I’ve already written about the origins of our wedding beer, Summer Wine Covenant, and how grateful Kate and I are to James and Andy for suggesting and following through on their very kind and thoughtful idea. After the brewday we had tentatively left it in James and Andy’s capable hands until collecting two casks on the Saturday before the wedding.
Driving up to the venue, The Plough at Lupton, all I wanted to do was try the beer, but knew that we wouldn’t be able to do so until we were married. I knew what we intended the beer to be like; I just didn’t know if it would turn out as I imagined or whether our guests would like it. It was always a bit of a concern that we had to walk a line between a beer that Kate, James, Andy and I would be interested in, but that wouldn’t be too extreme for our guests to enjoy from the first sip.
We had made Covenant a central part of our wedding. The beer was free to all guests, but I wanted to make sure people knew about it and tried it. So I wrote a bit of blurb explaining the background to the beer and even a bit of a fingers-crossed tasting note (referring to “a rich citrus fruit aroma and medium bitterness“), which ended up on two blackboards in prominent positions in the venue, along with some photos of the brewday.
We also named the tables after the ingredients (eg: Amarillo; Crystal; Carafa; Chocolate; Godisgoode – because you can’t call a table “Yeast”) and the top table after the beer itself. We had told the priest about the beer and given him a bottle of Summer Wine Barista to try. He went on to mention the beer during the sermon, making reference to the Marriage At Cana.
The beer even ended up being represented in icing on the cake, decorated brilliantly by Kate’s sister Tess, as you can see. So it’s fair to say that we placed a lot of emphasis on Covenant and only later did I begin to worry a little about how much of a damp squib it would be if it wasn’t quite right for the occasion.
However, when I had my first taste about an hour into our marriage, it wasn’t in any way disappointing. Covenant, thanks to James, is a triumph. It’s a beautiful vibrant amber/red colour and has a superb aroma. Possibly because of the range of hops used (it uses an unusual number of hop varieties, although all were American), the smell doesn’t immediately conjure up one dominant descriptor to point to, but instead it has a wonderful and unique mix of fresh, fruity citrus and a little pine.
I was certain that the beer was going to smell good, because we deliberately asked for a low bitterness but a good aroma, so James put the emphasis on late and dry hopping rather than bittering. However I was a little concerned that it might be all nose and no teeth. Fortunately the beer didnt disappoint in this respect either, as it has both a great lightness of taste and just exactly the right amount of satisfying bitterness on the finish. It ends the experience perfectly, like a satisfying “ka-chunk” as a car door closes.
I was actually expecting a lower bitterness, but in the end I think it probably is considerably more restrained in that respect than a lot of Summer Wine beers, but perhaps on the more bitter end of what more mainstream British drinkers might be used to. But it’s just right for the beer and as a result our guests, who were not all experienced ale drinkers, reacted really very positively to it.
For a 5.2% beer with a strong aroma and flavour, it’s a very drinkable beer, in all the right ways. My friend (whose favourite beer is the excellent Moorhouses Pride Of Pendle) commented that I didn’t understand session ales, but our beer drank like a session ale. After having enjoyed beer all night at the wedding and again this week at Mr Foleys (with some work colleagues, Dean and Neil), I’d have to agree. It’s a beer that is meant to be consumed in long, refreshing mouthfuls; a great fruity waft at the front and a satisfying kick at the end.
My wife and I (*wait for applause*) think that Covenant is a great beer and are incredibly grateful to James and Andy for brewing it for us. It added a very personal note to our wedding day, which our family and friends really enjoyed.
Covenant’s been on already at Mr Foleys and I know it’s in a few pubs around the country including the Free Trade Inn, so look out for it at #Twissup. With all the weddingness Kate and I won’t be able to make it to Newcastle, but please do let us know what you think of it if you get to try some. Also, if you’re quick you may also be able to buy some bottles from the new Summer Wine shop!
Last year, soon after Kate and I got engaged, we were out on a pub crawl around Leeds with Dean from Mr Foley’s and Andy and James from Summer Wine Brewery. Andy said that as a wedding present, he and James would brew a beer for the wedding. We would decide what it would be and come to the brewery and help brew it.
It was one of those extremely generous offers that you think is a very nice thought, but don’t really think will be followed through in the cold light of day. To their credit, and our gratitude, James and Andy remained keen to do it and we arranged to brew it this weekend, for our wedding at the end of next month.
Kate and I had been batting around a few ideas about beer styles, with the special problem of trying to conceive one that would be of interest to James and Andy and ourselves, without being so bitter that it would be overly challenging to the palettes of our guests, who are not, in large part, seasoned hopheads.
We considered a few options, including a session pale and a stout, but ultimately, with James, decided on a red/amber ale made with New World hops, with the aim of producing a beer which was autumnal in appearance; had a decent malt body for a level of sweetness and balance; and hopped in a manner that created a lot of American hop aroma without being very bitter.
James took this quite sketchy brief and came up with a recipe which he had ready for us when we arrived early on Saturday morning. We spent the next eight hours helping James brew the beer. Well, “helping” in the way a toddler “helps” their mum cook. Digging the mash tun was hopefully useful. The beer already has a wonderful colour and, we think, shows a lot of promise. Although I’d been to breweries before and brewed from a kit, this was the first time I’d actually seen a whole brewday on a commercial level. It was fascinating how much I didn’t already know.
It was also great to spend the day with James and Andy talking about beer, their plans for the future and what they’d achieved over the last three years. Summer Wine is a business built entirely from ambition, knowledge and very hard work. It would be a cliche to say that they produce “uncompromising beers”, but their whole way of working reflects an ethos of producing the best beers they can and continually improving them.
Their new bottles reflect this. Having had, and observed, unhappy experiences with bottle-conditioning in the past, and being unable to find a contractor to bottle in the way that they wanted, they have installed a new and unique bottling system for unfiltered and unpasteurised, precisely carbonated, non-bottle conditioned beer.
Towards the end of the day we got to try some of the new bottles, which are currently available only from their online shop, which launched on Friday. All four of the initial line (Barista, Diablo, Kahuna, Rouge Hop) are great and in particular I think that their flagship IPA, Diablo, and their espresso stout, Barista, transferred very well indeed. The Barista benefits from a restrained carbonation whilst Diablo has retained its superb aroma.
Our beer, which we’ve named Covenant, is now fermenting away on an industrial estate in Holmfirth, awaiting dry hopping. As well as being on cask at our wedding reception, it will also be sold into pubs. It will hopefully be available in Mr Foleys and, very excitingly, may also be in Newcastle for Twissup in November. Let me know if you get to try it.