Friday, 30 September 2011

Sabotage in Schwelm

Picture courtesy of
I’ve been following the story of the insolvency of the Schwelm brewery in Nordrhein-Westfalen and the latest news is grim. The brewery closed today after the administrator of the company refused to co-operate with last-minute efforts to save it as a going concern. The remaining members of staff and the works council have been locked out of the premises.

Supporters of the brewery accuse the administrator, Manfred Gottschalk, of never having been seriously interested in attempts to rescue the business.

Fermentation tanks and the brewery’s “Leergut” – bottles and custom-branded plastic crates — have apparently already been pre-sold in advance of closure. For all the income these sales provide, they seem calculated to make restarting production prohibitive – especially the crates which are useless to anyone else and will bring in their scrap value at best.

Schwelmer beer is popular locally, and thanks mainly to the efforts of the works council and supporters, two potential investors had been found who were interested in taking the brewery on. Contact was established with the administrator, which quickly became a fiasco, as it soon emerged that Gottschalk was unwilling to provide details of what equipment would be included in any sale, or to name a price as a basis for negotiations. Anyone interested in purchasing whatever was left could go to the auction in mid-November, said the administrator.

Unsurprisingly, the potential investors have lost interest after this kind of treatment and it seems the administrator will now go ahead and dismantle the brewery, destroying 180 years of brewing heritage.

Although a co-operative has been formed to try to raise money to buy out the brewery, it seems likely that it will meet the same stubborn resistance from the administrator. One can only speculate as to the reasons for his determination to prevent at all costs the continuation of brewing on the site.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Peat and Scottish beer

Scottish beer tastes of peat, right? It’s made by kilted Highlanders drying malt on the smoky peat fire in front of the but an’ ben and full of the peaty water coming off the glen. Everyone knows that. 

The above is of course, like much of what is written about Scottish beer, a legend based on romantic nonsense about what Scotland is actually like. It doesn’t help that plenty of Scottish brewers are perfectly willing to repeat the nonsense to sell beer. You even get people complaining that real Scottish beer isn’t “Scottish” enough. Not even Belhaven can make a proper Scottish ale according to some people. This type of discourse is the equivalent of writing an essay on Scottish politics based on watching Braveheart.

Ron has just posted a map of 275 Scottish breweries known to exist in 1837. Here is a picture of it:

Here is a map of the peaty bits of Scotland which I’ve quoted from the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute:

Superimposing one map on the other, one thing is quite clear: with a few exceptions, the breweries in Scotland in 1837 were nowhere near the peaty areas:

Now, just on the basis of this — ignoring all the other evidence, ignoring that the industrial revolution started in Scotland, ignoring that many of these breweries are nearer to sources of coal than sources of peat, ignoring that we know for a fact that several of the largest breweries made their own malt on site, ignoring that they used a lot of imported malt anyway … just on the basis of this map, exactly how likely do you think it would be that the beer from these breweries would have a peaty influence?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A visit to Williams Bros

I forgot to take a photo of the exterior so
nicked this picture from Eric from Focus on the Beer
I’m a member of Scottish Craft Brewers, a homebrew club with a fancy name. Occasionally we get invited to tour a brewery, and at the weekend we were the guests of Williams Brothers, a brewery which has been quietly innovating for twenty years and has only in the last few years started getting the recognition it deserves.

We are greeted by one of the Brothers, Scott Williams and get a glass of beer in the brewing hall. Now, Williams Bros is quite a big place as Scottish microbreweries go — normally you’re squeezing past fermenting tanks to get through the door. After the early years of Heather Ale saw the company brewing as far afield as Taynuilt and Strathaven, it’s now based in the former Forth Brewery in Alloa, on the Kelliebank industrial estate. On the way there I pass the massive facility of the world’s biggest glass container manufacturer O-I, and Crisp’s maltings. Ironically, neither of these plants supply the brewery: O-I doesn’t manufacture beer bottles in Alloa, and Crisp’s malt all goes for whisky.

Inside, the mash tun and copper look a little lost in a corner of a hall given over mostly to huge conditioning tanks. The mash tun is attached to an ingenious device comprising a screw within a pipe, sort of like a Steel’s masher in reverse, which (I assume) propels the draff up the pipe and out of the window into the waiting bin.

