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!

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Brass Castle Brewery

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a homebrewer dreaming of progressing my hobby in the hope that one day I’ll be successfull in selling my beer.  With the brewing industry going from strength to strength and scores of new breweries opening in the last few years, I happened across one start-up brewery who is living this dream.  Brass Castle is a real ale nanobrewery in Pocklington, East Yorkshire.  I hail from a small town in East Yorkshire and moved to Bradford 25 years ago, but I still have a strong connection with the region which makes Brass Castle that bit more of an interest to me.  I’m also very interested in the use of social media to promote brewing and was in touch with Brass Castle when I researched one of my previous blog posts (You are Mutually Oblivious & subsequently You are Mutually Oblivious 2), which shows their Twitter Following rapidly increase as they engaged with the brewing community.  This appears to me to be a subject being taken more seriously by brewers entering a very competitive market, and one where you may see more breweries following Camden Town Brewery‘s example in their recent appointment of Mark Dredge as their social media guru.
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The Brass Castle Nanobrewery

Phil Saltonstall is the owner, brewer and general brew-monkey of the Brass Castle Brewery.  There is definitely a romantic image of owning your own brewery, but I happen to know that it doesn’t all smell of hops!  Plenty goes on behind the pint glass and and it’s hard graft.  Phil is just one example of an amateur homebrewer who, over a period of years, has taken the plunge and turned professional.  Through homebrewing and through his time working at the Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton, New Jersey, Phil has honed his skills and his confidence and is putting his money where his mouth is.  What strikes me though as that you can make this transition from any walk of life and in some cases it is possible to balance brewing with a busy life.  Before concentrating on his beer-calling, Phil was a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter pilot for 9 years and is now a full-time coastguard, but following a Brewlab course at the University of Sunderland and I imagine countless hours he has successfully built his brewery, tested his recipes and sold his beer! Bravo sir!
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Phil Mashing In

To paraphrase some of the comments Phil has made in response to his beer going public, he has been both delighted and encouraged with the early interest he’s received from local pubs and festivals, so much so that he brought forward the launch date of his debut beer.  The original plan was to launch at Pocktoberfest, (@Pocktoberfest if you want to follow their updates), the Pocklington based Music & Beer Festival 2011.  However, given the opportunity to get involved in nearby York, Brass Castle’s Cliffhanger debuted at The Swan and The Slip Inn’s beer festival between 2nd and 4th September.  Seemingly things went well for their first commercial outing and an empty cask along with positive feedback says it all.

Next up is the York Beer and Cider Festival on Knavesmire 15th-17th September where punters will have the pleasure of trying Brass Castle’s second brew, Bad Kitty, a 5.5% abv vanilla porter, along with Cliffhanger 3.8% abv and described as a refreshing hop-laden golden ale, infused with a wave of citrus notes (brewed in honour of Coastguard Rescue Teams, and a proportion of the takings at The Swan and Slip Inn were donated to the Coastguard Association).

Following on from York’s Festival it’s on to the local Pocktoberfest ,29th-30th October, where there will be a chance to try the third addition to Phil’s range, a 4.5% abv Best Bitter.  All’s left to say is keep up the good work Phil (and Harriet) and I look forward to trying your beers the next time I make a trip back to visit family… although I may call ahead and reserve some to make sure I don’t miss out!

Thanks for reading.

If you want to read more about Brass Castle Brewery you can do so at Andy Mogg’s Beer Reviews site in his regular spot; ‘Meet the Brewer‘, in the York Press ‘New Brewery on a Real Cliffhanger‘.  Also, keep an eye on the development of Phil’s website too and don’t forget to Follow @BrassCastleBeer on Twitter to get an insight into a brewers crazy world.  N.B Brass Castle’s beers are also suitable for Vegans.

You are Mutually Oblivious 2 – The Retweet

If you have been vaguely following my fledgling blog, you may have read a post back on 26th July which looked at, among other things, the usefulness of Twitter as a network for breweries of all sizes.  The ability to keep in touch with collaborators; inform your loyal customers what’s brewing and to tap into a new market of people who may not be aware of your brand.  Now that all sounds a bit dry, but I was encouraged by the response that I received from breweries and beer enthusiasts alike to my original post.  I’d like to think that there a few of the previously ‘Mutually Oblivious’ Tweeps that are now reaping the benefits of a few extra ‘Follows’.

