Friday, 2 November 2018

A visit to Timothy Taylor's brewery

I don't really have time to organise visits for the Brewery History Society at the moment, but no one has volunteered to take over the job. So when I can I'm organising a few trips, and strangely enough I somehow managed to find the time to organise a visit to Timothy Taylor's brewery.

My obsession with Landlord is entirely unrelated to this.

The brewhouse came from the wrong side of the Pennines, originally being from Oldham brewery. They recently added a new Steel's masher.

The mash tun was filled almost to the brim, giving a brewlength of 180 barrels which is liquored back to 250 bbl. They still work in Fahrenheit and unfortunately I brew in Celsius. Figures were kindly translated for us and they mash at 66°C for an hour, then underlet raising the temperature to 70°C and leave for another hour.

They use only whole hops and add more hops in the hop back.

A lot more hops go in the copper though.

And I bet it's a right pain in the arse filling those bins. The use WGV (Whitbread or is it White's Golding Variety), Fuggles and Savinjski Goldings, with true Goldings also being used some years.

Brewing sugars are used in wort production and priming sugar is added to the casks.

Blocks of No.2 there

They carry out a range of lab tests in house...

...including using an antique Lovibond meter. Modern colour determination only measures colour at one wavelength (430nm) which does not give the full picture so they compare the colour of their beer to tinted glass slides by eye.

They ferment in open squares and rouse the yeast during fermentation. The yeast also came from Oldham brewery and they've been continuously re-pitching for 36 years.

They crop the yeast by skimming it off the top.

Newer vessels have lids that can drop down and seal the tanks. Which makes CIP (cleaning in place) easier and allows them to be used as conditioning tanks.

They now have a five barrel pilot plant which has been used for brewing some small batch beers.

Production is over 80% cask, with the rest being bottled at Robinsons. Annual production is 61,000 barrels so unsurprisingly they have very snazzy cask washing and racking equipment.

They still have to bang in the shives by hand mind.

With the casks being primed and racked with a yeast count of 2 million cells per ml there is a vigorous secondary fermentation. They recommend the cask is vented and left open for 24 hours before adding a soft peg.

The tour ended with a look at the Quality Control.

Very important that bit.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Triumph and agony

It's been ages since I've seen a band, but a run of gigs started on Saturday with the return of several crusty bands I saw a lot of in my youth. It was at the New Cross Inn, which looks and sounds like a pub but I'm not sure if it actually is one.

I was delighted to see they had hand pumps on the bar. Until I tried drinking the beer.

Am I an animal?
It was not good, not good at all.

This is station x
I had two pints of cask ale and both tasted more like bleedin' cider than beer. I did finish them though, at those prices I couldn't let them go to waste.

Please don't fight
It was on to the Guinness after that, which may be less spiritually fulfilling but it tasted better. As I was putting the disappointment of the beer to the back of my mind and settling in to enjoy the bands I noticed an astonishing development: they were serving beer in quarts!

Apparently they've started doing this at gigs. I was simply astounded. This is surely the greatest development in British beer for a generation. Will pewter pots or strawberry pink china mugs be coming back next?

That's a pint on the left and a half on the right
There was a major drawback with having quarts at the gig though. With the beer being rubbish I didn't want to have one!

Monday, 22 October 2018

Diacetyl and VDK

I must confess it did bring a smile to my face to see Cloudwater brewery post something scientifically nonsensical on their blog soon after announcing their head brewer was leaving and not being replaced. Maybe, just maybe, there is a need to technical brewers after all!

The offending passage is where they call for their publican customers to:
"know to dispense cask when it’s conditioned out past any rise and fall of diacetyl producing VDK"
Ignoring the dubious point that it's the customer's job to make sure their beer doesn't taste of diacetyl, saying "diacetyl producing VDK" doesn't make any bleedin' sense. Diacetyl doesn't produce VDK, it is a VDK. It's like saying "ethanol producing alcohol" or even "brie producing cheese".

VDK stands for vicinal diketones. "Vicinal" means "neighbouring" and "diketone" says the molecules have two ketone groups. Diacetyl is more formally known as 2,3 butanedione. To break that down the 2 and 3 say which carbon atoms have the functional groups and carbons 2 and 3 are obviously neighbouring. The "but" bit of "butane" says the molecule has four carbon atoms and the "ane" says it is saturated with hydrogen, the "di" says there are two functional groups and the "one" at the end says they are ketones. So, from reading the name it is possible to see that the molecule has this structure:


Diacetyl is a particularly flavour active compound, i.e. it doesn't take much of it to have a strong taste. A touch of it brings something special to Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Pilsner Urquell, but too much of it, particularly in pilsners, is overpowering and an off flavour.