Look at all those whisky casks!
Through a doorway into the hall next door which is mostly storage space for various goods in transit. Some of it is for the brewery, empty and full kegs, pallets of bottles for the company’s contract-bottling customers, sacks of malt, boxes of fresh ginger for the ginger beer.

In one corner the new, modestly sized keg filler; next to it, three tanks full of an Auchentoshan-cask aged 12% version of Fraoch heather ale. Scott fills a jug from the tank and we all get a taste. It’s lovely, the whisky not overpowering but nicely aromatic, backed with a marvellously fresh fruitiness which slowly gives way to the familiar dry woodiness of heather. If all whisky-aged beers were done this well, I wouldn’t get the foreboding that overcomes me every time I encounter one.

This is Scott Williams’ famous “food processor” in which aromatics
are blitzed to a pulp before being added to beer
We move into the bottling hall where we get an overview of the bottling process. Most of the space is actually taken up by the pasteuriser; it needs to be big because the gentle pasteurisation takes longer than flash pasteurisation at higher temperatures.

Lots of lemons and ginger in there waiting to be added to a brew
Unlike most breweries which start off producing cask beer and then move into bottling, Williams Bros have done the reverse, having established themselves first as a producer of bottled beer. Scott says this is basically for historical reasons: when they took over the Forth Brewery there were existing staff employed on the bottling line who had to be kept busy, so they launched a range of bottled products. There are now around 20 separate products under the Historic Ales and Williams Bros brands. 

When they say cold conditioning, they mean it. I wonder what
they do if they ever need to open this valve?
All the homebrewers’ nerdy questions are answered. Ales and stouts use dry Nottingham yeast; with the large number of aromatised beers they want the flavour of the ingredients rather than a distinctive yeast character. The lager yeast is derived from the Hürlimann strain. Water is charcoal-filtered and used very soft with no back-addition of minerals.

For all the people who have been raving about Profanity Stout, fill your boots while you can: according to Scott there is currently no Simcoe, Cascade or Amarillo left in the UK, so they can’t brew any more of it. The other Williams beer in the Sainsbury’s competition, Caesar Augustus, is a blend of Ceilidh lager and Joker IPA with additional dry hops.

Then it’s back into the brewing hall where Scott fills our glasses with Williams Red straight from the conditioning tank. It’s a straightforward, quaffable beer that gets an extra bounce from being super fresh and lively. We sup jug after jug of it while Scott explains his use of the Golden Ratio to devise malt bills (working out exact recipes for all the Williams beers on the basis of this knowledge is left as an exercise for the reader).

We are sad when the time comes to leave, but wander out into the sunshine and back into the town centre, where sadly the present of Alloa brewing is as under-represented as its past.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Maclay’s and George Younger, Alloa

Not quite finished with the photos from wandering around Alloa looking at where breweries once were.

The last brewery to close is also the best preserved — Maclay’s is now a pub called the Old Brewery. Bizarrely, it’s now run by Belhaven, not Maclay’s pub company. Belhaven have turned it into a miserable beer desert with big screen TVs and it was too depressing to take any pictures inside.

Outside, along the fence is that favourite of 1990s heritage consultants, public art in remembrance of the industry that was once here.

Remnants of the former Maclay’s brewery

Detail with Maclays monogram and thistle emblem

The ultimate insult, a series of memorial plaques in Comic Sans.

At least Maclay’s got a memorial. This is pretty much all that’s left reminding the town of George Younger:

Station Hotel window with faded George Younger ‘Y’ – “The Sign of Good Beer”

More legible from inside.
That and the cans of Sweetheart Stout in the fridge behind the bar in the Thistle Bar that still bear the words “Younger of Alloa”, even though Tennent’s has now been brewing the stuff for longer than George Younger ever did. Next to the Sweetheart Stout, invented in Alloa, is Fraoch, now brewed in Alloa. History is there if you know where to look.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

From city of brewing to city of carparks

I was in Alloa at the weekend and inspired by Ron’s map I took a little wander around the town to see the sites of the town’s formerly legendary breweries.

