Beer, Blogging and Le Baladin

As the 2012 European Beer Bloggers (EBBC) conference draws nearer, I’m readying myself for a few days of R&R.  The agenda is nearing completion and looks set to be an interesting couple of days.  Like most, if not all of the bloggers booked to attend the conference, I have thought about the writing opportunities that will come from meeting beer enthusiasts and bloggers, listening to the keynote speakers, drinking new beers and from a unique opportunity to take some time out of the everyday routine to focus on beer!

Friday 18th is a Night of International Beers featuring beers from smaller European breweries, giving bloggers a chance to try beer from those breweries who may not have national or international distribution, or may only brew limited runs. The inspiration for this post comes from a couple of beers I bought on a whim, bin end from the excellent Grove pub in Huddersfield.  I bought these beers way before I knew I would be going to EBBC, but I hope they help show the relationship between the conference and the bloggers themselves.  The beers are from a brewery I know nothing about and with the usual trawl of the internet, and with mixed results translating the brewery website, it occurred to me that I should tap knowledge from nearer the source.  Bloggers are generally easy-going people and that they publish their thoughts should tell you that a speculative tweet or email for help will usually result in a friendly response.  I contacted two guys who I’m aware of through Twitter and now read their blogs (when written in English!).

Teo Musso and his brewery Birrificio Le Baladin, Piozzo, Italy.

The first guest blogger to share his time and knowledge to help me put this post together is Milan based Alessio Leone, a bar manager, bike rider, drummer, beer lover and blogger at Hoppy-Hour.  I have traded a few tweets with Alessio @caskcrusade and have written about him before here.  Over to Alessio:

Teo Musso was born in 1964 in Carrù, a tiny village in the Langhe area, Piedmont.  His family has deep agricultural roots and his father is a winemaker.  He soon gets interested in beer and in 1986 he opens Le Baladin, a pub dedicated to music and beer in his hometown Piozzo, where he manages to collect 230 different beers from all over Europe. He then becomes interested in beer production by meeting and training with Jean Louis Dits from Brasserie à Vapeur and Christian Van Verbeerk who worked at Chimay.
The Baladin brewery born in 1996, together with a bunch of other Italian craft beer pioneers who gave life to the very first Italian beer movement (Birrificio Italiano, Centrale Della Birra, Birrificio Lambrate, Vecchio Birraio, Beba…). The brewery went from a 5hl brewhouse, to a 10hl one and then a 25hl one, to the actual brand new 35hl system that produces around 6000hl a year. 
Teo has always thought of beer as something to go with food at a diner’s table: he uses very few hops (he says hops often can’t interact very well with food), while prefers to experiment with malts, yeasts, agings and most of all spices. His focus in the last few years has been making Baladin a fully agricultural brewery that uses homegrown malts and hops.

Below a few of his most important labels:

Named after his son and one of his first beers, a saison made with eight different spices, gentian root and chicory.

One of the most attenuated beers ever (97% attenuation), made after a study on whisky yeasts.

A barley wine that uses oxydization techniques inspired by the wine worlds of Port and Solera.

Named after his wife, it’s a tribute to Egypt and its flavours, brewed with kamut grain, mhyr and an african resin.

I read you managed to get your hands on Super and Open. Super is one of the oldest and most representative Baladin beers, his personal take on a Belgian Abbey Ale.  Open was the first example of an open-source beer recipe (he published it online and invited homebrewers to brew an Open-clone): it was the first Baladin beer dedicated to pubs and not to restaurant’s tables, and it now gives name to two Open Baladin pubs in Piedmont and Rome, who only sell Italian craft beer on tap and in bottles.

As Alessio mentions above, I had bottles of Super and Open, so before reading the contribution of my second guest blogger, here are my thoughts on the beer.

