Tuesday 28 October 2014

A pilgrimage to Burton

I finally got to spend a day in Burton-upon-Trent last week. I'd only briefly been to Britain's brewing capital before so it was nice to have time to wander round. The big British breweries may have been bought up by multi-nationals, and sign you see mostly now says Molson-Coors, but they still make a lot of beer in Burton.

There are two large breweries in this picture that between them make around six million barrels of beer a year.

As British beer barrels are bigger than US ones that's even large enough combined output to disqualify them from the American Brewers Association craft brewery definition if the share ownership hadn't done it already.

I think one was the Bass brewery at one point:

...and this one was Ind Coope, where the wonderful Burton Ale used to flow from:

I'd already been to the museum so I didn't bother this time, but I was still impressed by the row of Burton unions you can see outside it as you walk past. When I was in the museum I studied the union cask they had inside closely and briefly understood how the damn things work. I'd didn't stick though and I'm sure I'd barely turned away before the knowledge faded.

Having a chance to go for a drink in the evening I called in at the Coopers Tavern, an excellent pub that's at least a couple of hundred years old. It's now owned by Joules, and I'd been keen to try their beer ever since they were revived as James Joule, the brewer and scientist, is a bit of a hero of mine.

The beer was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. I'm afraid I'd had an excellent pint of Landlord with my lunch at the Rose and Crown in Zouch and my minor obsession with it had kicked in again.

The had quite range of beer but I couldn't stop as I wanted to get on to the Burton Bridge Inn.
Again the beer was good but it was no Landord.

Notice the unsightly Northern head
Perhaps if I'd found Ind Cooper Burton Ale, which like Landlord has the distinct flavour of Styrian golding hops, I'd've been able to favour a local brew. But then again, maybe not, as it's made in Manchester now.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Let There Be Beer! take 2

I recently went to a talk about the Let There Be Beer campaign. It's being re-launched soon, so we were given the low down on what they've done so far, the lessons learnt, and a taster of what's coming next.

In this country it was founded in June 2013, though I was surprise to hear that it's been run in other countries previously. It's funded by five global brewers: Heineken, Carlsberg, ABInBev, Molson Coors and SAB Miller, so I guess they have their eyes on the big picture.

The campaign is planned to last three years and has a number of aims:
  • Creating awareness and excitement about beer
  • Galvanising and uniting the industry
  • Reminding customers of their love of beer
  • Encourage new and lapsed customers to re-appraise and think about beer
  • Get consumers to try new beers and new beer occasions
  • Ultimately enhance the reputation of beer and grow the category
Though it's undoubtedly a good time for quality beer overall beer consumption is in decline. Not having telly the original campaign passed me by almost entirely, except for beer geeks whinging about it on twitter. The guy giving the talk did admit that mistakes were made, and things like suggesting Fosters should be paired with scallops lacked credibility. He also said they'd focused too much on brands produced by the funding companies, something they've since corrected, and the website certainly bears this out.

He continued saying that beer is seen as refreshing, relaxing and sociable, but has a problem in that it's perceived as being a low quality drink that lacks diversity and versatility.

A new campaign is to be launched on October 29th, and there are millions of pounds behind it so it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Apparently no brands will be mentioned in the next TV ad, but 14 styles of beer will. I suspect my fellow beer nerds will still put the boot in on twitter, but at least I'll know it out so I can look it up on youtube.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Another dent in the can

There's another tasty titbit on the can question in this month's Brewer and Distiller International:

"The quality-limiting step of the can packaging operation is the seamer, which is still of an insufficiently hygenic design to embrace sterile filling."

Which does lead me to wonder what shelf life they put on non-pasteurised craft cans. If I can ever force myself to fork out for one I must remember to look at the best before date.

The article also had a passage that got me pondering how I'd managed to live through a beer revolution that's affected my own drinking habits without really paying much attention:

"...in the early 1990s the futures of bottled beer was in some doubt, until the sudden advent of alcopops and front-of-shelf premium lagers. Before this watershed the march of can products appeared irresistible."

