British Hops – Use them or lose them?

October’s Industry Insider article in CAMRA’s ‘What’s Brewing’ newspaper is brought to us by hop farmer Ali Capper, and it’s discussing the state of the British hop growing industry.  You might say that the content is a rallying call to British brewers “…celebrate the beers that British hops produce to help stop the decline of the British hop growing industry“.  This blog post is a layman’s response to what is unquestionably a complex situation that the British hop industry finds itself in.  Having said that, I’m British, I love beer and brew beer at home so I do have an opinion, albeit a rather ‘write as you think’ kind of approach.

Threats to the industry:

  • EU trade rules and the resulting uneven playing ground due to the different levels of government support hop growing nations receive.
  • The domination of lager sales in global and UK markets.
  • High Alpha New World hop varieties.

Strengths of the British industry:

  • A growing number of British breweries.
  • Resurgence in brewing full flavoured beers.
  • The importance of provenance.
  • 20 British hop varieties to choose from (inc. High AA hops like Phoenix, Pilgrim, Target & Admiral).
  • Environmental efficiencies of production e.g. development of disease resistant hop strains.
  • Export.  American brewers brewing American style beers using British hops.
  • Development of new hop varieties, notably Endeavour.
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, the National Hop Association has re-branded itself to make new ground in the export market.  The British Hop Association will be championing British hops through partnership working with hop merchants, as well as a marketing campaign to gain the attentions of brewers who may not currently buy British.

The information above is paraphrased from the What’s Brewing article, but I do have a few thoughts to add:

As a homebrewer I use very small quantities of hops relative to the commercial brewers, but am I naive in thinking my actions as a homebrewer have no impact on the British hop industry?  I brew beer made predominantly with the New World hops that Ali talks about.  American and New Zealand hops have featured heavily in my recent beers and while my spending power is unlikely to directly affect the industry, maybe I/we do so as part of the larger network of British homebrewers?

More importantly, commercial brewers currently brewing beers with hops that boast a large carbon footprint, need the confidence to brew with British hops, this is their livelihood after all.  Established recipes and loyal customer bases will make this a difficult transition, but there is nothing to say that brewers shouldn’t / couldn’t do both to meet demands?  Also, I think from a personal point-of-view I would hate to see some breweries change beyond all recognition, I can think of several that provide excellent American style beer as well as much needed CHOICE, which is what most consumers love.

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Looking in from the outside on the commercial industry, it looks to me as if there is serious competition for New World hops.  As this becomes more competitive some brewers are either unable to brew certain beers from their existing range, or they are having to adapt and substitute or blend hops to get as close as possible to what their customers will expect to taste.  I’m told that the NZ Riwaka variety is no longer exported due to its popularity?  I’m guessing this is an example of a government or an industry body taking steps to protect the interests of domestic brewers? It would be a disaster to think that a New Zealander or a visitor to the country couldn’t drink a beer brewed with their home-grown hop varieties.  It would be a defining moment for our domestic industry if a British hop variety was to do the same!

Finally, consumer attitudes need to be trained and awareness raised to enable an informed choice to support British beer brewed with British hops. But lets not forget those breweries abroad who are doing the same.

Ali Capper and Co. are developing their campaign to promote British hops.  Follow their progress on Twitter @BritishHops and for news of their website which is due to launch late autumn 2012.

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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?

Discuss.

Saltaire Brewery Beer Festival 2011

 PictureWhen I bought my ticket for the Saltaire Brewery Beer Festival 2011 (September  16th-17) back in July, I was feeling rather pleased with myself as I usually leave it until the last minute and miss out.  When the Brewery started sending updates about the beers they were sourcing I couldn’t wait for the date to come around.  Just as Saltaire confirmed its lineup, CAMRA released its Good Beer Guide for 2012 with the news that Yorkshire has welcomed an impressive 16 new breweries in the past 12 months, making it the number one region for beer in terms of its choice of real ale and wealth of new and established brewing talent.  You can see all the details of the CAMRA findings in the Yorkshire Post.  Saltaire took full advantage of having an embarrassment of amazing beer right on its doorstep and chose a mouthwatering line-up including Yorkshire’s; Magic Rock, Kirkstall, Old Spot and not forgetting Saltaire Brewery’s six offerings, including Saltaire Blonde, South Island Pale and a couple of new ones in Madagascan Ale (5% Pale) and Bulldog a 4.6% Brown Ale.  South Island Pale being my pick of the bunch.
Other breweries of note and of particular interest to me were Buxton and Hardknott as I have tried and continue to return to their bottled beers time and time again.  And as if all that lot wasn’t enough,  you could also feast on beers from Marble, Liverpool Organic, Captain Cook and Dark Star to name but a few.  I did also find myself drawn to the cider tent, no not for the cider, although the choice matched that of the beer, but for the Sierra NevadaPale Ale and Kolsch.  At times I had to pinch myself, as there I was in Shipley, struggling to decide what I wanted to drink next, knowing that I had my alcohol tolerance working against me.Saltaire outdid themselves on the beer front (28 in total plus 10 craft ciders), but also on the infrastructure which has been born out of their successful monthly Beer Club.  In addition to the marquee, there was also extra seating under heated parasols, which as the weatherman had predicted were much needed and most definitely appreciated – it rained a little bit (ahem!).  Add to all of that the barbecued food on offer and it doesn’t take a beer geek to tell you that it was a very good night indeed.

