Friday 26 August 2016

Beer in a bad state

I'm trying to get together a list of how state controls have shaped what we drink in Britain. Of the top of my head there was:

  • Tax on malt and hops, which came with a ban on other ingredients and so killed off some beer styles. 
  • The Free Mash Tun act which deristricted ingredients but moved tax to the beer Original Gravity, the higher the gravity the higher the tax. The minimum tax was set at 1.030 so you didn't really get beers weaker than this.
  • The horrors of WWI, which aside from the mass imperialist slaughter, brought in restrictions on pub hours and beer strength.
  • The horrors of WWII, which aside from the mass imperialist slaughter, again had restrictions on beer strength and made the use of oats compulsory for several years.
  • Progresive Beer Duty, which has helped microbreweries boom, but has made some regional breweries cut production.
  • High Strength Beer Duty, which has wiped out beers from 7.5-8.5% ABV as far as I can seen. The corresponding low strenght beer duty relief for beers at 2.8% ABV has made this the strength of choice for bargain beer brands.  
  • The awful cultural vandalism that killed off Black beer by removing its tax ememption.
There are a few from other countries I might work in too, such as the German Reinheitsgebot; prohibition in the US, and their beer tax being on volume not strength; tax on mash tun size in Belgium; and the beer ban in Iceland. If there's anything I've missed please let me know.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Beer and philosophy

A friend gave me a copy of Beer and Philosophy edited by Steven D Hales recently. Though I am a man of simple tastes I have occasionally been known to get philosophical. Mainly Freud when climbing pinnacles - apparently all climbers are repressed homosexuals engaging in penis worship. Though where does that leave crack climbing? And I did once get on to the thingness of things down the pub and that was good, but I can't recall previously getting on to the philosophy of beer.

The book was a bit of a mixed bag, but as I guess was the intention it got me thinking. Quite a few of the essays ponder if there is such a thing as objectively good beer, or is it all in the eye of the beer holder. I'm pleased to say that they argue convincingly that there is indeed such a thing as good beer, and even that the more you know about beer the more you're going to get out of it. On the downside it made me rather concerned about my rather basic tastes in most other things. Should I now go and force myself to get sophisticated tastes in music, literature and art? Nah, bollocks I can't be arsed.

The other thing that provoked my pondering was Alan McLeod on the stupid laws about booze in Canada. For some time I have been thinking about how much the beer and beer culture of a country are determined by the twin evils of capitalism and the state. I'd like to trace how much what we drink has been controlled by the rich and powerful and see if by examining that I can glimpse what sort of beer would be drunk by a free humanity. I'm still not sure if I can draw it all together into a coherent article but I'm now inspired to finally make a start at least.

There's quite a lot of other stuff in the book, which may or may not stimulate your philsophical interest. In the main I found it an interesting book, and though I dare say it's not the heaviest of philosophical works I enjoyed the bits that got me thinking.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Crafties are worse so ner

Pete Brown's recent talk at the GBBF got my attention. Or the rather sensationalist way the Morning Advertiser reported it did. Red Nev got properly hacked off by it but I was highly suspicious of the spin from the Morning Advertiser. I just got to pondering which were worse for bad mouthing the other side: craft beer fans or real ale fans? So I put a poll up, and in a surely statistically insignificant study have found that over 75% of people think the crafties are worse. This also backs up my own prejudices so seems a prefectly correct result to me.

But this only leads to more pondering. I mean I do take the piss out of crafties at times, but only when they're asking for it. Which I fear may put me down at the same playground level as the crafties that wind me up. Oh dear, perhaps Pete had a point after all: "Kumbayar, my Lord, kumbayar..."

Wednesday 17 August 2016

The Great British Beer Festival 2016

You might think that as a brewer going to the Great British Beer Festival counts as Continuing Professional Development. And you'd be right. But even more so when you stop part way to go to a lecture.

This year it was on how Ageing Flavours Begin in the Mash Tun*.

Continuing Professional Development
The lectures have been happening for a few years and I think this was the best one yet. Here's my notes:

The cardboard flavours found in ageing beers are caused by carbonyl compounds created during the brewing process. They cannot be tasted early on as they are bound in chemical complexes. They come from the oxidation of fatty acids to aldehydes in the mash tun and downstream and lipoxidases having a similar effect if there's a protein rest. Strecker reactions can also cause aldehydes to be formed from amino acids. Maillard reactions are also involved.

