“My relationship with hops is a difficult one,” says Gavin Meiklejohn, leaning against the back bar of the Safari Lounge in Edinburgh. “I mean, they got me into brewing – but the global demand for specific varieties just leads to shortages. Especially once the big boys step in. Take Nelson Sauvin – the price for 20kg of Nelson has doubled. They are a finite resouce you know, you can grow them, but you can’t pick them fast enough.” Gavin is the founder of Tempest Brewing, the borders producer that have recently moved from an old dairy building in Kelso to a much larger unit on an industrial estate in Tweedbank. At a tasting event hosted by Cornelius Beer & Wine, he expanded on his love for that particular, increasingly hard to find, hop.
“I wanted a New Zealand terroir hop for my flagship,” he said, holding up a bottle of the always excellent Long White Cloud, and talking about how his home-brewing career in New Zealand began his path towards owning a brewery. “This beer came with me from there. It was the style that got me into beer in the first place – it’s Kiwi hops, for me. Long White Cloud isn’t an NZPA – it’s made in Scotland. Right from back when we used to hand-stamp the name on the bottle. It’s just getting harder now, though – everyone wants Nelson Sauvin.”
Long White Cloud isn’t a single-hopped beer; it also contains other (equally hard to source) New Zealand hops; Waimea, Rakau, Kohatu and Motueka. Gavin also asserted that he thinks there are few breweries in this country using New Zealand hops like Tempest – and when it comes to a beer like this one I’d have to agree. It captures the vinous nature of the country as well as any other beer I can think of, that’s for sure. There’s a citrus quality at first, like a Marlborough Sauvignon, before the equally typical greener notes come through as in a New Zealand Reisling.*
* That’s about all of the wine chat I’m good for…
Yet now, Long White Cloud has direct competition – and from the same source. The Cornelius tasting event was also a platform for the launch of an imperial version, Longer White Cloud, which rolls in at 10.2%. The original may not have been on my list of beers to double up, following the appearance of Fyne Ales Ragnarok (aka Imperial Jarl) three months ago – but it might as well have. Longer White Cloud is another of those ‘Oh, that would really work’ ideas that only seem to make sense once somebody else has suggested them. (Although I am still holding out hope for a Pilot Imperial Ultravilot at some stage).
As you might expect, such is the gravity of this one that it veers away a little from the sharper, zestier fruit of its namesake and instead leads with sweeter stone fruit like apricot and peach, with a fair whack of melon in there as well. As Gavin said, “A beer like this could have high residual sweetness with the big body, very syrupy, but we worked out how to dry it out with our house yeast but at the same time not make it too bitter – we really wanted to make it drinkable. I guess we achieved it, we’re really happy.”
That seems to be a key word for Tempest at the moment. After struggling for years at the previous location, and with a re-brand at the start of this year, their move has come at the perfect time; it really does seem as if they are all a bit happier than in previous years. But it was whilst we were all tasting their new Imperial Oyster Stout Double Shuck (brewed with 200 Lindesfarne oysters) that Gavin underlined his long-standing philosophy, “It’s all about balance, and taste. That’s what I want to achieve. That’s what they’ll probably put on my tombstone – drinkable…”
Many thanks to James and the team at Cornelius Beer & Wine for hosting the evening. For an in-depth look around Tempest’s new facility in Tweedbank, check out the ever-fantastic Walking and Crawling blog for a behind the scenes tour.