Aside from infection it gets into beer as it's made by yeast during fermentation. In the most active part of fermentation it's made faster than it's broken down so it accumulates. If given enough time (the diacetyl rest or warm conditioning) the yeast will break it down towards the end of fermentation as growth slows.

It is however, not the only VDK made during fermentation. 2,3 pentanedione is also made. A chemically similar compound, the structure of which I'm sure you can now work out. It is much less flavour active than diacetyl, but because of its chemical similarity some laboratory analyses can't separate the two so will give a result as "total VDK". And this is presumably where the confusion comes from, as diacetyl will be noticed as a flavour fault in beer, but the lab result may come back listing VDK.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Surviving the cask free years

When Cloudwater, Britain's most important brewery*, announced it was ceasing production of cask beer it was the death knell for it. As a devout member of the one, beery, catholic and apostolic beer consumers organisation I was hit particularly hard by this. I gave up going to the pub as I just found it too hard to bear the thought of going there to only drink from the devil's drainpipe.

Bottle conditioned beers let me continue my personal relationship with the one true living beer and my home brew served from Cornelius kegs resembled real ale enough to save me from complete despair. And I recently had an astonishing discovery that prefigured the joyous news that Cloudwater are returning to cask production.

After a long day climbing in Langdale with a friend I called in at the Old Dungeon Ghyll. It was getting late and we were hungry so decided to eat at the pub. To my astonishment and delight I saw that there were hand pumps on the bar that appeared to be serving! I could scarcely believe my eyes! I checked there was no devilry at work, but these were no fake hand pumps, our mother church having seen them off in the 90s.

Eyeing up the beer range I suggested a couple of beers to my friend but he only chose after checking it was the cask beers I was referring to. As if I would suggest anything else!

The beer was everything I had hoped for and to once more be drinking beer as god intended was like a dream come true. How cask beer managed to cling on in Langdale I couldn't say. Perhaps the isolation of the valley and lack of mobile phone reception meant they'd never heard of the death of cask.

My trip to the Lake District ended all too soon, but once home my every waking thought was consumed with when I could get back. Then the momentous news came in that Cloudwater were resuming cask production. On hearing this my plans to sell up and move to Langdale were put on the back burner and for the first time in years I stepped into my local. Nervously I looked across to the bar and yes, the hand pumps were in action. The cask free years were a hard struggle, but the darkness is now behind us, cask beer is alive!

* Not in terms of volume but I think it came second in some online poll or a beer rating site or something.

Friday, 21 September 2018

An itinerary of old inns in London

The Book of Beer by Andrew Campbell contains some itineraries of pubs. No pub crawls for him! Though the book dates from 1956 I recognised the name of some of the pubs and a quick google later I found that for at least one of the itineraries all of the pubs were still trading.

So for the purposes of historical research I teamed up with Tim Holt, the editor of the Journal of the Brewery History Society, to investigate.

We met at The Ship Tavern near Holborn. I was slightly concerned to see it covered in scaffolding but fortunately the pub was still open. I must admit I didn't pay too much attention to the pub, the journey to London had dried out my throat a little and I was more interested in getting a refreshing drink. Wimbledon brewery's SW19 did the job we were soon ready to head for the next stop on our itinerary.

This was The Seven Stars, a cosy little pub with great character and great beer. I couldn't resist a pint of Harvey's Sussex Bitter, despite their support for the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition (Boo! Hiss!). The pub was decorated with old film posters, which there's probably a story behind but I don't know what it is.

I know we now live in ecumenical times and pubs need to expand what they offer, but I was still pleased to hear that they didn't serve tea. Particularly when the woman who'd ask for a cup got a half of bitter instead.

Ye Olde Cock Tavern was next, once owned by Truman's now owned by Greene King. This did not inspire me with a great deal of excitement about the beers. I rarely enjoy their IPA and the itinerary was too long for me to start drinking Abbot.

So I went for their Yardbird, which had a pleasant American hop flavour, until about half way down when the hops seemed muted and diacetyl came to the fore. Still, I'll give them 8/10 for effort.

Then it was on to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a Sam Smith's pub.

I'm not a huge fan of their Old Brewery Bitter, being served from wooden kilderkins it probably doesn't travel well. I've had a few good pints recently though so I gave it a go. It was thin but drinkable.

The pub is a warren of a place, with most of the seating in what look like an old cellar. It was totally rammed so we ended up perched on a small bench near the bogs. Not ideal really but needs must.

The Old Bell was the last on our itinerary and I was delighted to see they had Landlord on, another beer I can never resist.

We'd made good time with our research so Tim suggested we visit another pub.

The Jerusalem Tavern is St Peter's Brewery's only pub and I'd never been so I was keen to see it.


The lack of handpumps put me in a difficult position, the theological implications of which I'm still struggling with. Assuming it was a keg only establishment I had a pint of their porter served from the devil's drainpipe. To my horror I then spotted cask beer was advertised on the blackboard at the back, the taps from the barrel ends apparently serving beer as god intended.

