Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg

Once upon a time there was a farmer who kept geese. One of the farmer's geese was very special because it laid golden eggs. Every morning, the farmer would collect the eggs from his gaggle of geese and put the golden egg aside to be taken to the bank. Having convinced themselves that the goose itself must have a large nugget of gold inside it, the farmer and his wife killed the goose, only to find that it was a goose like every other.

Ok, it's not exactly a classic retelling of Aesop's Fable, but since the news came out on Monday that Fulton Street Brewing, which trades under the name Goose Island, was to be sold to Anheuser-Busch that story has been lodged in my cranium. As seems to be the norm when a successful craft brewery gets bought out by one of the multinational brewing corporations, the histrionic caterwauling on Twitter and in the blogosphere hit epic levels.

I find myself unable to join in such knee jerk excess for two main reasons. Firstly I have never had a Goose Island beer, though I guess I will have to see if I can find some in the coming weeks to see what all the fuss is about. Secondly, I am not convinced that A-B InBev is some evil corporate monster. Let me clarify that by saying that all businesses are just that, businesses. They are neither good nor evil, but rather methods of making money, and at the end of the day nobody in their right mind starts a business without wanting to make a living out of it.

Perhaps I am too willing to give A-B InBev the benefit of the doubt, but the story of the goose that laid the golden egg is rather apt here. Let us assume that the management of AB InBev actually know what they doing, though of course it is easier to believe that they are a coven of warlocks casting spells to make people buy their beer, it suits the narrative so much better. Do you honestly believe that they are sitting there thinking, "good god man, Goose Island shits gold, let's kill the bastard and have all the gold for ourselves"? Strangely enough, I don't think they are. They probably are thinking, let's buy the goose and have the gold for ourselves, but I think they would want to keep it alive.

Given that the chain of command within Goose Island will be John Hall reporting directly the CEO of Anheuser-Busch US, I suspect that nothing much will change on the beer front. Of course being part of a multinational brewing behemoth has its advantages for Goose Island such as capital investment and expanded distribution, which can only be good for the beer drinker.

Whilst talking about the beer drinker, I think it is petty minded to decry John and Greg Hall's decision to sell to Anheuser-Busch as "selling out". These guys have invested money, time and no small amount of care into the business and brands they have built, if they are willing to trust themselves to the world of AB then that is their decision and we should respect their right to have a big pay day for their labours. Perhaps it would have been different if the purchase had been a hostile takeover, but it looks as though all parties involved in the sale are happy with it.

It does seem though that the multinationals are intent on buying up craft breweries, what with MolsonCoors in the UK buying Sharps, so the question becomes "who next"? Personally I think the likes of Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams are too big to be of interest to the multinationals, so you are looking at the medium sized regional craft breweries, and I wouldn't be surprised to see several of them being bought out over the next year or two. The question is by whom, and for that answer, I would hazard a guess that looking at distribution deals will be a key pointer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pubcentricity for the Masses

Beer is simple really. You can make a world class beer with just 4 ingredients, enough Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water and yeast to make a 12° Plato pale lager and hey presto. Sure the process of doing the triple decoction is a wee bit involved, but not exactly rocket science if you have the right kit. At the moment I don't have the right kit and so I would rather not make lager at all than make it using any other method, that's just me though. I am sure there are fine lagers being made using an infusion mash but when I do venture into lagerworld then I want to make Czech style pilsners more than any other style of beer.

I don't want to cover the same ground as I did with my Keeping it Simple post from a fortnight ago, but over the weekend a parallel thought came to mind. Not only do I like my beer simple, I like my watering holes fairly simple as well. I am not a fan of fads, trends and the latest, greatest innovation that promises to revolutionise my very existence - that may explain why I don't have a smart phone or an iPod (my MP3 player is about 6 years old - it still works so no need to change it). Perhaps as I totter happily into my mid thirties, I find the thought of drinking in a proper pub more comfortable than going to a brightly lit trendy bar? The only problem with that notion is that I have always preferred proper pubs and boozers as opposed to clubs and bars.

