Friday 26 August 2011

The Summer's Young and Helpless

August bank holiday unfailingly brings scorching weather to Cornwall. Such was the heat today that the 2 foot-deep lake left by this morning’s torrential rain outside the brewery was a mere 6 inch-deep puddle when I left this evening.  I am starting to think that all the pall-bearers on St Swithin’s reinterment must have been Cornishmen.  My sympathy for the tourists driving around looking for something to do all day is deep and sincere, right up to the point where they decide to spend the afternoon aimlessly wandering around Tesco, getting in my way and running my foot over with their trolleys.

Climatically it’s been a strange year. This has upset the barley plants. This means that malt next year will be more expensive and not as good for making stable beer. This is not good news for maltsters, terrible news for brewers and depressing and expensive news for drinkers.

In the world of the beer enthusiast, white malt is never foremost in the mind. But it is what us brewers rely on to provide sugar for fermentation, body for the beer, foam for head retention and the nourishment to allow our yeast to do its magic. The malt is the foundation of the beer. If it isn't right none of the other aspects of flavour, clarity or stability will be right.

Traditionally wine producers had recourse to have a bad year when nature shafts the crops. These days I can’t see drinkers of big wine brands such as those advertised by showing beautiful people being nice to each other, accepting that their Californian White Zinfandel (blended and bottled in Avonmouth by a team of Eastern Europeans on less than minimum wage) is not going to be quite as sweet this year. Posher wines of course still enjoy a few grand crus.

Brewers are never allowed to have a bad year or a grand cru. I envy the brewers with an ever changing portfolio of beers because these beers taste how they taste and that is how they should taste. When you have regular brands they need to taste the same irrespective of the changes in your ingredients. It is in years of bad crops that the commercial brewer really earns his/her money using experience, understanding and skill to continue to delight the drinker.

On the other hand, hops look promising but until they are in and dried you can’t start counting chickens or any other fowl for that matter. Although saying that, supply of some of the more en vogue varieties may not meet the current insatiable demand.

Finally one of my beers appearing at the Rake this weekend will not taste quite as I had previously indicated. The spontaneously refermented blond came up short of the desired volume so I had to blend it with an unsoured blond. The result I think is just as good and probably slightly more accessible to the sourosceptic.    

Finally, finally to those who gave special birthday presents this Thursday I thank you for freeing me from my prison of lies. A nice final cut.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Le succès à tout prix

Having your beer on the One Show is an honour. Many thanks to Des de Moor for recommending it. Having your beer sampled and described as delicious on TV by the lovely Jane Asher is also a bit of a novelty. It’s just a shame it was the wrong beer. Please accept my apologies for any confusion or distress. Des’ web site clarifies the situation.  Jay Rayner was also a far better ambassador for snobbery than for beer and food. Shame.

Yesterday I tasted my new limited edition beer, Honey Spice IPA. I’m not entirely sure that it is an IPA. I’ve done less than 100 bottles which will sell through our shop. I’ve allowed this one to be a little OTT hop-wise which should please the hardcore and leave those in the hardcore with a point to prove complaining that it’s too accessible. I have also had the chance to make a follow up to Turbo Yeast III Unspeakable Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades. This time I have made a pale beer with Turbo Yeast and a high alcohol Belgian Ale yeast before warm oxidising and maturing with finely divided oak (toasted saw dust). I’m not a connoisseur of spirits but to me it tastes distilled, matured and expensive. The name? Turbo Yeast IV Descent into the Burning Lake of Eternal Darkness, but you had probably guessed as much. Both of these beers will be appearing with me at some meet the brewers I have lined up for the Autumn in London and potentially the North. If you would like me to appear at your bar, pub, bar mitzvah or WI circle please let me know.   

The keen eyed among you will have noticed that my 12 brew project has slowed somewhat. Owing to the madness of summer and lots of extra curricular activities I have not been able to get away from the brewery. The plan is now to do three brews in a weekend in the autumn and cram the rest into the run up to Christmas. I will get there, even if I have to break into other people’s breweries on New Year’s Eve!


Saturday 13 August 2011

Does Size Matter?