I made it to seven of the ten sites before the batteries on my camera ran out. There’s not much left of most of them it has to be said.

This is one of the few where part of the brewery building is still standing, George Younger’s Meadow Brewery. It looks like the whitewashed part is the only recognisable bit; the rest has been either rebuilt or heavily remodeled. But look at those blocked-up windows on the south face that are the same size and shape as those on the west side pictured in this post.

Site of George Younger’s Candlerigg Brewery, not much left of that:

Note that this is directly across the street from Maclay’s Thistle Brewery which can be seen in the background. The sites of several breweries are literally round the corner from each other.

This is the site of Robert Henderson’s Mills Brewery:

Here is what I think is the site of the Townhead Brewery. The building looks as if it might have been a brewery once, but it’s round the back of the public baths, not sure that would have been approved by the city fathers even in the 19th century. Edit: I was wide of the mark here. The Townhead brewery actually straddled where the road between two carparks now is, so a bit further east from where I was standing, as can be seen on the old map from the NLS. Definitely not the building with the chimney, whatever that is.

Not the Townhead Brewery

Also nothing to do with the Townhead Brewery

Round the corner, this is what I thought was the site of the Caponcroft Brewery. It’s actually more like where the Townhead Brewery was. The Caponcroft was further east on Jamaica Street, which no longer exists. If I had a photo of the exact site, it would be more carpark and ring road.

And just a little further on, the site of Alloa Brewery, aka Arrol’s, Allied, Carlsberg-Tetley Alloa, etc.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Four brewers, four beers

Representatives of four breweries gathered at WEST in Glasgow yesterday evening for a beer tasting as part of Social Media Week. Moderated by Pete Brown, the tasting was intended both to introduce new-wave beer to a wider audience and to discuss the value of social media to breweries and drinkers.

Petra of WEST and brewer Felix were on hand to give some background about the brewery and introduce their beer, WEST Hefeweizen. The beer arrived thick with yeast and still bubbling despite the huge head of foam. It had a strong banana aroma and was remarkably tangy. Felix says the beer is 80% wheat, much more than a typical wheat beer even in Bavaria.

Next to chat to Pete were Harviestoun’s brewsters Amy and Krista who had brought along Schiehallion, Harviestoun’s sometime ground-breaking cask lager which is now also available in bottle and keg.

The last time I had this from keg it was dreadful. Yesterday it was much, much better, a stunning beer packed with spicy hops. I think it rather benefited from having some of the CO2 knocked out of it, but Amy and Krista also said they’re very careful about the carbonation levels in the keg. The pitcher full of beer has a good few centimetres of dense creamy foam on top, and looks deeper in colour than usual due to the greater volume. It was also an educational experience to taste it side by side with the maltier, more biscuity WEST St Mungo lager.

By the time we got onto the third beer everyone on the panel and most of the audience seemed to be quite merry.

Kelburn’s Derek Moore introduced his Cart Blanche. It had suffered a bit from being jugged up from the cellar and is at the lower end of an acceptable carbonation range. It does look a little drab next to the frothy lager and the opalescent wheat beer, but tastes more complex than the more approachable beers from WEST and Harviestoun. It’s enjoyable once you get used to the woody, earthy bitterness of it.

I imagine there must be quite a few breweries like Kelburn for whom social media is still a bit of an unexplored territory. When Derek Moore started up there was no platform for his business beyond what he could build himself. In those days you plugged away brewing real ale and you sold it to real ale pubs who sold it to real ale drinkers. Now there is a platform and it opens up a lot of opportunities for breweries like Kelburn.

One brewery which has grasped social media and used it effectively is Magic Rock, who were invited to take part for precisely that reason. Joining us via Skype from Huddersfield (and the efficacy of their social media use is demonstrated by the fact that I can’t think of any other brewery from Huddersfield), Stu and Rich loomed Big Brother-style on the big screen and quickly became known as the Brewing Overlords of Doom, or something.

Their beer was their double IPA, Human Cannonball. It didn’t seem to create as much of a stir in the room as I expected. Are people used to the idea of a double IPA already? It has a massive dry hop aroma and satisfying bitterness, slightly syrupy crystal malt and just a slight touch of booziness. We end up in a discussion of the forthcoming duty increase on strong beer and its effects.

