Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Just off to get some milk, I won't be long...

I'm in the pub. Right now. We ran out of milk so I had to go out, didn't I. The Co-op's the nearest shop that's open now, two or three minutes away. But Wetherspoons is a few doors closer to home. Convenient, right. And the beer festival is on, isn't it. This means I literally can't walk past without seeing what's on, just in case that one beer I'm waiting for is now on. That one beer. This year it's Ballast Point's Calico Ale. Ballast Point in a pub a few hundred yards from my flat? I'd never have thought the sweet day would ever come. Never. But there was hope. I knew it was coming. One day it'd be here. One day soon. I checked the taps earlier, about 7pm, and it wasn't on. It's just past 9pm now. It not being on didn't stop me returning as there were a couple of others I wanted to try that are currently on the bar - that smoky Twaites beer, the jamaican stout, something with plums, why not. But I'm back here and guess what... It's on. Ballast Point Calico Ale. A bloody Ballast Point beer served in a pub on the road that I live on. Brilliant. I just don't want it to disappoint. Some of the other brewed-under-license beers end up being dire shadows of what they should be. At Shepherd Neame they usually do a decent job (with other people's recipes, anyway). But this one? I've got one mouthful left in my pint. One glorious gulp. And then? Then I'm going straight back for another.

(Bursting aroma of pithy citrus, slightly burnt; smooth, caramel body, hints of chocolate; a bitterness that clings like silk to a soft thigh. I like this beer a lot)

Monday, 28 March 2011

Avery Brown Dredge: The Launch

Avery Brown Dredge is here! The Imperious Pilsner that Zak, Pete and I designed and brewed at BrewDog is now ready and will be launched on Thursday 31st March.

At 7.5%, brewed with a back-breaking amount of malt and a tastebud-trembling 50kg of Saaz hops (in a 20HL brew), it’s been lagering since the end of January and has just finished a final burst of dry-hopping with more Saaz.

The beer will be launched in three locations simultaneously:

Zak will be at North Bar, Leeds.
Pete will be at The Jolly Butchers, Stoke Newington.
I will be at The Rake, London Bridge.

All locations will kick off from 7.00-7.30pm and we’ll have kegs and bottles of the beer plus there’ll be Punk IPA and some Bitch Please, the collaboration between BrewDog and 3 Floyds.

Anyone can attend and it’s not ticketed so just turn up and drink the beer! Grab a bottle too and see the label that the three of us found so hard to try and write in our very, very hungover state.

Hopefully see some of you there. If you can’t make one of the launches then it’ll be available online and in some beer stores soon.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pale Malt Cookies

Cookies made with pale malt.

This recipe gave me 10 fat cookies, crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle:

150g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
85g soft brown sugar
1 egg
One drop of vanilla extract
200g plain flour
Big pinch of salt
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
80g pale malt (with a little reserved)
20g oats

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. Add the egg and mix. Add the vanilla extract and then mix all the remaining ingredients (if you want to crush the malt in a pestle and mortar then you can - I didn’t and liked the texture). If the mix gets too sticky then add a few drops of water (or beer!). Butter some baking trays, spread them out, sprinkle some more malt on top and bake for about 15 minutes at 170C.

These are delicious! The malt has a nutty and light sweetness to it which works so well with the buttery cookie, adding great extra flavour and texture. If any brewers or homebrewers have any spare malt (of course you have!) then I recommend baking these. They also work really well with beer on the side.

I’ve now got a few other recipes I want to try with malt as an ingredient, so I’d better find a nearby brewery who can spare a few scoops... I’d also love to try this recipe with dark malt and add chocolate chips.

This idea was inspired by a box of maris otter malt biscuits which I received in the post from Little Rose Bakery. There were two different kinds, one semi-sweet and one savoury, and they were so good I wanted to make my own.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2011: The Agenda

The agenda for the European Beer Bloggers Conference, which is taking place in London on 20-22 May 2011, is now set and I think it looks fantastic! We’ve tried to pull together people and sessions which will be interesting to a wide range of people while also being relevant, interesting and fun.

This is what we’ll be enjoying and everything is at The Brewery unless otherwise stated...

Thursday, May 19, 2011
Optional pub crawl in London for anyone who wants to start a day early. Details to be announced.