You may also remember that I decided to look at the Twitter accounts of all the British breweries that I am Following and list those with fewer than 500 Followers.  I explained that 500 is an arbitrary number and could easily mean nothing in terms of a brewery’s market share or relative success.  However, I was surprised to see a mix of fledgling breweries mixed in with those you would expect to have a much greater following.  A month or so on from this snapshot, I have looked at the same breweries again to see how they are fairing in the ‘Followers’ stakes!

You’ll see there are a couple of breweries that have had a sizeable increase in Followers.  Having seen the recent activity on Twitter, I would say that these are the breweries that Tweet the most and have most likely increased the number of people
they Follow too.  After all, when you are trying to promote your  ‘name’, it’s expanding your own side of the network which is most important.

Loch Ness Brewery have picked up 170 new Followers; and Brass Castle Brewery and Oldershaw Brewery have picked up 143 and 141 respectively.  Tidy work guys!

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Followers 17/07/11       12/08/11         Diff
@bronteales                15                                 23                   +8          Bronte Ales
@shawsbrewery         70                                99                  +29        Shaws Brewery
@brasscastlebeer       84                               227                +143      Brass Castle Brewery
@ridgesidebrewer     126                             158                  +94       Ridgeside Brewery
@wensleydale_ale     137                            155                  +18       Wensleydale Brewery
@redchurchbrewer   145                            235                  +90      Red Church Brewery
@tobymckenzie          183                             223                 +40       Red Willow Brewery
@revolutionsbrew     188                             221                 +33      Revolutions Brewery
@wentwellbrewery    200                            255                +55      Wentwell Brewery
@orkneybrewery        200                            236                +36      The Orkney Brewery
@kentbrewery              207                            230               +23      Kent Brewery
@kirkstallbrew             219                             279                +60     Kirkstall Brewery
@stringersbeer            235                             280                +45     Stringers Beer
@quantumbc                236                             275                +39     Quantum Brewing Co.
@broughtonales         277                             302                +25     Broughton Ales Ltd
@sandstonebrewer    277                             290               +13     Sandstone Brewery
@lochnessbrewery     279                             449              +170   Loch Ness Brewery
@brentwoodbrewco   283                            312                +29     Brentwood Brewing
@durhambrewery       289                            326                +37    The Durham Brewery
@westerhambrew       296                             343               +47    Westerham Brewery
@ccookbrewery          338                             383               +45     Captain Cook Brewery
@quantockbrewery   349                             377               +28     Quantock Brewery
@mallinsons                  366                            402               +36     Mallinsons
@trianglebrewery       370                           392              +22   Golden Triangle Brewery
@bantambreweryco  381                             436              +55    Henry Kirk
@huntersbrewery      403                             438              +35    Hunters Brewery
@wharfebank                420                            468               +48   Wharfe Bank Brewery
@oldbrew                       455                             596              +141   Oldershaw Brewery
@conistonbrewco       467                            530              +63   Coniston Brewing Co.
@lymestonebrewer    472                            500              +28   Ian Bradford
@merlinbrewingco     478                            526               +48   Merlin Brewing Co.

Also, here are some additions to the list of breweries I’m Following which might interest you too.  A few new London breweries starting up which is good to see!

@chiltern_brewer                  51             The Chiltern Brewery
@hackneybrewery                115            Hackney Brewery
@croptonbrewery                 136           Cropton Brewery
@eastlondonbrew                  139            East London Brewery / Steve Lascelles
@hewittsbrewery                  152            Hewitt’s Brewery
@allendaleale                          222            Allendale Brewery
@ldnfldsbrewery                   416            London Fields Brewery

So, read into these increases in readership as you see fit, but whatever we do as a community of brewers, bloggers and drinkers, I think it is mutually beneficial to recipricate a new Follow and help promote our beloved beer!

Thanks for reading.