Monday, 9 December 2019

A new definition of Craft Brewery

In the excellent The Craft Brewing Handbook editor Chris Smart puts forward a new definition of "craft brewery" that gets closer to the real meaning of "craft", and indeed reality. First he rapidly demolishes guff about brewing less than 6,000,000 US barrels a year (7,000,000 hl), or crap about which particular capitalists own the company.

Instead he puts it down to something that surely makes more sense to any definition of craft: what the brew length is:

Brew length, the amount of wort produced for fermentation in each batch, seems a more equitable metric to me. It’s hard to argue that a brew length of just 10 or 20 hL isn’t craft. By comparison who would consider a brew length of 500 hL as craft? Not many, so, the number and perhaps a workable definition lies somewhere in between. It is worth noting that beer produced by a larger brewer in a pilot facility or smaller brewery would be covered within this definition as craft, personally I’m very comfortable with that. It is pretty arbitrary but I would consider anything below a brew length of 50 hL is craft, anything bigger than, say, 200 hL is possibly not, and we can all argue about the middle ground, preferably over a nice pint (or half a liter if you’re metric).

It does make more sense to me, though it's still not without problems. Is a flashy automated 50hl brewery that does eight brews a day really craft? And we have muttered at work that having to dig out the mash tun by hand provides an elegantly simple way of telling if a brewery is or isn't craft. But having said that just going on the brew length does work rather well, and if there is a grey area I quite like the suggestion that it should be argued about over a nice pint.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Woking Beer Festival 2019

Shortly before attending this year's Woking Beer Festival I had the misfortune to waste five minutes of my life reading an article moaning on about CAMRA, their festivals, and the state of real ale in general: "the beers too warm, the people are too old, cask is doomed, blah, blah, blah".  I'm not going to link to the article but if you have an excess amount of life and want to waste some I think it was in the Brewer's Journal.

With what seemed to me to be rather dated and inaccurate whinging fresh in my mind I was curious to see what the event was like and who turned up to it.

Sure enough, the casks had proper cooling on them, as they've done for some time. I could be wrong on this but I thought it was CAMRA policy now. As to who attended I was delighted when without any prompting from me one of my friend piped up that there were more women and young people than there used to be. Which agrees with my thoughts about what I've seen at CAMRA festivals in recent years.

This is all anecdotal evidence of course, but it's not the first time I've read things about cask beer that just don't fit with what I'm seeing. Perhaps Woking is out on a limb as a cask stronghold? We do have the Champion Pub of Surrey after all. And come to think of it we had an American style brewpub serving beer from tanks years ago so we must be the cutting edge of craft too. Yes, there you have it: Woking, the beer capital of Britain, pizzas fit for princes, prone to destruction by martian invaders.

One thing that does concern me about the festival though is the number of volunteers was worryingly low, and not many of them are spring chickens. I didn't do my usual Friday session this year as I was at a work do. I might have to miss out on going as a punter and volunteer for the Saturday next year if there's another clash.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The return of historic porter

Multi-national corporations may well spread misery around the world but they don't half have good marketing budgets. So I was delighted to get an invitation to the launch of Goose Island's (ABInBev) Obadiah Poundage porter, named after the writer of a famous 1760 letter on porter, though the beer was brewed to an 1840 Truman's recipe.

The evening kicked off appropriately enough at a pub with Truman's branding, though I passed on the chance to drink a revived Truman's beer: there was Landlord on! I always think it's a result when I spot Landlord in a pub so I was delighted with such a promising start.

An awful lot of beery people turned up, though people from the Brewery History Society were amongst the earliest arrivals. I sure this was entirely due to our thirst for knowledge. After a couple of pints of networking we went on a tour of the site of Truman's brewery led by Derek Prentice, a former Truman's brewer. 

It was big. And there are brewery tunnels running under Brick Lane. I doubt they'll beat the Bamberg tunnels though.

Then it was on to the main event at Goose Island's brewpub.

I was a bit disappointed when I saw two handpumps without pump clips on the bar. I feared a re-run of the horrors of Hampstead. But salvation lay at the far end of the bar where they had a Truman's mild and bitter on draught. The cask mild in particular was flying out, clearly showing there's a vast untapped demand for it.

There were even more beery people in the pub and I reached GBBF levels of bumping into people I know. This time there was no power point presentation for us to see, instead Mike Siegel of Goose Island, Derek Prentice and Ron Pattinson were interviewed about the beer by Beer Writer of the Year Emma Inch. It worked really well, except for when it came to getting those in depth technical details I know you all love.




The beer was made with heritage barley, old English hop varieties and historic malting techniques. Though probably not that much brown malt, unlike when I had a go at making historic porter. A portion was aged in oak vats where it underwent a secondary fermentation with Bretanomyces clausenii (probably my old friend WLP645). This was then blended with a freshly made version as the porter brewers did back in its heyday at a ratio of 1:2. If you haven't seen it there's a video about the making of the beer here.

The beer had an off white head, a Bretty smell, a slight smokiness with a roasted astringency and some background sweetness. God I hate writing tasting notes. I really enjoyed the beer though.

There was more networking after the presentation, and on the way back home I popped into The Pride for a swift half of ESB.

I'm sure you'll be as pleased as I was to see that the special feature is still in place:

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Beer in the dark (mild) ages

If you've been drinking beer as long as me you might recall that back in 2013 we had barely emerged from the dark mild ages. But going back even further than that is hard to remember. I have vague memories of huddling round the fire in the cave that served as my local pub, communicating in grunts (not much has changed there admittedly) and swapping chickens for murky brews made with twigs. To find more exciting things to drink you had to go to beer festivals. But what sort of beers did they have on?  Well having recently rediscovered the programme for the 1990 Pig's Ear Beer Festival I can tell you.

