Saturday 31 December 2011

Golden Pint Awards 2011

I've had to edit the categories slightly as there seems to have been a typo in the original ;-) and I'm not going to go on about the brewery I work at as that would be wrong, wonderful though our beers are.

Best UK Cask Beer: Westerham Audit Ale. I'd been after it for some time and it was very good.
Least Bad UK Keg Beer: Sam Smith's Extra Stout.
Best UK Bottled Beer: Young's Special London Ale.
Least Bad UK Canned Beer: Don't think I've drunk any canned beer this year.
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Haven't drunk any of those either.
Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Orval. Thanks to Stewart Howe's blog I now know it's best drunk fresh, and without the unpleasant pong Orval is even better than it is with the pong.
Best Overall Beer: Westerham Audit Ale.
Best Pumpclip or Label: Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout.
Best UK Brewery: Dark Star. Consistently good throughout the year.
Best Overseas Brewery: Orval.
Pub/Bar of the Year: The Crown.
Beer Festival of the Year: Woking.
Supermarket of the Year: Booths.
Independent Retailer of the Year: Liquid Pleasure.
Online Retailer of the Year: Don't think I've bought any beer online this year.
Best Beer Book or Magazine: Kentish brewers and the brewers of Kent. I'm in it!
Best Beer Blog or Website: Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. A raging torrent of beer history, and witty too.
Best Beer Twitterer: I still don't really get on with twitter but I bought an album thanks to a tweet from Boak and Bailey so them.
Best Online Brewery presence:
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Beer and cheese and onion crisps.
In 2012 I’d Most Like To: finish my researches into the origins of Goldings.
Open Category: Tim O'Rourke deserves an award for The Great Baltic Adventure and the wonders it's done for Imperial Russian Stout.

Friday 30 December 2011

AK 1911 - one from Ron

Back in the Summer I started making plans to brew a beer to an historic recipe featured on Ron Pattinson's blog. Things didn't go entirely to plan but undeterred we persevered and now the beer has been released into the wild.
It's a pale beer with a hint of honey-like sweetness balanced by the spicy bitterness of Goldings hops. Ron can now be happy that AK has been revived, and if you want to try it you can even buy it online.

Sunday 18 December 2011

More on hops...

...with a reference this time!

As my previous post on hop history was a severely lacking in references I've gone out and bought a hop book. Sadly the choice of hop books is extremely limited but thanks to a recommendation from Jens Eiken I've bought "Hops" by AH Burgess. The book is getting on for 50 years old and the copy I've got sat for decades on the shelves of Imperial College library, including when I was there, being taken out a total of three times before it was withdrawn.

The book may be old but it's still got a wealth of information. Early on there's a map of hop growing districts with Farnham highlighted, and the first chapter is on the history of hop growing which is just what I need to tidy up my previous post.

The big question of what exactly the prolific varieties grown in the 1900s were is answered. I'd got the wrong end of the stick thinking it was a group of hops, in fact Prolific was the name of a variety introduced in 1852. When I get a moment I'll go back and airbrush out of history my misunderstanding.

As to the date of when hops were first grown commercially in England Burgess is more circumspect than Darby:

"During the fifteenth century, beer, i.e. hopped ale, was still considered in England to be a foreign drink. No doubt, as their value became more widely known, small plots of hops were grown for home brewing, but most of the hops used were imported from the Continent. Their cultivation on a commercial scale was not seriously undertaken until the sixteenth century, about 1524, the enclosure of common lands having made the growing of such a crop more feasible. Hop gardens were first established in Kent, and there is a record of hop gardens in Norfolk in 1533."

There's also plenty more on the origin of English hop varieties, including how there came to be so many varieties of Goldings despite the fact they're grown from cuttings but I'll be coming back to that later.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Research trip to North London

We were in North London for more research on Saturday. But first we had to go to Covent Garden to check out a gear shop, and whilst we were there it was a good opportunity to have some refreshment at The Harp.

Despite the fact this is CAMRA pub of the year we've never been before so I was looking forward to this one. The pub's small and it was packed but eventually we manoeuvred ourselves into seats. As you would expect there was a good beer range and I started on Draft No. 5 from Marble Brewery. Like everything else I've had from Marble it tasted like concentrated hop juice, which I'm not totally averse to but I soon turned to the dark side with a Dark Star Original.

Then it was on to Kentish Town. Normally the lovely Lisa is chief pub crawl researcher but I was involved in planning this one. London Heritage Pubs had to be cross referenced with London Pub Walks and the Good Beer Guide. Then there was the checking on and using google map to do searches for places to eat. It was lot more work than I thought so I may have to leave it to Lisa in future.

Our first stop was The Southampton Arms, another packed pub with another fine selection of ales. It was definitely dark delights again for us and we had plenty to choose from. Our favourites were Bristol Beer Factories' Milk Stout and Redemption Fellowship Porter.

Next we wandered on to The Bull and Gate. This was a nice looking pub but it was suspiciously empty. The beer had a limited selection and tasted sour so we didn't stay for long.

Then we went for some food at The Guanabana, a Caribbean restaurant that the lovely Lisa's careful cross referencing had found. It didn't have a booze licence so Oreo milkshake was the drink choice for those that chose to drink with their food. I didn't bother with such distractions from shoveling food down my throat. The food was great and hopefully we'll be back before too long.

