Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This "new" thing they call "craft".

It just occurred to me, how much of the problem some people seem to have with the c-word may be down, not to over-use (and there has been of late), but rather to lack of familiarity.  I spotted a knowledgeable beer blogger apparently expressing surprise at the term "craft butcher". This is a long established usage; I mean there's even a magazine called that.

Did we forget craft potters, craft furniture makers, etc? Looks like we've got some kind of recency illusion going on here.

Update: Someone asks: "why is there a need to dub an honourble old trade which makes a quality product with a contemporary term?" To which the answer has to be: It's not a contemporary (new) term. It's just new to you.

Another Update:
Time was, any self-opinionated so-and-so might hog a spot at the bar and, unchallenged, discourse on their favourite idée fixe or bugbear. "My opinion's worth (at least) as much as anyone's".   This style doesn't translate well to the context we find ourselves in here, for instance.

While you are (or I am) holding forth, our readers have got another tab open, googling any dodgy sounding fact, hauling up counter evidence from ancient copies of Hansard (or whatever). Get with it, Dad. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mash efficiency, etc, according to the Professor.

We recently came across a piece by blogging home/craft brewer (and, we're sure, diamond geezer) broadfordbrewer  Reading an account of a yummy sounding raspberry wheat brew, we were a bit confused by some of the calculations employed in estimating efficiencies. So, as we usually do when confused (and we usually are), we asked the Professor for help.

"Ah yes, Stringers," he smiled,  "I've seen the kind of thing you're referring to."  He laughed, "These homebrewers and their formulae, passed down like myths and fairy tales from who knows what original source!"

"Of course" , he continued, "you'd be wise to measure efficiency in terms of how efficient you are in getting stuff out of the grain, so you refer to laboratory extract, rather than simply the mass of the grain (which would include husk, other insolubles, dead mice, etc), as some homebrewers do. Why do they do that?"

He limped over to the blackboard, "See, Stringers, you may have come across something like this..."
Chalk squeaked.

Extract = (volume) x (specific gravity) x (ºPlato — expressed in decimal form).

"But this doesn't really make sense...  since we can convert specific gravity to ºPlato like this..."

 degrees = (SG x 1000) - 1000
ºPlato = degrees / 4 [approx]

"So why are both SG and ºPlato in this formula? Since we can convert one to the other, we're not adding any information by including both. Formally, they're measures of the same dimension, expressed in different units. Pretty much."

He continued, "We can substitute and rearrange, to show that..." 

SG x ºPlato = (250 x SG2) - (250 x SG)   He smiled, "approximately".

"You see ºPlato has disappeared. So, indeed, there wasn't any point in having it in the first place!"

We spoke up, "The maths always seems easier if we work with litre.degrees."

"For sure, yes", said the Prof,   "The product of volume and gravity in brewers degrees."
He flourished his chalk, "For instance..."
10 litres at SG 1.040 = 10 x 40 = 400 Litre.degrees.

"Yes", we said, "That kind of thing."

He commenced pacing, "The maltsters give laboratory extracts for the malts which you might  think of as the extract 1 kg would give in 1 litre. If that were actually possible. For decent pale malts this is probably around 300 (assuming a coarse crush / moisture as is)"

We nodded, he went on,  "That's to say, one kg of malt mashed under ideal conditions would give you 1 litre of wort with a gravity of something like 1.300."

"So, for an example homebrew mash:" He turned back to the blackboard.

Pale malt: 2.8 kg @ 293 L.deg per kilo = 820.4
wheat malt: 0.8 @ 296 = 236.8

He waved at the board, "I got these values for extract from a recent malt analysis, but you can look up typical values on the InterWeb , or you could call it 300 and wouldn't be far wrong."

He continued writing,
total potential extract 820.4 + 236.8 = 1057.2 litre.degrees

Turning to us, "What you actually get out of the mash might be 24 litres at 1.040 Specific Gravity, i.e..."
24 litres x 40 degrees = 960 litre.degrees

"So your mash efficiency is something like..."
 960/1057.2 = 0.908 = 90.8%

"Post-boil, you might end up with..."
 18L @ 1.044 i.e 18 x 44 = 792 and 792/1057.2 = 0.749
"That is..."

"Which you might call brewhouse efficiency!"

He dropped his chalk and pushed his spectacles back up, "Got that Stringers?"

"Thanks Prof!"

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Blog: Poll: Polls on Blogs. You decide.