By this stage we had overrun by 100% of the planned tasting time and it was time to wrap up. It was a great presentation of some very different beers and pleasant to see that brewers from different traditions can get on when there’s nobody deliberately trying to drive a wedge between them.

I can also exclusively reveal the forthcoming Magic Rock TV advert:

Monday, 19 September 2011

Social beer tasting

Glasgow is one of the cities around the world hosting Social Media Week and with 120 events has emerged as one of the biggest SMW after New York.

Beer being a social drink (Are there unsocial drinks? Discuss [25 marks]), it seemed only natural to have a social media beer tasting.

The illustrious Pete Brown will be introducing several beers at West brewery on Thursday evening at 6pm and the event will be streamed online. Not only West’s beers will be tasted and discussed but several other breweries will be participating: Harviestoun, nearby Kelburn from Barrhead, and Magic Rock, who are a bit further away and have presumably been chosen due to their competent use of social media. There will probably also be a bit of chat about the use of social media by brewers, pubs and drinkers.

Magic Rock are sending their bottled Human Cannonball double IPA and joining the event via Skype. Harviestoun will be there with their Schiehallion lager and Kelburn are bringing Cart Blanche. If you can’t make it along to West, but can get hold of the beers, feel free to join in with your tasting notes online with the tags #SMWbeer and #SMWGla (like Question Time with beer), or just watch the live stream at . It should be fun.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mashing technology in 1868

I estimate there are roughly seven people in the world interested in this stuff. Even I’m not interested in this. But Bailey unwisely expressed interest in an exposition of nineteenth-century mashing at George Younger’s that Ron posted, so he’s to blame for encouraging me to post this even more detailed description.

I can’t visualise these machines from the descriptions at all. Thank Christ for pictures.

From Engineering, 26th June 1868:
Apparatus Employed In The Process Of Mashing—(continued).

Formerly the method of mixing together the malt and liquor in a mash-tun was by the use of “oars,” or wooden stirring rods, and this method of forming the mash is still adopted in the case of very small breweries. Where mash-tuns of more than a very moderate size are employed, however, the adoption of such a mode of mashing would not only involve a severe amount of labour, but it would produce a most unsatisfactory result. It is desirable to employ such appliances for mashing as will effect the thorough mixing of the hull and flour of the crushed malt with the liquor, and will leave the goods in a porous condition, so that they may be readily penetrated by any further amount of liquor sparged over them or otherwise added. One of the earliest forms of mashing machine, and one that is still in use in many old breweries, is that consisting of a radial frame which travels round in the mash-tun, this frame having two horizontal shafts, one above and slightly in advance of the other. Each shaft carries a number of chain wheels, and over these work chains fitted with transverse teeth or rakes. As the shafts revolve the teeth on the chains are drawn up through the goods, all parts of the latter being successively acted on as the frame carrying the shafts travels round the tun. At Messrs. Barclay’s all the mash-tuns but one are fitted with chain rakes of this kind, and they are also in use at Messrs. Reid’s and other London breweries. At Messrs. Barclay’s the chains used to consist of cast-iron links connected by wrought-iron pins, but these links used to fail frequently — rather an awkward matter if the failure occurs in the middle of a mash — and Mr. Beckwith, the engineer, is now making them of malleable cast iron.

At Messrs. Reid’s, where there are four mash-tuns, each capable of mashing 160 quarters, the mashing machine in each tun is double, or, in other words, instead of the frame carrying the chain wheel shafts, being merely a radius of the tun, it extends across the whole diameter. By this arrangement the goods are turned over twice during each revolution made by the frame, and the mixing is thus effected more quickly than it otherwise would be. In slow gear the frame makes a complete revolution in fifteeen minutes, whilst in quick gear it completes the circuit in ten minutes, the speed being equivalent to one revolution in five minutes with a single machine. In Messrs. Reid’s machines the rake chains are of wrought iron throughout, and we are informed that the apparatus is found to work very satisfactorily.