Baladin Open is a 7.5% abv (plato 16,8) IPA, poured from a rather nice embossed 25cl bottle.  It opens with some enthusiasm and pours a light amber colour.  It has a healthy amount of fine sediment suspended in the beer, which didn’t settle out before I had finished the glass.  Light carbonation, with a thin white head forming, which left nice lacing on the glass.  It had aromas of honey and candy-floss, a Belgian beer quality with yeast esters you might typically find in a Saison.  Not the IPA character I was expecting at all, with no resinous citrus hop aromas bursting out of the glass.  First taste coated my mouth and had a hit of honey sweetness, followed quickly by warm alcohol.  The bitterness does come through at the end and has a dry champagne-like finish.  As I sipped the beer, it reminded me of the Buttercup honey and lemon throat lozenges, in a good way (as they say).  As it warmed a little, the warming alcohol quality took over.  A really smooth, tasty beer, bravo!

Baladin Super is an 8% abv (plato 18,5) Belgian Strong Ale, contained in an equally attractive 25cl bottle.  It poured a dark amber/red and as with the Open, it had a fine sediment suspended in the beer once poured into the glass.  No carbonation to speak of and a thin soapy head quickly dissipated.  The aroma was hiding in this beer and needed a good swirl in the glass, which released some interesting candy and sweet fruit aromas.  It was medium bodied as with the Open, but didn’t coat the mouth in the same way.  It had great syrup sweetness and again the fruit coming through, with apricot and subtle banana notes.  I could be way off here, but I thought it also had a slight sourness, but not really enough to get past the sweetness.  As you’d expect from a big Belgian beer, it had a warming alcohol finish.  I enjoyed this one for a good while, as the lasting flavours did not rush you into taking frequent sips and as I wanted to enjoy a beer that I won’t get to try again any time soon.

The second blogger I contacted while writing this piece was Will Glass who describes himself as a writer and entrepreneur.  Will is based in Italy’s Piedmont region where he draws most of his inspiration for his blog Italy Brews.  Will can be found on Twitter  @ItalyBrews.  When I asked Alessio and Will to contribute I gave them the same brief, that I was writing a piece on Le Baladin and could they write something about the brewery, the history and the beer.  When I received Will’s response I wasn’t quite sure how to use the content, but on reflection I am so pleased that I didn’t receive two similar responses.  Alessio set the scene, introduced Teo Musso and his brewery’s influence and relevance in the international beer scene.  Read on to see what Will drew from my request for information, but I think he encapsulates rather nicely what beer is all about, why we enjoy it so much and why we just have to write about it.

As an avid “beer traveler” I find my inner peace through chance meetings with the people behind the breweries and brew pubs we visit. Yes, we do typically plan in advance but the visits that happen organically are extremely special. During our recent visit to the small mountain village of Vernante we happened upon Birrificio Troll and Alberto Canavese, Troll’s Brew Master. The welcoming aroma and warmth of the wood burning fire created the perfect mountain cabin retreat for us to kick up our heals and ponder our recent 6 hour hike along the Via di Tèit trail through the Maritime Alps; straddling the border of France and Italy. Our trek was a hiker’s delight featuring high mountain passes scattered with ruins of small farming villages, streams from mountain snow run off, rolling green hills, snow capped peaks and bright colored spring flowers & Alpine herbs. We’d built up quite a thirst and the brew pub was the perfect ending to our voyage. Troll came into being in 2003 and currently produces 10 beer styles, each in 75cl bottles. The perfect seasonal beer for our visit was Febbre Alta (High Fever), Troll’s birra di primavera (beer of spring) which is brewed with local mountain flowers, herbs and spices. Italy’s Associazione Unionbirrai “Beer of the Year” in 2005, Febbre Alta features an amber color, floral nose and sweet herbal palate thanks to the locally cultivated mountain flowers and herbs used during the brewing process. And at 8.7% alcohol this Italian artisanal microbrew gave me quite a fever after a couple glasses…la dolce vita!

Not to cloud the post with the C-word, but ‘craft’ fits comfortably here. The concept, the 15 plus year project, the bottles, the design, the beer and a beer lovers ethos.  I’m so glad I bought the bottles of Baladin beer at the end of great night with friends, and that I stashed them in my cupboard, and that I managed to save them long enough for them to be drunk in the moment.  Thank you to Alessio and Will for taking part, and I look forward to meeting Alessio at the conference in a few weeks time.

