Proper Job IPA: Cornwall Via Oregon

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve said that we thought St Austell Proper Job began life as an homage to particular American IPA, but couldn’t for the life of us work out exactly where we’d got that idea.

So, last Sunday, we travelled up to St Austell and spent the day with its creator, Head Brewer Roger Ryman, and got the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

My friendship with Karl Ockert [head brewer at BridgePort Brewing, Portland, Oregon, from 1983 to 2010] is well-known and has been written about many times. 

In around 1999, I was invited to take part in judging for the Brewing Industry Awards. That’s the one that’s been running since the 19th century and, if you’re going to win anything, that’s the one you want – the players’ player of the year, judged solely by working brewers. You’re all cooped up in a hotel together for three days and you get to know each other. When we were leaving, we all exchanged business cards – “You must get in touch if you’re ever in town, let’s stay in contact,” – but you never expect to do anything about it. A couple of years later, I was in Denver with Paul Corbett from Charles Faram, the hop merchants, and I did actually give Karl a call. He arranged all these brewery visits for us – Anheuser-Busch, Odell, Coors…

After that, we arranged an exchange: Carl spent a week here at St Austell – all the pictures of ‘traditional English brewing’ in his book were taken here – and then I spent a week in the US, at BridgePort.

BridgePort IPA was one of the first of those really hoppy West Coast US IPAs, though it’s probably considered a bit tame by modern standards.

Bridgeport IPA Label.(It’s listed in Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide, 1998/2000, where it is described as having a ‘rush of intense minty, woody, cedary bitterness’.)

I remember clearly standing in the sample room here [at St Austell] and Karl said, “You should brew something like this – a big hoppy IPA – and stick it out there.” I took this as a kind of challenge. This was in about 2003 and there wasn’t anything out there in the [UK] market like that.

(Though PJ wasn’t the first American-style IPA in the UK, it was certainly one of the earliest. For context, Alastair Hook brewed one at Mash & Air in Manchester in the 90s; and Thornbridge launched Jaipur in 2005. There’s more on IPA-fever in the UK in Chapter 13 of Brew Britannia.)

The first version of what became Proper Job, brewed on that little brewhouse down there, was inspired by BridgePort IPA. I had the original recipe from my exchange visit and it had the same spec – 5.6 ABV, 50 IBUs.

Straightaway, though, I started to tune it and, really, simplify it.

St Austell Proper Job IPA.The original had something like five malts but I just used one; the hop grist had everything and his dog, including Goldings, Amarillo, Chinook… I thought, what are all these hops actually bringing to it? What I really wanted to achieve was what I thought were the key flavours of Bridgeport IPA – spruce pine-iness, a little hint of pineapple – and I knew those were coming from Chinook, so I made that the key hop. The grapefruity/elderflower quality was from Cascade, so I used those, too.  Then I also wanted a moderate, balanced hop in the background and so I chose Willamette, which I was already using in Tribute, and which rounded it out – gave it drinkability.

Post-Thornbridge and BrewDog, in a world where Stone and Russian River are far more influential than the rather staid BridgePort, bottled Proper Job, now at 5.5%, is no longer an especially astonishing beer. Drink it alongside attempted IPAs from other regional/family brewers, however, or after a pint or two of Bass, and it still seems like a breath of fresh air. In a variant form at 4.5%, made yet more ‘drinkable’, it is our go-to beer in the pub, and was our favourite cask ale of 2014.

Disclosure: though we brought our own sandwiches, Mr Ryman did provide us with a couple of cups of tea and we tasted samples of a few beers during the day.

10 thoughts on “Proper Job IPA: Cornwall Via Oregon”

  1. Maybe you got the idea from Proper Job’s review in 1001 Beers, written in 2009: The origins of the beer go back to 2004, when Ryman returned to the UK after a month’s sabbatical at Bridport Brewery in the US. He was a great fan of Bridport IPA (see page xxx) and this beer was very much in his mind when he designed Proper Job. There wasn’t a competition in 1999, there was one in 1998 and then the next was 2000, when Bridport IPA was champion ale in the smallpack class, just finished my history of the event (out next month!) hence the rare pedantic note…

    1. Cheers, Adrian. We’ve not got 1001 Beers though we have browsed copies in pubs, so you might well be right. Must admit that we didn’t cross-reference or check Mr Ryman’s dates — naughty!

  2. Bridgeport IPA is one of the select group of US beers that turned me into a beer evangelist. I first encountered it in California in 98/99. Sadly it is rarely seen in the UK: I don’t recall having tasted it in the past 10 yrs since I last visited to the US.

    In 2003ish I was brought a six pack by a customer. I put the bottles in a behind-the-scenes fridge for consumption later. When I returned later I found one of our bar staff had sold them. I was bloody furious.

    1. So… what do you think of Proper Job, then?

      We’ve only had two bottles of BridgePort IPA, both a bit tired, from the bargain bin at the National Brewing Centre gift shop. Tasted rather like stale Proper Job!

  3. It’s actually good that BridgePort IPA is not available in the UK. It is incredibly perishable, and within a couple weeks the hop character that makes it–still–one of the great American beers dulls. Come to Oregon and try it at the source.

    1. One day, Jeff, when money, time, day jobs and fear of flying permit. In the meantime, we’ve got Proper Job!

  4. Due to Proper Job being recommended by yourselves and appearing in my local Booths on a multi purchase discount, I consumed quite a few bottles over Christmas and enjoyed them very much so thank you. Rooster’s Fort Smith is my localish equivalent.

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