Saturday, 24 September 2022

Thoughts on beer blogging

Boak and Bailey were recently asking about why beer blogs die, which got some interesting replies. I don't blog much myself nowadays so it did get me pondering. Partly I post less because I've been doing it so bleedin' long I've said a lot of things already. And for me anyway Twitter definitely has a part because things now move more quickly and more briefly. 

I'm not sure the world of beer bores has become more toxic though. When I started blogging whinging on about CAMRA was one of the main topics, something I myself indulged in until I realised the danger I was putting my immortal soul in. Then there was the rise of Craft Beer in Britain which was new and exciting and an excellent opportunity for conflict to arise. And nothing drives social media like conflict. As craft beer has now moved from being "revolutionary" to business as usual the craft crusaders seem a lot quieter. I mean there may have been some wailing and gnashing of teeth when Heineken's takeover of Beavertown was completed but I can't say I noticed anything. 

I also think that as time as moved on my interests have moved on. I spend less time reading beer blogs as well as less time writing them. For example, at the moment I'm more likely to read Ron's blogs about wandering around getting pissed than I am his ones about beer history. I'm also trying to get out training more often, admittedly not entirely successfully, and as far as beer goes there is something more worthwhile to devote my time and effort to. Having a blog still has it's uses though and I will continue to post stuff up at times but my output is likely to remain sporadic. 

Friday, 16 September 2022

Back to a hop farm

It feels like I haven't been to a hop farm since 1911, though I suppose it can't be quite that long ago. So it was good to return to one of the Redsell's farms for an IBD do. 

They grow 90% English hops (mostly East Kent Goldings, Challenger and Fuggle with some Admiral) though they do have some foreign varieties. 

American hops Cascade and Centennial are grown and the high alpha variety Eureka is being trialled.

Lager hops Perle, H. Tradition and Akoya are being trialled. Akoya has been bred as a Perle replacement, having greater drought resistance.

They do have trickle irrigation at Redsell's but it's not as good as rain. 

They don't seem to have safety shoes though. 

The English hop crop is estimated to be down 20% and overall Europe down 22%, the American crop is expected to be close to average. 

And in amongst the CPD and networking I managed to get some green hop beer in too :-)

Sunday, 28 August 2022

The centre cannot hold

Ripley is a pretty village, famed for its retrospective inbreeding and web fingered inhabitants. It is also blessed with a large number of pubs, but I fear that might be changing soon. 

I've been over a couple of times recently to catch up with my web fingered friends, as the inhabitants aren't allowed to leave without a visa, and both times I've been deeply disturbed: the pub was practically empty apart from us. And the signs are not good: 

Being isolated from civilisation, and with the aforementioned exit visa requirement, the natives of Ripley have long been staunch pub supporters. I mean it's not like they've got anything else to do apart from stay in and watch DVD boxed sets. But it seems no more. The two evenings I've been down recently the number of people in the pub apart from me and my friends varied between nought and two. This is not good. If pubs in Ripley are quiet what hope is there for the rest of Britain? As a #PubMan I fear for the future. 

Saturday, 2 July 2022

A visit to Beavertown's breweries

I leapt at the chance to visit Beavertown's breweries. As founder members of the United Craft Brewers, an organisation whose importance to British brewing cannot be understated, I was very curious to see what can be achieved with little more than passion, millionaire parents and selling a big chunk to a multinational mega-brewery. 

The site looked big to me, though one of people I spoke to there says it's nothing compared to full size industrial brewery.

The automated brewhouse has a brew length of 150hl and is in theory capable of 12 brews a day (that's a lot for a lauter tun, the slowest step) but I was told they've only gone up to 11. Still pushing it to call it craft if you ask me!

They've still clearly had some problems though judging by the bags of rice hulls. These are added to the mash to help separate the wort from the grains, particularly if using lots of difficult grains like oats. I first came across this idea from homebrewers so maybe they are still a bit crafty.

The MCV in action:

The Lauter Tun filling:

A rolling boil:

Fully automated yeast propagation plant:

If I remember rightly they use four yeasts to make five beers here: Gamma Ray and Neck Oil (assuming they're different beers), Lagunitas IPA, a lager and a hazy pale ale. The dry hopping is automated too, 

CIP (Clean In Place) tanks:

Warehouse space:

We then moved on to their older and small brewery, which they've kept going:

This definitely looked more craft.

Barrel aged beers:

Canning line:

Fermenting vessels:

Mash tun:

The mash tun is dug out by hand, so definitely craft. They have a 50hl brew length and brew four times a day, running 18 hours a day. 

