A Measured Approach to Ordering a Beer

“Pint please”.

Two words that everyone understands.  Uncomplicated.  Universally measurable.  Sort of.

It’s not always that straightforward these days.  I found myself on the receiving end of a complicated bar-transaction last night.  It went something like this…

“Two thirds of [beer name] please”

“Is that two 1/3rds or one 2/3rd?”

“One 2/3rd

“We also do pints”

“Just 2/3rds please”

It was a little awkward and I guess we both saw the funny side of it, but secretly we both knew this was an issue.

I’ll order a pint next time.

Homebrewing in the UK (2013/14)

Warning:  this is a long post, and was intended to be posted in time for Boak & Bailey’s Beery Long Reads.

Roughly this time last year, I wrote about “homebrewing in the UK”.  It’s my opinion that the boom-and-boom of homebrewing is symbiotic with the general surge of interest in beer.  Look around and you will see more independent bars and off licences; more breweries, more homebrewing competitions, some beer on the TV; a bigger selection of beer in restaurants. It’s a veritable beer bonanza out there.

2013 was another good year for homebrewing, and 2014 is already full of promise.  Not to discount the hundreds – if not thousands – of folk who quietly go about brewing alcoholic beverages in their kitchens, bathrooms, sheds, basements and garages – but there is a growing number of brewers who are interested in having their brews critiqued, or taking their beer to the next level.  From experience, I have found that this can be an anxiety provoking step, a step into unknown and sometimes unfriendly territory.  However, when you ask for someone’s opinion of a beer that you have lovingly created, you should be prepared for the ugly truth.  The good news is that it’s possible to learn from even the clumsiest of comments.  Several more homebrewing groups have formed over the last 12 months, and I can recommend them as a safe place to pour and share your beer, and be guaranteed at least one useful piece of feedback.  A step further on from this, there are local/regional brewers who support homebrewing, and who periodically offer an incentive for homebrewers to compete.

Unless you were out of the country during February, you will not have escaped the giddy anticipation of the announcement of the Craft Beer Company’s National Homebrewing Awards.  You can read more about it here, and from the winner (Andy Parker).  Andy will be brewing 20BBLs of his American Red beer, with competition partners – Dark Star Brewing Co during 2014.  If that wasn’t big enough news, then you only need to look at Siren Craft Brew ‘s competition  run in partnership with transient Swedish outfit, Omnipollo.  They announced their winner, Mike Bates, who convinced the judges with his English hopped 4.5% abv Saison.  Unsurprisingly, Mike knows a thing or too about beer, educating himself on a daily basis through his work with the fabulous House of Trembling Madness, York.   I hope some of the resulting beer will make its way back to Yorkshire!

There have been other competitions, notably the UK National Homebrewing Competition (not to be confused with the Craft Beer Co) over the last couple of years, and all of which have shown initiative and helped to demonstrate the shift in homebrewing honours; from ghastly ‘beer’ born from the airing cupboard; to commercial accolades.

So, that was my take on the UK’s homebrewing  scene, rather a long introduction, but one that hopefully leads nicely to what other people think.  I contacted a number of folk who are interested in homebrewing.  I approached all of the respondents with the same question –  that I am interested in the apparent growth of interest in homebrewing…and seeking any observations they might have; and where they see homebrewing ‘going’”.

Here’s what they had to say:  

Phil Lowry writes CAMRA’s  homebrew column in BEER magazine.  He also brews at home, sells beer for a living at beermerchants.com, and founded the London Brewers’ Alliance.

“[the growth in homebrewing] is really parallel to the growth in interest in the provenance of what we consume.  Food, clothes, electricity, you name it, I think we’re being more conscientious about what, and who we deal with.  I think beer, being that we can make it “easily” at home, falls in the easy to do, early steps bracket.  Then add grow your own, and, all the other things we can do to be better at living.   It’s just the weird, obsessives like ourselves, and our friends who take it further to the extremes.

But, I think there’s interest, whether it’s growing, as fast as we perhaps perceive.   I do think it’s [a case of] more people coming out of the woodwork, that “coming out of the closet”, is acceptable, for want of a better analogy.  

There are of course a few have-a-goes who fall beside the way side,  but, ultimately yes, there is a growth, parallel to the growth in interest in beer.  The great part, is the authenticity and quality are entirely in you the brewers’ hands.  We’re in good times, I just hope that convenience doesn’t trump “home made” in time”.

