Saturday, 10 May 2014

Recipe for

Busy days, busy days. I had an hour in departures this week with no wireless and a useless phone so my 150 e-mails per day couldn’t find me. During my cold turkey I was motivated to write a blog post. As usual my motivation was annoyance/anger/incredulity at something a few people with more mouth than trousers believe as fact and broadcast with an authority without foundation.

One of the simplest things you do as a proper brewer is write a recipe. It’s a simple mathematic exercise using yields and a bit of experience and reading to predict how a beer will come out and through a number of iterations, getting it to taste how you want it to given the characteristics of your process. For the some it appears to be of the most fundamental importance. That is because they are not brewers and do not brew for a living. 

Why is there this misapprehension in some of the drinking public? It’s because brewing isn’t as simple as most people want it to be. A good analogy is cooking. Great chefs don’t do a great deal of cooking. They like great brewers design a process which brings their ideas to fruition. They procure equipment to their design, they assemble, train and manage their team, they set the specification of their ingredients and every aspect of what they send to the diner’s table. They have the level of education and experience, the talent and most importantly total dedication to produce great flavour under duress. That’s what separates the “chef” in a Nando’s and one in a Michelin- starred restaurant. 

Those who argue that failed/former chef’s, farmers, baristas, IT professionals etc. who like beer enough to give brewing a crack are modern day brewing geniuses after a year or so in a cheap brewhouse do not understand beer or brewing sufficiently. Greatness is not beginner’s luck. The only aspect of fortune in the development of someone who can make great food or drinks is when they are born with a demanding palate and a brain equipped with the attributes to make something to appease it. Everything else is down to hard work and sacrifice.

The hard bit about making beer is making sure that all the elements which impact on your recipe are defined, controlled and protected from balls ups, accountants and changes inherent in natural ingredients with time and season. Not writing a recipe. 

Also for those interested here’s some facts and opinion about the UK’s biggest selling cask ale from two learned gents and a shaven monkey with a face that looks like he’s fallen down stairs with his hands in his pockets.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

And From Here on We Will Rise

Has it really been a month? No more than a month actually. I will not betray you by apologising. Jetting around Europe, drinking Sahti and long days planning 2014 expansions have left no time for blogging. 

February sees me getting out there at a couple of big brewing industry events. I am on a discussion (argument descending into insults and violence) panel at Craft Beer Rising and about 15 of my beers will be on show on the Sharp’s and Franciscan Well bars at the event. Here’s a list of the one off casks we are taking: 

Panzerfaust 2013
Brewed as a collaboration with Adrian Tierney-Jones in 2013 as the first ever black Gose beer in the world….ever. Smooth , creamy, tangy and appetising, a wonderful fusion of dark malts and fragrant dry hopping! Aged for a year to Gose perfection. ABV 5%

Honey Spice IPA 2013 cask
The cask version of the Connoiseur’s Choice Honey Spice IPA. It is brewed with Cornish honey and dry hopped with 4 US hop varieties and spiced with Malabar peppercorns. Aged in cask for 3 months 7% ABV.

Lactic Armageddon III
A honey ale fermented with brewer’s yeast to 7% ABV and then soured by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast for 4 years until staggeringly sour and complex. Pure lactic enjoyment for the palate. 

Special Ale
Classic special bitter with Simcoe and Centennial hops. Deep rich flavours and a clean moreish finish. Has won world’s best Pale Ale and several other international awards. 5% ABV

Juniperus 2013
Brewed as a collaboration with spirits writer Lucy Britner using juniper berries from Plymouth Gin. Dry hopped with new world hops and fermented to 5 %ABV. Aged in cask for 6 months to produce a rounded and spicy amber ale.

Winter Berry, 4.4% abv
Complex malt and dark berry fruit flavours combine with a spicy hop aroma and a tantalising Morello cherry topnote to create an exceptional full bodied beer. Matured with whole British cherries for a clean, dry finish and lingering gentle bitterness with fruit overtones.

Also on show will be this year’s Connoisseur’s Choice beers, so this is an event I’m sure you will want to visit.

Next week sees me addressing the great and the good of the beer industry at the Beer Innovation Summit. I wouldn’t say I am nervous but put it this way, my brief case will be not short of Tena Man!

