Sunday, 27 June 2021

How to breed new barley varieties

Finally, years after learning how new hop varieties are bred I learnt about barley breeding and how the seeds breed true. I don't think I've been as happy to hear anything since I learnt the invisible etchings of Salvador Dali were safe. 

With hops each new seed is a unique individual and so in effect a new variety, established hop varieties essentially being clones made by taking cuttings from a single female plant. Barley though is clearly grown from seed so how does that work? Read on and see:

Various methods can be used for developing new varieties of plants:

  • Cross breeding
  • Hybridisation
  • Mutation
  • Genetic Modification

We were told that breeding is easy, but the punch line is that making new varieties might be easy but making new varieties better than the old ones is a lot more difficult. 

The registration system is important because unless your variety can get official approval (Agiculture and Horticulture Development Board and Malting Barley Committee) it is unlikely to go far. 

Plants are selected for a number of criteria, but particularly harvest yield. 

Non-GN (glycosidic nitrile) is important for malts used in distilling because of concerns it can produced the carcinogenic ethyl carbamate during distillation.

Barley plants have male and female parts. The first stage of making a cross is to cut the male parts off a plant to prevent it self pollinating. 

Then pollen is taken from the other plant involved in the cross and used to fertilise the first one. 

As Confucius says, in breeding filial generations of offspring are numbered F1, F2, F3 for first, second and third generations, etc. 

Each cross will make 500-1000 sibling seeds, with the same parents but different combinations of genes, 

These will be crossed again, giving move diverse gene combinations but also fixing diversity by inbreeding to get homozygous plants which will breed true due to having the same alleles for each gene.

The best plants will be chose to proceed with for further breding trials.

Seeds will be sent to New Zealand to speed up the process, rather than waiting another year to plant. 

By this stage only plants breeding true will be moved forward in the trials.

One quick test if the plant will be a good variety is if it makes 25g of seeds. Laboratory and genetic tests will also be used to look for desired traits in the plant. 

Larger scale trails will be carried out:

100kg of seed will be obtained from these. From these further tests, including micromalting will be carried out. 

The breeding and selection of new barley varieties is in many ways similar to how new hop varieties are made, except for the self pollinated inbreeding to get homozygous plants that will breed true from seed. Tissue culture can also be used instead of self pollination as haploid pollen can be used to make homozygous diploid plants. 

Friday, 25 June 2021

Where's the wild beer?

Something that crops up occasionally is people mistakenly claiming beer can be made by adding cereal grains to water. The latest example of this was from an article on psychedelic pints, which may perhaps explain some of the outlandish claims made:

It is of course nonsense you can make beer by throwing grains into water. So maltsters and brewers can rest easy in their beds! You might perhaps get the grain to germinate, so at one point it will in effect be green malt, but even mixing green malt with water won't give you beer. You might be able to get a mouldy mess, but I shudder to think what state the water would have to be in to make this safer to drink. 

It has occurred to me that if some sort of primitive beer is this easy to make then why don't we see it naturally forming on a regular basis? If ancients could make beer by simply getting wild grains they'd picked wet then surely now grains are farmed on an industrial scale shouldn't it be happening all the time? When barley fields are flattened after heavy storms shouldn't there be reports of beer puddles forming? Or if a grain silo or lorry has a leaky roof shouldn't spontaneous outbreaks of brewing happen? Come to think of it if it was that bleedin' easy why don't teenagers desperate to get hold of some alcohol mix wholemeal flour and water a few days before parties?

Making alcoholic drinks from sugary fruit is relatively simply, and I have seen reports of animals getting drunk on rotting fruit so perhaps naturally created 'wild' wine does exist. Turning starchy grains into something alcoholic is far more complicated though (that whole malting and brewing process) and it is human ingenuity and our dedication to getting off our heads that we have to thank for beer. 

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Nature is healing

Blimey, it was a close run thing this year. Mild is not easy to find in the South East at the best of times, and this is certainly not the best of times. Spending a week in the Scottish Highlands didn't help either. But as I was up in London today I thought a detour to Borough on the way home might work, and after some confusion behind the bar, success!

A pint of mild was mine, my spiritual obligations were fulfilled and my immortal soul was safe. Nature is healing. 