 James Kemp, formerly of Fullers, Thornbridge and Buxton, and now working for SPL International, and describes himself as – among other things – a “homebrew geezer”.

I see homebrewing in the UK at a decisive point, there is massive potential for homebrewers to be at the forefront of the beer revolution that’s occurring in the UK, there are breweries popping up all over the place and let’s be honest – where are the new wave of head brewers going to come from if not from homebrewing ranks? Already I see a short supply of quality commercial brewers in the UK, who’s going to fill that need? I think it’s time for the homebrewer to step up, the same way that the homebrewer in the US stepped up.

There is some absolutely fantastic homebrew being brewed out there, I recently had a conversation with a beer retailer who said “you’ll get better brewed and packaged beers at the national homebrew comp than you will from the majority of commercial UK breweries”. 

Obviously there is also some extremely dire examples, but often that’s a reflection on the amount of misinformation the brewer has to disseminate.  Homebrewing literature is shockingly dated and contradictory, this is where I think the homebrewer is being held back and ultimately where the brewing industry as a whole will be held back.

This is where I come in I guess, I’m using my experience in the industry to cut through the rubbish and give a little back by advising and helping anyone that wants to make good beer”.

Robert Neale is a keen homebrewer, and owner of online homebrew & micro brewery suppliers – The Malt Miller. 

Since The Malt Miller site went live in May 2010 we have seen a wholesale change in the appetite of the all grain home brewer. Home brewers were brewing mainly because it was cheaper, and although that is still part of the market we are now finding that most of our customers are brewing at home because, outside of the major cities, they find it hard to purchase the beer they want to drink.  Being able to supply exciting new varieties of hops, malt and yeast from the US, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, the exact same ingredients that the famous “craft” breweries are using has been key.

As it stands we have 6800 customers registered from all over Europe and that is growing daily.  To keep up with demand we now employ three members of staff along with myself, and send out an average of 50 orders a day. Business has come a long way from selling a few packets of hops through an internet forum!

Graeme Coates is an award winning homebrewer; 2012 National Homebrew Champion, which netted him a brewing ‘holiday’ with none other than Norwegian outfit –  Nøgne ø

I’ve been homebrewing and competing a while now – in my view there’s been an enormous change in the hobby which has been visible from not only the competition side of things but also through aspects of social media, forums, blogs etc. The hobby is growing, there’s a continued increase in the availability of new ingredients (the recent experimental hop varieties a good example), and there seem to be more competitions taking place being run in conjunction with brewers and bars alike.

In earlier years the majority of the entries in competitions I entered (eg Sutton) seemed to come from the English Pale ale styles – APAs were few and far between, and rarely did you see a beer over 1065. The change started in Skipton (2010?) where the categories didn’t help out the judging when an enormous number landed up in “Speciality” (with this being split into “Belgian” and “non-Belgian”!) and I think we’ve seen continued expansion from homebrewers since, many have gone on to do it commercially too.

And you know, I’m almost feeling a little left behind in some respects with some of the ideas that people are coming out with – and much of this is being reflected in the way some of the commercials are heading (and probably for good reason as many are/were homebrewers themselves and inspiration runs two ways here).

Where are we going in the next year? I think there’s increasing numbers of homebrewers trying their hand at (intentionally!) sour beers – Ali [Kocho-Williams – now owner of Seren Brewing Co.] won the UKNHC (UK National Homebrew Competition) with a Straight Lambic in Sept 2013 – the variety of “additions” to beer (as debateable as some might sound seems to be a current trend, and I doubt the need to experiment with ever hoppier beers (with emerging hop varieties) is going to stop soon.

The only thing I’d add is that I’d not be too quick to wish away the homebrewing of low ABV bitters and good traditional lagers within the homebrewing fraternity – they are wonderful categories to really test and hone your brewing ability, as there is often nowhere to hide… (but that suffer enormously from stereotypical “twigs” and “lager is piss” descriptors).  Simple recipes can offer great flavour just as much as a complex one after all… Can I really stick my neck out to hope for the year we see the UK Homebrewer embracing the malty dunkel, the crisp German Pils and the flavoursome well brewed and perfectly balanced English bitter…?” [you just did, Graeme!]


