Friday, 23 December 2011

I used to love Christmas

That was before I became a Head Brewer. Now it is spelt S-T-R-E-S-S. The stress comes from having to brew and package more beer than your brewery should be able to make for a couple of weeks and hoping that demand will predictably fall once the resolution season kicks in. This year the Christmas “demand uplift” has been phenomenal. This week we have sold more than 973,000 pints and last week wasn’t far short of this. Fortunately I have a great team and the yeast and equipment have been the epitome of reliability. My brewery is so empty now even the echoes have echoes and it will be weeks until stocks are back up to less worrisome levels.
The tsunami of sales have also seen the last of the DW cross the shop counter and in the New Year Mr Wickett and myself will be presenting Cornwall Hospice Care with a Cheque for around £6500. Thanks to those who bought some and especial thanks to those who helped to produce and package the beer. You should feel proud.      
This is will be my last post this year and as well as my apologies for not completing the 12 brews I send my love for the depths of winter.
I leave you with the lines of the poem taken from the St Breward church sundial (pictured above).
Seize the Moments as they fly
Know to live and learn to die

Saturday, 3 December 2011

What is Good Beer?

I was reading Mark Dredge’s post on using too many hops in beer and the resultant comments and it got me thinking; what is good beer?
The answer to that is simple: Whatever the person drinking the beer is looking for. It’s a bit like a cup of tea. I like a loose leaf lapsang made with soft water whereas most people like PG tips with plenty of milk and maybe one lump or two. Are they all idiots or am I? Don’t answer that!
I must warn you that I am now going to launch into my traditional sermon a lot of which I will have covered before. Sorry but I can’t help it.
You can argue that a beer brewed at high gravity using raw barley, enzymes, maize, hybridised yeast and post fermentation bitterness is a better beer than a reinheitsgebot-brewed, ice cave-aged whole hop pilsner if you are a thirsty drinker looking for cool clean refreshment on a scorching summer’s day. To a hophead who habitually shifts the frame of reference of his palate towards the extreme, a well-balanced, quenching cask ale which tastes of malt, hops and fruit is abjectly inferior to an ultra-pale, 1 Simcoe cone per ml, baseball bat of unrelenting grapefruit pith brewed by a 20 year old with his baseball cap on sideways, in a converted garage.
As a brewer I look for beers which I know are hard to execute, made well. Bunging a load of hops in or putting your brew in a barrel you have bought off a distillery is not difficult and certainly not big and clever. All too often the world of beer writing, blogging and the enthusiast is seemingly equating new and different to good and better. It very seldom is. For some their livelihood relies on uncovering the next big thing. One style of beer or brewery becomes de rigueur before being chip wrapping.  
There are of course some drinkers who dismiss the new and innovative as second best to the old fashioned and traditional. In my opinion they are just as wrong as the fashionistas.

There seem to be a lot of people who profess to be beer lovers and yet seem to want to change beer completely. They can’t think that much of it if they champion the new and innovative to the detriment of the classic. A true beer lover embraces change enthusiastically but shows the necessary understanding and appreciation of our heritage and the passion and expertise of the brewer. I think only when you understand the complexities and elegance of brewing can you appreciate the true art of the brewer and how to judge him. You might not agree and why would you? You probably won’t be a brewer and if you are I bet you don’t sell much.

A great Lambic is not the Lambic which has a lower pH than all the others. It’s the one with highest degree of complexity and balance between the components of that complexity. So a great IPA or double IPA is not the one with the highest concentration of iso alpha acid. Very bitter and very strong beers have their place but to label subtle and well-constructed beers as crap because the analytical numbers don’t add up to 10,000 is ignorant and worthy of a slap. Who wants one? Eh?!
You decide what constitutes a good beer but in my experience the more you understand of what goes into a making a beer and the more widely you educate your palate, the more rewarding the experience of the decision making becomes. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I think everyone should be able to reasonably justify that opinion when it is challenged.

Fashions change, balance and complexity never go out of style.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Look at my Glass!

Look at it!!

Not a proper post but an excuse to show off with my huge glass!

It is of course full of low alcohol beer in line with the government’s guidance on moderate alcohol consumption.
The other small bit of news is that I am thrilled to be exhibiting my beers (Chalky’s Bite, DW and Honey Spice IPA) at the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards on 1st of December. The glass I am afraid will not be going.
If you’re going to the Sloany Pony at the weekend I shall see you there. If not I won’t.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Body off Baywatch - Face off Crimewatch

On Friday night I performed my speech to the Penn’s Hall dinner of the BFBI. I rehearsed myself hoarse during the 250 mile drive up the M5 and was word perfect in my hotel room before the event. I arrived at the President’s reception to see the most important people in the British brewing industry assembled, in full evening dress and polite conversation. I was very disappointed at the lack of Ferrero Rocher but didn’t make a fuss.

Through the ropes separating us from the rest of the pre-dinner drinks I could see the Head Brewers and Directors of just about every brewery in the UK sized over 20,000 barrels per year, again in black tie and serious conversation. I began to worry about the content of my speech. I was sat at the top table for the dinner so had to follow the chairman into the dinner to a slow handclap from the assembled guests. All eyes are on you as you progress through the dining hall, tension building with each slap of the hand. At dinner I sat looking around the room at the 250 or so industry VIPs, a lot of whom have been the industry for longer than I have been alive.

