Monday 23 December 2013

Drinking's Answer to Lap Dancing

There were 12 casks in the cellar at Sharp’s this morning. A monstrously-record pre-Christmas week of sales reduced a stock level of over 17,000 casks to 12 like Christmas piranhas decimating a cow carcass. The buzz you get from a week like this is one of the best feelings in brewing. When I joined Sharp’s we were selling just over this amount in a year. 

I was in Germany last weekend. Cologne to be precise. My second time in the vibrant city, home of Kolsch, a pale ale that really wants to be a lager. I tried about 6 different versions of the style and enjoyed their cleanness although none really impressed. Spending the evening before in Brussels meant that these beers were measured with a tight gauge. My judgement may also have been influenced by what I think is the stupidest way to sell beer ever devised.

In Cologne you get beer in a slim cylindrical 200ml glass (less than half a pint). The reason for the small size is to ensure that your beer is fresh. Waiters with a special basket-like tray full of fresh glasses work their way between the tables and will replace your empty glass with a full one unless you cover your glass with a beermat. Great idea, no one likes flat, warm keg beer. What is a great idea in theory becomes a torture of deprivation when there aren’t sufficient waiters to replenish glasses when they are empty.

I spent what felt like half my life waiting for a beer. In the first pub I waited for 10 minutes with a mouth like the Sahara before I finally got a beer. As you would expect 200ml went in two sips and fewer seconds. My empty glass then sat on the table for another 10 minutes (leaving occasionally to be licked clean of beer by a desperate drinker). When the waiter came back I asked for 4 beers. I got one.

If you go to a Brauhaus in Cologne and find forehead-shaped dents in the table you know why! The scene of the red-faced Englishman going from hope to despair via anger and frustration was repeated in another 3 pubs before I gave in and went back to my hotel via the off licence. I wasn’t desperate to get blind drunk I just wanted to drink steadily and not spend all afternoon preoccupied with the likelihood of getting another beer before I needed to catch the train back home. 

The first thing I did when back on English soil was to walk up to the bar and order a pint, drink it and order another one. Ah freedom.

So as the year comes to a close it’s time to look back to a year of change and plenty of high points and forward to bigger challenges and rewards. I wish you a great midwinter celebration and a successful and enriching New Year.

Friday 29 November 2013

6 Years Gone in an Instant

It’s been a while. I’m on a train. All the elements of a great train journey are in place. The bloke opposite keeps staring at me, there is a screaming toddler 3 rows down and an unnerving smell is coming from the woman behind me. As I can’t think of any proper work to do I’m taking he opportunity for to do a long since due post. 

A lot has happened since my last effort. I’ve been to half of Europe looking at breweries, had several good dinners, great games of rugby, have almost bought a shiny new brewery for the Franciscan Well expansion in Cork, brought a couple of new beers to fruition with two more in tank and ready to bottle before Christmas and last but by no means least won around 10 other international medals in various beer competitions.

We decided to keg Pilsner because a trial in a select range of pubs was staggeringly positive. This coincided nicely with the win in the World Beer Awards, which was nice! Taking a highly conditioned live bottled beer and moving it to keg was a serious challenge in term of flavour matching. When you make a wholesale change to the format a beer is presented in you are never going to get identity. You need to capture the elements of the flavour which work in the original format and translate them to the new package. With the Pilsner it was the sweet fruitiness in the mouth and clean crispness of the finish which needed to be ported across the format change while adapting the dryness of the beer to make it work with a lower level of carbonation. I love the keg version more than the bottle but they are both beautiful in their own way. The flavour panel and I tried the beer side by side and were resounding in their approval for both. Given the amount of reorders we have had the drinkers tend to agree.

The Connoisseur’s Choice 2013 beers are all brewed and fermented with the Honey Spiced IPA back from the bottlers and for sale in our shop. I set out to make Honey Spice showcase the best that modern hop varieties can give. I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the unbalanced hop bomb which rips through the palate like lemon juice and crushed glass chewing gum, a beer brewed for idiots by idiots. We used £7,000 worth of hops in Honey Spice IPA so there was a major risk that we’d be in that realm of flavour. I am delighted to report that what we have produced is perhaps almost not bitter enough although still above the limits of accurate measurement in terms of bittering units.

My assistant after the selection process
 Last Saturday I had the extremely enjoyable task of selecting the vintages for the 6 vintage blend from my cask stock in the brewery cellar. A journey down beer memory lane! It doesn't seem like 6 years have passed since I brewed these. Some of the beer was stunningly beautiful, almost a shame to not be launched on their own and some of the 5-6 year old beers were a fresh tasting as when they were racked. The soured beer which was had a mild acidity to it 2 years ago was almost pure vinegar. I had to resist the temptation to add these but I am going to get a small amount bottled to either sell as hopped vinegar or extreme sour beer for any UK craft beer fashionistas who are following the US trend of replacing fizzy bile with fizzybattery acid as de rigueur in the “awesome” beer appellation. The blend is due to be assembled in tank on Monday ready for bottling mid-December. This is a beer I can’t wait to sample. 

Last of the Connoisseur’s Choice beers this year is the Premiant-themed Single Brew Reserve 2013. First wort and dry hopped with Czech Premiant hops, it is sitting in CTs 16 and 17 and smells absolutely stunning. An orange/lemon hop rhapsody I haven’t yet dared taste for the fear that it might not live up to the promise of its aroma.   

