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.






Saturday, 12 October 2019

A visit to Weyermann maltings

Weyermann are known for making an interesting range of malts. And they're clearly paranoid that their competitors will nick ideas from them as they didn't want us taking pictures in the maltings, and banned the maltsters on the study tour from visiting. It's just as well I no longer have the word "maltster" in my job title.



The company started out transporting goods and founded the maltings in 1879. The were making erzats coffee from roasted cereals and wanted to roast grains for beer but due to the reinheitsgebot had to malt the grains first. 



They moved away from floor malting when they build a pneumatic malting in 1904. They also have an extract brewery, where sinamar (the reinheitsgebot compliant way of colouring beer) is made. They malt barley, wheat, rye and spelt, making 85 different malts from the four grains.


They steep the grains at 20°C from 12% moisture to over 40%. Germination takes place in Saladin boxes and after that green malt goes to the kilns for base malts, the roaster for caramel malts and kiln then roaster for roasted grains. They have 4 x 60 tonne steeping vessels, 8 x 120 tonne germination boxes and 4 x kilns. Steeping to for 2 hours, then 20 hour air rest with spraying, then 2 hours steep.


The speciality malts they make include acid malt (bacteria are sprayed on during germination), beech smoked malt, oak smoked wheat malt and de-husked chocolate malt  called cara-fa i.e. caramel and farbe (colour). 80% of the husk is removed before malting in rotating drums. This has to be done carefully and they can't remove 100% of they will damage the grains embryo and the grain needs to be living to malt.

Fifteen to 20 trucks of grain arrive per day. They are tested on arrival for bugs, moisture, grain size and tetrazolium staining for seed viability (need over 96% from 50 grains). If the results are OK the truck can be unloaded.