Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brewdog join our gang!

Fantastic news! The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has been honoured by Brewdog. "Welcome aboard" we say.

It's a pity that  James Watt chose to mark the event by saying BD were
"not fans of SIBA…especially the Scottish branch. In fact we pretty much detest everything they stand for and their close-minded clique mentality"*
BD also go on to make clear that they've joined mainly to get access to the Direct Delivery Scheme - which allows SIBA members to sell to some pubco outlets while preserving the pubco mark-up (and subject to pubco control).

We're SIBA members, but we don't bother with DDS. Why not?  Well, there aren't really enough outlets near us for it to generate a lot of business.  Getting further afield would make it difficult to fulfill orders in the required time. But mainly, we believe deals like this are papering over the cracks in the pubco model:  The pubco still gets to charge their mark-up, SIBA takes a (small) cut also. The pubco (rather than the tenant) still gets to choose which beers will be available (i.e. membership of the DDS doesn't guarantee that your beer will be listed). DDS creates an illusion of choice for the tenant (and pubgoer) and the illusion of market access for the brewer.

Oh, by the way boys, dissing the trade organisation that you've just joined (as a probationer) is a bit rude, and stupid - unless of course you're hoping that they'll (threaten to) throw you out, generating a bit of publicity.

What do you think?


Friday, December 03, 2010

Ooh, I love Christmas, me.

We've pretty much sorted out our Christmas plans.
1. Make and sell a spice beer.
I have a small but "pongy" pile of cardamom, mace, cinnamon and ginger in the office right now.
2. Go to California for a fortnight.
This will be my first holiday for 3 years. Becky says it shows.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Seriously, do they think we're stupid?

...the government will get behind schemes to encourage children to walk to school. The white paper will flag one that rewards schoolchildren with points that can be exchanged for shopping tokens or cinema tickets. Each child will have a plastic card that they must swipe on each of a series of card-readers on their way to school, attached to lamp-posts or other fixed points.
From here.

I mean:
1. That's so unfair! We live literally across the road from school, so unless the boy does an idiotic detour he won't get his free cinema tickets.

2. When we were kids we were (a) smart and (b) nasty. Hence: "Oi, you, fat kid, give us your dinner money, and while you're at it, take my card and swipe it for me."

3. How long are we supposed to think these child monitoring stations will remain attached to lamp-posts?

4. Are they on crack, or what?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Be careful what you wish for...

I didn't think I'd have a problem with minimum pricing, and we read that it's really on the cards this time. Actually, I don't read the Torygraph, but in fairness, I believe they broke this one (i.e. were fed this) so they get the link.

I reckon that I can live with this:
Under the plans, the minimum price for a litre bottle of spirits would be £10.50, while a 20-pack of beer would have to cost at least £8.50, and a bottle of normal-strength wine at least £2.

But hello, what's this?
Ministers are also to review the duty paid on beer, with a view to creating a new higher tax "bracket" for super-strength brews.

I'm not sure I like the look of that - at all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why keg is best.

Ever since J.W. Green of Luton started kegging beer in 1946, the advantages of this modern, hep, 20th century paragon of packaging over the old-fashioned, unreliable and generally shite alternative has been obvious to producers and consumers alike.

So why are we still revisiting this old argument? Some blame CAMRA for interfering in the value-free workings of the market which was making "cask" extinct: For foolishly diverting the asteroid of shareholder value as it plumetted towards the oblivious dinosaur that was real ale; For sentimentally interposing the landrover of publicity between the oligopoly's pack of hyenas and the huge-eyed baby gazelle of freedom; For rashly squandering the antibiotic of choice on the mortally sick puppy of an industry distorted by excess vertical integration.

With keg of course, we can extend the product shelf-life and deal with longer and more complex supply chains. We need no longer restrict ourselves to those outlets that can look after the product - but now sell to anyone who can hook up a gas bottle - there's loads more of those than there are good pubs.

It's not just brewing, it's beverage technology! It's totally now!

With keg we can get more people drinking our lovely "craft beer"! Of course we can. We can secure the future of beer. Just like J.W. Green did.*

* Became Flower’s. Taken over by Whitbread who are no longer making beer - they're in the business of providing hospitality.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

I have drank...

No! No you haven't!

You have drunk.

And also, you were NOT sat down.
Not unless someone sat you down there. Like you were a dog.

Deep breath. I'm OK now

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Misunderstanding of Science.

Well, as we all must know by now, Prof David J Nutt et al have published a study piece assessing harm related to the consumption of various psycho-active substances (let's call them "drugs" - there, that was easy).

The headline point has to be "alcohol is so the worst".

And of course, beer bloggers, chains firmly yanked, cages rattled, leap up yelping "No! that's not science!" and "Him! he's a discredited neo-prohibitionist". *

So, what do you think we should do?
Should the alcohol industry speak with a unified voice?

Should we (brewers of lovely "craft" products) join up with the industrial producers of fermented corn syrup? Should the beer bloggers carry on saying (in effect) "since beer is good, dangerous drinking must be allowed", and "it's not the state's job to tell me what to drink, although I suppose it should be allowed to tell me what to smoke, snort or jack-up".

Do we really mean that limiting access to my psycho-active substance of choice is bad, whereas those other drugs (other's choices) need controlling. Is this something to do with the "Narcissism of small differences"?

* Answers: (a) no, it's about a way of using "knowledge" to make decisions.
(b) he's not really, is he?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Public Harm

The past 50 years have seen the worst epidemic of public harm from a legal drug since the introduction of cheap gin in the 1700s. Although alcohol intake has doubled in this period , alcohol related harms have increased many times more on account of the culture of heavy and, particularly, binge drinking that has developed. There are a number of reasons for this epidemic. The major ones have been the last government’s policies of reducing the real price of alcohol and increasing drinking hours , plus the massive increase in the marketing of alcohol in supermarkets, often as a loss-leader . There has also been a marked growth in strong lagers and ciders of up to 8% alcohol content that appear designed to facilitate rapid intoxication rather than to satisfy palates.
David Nutt

more Nutt

Oh yeah

Monday, October 25, 2010

Consistency. Again. Sigh.

A sceptic wrote recently that they might:
...go out tonight and drink the grog of my local regional brewer and drink 5 pints of what is branded the same bitter, and all will taste different.

I've been trying to imagine some possible scenarios where this might actually happen. i.e. not just one of those things that we all nod at, without thinking "hang on, that's b*ll*cks".

  1. Objective
    • 1.1 Five pints in five pubs of varying quality
    • 1.2 "he's just changing the 'barrel'"
    • 1.3 glassware issues
  2. Subjective
    • 2.1 Drift of taste - saturation / habituation effects
    • 2.2 Other taste effects. Interference by peanuts / crisps / last drink /etc

I'm not going to expand all these points now. That would be really dull.
OK, so. Your Real Ale is known to be sensitive to issues in the first group. It can be kept or served badly, or well; at the wrong temperature; in dirty or inappropriate glasses. There may be some detectable taste change during the "shelf life", we're talking about live products, which will have some microbiological activity continuing (you'd hope mainly yeast). Equally, these types of beverage do have a serving life over which there will be some taste change. In the second group - since taste is an issue, then subjective taste changes will be noticable.