All of these beers are to receive a full all-guns-blazing extravaganza of pyrotechnic marketing brilliance in the launch in the weeks before Christmas. Then they will be available to enjoy.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Opinion Piece

I recently gave a tour to some young (well younger than me) people who were in the craft brewing industry. You learn a lot from speaking to them. You learn what people on the cutting edge of brewing fashion believe. I loved their passion and their interest in beer. Ten years ago style-conscious people would have dismissed beer brewed on a small scale as something their dad likes so it’s great that they are enthralled to “craft”. I didn’t expect to find people with such a limited experience of beer with quite such certainty about what was right and wrong and what was delicious and disgusting. A lot of what they believe was true but a lot of the technical facts were demonstrably incorrect. I learned that dried yeast was better than a managed liquid stock taken through several generations. I learned that whole hops gave inferior flavour and lead to off notes in beer because their flavour and bitterness were less stable in beer than that of pellet hops. I learned that breweries making less than 10,000hl per year are charitable organisations that only make beer to give people a better life and that I am only in brewing for the money using the word craft to con people. 

 All of this is news to me and rather flies in the face of the knowledge I have gained from my 20 years of life in beer and brewing.

My tip for any aspiring beer aficionado either in brewing or beer appreciation is to maintain an open mind and a palate receptive to all kinds of beer. If you like it, it’s good if you don’t it’s not. Don’t feel ashamed for liking a beer not favoured by the ironic haircut brigade. It was probably brewed to taste nice rather than to prove a point, rebel against something or break a record.
Don’t believe what brewery promotional information says when it’s selling an aspect of the beer’s production as vital for making great beer unless you have tried the same beer made in a different way. Breweries use their point of difference as a selling point. It may be what they think makes their beer good but it won’t automatically be a prerequisite for quality. Often with small breweries it will be the only option (dried yeast).

Don’t separate beer from commerce unless it’s homebrew. No brewery can expect to give their beer away and still be brewing a year later. And you need marketing up to a Brewdog standard to get away with charging more for beer than it’s worth. There are an increasing number of breweries who are suggesting that they are rebelling against “the industry” or “commercial” breweries as if there is something inherently wrong with brewing beer above a few hundred barrels a year, labelling everything that they and their mates don’t brew as mass-produced crap. Some may sincerely but misguidedly believe it but some are publically maligning other breweries in order to further their commercial interests. Anyone who cares about beer should find this objectionable. I find it hard to believe that these rebellious ”punk” breweries would torch their brewhouses if their sales grew to the point where they needed to employ a sales manager or a company accountant. 

I don’t have anything against those who believe the punk brewing fallacy. I’m just disappointed that the wider brewing industry hasn’t been able to give them a balanced view based on reality.

I know, I’ve said all this before. It’s just that I think it needs saying. By all means drink with a critical palate but base this on an open mind and an understanding of beer and brewing which goes beyond hype, rhetoric and fashion.   

Sunday 29 September 2013

Au Sommet de Réussite

Friday was a good day. A more than satisfactory flavour panel and a trip to London for The Institute of Brewing Distilling Southern Section annual banquet would have been a cause for positivity but finding out that my beer Cornish Pilsner had won World’s Best Lager made it very special. Being an ale brewery with a mash tun and using whole hops should have really put us at a disadvantage so that makes me even more pleased.

The recipe for Cornish Pilsner is a celebration of Saaz hops and was inspired by the Monsieur Rock recipe developed by Jean-Marie Rock and I. I’ve just sent Jean-Marie and e-mail thanking him for the inspiration. The win comes at a very opportune time as we are just rebranding the bottled beer and bringing the beer out in keg. 

In other news, the 2013 vintage Connoisseurs’ Choice beers have been finalised and are in production. This year’s offering is:

Single Brew Reserve with Premiant hops (A pale ale dry hopped with Premiant at 4.5% ABV)

Honey Spice IPA (a hop forward pale ale with Cornish honey and Malabar peppercorns at 6.5% ABV)

6 Vintage Blend (6 different cellar-aged beers from 2007-2013 blended together to make a one off beer at 8% ABV)

More details will of course follow later.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Midsummer Murders

I’ve probably blogged about the Cornish summer tourist peak before. There is no more effective way of reminding you of the beauty of the peace and tranquillity of a rural existence than a visit to a supermarket that you didn’t want to visit in the first place, which takes 10 times longer and involves battling with families of tattoo-pocked greasy blobs squeezed in ill-fitting shorts as they meander pointlessly through the shop like a atoms in an excited gas. Given the evident attraction of entire afternoons spent in Tesco I am surprised it hasn’t got a brown sign. Fortunately I’m a very laid back and tolerant person so it doesn’t annoy me but I can appreciate how some people would be moved to devising schemes of mass murder involving health screening trucks advertising free donuts leading to a rendering plant in the car park. 

I received a bottle of the woodlice beer from Honest Brew on Thursday and it shows the potential to be a quite accomplished beer. There were no prawn, urine, ammoniacal notes although the late hop was obscured slightly by strong higher alcohols and esters. Dry hopping and bottle conditioning should redress the balance between the hop and products of yeast metabolism. Any contribution from the crustaceans should also be easier to decipher once the beer is cleaned up. Much credit must go to Andrew and Craig for staying until 2am after the live brewing session to finish the brew. I departed in desperate need of bed suffering from the effects of two-days-at-the-GBBF-based fatigue. Better or at least more sensible men than me!

The finished version of Project Crustacean should be available to sample in a couple of weeks. I’m 
 looking forward to it!

Enjoy your bank holiday weekend. Mine will be an abstemious one as I am judging the final round of the World Beer Awards next week so I need my tasting faculties to be à point . Which is nice.