The meal was over in an instant and I was being introduced. My legs felt like I had been lifting weights for the last 10 hours and the microphone slipped through my sweating palm. I was expecting the crowd to be sufficiently well oiled to be of relaxed demeanour before I started but all I could see were furrowed brows and serious faces. I began. My voice echoed back at me and I could hear the words trembling off my tongue. I remember thinking all I need is a laugh to settle me down. I progressed to the first joke quickly. It was greeted with a silence and tumbleweed rolling through the middle of the room. I thought to myself work with me for god’s sake (or words to that effect)!

I raced on to the next. This time I heard a giggle from a few separate tables so I slowed up and started to be steadier in my delivery. I was still conscious that I was racing so I paused after the next joke and consoled myself with the fact that conversations were not breaking out. By the end I was at about normal speaking pace for me, which is twice as fast as everyone else.  

The rest of the speech was over in a flash with the nods of agreement and laughter a lot more frequent towards the end than at the start. The professional speaker who followed me fared less well than me which was of some comfort but I was disappointed that I failed to deliver the performance I had planned. After the speech I was complimented on the speech by a lot of kind people and got some good honest feedback James Stevenson from Charles Wells “Nice content shame about the delivery”.  My favourite comment was from my friend at Wye Valley who was disappointed that I was not wearing the outfit displayed in the previous post.

So here, for your judgement is what I said.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen my name is Stuart Howe, Head Brewer at Sharp's Brewery.
I am here in my capacity as All Party Parliamentary Beer Group Brewer of the Year to speak to you about the British Brewing Industry.

I am thrilled, honoured, delighted, exhilarated, elated and generally quite pleased to be here talking about beer and brewing. This speech is a bit like the part of groom’s speech where he dedicates a few words to his new bride because I love the British brewing industry. That of course means you. And looking around the room tonight ladies and gentlemen,” loving you is easy ‘cause you’re beautiful” (in the club singer style). Tumble weed enter stage left

Knowing that you love something and being able to properly articulate why is not always the same thing so writing the speech has been a challenge. I was however given some assistance by a small Scottish microbrewery which is run by brewing’s answer to Jedward. They fairly recently came out with a statement claiming that “British Beer is sick and we are the doctors”. They also used the press release to launch two new beers, an India Pale Ale which they are calling “Bhopal Heat Wave” and a beer brewed according to the trappist tradition called “The Reverend Kiddie Fiddler”. I don’t agree with Jedward. British beer is not sick. The beer we are brewing today is as good if not better than it has ever been. There’s nothing like someone having a pop at something you love to bring home to you what it means. So why do I love British beer and brewing?

British brewing has centuries of rich heritage.  It has given the world some breakthrough scientific knowledge and some of the most important beer styles in the world. Beers like IPA, Stout, Porter, Old Ale, Mild, Tesco Value Lager. Without these beers the US craft brewers wouldn’t have anything in which to put too many ingredients before claiming their versions are more authentic (I love you really).

Every day the people in this room perform a miracle. changing a humble seed and some flowers into a delicious drink. We give millions of people joy and pleasure. Much like the people of Britain, British brewing is modest about its greatness. You always hear about US beers being brilliantly innovative, German beers being precision brewed and the flair and flamboyance of the Belgians. In Britain we choose to call our beers Dogs Bollocks, Old Fart and Rat Sphincter. Ok I made the last one up. As well as being charming I think that this modesty is a weakness and leaves our great brews open to attack from those who wish to commoditise and exploit them. Perhaps it’s time that we started making more noise about what we make and how great it is?

The British brewing industry is wonderfully passionate place. Passion is of course a very fashionable thing. You can’t turn on the TV without a celebrity chef or someone on Masterchef detailing the lengths of their passion. It is tantamount to a penis measuring competition with some of the celebrity chefs. One chef claiming to work 56 hours a day and another showing you the tattoo of a truffle on his left buttock. I think I speak for all the guys in the room when I say that as a brewer I am very happy with the size of my passion but I have no intention of waving it around in public and certainly would not conscience ramming it down people’s throats! I suppose again we are a little too modest about our passion.  Although that shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to any passion exposure later this evening!

The facet about British brewing which endears it most to me is the friendliness and inclusiveness of our industry. Brewers cooperate, collaborate and we share knowledge. As a brewer you feel part of a band of brothers who share the same goal; making great beer. This is not so in other industries. For example the two former directors of Sharp’s were from the food game. When they heard that I have given Roger Ryman from our direct competition a tour of the brewery they burst into my office to demand an explanation. I was so shocked that I nearly dropped the secretary! I explained that brewers work together for the common good of beer, we don’t steal each other’s ideas. Or as Andrew Wall from Moeschle puts it Brewers are arrogant bastards who think only they are right!