My internet searching wasn’t in vain either and here are some interesting and varied pieces on Le Baladin from a few familiar faces to me, and if you join us in a few weeks time then you will mostly get to meet them. Mark Dredge Pencil & Spoon, Leigh Linley The Good Stuff, and a couple of rather nice video reports on location in Open Baladin, Rome by Zak Avery (Are You Tasting the Pith) and Rob Derbyshire (HopZine).  Also a piece written back in 2009 by The Beer Connoisseur Online,

A note from the organisers:

Have you given any thought to joining us in Leeds for this year’s conference?  We are expecting at least 100 bloggers to be in attendance (you can see who’s already signed up here) and if you haven’t already, register today! You can follow the event organisers on Twitter @beerbloggers and #EBBC12.

A Moment of Clarity

With noise and distraction all around us, we often need a moment of clarity to help us make sense of a situation, a niggle, an ambition or whatever it may be.  The picture above is a photograph I took while visiting Toby McKenzie at his Red Willow Brewery in Macclesfield.  The photograph is of a sight-glass which allows the brewer to view the wort running off from the mash tun.  These first runnings of wort will be re-circulated (taken from the bottom of the mash tun and pumped back to the top) until a grain bed / filter is formed which traps the grain debris and allows the sugar rich wort to escape to the copper.  The brewer knows it’s time to run from the mash tun to the copper when the wort is running clear.  It’s never going to be crystal clear at this point in the brewing process, but as the cloudiness dissipates, it signals the moment to move to the next stage.

I knew why I was visiting the brewery, I have an interest in beer, specifically brewing and have the obvious dream of going professional.  I try to be realistic and often get carried along, or rather away from, the things I most need to do to work towards my goal.  What I took away from the brew day with Toby, was that while there is most definitely a romantic notion of crafting a delicious drink out of water, barley, hops and yeast, there is also the serious business of, well, business.  Forget the dream of profit and fame for now, although nice if you can get them, I’m talking about the business of risk and of rolling your sleeves up far enough to get burnt.

Endless cleaning, Sleepless nights, Wreckless ambition.

Stood in the background, an imposter, watching and listening to Toby, Caroline and Ben as they went about a typical day in the brewery made my head spin.  I wasn’t naïve to the requirements of a professional brewing enterprise before today, but if I coin the iceberg analogy here, then it would illustrate where my homebrewing brain is currently residing.

I was lucky enough to get to help on many of the daily tasks, and for those that were beyond me I was afforded some of Toby’s time and patience in explaining what he has explained a hundred times before to well meaning visitors.  Amongst the bustle of the day, the array of smells and constant din, there were moments of giddy joy.  I tasted beer from the fermenter as it was bottled, I cut into vacuum packed hop bails which gasped for air as they breathed new life, and I was let loose with a rather powerful jet spray which could propel a plastic bucket across the length of the brewery with one blast.

So, thank you Toby and Caroline for having me along, I wish you the best for 2012 and beyond, and look forward to trying a few pints of Wreckless and as many bottles of Ageless as it takes before I’m satisfied that I have drunk one that I had a hand in getting to market!

Another blog on Red Willow here if you are interested in a bit more detail on the operation. The Brewery website and Toby McKenzie on Twitter.

Northern Craft Brewers 2012

Saturday was the long awaited Northern Craft Brewers (NCB) English IPA competition.  Adding to the sense of occasion were the Midland Craft Brewers, a ‘Brew Off’ if you will, however I can report that there were no ugly scenes reminiscent of West Side Story.   For a more factual write up of the day see Ade Chapman’s blog @pdtnc.  This was my first time meeting with the NCB crowd and wasn’t sure what to expect, but knowing Ade was involved and with a great venue in the shape of Saltaire Brewery I knew it was going to be a good day.

The 38 entries for the English IPA competition were checked in as folk arrived and the judging commenced at around 1pm, with what looked to be two tables of judges, possibly working in pairs to score and comment on each beer.  The judges came together with their highest scoring beers and then went about deciding on the winners.