Homebrewers Kevin Head, and partner in crime Jono, kindly added some thoughts from the perspective of homebrewers relatively new to the hobby, and therefore relatively untarnished by their peers!

“[First Jono’s thoughts] Making beer was something that I’d wanted to do for a while but I hadn’t got round to it. I guess fatherhood and drinks in the pub were things that brought us together but it was probably our respective wives that suggested that we were both keen to make some beer and that we should get together to do some brewing.  It’s somehow much more acceptable to spend 4 hours making beer at home than going out to the pub for the same amount of time – at least if kids wake up there’s still the possibility of being useful at home! The internet has been a huge help in finding out the basics and having an Edinburgh resource like Brewstore has made sourcing and sense-checking ingredients a much easier process.  I think the homebrewing “movement” isn’t just one thing, but the two main factors to me as an outsider looking in are probably the general tightening of purse-strings around the country over the past few years (along with the realisation that you can make decent alcohol without spending anywhere near as much per beer). 

My personal motivations are that I feel that this is a lost art within my family – I can’t imagine that with a farming background on my mum’s side of the family that there wouldn’t have been beer being brewed in the farmhouse, and I feel sad that those skills and recipes are something I’m having to relearn.  I’m a fairly experimental cook and having tried my hand at making cheese, chutney, jams, pickles it was only a matter of time before I needed to try something else new.  

In terms of resources I’ve found BrewToad useful for looking at other people’s recipes as well as the BrewMaster software for trying to make our own. I’ve listened to a few episodes of the Dr. Homebrew podcast and although it’s very US based (and I wish there was a UK version) I’ve learned a bit from there. The main resource has been my brewing partner Kev and just doing some kit beers, then experimenting with changing kits slightly, working hard to get the process right then moving up to doing Brew In A Bag. It’s an exciting hobby to have started and I personally feel like this is something I’ll be perfecting for the rest of my life!

[and a few words from Kevin]  In terms of anything additional/extra [to Jono’s words], I guess I have a bit more of a ‘beer geek’ background than Jono and there’s definitely something aligned to that which is really appealing.  Children, wife on maternity leave, etc. has severely curtailed my previous beer spend and the potential for making cheap(ish), quality house beers is a big, big incentive.  I also have pretty arbitrary, self-imposed price limits just now (no more than £3 on a 330ml bottle and £5 on a 500ml… devastating huh?!) which mean that some of my favourite beers (strong ales, imperial stouts, barley wines) are borderline inaccessible.  Not wanting to walk before we can run, but I hope to build up towards being able to make my own versions of these big beers one day.

Building up, or the urge to escalate, is something that I’m already finding is a massive and almost irresistible urge.  I’m already seeing that there’s something really compulsive about this homebrewing lark.  Whether it’s around quality, ingredients, batch size, brew day frequency or equipment, the desire to scale up appears to be a strong one.  (In other words, popping a Cooper’s kit brew on just doesn’t quite cut it anymore!).  I’m still committed to trying to brew quality, inexpensive beers for my own drinking, but can see that keeping things simple won’t be easy and certainly won’t be every time.

Oh and sharing!  Sharing and giving away beers you’ve made yourself is a great feeling.  I reckon it’ll be an even greater feeling as the beer continues to improve over time.

The final comment I thought it was worth making is how welcoming, supportive, generous and helpful I’ve found the hom brewing scene to be.  Whether through Twitter, or the monthly club run at Brewstore (our ‘LHBS’), people have been nothing but inclusive and giving of their time, knowledge and expertise.  My early impressions are of it being a genuine community which is a really positive and open place.  It seems, with a bit of investment of time and energy, anyone can begin to feel part of that community very quickly”.

London Amateur Brewers – Peter Hughes is the LAB Chairman

You’d be right about the growth of home brewing in the UK. We’ve experienced huge growth in the last few years. When I joined LAB in 2009 we were a small group of about 15 people who would meet in a small upstairs room at the Wenlock Arms.  Since then we have seen a lot of new members come into the hobby and we now have 40 – 50 members regularly attending meetings at our current and larger home, The Draft House (Tower Bridge).  We’ve also seen some of our members move into pro brewing, some starting their own breweries and some getting jobs as brewers.  LAB has also been lucky enough to participate in and contribute to important brewing trials, most recently trialling experimental hops given to us by Dr Peter Darby at Wye Hops. I think what’s significant is home brewing’s contribution to the new wave of modern brewers starting up in this country.  The Kernel & Weird Beard were born out of LAB and some of the other exciting London brewers made their start as home brewers too”. [Peter also referenced an article written by Mark Dredge, for Zymurgy Magazine about the link between London’s Pro and Amateur brewers – most definitely worth a read, and is an article that I have referenced before].