So to the future
What do the next 10 years hold for us? The truth is I don’t know. I haven’t got a crystal ball (looks down to check). What I do think is that the best way for the brewing industry to fight the current pressures on us from the competition for share of throat and increasing taxation is to do what we are best at and make drinks which are so good that consumer doesn’t have a choice in what he drinks. If he wants the very best experience he can only turn to beer.

I hope that you have enjoyed my speech and I hope my words tonight have made you proud of who you are and what you do. All that remains for me to do is to ask you to be upstanding and raise a toast to the BFBI!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Unaccustomed as I am

Tradition dictates that the All Party Parliamentary Group Brewer of the Year gives a speech about the British brewing industry to the Midlands Section of the BFBI annual dinner. This dinner is on Friday so I shall be strutting my stuff (crapping my pants) in front of the great and good of the brewing industry then. Despite the fact that I love the brewing industry and know quite a lot about it, it has been a tough speech to write. During every car journey over 3 miles in length I have recited my lines until the jokes that I started off thinking were amusing are staler than a loaf of sliced white from 1955. I am also a little worried that some of my humour may be a little edgy for the up market audience. I must also resist the temptation to dampen my nerves too greatly with the free beer and end up calling everyone in the room “family” and telling them that I love them.
I will share my speech with you on the blog at the weekend after the event. If you’re going, I’ll see you there and I look forward to your heckling!
I hope you approve of my outfit for the evening. Too much??

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Well there'll certainly be some car door slamming in the streets of Kensington tonight

Cornwall is a very lovely place. I am told the pace of life is slower but as mine is spent working I can’t really comment. The people are genuine, down to earth, never flash and always friendly. In summer Rock, home of the brewery, moves out of Cornwall in a spiritual sense and relocates in to the SW1 postcode. Herds of “Chaps” called Giles, Sebastian and Jonty appear in the middle of the road through the village wearing red trousers, pink crew tops with the collar starched up using something industrial and a canary yellow sweater thrown jauntily over the shoulders.

One summer Saturday in a very different time I was enjoying a sauna in the mash tun when a Giles peered in through the manway. He asked me when I could show him around. Giles must have walked past 5 no entry signs and vaulted a security fence to get the where he was standing. I told Giles that for his own safety he should leave the brewery immediately (using much more basic words). Rather predictably he replied “do you know who I am?” I thought to myself "you are the bloke who is about to get covered in soaking wet used malt if you don’t get out of the way" and began shovelling spent grains in his direction. After an “I say” I didn’t see Giles again.
A much lovelier SW postcode (in my humble opinion) is SW6, home of the White Horse or Sloany Pony. Since I have loved beer, the White Horse has been the THE place in London to get the very best. My mates all fondly tell stories about being dragged across London just because that tosser Stuart wanted a certain beer at the White Horse. These days of course the choice of excellent beer-themed pubs and bars is growing exponentially in the capital. I still think the Sloany Pony has something special about it. On 26th November I have the honour of not only three of my hand made creations appearing at their Old Ale Festival but also half an hour of meet the brewer time to talk to the drinkers about how they were prepared. My beers will be there all weekend, I will be appearing at 15:30. Details of what I am sending are provided below for your interest.    
   White Horse Old Ale Festival Beers

1 year old Black IPA ABV 7.4%

The story
Base beer brewed in November 2010 from pale ale malt roasted barley and maltose syrup. Late hopped with Chinook and Galena. Dry hopped with Citra in Feb 2011

The taste
Nose: Pungent tropical fruits (passion fruit, mango and lychee) with honey and candy floss
Mouth: Big bittersweet explosion with tropical fruits and grapefruit pith balanced by candy sweetness
Finish: Bittersweet symphony of honey, passion fruit and grapefruit zest

3 year old Massive Ale ABV 10%

The Story
Brewed in March 2008 from Pale ale, crystal, and chocolate matls, dark candi sugar, Northdown and Perle hops. Aged in barrel for over 3 years with Stryrian Goldings

The taste
Nose: Boozy mix of aged esters and higher alcohols with bready yeast notes and overripe fruit
Mouth: Initial sweetness swept away by strong alcoholic warmth, complex blend of fruits and age
Finish: Sweetness giving way to warmth and slight sharpness

4 year old Dry Hopped Barley Wine ABV 11%

The Story
Brewed in October 2007 from Pale and crystal malt and glucose with Brewer’s Gold and Goldings hops. Aged in barrel for 4 years with Bobek hops

The Taste
Nose: Melange of preserved fruits with strawberries, poached orange, mixed peel and sloes
Mouth: Full, slightly dusty syrupy malt, freshened by tart aged notes and powerful alcoholic heat
Finish: Surprisingly quick with some aged aldehyde and warming alcohol

I do hope very much to see you Giles, Sebastian and Jonty there!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Viva el Presidente!

