Colin Stronge is having valve issues. A new, as yet un-released 8.2% double IPA isn’t co-operating with the bottling machine, meaning a decision is fast-approaching as to whether to struggle on with the protesting bottles, or just keg the lot of it, instead. On the face of it, not exactly the best time to distract Colin with a chat about another big-hitting beer that the Buxton Brewery have just released – but, as ever, he’s instantly agreeable. That beer in question is Double Axe, the 13.6% abv imperial IPA that has recently had the online beer community in rapture (three random RateBeer reviews end with the words ‘Superb.’ ‘A Real Treat.’ and ‘Outstanding’, respectively).
A dual-wield version of Buxton’s all-conquering Axe Edge, Double Axe is a certified monster of a beer. Grainy, nuggety, sweet apricots and peaches – it’s like dessert wine without the fly-trapping stickiness. I ask Colin if brewing Double Axe was something that he and the rest of the team at Buxton had wanted to do for a while. “Oohhhh yeah,” he chuckles. “We’ve discussed it so many times; it’s always been in the back of our heads. But we didn’t have the fermentation space, so again and again it went on the backburner; it’ll appear on the brewplan for a week and then get nudged back.”
“But in August every year, we have a little bit of a quiet spell for two or three weeks. We just kind of decided at that point, we’ve got essentially four or five months worth of recipes that we’ve been working on, that we want to get out of the way; and that [Double Axe] was the first that came up. I pulled out the brewplan one Monday and it was still there, and I thought ‘oh, we’re really doing it then?'” I ask Colin how the brewday went – imagining high stress levels, clanking and hissing pipework, and lots of dials and gauges rattling in the red zones marked ‘danger’. In reality, it wasn’t exactly as tense as that…
“We decided early on that we were only going to brew 10 barrels of it, rather than go for the full twenty,” Colin continues. “So it bought us a little bit of leeway, it meant the mash wasn’t too bad, it meant the transfer was pretty good, it just meant there was a loooot* of hops to be broken up in the meantime. We ended up parti-gyling it, and making a sour out of the second runnings, so it was quite an exciting brewday – it was the first time we’d done that, actually.” The additional beer was a batch of Wolfscote, Buxton’s black sour. Parti-gyling – making two beers from one mash – underlines the experimental outlook taking hold in their brewery.
* I can’t really type that, but at this point Colin made the word ‘lot’ last for two full seconds
I pitch Colin an easy full toss – asking if he thinks the UK beer scene is now more receptive to beers like Double Axe and Magic Rock’s Unhuman Cannonball. He agrees almost instantly. “Yeah. Definitely. Unhuman was the beer that made everyone think ‘Oh, you can make a beer that strong and not have it be a big cloying mess?’. I guess in many ways it eased the path a little for us. Other people are nudging at the idea too – for us, it’s connected to our flagship brand [therefore] is something worth doing. We wanted to do it as a trial for us, and a trial for the brewery, to see what kind of fermentations we could pull out of the bag.” I ask him if there are plans to ever brew it again, and he pauses, for the first time in our conversation.
“I’m not 100%, to be honest. The recipe – well, I made such careful notes, this one was ridiculous, daily changes in temperature and what might have happened, because I thought ‘If this beer goes right, it’ll be wonderful. If it goes wrong, it will be a disaster. But either way, I want to know why it happened’.” So, maybe not – but it looks like the steps and quirks have all been logged, just in case the dusty ledger Colin undoubtedly records things in is flipped open to that page in the future. Interesting, though – and to be honest, perfectly predictable, that Buxton look to be eschewing the annual scrambling that generates from Magic Rock’s yearly UHC release.
I finish up – as Colin is unquestionably staring at the irksome bottling machine – by asking him what’s next for Buxton. Where do you go, after a 13.6% Imperial IPA? “Well, like I say, we’ve had this period of a few weeks where we’ve let ourselves go with the new recipes,” he replies. “So we’ve got the new 8.2% double IPA coming out, we’ve just done an 11% imperial stout with Omnipollo, just done a new 11.8% imperial stout of our own that’s another recipe we’ve had on the backburner for some time. We’re just keeping on doing what we’ve been doing, making the best beers we can. Hopefully you’ll see a few more sours from us this year – there’s definitely one new IPA and a couple of new stouts.”
“Hopefully we’ll be touching a few bases people wouldn’t normally associate with us.”