January 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the first ever brew of Baby-Faced Assassin, so we’ve decided to cast our minds back, retrace our steps and pull together a nostalgic look at how our multi award-winning, flagship IPA came to be and the journey it’s been on to get to where it is now.
The recipe was originally devised as a homebrew beer and first brewed in his bathroom by Tom Fozard, our Commercial Director. It was borne out of Tom’s frustration at being able to brew (mostly) good, clean IPA’s, but IPA’s where bitterness was at the fore and the aromatic qualities of the hops always seemed to fade into the background. Working under Zak Avery at the now sadly closed Headingley beer shop Beer Ritz, Tom was able to piggyback on Zak’s score of a kilo of Citra hops from our friends Summer Wine Brewery (now also sadly no longer in existence). He set about using his 500g to brew a 25-litre batch of beer with the emphasis on late hopping that was intended to be ‘deceptively drinkable’ and not to be taken lightly.
The resulting beer turned out even better than hoped and so, Baby-Faced Assassin was born. (Please note, with Tom being a staunch supporter of Leeds United, he’d like to point out that the name has nothing to do with Ole Gunnar Solskjær!)
Not quite sure what to do with the beer, but incredibly proud of how it had turned out and eager to share it with as many people as possible, Tom vaguely remembers running a competition on social media and sent out bottles to various people across the UK and thinks that’s how interest in the beer and its reputation started to grow.
The first homebrew label from back in January 2011
Fast forward a few months and a small batch (60 litres) of 750ml bottles of our now flagship IPA was brewed on Rooster’s baby, experimental brew kit (the same one recently used to develop Thousand Yard Stare and Strength In Numbers) and released in late-summer 2011. This was during a handover period between Rooster’s founder Sean Franklin and the Fozard family, who had agreed to take the brewery forward earlier in the year. It was the first time the beer had carried Rooster’s logo and we have Zak Avery to thank for capturing this moment in time during his time spent becoming the internet’s first video reviewer .
Over the next couple of years we resisted calls to re-brew the beer, as we focused on other projects, but eventually bowed to public pressure and released the first 20BBL commercial batch of B-FA in November 2013. As Zak touches on in his video review of the small batch version above, the original recipe wasn’t created with being anything other than a homebrew in mind, especially as it called for such a large late addition of hops that it wouldn’t have been a commercially viable product if the recipe had simply been up-scaled. It’s at this point that the beer we all know and love today came into existence, with Oliver Fozard, our head brewer, transforming and reworking the hopping rate and schedule to fit a full scale brew (20BBL at the time), as well as adding some extra weight to the body of the beer with the addition of Munich malt in the grist. Even at this stage, we only ever planned on brewing this version of the beer once, choosing to brand it under the Outlaw banner as a limited release.
We were blown away with how well this up-scaled brew was received that, in January, the decision was taken to add Baby-Faced Assassin to our core range of cask beers (we were yet to start canning and kegging our beers at this point in time). 2014 was also the year that the beer won the first of the many awards it’s won since it became part of our year-round line-up.
A year after becoming our flagship cask IPA, having become one of the first breweries in the UK to invest in a canning line, B-FA became one of three beers we chose to launch our brand new range of 330ml cans in January 2015. While having a poke around the internet in order to jog our memory on certain things, we came across this review of the beer by Sarah Warman, which we think might just be the first review of it in can, which is pretty cool. In fact, later that year, Sarah was asked by the team at Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch to join them to discuss a few canned IPA’s and chose to take Baby-Faced Assassin along, which was then declared ‘best in show’ by the show’s host, Simon Rimmer.
Simon clearly knows his onions, because, towards the end of the year, B-FA bagged its first award on the international stage, winning a bronze medal at the 2015 International Brewing Awards – a competition that comes around every two years and is dubbed as the ‘Oscars of the brewing industry’ no less!
More awards came its way in 2016 and the beer also established itself as being our number one beer for export, with folk in Northern Italy in particular developing a taste for it and it has since been enjoyed as far afield as Australia.
Aiming to go one better at the 2017 International Brewing Awards, Baby-Faced Assassin won arguably its most notable award to date by coming away with a gold medal in the small pack competition and also scooped a bronze in its category in cask.
Over the past few years Gold award wins have also come its way at various festivals and competitions across the UK and we’re also pleased to have seen the beer get picked up by the likes of M&S, Morrison’s, Waitrose, Booths and the Co-Op, which has helped it to reach more and more people along the way.
Not bad for a beer first brewed in a bathroom in Leeds, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Here’s to the next ten years!
Published January 2021