Saturday, 13 June 2020

Desperate measures

As I've still had to bleedin' well go to work the current plague situation has affected me less than many. But I haven't managed to escape its effects entirely. There's the queuing two metres apart to get into supermarkets...where  it then reverts to the usual free for all. And my current training regime is entirely limited to what I can do on my own in my living room, so Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has gone out of the window but I'm doing alright at re-learning side kicks. Then there's the pubs. Shut, shut, shut.

This has not done any favour for my weekend enjoyment but it was only recently that I realised there were more serious spiritual implications. As I've been able to fulfil for cask beer at work I arrogantly assumed I'd be able to live through the lockdown with no risk to my immortal soul, until The Beer Nut reminded me that May is the month of mild. I had entirely forgotten, which I suppose shows how my routine has been upset more than I'd realised. 

May being the beery month of obligation the faithful are called to promote mild during this time, and I always make sure I drink a pint and sometimes even two. How could I do that when the pubs are shut though? Working at a brewery wouldn't help as we don't make mild. In fact there's four breweries on site and not one of them makes a single mild. Our mother church makes allowances for when you can't get to pubs but who makes bottle conditioned mild? No one I know. So in these desperate times desperate measures are called for and I improvised as best I could. 

We make an old ale, which I think can be considered a strong mild. 

It's filled with extraneous CO2 though, which as we know is the essence of evil. So I used a fork to drive it, and Satan, out. 

Then to try and restore the beer to how god intended I poured in the dregs of a bottle conditioned beer:

Was this enough to fulfil my obligations? I really don't know, I haven't seen CAMRA issue a special dispensation during these troubled times. I can only hope that on the day of judgement my efforts are taken into consideration. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Love Beer, Love Pubs

Due to the current lockdown situation many people find themselves in there has been a welcome upsurge in the amount of beer blogging, a pastime that had become much less popular since it became possible to say so much less in 280 characters on twitter. My own blogging has also been withering away, as to be honest I’ve got better things to do with my time. But Boak and Bailey reviving their call for Beery Long Reads has once again motivated me to get back to the keyboard about something I’ve been meaning to post on for some time, with an added topical twist.

Since the corona virus crisis started a number of theories have been offered about the origin of the virus. Most people are blaming the eating of bats, but eating bats is nothing new. We’ve had it happening years ago and I don’t remember any problems arising when Ozzy Osbourne ate a bat. Others blame a Chinese laboratory for creating the virus, but I think they’ve just been getting reality mixed up with The Survivors programme. 

Strangest of all, some conspiraloons are blaming 5G masts. Electromagnetic radiation creating a virus? I don’t get that one at all.

No, none of these theories ring true. As a person of faith the real cause of this terrible disease is clear. And his name is Des De Moor. This might come as a surprise to some, but bear with me. To his shame he wrote on his blog a screed titled “Love Beer, Hate Pubs”, much to the approval of a baying mob of godless beer geeks. As a punishment for this, and admittedly three years later but you know god does move in mysterious ways, a pestilence has been unleashed upon the land forcing pubs to close. And killing tens of thousands of people, but as I said, mysterious ways. Now that the pubs are shut are the pub haters happy I wonder? That god has shown us what the world is like without pubs will I hope force them to repent their wicked ways and beg forgiveness. Certainly a few Acts of Contrition and Hail Protzes are called for. But as we now have more free time on our hands let’s look at what Des wrote and highlight the error of his ways.

He starts by describing the link between beer and pubs as an accident of history, as it has always been possible to enjoy beer outside of pubs. These are the sort of words the devil might whisper in your ear to keep you away from pubs. For the evil lord knows that cask beer, that is beer served as god intended, is only found in pubs. So by staying away from pubs and drinking at home you are doing the devil's work.

Des does admit the symbiotic link between cask beer and pubs, but down plays the significance as beer can now be found in other places, like bars, coffee shops and farmers' markets in bottles, cans and 'craft keg' form. Note the dispense format conspicuously absent from that list! He then compounds his grave errors by actually encouraging people to drink from bottles when they're in a pub! After doing Satan's work he then praises cask beer, presumably to disorientate the faithful. Anything that stops people going to pubs and drinking cask beer is surely advancing Satan’s plan and being hateful to god. Besides which, cask beer really does taste better than beer served from inferior packaging formats.