While the judges were busy downstairs, there was a buzz of activity around the brewery.  A talk on India Pale Ale by Shane Swindells of the NCB and then much homebrew chat, bottle swapping and enjoyment of the beers available on the bar.  Alongside some well known breweries like Saltaire, Buxton and Triple fff Brewery,  were six cask beers brewed by members of the NCB and MCB.  With no restrictions on the specification, there was a choice of a West Coast APA (by Rob Derbyshire), a Black IPA (Ade Chapman) and three IPA’s brewed by myself, Neil Gardner (Leedsbrew) and Allan Gayton (MCB).  All proceeds from the bar have been donated to the chosen charities and am delighted to report that the discerning drinkers voted in favour of my effort.  Thanks to those who enjoyed my beer and especially to the two homebrewers who cast a more experienced eye over my recipe, and gave me the confidence to brew it!  I think we all knew it was a close run thing and for me I was just made up to have my beer being dispensed on tap.

The meet was a fantastic event and big congratulations go to the winner and runners up in the headlining English IPA competition.

1st – Steve Syson

2nd – Tom Dobson

3rd – Ade Chapman

4th Dr Ray Carson, HC Karl Clarke, HC Ron Allinson

Also a huge well done and pat on the back for those responsible for organising and making  everything run smoothly on the day: Shane Swindells, Ade and Emma, Tony Gartland for the use of the venue and supplying the trophies, to the judges who bravely faced many homebrews in order to find our winner and of course to the 50+ homebrewers who supported the event and raised £400 for charity.

I would encourage other homebrewers to keep an eye on the NCB website and join us at the next meeting!

Hawkshead Beer Festival

As we arrived into Staveley I had mixed feelings, excitement that I was moments away from some fine beer and utter selfishness that I had taken hostages along the way.  In the car with me were my three young sons (under 4) and my ever supportive wife.  I say supportive as she enabled me to get to the festival, was open-minded about dragging the family along and was the default designated driver for the journey home.  We set off from Bradford knowing it would be a brief visit before a dash home in time to get the kids to bed.

3 kids, 120 mile round trip, unknown territory, no sat nav, no road map…. nothing could possibly go wrong, but two hours later and after enjoying a slight detour around lake Windermere (see Learning point 1 below), our ETA was shot but moved seamlessly to Plan B: ‘Adapt and overcome’.  By the time we sat down in the Beer Hall with food in front of us, and me with my first beer (a Hawkshead 6% Windermere Pale) it was 3pm and I knew I had some tough decisions to make.  Sixty+ beers to choose from and roughly 90 minutes to pick a few and enjoy them while remaining in charge of my faculties.  I did not want to be accused by anyone of being PUI (Parenting Under the Influence).  We opted to sit upstairs (see photo above), away from a drunken group of foul-mouthed youths, and much to the amusement of the onlookers as we lifted a twin pushchair up the flight of stairs.  But once settled in we enjoyed the friendly service, the burgers, hotdogs and chips, and a good view of two huge stainless steel fermentation tanks, a view appreciated by me anyway.

On my second trip to the busy bar was with baby 1 under my supervision, the number of comments to the effect of “ooo you’re starting him early aren’t you!“, five.  I had barely sat back down in my seat with a Hawkshead Cumbrian Five Hop – a really moreish beer boasting a tropical fruit cocktail of hop aromas and flavours – before it was gone and I was back at the bar, baby 2 under arm, and more friendly banter and comments about my wingman.  In between trying a Black Isle Yellow Hammer and a Red Willow Endless, I managed to say a quick hello to Matt Clarke (Head Brewer, Hawkshead).  There were a few others I would have liked to meet, but time was up.  One more stop was made at the bar to pick up a few bottles to take home, notably the outstanding NZPA, now rebranded and repackaged in 330ml bottles.   Was it a bit crazy to drive so far for such a short time? yes! but did we all enjoy the road trip, the sunshine, food and family time? YES! It was of course a huge bonus for me to have visited a festival high up on my list, and I’ll be returning next year with anyone who fancies a jaunt to the Lakes.

Learning points:

  1. A map is essential.  Hawkshead Brewery is not located in or anywhere near Staveley in Cartmel, but I can tell you that it is a lovely little village.
  2. Four year olds do not tire of asking “are we there yet”.
  3. Never Always drink pint measures when visiting a beer festival for less than 2 hours.
  4. Hawkshead Beer Hall is well worth a trip.