Eric from Relentless Thirst hit the nail on the head when we were last at Devils Backbone by describing Mrs Velkyal and I as "pub-centric" people. The pub has played a massive part in our life and relationship, we met in one and had our wedding reception in the same pub, Pivovarský klub back in Prague. Actually we spent most of our evenings in Prague in a pub of some kind, when we would go to watch Liverpool, we went to the pub, if we couldn't be bothered cooking dinner, we went to the pub, when we went on mammoth 3 hours walks along the river, we ended up in a pub. When I decided in 2008 that I wanted to write a pub guide to Prague, I knew that the focus was on pubs rather than beer - hence you'll find places that sell Staropramen or Gambrinus in the guide, because they are good pubs.

I bang on and on about pubs that I like, places like Devils Backbone, Flying Saucer in Columbia and my much missed places in Prague, U Slovanské lípy and Pivovarský klub for starters, simply because the pub, for me, is the natural place to drink beer. Where though are your favourite drinking holes? Why do you like then? What makes you come back time after time?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sod the Words

I was planning to write a post about the politics of beer price, but I was listening to some music as I was writing and decided that some tunes would be more uplifting in preparation for the weekend.

Ben Leibrand's 1989 remix of Eve of the War from Jeff Wayne's awesome War of the Worlds.

Jeff Wayne's original - the voice for the uninitiated is Richard Burton.

Continuing the Jeff theme, you can't beat a bit of Jeff Lynne

This song has been something of a theme tune for me this week, and nobody does it better than The Corries.

Have a good weekend people!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Tuesdays and Thursdays are quiet nights in the Velkyal household these days. Mrs Velkyal has re-started her rowing, as in boats not mudslinging, and so myself and the dog just kind of potter around our little flat. Sometimes I'll watch some old British TV on Netflix, I am currently going through All Creatures Great and Small. Sometimes I'll sit on t'internet and read Wikipedia, other beer blogs or I'll get a book and sit, listening to music and just lose myself. I don't often drink, because I generally drink only at weekends.

Last night though, I got round to labelling my growing collection of homebrew. I am no artist and so it is highly unlikely that you would ever see my labels entered into the Brew Your Own label competition, however when faced with a bank of amber bottles each with a golden cap, it gets tiring trying to remember what you put where. I tried using a system of coloured dots on the cap, but that kind of fizzled because I couldn't remember what the dots meant. Yes I made a note of it, but that's seems to have been tidied up at some point and thus lost to the ether.

The answer then, at least for me, has been shipping labels. Simple, printable shipping labels. Download the template and away you go, remembering of course not to label the bottles you are keeping to one side for competition purposes. Although I am as artistic as a "cluster of colour blind hedgehogs, in a bag", I do like words (I know few other people who find it interesting that "center" is the older spelling variant and dates from medieval England). Words, at least in their printed form, need fonts, and so I love to play with fonts to get the right look for the label. Here are a couple of my favourites.

As you can see, I like simplicity - just beer name, style, hops, ABV and the pet name I have given my homebrew "operation" (ahem, cough, splutter). The font, the apparently much overused Algerian font, made me think of journeys during the ages of discovery, which ties in with this beer being in some ways, hopefully, similar to the porters that were shipped from London to India - you know the type, extra hops and that kind of thing.

On Monday evening, admittedly a day late, I bottles my version of the International Homebrew Project Milk Stout - a recreation of the 1933 Milk Stout brewed by Barclay Perkins. Again, keeping it simple is my motto, and the first creation of this label was black text on a white background, but it just didn't work. I liked the font because it bought to mind the styles of the 1930s, but what to do about the look and feel of it? I tried changing the colour of the text, but to no avail, then taking inspiration from the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster, I inverted the black and white and hey presto.