We had some pizza here and a beer or two to wash it down. OK, two. Then I headed home, it was a bit of a trek. 


Some exciting details I missed in the report in the IBD mag:

12m diameter lauter tun
14.5 m diameter whirlpool to cope with the hops
160kph kegging line filling 30L kegs (now stopped doing 50L) soon to be expanded to 240kph by adding a new lane
30,000cph canning line doing 330 and 440ml in 4, 6, 12 and 24 packs

Thursday, 26 May 2022

The Popular Wallop

I'm as mild mannered man as can be
And I've never done them harm that I can see
Still on me they put a ban
And they threw me in the can
They go wild, simply wild over me

If you ask me reports of mild's revival have been greatly exaggerated. So over three weeks into May I had to take a diversion via the Royal Oak to fulfil my beery obligation before it was too late. Being a Harvey's pub it's never let me down when I've needed mild and sure enough, there it was on the bar. 

I did feel a  slight twinge not ordering the best, as it's one of my favourite beers. But then I wasn't here to enjoy myself, so mild it was. Which to be fair was perfectly pleasant.

And with that mild, and my soul, was saved for another year. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The retro-pre-emptive tick

 Though my pub ticking may be nothing to write blogs home about I do have the occasional high spot*. And it seems I may have found another! 

Sir Quinno has been lucky enough to get to Lundy and has said the Marisco Tavern should be recommended for the Good Beer Guide. This is something I heartily agree with because I've been there. 

In 2003 I went to Lundy on a climbing trip that was memorable for a number of reasons. I lead my first climb graded Extremely Severe (Fear of Faust, E1 5a), something which puts me at the cutting edge of climbing just as soon as I can find of way of travelling back in time about 70 years. I later managed to get on the wrong route completely so what should have been a straight forward V Diff was in fact a considerably harder Hard Very Severe. And I really learnt a lesson about how the joys of drinking and climbing don't necessarily mix well. 

On the last night of our trip as the pints went down we were planning what to do in the morning before we went home. We were tempted by the fizzy keg climb Double Diamond (HVS 5b) on the impressive Flying Buttress. I was also tempted to pour more beer down my neck, it was the last night after all. When it started raining heavily I agreed to lead the climb before heading back to the bar, confident it would be far too wet to climb in the the next day. So when I was greeted with blazing sunshine when in my hungover state I peered out of me tent in the morning I was not filled with joy. 

We abseiled down to the start of the climb OK but sat on a boulder in the cave beneath the climb we really weren't with it and flaking the ropes took far longer than it should have. Then it was time to climb and after going up a damp corner there was a desperately thin unprotected traverse until a crack in the middle of the slab could be reached and a nut jammed in for protection. Fortunately the climb got easier as you went on, which is just as well as I was getting weaker and was exhausted by the time I reached the top. 

But back to the ticking. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that Good Beer Guide pubs are not the only things that can be ticked. Climbing routes can also be ticked off in guide books, which did once lead to a discussion on retro-ticking. This concerned whether it was acceptable to transfer old ticks to new guidebooks. I can't recall why this was considered important, but hey, it kept us off the streets. And has given me an idea for a new innovation in ticking: the retro-pre-emptive tick!

Seeing as the the Marisco Tavern is a cracking pub, with good quality beer, it should surely be in the Good Beer Guide and as such I am retrospectively pre-emptively ticking it! 

* Isle of Man compleator 2017. 

Saturday, 30 April 2022

One for the theologians

Having managed to drink a light mild AND a dark mile on the last day BEFORE May I wonder if this might be taken into account in the beery month of obligation?

Monday, 28 March 2022

The hills of Haworth

 It came as a surprise to me that Haworth is famous for being where the Brontës are from. I had no idea and first visited because it had a Timothy Taylor's pub with accommodation close to the brewery. When some mountaineering friends of mine suggested a trip there I accepted without hesitation and once again my enthusiasm was nothing to do with the Brontës. I've come to the realisation over the last few years that Landlord is the best beer in Britain, and therefore the world, so chances to drink it on its home turf are not to be missed. 

The journey up north was more arduous than expected so on arrival I was in need of something to lift my spirits and refresh me. Particularly something that comes in pint sized measures. So when some of my mates headed out to a hotel bar for some food I tagged along confident that no self respecting bar in Haworth wouldn't have Landlord on. 

When I saw the pump clip proudly displayed I thought I could start to hear angels singing, but it was probably just tinnitus as the beer was bleedin' well on the turn. This would not do. So when we headed back to the hostel I knew I wouldn't be stopping long, I had unfinished business. 