Friday, May 20, 2011
12:00PM         Registration & Meet the Sponsors (and drink some beer!)
2:00 PM          Welcome from Scott Wilson, Director of Public Affairs, MolsonCoors
2:15 PM           History of Brewing in London with Peter Haydon from Meantime Brewing
3:00 PM            British and Worldwide Beer Markets – Past, Present, and Future with David Sheen from British Beer & Pub Association
4:00 PM            Do’s and Don’ts of Beer Blogging with Pete Brown, Mark Fletcher, & Melissa Cole
5:00 PM            Identifying Flavours and Off Flavours in Beer with FlavorActiV
6:30 PM            Dinner at The Brewery courtesy of MolsonCoors
8:30 PM            Evening Party at The Brewery – details coming soon

Saturday, May 21, 2011
9:45 AM             Breweries and Social Media panel
10:45 AM           International Beer Blogging panel
11:45 PM            Shaking up the Brewing Scene with Martin Dickie from BrewDog
12:30 PM            Lunch on your own at local restaurants and pubs (although I’m working on something which would be very cool…!)
2:00 PM             Session with the British Guild of Beer Writers – details coming
3:00 PM             Beer and Food Pairing with The Beer Academy
4:30 PM             Live Beer Blogging
6:00 PM             Dinner at Dirty Dick’s Pub with Wells & Young’s
8:00 PM             Night of Many Beers at Camden Town Brewery

Sunday, May 22, 2011
11:00 AM           The Effect of Ingredients on Beer Flavour at Fuller’s Brewery
12:00 noon        Brewery tour at Fuller’s
1:00 PM              Lunch at Fuller’s
2:00 PM             Conference finish
4:00 PM             Optional: Arsenal at Fulham football match, last game of the season (tickets extra) or visit a few pubs or go home and recover

The Friday night sponsor has been confirmed and we’ll announce it as soon as they finalise their plans, but if we get what has been proposed then it truly will be something unmissable (seriously!). The Dos and Don’ts blogging session will look at lots of different issues to do with blogging, such as free samples, using video, advertising, length of posts, and so on (if there’s any particular issue you think needs addressing then say!). The Breweries and Social Media panel will be interesting to see things from the other side of the mash tun and we’ve got some great people lined up for that. I love the idea of the Off Flavour session and we’ll be getting spiked samples of beers to learn more about off flavours and their causes. The Guild of Beer Writers will probably be doing a session on the Future of Beer Writing with a couple of speakers and then the chance for the floor to have their own input.

For the Live Blogging and Night of Many Bottles we’ve got some cool breweries signed up already, which is very exciting, including the promise of a few breweries that I know will get the beer geek pulse rate jumping up. We’ll be able to announce all these details better in the next few weeks, including all the breweries taking part. We’ll be at Camden Town Brewery so we can have a brewery tour and there’ll be beer served from every dispense.

If any brewers want to sponsor then there are still a few slots available – contact me to find out more. The Conference is also aimed at bloggers from around the world (and to those who blog about wine and food as well as beer) and we’ve got a few travelling from around Europe to attend. If you are from a brewery and want to attend to find out more about blogging and meet writers and industry professionals then you are very welcome to sign up!

There’s less than two months to go so get your tickets and hotels sorted if you are planning on attending! 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Brewery History: Issue 139. Michael Jackson

The latest issue of Brewery History is dedicated to Michael Jackson. It’s a compilation put together by 10 contributors: Pete Brown, Jeff Evans, Martyn Cornell, Tim Webb, Roger Protz, Zak Avery, Carolyn Smagalski, JR Richards, John Keeling and me. It tracks Michael’s career, his writing, his influence around the world and it ends with my piece about his ongoing influence in the new media.

The issue will be launched at The Rake on Sunday 27 March at 6pm. It’s a fitting day as it would’ve been Michael Jackson’s 69th birthday. A few of us will be there on Sunday, along with Tim Holt, the editor, where issues will be available to buy (or you can buy them here).

Steve Williams and Pete Brown have both covered the event here.

