Wiper and True
Rich catches up with Michael Wiper, on his Hop Garden series
Monday 03 August 2020
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Τhese days, Bristol’s Wiper and True is like a rock in the UK craft scene; super consistent core beers, the very best ingredients and sophisticated, understated branding. It hasn’t always been this way though. In its early days, the brewery was wildly experimental, rarely re-brewing the same beer and restlessly searching for new challenges. Given the chance to catch up with founder Michael Wiper (by telephone – lockdown is wearing thin) I couldn’t resist asking what happened.
“I remember doing talks early on, where I’d pronounce that there’s no such thing as a perfect beer, and that breweries should just make different iterations of really good beer. So we spent years experimenting with different hops and malts and techniques and throwing all sorts of fruit and spices into the mix.
“Eventually though, we decided that we really needed some time to nail our brewing with more simple recipes and a focus on consistency. That’s where our core range came from, and over time we’ve become a lot more well-versed as a team in how to run a brewery. We’ve never lost that appetite for experimentation though, and now we’re in a position to execute it properly, without it slowing us down.”
For this month’s box, Michael has picked out a beer from the brewer’s Hop Garden series of single-hop brews, showcasing the mighty Ekuanot.
“The central idea of the Hop Garden series is that we can produce beers with one emblem, where everything else stays the same, but we get to play around with the hops; everything else is really just there to support that hop character.
“So we started with Simpsons Golden Promise as the base malt, which makes up 95% of the malt bill. It just forms a really good backbone and has an amazing flavour; so smooth and consistent. The trend at the moment is to make this kind of beer super pale, but Golden Promise really has quite a lot of colour to it. So after a lot of experimentation we just decided to buck the trend and stick with Golden Promise, because the character in this kind of beer is worth having it a little darker than people might expect.”
The other crucial part of the malt bill is torrified wheat, which aids head retention. For Michael, this isn’t just an aesthetic concern, but comes back to properly showcasing the star hop.
“More importantly for this beer, if there’s effectively a lid on the top, the vaccuum in between will hold in those lovely aromas. There’s some beers where you crack open the can and the smell is phenomenal – it hits you before you’ve poured the beer – but half way through, it’s gone, it just dries out. So what you’re doing with a decent head is building a kind of barrier to make sure that aroma lasts down to the bottom of the glass.”
Enhancing the hop expression is also behind Michael’s use of Kveik yeast, an ancient Norwegian strain that is currently enjoying a renaissance among craft brewers globally.
“The third part of it is the Kveik, which I know is very trendy, but we’ve used it here because we think it does such a great job of pushing the hops forward without getting in the way too much. It’s a little citrusy, a little orangey and zesty, but those are all complementary characteristics.”
All of which brings us to the real star of the show: Ekuanot, another star hop from Eugene Probasco and Jason Perrault at Yakima Valley’s Hop Brewing Company. Formally known as Equinox (hooray for trademark lawyers) this punchy little number was more than a decade in development and has been on the market now for around six years, during which time it has become a favourite tool in the craft brewers’ box.
“It’s such a great hop to work with, bringing so much of what you’re looking for,” enthuses Michael. “There’s those modern classic notes of tropical fruit and citrus, of course, but also rosemary and other green herby notes. We’re a few doors down from a coffee roastery, and for me there’s a strong note of green unroasted coffee beans in there too.
“It’s really hard to overstate how seminal the Hop Brewing Company have been in the brewing world. If you think of some of the really big hitters that have changed the way we drink beer, like Citra, Mosaic and Sabro, they’ve been behind that. Everything they put out is phenomenal, and the way they run their business just really works…”
At this point in our call, Michael tails off and I worry he’s lost signal as he walks through the brewery’s neighbourhood of St Werburgh’s.
“Sorry,” he says eventually. “We’re really lucky to be in this area – it’s one of Bristol’s most interesting, creative neighbourhoods. I just walked past a guy who I thought was wearing a chunky scarf, but it was actually a massive snake and I lost my train of thought.”
This seems like a good break in the conversation to ask about another recent development at Wiper & True that I’m very excited about – its recent foray into wild brewing, with the establishment of a second ‘dirty’ site.
We’re really getting into experimenting with mixed cultures
“Ah, yes, we’re really getting into experimenting with mixed cultures, though I’ve banned the team from referring to it as a ‘dirty’ site,” he explains. “We’re viewing it as a professional operation. I think a lot of brewers start out by saying ‘let’s get some barrels, chuck some beer in it and then see what happens’. We’re the exact opposite of that, in that we’re trying to make – once it’s up to scale – a core range of mixed fermentation beers that have a consistent, repeatable profile.
“It’s the same with our barrel beers. We’re starting with deciding where we want to end up, then working backwards, choosing barrels specifically and brewing recipes to try and hit those targets. Of course, there are so many variables in that kind of brewing that we won’t get it right every time, but that’s certainly the approach.”
The brewery got into the new site this January, with the first beers going into tank in March. Its inaugural release, a bretted IPA, will be released in July.
“We’ve also got an English saison that we’re very excited about. English malt, English hops, and Brettanomyces that was apparently cultivated from an old English cask. We fermented at 29 degrees, rather than 18, and it’s just expressed all these fruit characteristics and esters that we were hoping for.”
We’re looking forward to drinking the results of all this hard work, and – even over the phone – Michael’s own excitement at climbing another learning curve is clear.
“The whole science of what’s actually happening with some of these mixed fermentations is incredibly complex, the stages of that process. We’re at the beginning of a journey with it. Up until relatively recently, our practices on that site were all about avoiding these organisms, and what to do if you found them. Now we’re trying to encourage and control them. It’s going to be great!”
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