The “porcupine”
An improvement on the chain rakes is the so-called “porcupine” machinery, which has, perhaps, been more extensively adopted than any other form of mashing apparatus. Of an example of this form of mashing machine we gave an engraving on page 532 of our number for the 29th of May last, our illustration representing a vertical section and plan of one of the cast-iron mash-tuns at Messrs. Truman’s brewery, which mash-tuns we may mention, are all, with one exception, also fitted with Steel’s masher, which we shall describe presently. The mashing apparatus of which we are now speaking, consists, as will be seen, of a series of rakes carried by curved arms fixed to a pair of horizontal shafts placed one above the other; the rakes being arranged so that, as the shafts revolve, they pass each other and thoroughly turn over the “goods” in the mash-tun. The inner ends of the horizontal shafts are carried by plummer blocks attached to brackets which encircle the central vertical, or driving, shaft, the lower end of which latter shaft rests upon a suitable bearing at the bottom of the mash-tun. The outer ends of the rake shafts rest in bearings carried by a kind of frame, which is connected by tie bars with the brackets encircling the central shaft, and which is supported by a pair of rollers which bear on the rim of the mash-tun. The upper part of this frame also carries bearings for a pair of shafts, which are geared together, and each of which has, running loose on it, a pinion which gears into a rack formed round the edge of the mash-tun. Each shaft, also, carries a sliding clutch for connectiug it to its pinion, and these clutches are both worked by one lever, arranged as shown in the plan, so that either can be thrown in gear at pleasure, but so that they cannot be engaged simultaneously. One of the pinion shafts extends inwards towards the centre of the mash-tun, and at its inner end it carries a bevel wheel, which gears into a bevel pinion on the central shaft, this pinion being about one-third the size of the wheel. The rake shafts also carry bevel wheels, which gear into equal sized wheels on the vertical shaft, the pairs of wheels being arranged so that the two rake shafts are both made to revolve in the same direction.

The action of this apparatus will be readily understood. From the vertical shaft motion is communicated to the rake shafts, and a slower motion to one of the shafts carrying a pinion gearing into the circular rack. From this shaft a still slower motion is communicatcd to the other short shaft, carrying a pinion gearing into the rack, the two shafts being geared together by wheels of unequal sizes. It will thus be seen that when one of the rack pinions is thrown into gear with its shaft by means of its clutch, the whol apparatus will be made to travel slowly round the mash-tun, and the rakes will thus be brought to bear upon the whole of the “goods.” The direction of the motion of the apparatus, and the speed at which it is caused to travel, will depend upon which pinion is thrown into gear. This arrangement of travelling gear is similar to that adopted in the case of the chain rakes already spoken of.

The mashing apparatus above described has, as we have said, been very largely adopted; it being in some breweries used by itself, and in others used in addition to a separate mashing machine, such as Steel’s. In most cases the arms and teeth of this class of machinery are, as at Messrs. Truman’s, of wrought iron; but in some instances the teeth are made of wood, and in others, as at Messrs. Bass’s brewery at Burton, both the teeth and arms are of wood, the latter being fitted into sockets cast on the shaft, which are of gun metal. At the City of London Brewery, where mashing machines of this kind are in use, the central shafts are fitted with teeth, which act upon the central portion of the goods not touched by the revolving rakes ; and at Messrs. Charrington’s, where there are three mashtuns 18 ft. in diameter, and capable of mashing 100 quarters each, and where these “porcupine” machines are also used, the rake shafts are made to extend across the whole diameter of the tuns, as in the chainrake machines at Messrs. Reid’s, which we have already mentioned. The large mash-tun at Messrs. Hoare’s, which we have mentioned in a previous article as being capable of holding a mash of 190 quarters, is also fitted with porcupine machinery, the gear being arranged so that the machinery can either traverse round at a slow or quick speed, or the rakes worked without shifting their position in the mash-tun. In quick gear this mashing apparatus makes the circuit of the mash-tun in two minutes—a very high speed. In some machines of this kind, as, for instance, in those at the Well-park Brewery, Glasgow (Messrs. J. and R. Tennant’s [sic]), the circular rack, in which the pinions giving the travelling motion gear, is placed within the tun, instead of around its upper edge, the object of this being to avoid the chance of men employed about the mash-tun being caught and injured by the gearing.

