Our story begins in August 2021 at the Nottingham Craft Beer Festival. Brew Day had been quite heavily involved, from sponsoring and judging the Hop Idol home brew competition, to setting up our shop at the actual festival for the whole weekend, alongside our good friends from Place To Brew. The festival also happened to coincide with a couple of birthdays within the Brew Day team, so as far as we can remember, a fun weekend was had by all.
We set our stall up so that our eye-catching (and beautifully made) WilliamsWarn unitanks were front and centre. They attracted a lot of attention, both from attendees and brewers alike, and it was late Saturday afternoon when three likely looking lads approached the stall, admiring the merchandise, before introducing themselves as the brewing team from Neon Raptor. I gave them a quick tour of the shop, and they reciprocated with a quick tour of their brewery, located within Sneinton market and thus within the festival itself.
Neon Raptor have been an intrinsic feature of the Sneinton Market creative rejuvenation programme since October 2017. Along with pubs such as The Fox and Grapes and the King Billy, and indeed Liquid Light brewery just round the corner, this end of town has become a destination for party people and beer connoisseurs, who happily share the area with makers, skaters and graffiti artists.
Being slightly (very) inebriated and feeling brave (cocky), I asked Shane, the head brewer, if he would be willing to donate a recipe to add to our all-grain collection. “Sure”, he replied, “or how about we do a collab?” Umm, ok, if you insist!!
So here we find ourselves, 8am on a sunny Tuesday morning, at Neon Raptors Brewery and Tap Room, being properly introduced to the brewing team of Shane (Head Brewer) and Rob, and about to make 2000 litres of a new-world inspired NEIPA. The grain bill is as follows:
∙ Extra Pale malt
∙ Malted Oats
∙ Flaked Oats
∙ Malted Wheat
∙ Flaked Barley
With a grain bill of 450 kg, a 50 minute mash and 60 minute boil, we will finish up with a respectable 5% session beer. The grain is added to 1170 litres of mash liquor, with the strike temp at 78.4C.The mash temperature is then set at a relatively high 70C, which Shane explains, is to create a slightly less fermentable wort, which adds more body to the beer. 440g of Calcium Sulphate is added to the mash to adjust the pH. The target pH is 5.20, and the analysis shows an actual reading of 5.18. Shane is happy.
We ask Shane about his brewing background. He worked as Head Brewer at Rascals Brewery in Dublin, before travelling and working in breweries in Goa, India (Arbor Brewing), NBeer in Bejing (with the beautifully succinct tagline – ‘No Beer No Friends’) and Turtle Lake Brewery in Hanoi Vietnam. The trip was cut short once covid began to hit, and he returned to Dublin. He then applied for the vacant Head Brewers job at Neon Raptor, and has been here for about a year.
So what sorts of beers go down well in Asia? Shane explains “The Core beer in China was a mango Gose, people’s tastes tend towards the sour and fruity styles along with some hoppy styles which are generally sessionable. In India their main beer was a 7% honey and lavender ale and session beers.” Sounds great. “One great aspect of brewing in Asia is the availability of local and unique ingredients to try out in beers, from different types of tea that impart certain flavours or colours to spices and of course some amazing fruit for those much loved sours”.
After a 50 minute mash, the wort is sparged with 1300 litres to produce a kettle volume of 2200 litres, and transferred to the kettle. Into the kettle are added Calcium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Chloride and Bravo hops for bittering. As always, it’s down to the new boys to get on with the cleaning.
We have some time while the temperature gets to boiling point, allowing an opportunity for a proper tour of their kit. The bulk of the system was hand-built by the previous head brewer, who was a systems engineer at Rolls Royce so there is lots of automation, however, it still requires a fair bit of human input, mainly in stirring the mash to prevent dry spots.
Originally, the brewery started with two 20 hL Fermenting Vessels, before expanding to four shortly after. Four more were then added in February 2020, just before COVID struck. The brewery was running the full eight FVs for about a month before they shut down completely for roughly four months. It’s only since Shane arrived have they been able to get back to full speed. The maze of stainless steel tubing connecting the mash tun to the kettle to the 8 FVs, via plate chillers, appears indecipherable, but actually belie a quite elegant simplicity. However, the real star of the show is the overhead gantry which runs the length of the space between the FVs, allowing the team (and us) to access the portholes, and add the hops and the yeast in maximum safety and comfort. No ladders with a bucket full of hops on your shoulder for these guys.
Once the kettle is boiling, Protafloc and yeast nutrient are added at 15 minutes. 25kg of maltodextrin is also added for extra body. Post boil, Citra and Wai-iti hops are added in the whirlpool for 20 mins at 82-85C.
While we wait for the boil to finish, we have time for a spot of lunch. Greek kebabs, washed down with a can of 4.4% Gnip Gnop, a hazy session IPA dry hopped with a fully New Zealand platter of Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and Wai-iti. Named after a game which looks like it was found in the loft of someone’s parents, it is actually ‘Ping Pong’ backwards. However, there’s nothing backwards about this punchy, hop forward pineapple and tropical fruit IPA.
They mention plans for further expansion of the Neon Raptor brewery and brand, their ambition being to take Neon Raptor to a status of ‘household name’. Ambition is not in short supply here, and judging by the amount of beer being shipped out by the courier at the end of the day, they have a really strong foundation on which to build from. “We are planning an expansion that will see us grow our capacity 4 fold with a new much larger site in Nottingham with a large taproom and event space. This will hopefully happen in 2022 and we will keep people in the loop on our social media for updates and events based around this exciting expansion”
The wort is transferred to the fermenter at a pitching temperature of 36C. Hotter than anything I have done but, Shane assures us, is the perfect temp for the Kviek Voss yeast we are adding. A reading is taken, and shows the SG is 1.057 – exactly as predicted. We know that Kveik can be a little…enthusiastic, and Shane predicts that the beer will drop 15-20 points each day before it reaches FG. He gives us a sample of a beer pitched the day before, which has a remarkably pronounced citrus flavour. He points out that this hasn’t been dry hopped yet, the citrus flavour is a product of the yeast and the hops added during the boil. I can’t wait to try this at home.
Kveik yeast added. Don’t hang around, it goes off like a rocket!
Dry hops are added on day one, so we are pretty much done. We have a little bit of time left, so Shane racks off a couple of his big guns. Firstly, the toe curling 13% ‘Cabinet of Future Ghosts’ Chocolate and Marshmallow Imperial Stout.Thick, chewy, sweet but warming, like a smore on bonfire night. This was followed by the 10% Vampyre Disco – Pastry Imperial Sour Gose, an Imperial Fruited PB&J Sour Ale with Blackcurrant, Strawberry, Cherry, Redcurrant, Peanut Butter and Salt. An almost unbelievably delicious devil of a beer, thick, sharp, crammed full of fruit (probably more like 2 of your 5-a-day) and great way to finish off a great days brewing.