Friday 31 August 2012

Poxing pumps are buggering the broadband

I've found out recently, thanks to our neighbours also having problems, that the pumps at work are causing problems with internet connections.

It seems they are causing Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise which slows down or even stops completely the broadband connections. This is a right pain in the arse and I've a nasty feeling it will be difficult to fix.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Green hops are go!

We made the first beer for the Kent Green Hops Beer festival today. I picked up an unseemly amount of fresh Early Choice "Goldings" this morning from Clive Edmed's hop garden in Horsmonden.

Simply Hops people sorting out the hops
As green hops still contain a lot of moisture you really do need lots of them.

Look at the beauties
By the time I got to work the brew was well underway which left only the challenge of how to get so many hops in the copper.

It took all three brewers and a cunningly fashioned hop slide but I think we achieved our goal with a reasonable degree of efficiency. Now I've got to wait days for the yeast to do its work. Green hop beer has been compared to beaujolais but some things just can't be rushed.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

A South East pub walk

As we didn't get away for the bank holiday weekend we decided to get some walking in nearer to home. We (mostly) used a route from CAMRA's South East Pub Walks. The first pub stop is in Puttenham, home of Surrey's last hop ground and which gave me a chance to see how the hops were getting on as harvest time approaches.

We started at Wanborough station which had the added bonus that the foot paths took us across fields. First we went through wheat but soon we got to a superior cereal which pleased me. Walking through a barley field on the way to a hop field as part of a pub walk has a certain beery completeness to it.

Among the fields of barley

The Fuggles were looking on fine form.

The Good Intent was as good as last time with the added bonus that I wasn't driving. We only had a pint though as we had a long way to cover.

They had quite a selection at the bar but when Landlord is on I find it hard to resist. So I didn't.

Our next stop was the Harrow in Compton.

Sadly the Tribute was warm which was not ideal. I even had the finish the lovely Lisa's pint for her. Our route then took us past some huge houses and along a river to the last scheduled stop, The Star in Godalming. They had a good selection but again the beer was a bit warm.

We got the train back to Woking for food, calling in at The Sovs. It has an enlightened attitude to taking back poor quality beer.

Not that I needed to take anything back. I had a Hawkshead Windermere Pale, a beer that seems very popular with my fellow internet beer nerds. It was a good example of the ever so fashionable pale and tastes of American hops style of beer.

After eating it was time to crawl on to The Crown.

More Tribute in here, and it was a much nicer pint than it had beer at the Harrow. Then it was time for home.

I enjoyed out first outing from the SE Pub Walks book, and unlike some of the routes in the London Pub Walks book which have about eight pubs per mile, we had to earn our beer, which is no bad thing.

Monday 27 August 2012

The insularity of the internet

I  just can't keep up with the number of breweries in Britain now. When I'm at pubs with lots of hand pumps or at beer festivals I often find beers that not only have I not heard of, I haven't even heard of the breweries either.

As, despite my best efforts, there's only so much I can drink perhaps this is not surprising, what with the number of breweries in Britain rapidly approaching 1000. But as well as going out drinking I also keep up with what my fellow beer nerds have to say online, which you would have thought would keep me informed. Scattered across Britain, and indeed the world, devoting an unhealthy amount of time to getting out drinking, and then obsessively putting the information online (or is that just me?) you would have thought you'd get a wide and varied list of beers to look out for. But no.

When beer bloggers are asked to list their favourite beers, it's not even like a top ten, barely even past five with the same breweries cropping up with boring regularity. Magic Rock, Hawkshead, Summer Wine, Kernel, Buxton, Marble, with only a few more scraping in. I've enjoyed beer from all of these breweries but surely there's much, much, more out there to discover. Or is being a beer nerd like being a fashion victim always chasing the latest trend, particularly if it's just crossed the Atlantic?

Perhaps when ask for a favourite, beer bloggers should list at least one local brewery, or one that hasn't been mentioned by someone else?