Manchester Homebrew Group’s – Ed Grimley

“Much like craft brewing, the home brewing scene has exploded in recent times. The number of people taking up brewing at home is astounding and incredibly exciting to see. New people turn up every month to our meetings who have taken the jump into all-grain home brewing and are very keen to learn more. Home brew clubs are popping up all over the country: the number of people willing to share hints and tips is endless, everyone is so happy to help one another out.

We’ve held tasting competitions and there have been some real crackers, I’m always surprised by the originality and creativeness of home brewers. You have anything and everything your imagination can think of to play with, and no commercial issues that naturally hang over professional breweries.  I’ve seen all kinds of beers: from strange flavour combinations to downright crazy ideas! It’s impressive and exciting to see what people can come up with.

I have rarely sampled a ‘bad’ home brewed beer.  Gone are the days of home brewing meaning cheap and disgusting brown beers, it’s now about a real craft and passion to create a beer just as good as one you’d drink in a pub or bar. Here’s to the future!” 

Last, but not least, Andy Parker – Award winning homebrewer, most recently crowned Craft Beer Co. UK Homebrew Champion; and aspiring Pro-Brewer with Elusive Brew Co.

If attendance at the London Amateur Brewer meetings are anything to go by, then home brewing definitely increased in popularity in 2013, perhaps reflecting the resurgence in commercial brewing. Some people brew at home to save money but others have designs on brewing commercially. I think the bulk of home brewers fall somewhere in between however, wanting to brew quality beer purely as a hobby with less of a focus on cost and more on producing the best quality they can. That’s what drove me to start brewing at home – a desire to recreate the commercial beers I enjoyed but couldn’t always get hold of.  It was once I started blogging and tweeting my experiences that I really started to learn.  

The feedback and engagement I got from fellow home brewers and professional brewers really helped me improve my process and the results got better and better, which drew me further in and encouraged me even more.  The online engagement soon spilled over into real life and I’ve met and am now friends with many other brewers”.

(Update: 19/03/14) Darren Shaw, homebrewer and blogger of homebrew at Urban Chicken Homebrew.

” ‘It’s the most expensive way to save money on beer’ – a statement I read last year and it’s certainly true.  Homebrewing is no longer about buckets of brown beer in airing cupboards and creating cheap pints of ‘the strong stuff’, people are brewing to specific styles and taking pride in what’s being created.  The art and craft of homebrewing is emerging, rather than it’s sole purpose being to create a budget beer.  However, on basic, homemade kit, great beer can be brewed.

My enthusiasm for brewing stems from an interest in the technical side, and the creative aspect including producing the artwork for my labels.  All aspects of homebrewing can be aided by really good online brewing communities (Twitter, YouTube, forums etc.), with people always willing to share information and ideas.  Beer swaps – not many people live next door to a fellow homebrewer – provide a good way to get feedback and sample the creations of others around the UK.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to get involved with two local breweries; The White Dog Brewery as part of a CAMRA ‘brew off’ and Muirhouse Brewery to create a collaboration brew (Dumb Cluck, a 5% Stout brewed with Cascade) which went to the Robin Hood beer festival in Nottingham, The Brewery Tap micro pub in my home town of Ilkeston and a few other pubs around the area.

This year I intend to increase brew lengths after the process of upgrading my kit but in the mean time a converted cool box and a plastic boiler are doing the job just fine!

I can see the scene continuing to grow in 2014 with even more people getting involved with the addictive hobby that is homebrewing”.


As this is already a long article, I won’t say much more, but I would like to thank all of the contributors.  I felt I could have asked so many more people, and would still have gained additional insights into the current homebrewing scene.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment.

Brewing. Art. Science. Life.

It’s only an interpretation of a snapshot in time, however there is a sense that what we have in our pint glass is not enough, that in some way it needs to be embellished.  Most TV licence payers or social media voyeurs will be blissfully unaware of the cracks that are appearing in the landscape, and how what lies beneath could be destructive, or could create new land on which to prosper.  

