Smoked beer wins international bartender challenge

Innis and Gunn winnerBritish bartender David Ashton-Hyde has triumphed in an international competition to create a new beer with craft brewing company Innis & Gunn.

His recipe for smoked beer infused with bourbon oak and maple syrup impressed the judges and will be released as a limited edition in September and October, exclusively for the on-trade in the UK, Canada and Sweden.

David, aged 33, is beverage manager at Heston Blumenthal’s The Hinds Head in Bray, Berkshire. He faced five other bartenders from Scotland, Sweden and Canada in the closely run final of the Bartender’s Choice competition in Edinburgh.

The judges included Innis & Gunn founder and master brewer Dougal Sharp, beer writer Ben McFarland, and Emma Andersson, editor of leading Swedish drinks title Allt Om Whisky.

David said: “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I was totally bowled over by their passion for making beer and they took so much time with each of us to really develop our ideas into workable specifications.

“There were no corners cut, nothing left to chance. We all had a brilliant time meeting the team, finding out what they do and how they do it. And I’m still stunned to have won. Reality’s not quite hit home yet.”

David’s traditional “rauchbier” (smoked beer) recipe, made with Innis & Gunn Original, will have aromas of smoke and maple syrup combined with rich vanilla and caramel notes. The initial taste will be full bodied, giving way to sweet maple syrup and a clean finish of earthy and minty Northern Brewer hops.

David added: “My hope with the recipe was to create a beer that would encompass both savoury and sweet elements, so, while other beers play towards being paired with food, this is a beer that is designed to be brought out at the right stage in a meal and enjoyed in its own right.

“I’ve tried to bridge the gap between the soured mash and the sweet and smoky tones from the maple and bourbon. The charcoal and caramel hints of bourbon barrels married with the dry and fresh minty tones of the northern brewer hop should make for a really powerful flavour experience.”

Over 300 bartenders from across the UK, Sweden and Canada submitted beer concepts to Innis & Gunn for its inaugural Bartender’s Choice programme, which launched in September 2012.

The two finalists from Scotland were Geoff Whittall, with a botanical blonde beer flavoured with herbs and spices such as fennel, clove, anise, cicely, and Tom Hyde, who created an IPA with Lapsang Souchong tea and orange, aged in Pedro Ximénez sherry-infused oak.

The two finalists from Canada were Katie MacDonald, who came up with a spiced wheat beer aged in cherry brandy infused oak while, and Jason Meehan, who devised a porter aged in cognac-infused black cherrywood. Michael Andersson from Sweden created a robust malty beer aged in cognac-infused French oak.

Dougal said: “It was a really difficult decision for all of us because every one of the finalists delivered. The beer concepts were all so different. There was some serious thought put into the recipes and they were all worthy of the prize.

“The finalists themselves were fiercely passionate about their ideas and that came across in their presentations. Each pitch was compelling, it was such a tough call. But, David’s stole it by a narrow margin and we can’t wait to work with him to get his beer out to market.”

Ben McFarland commented: “The enthusiasm of the candidates from both sides of the Pond was infectious, encapsulating the entrepreneurial verve that is driving the international craft brewing scene.

“While every idea was grounded in commercial reality, each was inspired by something different and was hugely imaginative in the use of ingredients and brewing techniques. If every bartender was this passionate about beer, the lives of discerning drinkers everywhere would be a whole lot better.”

David, who is the son of a licensee, has worked at the Michelin-starred Hinds Head for two years, focusing on the development of the wet side of the business and ensuring guests get some Heston-style flair by bringing new dimensions to the pub drinking experience.

He said: “I grew up in and around pubs, from the early memories of following dad down the local and sitting outside with my half pint of prawns watching through the smoky haze as the men held firm their handled glasses, to helping the landlord’s son empty the bottle bins and restocking the fridges.

“The power of the brewer is as diverse as the distiller. It’s an interesting and innovative time – so many beers to discover and one of them will be mine.”

The Bartenders’ Choice competition will be back in 2014, with the search for the next limited-edition beer expanding to the US. To register interest, visit Innis & Gunn’s Bartender’s Choice Facebook page at

Previous Mojo and Langton's Gin unite for Hospitality Action
Next Soft drinks return to growth in UK on-trade