Finally yesterday was spent in the brewery filming a tasting film of all the Sharp’s beers with Adrian Tierney Jones and Ed Hughes. Being filmed drinking 10 beers did lead to a relaxed feel to the last couple. I hope I am not dribbling by the end.  

As soon as the film is on line I’ll put up a link so you may laugh and mock.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Drinking's Answer to Lap Dancing

There were 12 casks in the cellar at Sharp’s this morning. A monstrously-record pre-Christmas week of sales reduced a stock level of over 17,000 casks to 12 like Christmas piranhas decimating a cow carcass. The buzz you get from a week like this is one of the best feelings in brewing. When I joined Sharp’s we were selling just over this amount in a year. 

I was in Germany last weekend. Cologne to be precise. My second time in the vibrant city, home of Kolsch, a pale ale that really wants to be a lager. I tried about 6 different versions of the style and enjoyed their cleanness although none really impressed. Spending the evening before in Brussels meant that these beers were measured with a tight gauge. My judgement may also have been influenced by what I think is the stupidest way to sell beer ever devised.

In Cologne you get beer in a slim cylindrical 200ml glass (less than half a pint). The reason for the small size is to ensure that your beer is fresh. Waiters with a special basket-like tray full of fresh glasses work their way between the tables and will replace your empty glass with a full one unless you cover your glass with a beermat. Great idea, no one likes flat, warm keg beer. What is a great idea in theory becomes a torture of deprivation when there aren’t sufficient waiters to replenish glasses when they are empty.

I spent what felt like half my life waiting for a beer. In the first pub I waited for 10 minutes with a mouth like the Sahara before I finally got a beer. As you would expect 200ml went in two sips and fewer seconds. My empty glass then sat on the table for another 10 minutes (leaving occasionally to be licked clean of beer by a desperate drinker). When the waiter came back I asked for 4 beers. I got one.

If you go to a Brauhaus in Cologne and find forehead-shaped dents in the table you know why! The scene of the red-faced Englishman going from hope to despair via anger and frustration was repeated in another 3 pubs before I gave in and went back to my hotel via the off licence. I wasn’t desperate to get blind drunk I just wanted to drink steadily and not spend all afternoon preoccupied with the likelihood of getting another beer before I needed to catch the train back home. 

The first thing I did when back on English soil was to walk up to the bar and order a pint, drink it and order another one. Ah freedom.

So as the year comes to a close it’s time to look back to a year of change and plenty of high points and forward to bigger challenges and rewards. I wish you a great midwinter celebration and a successful and enriching New Year.

Friday, 29 November 2013

6 Years Gone in an Instant

It’s been a while. I’m on a train. All the elements of a great train journey are in place. The bloke opposite keeps staring at me, there is a screaming toddler 3 rows down and an unnerving smell is coming from the woman behind me. As I can’t think of any proper work to do I’m taking he opportunity for to do a long since due post. 

A lot has happened since my last effort. I’ve been to half of Europe looking at breweries, had several good dinners, great games of rugby, have almost bought a shiny new brewery for the Franciscan Well expansion in Cork, brought a couple of new beers to fruition with two more in tank and ready to bottle before Christmas and last but by no means least won around 10 other international medals in various beer competitions.

We decided to keg Pilsner because a trial in a select range of pubs was staggeringly positive. This coincided nicely with the win in the World Beer Awards, which was nice! Taking a highly conditioned live bottled beer and moving it to keg was a serious challenge in term of flavour matching. When you make a wholesale change to the format a beer is presented in you are never going to get identity. You need to capture the elements of the flavour which work in the original format and translate them to the new package. With the Pilsner it was the sweet fruitiness in the mouth and clean crispness of the finish which needed to be ported across the format change while adapting the dryness of the beer to make it work with a lower level of carbonation. I love the keg version more than the bottle but they are both beautiful in their own way. The flavour panel and I tried the beer side by side and were resounding in their approval for both. Given the amount of reorders we have had the drinkers tend to agree.

The Connoisseur’s Choice 2013 beers are all brewed and fermented with the Honey Spiced IPA back from the bottlers and for sale in our shop. I set out to make Honey Spice showcase the best that modern hop varieties can give. I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the unbalanced hop bomb which rips through the palate like lemon juice and crushed glass chewing gum, a beer brewed for idiots by idiots. We used £7,000 worth of hops in Honey Spice IPA so there was a major risk that we’d be in that realm of flavour. I am delighted to report that what we have produced is perhaps almost not bitter enough although still above the limits of accurate measurement in terms of bittering units.