Clarity is rarely gained without a struggle – without the necessary process of debate, experimentation and often a generous slice of luck – and when something is worth shouting about, fill your lungs, exhale the words that seem important at that time and see where they land. 

“How you package beer, where you present it, who you present it to – can tell a story, you can educate, you can get people to take an interest in more that just the beer” – Andrew Skene

From recent discussions I’ve witnessed, proposals received, amateur productions watched through my fingers, and from the emergence of glossy campaigns – there is no doubt in my mind that TV producers smell the next 24hrs in a Brewery, 60 Minute Mash-Over, Grist Force or Breweries Under the Hammer (crap examples, I know – better ones here from Boak & Bailey).  What is certain to me, is this will unravel, and some of us will froth more profusely at our mouths than others. 

My thoughts on this.  We shouldn’t lose sight of what we’re talking about here.  It’s beer.  It represents so much more than the next opportunity.  It will remain intact through this storm of interest and continue for centuries more.  The link below is to a short film I was fortunate enough to see yesterday.  A film produced and directed by Paul Bates, with words from Andrew Skene – Head Brewer – Dominion Brewery.  

“Brewing is a true art.  It’s a wonderful mix of art and science, and using the scientific principles that underline it you can create works of expression – that are part of you – they come out of you – they can express part of your thinking.  They’re also ephemeral – they’re only here today and they’re gone tomorrow, so enjoy them while you can…. I guess that can tell you something about life as well…”  –  Andrew Skene

“It [brewing] is a very very good mix of being creative, you do stuff with your hands, you use your brain, you use a bit of science, you use a bit of art…” – Andrew Skene

Oh the Places You’ll Go

If there is a beer pilgrimage to make, where would that be?

Past, present or future. A significant place you’ve been, somewhere you find yourself today, or a journey you plan to make in your lifetime.

If you don’t think such a place exists, why is that?

pil·grim·age (p l gr -m j)

1. A journey to a sacred place or shrine. 2. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.

intr.v. pil·grim·aged, pil·grim·ag·ing, pil·grim·ag·es To go on a pilgrimage.

Session #65: So Lonely

This months Session (65th in the series) is hosted by Nathanial Southwood and invites us to share our thoughts on drinking in solitude “…How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?”.

The moment before I push the door open and walk to the bar my preoccupation is with my order.  I scan the taps first, then the fridges if needs be and I order a beer.  If this is a planned trip I will reach for my book, if I just happened by the pub then I will find a newspaper, failing this I will ogle my phone screen and catch up on a few blogs.  If I am there alone for the minutes before a friend arrives, and if the atmosphere encourages it, I will talk to whoever serves me for longer than the obligatory “beer please….thank you“.  This is not always a good idea and I’m getting better at reading the signs.

I don’t drink alone in the pub that often, but when I do I’m not thinking about being alone, I’m not thinking about what others think of me, I’m thinking about beer and about relaxing.  Sadly these days I do have to think about relaxing before I can achieve it…..and relax.

I know there are people who shudder at the thought of drinking alone in the pub and I can understand how images of solitary folk propping the bar up and gently swaying to the beat of the till, could persuade a newcomer to a bar to take one look before turning and leaving.  If you disagree with these people then consider Harry Hope’s depiction of a bar in The Iceman Cometh.

The patrons, who are all men except for three women who are prostitutes, are all dead-end alcoholics who spend every possible moment seeking oblivion in each others’ company and trying to con or wheedle free drinks from Harry and the bartenders. They drift without purpose from day to day, coming fully to life only during the semi-annual visits of the salesman Theodore Hickman”.

Sadly, there are bars similar to this 100 years on from Harry Hope’s inspiration, and drinking alone in these conditions doesn’t bear thinking about.  If you’ve read the book or seen the film then you’ll know that this kind of life doesn’t bode well.  Drink Aware message over, I still believe that if you pick the right place, be in a positive frame of mind and enjoy the quality of the beer rather than the quantity, then drinking alone doesn’t have to be lonely.