Suckling at the devil's drainpipe is only a venial sin if no real ale is available, but surely to do so when it was is a mortal sin. Except in a Sam Smith's pub obviously. It was a genuine mistake on my part but would being ignorant be enough to save my immortal soul? My intentions were good but you know what the road to hell is paved with. I quickly said an act of contrition and three Hail Protzes to be on the safe side.

Then it was definitely time to be going, back home for a troubled night's sleep as I fretted about my error and its potential grave implications.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Draught Beer Quality

The second talk at the IBD lectures I recently attended was by David Quain and James Mallett on draught beer quality. It mainly focussed on keg beer and the findings may come as a surprise to those that think any beer in keg (or even key keg) is immune to problems in the trade. For starters it's recommended that kegs should be turned over in five days.

Draught beer is a great thing but quality is not always as it should be.

Draught beer is in long term decline, cask beer is doing best with keg ales doing worst.

Cask Marque and Vianet have produced a beer quality report.

There are a number of factors involved in this decline. It's a tradition or an old charter or something that the 1989 beer orders are given prominence here, but as they broke up the local duopoly where I live and created the guest cask beer market I've a soft spot for them myself.

Beer is a hostile environment for microorganisms but some can still grow.

Germans have a DIN standard for draught beverages.

 The number of microorganisms in a sample can be graded as OK, acceptable but needs a clean or unacceptable.

The speakers carried out some "mystery shopper" type research, surreptitiously pouring draught beer samples they'd bought into sterile universal containers. Some publicans, who let's face it are a shifty bunch themselves, viewed our intrepid investigators actions with deep suspicion.

Pubs on average have three too many fonts.

Microbiology testing is useful but it has limitations. Selective agars are used and bugs can be non-culturable.

So a different approach was adopted...

...and something based on Horace Brown style forcing tests was used.

There's a paper on it in the JIB:

Beer is forced at 30°C for four days and the increase in turbidity from 0-96 hours is measured. The result is scored from A-D (excellent to unacceptable).

As this is a non-selective method it will measure bugs that can spoil beer not bugs that grow on agar plates (I can still see some limitations but it is an elegantly simple solution).

In their trade audit they sampled 237 beers, mainly keg ales and lagers.

Lager quality was higher than ales. Maybe due to higher throughput?

There were differences found between lager brands though. Is it due to throughput or composition of the brand (or brewery hygiene!)?

The more taps on the bar the worse the quality of the beer. It's also worse away from the bar hot spots, so the top tip for beer quality is to order at the obvious places that will get busy not the quiet bit round the corner. Cask Marque accreditation was found to have no effect on keg beer quality.

Spoilage depends on bugs present and the product composition leading to growth and spoilage.

Core best practice is line cleaning, but nozzles and keg couplers also need cleaning. The material the beer line is made from, the temperature, throughput and beer composition will also affect the level of hygiene. The last point about beer composition also reminds me of Horace Brown and his investigations into "the nitrogen question".

Cider, being evil stuff, I mean having a lower pH spoils more slowly and contamination is yeast not bacterial.

Differences were found between brand.

Lagers were tested with spoilage organisms isolated from pubs and investigations into the microbial population in pubs found the spoilage capability remained the same despite variations in throughput.

Line cleaning does work but it is not a total kill. More bugs are found at the top and bottom of the line. The fob detector is another hot spot. Line cleaning only goes in one direction, there is no re-circulation and ideally for cleaning it would circulate in both directions. Weekly line cleaning remains recommended in the UK. Keg couplers can be sanitised.

I was particularly interested to hear that some beer will run back into kegs from the line so kegs can be contaminated once they are broached.

Sparklers are a menace:

They should be properly sanitised at the end of the day.

Soak fob detectors with cleaners and spray kegs and couplers with sanitiser.

Bringing best practice to a pub improved the results to the extent that after training the worst result found was still better than the best result from before training.


Glass washing remains poor and this will undermine all efforts at improving beer quality.

There is less support for pubs than before the Beer Orders.

Region brewers go further than most.

Pubs are more focussed on food nowadays.

Regular line cleaning increases profits.

Not much difference was found between free trade and tied pubs.

There were some interesting points raised in the discussion afterwards too. Someone did say that Cask Marque is commercially, not quality, driven, being more concerned with selling accreditation than improving quality. Capitalism, eh?

Third party line cleaning companies can help.

'Spoons clean the lines when a container empties.

Beer lost due to line cleaning is more than offset by an increase in profits due to better quality beer.

Push fits can be non-hygienic (John Guest even came up with "hygienic" fittings but they leak!)

Over complex dispense will increase problems - have the cellar close to the bar!

And it was stated that the scourge of nitro keg ales is ending and they'll be gone in five years.