Saturday 30 April 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Chapter 1
Bank holidays, lovely idea unless you have to work them or you run a department which depends on deliveries around them. I’m on a train destined for London to begin my beer themed London weekend in London. There is something about train journeys from Cornwall which is relaxing and always reaffirms my love of England. The wilds of Cornwall giving way to the verdant fertility of Devon and Somerset and then the lush calm of Wiltshire and West Berks. After Reading excitement builds with the stunning Slough, Feltham and finally Paddington in all its dirty glory. I’m looking forward to the funny feeling that only London can bring.

My week in the brewery has been positive with the pressure on capacity providing a challenging balance. Last night Sharp’s said goodbye to the old management/owners, Messrs Baker and Keohane, who had been working as consultants since the sale to Molson Coors. They are off to grow another brand, this time in the world of Chocolate. The next comment is entirely conjectured but I wouldn’t be surprised if the brewing industry saw them again at some point in the future. I didn’t get the chance to have a final firm handshake because I was in the brewery until late. I wish them well and thank them for giving me the opportunity to contribute to a success story as well as a few very good rugby tickets.

Next week sees me away from the brewery in Burton and London for a lot of the week so I am hoping that the brewery doesn’t miss me so much that it spontaneously implodes as is typical.

Chapter 2
It is now 10 o’clock on Saturday morning and I am sitting in front of the laptop, full of Premier breakfast after what was an exceptionally beautiful evening with the Camden team. Everything about Camden is impressive; the beer, the equipment, the passion but most importantly the people. In Troels Prahl they have an exceptional brewer with a very bright future ahead of him. Camden have more control over their beer than breweries in the UK who are 20 times the size. Camden beers are clean, crisp and brilliantly professional. Our blend promises to a very interesting beer. An aged 10% barley wine brewed before Camden opened, blended with their crisp, fresh weissbier, beers between which there were more differences than similarities. There are also plenty of synergies and notes which dominated each beer have been brought into line in a wonderfully even flavour profile. The finished blend should be complex and dangerously-drinkable for a 7.5% beast.

The afternoon and evening spent there is the highlight of my year so far. As we sat talking about beer, brewing and brewers there was a connection of brewing souls, hearts and minds. The stresses of the week melted away as the London sunshine leaked in through the arched windows. The sheer enthusiasm and energy of James and Jasper was both inspiring and corrupting to a man fighting an obsession with beer!

I am 3 hours away from meeting the Barley’s Angels. I hope they are gentle with me.

Saturday 23 April 2011

No lights, No music, JUST ANGER

Outside was calm. The dawn chorus was tuning up in the half light amidst the stillness of a country morning. Three blackbirds played like children across the dew-kissed lawn. I failed to notice this as I shut my leg in the car door on the way to work this morning and treated my neighbours to my own expletive-strew dawn chorus.

Despite the third ominously flawless flavour panel showing in a row and sales of 751,176 pints of Sharp’s beer, this week left me somewhere between seething and despondent with a side salad of defeated and exhausted. This morning this is replaced by a large helping of angry. My search for a second brewer remains a fruitless one. It has got to the point where I am disappointed that people who represent a massive compromise, decline the job offer. Maybe it's the thought of living close to the sea in the most beautiful part of England? Maybe it's the thought of working for a kind and understanding boss? Maybe the qualified and experienced brewer is an endangered species?

It is difficult to describe to someone who isn’t a commercial brewer what the word brewer means to us. Even those who work in the 10-20 barrel brew length world may struggle to understand. To me a brewer is someone who implicitly understands all aspects of beer production down to the scientific principles which drive it. The brewer knows through science and experience how to brew, how to fault find beer, brewing, packaging and engineering to keep consistent beer flowing out of the brewery gates. The brewer can do this by managing people, engineering and suppliers effectively. His/her decisions and actions are guided by science and experience not what he has read on a ”brewer’s” forum on the internet. The brewer can do all of this within the context of a business which needs to generate profit to survive. The brewer does not concern him/herself with bullshit, science fiction or fantasy. To me great commercial brewers are akin to virtuoso musicians performing to millions of people. It seems today there are plenty of musicians who play their guitar in the bedroom in front of the mirror and those who perform in a covers band in the local pubs but the virtuoso is a dying breed. I suppose the option of doing a brewing course, buying a cheap 10 barrel brewery, declaring yourself god’s gift to brewing while inconsistently copying easy to execute American-style beers is a much faster route to greatness. Shame. By the way, before you assume, I don’t consider myself as a virtuoso. Cage fight anyone?

On to less aggressive matters, I travel up to London on Friday afternoon to get blending with Camden and then I am showing my appreciation for the ladies of the Barley’s Angels next Saturday. At 3:30PM the Doors of the Tower Bridge Draft House will be thrown open to all comers and beers the like of which you will have never seen and will never see again will be on offer. The 2008 Vintage Massive Ale should be the star of the show in my utterly humble opinion.

I leave you with a few maxims:

If you brew without understanding science, everything you make will be subject to luck. You may make good beer for a while but one day your luck will run out (JMR 2010)

In the world of health and safety management, common sense, misfortune and stupidity don’t exist. (Howe 2011)

Never trust a journalist (Cope 2001)

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me (Haddaway 1993)

Trust your doubt. Always fight for your beliefs. That is the path beyond thought (Segal 1997)

Friday 15 April 2011

Even geduld aub, niet verliezen het geloof

Of late, my weeks seem to be rollercoaster of crushing lows and intoxicating highs. It’s not really a happy balance but it keeps you striving. I won’t bore you with the darker aspects because as the man from Virador Waste Management once said "you don’t want to hear my problems". On the brighter side the team at Camden have confirmed the date for my visit and it sounds like the blending night will be a meeting of passionate minds and good craich. I also heard about a secret and exciting project which hangs tantalisingly in front of me like a bottle opener in a sample cellar at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. On the even brighter side the interest in my beer tasting the next day at Tower Bridge Draft House is developing nicely. The Turbo Yeast Utter Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades II, I did as a speculative project for this event is 23% ABV of balanced flavour subversion the like of which I have never tasted.

