Friday 27 May 2011

Fairwell, Fair Cruelty

I was sat down on the sofa in Chateau Howe to finish this post and I turned on the TV for a bit background noise. I was confronted with Zoe (26) from Maidstone who has a fishy “down below” on channel 4. I think entertainment like Embarrassing Illnesses, showcasing victims of bacterial vaginosis shows how far we come as a civilisation since the dark ages. Are we to believe that Zoe’s kipper-flavoured lady problem was too embarrassing to show her GP so instead she decided to expose it to half of the UK? I’m sure the few hundred quid that Zoe has earned from her appearance will more than compensate her for hearing “Oi! fishy fanny!” from white vans, pubs and building sites across Kent over the next year or so. If I was a cynic I would say it’s a glorified freak show exploiting the afflicted and desperate. I know that this is not a TV blog but sometimes it draws me in.

This week I am saying goodbye to the old brewhouse. Our 50 barrel plant is slowly being dismantled to allow for its transportation to another brewery. I have some fond memories of that equipment and some very “unfond” memories. Getting the 50 barrel brewhouse up and running was my first job when I arrived at Sharp’s. I did this while I was on shift, brewing the beer and taking over running the rest of the brewing operations. The plant as first installed couldn’t make beer so the first few weeks were hard. I used to get Saturdays off in those days and I would sleep from Friday night until Sunday morning. I lost a stone in weight in 3 weeks.

Eventually we managed to get some great beers out of this brewhouse and it was working 24/7 when the 150 barrel plant was commissioned in 2008. I’m sure that the team at the brewery where it is destined to next reside will enjoy it and the beers it can produce. I haven’t got time to be sentimental but seeing the mash tun hanging from a crane should make me stop and think for a while.

I still hold the record for speed digging the 4 tonnes of spent grains out of the mash tun. Not because I am superhuman but because none of other brewers were stupid enough to rush. I learned in during my first couple of attempts at glory that Cornish for “tosser” is tosser. I think the same can be said for my hop back digging record at Brakspear. The picture at the top of this post shows a former stalwart of the brewery Bald Mike resting during a mash dig on a winter’s night. I think you’ll agree the image has a dantesque feel to it.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

New Seasonal - Honey Gold

I was searching for interesting facts about honey for this post. The first place to look for such things is of course the internet. Facts on the internet and chain e-mails are much more interesting than real facts because someone has made them up. For example I read somewhere that an apple has more stimulant in than a cup of coffee, a swan can break your arm with a blow of its nose and that you can overcome cardiac arrest by coughing in a determined way (the middle one was a Peter Cook line but the other two were real). If this tells us anything I suppose it is to never believe anything you read on line, particularly on this blog.

According to a honey-themed website, 80% of all plants in the US are pollinated by honey bees. I was left wondering how this fact was arrived at. Did they film all the flowers in the US and find that honey bees pollinated 80% of them? Another interesting fact was that drone bees do not collect nectar or possess a sting. Instead their sole purpose in life is to fertilise virgins. So the insect equivalent of a Spanish holiday rep.

Honey is once again on my recipe spreadsheet for the next seasonal beer, Honey Gold. Honey is an aqueous sugar solution produced by bees from nectar collected from flowers which they regurgitate when back at the hive (mmmmm bee vomit!). One of the sugars in honey is melibiose which is a disaccharide of glucose and galactose. Traditional ale yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae cannot ferment melibiose although lager yeast Saccharomyces uvarum pastorianus can (have I lost you there?). Honey can therefore be used to add sweetness to ales. This is a good thing because it allows ale brewers to use more hops and still achieve a good balance. I like to take this a step further and use some spice to further sharpen the flavour. Honey aroma is also a very good canvass on which to paint with citrus and spice hop notes as it is warm and earthy. In this beer I have Simpsons low colour cara to boost the honey’s presence in the body without adding the darker toffee notes associated with crystal malt. This affords even more hop presence without pulling the beer out of shape.

And so to the hops. Hop addition in this beer is pan-global. Galaxy hops from Tasmania (don’t ask me where I got them from!) rub shoulders with Aurora from Slovenia and Citra from the US. All three of these varieties provide fruit notes but from a complementary angle. The blend it is hoped will be irresistible. I say hoped because the beer is still in FV21. Supporting this, Pilgrim and Northdown provide a typically English moderation to the bitterness. Spice comes in the form of Indian ginger which is included as much for heat as it is for confectioner’s ginger notes.

I hope that you love it and trust that you will tell me otherwise!

Much love

Sunday 22 May 2011

Time to Put the Leaking Dog Down?

I have found this website where scary “facts” about beer are uncovered. The website must have been designed by someone who hates beer and everyone who relies on working in the brewing industry to put bread on their table. They expose the horror that is isinglass and suggest that bigger brewers use isinglass more routinely than craft/micro/regional brewers. This is of course opposite to the truth. Most big brewers have centrifuges which remove yeast before filtration so don’t waste money on isinglass. Very close to 100% of the cask ale for sale in the UK will contain isinglass.