After that we wandered on for some more refreshment and stopped at The Assembly House. This is a big historic pub that would have been higher on our list had it not been Greene King beers. It was a bit of a barn but I quite liked the pub, and the well kept Old Speckled Hen washed me dinner down well. As it was getting late we headed home after that and didn't even stop for a swifty once we'd got back to Woking.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Getting damp in December

Last weekend I was back in Langdale with a mountaineering club. Despite the horrors of the M25 we managed to make it to the Watermill for last orders, and to my delight Stringers beers were on. As I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires I had a pint of No. 2 stout. It was an excellent beer.

Under the paving stones, the beach

Our plan for Friday was to go climbing in Borrowdale. After one look out the window in the morning these plans were quickly downgraded to scrambling in Langdale. Then it started raining so the plans were downgraded again to hill walking in Langdale. At this rate it was looking like all we'd be doing was shopping in Ambleside if we didn't get out soon. So we headed up the blue route and wandered towards Pavey Ark and Sergeant Man. Then we dropped down towards Easedale tarn.

It's grim up north.

By this point daylight was starting to run out and horizontal sleet was being blown into our faces. Defintely time to return. When practicing night navigation I've gone back this way before and if you can't find the path, which is quite tricky once it's dark, it's a right horror. When we were back on the ridge we were too far over for the path and I was starting to despair of finding it. But truding back, with about half an hour of daylight left, we spotted it: a green snake of salvation slithering silently through the bracken to the valley floor.

Thing went a bit more smoothly on Saturday. Past red tarn and the three shires stone to wet side edge and then down to little Langdale. We were able to stop for refreshment at the Three Shires Inn. This pub has a scarily large number of signs ordering you not to do things but once you're inside it's very pleasant. Or it was until some wet cyclists turned up and started drying their sweaty socks on the log burner. Perhaps another sign is needed.

As I'm now an old man I had a pint of Coniston Brewery Old Man ale here. Now it's winter my beer tastes are definitely turning to the dark side. Once it had stopped raining we headed on to the Wainwright's in Chapel Stile.

The excellent Cumbrian Legendary Ales Grasmoor was on so we had to stop for a couple. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and refreshments.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Beer for interest only

My favourite sister kindly gave me some interesting beers recently. One of them went part way to answering a question a friend had asked at Woking beer festival: what would a beer made with cannabis taste like?

Cannabis is related to hops, so compared to some of the weird things people have put in beer it kind of makes senses.

The Cannabia beer I was bought is a hemp beer though. I don't know much about hops that sounds suspiciously like the part of the plant they make ropes out of, not the part that gets you stoned. So probably not what my friend was curious about. And as to how it tastes...well, like a sweet lager. One for interest only I'm afraid.

Monday 21 November 2011

A brief history of cultivated hops in England

I heard hop expert Peter Darby give a talk on the history of cultivated hops in England the other day. As he poured out distilled essence of hop history I mopped it up as best I could, furiously scribbling down notes.
I'm no expert botanist or geneticist but to help make sense of it bear in mind that hops have male and female plants, only the cones from the females are used in brewing and each hop ‘varieties’ used in brewing is essentially a single female plant that has been cloned by vegetative reproduction. Males are of importance when making new ‘varieties’ though as sexual reproduction is used to make new plants. I hope this account is of interest:

Surprisingly for something going back that far Peter started with the exact year that hops were first cultivated in England for use in brewing: 1524. He said this was a documented date when Flemish religious refugees started growing hops. I think he even mentioned the heresy they adhered to but I couldn’t make it out. I bet it wasn’t neo-kegism though! The hop they grew was the Flemish Red Bine, but they can’t have done that well as in 1560 they had to call over a consultant, Peter de Wolf from Flanders to tell them how to do it properly.

The hops hybridised with indigenous English hops and by the end of the 1600s there were three types:

 Flemish Red Bine, which was easy to grow and quite disease resistant but coarse and not good for brewing.

 Green Bines, which were better for brewing and

 White Bines which were difficult to grow but the most prized for brewing.

By the early 1700s White Bines predominated and the best were grown in Farnham: Farnham White Bines. Hops were named by their shape, their grower or the place they were grown in. So when Farnham White Bines spread to the Midlands and over to East Kent they became known by different names, such as Canterbury White Bines.

By the end of the 1700s one White Bine was selected out by Mr Golding.
In the 1800s a number of Goldings were grown, for example Bramling, Amos’ Early Bird and Mercer. East Kent Golding is a marketing term as hops grown in East Kent were now considered the best and does not refer to any particular selection of Goldings hops. During the 1800s various clones proliferated. Around 1875 the Fuggle was released, though Percival’s often repeated account of how it originated from a seed found by Richard Fuggle which had been thrown out with some crumbs from a hop picking basket is simply not true. He would either have been three at the time or have emigrated to Canada four years previously!

When we reach the 1900s there are various varieties have been selected:

 Flemish Red Bines, such as Tolhurst and Canterbury Jack (the Shepherd Neame beer of this name does not contain any Canterbury Jack hops)

 Green Bines such as Colgates and Prolific.

 White Bines, including Fuggles and ten types of Goldings. The Mathon Golding is the same plant that had also been known as Farnham White Bines and Cantebury White Bines. These plants will have some differences as the soil they are grown in will alter the character of the hops and epigenetic effects can lead to differences in disease resistance even in genetically identical plants.

