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.