He then moves on to pub closures and seems to me to be strangely ill informed. Talk of the smoking ban is dismissed as inconclusive, but whatever your views on it, it undoubtedly discouraged some regular pub goers. The high tax we pay on beer is also discounted as off trade beer is also taxed. That the high taxes means the price differential between on and off trade beer is increased due to the mark up, making pubs even less economically viable, is not discussed but surely is another big factor working against pubs.

That there are "certain problems with the pubco model" is conceded, shortly before he starts talking about how it works for some companies, presumably ones based in the Cayman Islands. If perhaps Des didn't hate pubs he would have talked to a few more publicans and found out how long they can work for so little return. Pubcos are certainly not an innocent party when it comes to pub closures, and Des does admit that the financial interest of pubcos might have nothing to do with running successful pubs compared to selling them for other uses. The Market Rent Option, which is meant to allow publicans to become free of tie on the beer they sell has not just been “slow and dogged by controversy”. It has been fought tooth and nail every step of the way by the pubcos, and they’ve been very successful too, which shows exactly how hard things are for publicans.

We then get on to trends in society and how people's homes are now more comfortable. Which I'm sure is all true but I don't see why it would make you hate pubs. Pub campaigners are characterised as being old fashioned and resisting social change as much as the loss of amenities that pub closures bring. That UKIP have a campaign against pub closures is said to be "no great surprise", but people from all sorts of political tendencies have also campaigned against pub closures so I really don't see what this is supposed to prove except trying to smear pub campaigners as being right wing little Englanders. 

Strangely he doesn't see how pubs are uniquely British, though he can see how Scottish pubs differ from English. I'm not really sure what to say about that one, other than I've drunk in a lot of establishments in a lot of countries and pubs are definitely distinctive. Though he's quite right about Scottish pubs, they tend to be more like bars than English pubs and all the worse for it if you ask me.

Rather disparagingly it's also claimed that pub campaigners are only interested in old wet led boozers with wizened regulars glued to the bar. No evidence is presented for this, but wet led pubs have certainly suffered more from closures so it's quite possible that there have been more campaigns to save them. That micropubs, tap rooms and restaurants are opening is praised which is where we get to the heart of matter. He really does hate pubs. That a dozen or so have closed near his flat doesn’t bother him as he doubts they sold any interesting beer. There’s a couple of things to say about this. Firstly not many places can lose a dozen pubs and still have plenty of good places to go drinking in. It might not be a problem if you live in London but what if you live in a village with only one pub and that closes? Mind you, Des does have previous form for London imperialism. Secondly, he is clearly the type of beer geek that is always seeking new things to drink and doesn’t care where they drink them or in what format. Which is fine if that’s what floats your boat, but personally if I can get decent beer in a decent pub I’m happy to stick with the same drink all night and though I’m pleased how the range of beers available has expanded over the years I don’t feel the need to be always seeking something new. 

Though alternative to pubs are opening, of the pubs that close no mention is made that many end up as shops or flats with nowhere for anyone to drink beer, traditional or modern. Instead we hear about the hard times he had in some pubs in his youth, and how social conformity was enforced. Before contradicting himself by mentioning how different groups and cultures had their own pubs. Certainly there are rough pubs, but there are also great pubs that make everyone welcome, and these include wet led traditional boozers. That pubs reflect society is hardly surprising so I don’t see why they should all be tarred with the same brush as the worst examples. And though he might not be sad when they shut are the wizened old regulars likely to start going to start drinking in trendy new tap rooms? I suspect not. Some might like to embrace the latest fashion, but if you’ve already found something you like I don’t see why fighting to defend it should be considered a problem.

Cold words of comfort are offered that "pub like establishments" will still cater for the demand for drinking beer in a social space. Which I'm sure is fine for those that hate pubs, but for those of us that love them nothing beats a proper pub. I've made so many friends in pubs, including many of my oldest and best friends. I had my living room furnished when I was in need thanks to learning who was getting rid of furniture via a pub, and if I want recommendations for a local tradesman I know where to ask. I might be wrong but I can't see any of that happening at a tap room, restaurant or shop. Pubs are a British cultural institution, and some of us happen to love them. They deserve to be defended.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Site Safety Checklist

Health and safety in breweries needs to be taken seriously*. Here's a something handy from the talk I went to at the SIBA AGM.

