Saturday 21 January 2017

In the Dry Dock

For those still linked to this blog or those who are skulking, half-cut, in the darkness by your lap top waiting for news of my next move so you can bitterly adjust the angle of the voodoo doll or leave comments on the Harbour web site under several different profiles saying I drown kittens and club baby seals, I thought I’d do a short and final update on my brewing life before this blog is stopped good and proper, forever. Of course, I appreciate that I’ve said “that’s it” before and therefore you have no reason to believe a word I say.

I departed Sharp’s and Molson Coors in 2015 to take on a new challenge at Butcombe. Many have speculated about why I left Sharp’s. I hope you don’t want me to explain because the truth is I can’t remember.

Butcombe is a genteel West Country regional brewery with an iconic bitter as its flagship brand and a name that Americans love. The team there are so genuinely nice that if they made a documentary about the place it would make Doc Martin look like Reservoir Dogs. Characters to a man. The greatest exemplar of which is Barry Badger, a man with the tact and civility of a butler from one of Somerset's great houses when sober who transforms into a Manc football hooligan after 3 G&Ts. 
How be on Tristan? 
Leaving a fast-paced 24/7 brewery on the Friday and starting there on the Saturday was a bit like going on Holiday. Just so I didn’t feel too comfortable it was arranged to have a 7.5-tonne lorry drive over my new sports car on my first day.  One of my start up goals was to work on the iconic Butcombe Bitter. I am not revealing any trade secrets when I say that the Bitter has at times, to speak euphemistically been slightly less accessible to delicate palates than is desirable for a commercial brand. Or as one of the staff there put it after 3 pints you felt like you needed a to get your throat relined. For the first few months every change I made seemed only to make things catastrophically worse but then, with help from my newly assembled flavour panel and the brilliant team of brewers we started to make some serious headway and the beer and sales improved to the point where we nearly ran out of beer. I believe they are still doing very well, they certainly deserve to. 

I also had the pleasure of getting Butcombe through an important food safety audit. Those of you not familiar with the dirty end of a brewing food safety audit will not appreciate true horror of the concept. You have to assemble a mile-high pile of paperwork to prove that things that you don’t need to do in the first place, because the risk is low to the point where it doesn’t exist in reality, are being done and relentlessly documented. Examples are taking the appropriate steps to ensure no one gets a Stanley knife dispensed into their pint glass or catches herpes from a bottle of Bitter. An auditor who used to be the food safety manager for Pete’s Pasties doesn’t understand that a knife won’t fit down a beer line or that the herpes virus can’t be transferred in a solution of beer (let alone survive in it), so you need countless records showing that you can account for every knife in the brewery and anyone with a cold sore has been sent home to watch Judge Rinder. You also need to get all your staff trained in how to segregate raw chicken from chicken pate. Vital knowledge for anyone making a chicken breast saison which is barrel-aged with chicken liver pate and foie gras but not really applicable to Butcombe. The only thing stupider was the fire consultant for Molson Coors telling me that we need to fit 3 fire extinguishers in a concrete room filled on with water and metal in case any of the above materials caught fire. I'm sure every beer drinker gets a warm feeling knowing their favourite tipple is a few pence more expensive because brewers need to protect them from the impossible. 

After Butcombe I had a brief sojourn in a personal development summer camp where I was coached in being nice to other people’s friends, not saying what I thought, caring more about ethos and the ethereal than beer and brewing and how to placate capricious drunks. All-in an enriching and valuable life lesson.

Next on the agenda was a move back to the most Cornish county in the UK, Cornwall. I started in Harbour brewing in picturesque Bodmin in November last year. Harbour is an exciting young brewery, with exciting young people, making exciting beers. You can see where I fit in. I am starting a Harbour-centric blog elsewhere but I will finish this post by giving you a flavour of what we are looking to achieve.

The plan is to bring artistry and creativity back into the brewing “space”. For too long beer has been about long hours, science, dedication and attention to detail when everyone knows the path to true greatness is gnarly and raw creativity. At harbour we are not afraid of going radical. For example, we have removed the roof from the Brewhouse so that our creative thought processes are not stifled by a ceiling and we can live in the stars on a nightshift. We have renamed the brewhouse as “our wort birthing space” and have installed a chill out zone with hammocks and piped in the sounds from a whale’s womb (or Radio 6) to enable spiritual harmony with the yeast. Because beer shouldn’t be about numbers but about self-expression, instead of tank numbers we have asked local graffiti artists to adorn the vessels with conceptual art and use this to track the brew. Every new brew concept is created over at least 6 months in a process involving bean bags, interpretive dance, throat singing and meditation. All our packaging is designed by clinically-insane amputees from Denmark because that makes it better. We are, as one brewer put it, spending time planning how we will cope with the hero worship which is bound to result from what we achieve. 
Niels, one of our can designers
The whole last paragraph is of course total bollocks (for Harbour at least). If you are interested in the real story, my new Harbour blog will be up and running soon. Join me there in a few days.    

This is the last song I will ever sing
I’ve changed my mind again

Good night and thank you.