In 1906 Wye College in Kent appointed a mycologist, EF Salmon, who had experience in working with powdery mildew, a common hop disease. He started a hop breeding programme. Looking for marketable varieties he noticed that brewers were looking for resin content, as they gave more bitterness and preservative properties but still preferred British flavours. In 1917 he took the unusual step of using wild American hop plants from Oregon in the USA and Manitoba in Canada to make crosses. This greatly increased the genetic diversity. Seedlings from these crosses were planted out in 1919 and one of them became Brewers Gold. This hop had double the alpha acid (potential bitterness) content of the other hops available at the time and is in the pedigree of every high alpha hop in the world today!

Hops evolved in Southern China 6.5 million years ago and the population separated 1.5 million years ago, spreading West and eventually reaching Europe and East over to North America. When these divergent populations were reunited in breeding programmes increases in alpha acid content, mildew resistance, dwarf varieties and new aroma possibilites were opened up.

In 1978 Ray Neve rescued the Wye hop collection from a wilt stricken field and replanted the hops in two separate areas. Peter Darby took over in 1981 and by 2006 the collection had 1500 plants, including 120 named varieties with 70 of these English (including 10 different clones of the Golding variety). Some of these plants had a history going back to 1737. Funding from the government stopped in 2006 and the terms of the lease said the fields had to be returned to arable land: all the hops would be grubbed up unless funding could be found. The National Hop Association decided they couldn't allow this and rapidly raised money.

The hop collection was rationalised: varieties that could be obtained elsewhere, duplicates (plants that had different names but where identical in character and genetics to other varieties) and hops that had been superseded were removed.

This got the collection down to 784 accessions, including the 120 named varieties and 361 males. In 2007 they were planted in a new hop garden and in 2008 the core (including all the English varieties) were also planted in a second site as a precaution against disease.

In 2009 the paperwork was submitted to a body that now goes under the name of Plant Heritage and in 2010 these plants were declared the National Hop Collection, which gives the collection more prestige and should help secure its future.

The plants in the collection are still actively used for crosses and from next year the collection will be open to the public through the Shepherd Neame visitors centre.

Pervious hop selections were made using the judgement of the researchers but using modern scientific techniques the collection is now being analysed more systematically and the brewing characteristics analysed.

Wye hops have recently developed two new varieties: Endeavor which has a Cascade like flavour and Aramis which is grown in France. Some older varieties which were previously rejected are also being looked at again to see if they are suitable for modern tastes.

I think I’ve got the details down correctly, but sadly I have no references, only the notes I scribbled down.

A talk about Australian hops followed, and on leaving we were given a goody bag of small samples of various new, old and Australian hop varieties which I will no doubt return to at some point soon.

Friday 18 November 2011

The plot thickens in Farnham

I was a very interesting meeting put on by Simply Hops last night. Amongst the wealth of information I got from the gathered hop experts was the fact Farnham hops are still grown today as Mathon Goldings. More details when I get a moment.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Woking woking, boing boing!

Has there ever been this much excitement in Woking? Probably not since the martians landed. For the second week in a row my beers have been available on draught.

This time it was at Woking beer festival, surely a highlight of anyone's drinking year. Being held in the leisure centre it may lack the atmosphere of Farnham but on the plus side it's in walking distance of my house. Or maybe more accurately walking distance on the way there and staggering distance on the way back.

The festival glasses had gone back to looking decidedly unrighteous but I didn't let that put me off. When you drink in the ways of righteousness like I do it will take more than that to stop you.
As my beers were handily close to the entrance I checked them out early on to make sure they were on top form. Which indeed they were.

Other delights included the mighty Oscar Wilde mild, Bingham's Old Ale, Dorking Winter Ruby and Fuller's Golden Pride. I only had a sip of the last one as at 8.5% ABV it's a bit much to be knocking back.

I met up with loads of people, including bizarrely enough the bloke who'd been our tour guide when we went round Jennings. I had an interesting discussion with him on the merits of sparklers, but I'll say no more on that matter.

It was an excellent night, and I found out the next day that we'd done rather well in the festival competition, so unusually for the day after a beer festival it's been an excellent day too.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Oooo...look at that...

Don't mind if I do.

If I'd known it was going to appear in my local Sainsbury's I wouldn't have travelled up to Chiswick to pay £4 a bottle for it.

Friday 11 November 2011

Real ale renaissance

In the latest issue of the IBD magazine I was pleased to see a report from New Zealand stating: "Like all over the world, cask ales are experiencing a renaissance here..."

As many beer bloggers in Britain have succumbed to the neo-kegist heresy it's nice to hear that devotion to beer as god intended is growing across the globe.

Sunday 6 November 2011

I've got the Blue Top blues

Living bleeding miles from work as I do I don't often get to drink my beers on draught. So for my official birthday do I arranged for some to be on tap closer to home.

We got down the pub for half seven and started guzzling the Blue Top. At 4.8% ABV it's a bit stronger than stuff I would normally knock back by the bucket load but hey, it's was my birthday (almost). It must have gone down well with my mates too as by a quarter to ten the cask had been emptied and replaced with Gold Top.

The festivities continued until closing time and a good time was had by all. But the next day was not so good. Is it my age or was it just the vast quantities of beer consumed? The power of pork did provide some relief (I'd specially stocked up on black pudding for the fry up) but I was definitely not at my best. I managed to drag myself to the climbing wall in the afternoon, and whilst I'm used to gravity often being unusually strong when I go climbing this time it was a struggle to even leave the ground. It may have to be lettuce and water for me this week.