Another arrangement for stirring the goods within the tun is that shown in the section of the mash-tuns at Messrs. Miller’s brewery, at St. Petersburg, which we published last week. In this instance a central revolving shaft carries two curved arms, which work close to the false bottom of the mash-tun, and which, therefore, act upon the lower portion of the goods only. In this case the mixing of the malt and water is effected by a Steel’s masher before the goods enter the tun. It may be noticed that at Messrs. Miller’s brewery the central shafts of each mash-tun can be thrown into or out of gear by means of a pair of friction discs neatly arranged as shown in the engraving.

So far we have only spoken of contrivances for effecting the operation of mashing within the mash-tun itself; but of late years a large proportion of our brewers have become convinced that it is better to effect the mixture of the malt and liquor in detail as they enter the mash-tun than to deal with the goods in a mass, as was formerly the universal practice. The consequence has been the adoption of separate mashing machines, and the best varieties of such machines we shall now proceed to describe.

Steel’s masher
The masher which may be termed the parent of efficient machines of this class is that invented and patented by Mr. James Steel, of Glasgow, and it is one which has probably been more extensively adopted than any other. Of this machine, the manufacture of which has been taken up by Messrs. E. A. Poutifex and Wood, the well-known brewers’ engineers, of the Farringdon Works, Shoe-lane, we gave an illustration on page 540 of our last number but two. As will be seen by our illustration, this masher is of exceedingly simple construction. It consists merely of a cylindrical casing, within which revolves a shaft provided with a number of radial arms. The casing is open at one end and closed at the other, the shaft passing through a stuffing-box at this closed end, and being provided, outside, with fast and loose belt pulleys. The grist and liquor are admitted to the casing by branches at the closed end, and as they pass through to be delivered into the mash-tun from the open end of the casing, they are thoroughly mixed together by the action of the arms on the revolving shaft. The branch through which the malt enters is fitted with a regulating slide as shown, and both the main casing and branch are fitted with hand-holes which give access for cleaning, &c. The water branch is not shown in our engraving; it communicates with the side of the casing, and is fitted with a cock.

Ou page 462 of our number for May 15th last, we gave an engraving which included a Steel’s masher, as it has been applied at Messrs. Miller’s brewery at St. Petersburg. In this case there is no slide for regulating the supply of the malt, the latter being received direct from a small hopper placed below the malt-mill. The casing of the masher, instead of being cylindrical, tapers slightly in its diameter, being reduced towards the end from which goods are delivered into the mash-tun; and in order still further to delay the progress of the mash through the machine, the central shaft is fitted at intervals with flat arms, or oars, in addition to the usual circular ones. The liquor is delivered into the casing from the branch, through two openings diametrically opposite each other, these openings communicating with a passage cast around the branch, as shown. Arrangements are made for admitting either hot or cold water through the openings, as may be desired. The central shaft of the masher, it will be noticed, is in this case driven by bevel gearing, which connects it with the shaft, n, on which the belt pulleys are placed, and which also carries a flywheel, o.

In a great number of instances Steel’s mashers are used alone, or, in other words, the whole of the mashing is effected by them; whilst in other cases they are used in combination with other mashing apparatus placed in the mash-tun. As instances, we may mention Messrs. Salt and Co.’s, of Burton-on-Trent, and Messrs. Mann, Crossman, and Paulin’s, as establishments where the former mode of working is adopted, whilst at Messrs. Truman’s, at Messrs. Allsopp’s, and at a number of other breweries, Steel’s mashers are used in addition to the ordinary “porcupine.” Where Steel’s or other separate mashers are alone employed, it is the practice to make but one mash, and to sparge the remainder of the length; whilst where mashing appliances are also provided within the tun, a series of mashes may be made, the goods being turned over during each mash.

Colyer’s malt feeder
In order to ensure a steady supply of malt to Steel’s mashing machine, and thus still farther guard against “balling,” Messrs. F. Colyer and Co., of Leman street, have designed the arrangement of a malt feeder, of which we annex an illustration. This feeder is placed between the grist shoot and the mashing machine, and it consists of a casing containing a drum, A, which, has an oscillating motion imparted to it by an eccentric, C, fixed on the central shaft of the mashing machine. On each side of the oscillating drum are flaps, D, the position of which regulate the quantity of malt passing through; the drum, A, as it oscillates, leaving an opening between it and each flap alternately.
Interesting that the author notes that where Steel’s masher is used, they only mash once and then sparge. Did the Steel’s masher contribute to the spread of sparging?