Brooklyn Brewery

It turns out that blogging can have it’s perks.  I enjoy blogging enough not to need any perks, but when the right ones present themselves then I feel I’d be stupid not to take them, plus it’s only human to want to get a freebie once in a while (and yes, I’m only too aware of the possible implications).  Sitting across the table from me was Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, and as he spoke enthusiastically about his life before brewing and where he finds himself today, I couldn’t quite get it together for long enough periods in my head to scribble notes in my brand new notebook, or take a quick picture with my phone of the exciting food and beer arriving and departing from in front of me.  I imagined that much of what he said had been heard before by those lucky enough to have met him, but I did also get a sense that once the introductions were over and the scene set, that he was speaking from the heart and adapting to his audience.  A small audience made up primarily of local food and beer bloggers, with the addition of Claire Kitching.  Alongside Garrett, interjecting with some Brooklyn Brewery context in terms of its market figures was Eric Ottoway, General Manager of the Brewery.

As I said above, the difference between me and a serious beer blogger is the ability to listen, enjoy what’s going on around me but also to make notes along the way.  I decided after the first course that I wasn’t going to try too hard.  Afterall, if you are interested in the food and beer details, then these guys will fill you in: Ghost Drinker, The Beer Prole, The Good Stuff, and do a much better job of it. I heard everything that was said, understood some and drifted off into my own thoughts when the subject matter provoked.

However, when I have a few beers my brain does not allow me to store ideas for very long.  I think of this as the same as putting a beer in the freezer to fast chill it – doing this for a short period of time gets results, but leave it in the deep freeze too long and all you get is a mess.  Without the help of my peers I may not have been able to tell you the names of the beers I tried, or the exact description of the food we ate.  What I came away with, ringing in my ears was that Garrett was a homebrewer.  He started homebrewing from kits in 1984, he referenced Muntons kits and the large sugar additions required to make yourself a cheap and nasty beer, but as he recollected, back in the eighties this was one of the only ways to get yourself a beer.  He also told a funny tale, also of that time and when visiting the UK, of plundering the homebrew section of Boots (the chemist) for their dried yeast. It was highly regarded by homebrewers and Garrett served his time as a ‘yeast mule’ for his buddies back in the States (I may have paraphrased what he actually said *winky-smiley*).  Ten years later in 1994, he brewed Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, their seasonal imperial stout.  In the UK we can enjoy buying this all year round, but not so in the US where it remains a firm favourite during the winter holidays.  This was inspirational stuff, ten years from homebrew kit to brewing an award winning imperial stout, among others.  By the way, I should mention at this point that the reason we can enjoy Black Chocolate Stout all year round is thanks to importers like, Leeds based James Clay who make sure they squirrel enough of the good stuff away to satisfy our penchant.

One other moment that was a bit special, was while trying their Cuvee De La Rouge, the Brewery’s Local 1 beer aged in used bourbon oak barrels (previously used for Black Ops) with wine lees (thanks Neil!), things are a little hazy and to be honest he could have told me anything and I would have nodded along.  For me the detail really doesn’t matter, the beer tasted great and like nothing I’d tried before.  When I asked Garrett if this would be available to buy, he basically said that it wasn’t possible to brew it the same again, and that if you have tried this beer, then it’s likely that you have met him too. A beery handshake if you will! (my words, not his).  After a few more beers with my associates to debrief, I parted company and went home to dream of my award-winning beers that will be available in 2021.

Thanks once again to James Clay and Ben Hodgkinson (of James Clay), Dean, Tyler and staff for the hard work that I know went into their faultless hospitality at Mr Foleys, and of course to Garrett and Eric who rocked up and did their thing.

Hop Tea

Image by Kevin Worth

I’m sure that others will have tried this before me, but I haven’t seen or read anything about it recently, so here goes.  I decided to have a go at making a few jars of hop tea, not so much for the drinking, but for the experience, although I have read that hops can be used in medicinal teas.  I’m sure there are plenty of people in the brewing industry experienced enough, or maybe beer enthusiasts who have a keen enough sense of smell who can differentiate between hop varieties, by looking, feeling, smelling and tasting the hops in their raw format, dried and or wet.