I have just returned from a friend’s wedding in the Dominican Republic. All week I tolerated a beer which I hope to never encounter again. El Presidenté was worth a great deal less than I paid for it and the holiday was all inclusive. This beer made Tesco Value lager taste like Westvleteren. It smelt of corn and farts and tasted like you were drinking soda water with a bad cold. If you were lucky the dishwasher was faulty and it tasted of lemon detergent. All it was effective at doing was keeping my all inclusive diarrhoea runny and making me belch. In actual fact, I suppose El Presidente did serve to remind me of how good great beer really is. Viva El Presidente!
Anyway, as I sat on my all inclusive khazi sweating, grimacing and calling for my mummy, a very nice e-mail arrived informing me of the success of two of my beers in the World Beer Awards. Sharp’s Special won World’s Best Bitter and Chalky’s Bite won World’s Best Flavoured Beer. Almost the next e-mail to arrive was one letting me know that Honey Spice IPA had won the UK’s best honey beer competition at the National Honey Show.  That of course called for a celebratory Imodium and a fight with an American in the pool.
This week on my return we put this year’s single brew reserve to bed. For want of a more comprehensive description it is an Ale version of Monsieur Rock. A single varietal pale ale with first wort and dry additions of the noblest of noble hops, Saaz. The picture below shows Ian the brewing supervisor in his space suit tying the sacks of Saaz to the bottom of CT17. 20 minutes after this picture was taken these hops were submerged under 20,000 litres of freshly fermented beer. I hope Ian taps on the tank when he needs the toilet because I don’t want him spoiling the beer(joke).

On a much more sombre note. Massive Ale is no more. The lovely people at the Portman Group have decided that calling a massive ale, Massive Ale is in breach of code rule 3.2. which prohibits promotion of a drink on the basis of its strength. I had never considered Massive to refer to the amount of ethanol in the beer only to the weight of its flavour. But then I do see the world through rose tinted spectacles and always look on the bright side. I wonder if drinkers in Scotland are prohibited from asking for a wee heavy by this rule? What about beer labelled as strong ale like the excellent Old Tom?

The best compromise we can come up with is to call it Quadrupel Ale which is a bit inaccurate because (intentionally) it doesn’t fit the style particularly well. For the record I have never brewed a beer called Massive Ale, I am certainly not sending a cask of 3 year old Massive Ale to the White Horse Parson’s Green for the Old Ale Festival at the end of November. If you go to the festival make sure you mumble when you order a half or the stormtroopers will descend and you'll be in the stalag before you know it . I will be spending the weekend constructing an Ann Frank style secret compartment in my cellar in which to hide my stock of the Massive Ale that I have never brewed.       

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tax me I'm sick

The cleaner spilt my tea on my lap top and fried my hard drive so I have a shiny new PC. I used to think my old Synaptics touch pad was crap until I tried to use the improved version. I am aware that people in Africa can’t find enough water to survive but I still feel hard done by and incandescent with rage when something which costs a load of money and is supposed to be an improvement causes me to lose half an hour’s work. It is clear to me that Synaptics and the gas monitor company Crowcon are run by an evil genius responsible for all thirst, famine, pestilence, shitty touchpads and personal CO2 monitors which continually fail to calibrate.  Shame on you!
Aside from my battle with the forces of evil it has been a customarily full week. The first of our new range of bottled beers (Massive Ale) is now enjoying a worryingly-leisurely secondary fermentation in CT17, steadily nibbling away at the 10% ABV target in the midst of 20 sacks of dry aroma hops. The customs men, I am sure are salivating at the prospect of their pound of flesh from the strong beer tax.
On Thursday I popped (70 mile round trip) into the Falmouth Beer Festival to enjoy a few good beers swimming in an ocean of hazy beers with more off flavours than an effluent sample. I know that the staff at the festival know what they are doing when caring for the barrels and all of my beers were as I would have wanted so I would discount this as a source of the faults. I do have an extremely sensitive nose and very little tolerance for haze but some of what was on offer was what is technically known as toilet. Whenever I try beers at festivals I tend to put myself in the shoes of the new drinker who is encountering beer for the first time. If the beer is unintentionally not bright, smells of drains and/or is astringent I suspect that the first time drinker is liable to head to Tesco for a cheeky bottle of Echo Falls. Even if they are not as picky as me I wouldn’t expect that the smell of farts and sour milk will be welcome on a drink.   
Does rotten egg, butterscotch and haze where it is not intended put you off a beer or do such ‘idiosyncrasies’ add to beers’ rich tapestry?  

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Au revoir Monsieur

Last night was emotional. I had my last bottle of Monsieur Rock. Stocks at the brewery had run out in early September but I had a few left over in the cellar. I am not one for aging beer and Monsieur Rock was never designed to benefit from time in the bottle so last night was time to say goodbye. 

The temptation of brew another batch is strong and the clamour for the beer seems to have grown throughout the year since it was conceived but I like to think that making it once off makes it that much more special. I have however decided to make an ale analogue of the beer as this year’s Sharp’s Single Brew Reserve. This year it will be all about Saaz with first wort and dry hopping with the noble Czech. Rather than lagering the beer I am going to condition it at cellar temperature with dry Saaz before sending it for bottling. Perhaps if it wasn’t called Single Brew Reserve it could be called Madame Rock.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

England Sleeping

Well, England are out of the world cup so my phone overfloweth with texts from all nations except my own reminding me that I am from inferior stock. To add insult to injury Wales are through which means my life at the gym for the next 7 days will be punctuated by huge grinning Welshmen telling me where we went wrong and predicting Wales to beat New Zealand by 80 points in the final. I will wish them well, principally because I value my teeth.

