Friday, 15 May 2015

Meantime brewery: craft or industrial?

News that SAB Miller are to build a new pilot plant at the Meantime brewery sent shock waves through the British independent pilot brewing industry (me and Eung) today.  Strangely though it's the minor detail that SAB Miller will also be acquiring the larger production facility at Greenwich that's got the beer geeks all of a twitter today. They can be an odd bunch.

I went round Meantime for work a few months back. Lovely it is. Lots of shiny, shiny things. I've heard they spent half a million quid on the floor alone. If I remember rightly production is 100,000 hl  (17½ million pints) a year. And though the beer may be evil keg, and thus damns them to an eternity in the fiery pit, it wasn't bad stuff.

I've a couple of pictures of the place. I thought I had more but buggered if I can find them.

Anyway, looking at the pictures and thinking of the scale of production ask yourself: is this brewery craft or industrial?

Don't trouble yourself with nonsense about whether it's owned by the bourgeoisie or the petite bourgeoisie; or even worse start talking about passion. That sort of thing might be acceptable to a frenchman but surely has no place in British brewing. Just think of the scale and the shininess and cast your vote.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bosteels brewery

I can't say the name "Bosteels" meant anything to me when I heard it was the next brewery we were heading to. But I had heard of all three of the beers they make: Kwak, Tripel Karmelite and Deus.

The brewery was founded in 1791 and has been owned by the same family ever since. Here's the latest heir welcoming us:

Kwak is the beer that comes in glasses shaped like a mini yard of ale. Apparently it comes from a Napoleonic anti-drink driving law that stopped coach drivers going off drinking with their passengers, so instead they drank from strange glasses they could hang on the side of their coach.

Like many beer and brewery creation myths it's not entirely convincing but who can say. As it's a small brewery steeped in history I was gobsmacked when we say the brewhouse: next to an old copper vessel was a mash filter.

For those of you not familiar with brewing equipment it's a bit like seeing a Ford Model T next to the latest Formula One car. We heard the mash filter fitted well in the brew, whereas an equivalent sized lauter tun would not. I'm sure the extract efficiency of the mash filter helped too.

I suspect they're also handy for making strong beers, and the liquor to grist ratio (2.4:1) was certainly lower than what you'd have if using a lauter tun. The kettle takes 170 hectolitres at 17.5° Plato (or about a hundred barrels at 1.070 in old money).

They'd crammed quite a lot into the brewery.

Including their own bottling line.

The tripel is bottle conditioned, but I don't think the Kwak is.

Deus is made using the Champagne method but sadly as it makes up less than one percent of their production so they didn't have any for us to try. Which is a shame as I've heard it good but it's bleedin' pricey so I was looking forward to a freebie.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Duvel brewery

After the teeny tiny Gruut brewery the somewhat larger Duvel was the next stop on the Belgian study tour.

They've acquired, and kept running, several other breweries in recent years: La Chouffe, Leifmans, and De Konick in Belgium, and Boulevard in the US. The also own Ommegang in the states, and have a 50% share of Bernard in the Czech republic.

Here's some of their wares on display
The total production of the group is over a million hectolitres a year. Still small enough to make them craft obviously. If only they were American that is, I found on the trip that only American owned breweries meet the Brewers Association definition. This knowledge will at least make discussions about breweries in Britain easier as I can now answer with confidence that none of them are craft.

Craft or not, Duvel is certainly big.

They produce around 700,000 hectolitres a year here, brewing 24/5.

Told you it was big. 

Mostly they produce bottle conditioned beer, which as CAMRA is clearly more internationalist in outlook than the Brewers Association means it qualifies as real ale. So next time a tripel hop comes out the hipster beardy weirdies can step aside and leave it to the socks and sandals beardy weirdies.

Now for some technical stuff: Duvel the beer is brewed with pale malt and glucose, giving a beer of 8.5% ABV but only 5.5 EBC colour. The mash is a simple infusion with the glucose being added post-boil. Brew length is 410 hl. The bitterness is 33 IBU and comes from Saaz and Styrian golding (mostly Celeia) pellets, some added late.

They ferment their ales at 18-21°C, rising to 25-26°C. Apparent attenuation for Duvel is 92-93%, which would explain why it's so drinkable for its strength. Beers are centrifuged, filtered and flash pasteurised before being reseeded (1-2 million cells/ml) and primed (4g glucose/L) before bottling. Flash pasteurising apparently destroys esterases which would otherwise remove some of the fruity flavour. Even though they are going to be bottle conditioned the beers are capped on foam to reduce oxygen pick up.

