Wednesday 29 September 2010

Firkin hell

I dropped off some beers at my nearest decent pub after work tonight. Arriving in the pissing rain I manhandled the firkins across the car park, down the slide and into the cellar. I must admit I found it a bit of a struggle. Sticking my foot in the deep puddle at the bottom of the slide did not add to the experience. 

It got me wondering how do people manage with bigger barrels? Though a full firkin weighs around 50 kg it's still only a quarter barrel. Kilderkins (half barrels) are still in common use and I've heard of some breweries that still use full sized barrels. 

Of course back in the day they were made of sterner stuff and hogsheads (barrel and a half) were in common use. These must have been around 300 kg (47 stone). Makes me feel faint just thinking about it.   


Monday 27 September 2010

You say hello, I say goodbye

"Twats". That's what the lovely Lisa said after reading the tag on the bottle of Punk IPA I'd just bought. 

It's basically a rehash of the Arrogant Bastard Ale inspired blurb found on the bottle. Not being as decisive as the lovely Lisa I found it amusing the first time I read it, but like a lot of brewdog stuff it does grate a bit now.  

I suppose the problem is that if you're going to act like arrogant bastards then people will think you're twats. 

Does it help with sales? As brewdog are selling the stuff as fast as they can make it I guess it does, but I don't think Lisa will be buying any in a hurry. 

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The connection between beer and pies

The connection between beer and cheese has been pointed out by some writers, as both are ultimately based on grass. But there's an even closer connection between beer and pies. The spent grains from the brewery are fed to cows, so next time you have a pint with a steak pie it could be that the ale and the steak came from the same grains. 

Monday 20 September 2010

Amber, Gold and Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers by Martyn Cornell

I got very excited when the lovely Lisa bought  Amber, Gold and Black for me. Martyn Cornell's blog Zythophile is one of my favourites, and I find beer history fascinating, so this book looked set to be a cracking. And indeed it was. I even tried slowing down my reading speed as I didn't want it to end. I still finished it rapidly so I've made up for it by reading it twice.

Divided into 16 chapters ,with each one devoted to a different beer style, the origins of the style and details of how it was or is made and the changes that may have taken place over time are all covered. Each chapter is independent of the others so the book can be dipped in to or read cover to cover depend on how much of a beer nerd you are.

As regular readers of the Zythophile blog will expect there's an impressive level of carefully researched detail, and not all about what you might expect. When discussing the various beers found in the different styles some pretty obscure ones get mentioned, even some that are probably best forgotten about. The beers styles are mostly defined by the simple and sensible method of using what the brewers called them, though an old favourite of mine, Ind Coope Burton Ale is singled out for criticism for it's gratuitous misnaming. 

Reading about the rich and varied history of British Beers has been inspirational to me as a brewer. I've already brewed a unhopped lemon balm ale (like my previous unhopped ales still a bit shit sadly) and I have a culture of a Brettanomyces yeast waiting in my fridge until the traditional brewing season opens in October, which I think will be a fitting time to brew a Colne Spring Ale inspired stock ale.

I can thoroughly recommend the book to brewers and beer historians, and I dare say those whose interest in beer is simply in drinking the stuff will get a lot out of it too. 

Thursday 16 September 2010

Beer on the radio

The launch of the Good Beer Guide has caused a bit of excitement today. I've heard it mentioned a couple of times on the radio, though the main point of interest seems to be the record number of breweries there now are in Britain: over 760. On the way home from work they had an interview on Radio 4 with some people from the Barearts microbrewery. The interview starts around 49 min 25 secs. 

Sunday 12 September 2010

'Forever blowing bubbles' lecture by Charlie Bamforth

On Thursday I hotfooted it to Fuller's for a lecture by Charlie Bamforth. This was the last of a series of lectures he's been doing in Britain and this time he was speaking in his capacity as 'the pope of foam'.

As someone who doesn't care much for big heads I've never given much thought to beer foam but he was a good speaker and a few interesting facts managed to permeate my brain:

  • Nitrogen gas added to beer is indeed the horror I've always thought it is. It may well be great for making bubbles but it destroys hop flavour, which may not be a problem for Guinness but it's bad news for Boddingtons. 

  • My old friend Protein Z (40 kDa) got a mention but it seems that's its role in head formation may be overstated and any partially denatured protein has hydrophobic parts exposed which encourages beer foam to form.

  • Fullers improved the heads on their pints by banning pork pies from pubs. Personally I'd happily forgo a good head for a decent pork pie but the message is keep grease away from your glasses. 

After the CPD it was on to the networking and I managed to neck five pints before heading home. The beer was free but I had to show some restraint, it was a Thursday after all. 

Tuesday 7 September 2010

A day at a hop farm

Hop merchants Charles Faram organised a 'hop walk open day' today at Pridewood Farm in Herefordshire. I'd never been to a hop farm before so I couldn't miss this.

It started with a buffet lunch at which I bumped into Martin Dickie from Brewdog and had a brief chat with him. The bad news is it will be 18 months until their new brewery is built. The good news is he'd brought some beers with him for the free bar!

There were a couple of talks after lunch. Peter Darby of Wye Hops Ltd. sounded quite upbeat about the development of new hop varieties, but Jonathon Arnold from Robing Appel Ltd. put a bit of a downer on things by telling us that malt prices are going to rise hugely.

Then it was time for a tour with various experts scattered round the farm. The first person I got to was an 80 year old retired hop farmer demonstrating how to string up hop bines. The pole he's using is called a monkey by those in the know.

Further on there were some hops being harvested, which I have to say looks like a shit job.

Peter Darby was waxing lyrical about hops elsewhere in the field. He explained how hops are grown vegetatively, not from seeds, so all hops of a variety are genetically identical clones. This lead to me asking why male hops are gown in Britain and he was kind enough to answer in great detail.

For those of you that aren't aware of such things hop plants can be male or female but only the females will grow the hop cones we need for brewing. Outside of Britain only the females plants are grown so the hops aren't fertilised and so are unseeded.

The reason things differ in Britain is due to an early example of biological pest control. Britain is the place where hops are most affected by powdery mildew and researchers found that unfertilised hop flowers remained open and susceptible for longer than fertilised flowers. So it was decided in 1904 that in Britain hops would be grown with males present to reduce the effects of mildew. Approximately one male plant is grown for every 400 females and several varieties of males will be used so that pollen is released over a range of time. The female varieties that brewers know and love have names like Fuggles, Goldings or Cascade. The males the hop growers also plant have more functional names like 'early' or 'late' denoting when they release their pollen.

I moved on to the picking shed next, where the hop bines are loaded on to the picking machine.

When the hops are picked from the bines they trundle down a conveyor belt where debris is removed before the move on to the kiln.

The hops are dried in the kiln for about eight hours before some cold air is blown through, which moistens them slightly making them less brittle before packaging.

Hops...thousands of them.

Not the Champion Beer of Britan

I spotted in Morrisons a bottled version of the current Champion Beer of Britain Castle Rock Harvest Pale. In the bottled it's 4.3% ABV compared to the draught at 3.8. I found it nice but unexciting (am I the new Jilly Goolden or what?). It's hard to get bottled beers as good as the cask version and even with the increase in strength the Harvest Pale wasn't outstanding. I would buy it again though, but I really need to find it on draught. 

Thursday 2 September 2010