I have decided to prime the alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes of my liver ahead of tomorrow’s technical trip so I’m having a few medicinal sofa-based beers this evening. Clearing out the Director’s office I found a bottle of Leffe Ruby which was purchased because it was in a champagne bottle and left untouched ever since on my advice. I decided to give it a go as it was destined for the effluent plant and can report that it is unutterably appalling. I have spent the last hour apologising to my Westvleteren glass for exposing it to such evil. I would not be surprised if a shiver had crossed the shoulders of the brothers this evening. Aside from the flagrant exploitation of a romantic story can anyone explain the point of an abbey ale with berries rouge?

I digress. The line up for the 30th is:

1. Cask Atlantic IPA
2. Cask 3 year old Massive ale
3. Turbo Yeast Utter Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades II
4. Monsieur Rock
5. Single Brew Reserve 2010
6. DW
7. Something even more exciting

I hope you can make it!

Monday 11 April 2011

Technical Visit

Although slightly later than is traditional, Saturday has been set as the day for the annual production team technical outing. The technical outing is designed to give the team a technical insight into the operations of another organisation. As well as full environmental health and safety risk assessments, the day normally involves presentations on world class manufacturing, 5S, breakthrough performance benchmarking and flower arranging for beginners.

This year we are visiting Driftwood Spars Brewery, pub, hotel, restaurant and theme park in the breathtakingly beautiful St Agnes. The brewery is a small 5 barrel plant presided over by Pete “Fluffy” Carvers. The brewery produces beer for the pub and selected outlets across the UK. Pete’s Alfie’s Revenge which was brewed in honour of a stuffed squirrel (rather than being forced up its Gary Glitter) has recently been shortlisted for the Champion Winter Beer of Britain.

The first stage of the technical visits is for a minibus which can only be described as well-stocked to carry the team to their destination. Last year’s trip to Palmers started at 8am and after a 3 hour drive several of the team forgot what we were doing before we arrived. One brewer was cold during the tour so went to get his coat from the bus. He returned 20 minutes later having to failed to locate is coat, the car park, the bus and then the brewery.

This year’s trip is the first trip for some of the newer members of Sharp’s Brewing Team perhaps most notably Naked Ian. Naked Ian is a 20 stone rugby player of simian appearance who becomes a naturist when sufficiently hydrated. He also carries a photo album of him engaging in leisure activities that would make a Tory MP look like a monk, which he is prone to subject people to after a few drinks. Naked Ian is being encouraged to be on his worst behaviour.

The CD player in the minibus this year has been disabled to prevent a repeat of the universally unpopular gabber, industrial speedcore and death metal soundtrack to the last year’s trip.

Friday 8 April 2011

85% Joy

85% as a number doesn’t sound overly impressive. An 85% chance of survival is not good news and getting 85% of the wages you have earned is downright toilet. 85% isn’t 100% or even 90% but in terms of flavour panel scores it is close to the Holy Grail. This week was an 85% week, the first since the panel first sat. The fact that we got it this week when we are brewing 680,000 pints a week with our backs to wall in terms of staff levels and capacity puts it in my opinion next to splitting the atom and putting a man on the moon. To use more percentages, life as a Head Brewer is 10% about making great beer and 90% about the distractions, obstacles and challenges which stand in the way of that goal. 85% from the flavour panel make that 90% seem insignificant.

I love beer and today I love my team!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

I'm too much in love

My Atlantic brew in March remains a target for next week.

The pace of change at Sharp’s at the moment is greater than ever. Numbers like £4m for expansion, 280k hectolitres per year are no longer pub fantasies but enthralling commitments and milestones. If you had told me when I did my first mash in the 50 barrel brewhouse in 2002 that within a decade the brewery would be twenty times the size and I would be part of the team driving that change I would have phoned Bodmin mental hospital to alert them to their latest escapee. There was an ugly old-looking bloke on the BBC South West breakfast news, he reminded me of me. The cost to me of all this is less time in the gym, less time for brewing experimentation and less time on the blog. For this, my faithful friends I apologise.

12 Brew four: Camden Brewery
You don’t need me to tell you that Camden Brewery is new, shiny and sexual. I should however be able to give you an insight into the team and their ethos as brew 4 progresses. I am most of the way to sorting the details of April’s brew. This one is going to be a bit different (aren’t they all?). I am taking 400 litres of a 3 year old cask-aged barley wine (10.1% ABV) up to the guys at Camden Brewery, then we are going to select (brew?) some beer(s) to blend it with to make a two-brewery-brewed blend collaboration. Ahead of my visit, I have sent up a couple of bottles of the beer so they can get a shortlist of beers and then we are going to get together, select the beer and produce the blend. The beauty of this is that it will involve the need to sample the prospective beers, then the various blends of these beers until we hit the winning combination or the floor in a heap of alcoholic dysfunction. This beer will then be packaged and sold by Camden. I would claim that this is a novel approach to collaborative brewing but I’m sure that a load of brewers in America will be yawning at the idea.

A lot remains to be finalised on this one and a few logistical questions need to be addressed before it can go ahead. Not least how I am going to get 400 litres of beer in the boot of my Z4.

Citra is dead, long live the King Singers.