I’m not sure if there was an official vote for the beer of the festival, but I do know that it was Magic Rock Brewing Co’s Curious a 3.9% Original Pale Ale and the breweries flagship beer which sold out first.  For me, my favourites of the night (from the 10 that I tried) included Magic Rock’s High Wire, Buxton’s Axe Edge and Captain Cook’s Schooner Grenville, although my pick of the festival was Marble Brewery’s Utility,their 5.7% IPA.  For anyone that tried it, no explanation needed here, for anyone wondering, I suggest you hunt it down and see for yourself! delicious!

Excellent work by Saltaire’s team and I’m looking forward to next years festival already!

Do you like really good beer?

PictureNow that I have your attention, I’d like to give you the opportunity to get involved in a new beery campaign.  The Campaign for Really Good Beer (CAMRGB) burst onto the blogging scene in July this year and if you choose to read no further in this post, then please take a quick look at the CAMRGB blog here to hear what the guys have to say and take a look at the excellent beer and pub reviews; as well as interviews with brewers and invitational contributions from various writers.  If you prefer, you can link to the CAMRGB Facebook page here, although the blog site is now in full swing so don’t miss out.

Thank you if you are still reading!  While I can’t add much more than the guys do on their blog, I thought I’d just write a few lines explaining my involvement and how else you can support this much needed campaign.  No matter which way you cut it, there is currently only one beer campaign (please correct me here if I’m wrong).  The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) needs neither introduction nor any elaboration from me.  They are well organised and know what they like and woe betide anyone who thinks they can stand in the way of this particular Wagon Train.  I’m a member and don’t expect change any time soon.  But as a beer drinker who likes to think of himself as a neutral… I plan to be members of both CAMRA and CAMRGB.  Afterall, all work promoting tasty beer is good work in my eyes.
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“At night the wagon master would have the wagons form a big circle for protection from hostile Indians, marauders and other dangers …The captain, also known as the wagon master led the caravan down the trail and made any decisions that affected the whole caravan… The scouts helped the captain take care of the members of the wagon train”.
So, CAMRA; Pioneers? yes of course.  Respected? Yes, by many.  Slow-moving? quite possibly.  Ready for change? unlikely.
To put it simply, the Campaign for Really Good Beer may be perceived as just another ‘hostile’, but look a little closer and see that all they are saying is that it’s about time we celebrated really good beer for its own sake.  “Good craft beer is good craft beer”… and everything else surrounding this good beer are mere details.  You can read CAMRGB’s open letter to CAMRA-ites here.  In essence, the campaign is meant to be lighthearted and another way to celebrate really good beer through understanding and respecting the amazing things that people do in the name of a decent pint.
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First AGM was Friday 19th August.

I became aware of CAMRGB through twitter (@CrayolaSarandon) and am now a member and will be chipping in with the odd beer review.  If you fancy becoming a member (membership is free) just email CAMRGBHQ@gmail.comAnd if like me you enjoy discuss the beer in your hand, then use #CAMRGB or maybe even the odd well placed ‘Follow Friday’ #FF and lets get Really Good Beer trending.  Thanks for reading and thank you to Simon (CAMRGB) for contributing to this post.

CAMRA: To be or not to be?

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Disclaimer: This is not a post for postings sake. This is not an attempt to have a cheap pop at an organisation I know next to nothing about. This is a post to elaborate on recent discussions with like minded beer folk.  Ultimately this is a post which will document a thought process.The subject header of this discussion is slightly misleading as the post does not intend to question the existence of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), as there is no doubt that decisive activists past and continued advocates present  make CAMRA a key player in the continuing rise and success of Real Ale.   The subject of this discussion is based purely on a personal dilemma; should I take membership in CAMRA?  Hardly a dilemma in real-terms given the types of hard-hitting decisions people make on a daily basis, but more a dilemma in the context of personal interest.