I’m so new to brewing that I have only used maybe ten different hop varieties to date.  When I had the idea to make some hop tea I had eight varieties in the freezer two of which were opened so left them alone.  From the six I plucked from the deep freeze, three were UK varieties, and three US two from the US and one German.  From the UK: East Kent Goldings (EKG), Fuggles and Pilgrim, from Germany: Magnum and from the US: Chinnook and Columbus.  The %AA values scribbled on the pieces of paper are to denote the alpha acids present in the hop resin.  Alpha acids provide the bitterness we enjoy in beer.  Beta acids complete the resins found in hops and contribute to the beers aroma.  High AA beers, for example the Columbus are primarily used for their bittering qualities with this particular harvest offering 16.5% alpha acids by weight (AABW).  Aroma hops usually have a lower concentration of alpha acids and higher concentration of beta acids.  Just to confuse those of you who are even newer to brewing than I am, some bittering hops (which are typically boiled for longer during the brewing process to impart their bitterness) can also be used successfully as aroma hops, and hops primarily used for adding aroma can be used in larger quantities throughout the boil to impart bitterness and aroma.

Dry hops

Fuggle 4.3% AA

Despite having come straight from the freezer, the hops were dry, pale yellow in colour and had very little aroma. The little aroma present was grassy.  Having recently been to a brewday where a single hop fuggle beer filled the air with fresh orange pith, my stock was a poor reflection.  Possibly past their best.

East Kent Goldings 5.2% AA

Like with the fuggles, these were dry to the touch, more a pale green in colour and had a very weak, yet sweet aroma, even when rubbed between my fingers.  This was not what I had been hoping for. Possibly past their best.

Pilgrim 11.2% AA

I bought these recently and used them in an IPA as the bittering hop along with Cascade and plenty of Columbus late in the copper.  They were noticeably more sticky than the fuggles and EKG and pale green in colour.  When rubbed between my fingers they were indeed sticky and pungent, almost cheesy, which I have read is not a great sign of freshness?  Can I just say at this point that I had divided the hops into jars all in one go, so as you might expect there was a strong smell of hops in the kitchen and was making things difficult.

Chinnook 12.4% AA (2009)

These were from a packet I bought  a couple of months ago and were dry with a slight resinous feel and light green in colour.  The aroma was distinct, white pepper and citrus fruit, very fresh and pleasant.

Magnum 12.7% AA (2010)

As with the Chinnook these had only been in my possession for a couple of months.  The were bright green in colour, very sticky and I have to admit that I found it difficult to identify the aromas, only to say that they had plenty going on.

Columbus 16.5% AA

Also very fresh and green in colour (not as striking as the magnum) and out of all six varieties they had the most aroma, really pleasant, with white pepper and citrus aromas.  I don’t mind saying that I found trying to identify aromas of dry hops very tricky.  Some of them, especially the high alpha acid US varieties were very familiar to me and no doubt due to the beers I’ve been enjoying of late – beers which have been generously dry hopped.

Steeped Hops

The next stage was to add boiling water to each jar and let them steep for ten minutes before tasting each variety.  This is where the wheels fell off my grand hop tasting session!

What can I really say here, without using Google to save me from abject failure.  What I can say with authority is from fuggle through to columbus the hop tea became progressively more unpalatable.  If you brew and have tasted your boiled wort, then you know what I am talking about here.  Especially in highly hopped beers, the wort tastes so bitter that it can be unpleasant and in my opinion not dissimilar to chewing on a Paracetamol tablet.  The aromas were interesting in that, unsurprisingly, the process of steeping intensified the dry aromas, with the columbus been the stand out favourite for me, which bodes well for this brew.

So what did I learn from this exercise? well, I’ve learnt that brewing with the freshest hops you can source is a must.  It may seem obvious to be saying this, but I really didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which the opened packets of hops in my freezer have been degrading.  If you consider that the hops homebrewers buy are probably not the best from the harvest as the choicest hops will have been snapped up by the buyers/distributors and ultimately the major breweries.  Also, theses hops have been handled a lot, they have been packaged and repackaged, experienced changing temperatures and then we (the homebrewer) may use 20g from a 100g packet and then bung them in the freezer with the blind faith that they’ll be fine the next time we happen to use them.  On a lighter note, it may also be fair to say that when smelling a load of hops all in close proximity, then describing their aroma as “hoppy” is acceptable!