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Great beers theory and the Glass Struggle

 Over at Beervana Jeff Alworth has been posting a series of articles on classic beers. This inevitably comes across as more Great Beer theory of history rather than say, the history of all hitherto existing beer is the history of glass struggles. The most recent post, on Jaipur, is also about the most recent beer in the series, which means it's history I've lived through. So I get to go "hang on a minute, that's not how it happened":

Jeff is right that there was a buzz around Jaipur. I can remember a brewer I worked with 13 years ago (who has since gone on to win the Champion Beer of Britain, though with a vanilla stout) raving about it. But despite my best efforts I hardly ever saw it on cask, and still don't today. It may be because I live in the South East of England or it may be because, as is pointed out, it's at the strong end of what's usually seen on cask. It's hard to sell 72 pints of something at 5.9% ABV in three days as people won't be knocking back pints of it all night. Well, not if they plan on doing anything the next day. Jaipur was also certainly not "like nothing the Brits had tasted". We had tasted American hops before.

Which brings me to a cask beer I think was more influential in popularising their taste and has been around longer: Darkstar Hophead. At 3.8% ABV it more suited to cask and I've seen it a lot more often. The lower strength also makes it much more of an American/British hybrid than is claimed for Jaipur, rather tenuously I think, because the malt comes from Maris Otter barley. 

It should also be mentioned that thanks to the late, great, Glenn Payne bottles of grapefruit flavoured American craft beer had been available in a national supermarket chain long before Jaipur came around. 

Then when we get to "Craft Keg and CAMRA's Folly" a narrative is promoted that makes a good story but doesn't fit the facts. CAMRA did not react to the arrival of American-style keg beer as if it was Watney's Red Barrel 2.0. What they in fact did was nothing. That the Campaign for Real Ale also functions as the de facto campaign for good beer meant this caused a lot of frustration for many beer geeks. Eventually it lead to CAMRA's long and lumbering revitalisation process, and CAMRA making their peace with (key) keg beer. 

American-style kegged beer arriving did not cause breweries to open for the first time in decades, the microbrewery boom in Britain started at the same time as it did in America (in fact I think Britain has a valid claim to have started it first). The biggest factor in the rate of brewery growth increasing further was in a tax change with the introduction of Small Brewers Duty Relief. 

I also can't remember anyone ever arguing that "the new craft wasn’t properly British". That it wasn't real ale certainly, but not that it wasn't British. We're told that "Bitters had been the standard pub beer for half a century and hadn’t evolved an inch. The fidelity offered by CAMRA had become a straightjacket" which again is trying to fit a narrative rather than reporting facts. I can remember the rise of Golden Ales, which was a major change to the appearance and taste of beer commonly seen on cask. The reactionary, dogmatic traditionalists of CAMRA reacted to it by...adding a Golden Ale category to their competitions and several times crowning Golden Ales as Champion Beer of Britain, the World's most prestigious brewing award. 

I suspect things read on social media inform the article to a great extent, and though it was common at one point for British crafties to claim CAMRA is only interested in traditional session bitters, something echoed by in the post, this is not and never has been true. Craft beer certainly has expanded greatly the range of beers that you're easily able to find in Britain, but before then CAMRA beer festivals were the best places to find unusual and strong beers on draught. So an ABV of 5.5% is not "quite a bit stronger than English beer". It is stronger than most, but certainly not all English, or even British beers. In fact another post in the series is on Fuller's ESB, which after its strength was reduced slightly is... 5.5% ABV.

That cask ale brewers have taken to using modern American hop varieties seems to me to be part of the continual evolution that saw the growth of hoppy golden ales. I'm sure Jaipur helped push this but to say that in such beers "we see the DNA of Jaipur" is over egging it. The influence of American craft beer has certainly lead to a big increase in the range of beers brewed in Britain but cask beer has always evolved and I'm sure it will continue to do so. 


Saturday, 1 May 2021

Faith Of Our Fathers

Since the dark forces have been beaten back enough that pubs have reopened I have of course been going down my local. That Satan and his minions are still able to impose ludicrous restrictions lessens the experience but it is still a valid sacrament. Those of your still only drinking out of tinnies in your living room should be aware that the special dispensation allowing such behaviour has now expired so unless you honour the sabbath by getting down the pub at the weekend you are sinning!

Yes, I know it's bleedin' cold and table service is surely an abomination unto the lord, but god, it's good to be back. Though I'm no theologian I can speak infallibly when I say that pubs are the high point of British culture. Admittedly there's not much competition, but still, they're great, even you have to sit outside and for some stupid reason get waited on. 

Being back down the pub and drinking beer served as god intended nourishes the soul in ways that drinking at home cannot, even if we have to suffer a little at the moment. And lets face it pubs have had a very hard time and need the custom. Get back there. 