Follow the Bear

Bad beers can lead to good times.  Jumping straight to the ‘best’ of anything deprives you of so much fun along the way.  If your first car was an Aston Martin, then you would never experience the joy of climbing into a Vauxhall Nova on a cold December morning and trying to start it using a manual choke, nor would you have felt the fear of looking down into the foot well of your Daihatsu Charade and seeing daylight.  These are not moments you would choose for your Ground Hog day, but looking back on them gives you so much more than a moment of luxury ever could.  In Stuart Howe’s keynote speech, at ‘that conference’ nobody wants to hear much more about, he referenced his time brewing Hofmeister Lager-Bier.  I tried to listen to the next passage of his talk, but the word Hofmeister threw a forgotten switch in my brain which released memories of a summer in 1994.

A mustard coloured Austin Ambassador pulled into the campsite, shoehorned inside were five teenagers, a family sized tent, rucksacks filled to bursting point and very little food.  We were all 16 and my mate’s dad knew we were in for a fun few days.  He gave a wry smile when he lifted the baggage from the boot.  Both the weight and the distinct four-pack shapes protruding from these bags could not hide their bounty.  It was like a scene from the Wonder Years where Kevin and his dad share a moment, a rite of passage where no words are exchanged but everything has been said.  As the car drove away we knew we had plenty of time to pitch the tent, so we flopped onto our bags, cracked cans of warm Hofmeister and talked crap about football and girlfriends.  Even after several cans of non-premium lager we did have somewhere to sleep on that first night, but the shape of the tent did not match that of the picture on the instructions.  None of us gave a shit, but one of us did vomit into someone else’s Hi-Tech 4×4 trainers.

We played cricket in the sun until we couldn’t move for sunburn, we talked and we laughed and when we ran out of things to say the conversation was quickly jolted back to life with a reference to Hawes, the comedy name of the town we were staying in.  After two nights we had the campsite to ourselves, no coincidence, and were running low on beer.  My mate Dom looked the oldest as he had the darkest hair, making his top lip the most convincing.  A quick trip to the Spar shop and we were laughing again, no more of the good stuff in a yellow can, but plenty of Ruddles, Trophy and Old Speckled Hen, which did none of us any favours.  Before calling home for help and an immediate airlift, we visited the Hawes Rope Maker, he wasn’t there, but we left him the can of Hofmeister we had saved for emergencies.

Back in the room at the Met Hotel, Stuart Howe wrapped up his talk and we all clapped.  Apologies to Stuart and thank you Hofmeister.

Nursing a Pint

As I walked through the door of the unassuming public house, I was met with a bellow of appreciation, not for me but the group I was with.  We were the third minibus to arrive and the room was busy already and had an air of giddy joy with the blackboards heavy with choice.  I’ve been in reflective mood since taking the weekend as my own, attending a beery conference and between the busy schedule I had chance to think.  I usually use my fifteen minute walk to work for this purpose, head in the clouds, eyes on my shoes, only looking up to check before I cross the road.  Not every morning is productive, but the journey presents an opportunity to scan a few ideas that came to me in my sleep, or that I observe in the fleeting seconds I take to look left, right and left again.   I was present with the people I was with in the pub yesterday, but I couldn’t help but picture the scene before minibuses 1,2 and 3 rocked up.  I looked around the room and could see who had been standing guard at the bar before we advanced.  Two guys who were clearly brothers, and I think three other chaps who were minding their own business and had been enjoying their space.

Business must be pretty steady at The Grove, the taps welcome new visitors on a regular basis and the chalk used to write the menus is broken and worn.  I couldn’t help feel sorry for the ‘regulars’ as they nursed their pints, suddenly party to loud conversations with only their proximity to blame.  They know the score though and stand their ground, safe in the knowledge that the crowds will disperse, leaving bottles dusty from their stint in the cellar, paddles that held strong thirds of non-sessionable beer, and glasses left half full of a cucumber beer that had been enthusiastically mixed with gin.

Sat on the train back to Saltaire, I returned to my own thoughts, but couldn’t help take one last glance at the serenity we left.  Glasses refreshed, books reopened, newspapers plumped and order restored.