I hope the gloom of England rugby ineptitude excuses this very negative non beer related post.

I am passionate man. It is safe to that I am easily annoyed. Some things which others are able to ignore or which some people actually get pleasure from, make me want to commit mass murder. My most acute annoyances tend to change according to my environment. Currently in my top three in order of increasing irritation are;

3. Those adverts where actors playing real people talk about products in a disproportionately passionate way
For example a string of people from Birmingham who appear to be on the verge of orgasm because they have saved £4.28 on a £300 shopping basket in ASDA compared to the same one in Tesco. The worst one however is the conveyor belt of the unhinged in a shopping centre telling the shiny man that Colgate Sensitive toothpaste has mended their broken lives. I suppose what irritates me is not the adverts but the fact that they must be effective. Who is stupid enough to not be intellectually insulted by these ads?

2. Intrusive music
I can’t go to a shop, to a restaurant, sports match or watch a documentary without hearing music that I don’t like, often so loud that I can’t ignore it. When I go to a sporting event they even employ a tart or a twat to ruin the spiritual experience of hearing  50,000 of your countrymen sing the national anthem by warbling over it. I don’t take a PA system and subject people to the music which I enjoy so why do I have to endure what they care to broadcast?   

1.  People who have recently incorporated a throaty growl into their speech because the Americans on TV do it
In the 90s the Australians gave us the relentless use of sentences which ended with a questioning intonation. This seems to have been eased out recently by the idiot growl. It’s not so much the sound which winds me up it’s the idea that adults change the way they speak according to a fashion. Surely we all left the pseudo-American accents in the playground? 

There we go, that’s that off my chest. Before you say it’s because I’m getting old, I assure you if anything my tolerance has increased with time.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Coach Trip

We have a VIP party of 20 or so from our local CAMRA branch visiting on Saturday so have been through my personal cellar, pictured here (I wish!) gathering together some special beers for their delectation. I hope they appreciate it.

I have done a good many CAMRA group tours and they are generally very enjoyable. Most attendees are knowledgeable, pleasant and friendly people with whom to share a beer or two. One tour however did not go quite so well.

I gave up my Saturday afternoon to host a coach load visiting a brewery that I won’t mention a few years ago. I walked with them to the brewhouse to begin my explanation. Barely had I started talking when a large, red faced gentleman in a leather waistcoat interrupted, apparently offended at my use of the word enzyme. “you’re speaking gobbledygook man!” he proclaimed. I stopped and pointed out that for some on the tour technical information will be of interest and that he should respect their needs as well as his own, to which he replied “PAH!”. I carried on. More noises of exasperation followed as I mentioned the Maillard reaction, the need for oxygen for cell multiplication and more or less every other bit of technical information. When we got to the bit where I explain how conditioning is used to reduce the concentration of diacetyl and hydrogen sulphide he shouted “rubbish”. At this point I stopped, turned to the rest of the group and asked if they could do anything to either stop his outbursts or whether he could sit out the tour in the bus. The leader of the group looked at me as if I had violated his grandmother and said that my suggestion was inappropriate and quite offensive. I calmed down and carried on.

In the racking hall I started explaining how because our beer is triple fermented it does not need to be left to condition in the cellar and in fact with our cask beers, fresh is best. At this point the waistcoated beer expert said “I’ll stop you there. I have been running cellars for 40 years and I know a great deal more about beer than you. What you are saying is completely wrong. I won’t even broach a beer until it is past its best before date!” You can imagine my demeanour at this time. I could feel every vein in my body bulging out and could barely see over my chest it was so overinflated. Both my fists were aching they were clenched so tight.

I calmly (probably didn’t come across in that way) led the group to the back door of the brewery and said “This, ladies and gentlemen is where the tour ends” and shut the door. As I drove past them milling about in the car park on my way home I think it dawned on them that there would be no sampling for their tour!     

Saturday’s tour should be a much more savoury experience. As follows is what awaits them after the gobbledygook and rubbish.. If you’re in Cornwall and a CAMRA member why not come along?       

CAMRA Kernow Visit to Sharp’s Brewery 2011
Beer Menu

Cask Beers

1.       Cornish Coaster 3.6% ABV

2.       Doom Bar 4% ABV

3.       Autumn Red 4.1% ABV

4.       Sharp’s Own 4.4% ABV

5.       High Gravity Eden Ale 4.9% ABV

6.       Sharp’s Special 5% ABV
7.       Chalky’s Bite 6.8% ABV

Sharp’s Bottle Conditioned Beers (limited supply)

1.       Chalky’s Bark 4.5% ABV
2.       Dark Saison 6.8% ABV
3.       Cellar aged 2006 vintage Chalky’s Bite 6.8% ABV
4.       50 hop IPA 7% ABV
5.       Honey Spice IPA 7.5% ABV
6.       Chilli double IPA 7.7%
7.       Chechen Grand Imperial Stout 8.5% ABV
8.       Citrus Tripel 8.8%
9.       2 year old Soured Abbey Double 8.9% ABV
10.   Honey Spice Triple 9% ABV
11.   DW 9.5% ABV
12.   Massive Ale 10% ABV
13.   Trappist IPA 9.5% ABV