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Class collaboration

Craft brewing is essentially a petty bourgeois movement. That is, small businesses competing against larger established companies. This regularly leads to tensions as small companies that grow turn into big companies themselves. 

The latest craft darlings to take a step beyond the pale are Cloudwater brewery, who have just done a big deal with Tesco's. This time it's been complicated by being linked to a smaller deal to stock collaborations with beer brand owners from oppressed groups. This has put a different spin on the inevitable twitter storm, but as far as I can see it's still basically business as usual. 

I was more interested in the collaborations, as the final twist is that Cloudwater aren't actually brewing the beers themselves, they're being made a Brewdog. This did get my mind boggling. What on earth does this mean? No doubt a lot of "collaborations" simply involve a recipe being emailed to a brewery, but does forwarding an email to a bigger brewery count as collaborating? Looking at Cloudwater's blog I see they also mention that their house yeast strain is used but as they've only been going seven years this also seemed a trifle irregular. Does the brewsheet just say "use US05" or is there more to it? Either way I really don't get that one either as if the yeast doesn't come out of a packet surely it only recently came from a culture collection? 

I didn't think I'd done any colabs myself, but I have had beer contract brewed and do a lot of contract brewing at the moment. Does this mean I have in fact done lots? Or does it only count if there's a press release calling it a collaboration? There's always more to learn about brewing but I suspect there is more to learn about marketing too. 

Friday, 9 April 2021

Finally: The Death of Keg

It has been a difficult year for the faithful, with few opportunities to commune with the one true living beer. But take heart! I can now reveal news with will bring joy to all who revere cask beer as the pinnacle of the brewer's art: keg beer is dead!

Whilst some have spent lockdown on such frivolous pursuits as baking sour dough bread or learning foreign languages others have followed a higher calling. I can now reveal something I have been hiding for months, as it will soon become apparent to all. The opportunity presented by furlough has allowed a plan 50 years in the making to be put into effect. The order we have all prayed for was sent from a secret bunker in St Albans: the Albeergensian Crusade was launched! Like modern day St Patricks with a strange beer obsession teams of crack CAMRA commandos have been busy across the country driving keg beer from the land.

I first got wind that something was up when I noticed someone at work I didn't recognise pouring away some beer. I didn't think too much of it, sadly as a brewer you get used to seeing beer poured away.

A CAMRA commando at work

"At least it's only keg" I said. This caused the stranger to look at me quizzically. "Do you know the old man?" he replied. I was a little taken aback, but being a devout member of our Mother Church I knew this was a coded reference to Roger Protz. I made clear I'd met the great man and he'd even liked one of my tweets. At this point the stranger started applying hand sanitiser and said "I'd like to shake your hand". I of course reciprocated, using the CAMRA handshake, the secrets of which I cannot divulge. 

Having confirmed our mutual CAMRA membership the stranger was able to speak more freely and tell me how he, and others, had been working tirelessly, visiting countless breweries and destroying the evil keg. "But how can you do that? Don't people see what you're up to?" I asked. "It's the high-viz" he said. "Put on a high-viz vest and no one questions what you're doing."

And sure enough, he demonstrated just how far this could be taken as the empty kegs were decommissioned by having their spear removed before consigning them to the fiery pit. I mean scrap yard. 

Kegs awaiting execution

These will spew forth keg filth no more. 

I wish I'd been there to see shocked look on the drayman's face when he went to get some kegs now deliveries to pubs have started again. Despite what the stock list said there was not a drop of keg beer at the brewery, or indeed any kegs, a situation found across the country.

The breweries and pub companies have managed to keep a lid on the news so far, but come Monday everyone will know. When you next get down the pub, you will ask for cask. 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Brewing through the plague year

Seeing as we're living through history (something that hasn't happened since 1992 when history ended) I'd better get something written down. Hopefully I'll do something a bit weightier in the not too distant future, but that will have to wait until I've finished some fascinating work on gushing in low alcohol beers. 

So, on to brewing through the plague year. As an essential worker I've been slaving away whilst many have been at home all day playing with themselves and saying how it's affecting their mental health. Maybe the Victorian moralists were right after all? I work at a site which contains four independently owned breweries (brewhouses and fermentation vessels), of which the main brewery does the processing (stabilisation and filtration) and packaging (cask, keg and bottle) for all four, and provides staffing for three.

Having four breweries catering to different markets gives me a chance to say how badly each has done over the past year:

One is owned by a large estate with racetracks, which mostly brews easy drinking draught beer for big events, though some is bottled. The brewery has almost gone into hibernation for the year. 

