Monday 30 September 2013

Bricklayer's Arms Wiltshire Beer Festival

It was back to the Bricklayer's on Saturday for the Wiltshire beer festival. We were staying with the dark side, and though it limited our  selection I don't think we missed out at all as we found some beauties.

Unusually for a beer festival there was a drinking convergence amongst us, and thanks to a lucky early strike by the lovely Lisa it was on Plain Ales that we converged. Their porter was on great form so seeing they had a stout on as well it was an obvious next choice. That it was one of the few beers on hand pump was even better as it certainly had better condition than any of the other beers we tried so that was our beer for the rest of the day.

There was a good mix of people at the festival, including some bearded youths. I wondered if these could be the fabled hipsters, but sadly I was unable to differentiate an ironic beard from a normal one so couldn't say for certain. There were drinking cask beer not craft keg though so probably not anyway. We were also definitely in a pub, not a craft beer bar, conclusive proof being that the food was pasties for four quid, not scotch eggs for five.

Which was just as well as the tapas place we normally shuffle off to has been changed into something called 'the toy shop', which is not the sort of place I want to eat at. Eating at the pub meant we didn't have our usual pause to get food so it was time to shuffle on earlier than usual. This lead to us being back home, having a cup of tea, and being in bed by 10. I really am getting old.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Beer and Baked Apples

Lambswool is an odd name for a drink. But then considering it's made from warm beer, spices, and baked apple it is slightly odd.

I've had a tab for a recipe open on my browser for some time, but I can't remember where I saw the link. Fortunately I clicked on the tab the other day, as my sainted mother had only recently dropped off some baking apples and this gave me a good use for them.

It's a big drink for New Years Eve and wassailing apparently but I couldn't wait as the apples will probably be  mouldy but then, and anyway my parent weren't closely related.

Being such an odd mix, beer and baked apple in a drink, I was decidedly dubious as to how it would turn out but it worked surprisingly well. I could detect some strange tang though, I'm not sure if it was the unpleasant taste I usually get when I try mulled ale or if the beer was on the turn as I'd only risked a bottle from the back of the cupboard.  I enjoyed it enough to think it's worth trying again, but next time with fresh beer.

Friday 20 September 2013

Turning to the dark side

Soon after we discovered the delights of Oakham Ales Citra and Scarlet Macaw they started being discounted at our local Waitrose. Now Waitrose isn't the cheapest of supermarkets, but 20% off made all the difference, which lead to us drinking rather a lot of them.

Great beers packed full of citrussy foreign hops, the shopping bag was regularly bulging with bottles of them, but there did come a time in our guzzleathon when I'd really had enough. Much as I like hoppy beers there is a point when I reach my limit. After the light jazzy notes of new world hops I needed something deeper and darker. It was time to turn to the dark side.

The rich roasty sweetness of Fuller's London Porter did the trick. It was gorgeous.

And handily enough now Waitrose have stopped discounting Oakham they've started discounting the London Porter. I'll probably start going off it due to over consumption next though. Despite being fond of pale hoppy beers and dark malty beers I still think brown bitters were the most drinkable.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Heritage Open Day 2013.

We went to Guildford on Saturday to take advantage of the Heritage Open Day. This year we started at the George Abbot Hospital, a grade one listed old peoples home.

It came complete with some grade one listed old people:

It also had some stained glass that were thought to have come from Guildford Friary, on the site of which is now a shopping centre and in between there was a sizeable brewery there for a century or so.

Then it was on to Shalford Mill

Last working in 1914, in some ways it reminded me of the Hook Norton brewery which I'd been to earlier in the week.

Particularly the milll stones, though some of the cogs at Hook Norton were wooden too.

We got to have a peek at the "secret" head quarters of the mysterious Ferguson's Gang but couldn't actually go in the room as the building insurance didn't extend to that room.

The it was time for some liquid heritage, so we called in at the White House. ESB was the order of the day, and it seems chalices are out and tankards are in.

The beer was great but the pub was noisy so we moved on and spying the George Abbot over the road thought it seemed appropriate. Sadly they'd cranked the telly volume right up so it was even noisier, and after the delights of ESB the Abbot came a poor second. I mean I quite like a bit of diacetyl but this was really too much. So with that we went home and started on the Sainsbury's selection...