Site Safety Checklist
  • Fire equipment. Is the equipment in the right place and unobstructed?
  • Means of escape. Are escape routes free from obstructions and clearly signed?
  • First aid provision. Are first aid facilities available?
  • Fire safety. Are flammable substances kept to a minimum?
  • Electrical safety. Are all electrical appliance inspected prior to use?
  • Manual handling. Are measures taken to ensure the safety of people and equipment?
  • Slips, trips and falls. Have slip, trip and fall hazards been addressed?
  • Working at height. Is the equipment suitable and safe to use? Have you been trained for the task?
  • Food hygiene. Are food preparation and service areas kept clean and tidy?
  • Security. Are measures taken to ensure the safety of people and equipment?
  • Violence to staff. Have staff been instructed on how to deal with violent or abusive visitors?
  • Lone working. Are precautions taken when working alone?
  • Animals. Are you aware of the risks associated with contact with animals?
  • Personal Protective Equipment. If necessary is suitable PPE available?
  • Chemical safety. Are hazardous substances used and stored safely?
  • Accidents and emergencies. Is there a list of emergency contact numbers available?
  • Housekeeping. Is the site kept free from obstructions and waste?
  • Machinery Safety. Are staff trained in the safe use of equipment?
  • Vehicle movements. Are pedestrian and vehicle areas separated?
  • Lighting. Is there sufficient lighting?
  • Young persons. Do young persons work on the site?
  • New and expectant mothers. Do new or expectant mothers work on the site?
  • Noise. Are noise levels too loud for normal conversation?
  • Confined spaces. Are confined spaces identified and correctly managed?

*Particularly broken guards on kieselguhr filter dosing pots

Saturday, 11 April 2020

A German view on extraneous CO2

In these difficult times it has been encouraging to see many people return to beer blogging. But there has been a noticeable lack of pointless arguments, which as we know is what the internet is for. So you'll be pleased to hear I spotted in article in the IBD magazine where a German brewer gives his views on extraneous CO2. Always good for a pointless argument that.

Often I've seen Satan's minions dismiss any objections to artificially carbonating beer by saying that "CO2 is CO2", which is true on a molecular level, but misses the point that all bubbles are most certainly not the same.

Dr Frank Müller, Brewmaster at Riegele brewery, certainly holds this view as the article reports that he:
"describes fermentation derived carbonation as a more delicate, more integrated effervescence than the coarse bubbles that result from CO2 delivered by gas suppliers and injected in-line. One theory briefly mentioned in the course of this conversation dealt with saturation aspects of CO2 around haze particles, visibly perceived or not evident. Arguably, a slow evolution of CO2 leads to a more gradual saturation and better mouthfeel properties in the final beer."

Germany may sadly have been on the wrong side of the great schism and most of their beer is served in an illicit manner, but the German brewing tradition is still valid, as are the views of Dr Müller. The best information I've found on bubbles due to natural carbonation came from a book I read about champagne bubbles. It came to the same conclusion: that during secondary fermentation tiny particles make nucleation sites for CO2 bubbles, leading to smaller bubbles with a smoother mouthfeel. But you don't need to take my word for it, just say "Get thee behind me Satan" to the Lord of Lies and use your own senses when drinking a naturally carbonated beverage.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Cask in crisis

That the devil has long been trying to destroy cask beer is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see with. The mysterious creation of lager yeast paved the way for unnaturally cold and fizzy beer, and the invention of the infernal sparkler was clearly part a diabolic plan that culminated in nitrokeg bitter. But now the dark lord has gone further and unleashed pestilence upon the land to shut the pubs and deny people beer served as god intended.

Our mother church has long accepted bottled conditioned beer as real ale, and has recently declared that even some other lesser forms of packaging are also valid. But we know they're not the same thing. So as I still have to go to work whilst the rest of you are lying around all day wanking I did get to thinking that surely being in a brewery I must be able to find some cask beer. And as it happens it was dead easy. The shop is still open and they sell beer on cask.

So I helped myself to some on Friday and very nice it was too. Even in these times of lockdown there may still be opportunities out there to take communion and for the good of their soul I urge the faithful to be vigilant and seize these opportunities when they can. Whilst keeping social distancing and being hygienic of course.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

A spectre is haunting Cumbria

After a very enjoyable weekend in Edinburgh things went rapidly downhill. Whilst there I'd unexpectedly reached the pinnacle of my brewing career, winning the coveted golden dipstick. But my enjoyment was to be short lived.

First there was the train journey to Penrith which took seven hours. It was supposed to be less than two. Matthew Lawrenson made a valiant attempt to get some liquid support to me at Preston but in the end it was stoicism that got me to my last stop.

I thought things were looking up there, as I was met at the station by friends who whisked me over to Brathwaite. But I was to find the day's suffering was not yet over. On entering The Royal Oak I was horrified to see there was no bleedin' Sneck Lifter.