As my mates settled into the lounge I was busy on google maps: The Fleece Inn was less than a mile away and I knew what I had to do. My mates may be mountaineers but I have a calling higher than any mountain for I am a #PubMan. So as they opened their bottles I set off alone down the hill to get some beer served as god intended. 

I've climbed enough mountains myself to know that going down is all well and good but it generally involves an equal amount of going up. And sure enough after hot footing it into town and across a railway bridge I came to a delightful cobbled street that seemed to involve an awful lot of up. It takes more than that to stop me though so I pressed on and after a brief eternity reached my goal:

They seemed to have all the Taylor's beer on, and slightly disturbingly a guest beer. What's all that about? Maybe Taylor's put one on occasionally to remind the local #PubPeople that they never need to leave town. Of course I only had eyes for one beer.  I've learnt my lesson about wasting my time on Boltmaker before so it was Landlord for me. Glorious it was and the second one was even better. 

I headed back after that as some of my friends I hadn't seen in months I'd spent all of five minutes with. And do you know what? I must have been refreshed as the walk back seemed a lot quicker.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

A tick in the nick

When it comes to pub ticking I am a modest man with much to be modest about. My high point would be being an Isle of Man compleator 2017. My low point would be when BRAPA Si ticked the Horse and Groom in Chobham before me. It's about three miles from my house whereas Si lives 200 miles away. 

But being in Liverpool when I learnt that the Bridewell was CAMRA branch pub of the year I had to seize the opportunity and go for a pint.

It used to be a police station and that's it's now been converted into a pub surely shows that there's hope for humanity. You get to drink in what were cells:

The gaffer clearly keeps and eye out for people peering at pumpclips as he made us very welcome. And at the risk of being arrested by the pun police I have to say the beer was in good nick!

Friday, 18 February 2022

Carling is back to 4% ABV

Back in 2017 it came out that the alcohol content of Carling was 3.7% ABV, not the 4% stated on the cans. Molson Coors have got good lawyers too, as they successfully argued that this was due to natural variation in brewing and were able to pocket the tax saving from making the beer weaker than the strength stated on the packaging. Quite how this natural variation occurs in something brewed to 8% ABV and then diluted to sales strength prior to packaging was not revealed. As far as I can see they were blatantly taking the piss, but then I'm a brewer not a lawyer. 

So when I spotted that the Quality Assurance proficiency testing scheme we're part of sent round cans of Carling for testing I viewed the ABV results with great interest. And I have to say I was surprised at the results: the ABV is back to 4%. Thought HMRC lost the court case to claim back the money Molson Coors had been saving I guess they found a way of closing the loop hole and bringing them back to the straight and narrow. 

Saturday, 29 January 2022

A visit to Curious Brewery

For the IBD section AGM I got to visit Curious Brewery in Ashford. It seems to have followed the same business model as West Berkshire Brewery: fill a warehouse with expensive brewing equipment and a restaurant bar, then go bust. 

I was on the sausage when this one was being built so did consider enquiring about jobs, but in the end I didn't fancy working in rural Kent again so didn't bother. So I felt slightly sheepish when I found out it's actually next to a major railway station and surrounded by main roads. Oh well, things have worked out OK.

Around £6 million was spent on the brewery, another 50hl (5,000L/30bbl) five vessel system. 

For those unfamiliar with such things it goes:

1. Mash Conversion Vessel where the starchy grain is mixed with hot liquor (water) and the enzymes in the malted barley convert the starch in the grain to sugar. 

2. Lauter Tun where the sugary liquid (wort) is separated from the grains.

3. Holding Vessel the wort runs into.

4. Copper (kettle) where the wort is boiled with hop pellets.

5. Whirlpool where the hop and other debris (trub) is separated from the wort. 

The slowest step is the lautering and having the holding vessel allows the lauter tun to be used whilst the copper is full of wort from a previous brew. 

They are currently brewing twice a day three or four times a week.

They can't dry hop in tank so have a hop rocket for adding post-fermentation hop flavour. 

Packaging capacity seemed a bit lacking to me, consisting of a manual two head keg filler and a new 1,500 bottle per hour bottling line. Canning equipment is on its way. No beer was packaged as god intended. 

As I was driving I had a couple of halves of their weakest lager over the course of the evening, which was perfectly fine. Disturbingly they didn't feed us, which is not what I joined the IBD for. But shortly before I bogged off to get a pasty at a petrol station my big boss bought dinner so all worked out well. 

Not sure what's going on here but I approve