The sweet spot
Alpha Delta has pivoted away from big-hitting hop monsters, but couldn’t be happier with where it’s landed, writes Richard Croasdale
Saturday 26 August 2023
This article is from
Angels of the North
Share this article
We last caught up with Newcastle’s Alpha Delta almost exactly two years ago, and were refreshed by its honest approach to the city’s already-buzzing beer market. The formula was simple: big, brassy, high-ABV IPAs and pales, brewed in quantities that always left customers wanting more. It was calibrated to create a frenzy, and by goodness it worked. Not that the beer wasn’t also great – it was – but Alpha Delta was a brewery out to make a splash that matched the quality of its brewing.
Skip forward to 2023, and the philosophy remains the same, even as the strategy has moved with the times, as brewery director Ross Holland explains.
“Yeah we absolutely made our name brewing big double IPAs and Imperial stouts – high ABV, lots of hops,” says Ross. “But over the last couple of years we saw a serious decline in the people shouting about those things, particularly in the north east. We’ve had to be a bit clever about things, and see what the public actually want. People started leaning toward more pale ales or the lower-end, more sessionable IPAs, so we just moved with times. We have a small core range now, with a 6% Citra IPA, which does well, 4.2% all-Aussie hopped pale ale, and then our unfiltered pils, at 5%.”
There’s also a steady stream of seasonal and one-off beers, all of which appear carefully chosen to ignite the fans’ passions. Earlier this year, sales director Yousef Doubooni – recently arrived from North Brew Co – persuaded Ross to dip his toe back into cask; the result was a low-ABV cask IPA with Columbus, Citra and Mosaic, which “absolutely flew out”.
“It was very much going back to my roots from other breweries I’ve worked in; kind of taking it back, but still having that modern edge to it,” says Ross. “So it’s dry-hopped, and hazy with no finings or anything. So, you know, it's not the kind of golden ale that a lot of breweries are known for up here, but again leaning toward that kind of American-style pale ale.”
Likewise, brewery manager Tom, whose background is in cocktails, pitched a carrot Negroni sour, which Alpha Delta released to great excitement earlier in the week we spoke. Ross says this is part of a growing appetite in the region for kettle sours, fruited sours and more “out there” flavours.
“So yeah, it’s a constant learning curve of what people want, what's doing well in the market and just trying to keep our fingers on the pulse. We need to make sure we're not just boring people with the same old beers over and over again, and stay relevant in a fairly competitive market.”
The idea of constantly reacting and chasing the next sexy brewing idea feels quite mid-2010s, and somewhat counter to the prevailing craft beer credo of ‘just be true to yourself and brew the beers you want to drink… man’.
“There's a lot of breweries that run like that, and maybe a couple of years ago that was my thing too,” concedes Ross. “But then what do you do when people stop buying your beer? You brew the beer that people actually want to drink, and you brew it well. And at the end of the day, we'll never put out a product that we're not proud of. We did have one beer earlier this year, a pilsner, and we changed the yeast on it. Of all the styles you don’t want to change once you have the recipe, pilsner is right up there, because you can’t dry hop it, there’s nowhere to hide. But it wasn’t right, so the entire batch went down the drain. But you’ve just got to be truthful I think and, like I said, we'll always make sure that we are making the best possible product.”
Ross has been brewing in Newcastle for almost ten years, and worked for a handful of other local breweries before setting up Alpha Delta. He says it’s always been a very supportive community, and is happy to see the city getting the national recognition it deserves over the past couple of years.
“We've seen a few breweries go over the last year or so, but it's good to see that all or most of the guys we work with closely are managing to battle through. I think one of the great strengths of Newcastle is that you don’t have everyone brewing the same things. You get to know which breweries up here brew which styles really well, and to an extent brewers don't really encroach on each other’s styles. You're very much known for this, I’m very much known for that… it's kind of an unspoken agreement.”
One area that Ross is still very keen to move into though is mixed fermentation. This was a journey he was just tentatively embarking on the last time we spoke, and it’s still very much a work in progress.
“I always had a very keen interest in mixed fermentation, playing around with different yeasts and bacteria and whatnot, and that’s still very active behind the scenes,” he says. “But obviously, that just takes a hell of a long time before you can put anything out. We do have a release coming out very shortly though, which is a white wine barrel-aged, Imperial mixed ferm ale, using these really cheesy old aged hops; it’s something really different, and to be honest is everything I love about being a brewer.”
So maybe it’s not a binary choice between giving the market what it wants, and being a fulfilled, creative brewer. If there is a sweet spot, a tiny sliver of shade in the middle of that Venn diagram, then I suspect Ross and Alpha Delta will find it.
Share this article