Saturday 5 November 2011

10th Egham Beer Festival

I called in at the Egham Beer Festival last night. As ever they had a very impressive range of new beers and the place was packed.

I was please to my Imperial Russian Stout on one of the hand pumps, and it was on draught at the Euston Tap then too. Looks like we'll have to make more of it...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Can the best pub in Woking get any better?

As a matter of fact it can. This weekend the guest beers at The Crown will have been brewed by me. My mate Gordon and I are both hitting 40 this year* so to celebrate we're having a joint birthday do on Saturday, and the landlord's gone out of his way to make sure my beers will be on. So if you want to drink the best beer in Woking this weekend you know where to go.

*He's an old git already while I'm still in the last flush of youth.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Historic Hops

Many years ago when I got "Old British Beers And How To Make Them" I was fascinated to see Farnham mentioned in the hops section:
"In 1750 there were six well established varieties: Farnham Pale, Canterbury Brown, Long White, Oval, Long Square Garlic and Flemish. Farnham Pale was regarded as the best quality hop but with the introduction of Golding in 1795 it became just another hop that was eventually superseded by Fuggles"
Farnham's not far from where I live, and has an excellent beer festival and some cracking pubs. Beer nerd that I am I have wondered if the hops are still around anywhere, and much to my delight I now know they are. On the last page of Beer magazine Jody Scheckter of the Laverstoke Park Farm says of their beers: "I also insisted we use heritage hops not in wide commercial use, such as Fuggles, Farnham White Bine and White Grape".
So the hops still exist, all I need to do now is find some...

Monday 31 October 2011

First round to us.

In our trademark dispute with a French Champagne company we've won the first round, with the judge saying: "the opposition has failed in its entirety". And we got awarded costs.

But sadly this is not yet the end, as they may well appeal, and the dispute now stretches over several brands.

Sunday 30 October 2011

The mysteries of mashing

I was at Murphy and Son's, purveyors of fine finings to the brewing industry, the other week. The BFBi had organised a technical trade day and I'm always keen to keep up with my CPD. Sadly, as a Collecting Presents Day it was a bit of a flop as a biro and a bottle opener was about it. But on the plus side some of the talks were quite interesting.

In particular the talk on brewing liquor (water) treatment solved one of the mysteries of mashing that has had me perplexed for some time. Back in the day a certain town became famous for making certain types of beer using their distinctive local waters. Pale Ales made from the gypsum rich water of Burton-upon-Trent, Porters and Stouts from hard London water and pale lagers from the soft water of Pilsen are some well known examples.

Some of this I can understand. The dark grains used in stouts and porters lower the pH of the mash to an optimum level, offsetting the buffering action of the high concentration of carbonate in London water. But pilsners and pale ales? Both are made with very similar types of malt so how can very soft water and hard gypsum rich water both be ideal? The answer it seems is the different mashing techniques used. Though the malt may be similar the barley is different. Superior British barley being low in protein means a straight forward infusion mash can be used, with the malt and the liquor being mashed at around 65°C. Inferior foreign barley being high in protein traditionally had a stepped temperature decoction mash, starting at a low temperature and being raised in stages.

I'd always thought the importance of decoction mashing was the 'protein rest' stage where proteolytic enzymes can work at their optimum temperatures, but it must be important for the breakdown of starch too. Brewing liquor for infusion mashes needs to be high in calcium as the calcium stabilises the α-amylase enzyme required for starch breakdown at high temperatures. With the complex process of temperature rises it seems decoction mashing removes this need and allows our continental cousins to make pale beers with low calcium water.

Monday 24 October 2011

Brewing politics

As I mainly consider beer drinking to be a spiritual matter I haven't paid too much attention to the politics in the brewing industry. But I do love a good gossip so I was interested to hear that there are further divisions in the BBPA, this time between the brewers and the pub companies. SIBA seems to be emerging as the new Brewers' Society, with many in the wider industry impressed by the cringe worthy 'Proud of British Beer' video. There's no accounting for some peoples taste.

Monday 17 October 2011


For our latest holiday the lovely Lisa and I went to Glenridding, a great place for the hills but sadly not a great place for pubs. Still, one of the local shops has a cracking beer range so we managed to get by.

Being keen mountaineers we had apline starts most days. One the continent this means being worken by someone shouting in German at 3am. As we were in England this would have been a bit excessive, so we adapted the alpine start a little - we had a lie in but made sure we had some muesli before going out.

The weather was a bit hit and miss but we managed to get in some canoeing on Ullswater and got out into the surrounding hills on three days. As the Travellers Rest has rubbish beer the Ramblers Bar was our watering hole of choice. It looks like the function room attached to the hotel so even though it had three beers on and Shakira shaking her hips on the big screen it didn't really do it for me.

More often than not we ended up back at the cottage drinking beers for the excellent bottled range on sale at the minimarket. In fact I fear that middle age has caught up with me, as despite the delights of Shakira on Sunday night I ended up sat on the sofa under a duvet watching Downton Abbey. I really must put more effort into aging disgracefully.

The lovely Lisa striding off on Striding Edge

Sunday 16 October 2011

The Travellers Rest, Glenridding

Well situated for when you're coming off the hills this pub is sadly one to avoid. They were happy to sell beer that tastes like vinegar and when I asked for it to be changed they came up with the tired old excuses: "It's meant to taste like that" and "Everybody else is drinking it". "Well I'm not" I said, and off I went, taking my thirst, and my money, to the other pubs in the village.

