Tuesday 22 November 2011

Look at my Glass!

Look at it!!

Not a proper post but an excuse to show off with my huge glass!

It is of course full of low alcohol beer in line with the government’s guidance on moderate alcohol consumption.
The other small bit of news is that I am thrilled to be exhibiting my beers (Chalky’s Bite, DW and Honey Spice IPA) at the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards on 1st of December. The glass I am afraid will not be going.
If you’re going to the Sloany Pony at the weekend I shall see you there. If not I won’t.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Body off Baywatch - Face off Crimewatch

On Friday night I performed my speech to the Penn’s Hall dinner of the BFBI. I rehearsed myself hoarse during the 250 mile drive up the M5 and was word perfect in my hotel room before the event. I arrived at the President’s reception to see the most important people in the British brewing industry assembled, in full evening dress and polite conversation. I was very disappointed at the lack of Ferrero Rocher but didn’t make a fuss.

Through the ropes separating us from the rest of the pre-dinner drinks I could see the Head Brewers and Directors of just about every brewery in the UK sized over 20,000 barrels per year, again in black tie and serious conversation. I began to worry about the content of my speech. I was sat at the top table for the dinner so had to follow the chairman into the dinner to a slow handclap from the assembled guests. All eyes are on you as you progress through the dining hall, tension building with each slap of the hand. At dinner I sat looking around the room at the 250 or so industry VIPs, a lot of whom have been the industry for longer than I have been alive.

The meal was over in an instant and I was being introduced. My legs felt like I had been lifting weights for the last 10 hours and the microphone slipped through my sweating palm. I was expecting the crowd to be sufficiently well oiled to be of relaxed demeanour before I started but all I could see were furrowed brows and serious faces. I began. My voice echoed back at me and I could hear the words trembling off my tongue. I remember thinking all I need is a laugh to settle me down. I progressed to the first joke quickly. It was greeted with a silence and tumbleweed rolling through the middle of the room. I thought to myself work with me for god’s sake (or words to that effect)!

I raced on to the next. This time I heard a giggle from a few separate tables so I slowed up and started to be steadier in my delivery. I was still conscious that I was racing so I paused after the next joke and consoled myself with the fact that conversations were not breaking out. By the end I was at about normal speaking pace for me, which is twice as fast as everyone else.  

The rest of the speech was over in a flash with the nods of agreement and laughter a lot more frequent towards the end than at the start. The professional speaker who followed me fared less well than me which was of some comfort but I was disappointed that I failed to deliver the performance I had planned. After the speech I was complimented on the speech by a lot of kind people and got some good honest feedback James Stevenson from Charles Wells “Nice content shame about the delivery”.  My favourite comment was from my friend at Wye Valley who was disappointed that I was not wearing the outfit displayed in the previous post.

So here, for your judgement is what I said.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen my name is Stuart Howe, Head Brewer at Sharp's Brewery.
I am here in my capacity as All Party Parliamentary Beer Group Brewer of the Year to speak to you about the British Brewing Industry.

I am thrilled, honoured, delighted, exhilarated, elated and generally quite pleased to be here talking about beer and brewing. This speech is a bit like the part of groom’s speech where he dedicates a few words to his new bride because I love the British brewing industry. That of course means you. And looking around the room tonight ladies and gentlemen,” loving you is easy ‘cause you’re beautiful” (in the club singer style). Tumble weed enter stage left

Knowing that you love something and being able to properly articulate why is not always the same thing so writing the speech has been a challenge. I was however given some assistance by a small Scottish microbrewery which is run by brewing’s answer to Jedward. They fairly recently came out with a statement claiming that “British Beer is sick and we are the doctors”. They also used the press release to launch two new beers, an India Pale Ale which they are calling “Bhopal Heat Wave” and a beer brewed according to the trappist tradition called “The Reverend Kiddie Fiddler”. I don’t agree with Jedward. British beer is not sick. The beer we are brewing today is as good if not better than it has ever been. There’s nothing like someone having a pop at something you love to bring home to you what it means. So why do I love British beer and brewing?

British brewing has centuries of rich heritage.  It has given the world some breakthrough scientific knowledge and some of the most important beer styles in the world. Beers like IPA, Stout, Porter, Old Ale, Mild, Tesco Value Lager. Without these beers the US craft brewers wouldn’t have anything in which to put too many ingredients before claiming their versions are more authentic (I love you really).