So here are a few recommendations from me that don't seem to have made it to the blogosphere:

For my home county of Surrey Shere Drop by Surrey Hills is always worth seeking out.

For Kent, the county I work in, Westerham make some excellent beers, Audit Ale is great on draught if you're luck enough to find it and Viceroy IPA is a great bottled beer

And for Cumbria where I seem to spent most of my holidays Cumbrian Legendary Ales are the brewery I seek out the most, for the excellent pale Langdale and the delicious dark Grasmore.

Sunday 26 August 2012

The horrors of Horst

I'm continuing to read the Oxford Companion to Beer (OCB) and am now on to the letter B. It's been carrying on in the same vein as the letter A, some bits well written, some not so well written and now I've got to "barrel" I can clearly say some complete drivel.

The entry starts "barrel, a container made from wooden staves". This is simply wrong. A barrel is a 36 gallon cask and the only ones I've seen in use (at Hook Norton brewery) were made of metal. Only someone who knows nothing about barrels would say they're only made from wood. "Who is this idiot?" I thought and flicked to the end of the entry, and there it was, the infamous name Horst Dornbusch. I've seen Ron Pattinson pointing out the many, many errors in Horst Dornbusch's writings but this was the first time I'd experienced the full horrors of Horst myself.

The entry doesn't get any better and is full of misunderstood and sloppily written nonsense. It really looks like he wrote it off the top of his head based on something he read years ago, didn't really understand, and only vaguely remembers. The only reference to the entry is a link to the Society for the Preservation of Beer from the Wood but he even here he manages to drop another clanger saying "their aims being exactly as described". In fact if he'd bothered to click on the link to their aims he'd have seen they are not in fact described exactly by their name, being in reality very similar to CAMRA's.

As I said before I've mainly been enjoying reading the OCB but it had me banging my fist last night, which is not something I do lightly.

Friday 24 August 2012

Would you like SALSA with your pint?

Strange as it may seem it's something I would recommend. 

At work we've just qualified for SALSA, a food safety certification scheme. To get SALSA approval you take your Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points*, throw in some product specifications, mix with your Standard Operating Procedures, add a sprinkling of training records and bake with hours of paper work at carefully calibrated temperatures. Who'd have thought Quality Assurance could be so much fun?

As well as covering food safety, SALSA also helps ensure quality and consistency of our beers which I think we're all agreed makes the work involved worthwhile.

* This was first developed for astronauts, how cool is that?

Wednesday 22 August 2012

What a day on the radio: Hawkwind, Hops and IPA

What a day it was on the radio yesterday, surely the finest since 1911. 

On Radio 2 in the morning Dave Brock, the leading light of the Hawkwind, the world's greatest band, was interviewed by Chris Evans.

This was followed by organic hop grower Jody Schecketer. Sadly he was there about something to do with cars, but never mind, I did once see him give a talk at his organic hop farm.

Then on the way home there was a piece on IPA made in India. It seems next time I see IPA called Indian Pale Ale that may well be correct. The item (starts at 48:34) did follow the charter or old tradition or something that all items on IPA must get some facts wrong, but you can't have everything.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Red, white and green

The Brewers of Kent and Kentish Brewers are launching Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight this year, a chance for those that like beer made with fresh, undried hops to drink green hopped beer from over twenty breweries. 

Exciting stuff I'm sure you'll agree, but for me there was even more excitement when we visited a hop garden on Friday. More exciting than green hopped beer I hear you ask? Oh yes, I saw some hop bines and it doesn't get much better than that.

A bunch of brewers basking in the bines
Amongst the varieties grown were two of the Golding clones (Early Bird and Cobbs). As I have spent a considerable amount of time researching Goldings and their origins, I was delighted to see some of the plants at last rather than just dried cones.

It was particularly fascinating for me as there were other varieties there too so I got to see the differences in bine colour of different hop varieties:

It's clear the Challenger has red coloured bines, but the pale green colour of the Cobb's bines is a little more complicated... Fortunately Peter Darby, from whom I first learnt about different coloured bines in hops, was on hand to offer his expertise.