Saturday 15 October 2011

The Kirkstone Pass Inn

We got to the Kirkstone Pass Inn last Friday. A proper old fashioned pub with local beers on tap, and how's that for a beer garden:

Thursday 6 October 2011

Wild, wild hops

It has its advantages living in a hop growing area. As well as being able to do the fresh hop beer we've got hold of some hops that a retired farmer has grown from a wild plant he liked the look of.

We must score points for being innovative craft brewers for using a new hop variety. But on the other hand the hops are apparently most like fuggles, a very traditional variety.

Still, as brewing has such a long history it's very hard to do anything that really is innovative. As the fuggle also came from a local wild hop our innovation is merely redoing something that was done long ago. Perhaps it's as the venerable Jorge (or was it Ron Pattinson?) put it: "there is no progress in the history of brewing, merely continuous and sublime recapitulation".

Monday 3 October 2011

I am now a part of history

Today I got a book from the Brewery History Society - and I'm in it! Yes, I am now a part of history.

Like all sensible people I don't normally think about Christmas until after November 15th but dare I say it Kentish Brewers and the Brewers of Kent would be an ideal xmas gift for any beer lover.

I will be available to autograph copies, for a modest fee.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Congratulations to The Crown

I was please to see that The Crown in Horsell has got the recognition it deserves.

Long considered by me and the lovely Lisa to be the best pub in Woking it's now made it into the good beer guide. So well done to everyone at The Crown.

Thursday 29 September 2011

The mysteries of yeast

Yeast. Ah, if only I could say that word like Graham Stewart does, now there's a man who knows his yeast. But worry not. I won't be going to go on about the mysteries of fermentation. No, the mystery I'm pondering today is yeast ownership.

We recently got some fresh yeast in from Brewlab and it was a slightly odd experience getting it. For home brewers they provide a number of strains, none of which have a brewery name attached, but a region and some details are given. I was surprised to find that when I asked about what yeasts they had for commercial breweries I was simply told to let them know what I'm looking for and they'd provide a strain.

So I did, and sure enough they did too. But no further details at all. This lead to the pondering. Is it possible to own a yeast strain? Surely for any cask conditioned beer it wouldn't be too much trouble to isolate and propagate the yeast if you wanted to? No genetically modified yeasts are used in brewing so I don't think they can be patented. All I can think of is that they're being cagey about breweries names in case they infringe trademarks. Does anyone know how yeast strain ownership works, if there is such a thing?

Monday 26 September 2011

The Bricklayers Arms Derbyshire beer festival

On Saturday we were at the Bricklayer's Arms Derbyshire beer festival.

I'd tried to get ahead of the game by looking at the beer list before I got there but there were hardly any breweries I knew on it. The one beer that leapt out at me was called "Over the top", which surely was named after Bob Calvert's most demented moment on vinyl:

If I linked that one in with "White Feather", "Lord Kitchener" and "Assassin" I'd be well on my way. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Or the beer in this case. As we'd gone on the third day of the festival half the beers I was after were off, and my Bob based beer bonanza was buggered.

Instead I had to make do with whatever caught my fancy and it was dark beers that were doing it for me. I've noticed that recently some craft brewers have been taking the traditional British mild and making the innovative step of adding more malt. This can lead to milds of a staggering 4.5% ABV or more! Muirhouse Magnum Mild fitted this bill perfectly and was beer of the festival for me.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Foreign muck

Regular readers of this blog will know that last month we brewed a beer alien to our language, culture, customs and laws. Or lager as it's more commonly known.

It's based on a recipe for what was the original and best pilsner before it got taken over and went rubbish. I've had a few tastes of it as the feckless foreign yeast slowly did its work. But after several weeks in the conditioning tank I felt it was really time to test it properly before letting it out into the world. Trying to get into the spirit of things I filled a cornelius keg in the cold store and added some extraneous CO2.

The beer's really quite pleasant. If drinking cold beer didn't lead to scrofula I could probably have drunk some more. How well it will fare as far as sales go remains to be seen (is there really a market for cask and bottle conditioned lager?)

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Getting RATted

We went on the Real Ale Train on Saturday. We got to sit in an old railway carriage drinking bright beer out of plastic skiffs. Sounds a bit rubbish really doesn't it? But for some reason it was great fun.

I don't know if it's the fact it's a steam train that adds to the fun. Not being the train spotting type I'm not entirely convinced, though it helps with the atmosphere. Having beer from top local breweries helps too, but the beers weren't at their best.

I think it's just getting out and doing something different but still getting to blather on whilst getting bladdered that does it.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Brewers invert sugar No. 1

I've started getting in the ingredients for the beer recipe from 1911 I'm planning to make.

A 25kg block of No.1 invert sugar has arrived from Ragus, and I can see why it's not found in home brew shops. It really is one solid block that looks like it was poured into the bag in the box then left to set solid. It would be a right pain getting it into home brew sized portions.

It has a white outer crust and a golden, slightly moist inside. I've tested the organoleptic propeties and it's like honey flavoured tablet.

Its figures for those that care about such things are:

Total sugars: 78.5 - 84.5%
Mineral matter: 0.5% max
Organic non-sugar: 1% max
Moisture: 16.7 - 17% max
Refractometer BRIX: 81.4-81.7
pH: 5.0 - 6.0
Colour: 25 - 35 EBC
Brewers extact: 321.5 -326.5 litre degrees per Kg (also given as 72 - 73 Lbs/2cwt for any imperialists out there).