The site also exposes the deliberate destruction of beer flavour by putting beer in clear/green glass. They further underline their expertise in brewing by publishing a picture of an iso humulone molecule (one of the hop compounds responsible for bitter sensations in beer) and claiming that it has a lightstrike aroma. In the interests of balance I trust they will go on to enlighten people to the penomenon of off flavours produced by poor oxygen control in small scale keg breweries. And also cover how lack of routine microbiological testing can also lead to unpleasant off notes and inconsistent brands.

They also might want to cover how some “radical” brewers use other rather less radical brewers to make their brands and sell it as the same beer as is produced at home. Although I suspect they won't.

Whoever is responsible for this ordure should be ashamed of themselves and should have respected the consequences of trying to undermine beer and everyone in the UK brewing industry. To me, beer is the most important thing in the world. They can insult the intelligence of their customers as frequently and egregiously as they like but when they undermine beer, in my opinion they cease to have the right to exist in the family of brewers.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Last Night a Blogger Saved my Life

I have just got back to the brewery after my return journey from London. I stood behind the stand up comedian Tim Vine in the queue for the buffet. Not entirely sure if that’s relevant but celebrities are a novelty when you live in Cornwall. Did you know that he’s Jeremy Vine’s brother? Needless to say I had the last laugh.

Last night was without question the greatest honour of my career so far. If, when I started out breaking up hops at Brakspear you would have told me that in 14 years I would be having my beers matched with food at a dinner for some of the most influential people in the world of beer I would have laughed or kissed you. I was worried that bloggers would perhaps not be in tune with all of my beers but on the basis of what I saw and heard they approved.

All the bloggers I met were passionate, knowledgeable, polite and dare I say it sexy people. It was great to enthuse about beer with them. To anyone I didn’t manage to get to speak to in person or speak to long enough, please don’t think it is because I don’t love you.

Credit must go the organisers and backers  of the event (in particular Mark Dredge and Kristy McCready) which is a very big thing for beer. If I was them I would be proud and grinning smugly.

Friday 13 May 2011

Rollmops is a Dish Best Served Cold

Today as you will have had pointed out to you by the boring bloke at work is Friday 13th. I am also wearing one of my lucky socks inside out. Nothing has fallen on me yet and no men in hockey masks have forced me to drink a pint of Magners at gunpoint (I’d rather take the bullet). I seem to have gotten away with it, although I did get a visit from Andy Hepworth. I love you really Andy!

Today also concludes a working week which has seen bold steps forward. I now have a second brewer on the way. Alex Bell (not pictured above) formerly of O’Hanlon’s is joining the fray at Sharp’s in June. I’m sure you will have tried some of Alex’s splendid work in the past and are as excited as I about what he can contribute to Sharp’s. Without wanting to disrespect his previous role I would venture that Sharp’s represents a significant step up in terms of intensity and challenge, certainly in terms of scale. I’m sure that Alex is up to the task. I also have some qualified help on its way from Burton. Adam Gibney is an American Heriot-Watt Masters graduate on an internship with Molson-Coors and has been given the challenge of coming to Cornwall and helping me with the task of harmonising Sharp’s FEMAS, HACCP and EH&S and QMS standards with those of our bigger brother.

Next Friday I am back up in London. I was delighted to be asked to attend the Blogger’s conference next Friday and even more delighted that my beers are being served with the dinner. Rather appropriately two are beers born of the 52 brews blog project.

Aperitif: Monsieur Rock

Starter: Chalky’s Bite

Main: DW

Dessert: 52 brew No. 21: Gorse Strong Ale

Also available will be Single Brew Reserve 2010 and an obscure brand called Doom Bar, you may have heard of it. I will be around to talk about my beers, engage in banter and express my love for all beer bloggers. You will be relieved to hear that my offer of DJ Stuart’s Gabber Overdose mobile disco for the after dinner “party” was not taken up by the organisers. What a party of beer bloggers will look like after the Turbo Yeast Utter Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades III has wreaked its havoc is not something I want to visualise. I hope they have a mop and bucket.

Saturday 7 May 2011

What's my Motivation?

A few weeks ago on a day I otherwise want to forget I got an e-mail from a very nice man from Maverick Productions. He wanted to speak to me as I was apparently an expert home brewer. I suppose that as I spend more time at work than at home, I officially live at the brewery and everything I make is home brew. He explained that he was doing a programme about the sexy subject of home produced drinks. A presenter will be travelling around and learning how to make beer, wine and cider in an entertaining way. The man on the phone went on to tell me that they have been challenged by Channel 4 to make a banoffee pie stout. He told me that some other home brewers he had spoken to suggested that the best way was to brew a stout then to drop a banoffee pie in it. While this clearly showed outside of the box thinking and an implicit understanding of the craft of brewing, I suggested a more scientific approach to the brief was much more sensible and interesting. The basis of my recipe is thus.