The hop farmer showing us round the garden called the Goldings green bines and the Challenger red bines but when I discussed this later with Peter he pointed out that Goldings are in fact white bines.White bines on hops aren't actually white in colour, they generally green with red flecks, though can turn pink (but never red). It seems in the world of hop bines white is somewhere between red and green.

As a brewer I generally only see hops as dried cones, with generally (though not always!) nothing in the way of bines. Having now seen the distinctive differences in hop bine colours I wish I'd mentioned how the hop cones hang. The Farnham Whitebine was originally called the "White Bine Grape Hop" beacause as well as the distinctive bine colour the hops hung in bunches like grapes. I certainly thought the cones of the Cobbs and Early Birds hung in grape like bunches but didn't have the wit to talk about it when I had an expert beside me.

Cobbs: look like a white bine grape hop to me

Sunday 19 August 2012

The power of beer bloggers

Serious beer writers, like Melissa Cole and Mark Dredge, seem against the use of the word "malty" when describing beer. Though my own poor attempts at tasting notes rarely go beyond "nice" I've not been entirely convinced.

The fact that tea, which unlike beer has no connection to malt, was called malty by Twinings seemed to back up my feeling that malty does have its uses:

But no more. Malty has been banished and their tea is now "mighty", which if you ask me really is meaningless.

It seems the influence of beer bloggers has spread to the marketing department at Twinings.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The start of the fightback

The twin evils of capitalism and the state have long had a negative effect on beer. But my belief that resistance to the crimes against beer committed by the big brewers came from consumers in the 70s now needs revising it seems.

Writing in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing back in 1923, Hugh Abbot said:

"No one approves of carbonated beers - no brewer, that is - and possibly no discerning consumer of beer either. We all seem to agree that filtering and carbonating a beer, to say nothing of the freezing, depreciates its quality; and yet the carbonating process continues to thrive, and, in fact, in some breweries - and they are not the least  prosperous or successful in the trade - this process has driven out the natural process altogether."

As many of my fellow beer nerds have embraced the neo-keggist heresy, mistakenly believing that all forms of beer are equal, it's heartening to see a brewer talking with such righteous clarity nearly 50 years before the formation of CAMRA.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Update on the hop growing

The hop is doing surprisingly well. After the horrors of last year this is very satisfying.

It even looks like it's trying to grow cones.

There could be enough for a pint there in a month.

Monday 13 August 2012

War is the health of the state

But it's certainly not healthy for your pint.

My long fascination with beer history started with the Durden Park Beer Circle's "Old British Beers And How To Make Them". Though in the age of the internet the booklet now looks a little lacking, there's a lot going for the point they make that the First World War ended the golden age of British beer. Average beer strength dropped from around 5.2 to 3.0% ABV and pub's opening hours were cut. The horrors the war inflicted on beer still resonate today. The beer drinking culture ingrained in my soul that leads me to knock back modest strength pints until I'm pissed at 11 pm is the result of First World War restrictions on beer strength and pub opening hours.

Though after the war average beer strength recovered slightly to 3.8% ABV it never got back to what it was before. Such a hefty cut, not the mention the restrictions imposed on pub opening hours, is not something that could have passed unnoticed. Now I know that people weren't happy about weak war time "government ale" but what about afterwards, when weaker beer continued to be the norm? Surely people will have been grumbling into their pints?

Though I've long suspect this to be the case,  I now have a quote that backs up my suspicions. Professor H.E. Armstrong, a Fellow of The Royal Society, friend of Horace Brown, and apparently an old curmudgeon, took a dim view of what beer (in particular Bass) was like in 1921:

"the world renowned red triangle ...must now be ashamed of being paraded before the public ...the action taken by the Government during the war ...has rendered beer little short of worthless as a drink".