If I remember rightly granulated sugar is 380 LDK and a moisture content close to zero. If you take into account the moisture content of the brewers sugar its extract is very similar, so not a lot of unfermentable material in No. 1 sugar. I wonder how the darker brewers sugars compare? As ever further research is called for.

Friday 16 September 2011

Er ist tot

I noticed today that my last remaining hop has been killed. I planted two back in March, to boldly go on a three year mission to get some home grown hops for our beer. But a pair of plonkers have stuffed that ambition after only six months.

The first hop fell to a numptie that managed to strim it clearing a path. That was annoying, but I can understand, accidents happen.

The demise of the second looks like deliberate though - a compost heap has been build where it once grew. In the words of an ex-colleague it buggers belief that a plant, the piece of string it's growing on, and the peg the string is attached to can all be removed accidentally. As soon as I can get a baying mob together I'll be tracking down the perpetrator and explaining to him the error of his ways.

Where once two hop grew up string tied to the guttering now there is only blank wall and weeds.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Brewing history in London

The IBD put on a talk about brewing history in London at the Sloaney Pony last night. I can't get enough of this sort of thing so no way was I missing it. The talk spanned centuries, though unfortunately an urgent call from work made me miss a few decades. But I was still there for the rise and fall of porter. And who'd have thought that brewers referred to their beer as 'mild' for decades after the public had been calling them 'porter'? It was also good to see Martyn Cornell and his blog get a big plug.

Before and after the talk I manged to fit in a little light networking (three pints) and there was some interesting gossip to be had. I finally found out that the reason Elgood's did a Hawkwind beer was because the boss of a beer distribution company is a massive fan. And it seems Wells and Young's have followed my lead and brewed Courage Imperial Russian Stout. The also have the rights to the brand so this time its return will be official. I'm can't wait to get hold of some.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Green hop beer

We made a green hop beer yesterday. It was good to go back to the hop farm and see masses of the little beauties being readied for brewing.

We picked up a sackful of not so readied hops, as they were undried, but with the brewery being about 15 minutes away drying wasn't necessary as they didn't need to keep.

It will be interesting to see how the fresh hop beer turns out, and as we used >1kg/hl of hops I'm sure it will be craft beer and therefore AWESOME.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Nationalist nonsense

Now they have a government majority the Scottish National Party are doing their bit for the English alcohol industry. They're going to bring back plans for minimum alcohol pricing, which must have off licences just south of the border rubbing their hands with glee.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Forbidden fruit

I don't boycott many breweries. Life's hard enough as it is without putting constraints on your beer supply. But sometimes it has to be done.

There's the unrighteous brewery I used to work for obviously. They're not getting any of my money. Neither are the twats that make a policy of insulting everyone for PR purposes. Their antics have made me go right off them.

I also have a few reciprocal boycotts with friends who've had problems with breweries. Which is only fair really, my friends have been very good at not drinking beers from the tossers I used to work for.

One of these is a North Eastern brewery that does an interesting looking range of bottled beers, but they're not for me. Until the GBBF that is. No, I didn't crack and order a pint when pissed, I won a bottle in the tombola. It would be criminal waste not to drink it, and the boycotted brewery hadn't got any of my money.

So with a clear conscience I cracked open the bottle and guzzled it down carefully evaluated its flavour. And how did the forbidden fruit taste? It was alright.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Back at Shepherd Neame's.

I was back at Shepherd Neame's brewery last night for a CAMRA award ceremony. As once again I was driving I had limited drinking opportunity, which is a shame as free beer always tastes better and the 9.2% barley wine they'd made on the pilot plant seemed to be very popular.

The main even was held in the new visitor centre/museum where some interesting pictures caught my eye. It seems Shep's once had a particularly strict version of the reinheitsgebot as their advertising slogan.

And at one point were keen to promote the regular drinking of Belgian beer.

Wednesday 31 August 2011


1911 - now there's a year that needs no introduction. Known to all as the year in which Bradford City won the cup, I've been contemplating what beers might have been drunk then since a post by the Pub Curmudgeon. Before the horrors of the first world war you could enjoy "pubs open all day, average strength of beer about 5.5%". It certainly sounds fun.

As I'm sadly a bit of lightweight nowadays I don't suppose I'd last long drinking beer at that strength, but I'd have a damn good effort. And it's worth remembering that Bradford City's historic victory was not the only thing that happened in that year. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to have pint of porter with Peter the painter? Or not visit the Mona Lisa in the Louvre?

Being a brewer it occurred to me that I could travel back in time as far as the beers go if I could get hold of some 1911 recipes that I could make. Durden Park Brewing Circle didn't have any relevant recipes, but Ron had something that I felt myself drawn to. 1909. That's not far off. If I couldn't get back to 1911 then surely I could just go back to 1909 and hang around for a couple of years. I'm sure the beers wouldn't have changed much.

After much pondering I decided I had to go for it and forked out some of my hard earned dosh for the book. Though plagued with typos the book has a wealth of information, and contrary to what I expected from the title, recipes for beers from 1909 to 1916. Including two from 1911. Oh yes, there they were looking up at me from the pages. And one of them, Russell's AK, was of the sort of strength I normally drink at when down the pub. Perhaps I could drink in the delights of 1911 without making an embarrassment of myself?

But then I though maybe there's a better way. As the beer was at a normal strength by modern standards why not let other people enjoy it too? Instead of brewing it for research purposes on the pilot plant I could make it on the main kit at work and send it out as a seasonal. One Sunday night I started looking into sourcing some of the ingredients I don't normally use ...