On the other hand, for other beverages served with high levels of dissolved gas, at low temperatures, in near-sterile conditions and protected from oxygen, flavour (as such), where detectable, will tend to be more stable. Since taste is less of an issue - it's been reduced to at or below threshold by fizzyness and temperature - the process managers / brewers can be more confident that issues of the second kind will be less troublesome.

That's the post-packaging variation pretty much deal with.

Looking at the big variables in the brewery - we can tolerate some variation, as long as it's less than most of our customers will detect.

For instance, bitterness (measured in units called European (or International) Bitterness Units i.e. EBU or IBU - pretty much the same) isn't well resolved by most tasters. You'd be very lucky to find an untrained taster who can spot the difference between 35 and 40 IBU (other things being equal). So in the brewery, if you're aiming at 40 IBU you'll need to be confident that you're between 35 and 45. i.e. +/- 10% is probably good enough. (I'm sure I've read that a lot of people top out around 70 IBU, so there'll be little perceived difference between 80 & 90 IBU. i.e. big beers are easy.)

Problem is, hops (a) change with age and (b) vary from batch to batch. So we (a) don't buy more than we need and we store them cold (we freeze open packs), and (b) recalculate how much we'll need based on the analysis of each batch. Not everyone does this - but since the inter-batch variation can be 20% - This might mean that your beer, meant to be 40 IBU, comes out almost 50 - quite a few people will detect this (the brewer should be one of them).

Gravity and strength depend (mostly) on how much stuff we put in. This will be mainly malt (and water - thanks Dave). Malt comes in handy 25kg sacks (for the small brewer that is - the big boys get it by the truck or railcar). That's easy - you need 125kg of malt in your recipe? Take 5 sacks and you're sorted. Well, not always. And this is a bigger problem the smaller your mash tun is (that's statistics for you). The maltsters seem to do a minimum fill - pretty much. Occasionally those 5 sacks could easily mass 135kg or (much more rarely) only 120kg. So before we start congratulating ourselves on the cracking Mash Efficiency we got this time, let's check-weigh those sacks-o-malt. Otherwise that beer's going to be almost 8% stronger than we meant it to be, unless we liquor it back (i.e. dilute it) in which case we've just knocked the bitterness (and colour and everything) back haven't we?

As has been pointed out before, the bigger brewers have the lab facilities and the big blending tanks that support working to real tight specifications. But there's no reason why with reasonable care a small brewer can't work to perfectly acceptable limits.

See, what I'm saying here is that the Real Ale is susceptible to post packaging mishandling. This is an simple one for the drinker - don't go to crap boozers. Or if you do - drink cold fizzy stuff that's harder to f-up. And small brewers need to weigh stuff properly, clean like crazy and do some simple arithmetic.

Always remembering that the important thing is that it should taste good. Consistently good.

Easy really. Touch wood. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Too long for a comment

Mr Lager suggests (on the Hardknott blog) that the point of the branding effort (he chooses Becks Vier for his example) is "Letting punters know what’s in it and ensuring the grog tastes okay" .

Well, no. Becks can (of course) knock out a largely inoffensive beer in pretty much whatever colour, strength and quantity their owners want them to. And of course they'll do that day after day.

The Bosses then spend piles of money telling us that it's "Different By Choice" - the product is presented as a Mainstream Alternative. Add some human beatbox stuff (remember when that was edgey?) and some special glasses (German technology) And what you've got is a marketing effort that says nothing about the beer except that it's made in Germany (= pure = good) and it's a bit weak (= not wifebeater).

What it does say is that it's "difference" and "choice" packaged up for men who aspire to drive a f*cking Audi and don't want to be thought of as the lout-ish type, they're way more hip than that. Look! I've made a "choice"! I have a nice shirt and pants, also some hip-hop. (Yep, and I know about Motorhead, but I'm quite mature now.)

Now that we've established the product's position, which we hope will appeal to our target demographic, we'll be needing some visible reminders of our expensive adverts. The drinker is paying a bit more to demonstrate his alignment with the product ethos, so we need to afford him a display opportunity. Hence branded glassware, POS, etc. That's branding.

I'm not sure why smaller brewers would bother putting their name on a glass. They haven't spent the money to make it worthwhile. Nobody cares. That's why a lot of people in Dave's survey aren't really bothered. RA drinkers are making all the statement they need by being seen to drink the stuff at all. A plain glass will do nicely.
i.e. I'm pretty much agreeing with Mr. Lager, in the end. In that most "Real Ale" products (particularly micro-brews) aren't strong brands. But that's not because they're weak products, but rather that the marketing effort is weak, or missing. Of course.
If consistency is perceived to be a issue in the market, then perhaps it should be addressed. Let's talk about "craft" products. Where simple consistency isn't a selling point.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hazy Beer

This focus on clarity [in British ale] is annoying,” he says. “You get punters in a pub who think that if a beer is clear, then it’s good. A fantastic beer with a haze, they send it back. But the best beers I’ve had have had a natural haze. In Germany, you get a beer with a haze, it means there’s something good in there. Or an IPA – there’s so much hop oil in there it will have a natural haze. The IPAs that have a hop haze are usually head and shoulders above those that don’t."
Jason Hawke of Moor Beer quoted here

Well, we try not to let it annoy us. But I know what he means. Now, I'm not a master brewer, but I have done a bit of (a) brewing and (b) reading, so I hope I'm not going to be too far wrong in what follows.

There are a few kinds of haze you might come across in beer. Sometimes these will be "faults". Now "fault" is a funny idea anyway. Consider a starch haze. In a British bitter (pale ale, whatever), a starch haze is pretty uncommon (except perhaps for a beginning homebrewer) and it's probably due to a rubbish mash. In some beers (e.g. historical white beers) potato starch was used, and in others, high proportions of unmalted grain - which would have promoted such a haze. i.e. haze would be expected in these beers.

Protein / polyphenol hazes, again quite rare in British pales, put down to bad brewing or malting, but key in many wheat beers. In other beers may be due to high levels of hop or malt polyphenols interacting with normal protein content. Indeed, to promote a stable haze in some beers, refined tannins are added.

Lipid hazes, fats (or oils) suspended in the beer - bad if you've got trub spoiling your pale ale - but what if it's down to hop oil from your shedloads of late/dry hops?

Yeast haze - you'd expect a pale ale to have low levels of suspended yeast (< 10K cells / ml ?), but we all know of beers that are intended to be visibly hazy (or indeed opaque) because of yeast. Some brewers add a yeast product (biocloud?) to give a stable haze. Others use fish-guts to produce the stable sediment, and high clarity, that their customers expect. It's a fact that some yeast, in some beers, will present a hint of harsh bitterness (or bite) and is probably best left sitting in the belly of the cask rather than in the glass.

Chill hazes - those protein / polyphenol hazes are more stable at low temperatures and tend to fade when the beer is warmer. So chill a fresh beer below the intended serving temperature and a (transient) haze will be produced. I gather these hazes can become more stable with time at any temperature - so beer may develop haze as it ages - eventually the haze may become dense enough to sediment out.

All that said - for many British style pale ales - two key measures that are commonly assessed in the cellar are clarity and condition. If it's clear and not too flat - put it on sale. This is a simple, and usually effective, tactic for presenting beer well...

...Except when the beer is known to be hazy, when the cask has a big sticker on it saying "NATURALLY HAZY", when the beer is delivered by the brewer who tells the publican "this is hazy, you know".

