Monday, May 30, 2011

Sounds Awesome.

"We then went on to a panel on Shaking Up the Brewing Scene with Martin Dickie from Brewdog. Martin had everyone absolutely quiet and on the edge of their seats as he started playing grunge rock on his laptop, methodically pulled out and poured a bottle of Brewdog ale, and took a sip before saying a word to the audience. His talk was mostly a history of Brewdog but did not disappoint with several irreverent lines and a bit of a “this is what we do, like it or $%#* yourself” attitude."

Oh, please.

More about what we missed here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gas, and Hot Air

Our copy of "Beer" - the CAMRA magazine arrived today. It's so absorbent, it's always on our coffee table.

Anyhoo, onto the Cask v. Real Ale argument (It's quite clear-cut, surely, Real Ale is "matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed". And normally sucked rather than blown out like "keg" would be)

But, in an effort to clarify the situation, we asked our expert Professor Branestawm to explain the concept of "vols" of CO2 for us.

"Consider if you will Stringers", He began, "A pint of liquid which contains 1 vol of a gas dissolved in it. If we magically removed the liquid, we'd be left with the pint full of the gas."

OK, Professor, we've got that, but how does this help us understand the carbonation and maturation "histories" of the typical Cask v. the lovely Real Ale.

"It's simple", he exclaimed, and continued "Please note - what I say here is illustrative and assumes a few things (open fermenters for one), i.e. I've made these numbers up, so you'll have to take my word for it that they are about right!"

We'll take your word Professor, please, continue.

The professor pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and flourished a curious and elaborate fountain pen. "My own design." he said, before rapidly drawing up the following table:
Vols CO2 in:
                         Cask           Real Ale
Start Fermentation         0              0      
End of Fermentation      ~0.8           ~0.8
Post Chill               ~0.5           ~0.5
Post tank conditioning    1.4             -
Into Cask                 1.4           ~0.5   
Out the door              1.4            1.4
On stillage (in pub)      1.5            1.5
On service (post venting) 1.1            1.1

"Which is to say", he went on, "Real develops at least two thirds of its condition (spending at least a week) in the container from which it's dispensed. i.e. it's predominantly Cask Conditioned, whereas Cask might pick up ten times less in cask. i.e. it's predominantly Tank Conditioned. i.e. Pretty much all of the secondary fermentation occurs in tank - not in the cask!"

Before we could say anything, he added, "Of course there's room for brewers to work in-between these extremes, tank conditioning up to, perhaps, 1 vol and finishing conditioning in cask."

But Professor, what's the problem with good beer being conditioned in tank, provided it's getting an appropriate period of maturation on its own yeast? Surely this is the key thing? And if tank conditioning makes this easier, why not?

"Well you see" said the Prof, leaning in conspiratorially, "this illuminates an issue with CAMRA's definition of Real Ale: Much of what is held to be the kind of beer that CAMRA is in favour of can only be called cask conditioned in a very narrow sense - some small amount of conditioning (secondary fermentation) in the cask is unavoidable when we're dealing with live yeast, but it's not a significant part of the production process."

We see Professor, but surely, brewers wouldn't call their beer Real Ale if it wasn't?

"Precisely!", cried the professor, "Only CAMRA ever called these things Real, the producers always called them Cask Ales, which they indisputably are, being ale and in cask!"

He smiled and shook his head. "They're not bloody stupid you know, these brewers!"

Many apologies to (the estate of the late) Norman Hunter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FIGJAM and the Wedge

Years ago, when I used to hang out with musicians (no, I wasn't a drummer) - I briefly worked alongside an Australian band. That was when I first came across the "wedge". (If this is a drinking term you've always been familiar with, please ignore the rest of this piece.) By "wedge" I don't mean a bit of wood (or something) with a triangular section used to lift, jam, or separate. I suppose the meaning is a related one, because, you see, a wedge is the drink that you buy in-between drinks in a round.

Consider: Alice has finished her drink, but it's Bob's round. Now, clearly, she's not going to sit with an empty glass while Bob savours his, and carry on sitting with no drink while he replenishes their supplies. But Alice is far too well brought up to hurry Bob along, and besides, that's poor drinking practice - for all sorts of reasons. So Alice announces, "No worries Bob, I'll get a wedge in." And off she goes to get herself (and only herself) a drink. The round is still with Bob.

This is a concept that surely exists wherever drinks are bought in rounds, but I didn't have a word for it. To the best of my knowledge, British English hadn't developed this term, and needed the vibrant, productive, booze including Australian variant to produce a beautifully apt way of pinning this down. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, the Wedge.

FIGJAM? Well, I've been thinking a lot about marketing, building brands, and the business of selling beer. How "Bigging Up" oneself and the product seems seen as a shortcut to success. Again, back in the day, I've heard this kind of thing dismissed as "talking a good band". As in:
Alice: Charlie talks a good band doesn't he?
Bob: I saw them at Planet X and they were f-ing shite.
Alice: Is right.
Just so, we hear many people talking a good beer. It's not quite the same as "talking up", but I suspect that it's sort of merged in with that expression nowadays.

Anyway, FIGJAM: Another great antipodean contribution to the language. It's an acronym:
Fuck I'm Good. Just Ask Me.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Photo shamelessly stolen from Jeff Pickthall.

Ahh, the pub beer festival. Don't you love them? Lots of beer - warm, flat and no sign of a sparkler. Seriously, if we don't take any special steps for proper cooling the beer is going to end up at least as warm as the mean air temperature. Sure, people put up a tent or awning to keep the sun off the casks, but the 24 hour average temperature in London (which is where this snap was taken) was probably at least 14°C. Worse than that, there's bound to be a certain amount of temperature cycling - a little warmer in the day, cooler at night. So your beer's probably going to be at the right temperature at about 10 in the morning on day 1, but it'll be flat after being vented too warm the day before. By the evening, and for sure on day 2, it'll be too warm and flat. Yum.

Of course, if you know what you're doing and time everything just right, and you're lucky with the weather, you're probably able to get at least one session where the beer is in good nick without spending money on special cooling.

While we're on the subject - I've never done the experiments, but I'm not convinced of the effectiveness of the old damp bar towel trick, particularly on plastic (or wooden) casks. It looks more like a magical operation to me.

What do you think - is cooling important at all in the BF setting? Or is it just the kind of minor detail that only a saddo like me would care about?

I should say: I'm not commenting on the arrangements at any particular boozer here - the photo is illustrative of what a lot of places do if they're putting on one of these events, and I'm certainly not trying to blame the outlets for any short-comings in the product.