My assistant after the selection process
 Last Saturday I had the extremely enjoyable task of selecting the vintages for the 6 vintage blend from my cask stock in the brewery cellar. A journey down beer memory lane! It doesn't seem like 6 years have passed since I brewed these. Some of the beer was stunningly beautiful, almost a shame to not be launched on their own and some of the 5-6 year old beers were a fresh tasting as when they were racked. The soured beer which was had a mild acidity to it 2 years ago was almost pure vinegar. I had to resist the temptation to add these but I am going to get a small amount bottled to either sell as hopped vinegar or extreme sour beer for any UK craft beer fashionistas who are following the US trend of replacing fizzy bile with fizzybattery acid as de rigueur in the “awesome” beer appellation. The blend is due to be assembled in tank on Monday ready for bottling mid-December. This is a beer I can’t wait to sample. 

Last of the Connoisseur’s Choice beers this year is the Premiant-themed Single Brew Reserve 2013. First wort and dry hopped with Czech Premiant hops, it is sitting in CTs 16 and 17 and smells absolutely stunning. An orange/lemon hop rhapsody I haven’t yet dared taste for the fear that it might not live up to the promise of its aroma.   

All of these beers are to receive a full all-guns-blazing extravaganza of pyrotechnic marketing brilliance in the launch in the weeks before Christmas. Then they will be available to enjoy.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Opinion Piece

I recently gave a tour to some young (well younger than me) people who were in the craft brewing industry. You learn a lot from speaking to them. You learn what people on the cutting edge of brewing fashion believe. I loved their passion and their interest in beer. Ten years ago style-conscious people would have dismissed beer brewed on a small scale as something their dad likes so it’s great that they are enthralled to “craft”. I didn’t expect to find people with such a limited experience of beer with quite such certainty about what was right and wrong and what was delicious and disgusting. A lot of what they believe was true but a lot of the technical facts were demonstrably incorrect. I learned that dried yeast was better than a managed liquid stock taken through several generations. I learned that whole hops gave inferior flavour and lead to off notes in beer because their flavour and bitterness were less stable in beer than that of pellet hops. I learned that breweries making less than 10,000hl per year are charitable organisations that only make beer to give people a better life and that I am only in brewing for the money using the word craft to con people. 

 All of this is news to me and rather flies in the face of the knowledge I have gained from my 20 years of life in beer and brewing.

My tip for any aspiring beer aficionado either in brewing or beer appreciation is to maintain an open mind and a palate receptive to all kinds of beer. If you like it, it’s good if you don’t it’s not. Don’t feel ashamed for liking a beer not favoured by the ironic haircut brigade. It was probably brewed to taste nice rather than to prove a point, rebel against something or break a record.
Don’t believe what brewery promotional information says when it’s selling an aspect of the beer’s production as vital for making great beer unless you have tried the same beer made in a different way. Breweries use their point of difference as a selling point. It may be what they think makes their beer good but it won’t automatically be a prerequisite for quality. Often with small breweries it will be the only option (dried yeast).

Don’t separate beer from commerce unless it’s homebrew. No brewery can expect to give their beer away and still be brewing a year later. And you need marketing up to a Brewdog standard to get away with charging more for beer than it’s worth. There are an increasing number of breweries who are suggesting that they are rebelling against “the industry” or “commercial” breweries as if there is something inherently wrong with brewing beer above a few hundred barrels a year, labelling everything that they and their mates don’t brew as mass-produced crap. Some may sincerely but misguidedly believe it but some are publically maligning other breweries in order to further their commercial interests. Anyone who cares about beer should find this objectionable. I find it hard to believe that these rebellious ”punk” breweries would torch their brewhouses if their sales grew to the point where they needed to employ a sales manager or a company accountant. 

I don’t have anything against those who believe the punk brewing fallacy. I’m just disappointed that the wider brewing industry hasn’t been able to give them a balanced view based on reality.

I know, I’ve said all this before. It’s just that I think it needs saying. By all means drink with a critical palate but base this on an open mind and an understanding of beer and brewing which goes beyond hype, rhetoric and fashion.