I think most importantly, I have confirmed (for my understanding of beer and brewing) that hops may play an important role in the finished beer, but they are nothing without malt, other adjuncts and maybe most importantly the yeast we use to ferment our wort.  Even the sexiest, most sort after American hops taste like death when you drink them in isolation to their partners in crime.  It has been a useful exercise and one I’m not sure I need to repeat, but I’m glad I did it and know the experience will play its part in my development as an amateur brewer.

Some useful resources (but not the only ones available):

Charles Faram & Co Ltd.

Brew365 – Hop Substitution Chart

The Malt Miller – Hops

I hate myself for drinking this particular beer…

I’ve never really tasted a bad beer.  Some I love, some I like and some I won’t rush to revisit, but none that I’ve ever said “never again”.  Like Indiana Jones reluctantly, yet respectfully trying monkey brains for the first time, I found myself politely spitting some beer down the sink this evening, followed swiftly by the rest of the bottle.  Before I name the beer which has dented my faith in the brewing industry, it’s important to say that some of my best friends are cooking lagers.  I don’t mind them, honestly I don’t.  I even happen to rate one or two of them as beers I enjoy, beers that require no thought, just a relaxing sip or gulp while the tv’s on in the background or while the dinners cooking.

Some of these beers carry a label which markets them as ‘Premium’.  I know that it doesn’t actually mean anything, but I still expect something made from malted barley and with an abv of around 5%.  But then along comes a beer I’ve never seen before, it’s a Premium Lager, 5% abv and only 99p a bottle.  I spied it while scanning the shelves at my local off licence, moved past it, before being drawn back to it. “99p!”. I read the bottle and to my surprise it’s bottled close to where I live in Bradford.  So against my better judgement and with the phrase “nothing in this world is free” ringing in my ears, I take it to the till along with the other beers I’d selected, pay and exchange pleasantries with the shop owner about how cheap the beer is.

I return to my chilled beer and take it from the fridge door, open it, pour it and take a picture just in case I’ve happened across a special beer for less than £1.  I sip the beer and realise that my 99p has gone for ever and all I have to show for it is the non-magical ‘beer’ in my glass.  It tastes of nothing, no, it tastes of sugar.  It is thin in the mouth and I can’t tell if I’ve swallowed anything…I check in the mirror and my mouth is empty, so I must have swallowed it, which is strange because my tongue usually sends some sort of message to my brain alerting me to take action.  Good god, this is in appalling excuse for a beer, it should not carry the label, let alone one purporting to be a ‘Premium’ example.  So I lied, I didn’t spit it out, it breached my defences, it made it to my stomach and ultimately withdrew precious savings from my liver. Fuck.  Did I mention that I am appalled by this ‘drink”, and I even use that term loosely. Bollocks…I could have bought a lottery ticket.

Session 61: What Makes Local Beer Better?

This months Session (61st in the series) is hosted by Hooiser Beer Geek‘s Matt.  He’s chosen the topic What Makes Local Beer Better?.

‘Local’ in the literal sense must mean the same thing to most people, a geographical area, a street, village, town, city or region.  At a push local could actually be a nation if you are talking globally. But local can mean so much more.  You don’t have to be from a locality to enjoy a product from one of it’s population.  However, it seems there is ever increasing importance placed on local produce.  Tapping into customers emotions and sense of identity is a small part of the marketing machine which parts us from our cash.  We value provenance and honesty in the products we buy, we like to support local business and enjoy the sense of pride this can evoke in our sense of local.  We often have a romantic notion of ‘local’ from our childhood; the local sweet shop, fish & chip shop etc.  In our late teens we might adopt a local Public House where we know all the regular faces, be part of a pub quiz team and may even be asked “your usual?” by the landlord as you approach the bar.

However, ‘local’ can have negative connotations of segregation, insular thinking and have a blinkered effect on anyone not already aware of the bigger picture.  Businesses and brands can unintentionally create barriers and push people away.  Slightly off the point, but that scene from An American Werewolf in London as David and Jack seek refuge from the foggy moorland in the local pub, The Slaughtered Lamb.  If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that the pub falls silent, drinks are held in suspended animation while all eyes are turned on the outsiders as they stand nervously at the door.  We’ve all been there!