William Worthington's Bottle Conditioned Beers (limited supply)

1.Worthington's E 4.8% ABV
2. Worthington's Red Shield 4.3% ABV
3. Worthington's White Shield 5.6% ABV
4. P2 Imperial Stout 8% ABV
5. Worthington's Gold Shield 8.5%ABV

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Angerfist the Tortoise

Last week was my first time off in 3 years. I have been away in Crete enjoying the sea, the sunshine and most importantly the fun which can be had with the beer named Vergina. The comic value of Vergina is limitless. Relaxing with a couple of Verginas in the hot tub, enjoying a Vergina on the terrace in full view of the German family in the villa next door, a contemplative Vergina in the still of night, warm Verginas, cold Verginas, foaming Vergina, Vergina shandy. I could go on all year!

In true beer blogger style I conducted side by side tasting of the domestic and international beers and have rated them in this handy table.

I have returned to some exciting developments. Firstly the brewery has a wondrous new 4” water supply.  Mr Sharp was “careful with money”. When he bought a new water supply in 2001 it was just about adequate for building the brewery but not really for brewing beer in it. Mr Baker and Keohane were equally “careful”. The brewing and racking teams and anyone who has tried to fill a kettle upstairs at 3PM or washed their hands in the upstairs toilet have struggled manfully with this supply for the last ten years. Recently it has been causing us serious problems. With the new supply, for the first time we have enough water everywhere at all times. A major step forward for brewing, racking and tea making. This good news has been tempered by an increasingly bleak outlook with regard to getting a large enough quantity of exciting hops for my needs next year. 

The second development is the pitter patter of tiny feet in the Howe household. I am the proud father of a Mediterranean tortoise. She is only the size of a chicken egg at the moment and sleeps most of the time. I have decided to call her Angerfist as it seems fitting for a small docile animal which lives on a diet of wild flowers.  Apparently if I don’t manage to accidentally kill her in the meantime Angerfist will be the size of a side plate in 3 years. 

And finally here's a picture of me and the rest of the Brewer's of the Year.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

15 Great Men and me

I'm writing this on a train back from London. The bloke in front is listening to repetitive African music, the woman to my left is on her phone shouting at her friend. Nothing she has said so far has been worth saying let alone listening to. If she is reading this over my shoulder ( I’ve just increased the font size so she can) she should also note that she is wearing too much perfume and has lipstick on her teeth and moustache. None of the above-listed petty irritations can burst my bubble this morning. Last night I had another fantastically memorable night, this time at the Houses of Parliament with 15 other All Parliamentary Beer Group brewers of the year.

Walking through the crowds of tourists into the entrance was quite a novelty. I suspect that in my pinstriped suit and gold tie I looked a bit like the MP for Henley on Thames rushing back to vote against a bill to ban badger strangling. Looking around the terrace by the Thames I saw pretty much every brewer who I have ever looked up to during my career. Names like Powell-Evans, Theakston, Drury and Wellington conjure flavours of great ales from the past and present in the mind. At dinner I was sat between Giles Dennis, formally of JW Lees (the man who gave the world JW Lees Vintage Ale) and my local MP the wonderfully down to earth Dan Rogerson. 

The dinner itself was like a beer journey back through time for me. I was delighted that Chalky’s Bite was selected to accompany the starter of gilt head bream. The main was paired with another beer I brewed 12 years ago, McMullen’s Hertford Castle which went brilliantly with the rump of lamb. And the dessert of Pear tartin was served with Fuller’s Golden Pride, a beer which I used to have to round off an evening on ESBs in the Boat at the bottom of Gravel Path in Berkhamsted as a teenager. In fact I think this very beer was in my stomach when I finally decided that life as anything other than a brewer would be an empty affair.

Being the youngest person in the room was intimidating at first (Stefano couldn’t make it) but brewers being brewers I was never short of warm company. At least 5 of the brewers have retired but the next generation continue on the work they began. Nigel Griffiths the MP for Burton on Trent gave a speech about beer in the UK today and concluded that although beer sales were falling the quality of beer today is better than it has ever been. The 15 men in that dining room last night have all been instrumental in making that the case. 

I left at 11 with the party still in full swing in the commons Stranger's Bar and walked alone through the deserted vast stone spaces towards the exit. It was magical, right up to the point where the security guard caught me taking pictures on my phone in a restricted area!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

I Hate Colds

I've got a cold. I hate colds.

For someone who spends at least two hours a day tasting and smelling things, the diminution of the ability to taste is the cruellest torture. I could embrace the other symptoms of a cold with gay abandon but an olfactory epithelium covered in mucus makes me want to punch walls until my hands fall off. The virus is thought to have been an important cog in the machinery of evolution. 

Today I think evolution is overrated. I’d rather be an amoeba than a brewer with no sense of smell.   