Now that's not to say that over the years I've taken to drinking alcopops. Or premium lagers for that matter. But premium bottled ales keep my cupboards full. And the garage. And there's a few in the airing cupboard come to think of it. Decent bottled beers are always something I've sought out, but their steady rise hasn't had the sudden impact of the arrival of golden ales, or beers that taste of grapefruit, did. It has appreared more slowly, like the road starting to go gently down hill when cycling it's just got easier to find decent bottled beer. Much like cask beer slowly changed from being something you had to seek out to something you'd be surprised about if it wasn't there.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Gog standard beer

I seem to be falling ever further behind my fellow beer nerds in chasing the latest in fashionable beers. In a recent beer geek poll I found I'd only drunk four of the top ten pale ales in Britain. The only non-CAMRA beer festival I got to has rants against keg beer in the programme. And I've never bought a craft beer can, not even in 'Spoons.

Quite how I've fallen so far behind, despite my dedicated beer nerdery, has been a cause for some reflection. My love of cask beer, and antipathy to keg must explain a lot. As does the Guinness FES test, as I seldom feel the urge to pay specialist beer shop prices for strong stouts when I can pay supermarket prices.

But I was still left wondering why I was lagging with the pale ales. Then I realised I had another benchmark beer: Goose Island IPA. Whenever I feel the need for an American hop hit I have an excellent beer easily available in local supermarkets. In fact there's several, and I probably buy more beer of that ilk from Oakham or Thornbridge. So pricer options for beers of similar style have little appeal.

I've now realised my buying habits generally entail needing to know if the beer is significantly better than Gog standard (Guinness or goose) before I'll fork out significantly more than supermarket prices..

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Gluten free beer

We've had a few projects about gluten free beer at work so I was interested when the IBD magazine had an article on it. It was written by someone from a company that makes a protease normally used to prevent beer from forming chill hazes. By happy coincidence the enzyme breaks down the immunoreactive epitopes in gluten, so it also makes beer safe for coelics.

The author included a list of gluten free beers available in various countries, and listed the grains they're made from.

I noticed a couple of the British ones were made from sorghum which piqued my interest, I've wondered what it tastes like for some time. So when I was next at Utobeer I ignored all the beers I might actually like and picked up a bottle of St Peter's Gulten free lager. It's not easy being a beer nerd.

The lager is slightly oddly made with Amarillo hops, but not a huge amount, and has an unpleasantly harsh tang to the aftertaste. I suspect it's made with sorghum malt extract which could explain the tang. Having paid Borough Market prices for the bottle I made sure I finished it, but it didn't taste great so I won't be getting any more.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Are dried yeasts what they claim to be?

I went to a SIBA meeting on Wednesday and a bloke from Surebrew gave a brief but interesting talk. For starters it was amazing to see a question and answer session on Brettanomyces, when barely over a year ago one of my beers was wrongfully disqualified from the specialist beer section of a SIBA competition because no-one knew what Brettanomyces was.

But it was when he was asked about dried yeasts that it got really interesting. He said Safale 04 is Whitbread B, something I'd previously seen Graham Wheeler (PBUH) say over at Jim's; US 05 is apparently composed of several strains, and Nottingham Ale yeast is in fact a mix containing 70% lager yeast. I'm quite astonished by this last point, and it also seems to me that it should be relatively easy to investigate if it's correct. If I remember rightly lager yeast can ferment melibiose whereas ale yeast cannot, and ale yeast is able to grown at 42 degrees C whereas lager yeast cannot. I'll have to check the details, and see what we've got a work, but this is one I'd really like to look into...

Friday 3 October 2014

Oxygen uptake with bottle caps.

Canned beer has become fashionable amongst some of my fellow beer nerds, and lack of oxygen uptake in the container causing staling has been one of the attractions. This prompted Rob Lovatt from Thornbridge brewery to point out to that oxygen pick up after packaging is only part of the story and small scale canning lines have a real potential to introduce oxygen during filling.

This did still leave me wondering how much oxygen can get into bottled beer. So I asked the engineer who sits next to me and he said very little unless the capping goes wrong. But it would still be nice to have a figure. And then, as if by magic, an article by Peter Heumüller and Graham Jennings in Brewing and Beverage Industry International had exactly that:

"Oxygen permeation rates are detectable, although the metal of the crown cork and the glass bottle are perfect barriers. A detailed measurement showed values of typically 0.001cm3 / cap / day."

So there you have it. 

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Is Kronenbourg 1664 now awesome?

Not generally being keen on either lager or keg beer I don't think I've ever drunk Kronenbourg 1664. But seeing as Mark Dredge is now promoting it does this mean it is, in fact, awesome?