I never met Michael Jackson – I started writing about beer after he’d died – but his influence is incredible and impossible to underestimate and his writing lines my bookshelves. It was an honour to be asked to contribute and I can’t wait to read the issue.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

CAMRA: The impact of beer duty rises on pubs

Yesterday CAMRA released a photofilm about the effects of rising beer duty on pubs. In their own words:
The photofilm highlights the devastating impact on pubs of successive increases in beer tax - which has gone up 26% since 2008 and is set to increase by another 7% - which could put another 10p on the price of a pint in the pub. CAMRA is calling for the Chancellor to freeze beer duty in Wednesday's Budget.
Britain already has the second highest rate of excise duty on beer in Europe, and further increases threaten the jobs, tax revenue and social benefits of beer. CAMRA is arguing that with 29 pubs closing every week, what our community pubs and pub goers need from the Government is a lifeline, not a death knell.

I like this and it gets across the message simply with some nice infographics. The images of boarded up pubs are a sad reminder of the death of the pub caused by industry complications, some of which could be treated or alleviated. It’s also a pub-focussed extension to the Proud of Beer film produced by SIBA which is another attempt to raise the profile of an industry which needs some assistance from the government, not more taxes. 

And is that Mark Fletcher from Real Ale Reviews on the right in the yellow and black shirt?!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Beer Jelly and Ice Cream

I used to eat a lot of jelly; a huge bowl made with half a bottle of vodka and as little water as we could get away with to make it set. That was as good as dessert got when I was at university and we’d sit around tucking into it between cans of lager and shots of Tesco Value gin (we lived like kings in those days).

I’ve wanted to make beer jelly for too-long. I’ve wanted to make it with beer ice cream to be a boozy twist on the kids classic. I wanted to serve it in a beer glass so it looked like a pint. I also wanted it to be a play on a black and tan, with IPA jelly and stout ice cream. 

It’s a simple recipe. The ice cream is a pot of good vanilla custard and about 100ml of Guinness FES (any stout will do) – you can make your own custard if you want but I cheated. The jelly starts by softening gelatine sheets in about 100ml of the beer – I used a can of Punk IPA. Then make a sugar syrup – you want it to be very sweet (four tablespoons of sugar in about 100ml of water) so that it balances the bitterness (if you used a different beer then you could use less sugar). When the syrup is ready, take it off the heat for a few seconds and then stir in the gelatine with the beer it’s been soaking in. Let the gelatine dissolve and then pour this into a jug along with the rest of the beer. Put it into glasses or serving dishes and leave to set in the fridge.

And the taste? It’s really interesting... It’s jelly and ice cream but not like we know it, far from the bright red wobble of Rowntree’s with white rectangles of ice cream cut from a box. It’s fruity, a little fizzy and there’s some bitterness at the end. Put it with the ice cream and it dulls that bitterness, giving the flavour of beer in both, which is great, really interesting and unusual – it’s not over-sweet and there’s a savoury depth to it.

I used Punk IPA to see if the tropical fruit aroma and flavour stayed with it and it does, just. The trouble is that the bitterness is harsh on its own and that’s not something you want in a dessert. Some pieces of fruit, mango or mandarin (tinned, of course), would balance this and most other beer jelly recipes I’ve seen come with fruit in them (they are also made with fruit beer).

I now want to try it with kriek (a proper sour one) or a sweetened fruit beer. I’d also be interested in a Budweiser jelly or one made with wheat beer. Or maybe black tea jelly with milk ice cream and a biscuit on the side... I’d like to try ice cream and jelly made from the same beer as well – I think it’d make a playful dinner party pre-dessert, especially if served in shot glasses so it looks like beer. Or taken to the next logical stage it’s a full-on beer trifle (beer cake used as sponge, beer jelly, beer-soaked fruit, beer custard, BEER!).

My kitchen experiments continue and I’ve got lots more things I still want to try! Anyone got any cool ideas for using beer in food that I can steal and try out?

Friday, 18 March 2011

The joy of subtlety; the complexity of explaining it

I talked some people through a beer tasting recently. The group were there to learn more about beer in general and get an overall idea about the flavours and varieties you can get with an eye on food matching. We chose a long list of beers, maybe 30, from around the world – England, Scotland, US and Australia. Nothing too crazy, only things which are easily available, but still picking the best that we felt we could, with a heavy bias towards American hops plus a few darker beers for balance.