It was admittedly the Quality Director showing us round, but it was clear that they were obsessed with quality at all stages of production and packaging.

 The place looked gleaming.

Green and brown returned bottles being separated.

And though bottling lines are not my favourite parts of a brewery I have to say that this one was impressive.


Innit good?

After being shown round the brewery we had a beer and cheese tasting session. Though in the past food pairing events have not always impressed me I remembered to stay chilled about the whole thing and just enjoy myself. I still wasn't hugely convinced but it was fun and there was some impressive looking mould.

After that it was lunch and then back on the coach. Intriguingly I did see what looks like it may have been another brewery before the coach had even got moving, though sadly it was too late to ask anyone by this point.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gruut in Ghent

I've recently been on a research trip to Belgium. Though it did involve visiting several breweries and bars it was definitely a proper research trip as it was organised by the IBD.

Our first stop was Ghent, a lovely looking city.

We had a boat trip to the first brewery we were visiting which was a nice touch as it gave us great views.

The castle was built in the centre of the city, which suggests it was more to defend against the local population than foreign invaders. It's good to think the ruling class were scared though. Apparently the only time it was captured was by students in the 1940s protesting about a rise in beer prices. They dropped the portcullis and stayed for a three day piss up!

Look at the amazing blurry brick effect

We were calling in at the Gruut brewery, a place that specialises in making unhopped ales.

I had had some of their stuff before and not been overwhelmed by it.

Ahoy grutteteers!
The place was more a restaurant than a brewery, and the brew length can only have been a few hundred litres.

Nice and shiny though, they're keen on copper in Belgium.

Interesting beer mats too:

Check out the catoptric anamorphosis:

We didn't get any details of what they use to flavour the gruuts which was a bit disappointing. But they did tell us that they used hops in the Triple so I knew which one to pick when I got the choice.

After eating we checked out a couple of bars recommended by the excellent Belgian version of The Good Book. First was the Trappistenhuis. I started on a hoppy beer in here but sadly it had yeast bite so was not great. I may well have had something else too but I'd stopped taking notes at this point.

We wandered on to another bar...

... and ended up back where our boat trip had started by the Waterhuis and Bierkant.

Here's a picture I'd taken earlier
I went for a Goudenband here, which was great. I followed it with a Monsieur Rock, which was good but it seems had a touch of nitrogen added giving it a slight unpleasant nitrokeg texture. Sadly this was not to be the last time I encountered this diabolical practice. Then it was time for bed.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

May Day success

As our thoughts turn to our martyred dead and the struggle for the eight hour day our mother church decrees that it's also time to seek out mild. I'm not quite sure how this came about, and as five of the Haymarket Martyrs were murdered by the state* and five bottle conditioned beers remained when CAMRA was formed I think making it bottle conditioned beer month would make a nice symmetry. My May Day musings count for nought though, and as a mere beer blogger who am I to question the church's teachings? So the search for mild was on.

Unlike in previous years where I've gone the whole month without finding any mild the first pub I went into on International Workers' Day had a mild on. Success! And it was a 'Spoons so I could get 50p off.

The beer in question was Milestone Mild, and it was out and proud as a mild unlike many which have to be coy about their beer style. 

Delicious it was too. At 4% ABV it was on the strong side for a mild but no doubt the extra strength helped with the flavour so I'm not complaining. If I saw beers like this more often I would definitely drink more mild.

* I'm including Louis Lingg of course.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Have we reached peak geek?

As a brewery once again turns to crowd funding I ask myself have we reached peak geek?

Once an unwanted byproduct of the fermentation industry advances in brewing science have shown that beer geeks can be used to fuel previously unseen rates of brewery expansion. The rapid exploitation of this new source of funding has allowed craft brewers to strike it rich.

But are finite geek reserves being drained at an unsustainable rate? Will future generations of brewers curse their geek guzzling predecessors as they desperately search for renewable funding sources?

Beer geek's wallets are being sucked dry at a rate faster than they are replenished. As this once unused resource has become the driving force for craft brewery expansion serious questions need to be asked about how long this can continue. With only a finite number of beer geeks available to be tapped into breweries will have to search further and further afield to find more difficult to exploit geeks. There surely must come a point when peak geek is reached and future returns will only diminish. Maybe then brewers seeking funding will have to sell more than snake oil.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Craft Brewers Conference 2015

Last week I went to the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland in the USA. It's a  much bigger event than the SIBA do, though apparently smaller than some European events. I was there mainly to plug some online training we're planning at work, though I was able to fit in a bit of research whilst I was out there.