Anyway, one of my jobs next week is to uplift a 9 of "Hop Priest" (an extensively hopped IPA), which was judged to be unsaleable because it's "too hazy". Ho hum.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It will be soon.  Look out for it at the Swan (Ulverston) or the Dispensary (Liverpool).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Consistency. The bugbear of tiny minds.

Now, obviously, I do like a beer to be recognisably the same beer from gyle to gyle. And I do want it to be nice every time. But I don't need it to be exactly the same. Why would I?

Consider (if you will) those areas of human endeavour where consistency and standardisation are important: Screw threads, Firearms manufacture & er, stuff like that.

In 1841 Joseph Whitworth (a Northerner, naturally) came up with his standard threads (the first). This was neat. Now I can put a nut from manufacturer 'A' on a bit of stud from his rival 'B'. I win, everyone wins. Interestingly enough, even though we now have more modern screw thread standards (loads of them, some even metric!), you'll find lots of Whitworth's breakthrough in UK breweries. Where? In your RJT connectors - the screw thread is the coarse Whitworth. How about that.

Or, imagine a rifle. "And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this Is to open the breech, as you see." It's pretty important that the bolt is going to fit snugly in the breech. Otherwise all kinds of bad stuff will happen.
But rifles can't be made by hand. Not if we're going to use them in a proper Industrial War with literally millions of units deployed all over the world. They have to be made so that any bolt 'A' will slide "sexily" into any breech 'B', made perhaps miles away and years later.

On a related note, a pal-o-mine needed some unusual bits for a old car he would insist on nursing. They'd stopped making them of course. But he was able to call in to a light engineering shop where a nice old geezer with ciggie hanging out of the corner of his mouth was able to knock something up while he waited. Brilliant.

But it's an unpleasant reminder of how mechanised our spirits have become (in our mechanised world), when we expect our food and drink to be like machine parts. This is wrong. We should enjoy our beer (or wine, or bread) when it's not the same as it was yesterday. Is it better? Worse? Or just different?

Where we need consistency and standardisation, let's have it. Where we don't, forget 'em. Why aren't we sure enough of ourselves, our tastes, our identities even? Why do we want the world to be so unreasonably static around us? Things change - there is movement, and difference, and variety. Get over it.

The big producers can flatten it out. Grind it, and us, all down. They have to. That's how they work. But how did we let them convince us that's the way it should be? Are we stupid, or what?

Our old mate Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us that he's a fan of:
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life should be full of strangeness Like a rich painting Mark E. Smith had it.
And I don't think he meant that it would be jolly to season our lives with a bit of bought-in strangeness. This is not the time for "pub jukebox" list game. In which I amaze and astound by shrewd choice of polycarb and vinyl. If it was, we endgame with "Fish Chart" - in which are reviewed works of Pike and Tuna Turbot first noted (but not preserved?) at Probe. Other claimants - You Lie Like Rugs.
"You don't have to be weird to be wired
You don't have to be an American brand
Mr M. E. Smith - totally wired
This is serious, in that we need to go the whole hog including postage. For maximum yuks.
A tip if you like, "LEAVE THE CAPITOL".
But what do I know? I'm more like
"commune crap, camp bop, middle-class, flip-flop
Guess that's why they end up in bands
Mr M. E. Smith - english scheme

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vast majority of people don't live in London. Perfectly happy about it.

That London: 8 million
UK outside London: 56 million (7 times as many)
Whole world outside London: 6866 million (858 times)

Not theft - tribute.

Dark country clip
Yippie flag

Yep, I know.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Letter to Evening Mail

It's a shame that you chose to illustrate the piece on " drink can ruin the way you look" (EM 6 Oct) with a picture of a delicious looking pint of beer.
While no-one, least of all a brewer, should be complacent about problems caused by excessive drinking, study after study has pointed to health benefits associated with moderate consumption.

The piece goes on to consider the calorific content of various drinks, suggesting that the calories in alcohol have no nutritional value. While this may be true as far as it goes (and the same claim could be made for sugar), it ignores any positive contribution to our diet made by our chosen tipples; Beer, for instance,can be rich in anti-oxidants, trace elements such as silicon, as well as soluble fibre.

But above all, beer is a delicious drink of moderation, especially when consumed in the relaxed yet controlled surroundings of the pub - which is where you'll typically find the pint shown alongside the original piece. Your readers are lucky enough to be well served by a number of excellent local real ale breweries and many responsible publicans, who work hard to provide a healthful beverage in a safe setting.

Jon Kyme
Stringers Beer - Ulverston

Sunday, October 03, 2010

it's about the beer

"Of course, with you it's more about the beer, isn't it?" That's what a fellow brewer said to me a while ago. Meaning that they're happy to put the business of the business first. Not that their beer's bad, you understand, but I guess they see it as the means to an end.

Another brewery I know of, been going for more than 10 years now, seems to be doing pretty well. They get their beers out and about, have a couple of hundred fairly regular outlets, yet are pretty well known for their quality issues. Even at their best, some publicans won't touch it - "Like homebrew" - which is rather unfair on homebrewers, I've had some lovely homebrew, but I think I know what he means.

A pub I know of (not a local one), well-run and successful (so they must be pretty businesslike) has recently got themselves a little brew plant. Next time I get the chance I must nip in and try their beers in-house. I'd like to suggest that you look out for their stuff, but since a high proportion of what they've sent into trade is infected and undrinkable, I can't.

Now, take us; Our credit control is OK, the duty and VAT returns are done on time, we do watch the cash-flow, and we're generally pretty good on the old production planning and stock control, but I have to admit that we're not really very good at the marketing thing. We're not particularly "proactive" about developing new business, or bigging up our image. There's only two of us - I suppose we could hire someone to fill the skill gap, but since we went into this to be free, we're worried that being employers would be too stressful and diverting.

The Beer? We don't get it right all the time. We've come up with beers that not everyone likes. We've been let down by poor quality ingredients (we don't have the facilities or experience to always catch them). We've made mistakes - fewer nowadays.

We make some excellent beer. Simple as that. Beer that's at least as good as anything anyone else I know is making. "Almost beautiful" a (drunk) man in a pub said, and made to punch me for making him say something so soft. But we're failing you by not getting it into your glass, because we're not very good at selling. Sorry about that.

But you know, I'm almost proud of that, because for us it is "more about the beer".

Monday, September 27, 2010

Leave it.

As our old mate Marcus Aurelius always used to say:
"Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not [only] of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in [the same] intelligence and [the same] portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away."

Hippy, or what?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The feet of freedom.

"Postwar Britain saw little need for the temperance move-
ment. In 1951, the govemment refused to pay for a representa-
tive to a World Health Organization meeting on alcoholism on
the grounds that the problem did not exist in Britain. This
claim was in one sense a tribute to the work of the temperance
movement; however, it also revealed the temperance move-
ment’s decline. The spirit of the 1960s was freedom, summed
up by Sir Jocelyn Simon’s peroration at the final reading of the
Liquor Licensing Act of 1962: 'Now is the time to dance. Now
is the time to stamp the floor with the feet of freedom!' "
Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beer. Is. Not. Art.

Alright then, why isn't beer art?

Well Phaedrus, that's basically because it's useful. And explicable.

OK, so if it's not art, it can't be conceptual art?

Right you are Phaedrus. You're as sharp as a tack today, aren't you?

