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Student brewers on the up: (from left) Professor David Quain, students Daniel Boxall and Ashley Wadeson, Black Iris Brewery director Alex Wilson

U Notts students partner with Black Iris, Dancing Duck

Brewing students at the University of Nottingham have their own-recipe cask ales on sale in pubs after hands-on collaborations with two brewers in the East Midlands.

Under the banner Cuckoo Collaborative, the project is the brainchild of former Bass research manager Dr David Quain, now professor at the university’s International Centre for Brewing Science.

The work counts towards an MSc qualification, with two pairs of students developing their recipes on the centre’s pilot plant before brewing on a commercial scale with their chosen collaborators – Black Iris in Nottingham and Dancing Duck in Derby.

The results, now flowing through pumps in both cities, are, respectively, Laima’s Luck, a lime and coriander hefeweizen; and Jester, an ale showcasing the eponymous new English hop variety and backed by the British Hop Association.

Quain explained that the scheme was developed from a similar scheme titled Natural Selection Brewing, which he came up with while teaching at Heriot-Watt University in 2011.

“I picked up the idea again when I joined Nottingham two years ago, working with Castle Rock Brewery under the name Zero Gravity. This year we’ve done a variation on that, working with two brewers, and the aim is that it will be reborn every year with different partners.

“Students treat it like a job opportunity, and have to find a brewer to collaborate with before developing a recipe, testing it among their fellow students, and gaining real hands-on experience alongside experienced brewers.

“Then they have to sell the beer. That imposes constraints on what they brew. It can’t be over-edgy, not a 9% Trappist beer – much as I’d like that personally. We have to be socially responsible: they have to be quaffable beers.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to launch a beer they can be proud of,” he added. “It’s very much about teamwork, too, and they wouldn’t otherwise get that kind of opportunity.”

Laima’s Luck and Jester are one-off, single-batch brews, available in a number of pubs for a limited period to give them “collectability.”

Quain explained, “We’ve no objection if the brewer wants to make the beer part of its portfolio but part of the USP is that it’s a collaboration.

“The partner brewer invests in raw materials and they’re taking a risk, brewing with people they don’t know and putting their brand on the line, so we offer them all the proceeds – though if they do brew it again we’ll have to talk about taking a share the profits.”

Black Iris Brewery collaborated with Ashley Wadeson and Danial Boxall on Laima’s Luck.

“It's been great working with Ashley and Dan,” said Black Iris director Alex Wilson. “It was a really open process where we allowed the guys to focus on brewing some truly interesting beers, and the outcome has been a really delicious, summery hefeweizen.”

“It’s so exciting to have finally launched the product we’ve been working so hard on for the past year,” said Wadeson. “We couldn’t have done it without the expertise and support of the team at Black Iris who really helped us refine our ideas and reach a result we hope consumers will enjoy.”

Meanwhile, Quain is already thinking about next year’s Cuckoo Collaborative: “We want to grow the project and diversify in terms of packaging.”

And following the project’s completion two of the students have joined their brewery partners as full-time employees. Ashley Wadeson is now working at Black Iris, Will Keeble at Dancing Duck.

Phil Mellows
17th August 2017

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