This is a local shop for local people, there’s nothing for you here! – League of Gentleman

It’s important to retain a local brand or identity but equally important to remain part of a wider group, attracting ‘outside’ interest and while keeping your loyal customers.  Physical distance is no longer a serious barrier to communication or collaboration (see.Twitter).  No longer do we need to fear what’s not on our back doorstep, or wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about the construction of the  new road to London, linking us to doom and the destruction of our ‘local ways’.

When I look back at my spending habits when it comes to beer, I realise that the type of breweries I’ve been interested in has not so much shifted, but more that my awareness of what is available to me from my locality has changed.  Local to me is West Yorkshire (UK) and if I was goaded sufficiently then I would say ‘The North’, and as we all know, West Yorkshire has a healthy crop of breweries capable of keeping a beer lover amorous.

As an added point, while I was writing this post, I was aware that my reference points are ‘local’, exclusive to those from the UK, television owners or those with an interest in film.  But maybe this is the point that Matt is playing devil’s advocate on? ‘Local’ doesn’t mean you can only enjoy or comprehend beers from the town recorded on your birth certificate, and ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily make a beer “better”.

A Grand Day Out

It was my birthday at the weekend and I enjoyed some much needed family time at home.  All this safe in the knowledge that I had the day of work on the Monday (yesterday), with a plan to escape the day job and treat myself to a brewday on a larger scale than my home setup.  A while back I wrote about Phil Saltonstall and his Brass Castle Brewery.   Since his launch in September Phil and his beers have enjoyed recognition at local festivals, including his Vanilla Porter (Bad Kitty) winning Champion Beer at the York & Cider Festival.  I’ve continued to watch Brass Castle developments via twitter and always intended to take up Phil’s kind offer of a brewday.

After a late start I arrived at the brewhouse, having navigated the winding roads of my native East Yorkshire countryside, as roads turn to tracks laden with mud and animal produce, and ‘passing places’ save you from the locals “drive straight and true” attitude.  The brewhouse was already a hive of activity as Phil and Assistant Brewer Ian were nearing the end of the mash.  With my keen bat senses I already knew this as I approached the building, steam billowing from every outlet.  A beautiful setting on Lord Halifax’s Garrowby Estate and a much needed increase in capacity from his 1BBL brewery back in nearby Pocklington.

Soon after I arrived I was introduced to Gavin Aitchison (News editor and pub columnist at the York Press) and Paul Marshall (Landlord of the Waggon & Horses, York).  We were given the brief tour of the brewery and then enjoyed the ensuing brewday as we chatted and quizzed Phil and Ian on their operation.  The brew was a single hopped, low abv, Pale Amber Heritage Ale and I understand this will be called Number 1 or #1 with it being the first brew at the new premises.  More information on this from Gavin at the weekend.   Despite the unfamiliar look and the obvious step up from the kit I use at home, there was a refreshing familiarity with the Victorian equipment and the manual processes that went with it.

I have seen a few modern breweries on tours and while I know enough to nod along in the right places, it’s not easy to grasp the brewing process when most vessels are enclosed, electronically controlled and the liquor, wort and beer being despatched at great speed through a mess of stainless steel tubing.  This is certainly the kind of set up that is needed once demand dictates, but at Brass Castle’s Garrowby Brewhouse this is all stripped back to two copper vessels, a hopper and a large gas burner where the coal fire once lived.  As I watched Phil and Ian work together to understand the mechanics, adjust and readjust the pipework, wrestle with levers and pulleys to raise the heavy equipment and generally overcome what many would see as limitations, I felt right at home and realised that my two vessel home set-up and faffy batch sparging process is really all that is needed to brew some tasty beer.

With the beer tucked up in the fermentation vessel and with the fun over, myself, Gavin and Paul quickly said our goodbyes and left Phil and Ian to clean up!  sadly we had left our overalls and wellies at home.  Thank you to my hosts, I had a really enjoyable day and look forward to trying Brass Castle beer again soon!

Meet The Home Brewer: David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) | Beer Reviews – Beer Blog

Meet me, the homebrewer me, over on Beer Reviews.

Meet The Home Brewer: David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) | Beer Reviews – Beer Blog.