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