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Summer's Young and Helpless

August bank holiday unfailingly brings scorching weather to Cornwall. Such was the heat today that the 2 foot-deep lake left by this morning’s torrential rain outside the brewery was a mere 6 inch-deep puddle when I left this evening.  I am starting to think that all the pall-bearers on St Swithin’s reinterment must have been Cornishmen.  My sympathy for the tourists driving around looking for something to do all day is deep and sincere, right up to the point where they decide to spend the afternoon aimlessly wandering around Tesco, getting in my way and running my foot over with their trolleys.

Climatically it’s been a strange year. This has upset the barley plants. This means that malt next year will be more expensive and not as good for making stable beer. This is not good news for maltsters, terrible news for brewers and depressing and expensive news for drinkers.

In the world of the beer enthusiast, white malt is never foremost in the mind. But it is what us brewers rely on to provide sugar for fermentation, body for the beer, foam for head retention and the nourishment to allow our yeast to do its magic. The malt is the foundation of the beer. If it isn't right none of the other aspects of flavour, clarity or stability will be right.

Traditionally wine producers had recourse to have a bad year when nature shafts the crops. These days I can’t see drinkers of big wine brands such as those advertised by showing beautiful people being nice to each other, accepting that their Californian White Zinfandel (blended and bottled in Avonmouth by a team of Eastern Europeans on less than minimum wage) is not going to be quite as sweet this year. Posher wines of course still enjoy a few grand crus.

Brewers are never allowed to have a bad year or a grand cru. I envy the brewers with an ever changing portfolio of beers because these beers taste how they taste and that is how they should taste. When you have regular brands they need to taste the same irrespective of the changes in your ingredients. It is in years of bad crops that the commercial brewer really earns his/her money using experience, understanding and skill to continue to delight the drinker.

On the other hand, hops look promising but until they are in and dried you can’t start counting chickens or any other fowl for that matter. Although saying that, supply of some of the more en vogue varieties may not meet the current insatiable demand.

Finally one of my beers appearing at the Rake this weekend will not taste quite as I had previously indicated. The spontaneously refermented blond came up short of the desired volume so I had to blend it with an unsoured blond. The result I think is just as good and probably slightly more accessible to the sourosceptic.    

Finally, finally to those who gave special birthday presents this Thursday I thank you for freeing me from my prison of lies. A nice final cut.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Le succès à tout prix

Having your beer on the One Show is an honour. Many thanks to Des de Moor for recommending it. Having your beer sampled and described as delicious on TV by the lovely Jane Asher is also a bit of a novelty. It’s just a shame it was the wrong beer. Please accept my apologies for any confusion or distress. Des’ web site clarifies the situation.  Jay Rayner was also a far better ambassador for snobbery than for beer and food. Shame.

Yesterday I tasted my new limited edition beer, Honey Spice IPA. I’m not entirely sure that it is an IPA. I’ve done less than 100 bottles which will sell through our shop. I’ve allowed this one to be a little OTT hop-wise which should please the hardcore and leave those in the hardcore with a point to prove complaining that it’s too accessible. I have also had the chance to make a follow up to Turbo Yeast III Unspeakable Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades. This time I have made a pale beer with Turbo Yeast and a high alcohol Belgian Ale yeast before warm oxidising and maturing with finely divided oak (toasted saw dust). I’m not a connoisseur of spirits but to me it tastes distilled, matured and expensive. The name? Turbo Yeast IV Descent into the Burning Lake of Eternal Darkness, but you had probably guessed as much. Both of these beers will be appearing with me at some meet the brewers I have lined up for the Autumn in London and potentially the North. If you would like me to appear at your bar, pub, bar mitzvah or WI circle please let me know.   

The keen eyed among you will have noticed that my 12 brew project has slowed somewhat. Owing to the madness of summer and lots of extra curricular activities I have not been able to get away from the brewery. The plan is now to do three brews in a weekend in the autumn and cram the rest into the run up to Christmas. I will get there, even if I have to break into other people’s breweries on New Year’s Eve!


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Does Size Matter?

I was recently introduced by someone I have a lot of respect for as Stuart Howe, a brewer who used to make great beer at Sharp’s in Cornwall. I asked him what had changed and he said “well, you work for Molson Coors now”. Molson Coors have made a few changes since acquiring Sharp’s but one of them has not been to put up posters saying “Make Shit Beer”. They have also not changed any of the brewing team, raw materials, recipes or anything which has an impact on the flavour of the beer. Nor do they want to and nor shall they on my watch.

I can see to a degree where he was coming from. I have known a few brands which have been commercialised into banality. Chimay beers, in my opinion, are now good when once they were once great. That said historical precedents do not provide a crystal ball into the future.

To dismiss a beer because it is not brewed by a small brewery or because it not felt to be a craft beer is to me as obscene as going into a brewpub and dismissing the opportunity to try sample their wares in favour of a major brand, while defending this choice with “I only drink lager”. Any form of closed mind when it comes to food or drink is objectionable. Is there anyone on the blogosphere who is up for a row and wants to defend dismissing all beers brewed above a small scale? As always my mind is open but my convictions strong.