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Brewers' Hall Beer Tasting Competition

On Wednesday I was at Brewers' Hall, home of The Worshipful Company of Brewers

Having been flattened by the Luftwaffe the present incarnation of Brewers' Hall only dates from 1940 but the place is still steeped in a history going back many hundreds of years.

The coat of arms dates from when Henry VIII told them to drop Thomas A Becket as their patron saint because he wasn't keen on clerics standing up to kings. The brewers complied but managed to keep the connection by replacing him with a dark skinned woman which represented his reputed Moorish step-mother. History, beer, schism and subversion: four of my interests all in one logo!

Moving on to history a tad more recent I was delighted to see hanging up a portrait of Sydney O Nevile, who I was only recently burbling on about.

The reason I was there was for some competitive beer drinking. Back in my youth this would have meant simply seeing how fast you could drink in a boat race, but this time things were a bit more civilised. Nick Miller and Alastair Hook, of Meantime Brewery, had been horrified to hear that regular wine tasting competitions were held at Brewers' Hall but there'd never been a beer tasting competition so they decided to organise one.

The format was simple, but the competition wasn't. We had to taste eight different beers and answer four questions on each: country of origin, origin of the hops, beer style and then the bonus question of name the beer.

Last time I spent an evening in a beer competition I trailed on points and relied on a last last round knock out to win.This time things were rather different. Blind tasting isn't easy but we did consistently well throughout the rounds and were ahead on points by the half way mark.The next three rounds were tough but we kept the score up, and I thought we were cruising to victory until the last round proved a disaster. Sadly we mistook a dopplebock for a barley wine and scored zero. Had we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Fortunately not, as it seemed everyone else thought it was a barley wine too, so victory was ours!

The winning team

The IBD must have been clearing out the cupboards as we even got some prizes: a shield to go on the wall and a fetching pair of cufflinks that I'm sure someone will be delighted to get for christmas.

Saturday 14 September 2013

A visit to Hook Norton brewery

On Monday night I went to Hook Norton brewery, founded in 1849. I's an impressive sight, there's something special about Victorian tower breweries.

They still have a steam engine, though it's only used on special occasions now:

Here's the bigger of their mash tuns...

....and look at that lovely underback:

Their big copper came from Flowers:

Their smaller copper is actually made of copper and is an open cauldron with an internal caladria:

Open fermenters as you'd expect:

There's a  copper cooler up in the roof. Much as I love old breweries I'm glad it's no longer in use. Being a microbiologist it just fills me the horror thinking how easy it would be for beer cooling in a shallow open tray to pick up infection.

I was blown away by another old bit of equipment in the brewery though. I'm used to seeing old mills in breweries, and the mill currently in use at Hook Norton is 100 years old, but it had never occurred to me that I might see mill stones in a brewery:

Don't know when it was last used but I suspect it was a long time ago.

Hook Norton run regular tours and if ever  you're up that way I can  highly recommend a visit.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

More new hops coming...

On Monday night I saw Ali Capper from the British Hop Association and Paul Corbett from Charles Faram give talks on hops.

One things they seemed particularly focussed on was the wide range of British hop varieties. Despite producing only 1.6% of the world’s hops there are currently 20 varieties of hops grown in Britain, with several more in the pipeline.

Peter Darby's  breeding work continues, with developing new growing methods and disease resistance two of the focuses of the programme. Beer geeks will be pleased to hear a wilt-resistant Fuggle replacement may be coming in only three or four years! Though perhaps they'll be even more pleased that developing hops with new aromas is another aim. Already Endeavour, a descendant of Cascade has gone into production, though it doesn't have the flavour intensity of its mother (or even Bramling Cross).

There’s more information on British hop varieties here.

Hop merchants Charles Faram have also got involved in hop breeding, though they're trying a fast track approach, aiming to get varieties in production in four years compared to the normal 11!

Three varieties are at the farm trial stage:

Minstrel, which has a traditional English aroma

Archer, which is more floral and

Jester, a descendant of American hops which has the characteristic grapefruit/black currant aroma.

10-12 other varieties are following behind them, including hops bred from Jester.

Four old English varieties have also been revived in the hope they'll meet approval with modern tastes. These are:

Keyworth's Early

Keyworth's midseason

Janus and


I've already written about the Keyworth's so I'll say no more about them. 

Janus was another early wilt resistant variety, with a "mild Golding type aroma", which found some success in brewing trials and was grown up until at least 1972, though it seems only on a small scale (incidentally I also spotted that Tutsham held on until at least 1973 but that's another story).