Ah but, it can be "concept" beer can't it?

You mean a beer that stands in relation to conformance with traditional brewing styles or processes as conceptual art might stand in relation to formalism?

Er, yes?

Well, no, Phaedrus. That's cock isn't it. Your "concept" beer must still be brewed using traditional processes even if some of your parameters are extreme.

But what about "style busters" like Black IPA, surely you'll have to admit that...

Listen Phaedrus, I don't have to admit anything. And anyway, Black IPA is usually stout. Or possibly a very dark bitter. Or a strong ale.

Ah, so it's got you questioning your categories - that's conceptual.

No, Phaedrus. It depends on the particular product that you're talking about. Some are recognisably stouts, some bitters, and some will be judged strong ales. Because you sell me a product that is beer, is brewed, it's just beer.

So could there be a concept beer?

I suppose there could be, Phaedrus. Perhaps a beer that drank itself. Or a beer that only existed as a written description. The concept would have to be more significant than the execution (of the brewing process, or the marketing) or the act of consumption.

Let me get this right then. You say that a beer existing as a genuine brewed product, that I can buy in a shop, take home and drink, can't be (a) art or (b) concept?

Bingo, Phaedrus. Come on, let's go to the pub. They've got some of that BrewDog on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

So... Damsons. eh?

We have these damsons.

I'm going take a pile of freshly-picked, unwashed damsons, smash them all to pieces, and let them sit around for the wild yeast (etc) on them to start work.

Then I'm going to dump them into some beer that I have.
(Dark, 5.5%, lightly hopped)

I'll leave it alone for a while and then bottle it for Chrimbo.

Why wouldn't that work?

The damson juice seems to be about 16 brix so I'm guessing that the fruit is between 5 & 10% sugar by weight. What kind of sugar? I don't know that it matters, but I remember reading that plums (and damsons I'd guess) have a higher proportion of their sugar as glucose than most fruit.

So, 10kg of fruit in 80 litres of beer is what I'm starting at. Some of the little guys are quite tart and there's a fair hint of bitterness. I bet there will be some bitterness from the stone also.

My prediction then: slightly tart, a little astringent and a tad stronger than the base beer - but probably not more than 6%. Colour? Predominantly brown I should think. Purple would be fantastic, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen.

Looking forward to it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Something about beer.

It's that time of year when we make our strange "strong ale". The one where we do everything wrong.
We go very easy on the hops.
We ferment it hot.
And we chuck in a random handful of spice*.

Why? Oh, why the hell not.

It goes off like a rocket. I'm racking it today - it smells of alcohol and burns your tummy, don'tcha know.

"Genuine Stunning" 6.5% Usually on sale from November.

*This year it's mainly Grains of Paradise and a tiny bit of Coriander (the small seeded variety, but only a tiny bit).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Want it? Can't have it.

Some interesting discussion of beer adverts here and here. Of course, sexism in beer advertising is hardly something new. It's not to be wondered at - the creators must despise their audience to do the work.

I can't remember who first pointed this out to me, but nearly all adverts tell the same simple story. First we're presented with an image of something desirable but unobtainable, then the product is offered as a sort of consolation prize. So the conversation goes like this:
Advertiser: Want this? [Offers images of bustling high-energy metrosexual lifestyle (San Miguel) or beautiful people having great fun in your fantastic new apartment (Heineken)]
Me: Yeah!
Advertiser: You can't have it. [You're too poor, stupid, ugly - and you know you are] Have this to cheer you up. [proffers product]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Drinking in Britain. Wine v. Beer

Data Source:

I think we can all see where this is going...

Trying is the first step towards failure.

I hope the copyright owner (I guess that would be the enormously talented and generous Matt Groening) won't be upset.

Anyhoo, after telling you all how easy big beers are, I suppose it's time to admit that the mighty pale ale supposed to be at least 7% is actually a measly 6.5%.

Why? If I tell you it should have been boiled longer to concentrate the wort? Any guesses? Something to do with a heater?

You, boy at the back. That's right. Heater on the copper gave up on us. So there you go. I now always meant it to be 6.5%

I think its going to be good though. Obviously not as strong, or as intense as planned, and paler of course. Probably not a bad thing as it turns out, since it's quite progressive as it is. First outing at the Ulverston Beer Festival: Thursday 2nd September to Saturday 4th September.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Brewing the Bigger Beer

Or as The Dictators put it in their top ditty "Faster and Louder":
...Speaking as a young artiste who has so much to say
So now you know my situation
understand my aggravation
building up so strong inside
cause I wanna make some noise
I can live
Faster and louder
I'm a man
Faster and louder
(You might be able to check out the track here...)

So, how do we do the Big Bottomed, or Fuller Figured beer (if you'd rather)?
Well (and perhaps I shouldn't be giving away secrets like this - but imagine me as a sort of Penn Jillette of the magic circle of beer - only with less talent), we put more stuff in. That's it. That's all there is to it.
In fact, it's even easier than that. Because we put so much stuff in - we end up with a stronger beer. Two things are well known about strong beers:
  1. Beer geeks like them.
  2. People can't drink much of them.
So the Bigger Beer gets lots of attention, and we don't have to make a lot of it.

Even better than that, it's not absolutely essential to pay the usual attention to balance, or for that matter - anything. Since we can market the Bigger Beer as extreme or transgressive or category-busting, we'll find it hard to miss the mark. We make it. That's what it's supposed to be like.

But what if it's too hoppy, too malty? Too bitter or syrupy? It can't be. See?
There's people out there who will love it. Bless them, they probably talk about the saltiest meal they ever had.

Lots of people will hate it. But those unfortunates (with all their taste receptors) can stick to session beers. The future belongs to the hard of tasting with the armoured palates.

So what do you fancy? An Imperial Black IPA? A trippel hopmonster Stout? Let me go and throw some stuff in a bucket and I'll tell you which it is - when it's done.

Actually, the next one we're doing is a 7% pale ale with a bunch of Centennial and Amarillo in it.  Not too much I hope. Notes of pine, orange and rose, with lawns a-mowing in the distance.  A bittersweet base, like the last hot Sunday afternoon of a childhood holiday - you'll never see the other kids again. Should be ready at the start of Sept.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The End of Home Draught

Particularly Suitable For Cumbrian Beers

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If you can't measure it...

Count what is countable, measure what is measurable. What is not measurable, make measurable.
Apparently, some geezer, name of Galileo Galilei, may have said this. Good on him.

Here are some things we measure (and count). You might call them process variables.

Mash temp (right after start). pH at 15 mins (if we remember)

First runnings from the mash tun - gravity (actually brix) and pH (cooled to around 40C) and subsequently as run-off proceeds.

Copper volume, gravity, pH.

FV volume and gravity

Progress of fermentation - temp and gravity

(yeast) Cell counts and gravity at racking

Post-conditioning gravity and pH

Plus we have to smell and taste stuff. Yep, there's a lot of beer that has to be tasted. Oh well.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Fingers crossed.

Oooh, that big heater on our copper. Bad heater. It went again of course. So I decided to have a proper look at it. Insulation cooked off the wiring. Corroded conductors. Nasty. OK, so, undo everything and wire it up again. I decided to remove the wiring enclosure and spin it round a bit to give a better angle for getting the wires to the crappy little terminals. This gave me a better look at the ends of the actual elements.