I don't think he was impressed with the changes. I wonder what his views on afternoon closing were?

Sunday 12 August 2012

The Cricketers, Pirbright

Taking advantage of it being Summer this weekend the lovely Lisa and I set off on a cycle ride down the Basingstoke canal.

 Obviously we didn't want to go too far, as by all accounts allegedly Basingstoke is a shit hole, so we detoured to Pirbright in search of some refreshment. There were a few pubs to chose from but as The Cricketers still has a big sign advertising Ind Coope Burton Ale I steered us in that direction.

I haven't been to this pub in many years having been barred in my youth. It was no fault of my own you understand, being a mass barring brought about by one of my friends making clear her exact thoughts about the woman behind the bar that had refused to serve her tap water.

Sadly Burton wasn't on, but the Pride was in good form which was some compensation. The landlord was friendly, and we liked this pub so may have to get on the bikes more often.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Let's talk about 5X

I was at the Great British Beer Festival yesterday. Purely for professional purposes you understand. Though I did have a couple of pints when networking, and maybe a few more for research, with perhaps one or two to wash down my food and maybe one for the road, it should be clear the focus was mainly on work. Whilst I could still focus that is.

I made a mess of the travel arrangements so arrived late, but on the plus side I met noted beer historian Pete Brown at Earl's Court. His next book will be out on November 8th, which is conveniently shortly before my birthday (hint, hint).

There was a lifetime's supply of beers lined up in the hall but I only had one beer on my tick list: Greene King 5X. A living fossil, this 12% ABV oak aged beer is normally only used for blending with another beer to make Suffolk Strong (6% ABV). It undergoes a log maturation in vats at the the brewery, like a stock ale or porter of old. I'd first read about it years ago but never even heard of Greene King letting anyone drink it  unblended until quite recently.

However of late a few beer writers have managed to get hold of some, which had started to raise my hopes that I might one day blag some myself. Perhaps I thought a trip to Bury St Edmunds for the next IBD AGM would be in order? As it happened Greene King decided to make limited quantities available at the GBBF which solved my problem. I joined the queue early (which earned me three seconds of fame) and after a short scrum I had a 1/3 pint in my hand.

Whilst some have to settle for getting historic beer from bottles I was able to get some on draught. It's a hazy, mid-brown beer with a taste of sherry about it, combined with notes of sour cider and barley wine. Or "urgh, that's yuck" as the lovely Lisa put it. Personally I liked it, though 1/3 pint was enough.

Then it was back to the grindstone: networking, researching, networking, researching, networking, pork scratchings. And after that it was time to go home.

Monday 6 August 2012

The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garrett Oliver

 The Oxford Companion to Beer (OCB) is an impressive looking tome from a respected publisher. However, its arrival was not greeted with universal acclaim.

Thought after a quick look noted beer historian Pete Brown called it "the most essential beer book you can buy" saying "you simply have to buy this" beer writer Martyn Cornell was not so impressed. Taking advantage of previews on Amazon he called it a "dreadful disaster" due to the "total garbage" he'd spotted.

These early salvos set the tone and gushing reviews were soon bogged down in trench warfare. Wave after wave of blog commentators went over the top in relentless attacks, leading editor Garrett Oliver to go ballistic in his Brooklyn bunker and launch an intercontinental attack on Martyn Cornell accusing him, amongst other things, of McCarthyism. Contributer Roger Protz went even further, and losing all sense of proportion compared critics to Nazi book burners.

Amongst the fog of war I couldn't see a decent in depth review between the gushing puff pieces and the pointed, but small and specific, attacks. Whatever the book turned out like I was far too curious by now not to own a copy so onto my wish list it went.

 Flicking through the book my thoughts were as mixed as the reviews. The entry on Brettanomyces answered a question my research hadn't, and the entry on the aleurone was excellent. But I'd also come across a howler that had made me want to fling the book to the floor. As someone who worked with bacteria for many years I can confidently say that Staphlococcus and Clostridia are most certainly not Gram negative.