The people we were drinking with wanted a beer menu, so we were talking them through all the beers. Because of their menu there was the C-hop bias as this is what we felt would work best. This one tastes like this because... it’s this style which means... this works great with food because... this has an interesting story... Simple stuff, nothing too beer-geeky. It was really interesting from my point of view to see how ‘normal’ people reacted to these beers, seeing which they loved and which they didn’t. Some we expected them to love, they hated, and vice versa. But the difficult bit came when we had to explain subtlety.

Some of the best beers were subtle. They are perfectly made and delicious but inherently subtle and not flavour bombs to blow your tastebuds away (but they were the beers we thought would sell best on the menu...). When faced with an American IPA and then trying to extol the virtues of a pilsner, it’s difficult, especially as I’d been exclaiming the importance of flavour intensity to match foods. How did this delicate lager now fit in?

The trouble was that we were drinking them in gulps then moving onto the next (not from IPA to pilsner but our thoughts were always wandering and comparing with half-finished glasses spread around the table). This is fine for big flavour but it doesn’t work with subtle one which require time, consideration and a few pints. You can’t easily fall in love with a lager or best bitter on one sip, but sit there with a pint of it and your heart is grabbed.

So how do you describe the joys of subtlety in a pint? You can’t say it’s got less flavour because the flavour just works differently, it’s deeper and wider rather than hard and fast down the middle. Yet these beers are the ones that more people will enjoy, they are simple, yet if you want to find more in the glass then with the best beers you can and will; you’ll pull out the hops, the yeast, the body, the finish and then, more importantly, there’s the sociability of drinking and chatting over pints (not over tiny pours of extreme beers).

I think the best beers in the world are subtle and simple – a great lager, a session ale. They are the beers I most enjoy drinking – DarkStar Hophead, Marble Pint, the irresistible Bernard Unfiltered, Taras Boulba, Brooklyn Lager and so many more; beers with great flavour which are enjoyable and unchallenging to drink, superb in their subtlety. However, look at the latest lists of the highest rated beers in the world and the majority are as subtle as a slap around the face from Louis Spence. As much as I love my tooth enamel being stripped by alpha acid erosion, simpler beers are just more fun to drink (which is something Fuggled discussed recently). The only difficulty comes when trying to describe it to others...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Rebuyability of Expensive Bottled Beers

I’ve spent a lot of money on beer in the last few years As I want to try lots of different beers I’m happy to pay a premium for something that I know has got some story to it, is rare or unusual. Because of this I regularly spend up to or beyond £10 on a bottle (though £10 is my flinch point where I think again if I actually want to spend that much on one beer). Ultimately, if it’s a beer that I want to try then I’ll buy it, but what I’m interested in is how re-buyable these expensive bottles are?

I want to try new beers and I like trying new beers but I also have favourites which are always in the cupboard or fridge ready to go. Most of these favourites are every day beers but there are a few special ones which I can’t resist – some Mikkeller beers, Struise, some big American stouts. If the beer costs me less than £2 a bottle then I don’t think twice and I buy it but if that favourite beer costs a lot more then I feel should justify the expense...

The price variable with bottles is large. Each different beer has its own value (it has to be a pretty special 5% beer for me to pay £4 for it, unless it’s in a big bottle) but of the expensive ones, which will I return to? If an online shop gets a pallet of interesting beers in then I’ll likely buy some of the ones I want to try, regardless of cost, but if the same shipment comes in a few months later then do I buy the same ones again even – the ones I really enjoyed – at £12 a bottle? Or do I buy eight bottles at £4 each? Or do I just buy a completely different selection?

It needs to be pretty damn good for me to buy a second bottle of beer which costs over £10 – the first time is ok, the second I think again, whatever it is. For many beers I’ll flinch at £5-6 if I’ve had it before, so I guess that means I’m a fairly fickle first time buyer of beer bottles. That also means I buy lots of beers once, tick them off as done, and move on. I will buy them again but usually only for a dedicated occasion, maybe a food pairing or to share with friends who I know will like it.

So how rebuyable are expensive bottled beers? What’s your flinch point on the price tag? Buying them once is okay for the curious drinker like me who wants to try new beers from favourite or different breweries, but how much is too much when you go back for more? 