Also interesting to see what kit the well-known breweries were using. Barclays and Reid’s had chain rakes.

The most popular was the “porcupine” masher. Truman’s had these as well as Steel’s mashers. Bass, Charrington, Hoare and Tennent all used them.

Salt relied solely on the Steel's masher, as did Mann, Crossman and Paulin.

Ron’s post pointed out that George Younger had three mash tuns of 100 quarters each. That was the same size as Charrington twenty years earlier. Reid’s could mash 160 quarters at a time in each of four mash tuns.

I haven’t been paying attention. I didn’t realise James Steel, the inventor of the mashing machine, was from Glasgow. He must be the James Steel of Steel Coulson brewery.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Blue Moon bullshit

Earlier today I saw a tweet from a local pub announcing that they now stock Blue Moon in bottles, with a photo to prove it.

I had a quick check and as far as I can tell the US label says “Belgian White Belgian-Style Wheat Ale” (which is horrific enough in its own way, but that’s a separate issue). As you can see, the UK label proclaims “North American Craft Beer”.

This labelling would of course provoke a shitstorm in the US, as there, unlike here, “craft beer” has a specific meaning closely watched over by the Brewers’ Association. Blue Moon, as one of the speciality brews of mammoth brewer Molson Coors (although they coyly prefer to promote it as ‘Blue Moon Brewing Company’), doesn’t qualify.

Blue Moon has become spectacularly successful in the US as a pseudo-“Belgian” product. Now, seemingly, the approach in the UK is to push it as a pseudo-American product. Over there the suggestible consumer gets the impression it’s from Belgium; over here it’s implied it comes from one of those little US craft breweries he’s heard about. I mean, doesn’t this stuff on the back label sound good:
“Blue Moon Brewing Company was born in 1995 in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A., when we added unique and subtle twists to old-world, handcrafted brewing traditions. Since then, not much has changed. Still just a bunch of friends having fun making great beer.”
You can almost see the guys getting together on a Saturday to fire up a brew in the turkey fryer in the garage, can’t you? Poor sods probably have to stir the mash with a canoe paddle too.

You have to admire the sneakiness of this copywriting, which manages to slip in the feel-good words “handcrafted” and “traditions” without actually claiming those properties for the beer. Read the small print and learn it’s brewed in Canada, presumably at a Molson facility. So, apart from being brewed by different people in another country, no, not much has changed. Sure it hasn’t.

Blue Moon, disingenuous on both sides of the Atlantic.

+1 for Molson Coors on the Suckiness Index. Sorry folks.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Adnams Ghost Ship

I don’t post many tasting notes on here. This is chiefly because I find other people’s tasting notes incredibly boring to read, and I wouldn’t like in turn to inflict such boredom on anyone else. But Adnams were nice enough to send me a bottle of their new seasonal beer Ghost Ship, so here is what I thought of it.

First surprise on opening the bottle: it’s fruity and citrussy in aroma, I think I recognise the distinctive Citra straight away. Second surprise on pouring the beer: it’s brown! Well, more deep amber really.

The “malty backbone” claimed on the label is less apparent; it’s actually quite light-bodied for its 4.5%. Head retention is poor and a bit of caramel is all that distracts from the hops.

In the glass the Citra is subservient to the big dank charge of other hops — Columbus and Chinook according to the website — almost meaty and oniony aromas, and a bitter, oily finish.

If I were to describe it in terms of other beers, it’s somewhere between Bengal Lancer and 5am Saint, and can be recommended with confidence to anyone who likes those resiny New World hops. 5am Saint left me with a lasting aversion to these hops a couple of years ago with its offensively penetrant Oxo-cube aroma. I think Adnams might be the doctor.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Deutsch lernen mit Black Isle

I’m a sucker for anything involving German beer. This is because German beer was my first passion in the world of beer, pre-dating my discovery of real ale by a year or so. Sometimes the craving for a litre of crisp golden Untergäriges or a Seidla of brown, intensely hoppy Vollbier still surfaces. So when I heard that Black Isle Brewery were planning a German-themed beer festival I was immediately interested.