I joined the OCB wiki set up by Alan McLeod so I could point out the mistakes I'd spotted but I still wasn't quite sure what to make of the book. Was I just nit picking about minor things or was it fundamentally flawed? Garret Oliver himself had pointed out that it's impossible to have a work of this size without some mistakes, and Roger Protz said that the Oxford Companion to Wine had around 1,000 errors in the first edition. To get a general feel for the book I decided to start reading it at the beginning and read it though until I'd finished the letter A.

I had to raise an eyebrow when I saw that of the 46 people important enough in the history of beer to get an individual biography three were presidents of the USA. Some quick flicking shows that this is not because of they had any great connection to beer but simply American bias. I certainly can't think why else the fact that George Washington stopped for a pint before fleeing the British is considered sufficiently important to deserve an entry.

When I got to the meat of the book a few other things started to stand out. Most of the entries are written as if they're for an encyclopaedia, which is certainly what the book looks like. Some are written as if they're magazine articles, chatty in style and offering opinions but not very clear with the facts, and some are written as histories of the particular subject they're covering.

They quality, as well as the style, of the entries varies. Some are absolute gems, some seem a bit lacking and some are just plain wrong. I had hoped it might be possible to work out a rating system for the authors, e.g. Charles Bamforth is consistently good, Garret Oliver seems to waffle on and  Horst Dornbusch I viewed with caution as he has previous form. Some entries are referenced, some aren't and some have only references to websites.

The cross referencing is equally erratic, some entries clearly link in BOLD TYPE to other related entries of interest, whereas the next entry on a similar subject may be devoid of any cross references, e.g. the entry 'American hops' includes cross references to Willamette, Nugget, Cascade and Galena but though they're mentioned in the following entry 'American hops, history' they are not cross referenced.

A major flaw in my author rating plan came to light when I followed a cross reference to an entry on 'Downy Mildew' by Keith Thomas of Brewlab, a brewing scientist I have a lot of respect for. It talked only about disease in barley, which surprised me as I know it's also an important disease in hops. A bit of googling later I found out the entry was actually about 'Powdery Mildew', an entirely different disease, caused by an entirely different organism.

At this point I realised the problems with the book couldn't be put down to individual authors, the editing was also seriously flawed. As complete entries by respected academics could be entirely erroneous mistakes could no longer be glossed over as minor matters. Despite the quality of some of the entries the OCB cannot be trusted.

Despite this the OCB won the prestigious André Simon prize. David Gleave, the person awarding it stated:

“Garrett Oliver worked with 166 contributors to compile what is the first serious reference book on beer. In addition to his contributors, he assembled an Advisory Panel to peer review each piece submitted before it was forwarded to him. The result is a book that is easy to read yet one that will remain a serious reference book for years to come.” 

From my looking at the book I don't think it was even proof read, let alone peer reviewed, at least not in the sense I understand it i.e. having other experts in the field review the work submitted before publication. It may well be used as a reference book for years to come but the hit and miss quality of the entries means it cannot be used as a serious reference book.

Having said that I'm glad I've got the book. You get a lot for your money at the Amazon price of £18.90, and even though you can't treat it as an encyclopaedia it makes a great coffee table book, full of interesting stuff, even if the information it contains needs to be treated with caution.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Yorkshire! Yorkshire!

After the excitement of Glasgow it was on to Yorkshire. We were staying in Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales. We took the opportunity to visit Malham Cove, where a few sports climbers were on the rock.

Generally I feel that anyone who would bolt rock would steal sheep, but if people really want to climb on overhanging limestone I suppose they should be left to it.

We also did a tour of Ingleborough cave which was fab.

But on to the beer. Though the local pub was a tick we weren't that taken with it, so the excitement started when I went to Leeds. I'd arranged to meet up with Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins fame. Due to terrible technological cock up I arrived late but fortunately found Ron and the delightful Delores (who even stayed briefly before taking the opportunity of a pub change to escape the beer bores). We moved on to the Leeds brewery tap, which even has it's own microbrewery.