Are there too many polls on blogs nowadays?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Tie and the Small Brewers

Just suppose all this government PubCo malarkey ever reaches some kind of conclusion, and just suppose that a mandatory FOT (free of tie) option ushers in a new world of pubs. What's this new world going to mean for yer small brewer in this country?

I'm happy to consider myself a small brewer. Of course, if I had my right legs I'd be well over six foot. But hey, short legs run in my family (along with noses).

As things stand, whatever else they are, pubcos are big beer buyers (also wine, spirits, soft drinks, and everything else).  This means that they can demand big discounts from brewers (and everyone else).  The big brewers have fantasy price lists, of course, and are adapted to this.  The big brewers can also deliver the volumes that these big buyers require.  The pubcos operate closely with, or part own, wholesaler / distributors that facilitate this part of the operation. Then they whack a markup onto that discounted price to cover (a) their costs of running this operation and (b) the wet-rent element of their take from the pub.

We're all aware of the SIBA DDS scheme where small brewers can, if they wish, try to get their beers listed by the pubcos, so that select outlets can order their beer through their normal pubco channels and get it delivered direct by the brewer.  Of course, the costs of (a) administering this system and (b) the wet-rent are added onto the price that the brewer gets. So this beer is typically no cheaper (for the pub) than the regular stuff.  Dealing with the big wholesalers isn't really an option for the small brewer. We can't make beer for the price, or in the volumes, that they require.

If many pubs decide to opt out of their tied partnerships, they'll likely be charged higher rents to offset the pubcos lost wet-rent.  But they'll be free to buy on the open market.

And this is the question we started with.  What would this expanded free market for beer look like? What's the place of the small brewer in it?

There will be some new opportunities local to the small brewer - local pubs that have opted out.  There may be less call for beer through the DDS.  There will be opportunities for wholesalers to expand their free-trade business. The big wholesalers still won't be interested in small brewers.  There may be growth among smaller wholesalers.   There is the possibility that some small brewers will take advantage of the opportunities (particularly in the transitional phase) to grow their businesses quite substantially. Perhaps no longer being quite so very small.  I suspect the overall effect for many small brewers will be a small positive one.  Nothing to get really excited about.

Interesting times. Maybe.  Maybe not.

All the above, strictly a personal thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I'm not an Economist, but...

Professor Morten Hviid is. He wrote (in his reponse to the BIS consultation on proposed intervention between tenants and pub companies:

"If the market really is competitive as claimed, then increasing the fixed costs of the industry will lead to exit until the price has increased to cover these additional costs.  "

But that's not right is it? That would only be the case (at the retailing end) if variable costs remained the same.  But the whole point is to give the option of buying beer out of tie (at lower cost), increasing the gross profit available to those tenants who chose that option. And doesn't this then increase the incentive for the tenant to sell beer (they would get to keep more of the profit), while offering pubcos some insulation from the actual wet beer market (they'd have a portfolio of market rents to wave at their shareholders / lenders)?

Wouldn't a FOT option allow tenants to obtain a higher share of the profit while accepting a higher risk? Or, alternatively, allow them to choose the tie for  lower risk & lower profit. And contrariwise for the pubco? There being only so much risk (and profit) to go around.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Don't like it? Simply take it back.

So, imagine:  You're in, I dunno, a nice burger spot, you see other diners order at the counter.  Up you trot, queue briefly and examine the choices.

"What's the 'Chilli Superior Burger' like?", you ask the counter operative.
Comes back the reply, "It's a Habanero infused patty with fresh Jalapeño topping and it's really rather spicy."  
"OK", you say, "I'll have one of those, cheers."

Off to your little table with your purchase.  It certainly does smell spicy, but you quite like some spicy food.
You take a bite, but - oh my, this is terribly spicy (although you notice the chap who was ahead of you in the queue eating his with every sign of enjoyment).  You leap to your feet and march back to the counter, indignant:

"I bought this burger and I don't like it. Can a have a regular cheeseburger, please?"
The operative looks at you strangely, "But you've had a bite out of it!"
"Yes, please throw it away and give me something different, please. I'm somehow entitled."

The operative says:
[choose one]
(a) "Certainly."
(b) "You're having a laugh, aren't you?"
(c) "Security!"

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I am Craft, and I am strong.

Just supposing we wanted to brew a really strong beer, how would we go about it?  Let's put aside the question of why we would want to do such a thing (I'll come back to that).

We could start with lots of malt.  Problem with that is, unless we're planning to leave a lot of extract on the grain, we'll just end up with a giant lot of regular strength wort.  Sure, we could boil it for hours and hours, but this is going to give us all sorts of unpleasant burnt notes in the beer (and, unless we're good at cleaning, in successive beers). We've all tasted that kind of thing.

We could use malt extract.  This is essentially wort made in a dedicated facility,  then concentrated, often under reduced pressure. We can buy it in big jugs (or in IBCs, if you want).  This is a pretty good way of going about it.  Obviously, you want to get most of your gravity from the contents of your mash tun, but in most strong beers, in my experience, we can go up to 20% malt extract without spoiling things.  Of course, 50kg of malt extract is hard to handle (it's terribly sticky and difficult to pour out for a start), but it can help make a reasonable amount of high-gravity wort without requiring more malt than would fit in the MT.

Malt extract has got a bit of a bad name among homebrewers.  The reasons are various, so I'll limit myself to pointing out that stuff that's been sitting in tin cans for months on warehouse shelves doesn't compare with the stuff that a commercial brewer will use.

We could add sugar.  This might be glucose, or even plain sucrose (which we can buy in big sacks from just down the road).  Of course, because these sugars are pretty much 100% fermentable, the resulting beer will be drier  (i.e. have less residual sweetness and a less heavy body) than an all-malt ,or malt extract, beer of the same alcoholic strength would be. Now sometimes, we'd want a beer to be lighter and drier - it goes to drinkability, which is why the the history of modern British brewing is, in a sense, a history of sugar.  Strong Belgian beers are marked by their use of sugars, it's that digestability thing, innit?

Again, homebrewers have reported all kinds of unpleasant effects which they put down to the use of sugar.  Of course, they've typically added a high proportion of sugar to a crappy malt-extract based kit (see above) and then bunged some crappy half-dead yeast into it, so I think we can safely discount most of that.

Because these tricks (adding sugars or malt extract) would enable us to get either stronger beer, or more beer, out of the same size kit, they're often called brewlength extenders.

We could, if we wanted to, add enzymes. Malt, of course, brings its own enzymes with it. (That's the point of malt).  But if we were using significant quantities of non-malt grain, we might choose to supplement with stuff from a bottle. Enzymes are often used in the MT to help get good conversion (starch into sugars) if we're brewing with a lot of, say, rice or maize. You generally find the enzymes called amylases used in this way. But these aren't the enzymes I'm interested in here.

When we boil our wort we effectively fix its sugar composition.  We destroy (or, technically, denature) the mash enzymes, so that the proportion of fermentable and non-fermentable components stays the same (until the yeast gets to work).  But we can, if we choose, add enzymes after the boil, in the fermenter or in a conditioning tank.  There are a few options open to the brewer who opts to follow this path, but the basic idea is that these enzymes break down the unfermentable "dextrins" and release fermentable sugars such as glucose. Upon which the yeast proceeds to chow down.  So it's the same basic idea as adding glucose.

There's a few gotchas associated with post-boil enzymes, following on from the fact that the sugar composition of our wort has been, now, unfixed:
Unless we pasteurise the beer these enzymes are going to carry on working until there are effectively no sweetening and body supporting dextrins left. None, nada, zilch, absolutely F.A. Hence, a fearsomely dry, thin, beer.
Also, in packaged products that contain live yeast, since fermentable sugars can continue being released by enzyme activity for quite some time (months?), there's a real danger of overconditioning. 

So, given that post-boil enzymes are difficult to control, somewhat risky, and can't produce better effects than adding, say, glucose, why would anyone use them?  In some cases, I suspect it's little more than marketing bullshit. We'd be able to say, "Look, here's a strong beer we made with only malt - no malt extract or sugar added!", conveniently neglecting to mention the Amyloglucosidase derived from a selected strain of Aspergillus.

But why set out to make a remarkably strong beer anyway?  I'm broadly in agreement with HardknottDave in his rhapsody on one of his own beers, strong beers do offer flavours that you just don't get in their smaller bretheren. We're not ashamed or afraid of alcohol, so don't see any need to make a beer weaker than it need be.  At the same time, I feel that we get into diminishing returns around 10% - and this is just a personal taste thing.  Over that level of alcohol, hot, even burny tones are difficult to avoid. Very strong beers are often too sweet, which I don't like, but that's probably better than them being burny with alcohol and too dry. I'm sure there are brewers who can pull it off, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. I'm sure extended (and I mean extended) aging will pull some of these beers together, but who's got time for that nowadays.  Again, it's often down to marketing bullshit