Bullion dates from 1919 and was grown widely in the UK but had a strong flavour at the black currant end of things so many brewers weren't keen. It's still grown in the US.

I'm don't know whether any of these hops will be planted widely, but I'll certainly be looking out for them, and I hope that, as Ali Capper asked, more brewers list the hops they use as there's still a couple of the 20 established English varieties I don't think I've tried. A beer nerd's work is never done.

Monday 2 September 2013

Horace Tabberer Brown

I first heard of Horace Brown when I was at Heriot-Watt and someone mentioned that Graham Stewart had won the Horace Brown Medal. Ignorant as I was “who on earth’s that?” was all I though, Horace being one of those antiquated names that sounds vaguely amusing. It was not until his 1916 lecture “Reminiscences of Fifty Years’ Experience of the Application of Scientific Method to Brewing Practice” was put online that I learnt quite why the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s highest award is named after him.

His reminiscences, that in length and depth certainly live up to the title, detail the role he played in applying the scientific method to brewing, moving it from what seemed barely altered from medieval superstition to recognisably modern rationality. I’ve been meaning to write about him for some time, but it’s only with the entirety of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing archive going online, and library facilities at my new workplace that I’ve got all the papers about him I was after. Boak and Bailey’s call to “go long” has spurred me on to pull my finger out but as I type away at 11pm on Sunday I'm still pushed to meet the deadline.

Born on the 20th July 1848, Horace Tabberer Brown was the posthumous son of Benjamin Tabberer. His mother married Edwin Brown and Horace adopted his name. I’ve not yet managed to find exact details of his family, though I know he had a sister called Beatrice, and a younger half brother Adrian Brown who also became an eminent brewing scientist, being appointed the first professor of brewing at Britain’s first university brewing school, after 25 years as the chemist at Salt and Co.

His step father was a bank manager and keen amateur naturalist and geologist. He was friends with many scientists, including Dr Henry Böttinger, then manager of Allsopp’s brewery, who had a profound influence on Horace:

“He used often to express a firm and certain belief that the principles of brewing, which at that time were based, like those of many of the sister arts, on mere empiricism, would in time come to admit of a rational and scientific explanation … These conversations with Böttinger had the effect of arousing in me a great desire and ambition to help on the good cause, and if I have been able in any way during the last 50 years to assist in this, it is in great measure due to the sowing of good seed by an old and valued friend in ground which I trust has not been altogether stony and unproductive.”

He was educated at home until aged nine and then at then Burton-Upon-Trent and Atherstone Grammar schools until 16. In his spare time he studied many branches of science at home: he was given telescope at the age of 12 and studied astronomy, before developing an interest in then electricity and then examining pond life using a basic microscope.

From around 14 he studied chemistry seriously and mastered the preparation of common gasses in the kitchen, though he was banished to an old store room after making hydrogen sulphide, a poisonous gas with a foul stench of rotting eggs. At this young age he decided he wanted to be a chemist. Peter Griess, a friend of Böttinger, was the chemist at Allsopp’s brewery and allowed him in the lab in evenings and gave him lessons in chemistry.

His parents couldn’t afford to send him to university, but in 1865 he had six months training at the Royal College of Chemistry in London (which was affiliated to the Royal School of Mines and became part of Imperial College). He studied under August Von Hofmann, shortly before he left, and his successor Edward Frankland, both giants in their field. One of the laboratory assistants was Cornelius O’Sullivan, who was later chemist at Bass (from 1867) and a fellow student was Henry Armstrong, who became a lifelong friend and who had a long association with the brewing industry.

On the 1st Jan 1866 at the age of 17 ½ he became the junior (3rd) brewer at Worthingtons, a brewery next door to his father’s house. In those days brewing was seasonal between October and May but the hours were long. He worked 12 hours a day, six days a week but still continued his lab studies at home during afternoons when on late shift in a small laboratory his dad built him.

Fermenting vessels at Worthington's

His colleagues were “old school” and suspicious of science and “theorists”, the only science he was initially allowed to carry out was determining original gravity, and the weighing equipment for that was purchased.

Horace had to bide his time:

“I used to wonder how it was possible to apply an unvarying code of rules to the manufacturing processes like malting and brewing, which deal with raw products exhibiting such seasonal differences of quality, and yet expect consistent results”

When he was allowed to establish a small lab at the brewery, it was on the condition that the windows were obscured so as not to scare customers that the beer was being doctored! According to Barnard, this was the first brewery in the world to use a microscope.