Unlike a disturbingly large number of beer historians Ron always backs up his stuff with facts so I can now confirm that:
  • There's some right tosh in the Oxford Companion to Beer
  • Some American beer nerds really have no idea
  • Cask beer is in fact best 

The next leg of our trip was in York, though we made a detour en route. First we called in at Fanny's ale house in Saltaire. We thought it was great, so it's a shame we could only stop for a swifty.

Then it was on to Beer Ritz to stock up on bottled beers. Sadly it was not an entirely joyous occasion. Despite my wide and varied musical tastes (covering Hawkwind and related bands) there wasn't half some aurally offensive racket playing in the shop.

I also felt moral outrage come upon me once more at some of the prices:

Over thirteen bloody quid for a small bottle! That was definitely overpriced, as despite my interest I didn't buy it. The history looked a little ropey too: Courage Russian Imperial Stout from an 1850 recipe of Pale, Amber and Black malt? Hmmm...not sure if that's quite right.

 Then it was on to York. We'd come equipped with an excellent map from the local CAMRA branch, which gave us a whole herd of  pubs to choose from.

Our favourites were the Blue Bell, with it's Edwardian interior and Rudgate Ruby Mild,

and the Last Drop Inn, which had a discount for CAMRA members.

But more important than that they were able to give us a tip off as to where we could find some proper Yorkshire pork pies. Having been horrified to find inferior grey Melton Mowbray pies in a supermarket in Settle it was a relief to be able to stock up with pies made as god intended before we headed home, which we did the next day, with ten pies safely stashed.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Getting wankered with weegies

I was up in Glasgow for a wedding recently and met up with some friends the day before for some refreshments. We left our salubrious accommodation...

(which I hope it wouldn't be too ostentatious to mention came complete with a Corby trouser press and everything).

... and got the bus into town, getting off early in time to encounter an unexpected sound of drumming.

It sounded suspiciously like a samba band to me, which risked setting off my samba related PTSD

but, you know, it all looked quite interesting

and there were certain attractions.

The big blue bloke has his own website.

We started drinking in the Horseshoe, which was a bit busy, before moving on to the Pot Still.

We thought this was a cracking pub and it started totting up the points when we scored it:

Sign: yes,
Building/decor: yes,
Beer range: yes (well, for Scotland)
Beer quality: yes,
Staff: yes,
Atmosphere: yes (they were even playing Blue Öyster Cult when we arrived)
Beard or weird: no,
Special feature: yes,
Loos: yes,
Local?: yes.

A very impressive 9 out of 10. It was only missing out on the beard or weird when the bearded barman wearing a kilt walked back in, which scored on both points if you ask me, and gave the pub a perfect 10.

I did feel this may be a little excessive but the lovely Lisa pointed out it's scientific and you can't argue with that.

I was not on best form when it came to the wedding the next day and having a friend that had come equipped with two hip flasks only helped slightly, the port was OK but one taste reminded me that whisky is still minging. When we got to the reception I was presented with a dilemma as free beer was available but it was from brewdog.

I've been boycotting them for about a year now since they spouted lies about CAMRA and slagged off the beers at the GBBF, which included one of mine.

I started with a glass of fizzy but after a brief discussion decided that I may as well drink the beer, after all brewdog wouldn't be getting any of my money. I later learned that my getting married mate had got the beer cheap from brewdog, as they've never supplied beer for a wedding and gave him a discount on condition he sends some pictures. It seems that brewdog aren't complete twats, but as I've just seen they're still trying to squeeze mileage out of telling lies about CAMRA the boycott is back on.

Once the brewdog had run out it was cans of Guinness, and that was it for me and beer in Scotland as I couldn't face the midges that no doubt lurked in the countryside so we went on to Yorkshire the next day for the rest of our holiday.