I was recently introduced by someone I have a lot of respect for as Stuart Howe, a brewer who used to make great beer at Sharp’s in Cornwall. I asked him what had changed and he said “well, you work for Molson Coors now”. Molson Coors have made a few changes since acquiring Sharp’s but one of them has not been to put up posters saying “Make Shit Beer”. They have also not changed any of the brewing team, raw materials, recipes or anything which has an impact on the flavour of the beer. Nor do they want to and nor shall they on my watch.

I can see to a degree where he was coming from. I have known a few brands which have been commercialised into banality. Chimay beers, in my opinion, are now good when once they were once great. That said historical precedents do not provide a crystal ball into the future.

To dismiss a beer because it is not brewed by a small brewery or because it not felt to be a craft beer is to me as obscene as going into a brewpub and dismissing the opportunity to try sample their wares in favour of a major brand, while defending this choice with “I only drink lager”. Any form of closed mind when it comes to food or drink is objectionable. Is there anyone on the blogosphere who is up for a row and wants to defend dismissing all beers brewed above a small scale? As always my mind is open but my convictions strong.

All organisations that make beer do so to make money, some are more honest about this than others. This is done in the context of the market. If you want to sell beer you need a market for it. In the last 10 years the market for drinks has become much more sophisticated. Beer writers, CAMRA, and bloggers should feel proud that their enthusiasm for and promotion of a great drink has changed what the market is looking for in a beer. Supermarkets and multimedia have also been instrumental. People who run large global brewers are clever. They understand that a sophisticated market where people seek exciting flavour and provenance in a beer isn’t going to fall for mass produced soulless brands, with a nice story and fancy branding. They realise that they need to make sophisticated drinks to sell beer to people with sophisticated palates.

So I am not Stuart Howe who used to make great beer in Cornwall, I am Stuart Howe the brewer who strives to make the best beer possible in Cornwall and will do for a good many years, with the support of Molson Coors.      

This brings me nicely on to a bit of exciting insider information for you on some new bottled beers Sharp’s have on the horizon. A couple of the beers which under the last management I had to brew at the weekend and bottle after work, are making their first appearance at a full commercial scale. Massive Ale and Honey Spice Tripel will finally be brewed at a scale which means everyone who wants the beer will be able to get it. I hope to include an apology on the label to all the people who have asked for Massive and Honey Spice only to be disappointed. Also Sharp’s imperial double IPA and a single hop varietal strong golden ale will become a reality this year. None of this is official yet (and Ms McCready will probably punch me for revealing it) but they are firmly on my brewing programme.

If there are people who will, with closed mind, reject my beers because I work for the UK's biggest brewer I am not overly concerned, bigots like this don’t deserve it anyway!   

Thursday 11 August 2011

Panic on the streets of Bodmin

This mornin’ I woke up in a curfew. Not really but that lyric leads me nicely on to our subject for this post, the Rock riots. Our riots have been somewhat unreported and for the sake of Rock's reputation for up market holidays I will divulge very little. Suffice it to say the lady from the pasty shop was very put out and neither of the seagulls has been apprehended. I blame the parents.

As we approach the August bank holiday I am excited to have a few of my handmade creations appearing in the capital. At The Rake an 18 month old Abbey beer aged with Brettanomyces and a 3 year old spontaneousy refermented blonde. Both beers appear courtesy of St Roger of Ryman who is allowing me to join in his St Austell Brewery beer festival. I am particularly pleased with the blonde which is bone dry and beautifully lactic. It was made by fermenting a wort using Saccharomyces until fully attenuated and then left in an open vessel until a pellicle forms. The beer and the pellicle were then transferred to a wooden cask for 3 years of microbiological rioting and looting.

At the White Horse Parson’s Green two of my Belgian-themed beers are appearing at the Belgian Beer Festival. The 18 month old Abbey as previously described and cask 2010 Honey Spice Tripel which was tasting too good for words earlier today, if I do say so myself.

Further delight comes having DW and Monsieur Rock recommended ahead of wine as partners for food at  double Michelin starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. If I could blag my way to getting a table I’d go and check it out but I suspect they are booked up until 2020.   