... and on Monday morning I saw Ron had posted on his blog (a slightly different version of) the recipe I was interested in, with the heart felt plea: "I'm happy to present another AK recipe as part of my campaign to revive the style. If even one of you brews it, my work won't have been in vain."

Well I haven't brewed it yet, and the seasons dictate that the green hop beer will be the non-regular beer next week, but the ingredients have started arriving so the chance to go back in time to 1911 will be coming soon! So don't forget it's the lads from the Valley you want to be cheering in the cup final if you don't want to be on the losing side.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Bank holiday beers

We were back in the Langdale for the bank holiday weekend. We had our customary stop on the way at the Watermill at Ings for a pint of Collie Wobbles (3.7% ABV) and Booths to stock up on bottles. I was pleased to see that Booths have expanded their range of Fyne Ale's beer to include Jarl (3.8%), a beer I've noticed several of my fellow internet beer nerds praising. It is indeed righteous stuff so I called in again on the way back for another couple of bottles.

Our first day of hill based heroism involved trekking up the blue route to Pavey Ark where we made an ascent of the slightly moist Jack's Rake (grade 1).

The weather was unexpectedly good, who'd have thought we'd be out in T shirts on the August Bank Holiday weekend?

Not wishing to extend our mortgage we avoided the New Dungeon Ghyll for our refreshments and called in the Sticklebarn. Stringers West Coast Pale Ale (4.4%) was on so we went for that first, and then Coniston Brewery's Special Oatmeal Stout (4.5%) to restore our dark/light balance. And then maybe a couple more back in the hut.

The next day we trudged up Bowfell, despite gravity seeming especially strong, which lead us to the Old Dungeon Ghyll on the way back. I had a pint of Yates bitter (3.7%) to start with and then felt strangely drawn to the Old Peculier. At a dangerously strong 5.6% ABV it's not one I go for often, though I seem to remember being fond of it in my youth when it was even stronger. I may well have to drink it more now though as it really hit the spot. The black malty goodness coping well with the infernal sparkler it went down a treat.

It was back to the Sticklebarn in the evening, and the next morning the long drive back home. Beer stocks are looking good, and legs virtuously aching, so it was a good weekend.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Saturday 20 August 2011

Visit to a hop farm

I visited the hop garden at Northiam Dairy farm on Friday. The guy showing us round said there are only 50 hop farms left in Britain which is a little disturbing. I blame the big brewers wanting higher alpha varieties (so less hops need to be used) and lowering the hop rates in their beers. And of course mainly making lager with foreign hops.

As a traditional brewer (or should that be innovative craft brewer?) I use a lot of English hops. And a lot of foreign hops in that traditional innovative way.

I managed to fulfill a long held ambition of seeing a male hop plant. Hops are dioecious having both male and female plants. In England both sexes are planted so the flowers produced are seeded. The hops are all grown from cuttings though, so why do they plant both sexes? They only plant females on the continent. I'd already heard fertilised flowers are less susceptible to mildew but the hop farmer pointed out that seeded hops also weigh more which means he has a bigger crop to sell.

The male flowers are the small ones in the middle of this picture.

It was interesting to see how the different hop varieties were doing. As each hop variety is essentially a clone of an individual plant the only genetic variation is between varieties. There's no doubt that lack of genetic variation leads to disease susceptibility in a population as one of the varieties he was growing was definitely having a hard time. But on the plus side another was thriving.

The Sovereign hops were looking lush so we're going to make a beer with them using fresh green hops as soon as they're harvested in early September.

What to call it though? Green hops, the Sovereign variety, and as a traditional innovative brewer I'll want the beer to be hop forward so probably an IPA. Green Sovereign IPA anyone? I can't see any problems with that name and it will surely prove popular.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Lager, lager, lager, lager

We made lager at work today. Though when I say "we" I mean my able assistant made it whilst I did other vital tasks like driving round in circles trying to find where I'm supposed to be delivering beer to.

Now it has to be said that lager is not a drink I'm normally fond of. But in the spirit of rigorous scientific research these things have to be tried. I couldn't quite bring myself to use lager malt so it's extra pale Maris otter, but it's proper lager yeast and a disturbingly large amount of Saaz hops.

It will be interesting to see how it turns out, and who knows, when I try it as god intended, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide, I may even like it.

Sunday 14 August 2011

The Craft Beer Co

As I'm seldom in the vanguard of the beeretariat it took me until yesterday to get to the Craft Beer Co. But never mind, if I'd wanted to be a vanguard I'd have got a job with Group 4.

We had had some concerns that our trip would have to be canceled, as earlier in the week the place had been closed due to rioting. Now I like a riot as much as the next man, but if bars are forced to close there are clearly anti-social elements at work.

As we trooped up to the pub there were plenty of drinkers standing outside so we thought the place was packed. There was plenty of space inside though, and we managed to get a seat upstairs. In the bar there's an impressive array of 16 hand pumps, but as the first two pints cost £7.10 it's not cheap. This was compounded by the fact the barman short changed me. I know these things can happen but I was especially peeved as he scurried off to bury his head in the glass washer whilst I was still counting. Still, it was a good and refreshing pint. I had Brodies Citra (3.1% ABV), made with extra pale or lager malt and, of course, Citra hops.