Another mostly sells its own brands to the US, shipping out containers full in time for Christmas. It looked touch and go this year but it did happen in the end, though the importing company subsequently went bankrupt blaming the closure of bars, and leaving some of the beer unpaid for. The company also does contract brewing of bottled beers which has ticked over but volume is down. 

The third brewery is part of a group including a large pub company so mostly sells crafty draught beer, though some is bottled and some sent out for canning. This brewery has its own staff who were furloughed for a big chunk of time as most of the production died a death, though some small brews were done for canning. 

My employer is the main event that provides staffing for three of the breweries. It sells its own, mostly traditional, brands and does a lot of contract brewing and bottling. Brewing was down lots, and even bottling went down as some of the big bottling contracts are for beers sold in restaurants. Some ale brewing had to continue to keep the yeast strain going, it being of the traditional British continually re-pitched type. The brews were almost entirely bottled, though some beer was packaged as god intended in cask for the brewery shop and a small amount went into minikegs, which I'm sure all who've ever filled them will agree are surely the devil's work. 

Some contract bottling was picked up as a national brewer booted out its contract customers to focus on its own brands, and a small amount extra also came in from a customer as a way of making use of beer originally destined for cask when another lockdown arrived. Some staff were furloughed (but not bleedin' me!) and some were made redundant. I know I'm meant to be grateful for not being on the sausage but I didn't feel much joy covering for missing staff. I suppose as things edge back towards normal I can take comforting in the fact I now have a thrilling spreadsheet for tracking efficiency and losses I had time to make.

All of the breweries have done badly financially. For the two that are parts of larger companies I'm sure it's a drop in the ocean compared to their overall financial performance (which will also be down lots for both). I don't know any details about their money situation but both breweries are or will be soon increasing beer production, so don't look like their having the plug pulled on them. The brewery that exports to the states definitely lost a chunk of cash but I believe now has a new importer so hopefully will be able to continue as before in the future. And as to my employer it's had to defer payment on some things (which will of course still become due for payment later) and take out a loan. Expansion plans have slowed, but not stopped entirely. One of the things put back is getting a canning line. Cans have done well during lockdown so there's now a shortage of them and it doesn't make sense to install a canning line if you can't get cans. Work is now picking up but we've got less staff due to the redundancies. Happy, happy, joy, joy. 

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Happy 50th Birthday CAMRA!

Our Mother Church has reached 50 years of age today, which will be a cause for celebration amongst all that drink in the ways of righteousness. It's a shame that due to the ongoing plague situation most people won't be able to raise glass of draught real ale to CAMRA. But on the plus side I can!

Working in a brewery has its advantages!

As a second generation CAMRA member I went to my first CAMRA event with my dad when I was a teenager. It was at a company importing German lager and wheat beer, both of which were consumed in quantity. Which has always made me very dubious of the diabolically inspired that say CAMRA is narrow minded or dogmatic. It is surely perfect possible to enjoy all good beer whilst recognising that cask beer is indeed the pinnacle of the brewer's art. Well brewers and publicans really, as once the beer's in cask it's out of the brewer's hands. 

He was there

When I moved my beer nerdery from just boring my friends to writing a blog as well whinging on about CAMRA was common place, and to my shame I indulged in it too. But CAMRA were always my team and I was more like a football fan grumbling about the manager than anything else. Then it dawned on me that some of the people whinging really meant it. I mean the way some of them went on you'd think CAMRA had just run off with their wife. I couldn't be doing with that. So I resolved to no longer give succour to Satan's minions by siding the opposition and stop worrying if I had theological concerns about peripheral issues. Sometimes you need to stop looking for the logic and accept it's a matter of faith. CAMRA defends cask beer and that's good enough for me. Happy Birthday CAMRA!

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

A visit to Wadworth brewery

As there's not much to be done in the way of brewery visits at the moment I've decided to dig through my archives and post some pictures I've been too slack to upload before. Here's Wadworth brewery from a few years back

I'm sure that's an MDC song

As most of the breweries I've worked in have been cramped I'm always impressed when I see old breweries with lots of space. There'll usually be a room full of old crap but sometimes you get two separate brewhouses, with the old one seldom or never used. Here's the old mash tun:

Open fermenters:

Old open Copper:

Steam engine:

New brewhouse:

The had a cooperage too. The cooper had left but one of the draymen had been a cooper so still did some wor

And they had a pilot plant:

Nice lab too: