ROCKET BREWING CO. MAN MADE BEER.
Sometime in February, through our website, we received an introduction to a Danish brewery called Rocket. We’d never heard of them. I spoke to some friends, they’d never heard of them. I took to Ratebeer, during which I remembered I didn’t care what Ratebeer said and stopped. Instead I looked at their website. I liked it. Bespoke artwork, a running Brett theme through their beers and something that made it all stand out from the norm. Plus I wanted an excuse to go to Denmark.
We booked flights for a few weeks later and after a 63 mile walk from our gate to the Airport exit, we were met by Kim Agersten, one of Rocket’s owners, and head brewer. Via Kim’s car we were then transported about an hour’s drive in to the Danish countryside to their brewery, located in an old slaughterhouse, in a tiny town called Haslev.
We see a lot of breweries these days, most at various stages of transition. If ‘Basic start up’ is 1 and ‘BrewDog’ is 10, Rocket are around 0.5. Their slogan is ‘Man Made Beer’, partly in reference to their space themed branding, and partly in reference to their very basic hands on approach to their brewing. That’s not to say they enjoy brewing like this, but they make beer the way their equipment allows them to. It was very much like going back in time to a certain extent, I’d not seen a brewery this cobbled together for a good few years. The charm was palpable. I recall Tony Magee once saying that he couldn’t define a craft brewery, he just knew when he was in one. Rocket’s brewery is dripping in ‘craft’, it feels like a place where beer is made, rather than produced. In many ways it felt similar to the original Tempest brewery, back in the old Kelso dairy.
We had the tour (we looked at what was in front of us) and started a tasting of something like 15 different beers. Two or three beers in we realised that this was something a little bit different, which was a relief. Part of the problem for a distributor these days is finding what fits in to a portfolio. If you’ve committed to the friends you’ve made over the years, as the market grows and new entries to that market flood in, sorting the good from the good becomes harder. ‘Great’ is a shoe-in, but few new breweries are truly great, whereas many now are good or very good. A good many established breweries are trying to grow too, in to a market that is unlikely to continue to grow at the rate it has done, so feathering expectations is getting tougher.
Taking on a new brewery now requires a bit more though than ‘Sure, we’ll give it a bash’. There may still be a gut feel that it’ll do well, but possibly at the expense of people you already work with. Rocket were so different we felt they could create their own niche in our market. After chatting to Kim as we tried his beers, he told us his story. He’s a former head chef, in some of the best restaurants in some of the best food cities in the world. He’s worked in NYC, Japan, Paris and also Denmark, notably at Noma. Many of the beers are made using locally foraged ingredients, hedgerow berries, sour cherries and pine, to name three. He's very much taken a high end chef approach to brewing.
Their sours were astonishingly good, Flower Power and Ruby in particular hit the spot (I was recently engaged to a bottle of Ruby, we’re getting married in September). At the time, the brett overload blended too many of the beers on my palate and in my brain and it wasn’t until we revisited them in the UK that they began to stand out as individual beers. Zero Gravity, a brett IPA, is now a firm fridge favourite.
At the beginning of May we invited Kim over to the UK to host some events in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the write up of the event at Salt Horse is below, using the fine (and by the time I’ve edited it, filtered) words of our Edinburgh account manager, Mr Tim (Salmon) Blades, Esq.
Rocket Brewing @ Salt Horse, Blackfriars St, 3rd May 2017.
We’re fortunate to be able to hold a number of events in Salt Horse’s bottle shop. While only a year old itself, the fridges groan under the weight of quality beer from all around the world. There is a whispered pressure on events and their participants to live up to these chilled delights - if something more interesting is easily plucked from a fridge door then it undermines the appeal of a ticketed tasting.
For Kim, it became very apparent that this would not be a problem. Even if it were, it would not faze him. Some brewers you see at tastings and events around the world struggle and regurgitate their key facts, figures and plans with a well honed, tongue in cheek origin story. The urgency to please is not a negative. These creative scientists are, often, not naturally sociable people or public speakers and feel an obligation to justify their presence. Rocket Brewing’s founder is an altogether different experience. Understated, calm, but with a quick wit - he delivered the stories of his beers with few wasted syllables (unlike this blog perhaps). If the right questions were asked, rewarding insights were given, but not shouted from the rooftops.
So to the pairing of several bretted-up beers with glorious cheese - matches advised upon by the culinary mind of Kim himself, and our in house foodie consultant, Mrs Twelve Triangles, who knows the cheeses rather more intimately. Sour Power is the base of the majority of the beers which followed. It is their stock ale, base young lambic, XX mild - however you wish to reference it. And yet it cannot be defined as any of these. The version bottled and kegged for our consumption is itself a “three-threads” mix of multiple tanks of Sour Power, giving it depth and complexity. An initial fermentation with Belgian Trappist ale yeast contributes some background esters. After initial conditioning is complete, there is three months ageing with brettanomyces, followed by lactobacillus and pediococcus. Paired with Aged Gouda, the room knew it was in for a good evening from the off. The amount of character achieved with no oak contact whatsoever is absurd.
Prune Balloon followed. Using the previous beer as a base, many kilos of prunes are sunk into a single batch of 1000L. The exact amount evades my notes and my brain which was heavily pruned on the night. For 3 months, they smash the prunes back down into the beer as they constantly float to the top - like little sour, fruity, musty balloons. This sat alongside Lanark Blue, with the beer working like they perfect chutney to the creamy richness. The sharp bacterial notes from the blue found a bridge to the lactic acid in the beer.
There were a couple of other excellent beers, all using various base sours, blending, and clever fruit additions, to create a depth of character rarely found outside of Lambeek. The fact that Rocket achieve this in steel fermentation vessels, without any wood or oak contact, and no ancient coolship or funk encouraging equipment, is astounding. Every single bottle of Life On Mars, Nebula and the rest is two years, or more, in the making. They’re presented in unassuming, quirkily labelled bottles for sharing. The branding is all done by a professional designer - but that designer has been best friends with Kim since his earliest childhood memories. Its all part of an otherwordly, but not shouty experience. It makes you look twice, think twice, and taste thrice.
The serious portion of the evening was dedicated to Ancient Power and Ruby. The latter, and details of Chris’ marriage proposal, follow. But Ancient Power deserves recognition. The primary fermentation was with champagne yeast, which could technically make this a barley wine in one sense, only it was then hit with lactobacillus and pediococcus taking it swiftly away from this. The acetic, balsamic vinegar character is bigger here than in any of the other beers, leading the room to mouth “Flanders Red”, “Oud Bruin”, “Duchesse” and other such obscenities to each other. No blasphemy in the comparison though - the clever addition of raisins simulated the oak ageing and the later addition of brett than the other beers allowed a faint hint of sweetness to hold it all together. There was in fact a yoghurt like mouthfeel one associates with more mild kettle-soured beers which made it far too drinkable. A hefty chunk of Smoked Ardrohan was melted into our gutsas if it were mere mild cheddar.
Ruby. Oh Ruby. Can I bullet point this for effect, Chris? I’m quivering at the memory of her. Sorry to speak so ludely of your betrothed but she was delicious.
- Two year old sour ale
- 300 grams per litre or sour Danish cherries. The same ratio as Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek.
- The cherry pits themselves add an almond/marizpan like character to the beer
- Unblended before bottling to preserve the fruit character
- The beer in the bottles we have right now started its life over three years ago
I mean, just look at the colour of it (other Danish breweries glass for full Scandy effect). Mind blown. My Captain’s Log states that at 9.09pm the escalation began as bottles of Flower Power and Black Power entered our atmospheres. It didn’t matter. Ruby saved us all.