Nice barley growing on the farm
After their successful Shindig in summer the brewery wanted to have another festival sooner rather than later. The company slogan “Save the planet, drink organic” was quickly modified to “drink Germanic” and Jocktoberfest was born. I had to go.

At the crack of dawn I board a train bound for Inverness. Listening to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express to get in the mood doesn’t work; the lyrics of high-speed diesel trains, swish Vienna cafes, hobnobbing with David Bowie don’t fit, and even seem slightly sarcastic, as we pootle through Pitlochry and Blair Atholl in the drizzle.

On the long trudge up to the farm where the brewery is based I pick an ear of barley from the field. It tastes pretty good. Later, on the brief brewery tour, I find out that some of the farm’s barley is now going for malting. Malt from your own organic barley is a unique selling point not too many micros can claim. Others might make organic beer, but they’re still buying the same organic malt as everyone else.

Most micros are also pretty cramped and you have to squeeze yourself sideways between the fermenters. Black Isle was like that too, until just a few months ago when they built the enormous black shed that now dominates the farm. Inside, huge amounts of empty space await further expansion while a shiny new 5hl brewing kit takes up one corner, conditioning tanks the other, and the dedicated bottling line reaches along one wall.

The dimensions of this impressive shed show
the scale of the recent expansion of the brewery
Beer list, the heart of any festival

Jocktoberfest is not intended as a cliched Dirndl and Maßkrug event, and thank heavens for that. There is not much of an attempt at “authenticity”; the bales of straw in the barn for people to sit on are more reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry than the Hofbräuhaus. The signage in painstakingly hand-painted blackletter script is an amusing touch.
In a splendid bit of fun, Black Isle has asked Fyne Ales, Tryst, Highland and Tempest to each brew a special beer with some sort of Teutonic influence. Tryst has taken the brief most to heart and delivered something called Hopfen Jäger (Hop Hunter) which according to the buzz was a hoppy wheat beer. But they haven’t used a wheat beer yeast and so it just ends up tasting like another Tryst pale ale; i.e. bloody brilliant with a long-lasting bitter finish.

The most authentic food and drink at the festival are the bratwurst made right here on the farm. They are a surprise – not imported Tiefkühlware, but not plain common or garden sausages either. The spicing is right but the texture is ungewöhnlich – sloppy, for want of a better word. Nice though, flame-grilled and daubed with wholegrain mustard.
Additional praise for best beer festival signage

Fyne Ales have sent something called Munster Ale. They're forgiven for calling it Ale, as I can't see that it’s actually intended to resemble any German beer I know of. It’s quite sweet and malty; that is, it tastes of malt, not toffee. It’s also not at its best, the flattest of the three cask beers I try, all of which are lacking condition.

Tempest’s offering, just called Jocktoberfest but billed as a smoked Alt, is my first disappointing Tempest beer. Not annähernd bitter enough for Alt and very little smokiness discernible, though it gets smokier as it warms up.

These are all decent beers (they'll be turning up in pubs in the cities this week and I’ll certainly be trying them again) but an object lesson: there’s more to imitating a foreign beer culture than looking up a recipe on the internet, or using their ingredients.

At least the cask beer was nice and cold; it’s chilly up in Ross in September and I’m quite glad I’ve decided not to camp overnight. I have to get back to Glasgow for a friend’s birthday party so I leave after a last pint – it seems rude to only drink the guest beers and thus I have Black Isle’s own Goldeneye,  from keg at finger-chilling temperature. I’m not keen, the hops are too resiny for me.

I leave really impressed by the festival despite the short stay. The adjoining barns make a terrific venue, people are friendly, beer and sausages are good, lots of effort has clearly been put in. Possibly even a contender for my new favourite beer festival on a remote Scottish farm, but a final decision on such an important matter needs very careful consideration.

Yee ha

Vocabulary used in this post

Seidla half-litre mug
Untergäriges bottom-fermenting beer
Maßkrug litre beer mug, beer stein
Tiefkühlware frozen goods (food)
annähernd nearly
ungewöhnlich unusual