All organisations that make beer do so to make money, some are more honest about this than others. This is done in the context of the market. If you want to sell beer you need a market for it. In the last 10 years the market for drinks has become much more sophisticated. Beer writers, CAMRA, and bloggers should feel proud that their enthusiasm for and promotion of a great drink has changed what the market is looking for in a beer. Supermarkets and multimedia have also been instrumental. People who run large global brewers are clever. They understand that a sophisticated market where people seek exciting flavour and provenance in a beer isn’t going to fall for mass produced soulless brands, with a nice story and fancy branding. They realise that they need to make sophisticated drinks to sell beer to people with sophisticated palates.

So I am not Stuart Howe who used to make great beer in Cornwall, I am Stuart Howe the brewer who strives to make the best beer possible in Cornwall and will do for a good many years, with the support of Molson Coors.      

This brings me nicely on to a bit of exciting insider information for you on some new bottled beers Sharp’s have on the horizon. A couple of the beers which under the last management I had to brew at the weekend and bottle after work, are making their first appearance at a full commercial scale. Massive Ale and Honey Spice Tripel will finally be brewed at a scale which means everyone who wants the beer will be able to get it. I hope to include an apology on the label to all the people who have asked for Massive and Honey Spice only to be disappointed. Also Sharp’s imperial double IPA and a single hop varietal strong golden ale will become a reality this year. None of this is official yet (and Ms McCready will probably punch me for revealing it) but they are firmly on my brewing programme.

If there are people who will, with closed mind, reject my beers because I work for the UK's biggest brewer I am not overly concerned, bigots like this don’t deserve it anyway!   

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Panic on the streets of Bodmin

This mornin’ I woke up in a curfew. Not really but that lyric leads me nicely on to our subject for this post, the Rock riots. Our riots have been somewhat unreported and for the sake of Rock's reputation for up market holidays I will divulge very little. Suffice it to say the lady from the pasty shop was very put out and neither of the seagulls has been apprehended. I blame the parents.

As we approach the August bank holiday I am excited to have a few of my handmade creations appearing in the capital. At The Rake an 18 month old Abbey beer aged with Brettanomyces and a 3 year old spontaneousy refermented blonde. Both beers appear courtesy of St Roger of Ryman who is allowing me to join in his St Austell Brewery beer festival. I am particularly pleased with the blonde which is bone dry and beautifully lactic. It was made by fermenting a wort using Saccharomyces until fully attenuated and then left in an open vessel until a pellicle forms. The beer and the pellicle were then transferred to a wooden cask for 3 years of microbiological rioting and looting.

At the White Horse Parson’s Green two of my Belgian-themed beers are appearing at the Belgian Beer Festival. The 18 month old Abbey as previously described and cask 2010 Honey Spice Tripel which was tasting too good for words earlier today, if I do say so myself.

Further delight comes having DW and Monsieur Rock recommended ahead of wine as partners for food at  double Michelin starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. If I could blag my way to getting a table I’d go and check it out but I suspect they are booked up until 2020.   

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Council will convene and decide your fate

I have always wondered how the Champion Beer of Britain is judged. Now I know.

I’ve judged a few competitions and the CBOB definitely ranks as one of the best-organised. The structure of the panel is also very good with each section panel comprising a brewer, a flavour specialist, a couple of CAMRA tasters, a drinks industry professional and lay person. The panel I was sitting on was judging category winners for their suitability for supreme champion. Adding the scores from the preceding round took longer than expected so our panel waited for an hour to do our tasting. I did get quite tense, a condition not helped by being directly under the PA speaker which seemingly had not been adjusted since the Slayer concert last week.

When the beers came out it was good to get going. The first was evidently brewed with Citra with all of the panel enjoying the aroma but being underwhelmed by the flavour. It was interesting that although the rest of the panel did not know the names of off flavours they all considered the beers to less appealing as a result. There were varying degrees of sensitivity to diacetyl and H2S on the panel with one taster being blind to each (but not both) of them at the concentration in the beers we sampled. I suppose that this is valid as it probably mirrors the spread of capabilities in the general population. The rest of the panel were treated to an exhibition of the cocky brewer (me) getting carried away with identifying the flavour compounds, hops, fermentation temperature, salt balance and yeast variety. For this I apologise!

There was unanimity in the panel on our two favourites but we must have been low markers as neither were in the top 3 on the day.

The CBOB competition does not enjoy the best reputation for fairness with brewers around the country (the ones I have spoken to at least). A lot feel that there is always an air of wheels within wheels about it.  The process for getting a beer into the final has been described to me but I still struggled to understand it. It also seems to change frequently. Once I was told that regional festival winners automatically got through but speaking to a few regional winners this week none of them had progressed. A few breweries have had several beers getting to the final for several years in a row without medals. Surely if the beer wasn’t good enough for two years in a row it should be moved aside for another brew? Maybe it’s time for an X factor style beer competition where progress from the auditions to the final is plain to see? I would volunteer to be Simon Cowell but I could never get away with the trousers and jumper puppies.

Having judged the final I can reassure all brewers that this aspect is well designed to find the best beer in the field on the day. It was an enjoyable experience and I am still delighted to have been asked.

Finally I would like to pass on my congratulations to John Boyce for his win. He’s a good bloke and it’s a great beer.