The Sparrow Bier Cafe, BD1

I’ve written about The Sparrow Bier Cafe once before, and I wanted to post a short post as a special #FollowFriday as they approach their first anniversary.  To recap, they chose a location close to Bradford city centre, off the beaten ‘ale’ trail and despite my concerns they have thrived.  Within twelve months they have received awards from Bradford CAMRA for Pub of the Season Autumn 2011, quickly followed by Pub of the Year 2012.  Huge congratulations to Les and Mark for their efforts and for bringing something fresh to Bradford’s beer fans.  I was in there yesterday and enjoyed keg beer from Hawkshead and Camden, cask from Dark Star and Sarah Hughes as well as being spoilt for choice with their range of bottles, but settled on a Mikkeller single hop Summit IPA.  When undertaking such serious market research it’s important to keep fuel in the tank, so I ordered their tasty side of cheese, salami and pickles.  If you are localish or just passing through Bradford, I can highly recommend a visit.  Opening times and news of what’s on the bar @thesparrowbd1 and regular reviews from HopZine.

And a few more pics


Does Size Matter?

Now that I have your attention you will be disappointed to learn that this a post about head…. you know the head on your pint of beer…what did you think I meant?

I was reading the Summer edition (issue 16) of  CAMRA’s BEER magazine, and not for the first time there was a short piece on the importance of having a head on your beer, this time by Paul Hegarty (author and public affairs consultant who promotes the responsible enjoyment of beer).

Time and again consumer research shows that people prefer a beer with a head.

Wait, it’s not that simple.  People want a head on their beer but not too big!

That doesn’t mean that they [the people] want to be fobbed off with a glass of foam when they are paying for beer.

So what do the people want Paul?

[The people want]… just a centimetre of foam at the top of the glass that remains as the beer is drunk.

I’m not poking holes in Paul’s article, as he goes on to make several good points about how the science of what makes a head on a beer and how breweries can factor head formation and retention into their beer recipes.  He also makes the most important point of them all, in that the beer can be brewed to perfection, but can be let down at the last moment by the publican using a dirty glass or indeed by the customer who may have been a little over zealous with their lipstick application (come on guys, natural is beautiful).  I get Paul’s argument; ‘don’t always assume the brewer is to blame for a foamically challenged beer’.

What I wanted to add to this is, ‘does a head on a beer really matter to everyone?’ and should it really be an expected indicator of quality?  I happened to be sat in the pub while reading this article.  During my stay I enjoyed half pints of Camden Pale Ale (keg) and Dark Star’s American Pale and Hophead (cask).  All three had roughly a centimetre or two of head and all three were roughly 4.5%.  I then had a 6.9% Mikkeller IPA (bottle) and a half of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild at 6% (cask).  The bottle of IPA had a 4-5 centimetre head and the Mild was bald.  I enjoyed all of the beers.

As the beer drinker grows ever more discerning, the importance of crystal clear beer and one centimetre head retention becomes less relevant and the quality judged on flavour.  However, the sad fact is that while research shows that consumers prefer a beer with a head and the the large pub chains respond to this with Area Quality Managers guarding the perimeter of their bars, then how will the consumer ever learn to appreciate that a layer of ‘foam’, whatever the depth, does not guarantee you a tasty pint of beer?


Session 63: Magic Moments

This months Session (63rd in the series) is hosted by Pete Brown.  He’s chosen the topic The Beer Moment.  I’ll try my best to get this done without tripping over my ego, but can’t promise anything as I am one of those human types.

“…the Beer Moment.

What is it?

Well, what is it to you?  What does that phrase evoke for you?

That’s the most important thing here.  Switch off and float downstream, what comes to mind?  Don’t analyse it – what are the feelings, the emotions?…”

Beer ‘moments’ happen as often as I let them happen.  I can select, open and drink a beer with as much care and attention as I choose.  Other bloggers have written about this before and I agree that our enjoyment of a beer can be as much about the environment and company that we drink it in, than it is about the beer itself.  I have these moments all the time, but when I don’t have a beer epiphany I tend not to read too much into it and move on.  The ‘anti-beer moment’ is dangerous territory and can quickly escalate into a nasty bout of unweildy negativity’.  This is not a happy place and I try to keep it quarantined for the most part….but we’re all allowed our bad days!

As a homebrewer I find my beer ‘moments’ are most apparent to me when a beer makes me sit up straight (figuretively speaking, unless of course the brewer recommends that the beer should be enjoyed sat up straight), I want to know how the beer was constructed and could I brew something similar myself.  At this point in my life beer is many things, but predominantly a creative influence.

Beer in, ideas out, repeat...

Cheers Pete, great topic for discussion, something I could have written a lot more on, but wanted to try and stay focused for once!