To minimise formation of staling compounds oxygen ingress should be kept to a minimum during brewing. CO2 purge the mash tun, bottom fill the copper and use deaerated liquor for mashing. Having a valentine arm or variable speed pump on the mash tun is better than partially closing a valve as this causes a partial vacuum in the pump and encourages DO pickup. Don't over oxygenate wort, and oxygenate it when the yeast is ready to grow.

Higher mash temperatures slow down lipoxidase activity, so use well modified malt that doesn't need a protein rest. Also this will reduce TSN which is a substrate for Stecker aldehydes.

Aldehydes are more soluble in alkali solutions so acidfy sparge liquor to pH5 (using lactic acid) and get the CaSO4 right for the mash. Aldehydes are loosely bound so a good boil strip them out, get at least 7% evaporation. Keep whirlpooling to a minimum. Good trub formation will also help pull out aldehydes.

Maltsters can also help by suppressing rootlet growth and Null lox malt is also available which is made from barley which has had a staling enzyme bred out of it. Keep copper and iron levels low in the brewhouse as they encourage oxidation, and remember that yeast only mops up oxygen during maturation if it's at at least 12 degrees C.

Fascinating eh? Now back to the beer:

One highlight was managing to track down the revived version of Draught Burton Ale. It wasn't a bad effort, and they've certainly got the hops right but it was a bit dryer and lacked the slight sweetness than Burton at its best had.

More CPD
But more importantly than that, yes even more important than reviving Burton, I had to check out the Old Dairy Snow Top. As it won its category in the Winter Ale festival we thought it was probably in the Champion Beer of Britain competition.

Maybe if I crop this enough people won't notice it's an old picture from a pub
Rather irritatingly CAMRA had moved the results announcement to the evening do so I went home none the wiser. On checking twitter when I arrived I saw my ex-colleague Chris Bingham had won the Supreme Champion prize which delighted me. And then scrolling down a bit further I saw Snow Top was runner up.  Despite what that prick Piers Morgan says the silver medal in the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain competition sounds pretty good to me. In fact I'm smiling as I type.

* Based on the paper "On the Origin of Free and Bound Staling Aldehydes in Beer" Baert, JJ et al. Jouranl of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2012.

Monday 15 August 2016

Craft beer quality

The night before the GBBF I had another holiday in craftlandia at the BGBW warm up event. It was set on a boat named after my famous friend Phil's ancestral home.

As you'd expect for a boat there was no cask beer so refreshment came from kegs, bottles and cans from London and American breweries. The stuff from the states was all at the grapefruit end of things, though the UK stuff was more varied: in quality as well as taste. Like the last time I was knocking back beer from the crafty end of British brewing there were a number of beers that weren't worth drinking. Certainly there were more problems than you get drinking normal cask beer in a normal pub.

Cask beer it well known to have problems if quality isn't maintained right through to when it's served, but there seem to be just as many problems with kegged, bottled and canned beer too.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Which are worse "real ale" or "craft beer" fans?

A recent tweet from the Morning Advertiser aroused my curiosity:
They are being rather sensationalist though as the article it leads to has a much more mundane headline:

"Real ale and craft beer 'more alike than you'd like to think'"

 And to be honest the article is really calling for peace rather than putting the boot in:

"Why do people on both sides (craft and real) dismiss the other? ...  [both are about] making really good-quality beer." 

I'm not really one for holding hands and singing Kumbaya myself but it did get me thinking. Which are worse for bad mouthing the other side: real ale or craft beer fans? Now it may be said I've got form for this one so I'm putting up a poll to see what the general feeling is. Feel free to add in the comments section what a bunch of wrong 'uns the other side are or why we should all just get along.

Tuesday 9 August 2016


Rejoice beer geeks! Finally the question of what is craft beer in Britain has been resolved. The Society of Independent Brewers have launched an Assured Independent British Craft Brewer initiative.

I did start reading the details but got bored so didn't get very far. Still, I'm sure it will revolutionise beer in Britain. Or something. Anyway, just look out the logo and be happy that beers showing it are officially awesome.