasted malt profile. Sublimely Self Righteous, Stone’s iconic Black IPA, has been produced on and off for the better part of 12 years, inevitably being brought back by popular demands whenever attempts were made to retire it. 

By Dave’s own admission, making a good BIPA is not easy, but it's for that precise reason that Fierce has always made one, even trialling variations that have been kettle soured or barrel aged. The BIPA Fierce has made for Beer52 on this occasion uses Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and pale malt, Carafa 3 and a touch of roast barley. It comes in at 5.4%, which sets it apart from Sublimely Self Righteous’ much higher ABV. This style of beer holds a special place in the Fierce cannon, and Dave assures us that “we want to keep that tradition going, and that it harks back to where it came from, on the Stone side, makes it just so cool”.

Of course, to conflate inspiration and imitation here would be to do an injustice to the fiercely creative and independent brewing happening in Aberdeen, and around the UK more generally. Breweries like Stone, and styles born on US coasts have played a massive role in shaping the industry, but as Dave so aptly puts it when I ask him about keeping up with trends, “it's nice not to follow along to make a little bit of your own scene again”. He likes the fact that the UK craft scene is shifting somewhat towards Germanic styles, and is featuring some more traditional English ale.

“We always keep an eye on the States,” he continues. “But I think in the places that a lot of people are looking, ourselves included, there isn’t as much new coming out anymore. People are starting to go back towards West Coasts and Lagers again. There's been so many years of the hazies that folks need a change. Equally, I think everyone's realising that times are tough, and to only make hugely hopped double IPAs that cost so much to make and sell for such a high price, is a bit risky.”

“Since COVID we’ve adapted a lot. 80% of our production is our four core beers [a West Coast IPA, a hazy, a lager, and a fruited beer], which are all easy drinkers, and the collabs we are doing at the moment are generally lower ABV than they used to be. Brews that would normally be really out there now look more like classic recipes with a twist – Like Mexican Lagers, or fruited wheat beers. Everything is a little less mad, more drinkable and accessible”. 

Though my conversation with Dave starts out considering West Coast IPA's influence on the UK's craft brewing scene, it leaves me wondering about where these two branches of the industry divide. With UK breweries now more closely considering the cost of producing heavily hopped beers, and consumers increasingly and demonstrably seeking out low and no ABV options, one has to wonder whether inspiration can still be taken from the American market, or if the tide is turning.

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