At this time many advances were being made in microbiology, and the fermentation industries were in the forefront of this. Advances in brewing science were applicable across range of areas such as medicine, surgery and sanitation, the study of microorganisms in diseases of beer lead to insights in the microorganisms of diseases in people. For example, Pasteur’s “Studies on Beer” lead directly to his work in infectious diseases.

Another example of the cross over was Horace Brown being able to apply his knowledge to improving the sanitation in Butron-upon-Trent. At close of brewing season in 1868 he spent a few weeks at Frankland’s laboratory studying water analysis and then analysed the well waters at Worthington and other breweries, as well as the parish pumps and the Trent. He found many traces of sewage and was able to clean up the local water supply.

In 1869 he started to use a microscope in the brewery looking at yeast and soon after he read Pasteur’s “Studies on Wine”: “The immediate effect was that of a ray of light piercing the darkness and illuminating a new path into the unknown.”…

“In a short time, by a comparative study of the sediments of normal and faulty beers of various ages I had worked out, and could recognise, the particular organisms which produce most of the irregularities of bacterial origin.”

He discovered by microscopic examination that a horrible off flavour in beer similar to corked wine called “caskiness” or “fustiness” was caused by a Penicillin sp. growing on the wood of the casks.

His rigorously study of microorganisms found in sour beer meant that by 1873 he was able to recognise many beer spoilage organisms and the effects they’d have. He became an expert on Saccharobacillus Pastorianus (now Lactobacillus brevis) which caused 90% of the problems in Burton stock beers. His old school colleagues were still blaming the water or “some obscure electrical agency” and the brewing text books of the time were little better.

Using his knowledge of microbiology and influenced by Pasteur he developed “forcing trays” on which he would place aseptically taken 100 ml samples of beer and heat them to 80-85º F for three weeks before examining them microscopically for any contaminants. This gave indication not just of the state of the beer but also general state of the brewery and its plant and processes.

In 1873 at the age of 25 he was appointed manager of Worthington’s manufacturing departments. He married the next year, and though again I have yet to dig out the details I know children followed.

Due to his rigorous work when Pasteur’s “Studies on Beer” came out in 1876 he was probably already ahead of him in his knowledge. It was in this year that Brown was one of the founders of the “Bacterium Club”, an informal dining society of men interested in science. Far-reaching discussions were held on recent discoveries in chemistry and biology, particularly as they pertained to brewing, though a couple of medical doctors were also members.

The laboratory at Worthington's brewery

By 1877 Brown had learnt that problems with beer were could be caused by yeast strains as well as bacteria and was aware of the role of “secondary” yeasts in the normal British brewery fermentations of the time, long before Claussen’s work on Brettanomyces. This later lead to a dispute with Hansen, the developer of pure single strain brewers’ yeast, as Brown was adamant that:

“…. the beers from the pure yeast, unless stimulated by the addition of a little diastatic malt-extract at the time of racking, were slower in conditioning than the corresponding samples from the ordinary yeast”

Brown correctly observed that: “primary yeast demands a crystallisable sugar like maltose or dextrose to keep it going, the secondary yeasts are capable of hydrolysing and utilising malto-dextrins and dextrins which the primary yeast cannot touch unaided by some extraneous ferment.”

He also developed an early method of removing contaminating bacteria by acidifying wort.

At this time he started studying starch and its breakdown products, drawing on the work of O’Sullivan, studies which continued with a range of assistants up until 1899. Starch proved a particularly tough nut to crack though, and Horace stated later that the study of starch had started in 1814, was still not resolve a hundred years later, and predicted people would still be arguing about it in 2014!

In 1883 his studies turned to the geology of Burton and for four years he studied the composition of the local landscape and the chemistry of the water, leading to an article published in 1889, the same year he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

He looked at barley germination between 1885-6, and gave a scientific basis to the previously empirical world of malting. In 1890 he published with his assistant GH Morris their findings in a major paper in the Journal of the Chemical Society called “Research on the germination of the Gramineae”.

When Worthingon’s was incorporated as a limited company in 1889 he was made joint managing director with William Posnette Manner, but still managed to continue his scientific studies.

Brewers had known for some time that dry hopping in cask encouraged secondary fermentation and ensured good condition in the beer. Browns systematic research into exactly why this was led further than even he envisaged. He found hop strobiles contained a diastatic enzyme, which broke down some of the dextrins in the beer to fermentable sugars. This lead to further research, for if diastase was present in hop strobiles was it present in all leaves?

