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: 



Monday, 1 March 2021

Avenge Kronstadt!

A hundred years ago today the sailors of Kronstadt naval garrison rose in revolt against the dictatorship of the Russian Bolshevik “Communist” Party. Strikes had broken out in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in February which prompted the Kronstadt sailors to send a delegation to investigate and report. The sailors themselves had been unhappy with management of the Navy and had deposed their commander in January.

The report of the delegation prompted the passage of the following resolution:

1. immediate new elections to the Soviets (councils). The present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda.

2. Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.

3. The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant organisations.

4. The organisation, at the latest on 10th March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, solders and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.

5. The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organisations.

6. The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.

7. The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces. No political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In the place of the political sections various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.

8. The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.

9. The equalisation of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.

10. The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups. The abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.

11. The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.

12. We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution. 

13. We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.

14. We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.

15. We demand that handicraft production be authorised provided it does not utilise wage labour.

The tyrant Lenin reacted with fury, unleashing a tirade of lies and calumnies about the rebels which are parroted by his acolytes to this day. The Red Army, led by the butcher Trotsky, was sent in and attacked on the 7th  March, but were beaten back, having lost substantial forces to defections. A more serious attack on the 10th March was also defeated, with many casualties on the Bolshevik side. The final attack, with much larger forces, occurred on 17-18th March and succeeded in capturing Kronstadt and crushing hopes that the Bolshevik dictatorship could be sent the same way as the Tsar's.

Though the forces of reaction had proved stronger, the Kronstadt rebels remain an inspiration to all who fight for a free and equal society to this day, and I will be raising a glass to them tonight.  

Friday, 19 February 2021

The mystery of Glucose Syrups

John Percival wasn't wrong when he said that "nothing is so puzzling or so annoying as the use of the term Golding" but I bet he'd have had a few words to say about the term "glucose syrup" too. You might think it's straight forward: glucose syrup, a syrup of glucose, but in fact you'd be wrong. 

As the Handbook of Brewing puts it:

"glucose syrups used in brewing are in fact solutions of a large range of sugars and will contain, in varying proportions depending upon the method of manufacture, dextrose [glucose], maltose, maltotriose, maltotetraose, and larger dextrins."

"Glucose" syrups are in fact hydrolysed (i.e. broken down) starch solutions. Starch can be thought of as being made up of large chains of glucose units and depending on where the chain is broken a range of molecules will be produced: a single unit broken off gives glucose, units of two are maltose, three maltotriose, four maltotetraose and longer molecules we usually call dextrins. 

Here's  a table showing the composition of different glucose syrups made using acids and/or enzymes to hydrolyse the starch and comparing the sugar spectrum to wort:


So the amount of glucose in a glucose syrup is in fact highly variable. When buying a glucose syrup you need to look carefully at what its composition is, the one I use mostly at work is actually high in dextrins and has very low fermentability. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Trying beers from lagerland

 One of  my favourite types of email landed recently. It was the type that has "would you like some free beer?" in it. Much better than the ones with "we've made some food, here's a link to some pictures". The beer in this case was from the Engel brewery, somewhere in Germany, and sent to me by The Sausage Man. Not sure what's going on there. 

The word "Engel" caused me a feeling of unease so I had to look up what it means. You'll be pleased to hear that it's not the singular of authoritarian sidekick, but in fact means "angel". Which is nice. 

The beers were a mixed selection, though I was pleased to see there was no helles (the German for "boring"). They also send a tall, chunky glass, sadly too narrow to clean easily so soon to be sent to the back of the cupboard. 

I started on the Dunkel, which had a reassuringly wonky label showing that the beer's craft, though I'm not sure what was going on with the screw top. It has a rich brown colour, with not much on the nose apart from a whiff of brimstone, showing that this was indeed a lager. Indeed it's clean tasting with a slight malty caramel taste with a touch of DMS.




The Pilsner poured a clear golden colour and had some honey on the nose. It was slightly sweet, with again some DMS. It was crisp and refreshing but I'd have preferred some more bitterness. 



And as if by magic that's exactly what the next beer had. The Keller Pils had a slight haze and there was a yeast sediment in the bottle, moving closer to beer as god intended. It smelt of traditional hops, was smooth and full bodied, and had more bitterness than the previous beer which was what I was after. 




The Dunkel Hefeweizen was the real star. Yeast in the container from which it is served and none of that lager malarkey. This is how god wants beer to be, none that brimstone business. The best wheat beer I've had in ages. 

 



Back to lager with the Kellerbier, a touch of lagery DMS on the nose, smooth mouthfeel with a malt taste balance by the bitterness. 




They also threw in a shandy, which to be fair definitely has the edge on Shandy Bass, though I can't see myself ever spending money on such things. 





And that ended my latest research. On this evidence I'd still place Germany forth out of the the First Class Beer Countires, so good but still room for improvement.