I tend to call this heater the 12K element, but it's actually 6 elements, joined together 2 per phase. And what's this, the little link connecting two of the elements is all gnarly and burned. Barely touching one of the posts, and only shakily connected to the other one.

On the left, the old one, on the right, a new one I hastily "machined". Little beggar.

I reckon that old one would have been arcing and getting all naughty and hot. It may have been the cause of the trouble all along. Perhaps.

And you know, it all seems to be working. This is good, as we absolutely have to brew tomorrow. It's probably going to be  Sunbird, some of which is likely for the big festival in that London. Touch wood.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Dear Cellarpersons,

Most of the time our casks come back in good condition, even closed nicely (sometimes) and we're very appreciative of the time spent, and care taken, by cellar people and publicans in presenting our beer in the best possible condition, as well as their responsible handling of these returnable assets. To you, thanks.

But (and of course there's a "but") ...
I picked up a bunch of empties the other day (from a wholesaler) and was surprised to find a wooden keystone in one of them. We don't use wooden keystones. We use a nice tight-fitting rubbery one. (The keystone is the small bung through which the tap is hammered.) Clearly then, someone has removed our keystone for some reason (did they get their tap stuck?) and bunged in another one.

Now, there's a bit of a knack to getting a keystone out at the best of times. What we don't do is belt a gnarly old screwdriver down the side with a big old hammer and pry the sucker out. If the tap's stuck (I had occasion to deal with this in the cellar of a good customer just the other day) the trick is to carefully but firmly lever the tap back and forth a little, twisting it a quarter turn or so from time to time, until it gets loose enough to pull out in the normal way.

The plastic casks that we use have a number of advantages: They're light, easy to handle, quiet (no terrible clanging as you clear out the cellar) and cheap. They're not so cheap that they're disposable, and they belong to us - we lend them to you - and we're happy to do so. In the olden days you might have been bringing your casks to the brewery to be filled. We don't make you do that now.

Plastic casks do have some drawbacks. They're somewhat susceptible to damage from the indiscriminate use of metal tools. And sure enough, in removing the keystone a number (why?) of small, rough, screwdriver holes have been punched through the keystone seat. This cask is now impossible to clean properly and has been retired. That's about 30 quid gone, just like that.

We have had a few casks returned damaged in similar ways. I can't imagine any reason why you'd need to remove either the keystone or the shive (we've had a few of those also). If you do need to get them out - please try to figure out a way of doing it without knackering our assets. Our phone number is on every cask - give us a call and we'd be happy to talk to you about it.

And while you're at it, I'm always pleased to see that people are marking the casks with received dates, vented dates, whatever. But why do it in permanent marker? People, the clue's in the name. What you want is either a sticker (on which you can write with anything - this is what Weatherspoons do for goodness sake) or use a grease pencil (wax pencil / china marker/ chinagraph pencil).

Seriously folk, if I promise not to come into your pub and f*ck up your glasses, will you please look after my casks?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In Liverpool...

... well I'm not now, but I was on thursday. Delivering beer, of course. Not very much beer, but to one of my favouritest pubs, the Dispensary on Renshaw St. (or, as it has been called, "Rapid Hardware St."). When we lived in Liverpool I used to drink in the Dizzy (or Dissy, or even Dispo) a fair bit, and it's nice to hear that it's just recently been declared Liverpool CAMRA pub of the year - well deserved. It's one of the establishments that Cains revamped a few years ago, having previously been the Grapes - a boozer I'd never been in (and I wasn't alone in that).
Look down and you're lost.

It's more-or-less a city centre pub, and it's practically on the main route for the students as they run giggling into town, but it's got a proper feel to it. It's not full of suits guffawing about who they f*cked over in the office today, and it's not full of unstable all-day drinkers. You can go in with the spouse and have a quiet drink, perhaps before (or after) something cultural. You can go in with a few mates on a bit of a crawl. You can watch the footy. You could, if you wished, stay there from noon to midnight. There's a range of proper beer including some unusually good Cains. It's a proper pub. Go there.

And then I called in at the shop for a cup of tea and a chat. Now, when I say the shop, I can only mean Probe Records of Liverpool. And I do. If you don't know where that is - get to know. If you know it already - they're moving soon, to the Bluecoat. When they do, perhaps they'll update the website. You'd hope.

Update: They have! Updated the website, that is. With news of the upcoming move. Blimey.

You might have gathered that I really like Liverpool and that I miss living there a bit. You'd be right. Why did we leave? It's a long story, and there's a man with a gun in it. But we like it here a lot too. So that's alright.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

You put *what* in it?

We were pleased to see that some of our beer was on at a Vegan Beer Festival recently, along with beers from Belvoir, Buxton, Magpie, Marble, Spectrum & Springhead.

Most of our beers are brewed using nothing except malt, hops, yeast, water, and (sometimes) sugar. There's some unmalted barley in the stout, and we've been known to throw carefully infuse some lovely black treacle or fine malt extracts into some of our irregular beers. Our yeast is non-GM, and as far as we know, our suppliers haven't figured out a way of getting animal products into the hops and malt. Even the sugar we use is free from animal products, non-GM, and would be suitable for vegan, vegetarian, Kosher and Halaal diets. Although, obviously, since our beers are alcoholic beverages, you might want to check with your local zealots before ruining your chances of paradise by drinking some of our delicious frothy ale.

We do have some flaked maize in the malt store, but we haven't used it in anything yet. If we do, we'll tell you.

Since all our cask output is "real ale" it will contain live yeast, which can cause a visible haze in beer and may contribute interesting tastes and aromas in the finished product.

Animal products in beer.

Many pale beers will have been processed using fish derived "isinglass" finings, to produce a "clear" product by promoting a rapid and stable settlement of yeast. Brewers typically add isinglass as the beer is transferred to cask, and while pretty much all of this will remain in the cask as sediment, it does mean that beers fined this way cannot be enjoyed by vegetarians / vegans. Some brewers even use isinglass in their dark beers.

It's not just beer - wine producers might use any, or all, of: isinglass, gelatin, egg albumen, modified casein (from milk), chitin (derived from the shells of crabs or lobsters) or animal blood.

Some brewers manage to avoid the use of isinglass by relying on a highly flocculent yeast or by sending beer out with rather low levels of residual yeast. We've found that neither of these approaches will give us beer that reliably conditions in cask and suits normal cellar operations. Personally, I don't mind hazy beer as long as it's clean, and I find that small amounts of suspended yeast help, rather than spoil, the taste of beer. However, we've found it pretty near impossible to sell unfined pale beers, so we do normally use isinglass in them.

Not needed in dark beer.

On the other hand, our dark beers work perfectly well without finings, so we don't put any in, making them suitable for everyone, including vegetarians and vegans. Yay!

Any utensils or containers that may have been in contact with isinglass will, as a matter of course, be cleaned thoroughly after such use, and before being used for anything else.

Bottled and kegged beer.

Given that beer destined for bottles and kegs will usually be filtered (or centrifuged) to remove yeast and other hazes, you might think that these products won't have been processed with isinglass or animal gelatin.  This is often not the case. Depending on the kind of filtration used, the filter run or use of consumables can be improved by fining beforehand.

We're just looking at bottling now. We hope that we'll be able to avoid finings, but this is liable to have a slight cost impact on the finished item.

Even bottle-conditioned beers may have been fined, but you should check with the brewer.

Monday, May 31, 2010

How hot is that?

We've got a thermometer and we're not afraid to use it. In fact we've got a number of thermometers. Not one of them ever shows the correct temperature - I'm pretty sure - or if one does - it's an amazing coincidence.

The met office tells me that the temperature on Walney Island, which is where I did much of my growing up, is currently 14.3°C. Which seems quite parky. Which is why I've chosen to live a few miles inland (oh, and not in the middle of a windswept airfield). How accurate is that measurement? How precise? And what's the difference?

It's easy to use the terms "accurate" and "precise" as if they were interchangeable. They're not. Accuracy considers how near your measurement is to the true value, whereas precision tells us how close we can expect repeated measures made with the same instrument will be. I think. Unless I've got that the wrong way 'round.

So, if the met office is right (and here we mean right in a very godlike, absolute sense), and I went to Walney and measured 14.8, it would be fair to say that my accuracy was something like 0.5°C. If I made 4 more measurements really quickly (so as to be reasonably sure that the true temperature didn't change) and got 14.7, 14.8, 14.7 and 14.9, then I might say that my precision is something like ± 0.1

This all assumes that I've got a thermometer that reads tenths of a degree, i.e has a resolution of 0.1. If I take one of my crappy old glass thermometers with me ( I can judge the 1/2 degrees, just) I might end up reading 14.0, 14.5, 14.5, 14.0, 14.5. Which would be less precise, but more accurate .

Is any of this important to a brewer? There's one stage in the process where we're quite keen on getting the temperature "right" and that's in the mash tun. You'll be told that 65.5°C is the magic mash temperature (for a simple infusion mash). Of course, if you want drier beer you may aim lower (say 64°C) - for sweeter beers, perhaps higher (67°C ?). Whatever, we need to decide how accurate and how precise our temperature measurements need to be.

One thing we need to remember is that the mash tun is pretty big and has got a lot of stuff in it. For that matter, the mash tun is made out of a lot of stuff itself (which is why we generally preheat it in some way). We cannot make an accurate measurement of the mash temperature by simply sticking a thermometer in the middle and reading it. At the very least we'd need to make multiple measurements and take some kind of average - this is what we do - when shooting for 65.5, we generally get a range from something like 64 to 67, and the average usually works out OK. So we're reasonably confident that we're in the general area. At least at the top of the mash. Right after mashing in.

That said, what we're really after is nice beer. It's not really important that we mash at 66 rather than 65.5, so long as people like the beer and we get paid for it. But controlling the variability removes some of the potential for surprises down the line. This is why we use a thermometer with a resolution of 0.1°C (although 0.5 would probably be good enough, i.e. a good bit smaller than the range we measure), which we calibrate (to ~0°C) every now and then. We may not be very accurate, but at least we're fairly consistent in what we do. We hope that this helps the beer to be consistent also. And nice.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why won't they brew strong?

"Why is it "traditional" English breweries won't brew anything stronger than 4.8%", it has been tweeted.

Taking a random selection of "trad" brewers -

Adnams: there's a couple of strong seasonals, currently "May Day" 5.0% ABV.

Cains: "FA" 5.0% ABV

Fullers: "ESB" 5.5% ABV

Hook Norton: "Haymaker" 5.0% ABV

Jennings: "Snecklifter" 5.1% ABV

Marstons: "Old Empire" 5.7% ABV

Shepherd Neame: "Bishops Finger" 5.4% ABV (bottle)

Thwaite's: "Double Century" 5.2% ABV (bottle)

Right, that's that canard shot and stuffed.

FWIW, we always have at least one stronger beer on. And, in fact, most proper brewers have (at least in bottle) a strong beer in their line-up, as well as their session beers.

I was talking with a local publican the other day - it's part of the job. He tells me that he has customers who come in straight from work at 4 or 5 pm, and drink 'til closing time (at least, I should think). Now I know this is a terribly déclassé drinking style, and must seem very strange to all you jaded urban sophisticates out there, but that's what happens in some pubs.

Anyway, he goes on to explain that this means that he takes 30 quid off them in a night, they have a lovely evening talking shite with their mates, and everyone is happy.

Furthermore, he points out, if he could get them to start on lovely 6.5% super-hoppy lovingly hand-crafted and challenging - whatever, they'd tilt after 3 or 4 pints. He'd take, at most, a tenner off them ('cos he's not going to charge a tenner a pint, is he?), and he'll turn his beer over at rate that would lead to wastage.

How do you like them apples?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The thermodynamic rollercoaster of beer.

Nothing's ever at the right temperature (or in the right place).

A brewery is a machine for making beer. Even a little Heath Robinson one like ours. One of the things that we have to manage is temperature. This has been preying on my mind of late since we've just had a spell of warm weather (at least that's what we call warm 'round here). Just for fun here's a not-to-scale graphical representation of this key process variable

See? It's a bugger, when you're not heating it, you're bloody cooling it. Inbetween, you're pumping it (or carrying it) from one place to another. God I love this job. Love it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ass U Me

I notice that the good folk at the Reading BF list one of our beers as:
West Coast Blonde 4.4%
Pale beer brewed with West Coast USA hops?

Now, I know that they're very busy people, what with trying to ensure that their enormous range of 500 beers is in good condition (good luck with that), but why make up that bit about USA hops? Will it help sell the beer? Surely US hopping has become a real cliché in English micro-brews of late? I'm sure there's now a generation of drinkers who think that beer is supposed to smell like grapefruit.

For the record - there's only one beer in which we're currently using a US hop - and it's not this one. The contents of our hop store (it's a big chest freezer actually) include:

  • Northern Brewer - great quality - resinous and slightly citric, nice clean bitterness

  • Challenger - crisp bitterness, I find that some straw and grass comes through. Nice.

  • Hallertauer Mittelfrüh - also great quality - lightly floral, fresh.

  • Goldings - Used pretty much exclusively in our "milds". I've never really got on with Goldings (which must make me a weirdo)- there always seems to be a sort of cold stewed tea tannic quality if we use a lot of them in the boil. In a lightly hopped beer though, this works for me, while the bitterness may be quite low, the quality of the bitterness keeps it interesting.

  • Odds and ends of various "Styrians"

  • Bobek! Boss! Unlike the other "styrians", this isn't (I gather) a fuggle variant - has it got Northern Brewer in it's ancestry? Or something. Citric yes, but not grapefruit - it's orangey / lemony - tangerine perhaps.

  • Amarillo- Stinks of cat p*ss & mango. Revolting? But leave it to air for a few hours and the cat creeps out, then some distinct minty notes come through. Fascinating. The catty stuff doesn't seem to make it into beer either - but I'm inclined to let it breathe before using it for dry-hopping. The bitterness is good and all kinds of nice orangey tastes come through. Definite tropical fruit used late. Great example of how the smell of the hop in the hand is not what comes out in the beer.

And where did the "e" come from? It's blond, not blonde. It's the name of the beer, not the lady on the clip.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Down the drain...

... not beer. Trade effluent.

I had to work out our discharge volumes the other day, so that the nice folks at United Utilities could figure out how much to charge us. It's not a complicated sum, but it's quite instructive. Your mileage may vary.

Of the water that comes in, about 15.5% goes in product (beer) or is lost in evaporation, around 2.3% goes out in by-products (spent grain, waste yeast) and 82% goes down the drain.

I know that doesn't add up to 100, but that's rounding error for you.

Or to put it another way - each pint of beer we produce means we need 6.5 pints of water, and gives rise to about 5.3 pints of effluent.

This is actually pretty good for a tiny brewery. And of course, we're not short of water 'round here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eeuw, nasty.

I was in a pub recently, drinking some beer that we'd made. It's a particularly flavour-packed fairly high ABV little number with some quite forward esters bordering on the solventy (N.B. this wasn't a mistake - was intended). It had about 10 weeks on oak chips in stainless, then re-racked into our plastic casks where it passed another few months. It's been interesting.

But this one, eeuw, what's that nasty smell? Some people couldn't smell anything wrong. Becky didn't like it but couldn't name it. One person referred to laundry. I smelled damp cellar, musty, something.

I'm guessing that here we have a hint of
trichloroanisole (TCA). You'll observe that this looks a lot like those chlorophenols that come up when chlorine based sanitisers are allowed to come into contact with the beer (or with wood). It might be derived from an undetectable trace of chlorophenol, methylated by some kind of bug, giving us TCA, which is incredibly smelly - detectable at parts per trillion.

Our noses are all different, and thresholds for detection of TCA vary by orders of magnitude, which is to say that I might not be able to detect something that you find utterly horrendous. Also, many people get used to TCA quickly, so after a few sniffs, it might stop bothering you (or not).

It's quite possible that the bad smell had got into the beer via dispense equipment, or was even migrating through beer lines which might be perfectly clean on the inside, if they were in contact with some minging gunk.

To be on the safe side, we need to make sure that our casks aren't building up scale (or beerstone) which might be giving a home to bugs, or impeding the rinsing away of sanitisers.

Since we normally use a chlorinated caustic cleaner which doesn't have anything special to restrict scale in it, we're starting an acid wash on the casks - every few trips. This gave me an excuse to go shopping at one of our excellent local agricultural supply and engineers. I wanted a John Deere hat but all I got was this stupid milkstone remover.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mais qu'est que c'est exactement...

... a black IPA? Let's call it a BIPA. And let's not hear anything about "Cascadian Dark Ale". That's a really stupid name. Although to be fair, one Lisa Morrison gives good argument here The original may have been Rogue’s "Skullsplitter" (and that's not even an original name of course).

So what is it then? Is it original? Is it new? Is it a hoppy kind of stout? Or a very dark kind of hoppy bitter? How hoppy should it be? Like an American IPA? Or not? Should it be roasty?

And all this gets me thinking. What is an IPA? What colour should it be? And for that matter, what is a stout? Does a (dry) stout have to have roast barley? Or at least get a noticeable chunk of it's astringent bitterness from high-roast goods?

I can't answer any of these questions, so we've posed them in the form of "Paint it Black", our take on a BIPA. It's out there somewhere. If you see it, drink it, and report back.

Oh, and is a lightly hopped dark ale a mild? I say yes. Even if dry. We don't make sweet beer. So look out for our "Go! Mild" special, and our regular "Dark Country".

Friday, April 09, 2010

Oh, why didn't I listen to Woolpack Dave...

See, a while ago the big element on our copper cut out during the boil. We managed to limp along on the little one (which will keep the boil going). I can't get at the head where the connections are without moving the copper (that's as much fun as it sounds) out of the corner where that nice Mr. Porter put it, so it wasn't until the next day that I managed to get in there with my trusty roll of insulating tape and bodge things up.

Job done?

Mr Woolpack pointed out that I should have used heatshrink as it's less prone to slip. But I hadn't got any - that's a bit silly. I didn't get any - that's really stupid of me.

And of course, it's just come back and bitten me. i.e. it's gone faulty again. We're not even boiling, there's 650 litres of wort in the thing (weighs a lot) so it's an immovable object.

Back of envelope calculations suggest that it's going to take something like 4 hours to come to the boil, and I'll probably have to boil for at least two hours rather than the 90mins that we usually do. I'm not exactly sure when I'm going to get home, but it'll be late.

Learning is fun!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hey Presto... it's cask!

Pete Brown had an interesting piece on Marston's redefining "cask ale".

Basically, it goes like this. "Cask" ale (they're steering clear of calling it "real" for the moment) can be differentiated from keg, not just by the shape of the container, but also by the presence of yeast. By using yeast trapped in beads, rather than freely suspended cells, it's possible to ensure that there's live yeast in the cask, in contact with the beer, but avoid the problems caused when excess suspended yeast causes turbidity (murkiness, haze, that badly kept aquarium effect, whatever).

If "cask" ale is looked after properly (i.e. left alone, somewhere cool) regular yeast will settle to the bottom - where it will stay. But this takes some time and care. Brewers often help things along by adding isinglass (a fish product).

So - a publican in a hurry, or careless, wouldn't have been able so offer their customers the delicious taste of "cask". Also, vegetarians / vegans aren't able to enjoy beer fined with isinglass. So many "cask" beers would have been verboten.1

As we know, many producer's "cask" ales are effectively "bright beer" which has had the yeast content "adjusted" at (or shortly before) dispatch. This makes these products predictable and (relatively) "quick to clear" in the cellar. Immobilised yeast, trapped on beads, is a logical next step.

They call it "Fast Cask".

But is it "real ale"?

Perhaps it's irrational, but for many, it's the continuity of the process from the fermenter to the glass that sets "real ale" apart from just about anything else.

The drinker, the bar staff, the cellarperson
all engaged with the same living process that the brewer merely started.

What's wrong with it? For a start the name - "Fast Cask" - it's so very 1980's. Here we are, in a time (we're told) when "slow-food" & "real food" have become practically synonymous with "quality" and some marketing genius has decided that what the product needs is some of that "Fast" stuff.

Also, I bet it works. I bet you can tap the beer straight away and put it on service while rolling the cask around the cellar, kicking it and shouting "I'm a teapot".
Beers which don't take that sort of abuse are disadvantaged in the dumbed-down de-skilled cellar culture that Marston's are proposing be the new status quo.2

This is not a contribution to "real ale quality". It's precisely the opposite. It's a way of getting an acceptable product out of the end of a process which can include low quality steps. Now the lazy and clueless can turn out acceptable "Cask". Something that was previously a sign of skill and care is now no such thing.

The product is less sensitive to abuse in order that a defective process can include a higher level of product abuse than was previously tolerable.

Does it taste the same? Maybe. Who cares? We weren't just buying the product. We were buying in to the process, and the (craft) skill and care required in that process. Perhaps it was an illusion. But illusions are valuable.

1. Vegans can enjoy unfined beers. It's still quite difficult to find unfined pale "real ale" (not impossible of course), there are probably more dark beers that are suitable (ours for instance).

2. Here's a tiny "micro-pub" that has four high quality "real ales" (and two ciders) cellared in a cupboard (more or less). This is what you can do with reasonable care and some know-how.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Something in the water?

All brewers are concerned about the quality of the water they use to make beer. OK, that's a sixpence fine - of course I should have said liquor, water is for washing. But then I don't have to pretend I'm a bewhiskered Victorian brewer surrounded by polished copper & brass - so I'll call it water if I want.

Some Water.

A brewer of our acquaintance, recently relocated, may have trouble continuing to call one of their beers "award-winning" since different water = different beer (according to some). Another brewer we know (also recently relocated) looks set to haul a trailer loaded with IBCs full of his favourite fellside water down some very wiggly roads. Given the winter we've just had, this looks like a way of limiting brewing to 10 months of the year.

So what is it about this water that makes it so important? What's wrong with the stuff that comes out of the tap?

We were science types at school, so it's no surprise that we have a particular way of looking at the world. It works like this: If there's something we don't want in the water - we'll take it out. If we're short of something - we'll put it in. There isn't anything else in our philosophy. It's not magic.

Incidentally, if you offered a homeopath shandy, would they say "Sorry, I'm driving. I better stick to this absolute alcohol, dilute solutions always get me rotten"?

But back to the water. Chlorine - that's a thing they have in tap water that you don't want in your brewing. Heating, stirring and standing will get rid of that. Or there's that trick with sod. met. if you'd rather. Apart from that - our tap water is really soft i.e. there's not much in it.

Some More Water.

( Reservoir pictures © Copyright Michael Graham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)
This one is just up the road from our house. Nice isn't it. There's also a bunch of windmills up here.

So, lovely soft lakeland water - that's what comes out of the tap here. Clean but with a hint of chlorine (which we can remove). If we need to add anything for brewing (e.g. calcium / magnesium salts, or common salt, whatever) we can. This way we can be sure that the water we use is potable (it has to be) and suitable.

Of course one could get a whole bunch of the favourite water and boil it down really hard, ending up with a couple of pints of some brown salty gloop. Take that to the new brewery site. Add a teaspoon to the town supply. That'll do it.

It's the purpose (and ambition) of water to become beer. Anyone who works to help this humble liquid achieve its noble destiny is alright in my book.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This and that

It appears that some bloggers out there seem to think that quoting from the Telegraph and adding words to the effect "me too" is worthwhile. Really, it's not. However, I do like to follow their links and seeing how many clicks it takes before you get to some half-arsed "libertarian" nonsense (answer - not many - and it's usually some guff about how "democracy is crap because after all the Germans elected Hitler didn't they?" - answer - no they didn't).

Fortunately, bits are incredibly cheap, so all this nonsense cluttering up the internets isn't really costing anybody anything. But you know, when someone can say
"When drinking was a male preserve that was kept out of sight in backstreet boozers, we never had all this anti-drink hysteria." and at the same time refer to a "wave of neo-Prohibitionist sentiment sweeping the land", I can't help wondering if they should put down the Telegraph and have a go at something a bit more fact-rich
like this:
Fascinating report about the history of temperance and it's relation to alcohol policy from the Rountree foundation

Enough about that.

We had a bit of a scare the other day. Sitting in the office having a cup of coffee while the boil was under way (we do sometimes do some actual brewing you know) a sudden loud bang made us jump up. Bangs pretty much have to be sudden and loud don't they?

Investigation (of the panicky sort) revealed that the circuit breaker on the 12kw copper heater had tripped and couldn't be reset.

We were able to complete the boil (just) on the 9kw, but I really wasn't looking forward to replacing the heater.

Next day, after I've found my little multi-meter under a pile of stuff, I unplugged the mighty heater plug and checked a few things. Everything nominal. B*ll*cks.

I dragged the copper around a bit so that I could get at the heater heads and checked the wiring. Bingo! Chafed sleeving on the earth and evidence of arcing. Smashing, put that right, threw a hundred litres of water into the copper and turned the heater on. Bang! Breaker tripped again. Double B*ll*cks.

More careful investigation of the wiring in the heater head revealed two more distinct faults (caused by vibration and heat I'd guess, along with slightly cramped wiring) and a bit of looseness as the cable passed through the gland. When I'd unplugged the thing I must have twisted the cable just enough to give me nice high resistance to earth - plugged back in we had a short. Anyway, touch of spanner and a bunch of insulating tape and we're laughing. Ah ha ha ha.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Breaking the law (of unintended consequences)

I popped into the SIBA North meeting in Southport the other day. On my way from Manchester to Liverpool (no, the Sat-Nav is fine, thank you). All very interesting as usual.

The subject of SIBAs position on the tie came up. Again. The old topic of the beer orders and the "Law of Unintended Consequences" (LoUC from now on) was made much of. You know, how we ended up with the pubcos and that.

It's a pet peeve of mine. The LoUC isn't an actual law. It's not like the Law of Gravity. All it says is that things you weren't expecting (and didn't want) will happen. It's what you call a truism, and is often used to excuse inaction on the grounds that if you do anything - something bad will happen. This is demonstrably nutso, since we don't need to do anything for bad things to happen. They'll happen even if you just sit there. This is the "Shit Happens" theory (the SHT).

For instance, it's not even certain that the pub industry wouldn't have evolved into what we see nowadays (pubcos in trouble), or something worse, without the beer orders. Unfortunately there's no control reality where we don't have the beer orders, but all else is the same, where we can examine an alternative history.

In the absence of access to the alternative reality, everything held to be due to LoUC can be adequately explained by SHT, making LoUC useless as a guide to action.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm not after you. I'm after them.

I think what Pete Brown1 is doing, whacking on those ropey neo-prohibitionist "facts 'n' figures" with his mallet-o-truth is great. He's putting in loads of work and I find it really interesting. But I suspect that this is not about the facts, and a point-by-point rebuttal is not necessarily a good play. (Did you see "thank you for smoking" on the TV the other day? Top film.2)

I can't see there's any point trying to "win the argument" and expecting the people to rise up against the new puritans.

And anyway, we're aware of the negatives of alcohol misuse. Anyone who's had a hangover knows that alcohol can be bad for you. We all know alcoholics, have seen fist-fights, car crashes, etc. Precisely how much of this is down to the booze? Who knows? Do we care? Do we need to know more?

We've already decided it's worth it. We've been on the sauce for thousands of years. Far longer than we've been listening to medics or funding science.

The cost of cars on the roads is worth it (we've decided). The cost of free access to guns and heroin isn't worth it (we've decided). We're grown-ups, and we've made our minds up. We'll keep the booze thanks.

1. Here et seq.

2 Thank You for Smoking

Friday, January 08, 2010

Dihydrogen Monoxide phase change spoils my day

One of the first jobs on a brewing day around here (after putting the heater on in the office) is to run some cold water so we can check the mains temperature. Imagine our horror when a few chilly drops was all we got. As it turns out, the mains isn't frozen (don't believe your water company when they tell you that it never happens - on this industrial estate mains water is now down to 2.8°C - a few more weeks of this weather and it will be frozen, probably on a monday morning).

It took the best part of an hour clambering about exploring to discover that a short length of pipe running against one of the big bits of steelwork has frozen.

So, we remove that section of pipe and soak it in a bucket drawn from the Hot Liquor Tank. And then, when thawed, put it back. Bingo, we have running water, and can make a late start on the brewing. It's cold. The malt is cold. The fridge is just a box with a light in. We've got two heaters in the (cool) store.

I shouldn't complain, but it's 3:30 and we're not even boiling yet, so I'll be home later than I wanted, and I've got a cold, and Becky's got the car so I'll have to try to get home in the van (or near home what with the ice). Grumble groan.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

All work and no play.

Makes me ... something ... something.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Pub closures?

There's been some discussion on the effect of TV-watching on pub-going over here
I suspect that there might be more to it ...