Instead there was a hobgoblin leering at me. Hobgoblin is a bit of a bogeyman to crafties but I don't mind it myself. I do mind it replacing Sneck Lifter though, as it's just not as good. Sadly I was greeted by a similar sight at a Jenning's pub in Keswick. The hobgobin was leering at me again, I suspect he's haunting the whole of Cumbria, but not a Sneck to be seen. Or Cockerhoop for that matter.

Once I'd got home I emailed my contact in Cockermouth who was able to confirm the full horror of the situation. Orders have come through from Wolverhampton to "re-invigorate the flagging Jennings brand by....... discontinuing the two best beers!" It's said they may return as seasonals but in which season exactly are they going to bring back the strong, dark Sneck Lifter if not Winter? And bollocks am I going to be drinking Hobgoblin in place of Sneck, though the Dog and Gun in Keswick still has Old Peculier on which certainly kept the Winter chill at bay and did go some way to easing my distress.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

A visit to West Berkshire Brewery

The latest IBD mini-seminar was at West Berkshire Brewery, where we got to hear about lots of lovely shiny things we'll never be able to afford. Then it was time for a tour.

They've spent £12 million on the brewery so they'd been able to afford a few shiny things.

We were shown round by the Production Manager,

They have a 24 head bottling line.

And a 24 head canning line.

And lots of space.

Space is the absence of time and of matter

They've a way to go to get that 12 million quid back. This was a yeast propagation vessel and I definitely want it:

Here's some fermenting vessels:

And here's a hop rocket. I want one of them too.

Racking port not 12" about the bottom of the cone:

Combined cask and keg racker depending on if god or the devil is winning:

Some filter housings and a centrifuge at the back. I wouldn't mind one of them too. 


More stuff:

The brew house is continental style with a Mash Conversion Vessel and Lauter Tun. They have a 60hl brew length and since the addition of a pre-run vessel (extra tank for wort collection) do up to four brews a day.

The brew house was branded as "Renegade", which was their crafty sub-brand. But no one seemed to care so they've dropped it.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The Eagle Ale House

I have a policy of never saying no when I'm asked down the pub. After all, what would I be doing otherwise that's better than going to a pub? So I was put in a quandary when a friend called on a recent Saturday morning to say he was on his way to the Eagle Ale House and would I like to join him? I had a cold so was planning a quite day ticking things off my to do list. But a quick perusal of the list showed there wasn't much that couldn't be put off, so after a quick run around I was on my way to the station.

I've wanted a have a drink in the Eagle Ale House for a long time. I did once deliver beer to it whilst in a previous job, and I've met one of the guys behind it, Dave Law, a few time. He's a tireless campaigner against the evils of the pub companies, which was why my friend wanted to drink in his pub.

It is, as you'd expect, a proper pub: tiled out the front and bare floorboards inside, with six hand pumps on but no food. Lovely. For practicing Satanists it looked like a range of devil's drainpipes were on the other side of the bar, and there were even bottles of Big Drop in the fridge for those doing the modern version of Lent.

We arrived early so it wasn't busy, but it was filling up nicely by the time we left. Being of an infirm disposition I stuck to session beers and even had a few halves of coke to slow down my intake. Mostly it was something pale and hoppy that was only 3% ABV, though I stray into dangerously strong territory for a mild at 3.5%. You have to boost your mild score when you can.

The plan had been to move on to another pub, run by another campaigner, but it was on the other side of London and what with me being poorly I couldn't face it. So it was an early return to the station for us, and we only stopped at one more pub on the way. We were practically tee total really.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

The black malt in the copper mystery solved

My current boss, has been a brewer for many a year, occasionally drops a fascinating fact into the conversation. He started out working for Courage, so Imperial Russian Stout occasionally crops up, and I'm pleased to say that last week the mystery of black malt in the copper was solved.

For those of you unfamiliar with brewing Imperial Russian Stout the instructions tell you to add black malt to the copper (kettle) two hours into the three hour boil. Nowadays it might be common for hops to be added at just about any stage of brewing but having malt anywhere but the mash tun is decidedly odd. As indeed my boss said when he talked about it. He couldn't work out why until he realised that the malt in the copper acted as an abrasive agent to scrub off some of the crud that builds up on the heating element during a long boil of a strong wort so restoring some efficiency.

I for one have been able to sleep easier in my bed knowing this. I wonder if he ever brewed an AK in his Courage days?