Every day the people in this room perform a miracle. changing a humble seed and some flowers into a delicious drink. We give millions of people joy and pleasure. Much like the people of Britain, British brewing is modest about its greatness. You always hear about US beers being brilliantly innovative, German beers being precision brewed and the flair and flamboyance of the Belgians. In Britain we choose to call our beers Dogs Bollocks, Old Fart and Rat Sphincter. Ok I made the last one up. As well as being charming I think that this modesty is a weakness and leaves our great brews open to attack from those who wish to commoditise and exploit them. Perhaps it’s time that we started making more noise about what we make and how great it is?

The British brewing industry is wonderfully passionate place. Passion is of course a very fashionable thing. You can’t turn on the TV without a celebrity chef or someone on Masterchef detailing the lengths of their passion. It is tantamount to a penis measuring competition with some of the celebrity chefs. One chef claiming to work 56 hours a day and another showing you the tattoo of a truffle on his left buttock. I think I speak for all the guys in the room when I say that as a brewer I am very happy with the size of my passion but I have no intention of waving it around in public and certainly would not conscience ramming it down people’s throats! I suppose again we are a little too modest about our passion.  Although that shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to any passion exposure later this evening!

The facet about British brewing which endears it most to me is the friendliness and inclusiveness of our industry. Brewers cooperate, collaborate and we share knowledge. As a brewer you feel part of a band of brothers who share the same goal; making great beer. This is not so in other industries. For example the two former directors of Sharp’s were from the food game. When they heard that I have given Roger Ryman from our direct competition a tour of the brewery they burst into my office to demand an explanation. I was so shocked that I nearly dropped the secretary! I explained that brewers work together for the common good of beer, we don’t steal each other’s ideas. Or as Andrew Wall from Moeschle puts it Brewers are arrogant bastards who think only they are right!

So to the future
What do the next 10 years hold for us? The truth is I don’t know. I haven’t got a crystal ball (looks down to check). What I do think is that the best way for the brewing industry to fight the current pressures on us from the competition for share of throat and increasing taxation is to do what we are best at and make drinks which are so good that consumer doesn’t have a choice in what he drinks. If he wants the very best experience he can only turn to beer.

I hope that you have enjoyed my speech and I hope my words tonight have made you proud of who you are and what you do. All that remains for me to do is to ask you to be upstanding and raise a toast to the BFBI!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Unaccustomed as I am

Tradition dictates that the All Party Parliamentary Group Brewer of the Year gives a speech about the British brewing industry to the Midlands Section of the BFBI annual dinner. This dinner is on Friday so I shall be strutting my stuff (crapping my pants) in front of the great and good of the brewing industry then. Despite the fact that I love the brewing industry and know quite a lot about it, it has been a tough speech to write. During every car journey over 3 miles in length I have recited my lines until the jokes that I started off thinking were amusing are staler than a loaf of sliced white from 1955. I am also a little worried that some of my humour may be a little edgy for the up market audience. I must also resist the temptation to dampen my nerves too greatly with the free beer and end up calling everyone in the room “family” and telling them that I love them.
I will share my speech with you on the blog at the weekend after the event. If you’re going, I’ll see you there and I look forward to your heckling!
I hope you approve of my outfit for the evening. Too much??

Thursday 10 November 2011

Well there'll certainly be some car door slamming in the streets of Kensington tonight

Cornwall is a very lovely place. I am told the pace of life is slower but as mine is spent working I can’t really comment. The people are genuine, down to earth, never flash and always friendly. In summer Rock, home of the brewery, moves out of Cornwall in a spiritual sense and relocates in to the SW1 postcode. Herds of “Chaps” called Giles, Sebastian and Jonty appear in the middle of the road through the village wearing red trousers, pink crew tops with the collar starched up using something industrial and a canary yellow sweater thrown jauntily over the shoulders.

One summer Saturday in a very different time I was enjoying a sauna in the mash tun when a Giles peered in through the manway. He asked me when I could show him around. Giles must have walked past 5 no entry signs and vaulted a security fence to get the where he was standing. I told Giles that for his own safety he should leave the brewery immediately (using much more basic words). Rather predictably he replied “do you know who I am?” I thought to myself "you are the bloke who is about to get covered in soaking wet used malt if you don’t get out of the way" and began shovelling spent grains in his direction. After an “I say” I didn’t see Giles again.
A much lovelier SW postcode (in my humble opinion) is SW6, home of the White Horse or Sloany Pony. Since I have loved beer, the White Horse has been the THE place in London to get the very best. My mates all fondly tell stories about being dragged across London just because that tosser Stuart wanted a certain beer at the White Horse. These days of course the choice of excellent beer-themed pubs and bars is growing exponentially in the capital. I still think the Sloany Pony has something special about it. On 26th November I have the honour of not only three of my hand made creations appearing at their Old Ale Festival but also half an hour of meet the brewer time to talk to the drinkers about how they were prepared. My beers will be there all weekend, I will be appearing at 15:30. Details of what I am sending are provided below for your interest.    
   White Horse Old Ale Festival Beers

