Saturday 7 May 2011

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.


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