Monday 24 April 2017

A craft beer conundrum

There's a right lot of idealistic twaddle written about craft beer. I've been trying to get together a post about the need for a proper materialist analysis but it's been hard work so it may never appear.

Not having got my thought fully in order I was unsure what line to take on the craft beer conundrum I spied on a recent visit to Tescos. What am I to make of Adnams dry hopped lager going for 96p a can?

Is it:
  1. An abomination that Tescos are devaluing craft beer by selling it cheaply?
  2. An abomination that Adnams, a company that makes cask bitter, is devaluing craft beer by selling beer in small cans that cheaply?
  3. A bargain. 
Help bring about a better understanding of craft beer by voting in my handy poll.

Friday 14 April 2017

A visit to Pope's Yard brewery

When I was organising trips to for the Brewery History Society this year I was keen to include Pope's Yard in Watford. It's not an old brewery, but I know they have an interest in old beers. One of the beauties of beer is that although a brewery might be long closed it is possible for its beer to live again. Or at least something close to it.

I've had a few goes at reviving old beers, and experimenting with how old beers might have been. One thing I have in common with Pope's Yard is that we've both had a go at reviving Benskin's Colne Spring Ale, though they've done a much better job of it than me.

There's a shrine to Benskins at one end of the brewery, complete with bottles of Colne Spring Ale...

... and the Journal of the Brewery History Society

The Business end of the brewery is a small German kit...

...with a smaller pilot plant for good measure:

My researches into Colne Spring Ale involved emailing a few libraries and collections which was sadly fruitless, so I based my version on an analysis Ron posted. Geoff at Pope's Yard did considerably better by physically looking through old records. Amongst some documents on brewery properties he found the Rosetta stone of Benskins: a booklet detailing how their beers were made.

As well as the historical and experimental beers Pope's Yard do make some more 'normal' ones too, which is just as well as I had a long day. All of their beers were enjoyable to drink, and I found them interesting too. A lot of the 'innovation' in breweries at the moment looks like arbitrarily throwing in a new ingredient or following the latest fad which doesn't really interest me. But at Pope's Yard you can see they're exploring where their curiosity leads them to create a fascinating range of beers.

Geoff and Ben were excellent hosts and I look forward to seeing where Geoff's recent research into ancient Sumeria via Burma takes his brewing.

Friday 7 April 2017

The Science of Beer

Last month I did my bit for British Science Week by giving a talk on malting at the Youngs brewery in London. Well, sort of the Youngs brewery as it must be ten years since it closed, but it was on that site and there was beer from the Ram brewery there.

I was particularly pleased about that last point, as though I did visit the Ram brewery once for a SIBA event I didn't manage to get any of the beer. It was good stuff too, with that nice tongue coating bitterness.

A series of speakers was lined up, which started with Steve Livens, who at one point was a microbiologist at Youngs, though he's now at the BBPA where he spends his time trying to destroy craft beer at the behest of his evil multinational overlords, amongst other things.

His talk stated by going back 10,000 years to the earliest history of beer, and took us up to the present day and the nutritional benefits of beer.

Next was Charlie the head brewer at Wimbledon brewery, who took us through the brewing process and the materials involved.

John Hatch then gave a fascinating talk about Youngs brewery...

I'll forgive him for not doing his lab coat up, we were in a bar
... which included this fascinating slide:

What do you see there? That's right Farnham bells! I thought this was exciting until on the way to the toilet I saw the actual hop pockets themselves:

Sadly two of these hop farms have gone, but the Hampton Estate is not only still growing hops, it has recently expanded production. Intriguingly though it now only uses one bell on its hop pockets.

I was on after an interval, which was perhaps for the best as it gave more people more time to pour beer down their throats before my scientific onslaught. As I'd been asked to talk at a science event I'd been pretty merciless in cramming the detail in to my talk. Steeping, kilning, germination, Maillard reactions, that sort of thing. I don't know if it's quite what the audience were after, but I felt I'd done my bit for science.

I was followed by Craig who took us through his experiences of home brewing, and the difficulties in getting it right. 

He's now adopted a feedback system based on his experiences as a computer programmer, which didn't sound a million miles from the Deming cycle.

Lastly we had a poet, who moved things back to history and his plan to recreate a Youngs brewery dinner based on an old photograph of a staff event.

Then it was time for a quick pint or two of networking before heading home.