At a beer festival where the choice is plentiful and the beers couldn't get any weirder, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. But that’s exactly what Atomic managed to achieve: the brewery’s Lemon Whip Sour has taken out the People’s Choice award at GABS 2022.
The dessert sour modelled on a lemon meringue pie was served with a blowtorch-burnt head, with Atomic head brewer Nick Ivey telling The Crafty Pint the visual and flavour combination was something that had been on his mind for some time.
“The beer concept came from my crazy head,” is how he puts it.
“Lemon meringue pie was one of my favourite desserts as a kid and I’d ask my mum to make it for me for my birthday.”
So, while he hadn’t made that many sour beers in the earlier part of his brewing career, they've been making regular appearances while he's been leading the brew team at Atomic, which has a brewpub home in Redfern and is part of the Good Drinks family along with beer brands including Gage Road and Matso's.
“I always kind of had in the back of my mind that it would be a really interesting flavour profile for a beer," he says, "and if you could nail the liquid and put a meringue on top, it would be a really fun thing to do.”
Despite the out-there nature of the end product, the Lemon Whip recipe is simple enough: lactose was added to create the beer's dessert-like qualities; fresh lemons were there to nail the balance between lemon, tartness and sweetness.
“Once the beer had finished fermenting, we did a bunch of benchtop trials just to work out what kind of percentage [of lemons] we thought should go into it,” he says.
The decision to pour the beer with a layer of meringue added via cans was in place from day one, in the knowledge that standing out at GABS requires an element of theatrics. And it worked: attendees were drawn to the flare of the blowtorch.
“You could notice that in the way the crowds hit us at GABS,” he says. “You’d have a lull in service and one person would order a Lemon Whip and it was like moths to a flame, and you’d get pumped behind the bar for about 45 minutes. Then a crowd would develop, people would stop seeing it and you’d have another lull in service – it was rinse and repeat.”
But while the visual elements and Instagram-friendly nature of the beer helped them attract an audience, Nick believes a lot of its appeal was down to how well the base sour beer nailed the brief, and how well it worked with the creamy meringue topping. The most humbling part of the festival for Nick was the sceptical punters who circled back to the stand to say how much the concept worked.
“I didn’t want to do a gimmick for the sake of it being a gimmick,” he says. “I wanted to do a really solid product that had a bit of theatrics about it.”
The win has created a buzz in the brewery too, coming on the back of a difficult couple of years for the brewpub that have included a COVID-delayed opening in September 2020, a lengthy shutdown last year, and difficult trading conditions that have followed Sydney's reopening.
“During those hardest times, we had to search pretty hard for things to smile about,” Nick says. “So it’s just great to get this win and have something to lift the team – there are a lot of smiles here at the moment.”
If you missed out on the beer during the festival, you're in luck – it's been re-brewed. They're also hosting a Lemon Whip launch party on Saturday, June 25, at their Redfern home. It kicks off at 3pm and the first hundred Lemon Whip middies are on the house.