Detailed botanical investigations into plant physiology followed, culminating in another important paper with Morris in 1893 on “The Chemistry of Foliage Leaves”.

His botanical researches continued after he had left Worthington’s, first looking at outstanding problems on barley germination but this soon lead on to more fundamental research into the uptake of CO2 in plants through leaf stomata resulting in ground breaking scientific breakthroughs on gas diffusion.

His initial enquiry into dry hopping ended with him winning a prize from the Royal Society and ultimately giving the 1905 Bakerian lecture on “The Reception and Utilization of Energy by the Green Leaf.”

His 28 year career at Worthington’s had ended because his working relationship with his co-manager was not harmonious and in late 1893 he was forced out of the company by due to trade complaints. Early in 1894 left Worthington’s and moved to London.

Armstrong wrote:

“His was too sensitive a spirit to brook the strenuous conditions and jealousies of a rough and tumble business life: he had never learnt to kick back and kick hard or even to swear internally. As he said to me at the time, he hoped he would henceforth be able to do what I had often counselled him to do, feeling that he was far too fine and valuable a weapon for industry – devote himself to scientific work.”

He may not have been suited to the rough and tumble of business life but he clearly respected as a scientist and was awarded the Longstaff medal of the Chemical Society that year.

In London he carried out consultancy work and continued his researches at a number of laboratories.

In 1901 he was employed by Guinness to set up a research laboratory. He started work investigating “The Nitrogen Question” in beer, looking to see if careful control of the nitrogen level and composition of beer could control the growth of contaminants. The findings of research at the Guinness laboratory were only published privately, and due to a policy change the lab was closed in five years later.

In 1903 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society “For his work on the chemistry of the carbohydrates and on the assimilation of carbonic acid by green plants”.

His researches on “The Nitrogen Question” continued after he had left Guinness but ultimately he had to conclude that beer infection could not be controlled by the nitrogen content. He had had some success with bacteria but contaminating yeasts proved too robust. Despite this research not having the outcome he had hoped for it was not without merit: he developed a method for determining Free Amino Nitrogen in beer and learnt about the importance for yeast of the “initial oxygen charge in the cell” 50 years before the role of sterols in fermentation was established.

He frequently travelled to America as he was director of an American brewing company, though I’ve yet to find out which one. He lectured to the Institute of Brewing on American techniques of bottling filtered beer and investigated the effects of head space oxygen content on shelf life.

His travels also took him to South Africa, where he had bought a son a vineyard, so he also lectured to the Institute of Brewing on wine making. The son died during surgery in 1909 and the vineyard was sold at the start of the First World War.

In 1908-9 he was active as a member of the Royal Commission on Whisky and Potable Spirits.

Between 1909 and 1913 with Sir Edward Thorpe he carried out a thorough revision of the table of original gravities of beer for the Board of Inland Revenue.

In 1916, his fiftieth year in the business, the Institute of Brewing presented him with a portrait of himself and he gave his lecture on his reminiscences. Armstrong's opinion of the portrait was that it was "undoubtedly a likeness but a hard presentation of his features, lacking his wonderful eyes and the alluring smile which usually rested upon his face".

"We are no longer exploring without stars, compass or map to guide us ..."

The next year his health broke down and he was forced to all but give up work. He made some recovery but in 1919 he suffered paralysis down his left side and though again some recovery was made his career was now completely over.

In 1920 he was awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society. Armstrong related he was delighted to receive “the highest distinction which can fall to the lot of any man of science in any country”.

He died on the 5th February 1925, the most respected and highly awarded British brewing scientist.


RG Anderson, Horace Brown and ‘Friends’: A Triumvirate of Sesquicentenaries. Ferment, 1992
HE Armstrong, Adrian Brown Memorial Lecture. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1921
HE Armstrong, Obituary Notice, Journal of the Chemical Society, 1928
HE Armstrong, Horace Brown Memorial Lecture, Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1937
JL Baker, Obituary Notice, Biochemical Journal, 1925
A Barnard, The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland Vol III, 1890
LR Bishop, Horace Brown Memorial Lecture A Conspectus of Brewing Progress. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1971
HT Brown, Reminiscences of Fifty Years’ Experience of the Application of Scientific Method to Brewing Practice. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1916
JH Millar, Obituary, Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1925