Monday, 14 March 2011

7 Things

I got sucked into an internet chain mail by Jay Brooks and, because it’s just a bit of fun, I can’t resist it. The idea is to post 7 Things that you might not know about me and then ask 15 more people to do it themselves and then they pass it on... I won’t ask 15, I’ll just invite anyone who blogs and reads this to carry it on in their blogs.

Piercings. I’ve had almost everything pierced (except for my nose and belly button)... I went through a phase for a few years. I had 14 piercings altogether. I’ve now taken them all out. My earlobes once featured 8mm holes and I had a dodgy one in my ear cartilage which put me on an intravenous drip for a few days. The last piercing I took out was called a smiley. I’ve also got some tattoos, including a white heart on my wrist. I want more tattoos but I keep spending money on beer instead of saving it.

Red hair. I dyed my hair bright red once. To get it as red as possible I bleached it first. It was really red. I spent a whole Christmas like that once. What was I thinking?! I had to dye it to get rid of the colour when I had to go back to school but I chose to bleach it which left me with pink hair and white roots. I had to then dye it brown to cover it all up. I’ve had many crazy hairstyles and spent about four years of my late teens using hair dye in creative ways...

Cricket. I played cricket throughout school and university, being captain of the 2nd XI in my final year of university cricket. I bowled leg spin, batted in the top order and hid myself somewhere quiet in the field. I was never really any good at cricket. In front of a mirror I had a near-perfect technique. In the nets I wasn’t bad either. Put me out on the square and I couldn’t score runs, which isn’t ideal for a batsman. I once got out for a duck in the 9th or 10th over – I opened the batting. I’ve played one game since uni but I do still miss attempting to hit the ball though the covers or ripping down a vicious leg spinner.

Sports Calendar. I once posed topless in a calendar at my university. It was for the Student Union sports teams and raised money for charity. Wearing some of my cricket whites you can see the strength of my back foot defensive shot.

Laser eyes. I’ve had laser eye surgery. I had bad eyes and so decided to spend lots of money which I didn’t have to get them fixed. I’m very glad I did it!

Fat. I used to be really fat. Until I realised girls existed (which, because I went to a boy’s grammar school, was when I was about 15) I would wobble around. Fat Dredge they called me. I soon discovered that if I swapped fizzy drinks for water and chocolate bars for fruit that I could lose weight. I also used to wear big, round glasses and have braces. I may have realised that girls existed but it took a little longer until they noticed me!

I’ve written a novel. I did it in a few months just after I started this blog. Since then it’s been printed out and sitting in a shoe box waiting for me to do something with it. Last summer I took it on holiday with me and did a thorough paper edit which made me realise how much work is needed to pull it into shape. This year I’ve promised myself that I will at least try and do that edit to see how it comes together. I also wrote another 35,000 words of a different story but it wasn’t working as I’d hoped. That story is about a brewer so I might go back to it sometime.

That’s my 7 things, now over to you!

I'm assuming that having mentioned the calendar shot that you'd all want to see my back foot defensive! 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Recent Beer Reading

I’ve been nose-deep in a few good beer books recently... And a few good non-beer books, too...

Travels with Barley by Ken Wells is his search for the perfect beer joint, choosing the Mississippi as his rough guide but also diverting around the US. Wells is a beer fan but not yet a beer geek and it’s a fascinating journey into the microcosm of bar life and bar flies around the US. I definitely recommend it – the chapter on Budweiser’s hop farm is worth it alone.

Andy Crouch’s Great American Craft Beer is a guide to the finest beers and breweries in the US and I like it a lot. It’s got a simple design, it’s colourful and colourfully written, making it engaging and fun to read with some of the best tasting notes I’ve read in a long time plus interesting introductions to each style. There’s also some history and some food and beer, which is also good. Thirsty reading!

The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant is the best beer book I’ve read since Hops and Glory. It’s the story of the journey between Britain’s most southerly and northerly pubs and it’s fuelled with fun, lots of beer, too many drugs and many unforgettable characters. It’s fantastically written and one of those which, as someone who wants to write a book like this, makes me realise that I’ve got a way to go until I’m ready to write something like this. Read it!

Beer is Proof God Loves Us by Charles Bamforth is largely autobiography weaved with history and science and philosophy and it makes for a good read – different to all the other beer books out there in that it makes you look a little differently at the industry given Bamforth’s wide experience.

Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks might not be a beer book but it starts with a few beers and it punctuated with them throughout. It’s also a fantastic bit of travel writing – funny, engaging, charming, heart-warming and booze-filled.

And I don’t think I’ve mentioned The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit yet but if you haven’t bought it then you should. I love it. It’s the sort of book that I want to read forever in the hope that I will somehow discover the secret to how she writes so well. It’s about flavour combinations, there’s weird and wonderful recipes throughout and I’ve never read nicer similes in my life.

Anyone read any good beer books recently? (Or just any good books in general?! I’m always looking for things to line my bookshelves!)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Citra: A-list star to stay or one hit wonder?

If Citra hops were human, heat magazine would write about them every week. On other pages you’d see vital statistics comparing them with Nelson Sauvin, showing how the beau of 2010 is outshone by the star of 2011 (they might also point towards rising anitpodean wannabes to watch out for in 2012). It seems that almost everyone is now brewing a beer with Citra in it, but I don’t know if I like the hop that much.

Used to give a burst of the juiciest fruit in the world, Citra is delicious and unrivalled, with so much citrus and tropical fruit, but use them in large volumes and the opposite starts to happen with an intense clawing bitterness, a feral sharpness like cat’s piss (of course I’ve tried it, otherwise how could I legitimately tell you it tastes like that...) and often a dirty earthiness, like eating a muddy mango. I’ve also had a couple of Citra beers which have been unmistakeable thanks to a lime flavour jutting through the middle. Lime is ok, it adds a poke of fragrant citrus to a beer, but the trouble I’ve found is that it’s so intense that my tongue thinks it’s going to taste sour and instead along comes bitterness. It’s confusing, it’s challenging and it’s also a little bit weird.

Fyne Ales' Jarl is the best example of using Citra that I’ve tasted. Some others come close, including Oakham’s, but there’s also a niggling dirtiness left at the back of the throat, a rasping kick which makes it very clear that this is a product of the earth, and it’s that which I don’t like much.

Is Citra the king of the kettle or a one hit wonder to be quickly replaced with something new?

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Session #49: A Regular Beer

I don’t have a regular beer, a beer I always have in the fridge, something which is replaced as quickly as it’s emptied, like milk or ketchup. This struck me last week and bothered me slightly. When was the last time I drank four of the same beer in one night without any concession to geeking out on something new or exotic? When was the last time I just sat back and drank like a regular guy, opening something simple for the pure pleasure of just drinking a beer from the bottle and not thinking about it? It was too long ago.

But I buy too much beer. I’ve got backlogs in the cupboard, a fridge filled with new tastes, a separate cupboard 20 miles away with the good stuff in, and to ignore those is to increase the backlog even further. In the pub too, it’s always something different. Only if it’s very good do I return for another otherwise it’s on to something else (given only three lagers on tap I’d probably drink a pint of each).

Here’s the thing: I don’t have space in my house for a regular bottled beer and I’m too curious a drinker to stick to one beer all night in the pub.

It wasn’t always like this. University was the time. Always a box of Kronenberg, Carlsberg or Rolling Rock, straight from the fridge, drunk from the bottle. No tasting notes, no need for fancy glassware, no thinking. And I enjoyed drinking this way. When I opened a Budweiser recently it made me realise that I need to drink more regular beer, more no-brainer beer – I drink beers to chill out after work, after the gym, after the day is done, so taking a bottle and a notepad and a nice glass is like I’m still working.

I need to make space in my fridge for a regular beer. It’s got to be a small bottle so I can drink it straight from the fridge, no glass required. That’s essential. It’s something to open and gulp as soon as I get in from work, taking the cap off the beer before the shoes off my feet, the first mouthful hitting my tongue as my backside hits the sofa. That’s what regular beer means to me and I need to make a concession to the geek within and let him have the night off occasionally.


The Session #49 is hosted this month by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. It’s about regular beer, but you’ve hopefully guessed that by now.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

BrewDog: The Brewery Tour

Hanging out into the icy North Sea, in the distant fishing town of Fraserburgh in Northeast Scotland, a flying Punk IPA-blue flag tells you where you are.

Hidden behind huge silver conditioning tanks, towers of bright casks and lock-ups loaded with ingredients, it’s like the kind of base camp you'd expect in an ‘80s kids movie: chaotic, cramped, loud, energetic. This is BrewDog.