1 year old Black IPA ABV 7.4%

The story
Base beer brewed in November 2010 from pale ale malt roasted barley and maltose syrup. Late hopped with Chinook and Galena. Dry hopped with Citra in Feb 2011

The taste
Nose: Pungent tropical fruits (passion fruit, mango and lychee) with honey and candy floss
Mouth: Big bittersweet explosion with tropical fruits and grapefruit pith balanced by candy sweetness
Finish: Bittersweet symphony of honey, passion fruit and grapefruit zest

3 year old Massive Ale ABV 10%

The Story
Brewed in March 2008 from Pale ale, crystal, and chocolate matls, dark candi sugar, Northdown and Perle hops. Aged in barrel for over 3 years with Stryrian Goldings

The taste
Nose: Boozy mix of aged esters and higher alcohols with bready yeast notes and overripe fruit
Mouth: Initial sweetness swept away by strong alcoholic warmth, complex blend of fruits and age
Finish: Sweetness giving way to warmth and slight sharpness

4 year old Dry Hopped Barley Wine ABV 11%

The Story
Brewed in October 2007 from Pale and crystal malt and glucose with Brewer’s Gold and Goldings hops. Aged in barrel for 4 years with Bobek hops

The Taste
Nose: Melange of preserved fruits with strawberries, poached orange, mixed peel and sloes
Mouth: Full, slightly dusty syrupy malt, freshened by tart aged notes and powerful alcoholic heat
Finish: Surprisingly quick with some aged aldehyde and warming alcohol

I do hope very much to see you Giles, Sebastian and Jonty there!

Friday 4 November 2011

Viva el Presidente!

I have just returned from a friend’s wedding in the Dominican Republic. All week I tolerated a beer which I hope to never encounter again. El President√© was worth a great deal less than I paid for it and the holiday was all inclusive. This beer made Tesco Value lager taste like Westvleteren. It smelt of corn and farts and tasted like you were drinking soda water with a bad cold. If you were lucky the dishwasher was faulty and it tasted of lemon detergent. All it was effective at doing was keeping my all inclusive diarrhoea runny and making me belch. In actual fact, I suppose El Presidente did serve to remind me of how good great beer really is. Viva El Presidente!
Anyway, as I sat on my all inclusive khazi sweating, grimacing and calling for my mummy, a very nice e-mail arrived informing me of the success of two of my beers in the World Beer Awards. Sharp’s Special won World’s Best Bitter and Chalky’s Bite won World’s Best Flavoured Beer. Almost the next e-mail to arrive was one letting me know that Honey Spice IPA had won the UK’s best honey beer competition at the National Honey Show.  That of course called for a celebratory Imodium and a fight with an American in the pool.
This week on my return we put this year’s single brew reserve to bed. For want of a more comprehensive description it is an Ale version of Monsieur Rock. A single varietal pale ale with first wort and dry additions of the noblest of noble hops, Saaz. The picture below shows Ian the brewing supervisor in his space suit tying the sacks of Saaz to the bottom of CT17. 20 minutes after this picture was taken these hops were submerged under 20,000 litres of freshly fermented beer. I hope Ian taps on the tank when he needs the toilet because I don’t want him spoiling the beer(joke).

On a much more sombre note. Massive Ale is no more. The lovely people at the Portman Group have decided that calling a massive ale, Massive Ale is in breach of code rule 3.2. which prohibits promotion of a drink on the basis of its strength. I had never considered Massive to refer to the amount of ethanol in the beer only to the weight of its flavour. But then I do see the world through rose tinted spectacles and always look on the bright side. I wonder if drinkers in Scotland are prohibited from asking for a wee heavy by this rule? What about beer labelled as strong ale like the excellent Old Tom?

The best compromise we can come up with is to call it Quadrupel Ale which is a bit inaccurate because (intentionally) it doesn’t fit the style particularly well. For the record I have never brewed a beer called Massive Ale, I am certainly not sending a cask of 3 year old Massive Ale to the White Horse Parson’s Green for the Old Ale Festival at the end of November. If you go to the festival make sure you mumble when you order a half or the stormtroopers will descend and you'll be in the stalag before you know it . I will be spending the weekend constructing an Ann Frank style secret compartment in my cellar in which to hide my stock of the Massive Ale that I have never brewed.