This started with a trip to Spirit of 77, which was handy for where we were staying. They had about a dozen draught beers on.

I went for Double Mountain The Vaporizer, which went down very well, though now I've looked the beer up I'm slightly embarrassed to see its made using the English hop variety Challenger. Oh well, at least they were grown locally.

The next morning I looked to see what our hotel had in the way of lardy goodness on the breakfast buffet. Not that I had a pressing need for it but it pays to be prepared. Sadly there were thin pickings of pork products.

No bacon, so I had to make do with small sausages and weird squares of omelet. I'm used to better. I suppose that as Britain leads the world in beer and pubs, it's unsurprising (and indeed quite possibly related) that we also lead the world in fried breakfasts.

We are however way behind America in terms of gun nuts, so seeing the woman that felt the need to arm herself before coming to breakfast was something new.

Here she is, forlornly looking for bacon

and there's her gun in case she needs to kill anyone
The next day I managed to get to a specialist beer bar, Henry's Tavern, sited in part of an old brewery. They had 100 beers on tap here, which was something that caused me some concern. Whilst keg beer may have a longer shelf life than cask beer, there'll still be bugs growing in the beer lines so I didn't want anything that had been sitting around for ages.

The beers I had were fine though, and I was particularly pleased to see Deschutes Freshly Squeezed IPA as it was one I could remember being recommended by the Beervana bloke. 

As with everywhere I went the waitress was very helpful and cheery, a definitely cultural difference there. I can't help but think it's because they're all on crap pay and desperate for tips though.

As to the conference I was there mainly to plug some online training we have planned, though I did have time to wander around too. Amongst the many things on display a brand new open copper cooler must rank as the most surprising find. It's fascinating to see how interest in sour beers is growing to such and extent that long obsolete equipment is being built again, but I'm still sticking with a paraflow.

I also heard from chatting with the guy stall opposite that they sell 750,000 shives in the states each year, compared to around 6 million in the UK. A jolly good show from our cousins across the pond, though I wonder how far that puts them behind Britain? Apparently the UK is ten years behind the states in craft beer, but I suspect America is rather further behind in cask beer. And I would guess they're both equal in industrial lager.

Cider is also on the up in the states, and through no fault of my own I ended up at a cider maker's - I blame an academic from an inferior midlands based institution. Still, it was alright and we went for beer later.

A hopped cider festival is coming up soon

The beers were from Laganutas. The session IPA tasted like thin hop juice, the IPA tasted like hop juice and the wheat beer also tasted like hop juice. There's a bit of a theme going on here. I was keen to get overdosed on hops whilst in Portland though and much as I like balanced beers I wasn't looking for them here.

For my last night there were lots of interesting places to get to but the most important one for me was meeting up with an old mate. He'd started the evening earlier than me but I managed to catch up with him hanging out with other Canadian brewers at the Hair Of The Dog brewpub.

Much to my surprise they had a 3.2% ABV dark mild on. I was half tempted to try it but remembered I was here for the hops so went with the pale ale.

Sadly it was opaque with yeast so rated not right. I'm not a fan of drinking yeast and it really doesn't help hoppy beers. There was a treat in store though as one of the guys there was cake-o bake-o and generous with it too so we got to share a pricey barrel aged beer. It was good stuff.

The plan was to move on to another brewery but after some world class faffing by one of the people I was with, followed by another desperately trying to pull, and lets face it the fact we didn't really know where we were going, by the time we got there the place had stopped serving. It seems inbreeding is popular in Portland too. But never mind there was another brewery nearby so we went on to that.

This was Cascade Brewing Barrel House, a place that specialises in sour beers. So much for my hunt for hops. The beers were good though, I wouldn't say there were up with the best of the Belgians but I certainly enjoyed them.

I also got asked for photo ID on the way in. Slightly bizarre I though, even more so as they let me in despite the only photo ID I had not having my date of birth on it. Having seen my hairline I guess they knew there were just going through the motions.

On the walk back we passed a strip club, and talked about how sleazy it was. Little did we know it had been a venue for a do put on by craft brewers that week. Oh dear, oh dear.

That was pretty much it for me and Portland, though I did have a nice pint at the airport. I enjoyed my time there, and the beer culture which is good, but different. A bit like the language really.