It’s cold here. Remote. Nearer to Norway than the lights of London. Everything is overcrowded, piled up high; space is the stuff between everything else and there isn’t much of it. The upright silver torpedoes dominate because there are lots of them – 20, 24, 27, I don’t remember. In the far right corner as you enter is the mash tun and copper, heavy metal is blaring out of a stereo nearby, an assistant brewer is shovelling a mush of used hops. Turn left and the middle of the brewery, hidden in shadow behind a wall of boxes and tanks, is the bottling line, a clanking, chiming, busy unit. Next is packaging with pallets wrapped in black and a mountain range of boxes. The little online shop area takes up the back wall, a few t-shirts, open cases of beer, flat-packed boxes ready to be filled and sent to your house. Then towards the head offices, past a freezer turned to -80C, past a little kitchen and toilet (complete with Kerrang magazine and empty can of Lynx), past a wall of awards and into James and Martin’s office, which is empty apart from two tables, an old armchair, a corner unit and a few bottles. This is BrewDog HQ.

A little later we see the barrel store: “Do you want to see the barrel store?” Martin asks. Of course we do. It’s across the industrial unit, another lock up. Outside are empties, blackened by time, ready to be filled. Martin removes the bung and we dip our noses in. A ghost of the whisky within is like an olfactory echo, the angels share still sloshing around. Inside is like walking into an abandoned gangster movie. Derelict, cold, dark, tripping lights, broken glass, puddles on the floor. The barrels are piled up next to an open unit which feels incomplete without a battered and bloodied guy tied to a chair and facing three bruisers with guns and brick fists. It’s a strange building but made remarkable with a stack of old barrels, faded branding telling you of their past life, chalk-marked telling you of their future life.

To look at the brewery from the sea is to get a new perspective on it. The beach arcs around almost beautifully, a redness to the sand, a darkness to the water. There’s not much around and you realise how far from everything this is. From this side the brewery looks small, like a makeshift castle, like something from a kids’ fantasy story, patchwork and cobbled together. And in many ways it is just that. This place has been built from the imaginations of James and Martin, almost four years of work, quickly adding more and more, expanding until there was nowhere left to expand, no more room for big silver tanks or turrets of orange casks which can’t be built higher. It’s an incredible place.

And it makes you feel like anything is possible. Everything is possible. Less than four years from nothing to this. Another 18 months and it’ll be a new site, a bigger one. Breaking their own records all the time, brewing 24/7 to attempt to keep up with demand, it’s a frantic place, always busy, and over 30 work in the brewery alone, yet it’s like a choreographed routine where everyone knows their own parts as well as everyone else’s. It’s mesmerising to watch, to be a part of, even for just a day.

Yes, that is an ice cream van.
I like BrewDog. You don’t need me to tell you that. Seeing the brewery, making a beer, hanging out... it’s made me like them a whole lot more, to get a new respect and perspective on what they do and what they’ve done. Could you start a brewery today and then come back in March 2015 and say you will turnover £6million, have a restaurant and three bars, be available around the world, including major UK supermarkets, sending out 8,000,000 bottles of beer a year? It’s awe-inspiring. It’s awesome. And the brewery itself is a mad place, just like you’d expect, never stopping, always busy, filled with energy, controlled in chaos. It’s made me realise and appreciate just how much hard work has gone into it and that’s something you don’t see or hear about very often.

I’m now excited to try the beer we designed and brewed. It’s been lagering for six weeks and it needs some dry-hopping but it should be ready soon. I can’t wait.

Here I'm teaching Avery about hops. They add bitterness and aroma, I tell him. 
This has taken a long time to post because I’ve been writing about it for a magazine and wanted to get that done first, ensuring I didn’t double up on my words or the story. I’ve added some photos to facebook, if you want to see more (again, not all of them, as the best ones went to the magazine).

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

I'm Proud of British Beer

Are you proud of British beer? I like this film a lot. It's an industry effort, from the big to the small, the growers, makers and sellers; it's about time we had something which shows off the variety of beer making we have in Britain. And pride is definitely the right word: there's a lot of passionate people involved in this and they are all very proud to do what they do. I'm proud to drink British beer and I'm proud to write about it and I do it because I love it. I'll raise a pint to that.