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On first appraisal I looked upon this question as a matter of; “do I want to spend £20 on this membership?”.  As a result of my Yorkshire-tight-fistedness I have not parted with my cash yet.  Reason being that I have managed to convince myself that £20 would be better spent in a pub or in a bottle shop.  That’s correct, my twisted rhetoric has me believe that buying beer is the only way to support the thing that I love.  However, as my beer career has developed, I have being increasingly aware of CAMRA as both an organisation and as a topic of conversation and or heated debate.

Picture My beer background, in brief, is that I am foremost a homebrewer who is slowly finding his way in what appears to be a vast choice of beer (and I use the word ‘beer’ as a way to describe all barley, hop, water and yeast based beverages).  I would also like to believe that I am yet to ‘pledge an allegiance’ to either side of what, on occasions, appears to be reduced to a playground spat where you are forced to pick your gang and not stray too far from it for fear of wedgies, Chinese-burns or even a purple-nurple!  One side of this spat seems to be CAMRA and the other side being those who see most beers as ‘Real’ and do not feel that the storage receptacle; be it cask, keg or bottle; or the locality in which the ingredients were sourced and the beer brewed as being relevant when acknowledging these beers as Good.  Mark Dredge has written about this in more detail and in more specific terms of a beer Bloggerati – see Pencil and Spoon.  Leigh Linley explores a little further about Cask vs Keg vs Bottle vs Can here – see The Good Stuff.

To be fair to all concerned, there are also a large – if not the largest, group of apathetic drinkers of beer who could be in either of the groups described above.  Subdivision of this group sees those that are aware of the debate and choose not to be get involved; and  those who are blissfully unaware that the circus is in town.  While this is a topic of debate in itself, it is my belief that it is this group of apathetic beer drinkers that hold the key to the success of good beer triumphing over bad* (*mass produced accountants beer).  First and foremost I consider myself to be in this group and am desperately looking to those with the power to tell me where I should be concentrating my efforts to champion good beer.  It is also only fair and proper to clarify that there are also divisions of opinion or liberalism and conservatism (if I may use such emotive and political terms) within CAMRA and the Blogeratti… i.e. there are CAMRA members who are staunch traditionalists in their vision for Real Ale and there are those who are open to beer evolution; as there are also Bloggers who love cask beer and whole-heartedly support CAMRA; and of course Bloggers who do not see the value in embracing CAMRA for what it is, and for what it could be given the time and potential to change.

And breathe! …

Getting back to my point; “do I want to be a member of CAMRA?”.  Well lets look at my case.  I find myself to be a lover of good beer; I brew beer in a way that I consider to be true to the drink; I blog about beer and yet I find myself without a sense of belonging due to the conflicting rhetoric bombarding my tiny mind (might I add – this sense of belonging is not important to everyone).  So it seems to me that there is only one course of action and that is to add membership to CAMRA to the above list.  After all, how do I learn and hope to understand all of the aspects of my hobby and passion? and how can I decide whether I can be actively involved in CAMRA if I haven’t even tried its membership?  I did gauge opinion from fellow Tweeters and got a range of answers and suggestions that only support my opinion that division among lovers of good beer is neither use nor ornament.  So, while I may not fully understand the politics, and I am hoping for some feedback on what I know is not an entirely facts based blog post, I feel that I need to stop my silo thinking where beer is concerned and think more in terms of supporting anything that will push good beer closer to and eventually past global bland beers as the everyday choice available to the consumer.  “By definition will this bring our beloved Craft Beer in-line with everything we despise about mind-numbing global produce”? I hear you say… well yes, but only by definition, they may well eventually be global brands, but I know which global brands I’d rather see lined up in front of me when I walk into any pub in the UK.

*Roll credits and hopeful music*

Now for that bit at the end of documentaries where you learn what happened next………..

“Five minutes after producing this blog post, David became a fully paid member of CAMRA and he plans to review this annually.  He still plans to enjoy beer from the keg and from the bottle and plans to blog-it-up on a regular basis”.

P.s. Thanks to @OkellsAles @BeersIveKnown @BenCorkhill @GroveBri @Abarth50010 @Tuff86 @PeteBrownBeer for replying to, or contributing to the debate re: my original Tweet on this topic.