I followed this with a Twickenham Hornet (4.4%) which was also very pale and very hoppy. Feeling my light and dark ratio was getting imbalanced I tried finding something dark, but not entirely successfully. Darkstar Carafa Jade (5%) looked like it might be what I was after. Carafa is the name of various types of dark malt and sure enough it had a reddish brown colour, but I've since found out the "Jade" part of the name comes from the high alpha (i.e very bitter) New Zealand hop Pacific Jade, so once again I had a very hoppy beer.

Call me old fashioned but I don't like to drink very hoppy beers all the time. I enjoy malty beers too, and certainly find beers where the malt and hops are balanced much more drinkable over the course of a session. Despite the large number of hand pumps the only malty beer on offer was a mild, and it was a bit late in the day's drinking to switch to mild at this point. The lovely Lisa pointed out that the place is called the Craft Beer Co and "craft beer" seems to mean "made with loads of hops". My mate Dan had a keg stout but it was too cold and fizzy. A case of meet the new keg, the same as the old keg if you ask me.

There were a large number of bottled beers available but they were taking the piss with the prices (up £30 for a bottle of beer!) so I thought bollocks to that.

We were getting peckish at this point. Though innovative uses of pork were promised on the blackboard, with pork pies with black pudding advertised, all they had were scotch eggs. Despite them costing £3.50 we did scoff one each but it was really time to find some proper food. The first suitable place we found was a Fuller's pub called the Melton Mowbray.

To the uninitiated this might conjure images of pork pies but as a devotee I know the gray offerings of Melton Mowbray are not a patch on the pink pork products you get from butchers' shops in Yorkshire. So I had fish and chips. Despite looking like it's build into a shop unit the Melton Mowbray has the feel of a pub, not a bar, about it which is more to my taste. I washed my food down with a pint of ESB (5.5%) and followed that with a bottle of London Porter (5.4%). Contrary to the views of noted beer experts this beer is at its best when found on cask, but the bottle did restore my light/dark balance. And get me pissed, so it was time to go home next.

Thursday 11 August 2011

The next hip hop?

Reading the latest blurb I've been sent from hop merchants Charles Faram I see there are a number of new British hop varieties in the pipeline. Endeavour has already been used in brewing trials with "very positive" results and a further 21 new hop selections are undergoing trials. This should get the hop heads excited as apparently: "Aroma intensity has been top priority since last September when we discovered that UK-bred hops can be every bit as aromatic as US-grown Cascade or Amarillo...".

Saturday 6 August 2011

Complaining about adverts

Not so long ago I was perusing the popular and informative Beerleaks website. Along with brief explanations about commonly known brewing facts there was also a helpful page about sending a petition to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Sadly Beerleaks seems to have disappeared up its own arsehole been discontinued. But fear not, it's easy to complain about adverts and there's no need for a petition.
Back in the mists of time, when I was innocent of the ways of internet beer nerdery, I made a complaint to the ASA. There was a Leffe advert in a magazine with the slogan "crafted in exactly the same way for over 750 years". As this was blatantly bollocks I started mouthing off about the vast number of ways in which beer making has changed but mid-rant I thought why not actually do something about it?
So I found the ASA website and continued my rant online in the complaints form. A few days later I got a letter saying my complaint was being looked into. And a few weeks later I got another letter saying they were still looking into it. Eventually a letter arrived saying that InBev had voluntarily agreed to withdraw the adverts so no further action would be taken. Whilst I had hoped that the outcome would be the Chief Executive of InBev being strung up I had to accept that capital punishment for being wrong about beer was not yet on the statute books. And I was pleased when I next saw the advert with new wording: "Made with 800 years of tradition" if I remember rightly. I'm not sure where the extra fifty years come from, I'm pretty sure the complaints process hadn't taken that long, but it was good to see my rant had forced InBev to change the advert.

Thursday 4 August 2011

The Great British Beer Festival 2011

I was at the trade day of the GBBF on Tuesday. I managed to meet up with loads of people: brewers, bloggers, boozers and er... publicans. I couldn't think of a 'b' for that one. Bar managers? That might have worked.

The lovely Lisa was making her hajj, having never been before. She shall now be known as El-Hajj Lisa. Or maybe not. Despite the beer list being available in advance we hadn't worked out a plan of action. There were just so many beers it seemed overwhelming. This lead to us wandering round aimlessly, feeling even more overwhelmed now we could actually see all the beers, stopping to refill our glasses as needed. It's quite knackering doing it this way, and I'm sure we didn't get the best of the beers available, so I really must try harder next time. Having the next day off work to recover wouldn't go amiss either!

I myself had a first as, twenty years on from my first GBBF, one of my own beers was being served. Let's hope this is a regular event.

We missed the announcement of which beer had won the Champion Beer of Britain as it started off with some MP droning on which isn't really my thing, and then the Betty Stoggs marching band started up again which meant we couldn't hear anything except drums anyway. I was pleased when I found out later that Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild had won. This means I'm ahead of the curve as far as beer nerdery goes, because thanks to a recommendation from young Rob I'd sought it out last year and been suitably impressed. So impressed I'd even bought a half this year before it was announced it had won.

What with the 12 noon start and the constant wandering we were flagging by the time the doors were opened to the public at five. We thought that was a good time to call it a day. It wasn't though as were were soon suffering the stifling, crowed commuter train home. We'll just have to stay later next year.

Thanks to all the CAMRA volunteers for giving up their time to make this festival happen.

Strange things happen at beer festivals