Saturday 6 August 2011

The Council will convene and decide your fate

I have always wondered how the Champion Beer of Britain is judged. Now I know.

I’ve judged a few competitions and the CBOB definitely ranks as one of the best-organised. The structure of the panel is also very good with each section panel comprising a brewer, a flavour specialist, a couple of CAMRA tasters, a drinks industry professional and lay person. The panel I was sitting on was judging category winners for their suitability for supreme champion. Adding the scores from the preceding round took longer than expected so our panel waited for an hour to do our tasting. I did get quite tense, a condition not helped by being directly under the PA speaker which seemingly had not been adjusted since the Slayer concert last week.

When the beers came out it was good to get going. The first was evidently brewed with Citra with all of the panel enjoying the aroma but being underwhelmed by the flavour. It was interesting that although the rest of the panel did not know the names of off flavours they all considered the beers to less appealing as a result. There were varying degrees of sensitivity to diacetyl and H2S on the panel with one taster being blind to each (but not both) of them at the concentration in the beers we sampled. I suppose that this is valid as it probably mirrors the spread of capabilities in the general population. The rest of the panel were treated to an exhibition of the cocky brewer (me) getting carried away with identifying the flavour compounds, hops, fermentation temperature, salt balance and yeast variety. For this I apologise!

There was unanimity in the panel on our two favourites but we must have been low markers as neither were in the top 3 on the day.

The CBOB competition does not enjoy the best reputation for fairness with brewers around the country (the ones I have spoken to at least). A lot feel that there is always an air of wheels within wheels about it.  The process for getting a beer into the final has been described to me but I still struggled to understand it. It also seems to change frequently. Once I was told that regional festival winners automatically got through but speaking to a few regional winners this week none of them had progressed. A few breweries have had several beers getting to the final for several years in a row without medals. Surely if the beer wasn’t good enough for two years in a row it should be moved aside for another brew? Maybe it’s time for an X factor style beer competition where progress from the auditions to the final is plain to see? I would volunteer to be Simon Cowell but I could never get away with the trousers and jumper puppies.

Having judged the final I can reassure all brewers that this aspect is well designed to find the best beer in the field on the day. It was an enjoyable experience and I am still delighted to have been asked.

Finally I would like to pass on my congratulations to John Boyce for his win. He’s a good bloke and it’s a great beer. 

Friday 5 August 2011

Greatness in all its Glory

Instead of trying to accurately describe a day at the GBBF, I thought it easier to list the people I can remember meeting. The GBBF is not only the best place in the UK to sample great beer it is also a collection of the loveliest people in the UK. After meeting the following perhaps it was no surprise that I fell asleep on the 18:06 from Paddington and nearly missed my stop. It was great to see you and we must do it all again next year!  

Simon Loveless (Princetown)
Mark Dredge
Darren Norbury
Kristy McCready
Paul Corbett
James Clarke (Hook Norton)
Sue Novak
Fran Novak
Martin Cullimore (Batemans)
Peter Robson (Muntons)
Andy Mogg
John Palfrey
Peter Simpson
Angelo (Brew Warf)
Richard Simpson
Flo Vialan (Purity)
Paul Halsey (Purity)
Roger Ryman (St Austell)
Tim Webb
Bill Dobson (Brains)
Pete Brown
Melissa Cole
Zak Avery
Peter Ells (Tim Taylor)
Andy Leman (Tim Taylor)
Hardnott Dave
Mrs Hardnott Dave
Kevin Mitchell (Murphy’s)
Chris Kay (Bristol Beer Factory)
“Mr Drink and Eat”
The Beer Monkey
Mark Tetlow (Everards)
Steven Crawley (Calendonian)
Armin Palmer
David Nijs (Marstons)
Rhys Laurence
Stefano Cossi and Mrs (Thornbridge)
Matt Brophy (Flying Dog)
Glyn Roberts
Michelle Perret
Adrian Tierney-Jones
Adrian Redgrove (Castle Rock)
Steve from (Marstons)
Richard Knight
Chris Hearn (Loddon)
Nigel Stevenson (James Clay)
Mark Slater (St Peter’s)
Fergus Fitzgerald (Adnams)
Krijn Kraak