Banana: Iso amyl acetate from a warm fermentation of a heavily oxygenated wort with Weihenstephan yeast

Toffee: High rate of 140 colour crystal in grist giving Maillard derived aroma compounds and butterscotch from diacetyl producing bacteria

Stout: high rate of roasted barley

Tomorrow I join Sam Galsworthy, the presenter (and gin distiller) in his Hammersmith kitchen to brew the imperial banoffee stout. Hop wise we are using Target, Goldings and the brutal Summit. Hopefully these and the roasted barley will prevent the beer tasting like banoffee pie in a liquidiser by giving some balance.

Mum has given me some advice for my TV moment. She said that I should be myself. So you can expect me to swear, get overexcited and fight with the presenter!

I was devastated to learn that the filming has been moved to the morning which means that I now have 6 hours to kill before my train. 6 hours in London with several superb pubs on the route back to Paddington, not sure what I’ll do.

nb this post was written on Thursday

In Bed with William Bass

I now know that I use the words honour and privilege too flippantly. I feel like my time at Burton didn’t happen, like it was a dream.

Suffering a journey on a Cross Country train did at least take the edge off the excitement. Whoever designed a train on which the carriages smell like a gastrointestinal ailments ward and there is so little room between the seats that you have to lean your laptop at an angle should be strung up in my opinion. I was met by Steve at Burton station, very much the man about town in his convertible Merc with private plates. He was as affable as I remembered and he told me that he had reserved me a room in the Town House. The Town House doesn’t sound especially impressive until you learn that it is a grade 1 listed building in which William Bass lived and died.

The evening with Steve was very civilised, incorporating a good Thai meal before we retired to the Town House to sample some of Steve’s creations. I also got to meet Steve’s assistant brewer Jo. Steve openly admitted that his beer would not be half as good without the talent and dedication of Jo. Behind every great man, there is a great woman. On their departure I did not take the option of overindulging and finishing the courtesy fridge full of beer. I’m officially grown up.

At 2am I awoke with a start. A strange ghostly noise emanated from the table in the corner. It wasn’t William Bass calling to me it was broken chain by Crucifier announcing the arrival of a text message joke about Bin Laden. Joking aside, sleeping in the house where one of history’s greatest brewers lived is an experience which is as spiritual as they come.

At 7:30 Steve collected me and we drove to the brewery for the 8am mash. The brewery is housed in the National Brewing Museum. You pass a massive steam engine and the White Shield bottle van to get to the bijou but beautifully engineered brewhouse. Steve stood at the helm while Jo busily fluttered in and out making things happen. Steve brews by eye and by feel. A talent which I am afraid I would never have the balls to master. I couldn’t live without my flow meters and digital readouts. Steve told me later that he had a pilot’s licence. I’m sure he flies like he brews, calmly, accurately and authoritatively. Aside from gawping and listening intently I was occasionally of assistance and helped with mashing in, cleaning out the copper and adding the late hops.

As I left Burton I remember thinking that I am a very lucky brewer. I sat grinning like an idiot all the way home on the train. Got a few stares but then that’s not unusual.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

The Soul of an Angel - Touched from Above

Please accept my apologies, this post is two days out of date. Time is my enemy.

My afternoon with the angels and then with a hundred or so enthusiasts and casual passersby has led me to the conclusion that: 
  1. A beer tasting with the brewer is the most potent sales tool in the universe
  2. All drinkers understand “good” flavours
  3. Doom Bar is enjoyed by serious beer aficionados but they don't discuss it
I owe a debt of thanks to the Draft House on Tower Bridge who thought that the amount of beer I sent up was generous until everyone turned up and drank it all! It is a great pub staffed by great and beautiful people. In the next 7 days I am destined to work in 4 different breweries (if you count Sharp’s and Sam the distiller’s kitchen). 

Today I am travelling up to the cradle of pale ale to brew a world classic beer with a world classic Brewer. Sir (only a matter of time) Steve Wellington is letting me brew a White Shield at his William Worthington's Brewery. The William Worthington's Brewery sounds like it’s Coal-powered and operated by ponies and blokes in flat caps. In fact it is newer than Camden. I have heard all about it because the man who designed it, built it and is still responsible for the pressure systems in it is running the project to install an anaerobic digester at Sharp’s. It sounds very plush, modern and well engineered.

For beer lovers in their thirties like myself, White Shield is almost certainly the first British bottle conditioned beer you tasted. While it is debateable that the method of bottle conditioning would have died out without the beer you have to admire the fact that it stayed put when most others had gone down the filtered and pasteurised route. Steve Wellington is a superb statesman for beer and from what I remember of the last time we met a sound bloke. I say from what I remember because it was after an afternoon at Nottingham’s Vat and Fiddle with Ade Redgrove and a CBOB presentation dinner. Tonight Steve is showing me all Burton on Trent has to offer.