Hop Back Summer Lightning was on, an experiment in making a golden cask ale, something which sadly never caught on. This was after all the days of dark mild. Though it seems modern craft brewers are now giving it another go and it could turn out to the saviour of cask. Hurrah!

King and Barnes were still going, as were Mitchells and Maclays. The latter might explain why the St Austell range looks rather different to how it is now. I did drink some St Austell beers down in Croyde back in those pre-Roger Ryman days and I have to say they weren't very good. 

For those too young to know the ancient art of working out the alcohol content from the original gravity you subtract 1000 from the mysterious four figure number after the beer name and divide the remainder by ten to get the approximate ABV.  

Belhaven was still independent, and their marketing department really went to town on the beer names, having all of  60 up to 90 shillings (shillings were the recently introduced money unit they had in Scotland. They were worth 12d each which could take some effort with the maths, but it was certainly less effort than having to carry chickens around). Bruces brewery was the Firkin brewpub chain. It's a shame brewpubs never caught on. Exmoor Gold was another doomed attempt at golden cask ale. Didn't these people know all everyone drank was dark mild? 

Gales still existed, and put on a light mild for those getting bored of dark mild. Fullers had their trilogy of parti-gyled beers and there's a couple of breweries, including Harvey's going for the classic offering of mild and bitter. Brown bitter would finally come into its own, overtaking dark mild in sales figures around the back end of 2012, before beings swept away by craft keg in 2013

Thwaites had not just a mild but also a best mild for those looking to move from around 3%  to close to 3.5% ABV. And Titanic had a couple of beers on that weren't plum flavoured.

Looking at the ticking I was very abstemious, only drinking three halves, which does conflict slightly of the recollections that the the Pig's Ear was an alcoholic wipe out. I guess I'm suffering from false memory syndrome. 

Curiously, considering we were middle of the dark (mild) ages CAMRA were promoting mild in the programme. Not sure what's going on there. It's almost as if even as far back as 1990 mild was rarely seen. Nah, that can't be right, must be that false memory syndrome again or something. 

Sunday, 20 October 2019

A visit to Schlenkerla brewery

As with previous study tours I was once again surprised by which brewery turned out to be my favourite. Which just shows the importance of research.

The Schlenkerla brewery got its name because the original owner would flap his arms around when walking, which apparently made him a "shlenkerla". Who'd have though you'd need such a word? Not me that's for sure, but the next time I see someone in the street flapping their arms around I'll be ready.

Bamberg's nice

The brewery may go back to 1405,

They make their own malt (to a colour of 15-20 EBC) using beech wood though someone on the tour  less gullible than me did point out it's rather small for the amount of beer they make.

The brewhouse is a two vessel system: a mash/wort kettle and a lauter tun. The lauter tun is raised so it can run off under gravity.

They decoct the thick part of the mash twice except for the helles which only has one decoction. The mash is for three and a half hours, lautering  three hours and boil one hour. They mash in at 50°C and mash out at 78°C, the wheat beer is mashed in at 40°C.

The brewery runs for 24 hours Monday to Thursday, with three brews a day. They use 950 kg of malt and three kg of malt for a brew length of 50 hl.

They use untreated town water which is best for the darker beers. Three styles are brewed all year round and seven in total, including a bock in October and a dopplebock in December. Märzen makes up 80% of production. The weiss beer is top fermented. The märzen has an original gravity of 13.5°P (54°S).

The copper parts of the brewery date from 1936, the stainless steel from 1980 and the automation from 1993.

They have sandstone cellars which date from at least 1387. The cellars are at 10°C all year round that makes them great for lager fermentation.

I think that makes them yer proper caves where lagering can have taken place back in the day before refrigeration. Course they have refrigeration now: fermentation starts at 8-9°C and the beer is chilled to 5°C when 3°P (12°S) is left followed by a week where a free rise to 6.5°C is allowed for a diacetyl rest before chilling again to 2°C for four weeks for the märzen and longer for stronger beers.

In their own pubs they sell beer in wooden casks

All beers are filtered except for the wheat, lent and Summer beers. The wheat beer has speise added.

The coveted IBD plaque
It was a fantastic brewery and I've even started to like smoked beers more. After the brewery tour we got to explore some caves.

A rather brave decision from the tour organisers I thought. Fortunately there was only one casualty.

It was great seeing the caves, there were even more impressive than those found in Dorking.

The tunnels had had various uses over the years. Wine was stored in them, then beer once bottom fermentation arrived.

After artificial refrigeration was invented they were not needed for beer.

They were used as an air raid shelter during the second global mass imperialist slaughter, though the bombing of one cave still lead to the death of 54 people.

There was still a little bit about beer in the caves:

Then we got to go to a bonus brewery for which my notes are sadly lacking.

And then, as if we hadn't had enough already, it was time for a beer tasting. No one said this Continuing Professional Development would be easy!

With that the study tour was over and here ends a chapter, but a chapter only, of the history of the revolutionary proletariat of the sea. No, hang on a minute that's not right, that was a century ago in the North of Germany. Our tour of Bavaria had finished though. Next year a trip to the Brett fest looks likely and the year after the next proper tour will be hopefully be to Boston. I'm looking forward to it as I've heard tales from travellers of strange and exotic beers made in barbarian lands which will be interesting to discover.