Ok, they are not the most creative labels on the planet, but I like them - probably mainly because I no longer have to play mental gymnastics every time I fancy a homebrew. I do wonder though sometimes if I think far too much about my beer and brewing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Charlottesville Pubs

This weekend, Mrs Velkyal and I had guests, namely Mrs V's best friend and her husband, who drove up from Greenville in South Carolina to spend a few precious hours boozing with us. Just how much boozing it is possible to cram in to slightly less than 40 hours is quite impressive really.

Naturally we took them to our usual hangouts, Friday afternoon a few pints in Beer Run - where they had the wonderful O'Hara's Irish Stout on tap, and the red incidentally - much nicer on tap than in the bottle. Just a minor aside, a pint (yes, a proper pint) of Guinness is $6, a pint of O'Hara's was $6.50. 50 cents difference between a quality, Irish made product and Guinness? Just a hint chaps, ditch the Guinness and have O'Hara's as your standard stout! Sure some people might moan a bit for a wee while, but I defy anyone to taste them side by side and not be won over immediately.

As our guests had driven 6 hours to get here, we decided against a heavy night on the booze, and headed home to attack the cellar and enjoy Mrs V's home-cooked dinner - another aside, if you are of a crafty persuasion, as in knitting, crocheting and such like, Mrs V is now blogging about her stuff and you can see her blog here.

Saturday though was planned to be drinking day. Can you guess where we took them? Of course you can if you are a regular reader of Fuggled, but before we got there we ventured off our regular beaten track and found Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, where we enjoyed sampling their fruit wines and mead. I am coming to the conclusion that Nelson County is full of boozers and foodies and so if we ever buy a house here, then Nelson County is high on the list of places to look. Having sampled and purchased some stuff, and with me admittedly getting a touch agitated because I wanted a pint, we finally made it to.........yes, you guessed it, Devils Backbone, still the only place in the area we have taken every single, and married, visitor we have had. I won't bore you with details, but the Backbone has gathered another couple of fans.

Coming back into town, Mrs V had a work function to attend, and so her friend went with her and myself and Mr Friend were off to the pubs of the town centre. First on the list? Court Square Tavern. I am sure that I don't say this often enough, because I waffle about Beer Run and Devils Backbone so much, but this little pub is one of my favourite places in the city, and vastly under-rated. Here's why I like to head in on a Friday or Saturday night: top bar staff, cozy atmosphere and Czech lager, admittedly bottled, but still, I am partial to a glass of B.B. Burgerbrau as the pale lager from the oldest brewery in Budweis is called over here, and Žatec is always a decent pint as well. In the 18 months since I have been here, the Tavern has improved steadily and hopefully this will continue in the future.

Next up was South Street Brewery, a place I go to far less often than I probably should - especially as it is right opposite my office and opens at just about the right time for post work drinkies. The problem I find is that many of their beers are uninspiring and so I will often wander a little further from the office to go to Beer Run. However, it is one of the most beautiful pubs from an architectural point of view that I have ever seen. We popped in and I had a pint of their Aisling Stout, which I describing thusly: "looks like a stout, smells like a stout, tastes like a stout" - it hit the spot. And so on we went, with my taking a mental note that I should give the entire South Street range another try.

Our next watering hole was a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time, Horse and Hound, a British style gastropub (I hate that term with a passion - it tells you everything you need to know about the priorities of the business). Now, I am perfectly willing to accept that having not lived in Britain for more than a decade a couple of things may have happened. The British pub may have changed beyond all recognition or my nostalgia for the British pub has severely rose-tinted my vision. I was not impressed, not impressed in the slightest. The beer range itself is decent enough, but my experience of the staff was that they were surly and disinterested. Having had my pint (no not a proper pint) we wandered off to find somewhere else - with me muttering viciously.

And so we came to Escafe, another little place just round the corner from where I work, and conveniently opposite the venue of Mrs V's work function, which was slowly coming to its end. I like Escafe, it feels like a bar, and that's a good thing in my pub-centric world. Not pretentious, just simple. In there we ran into the other widowers of our better halves' function and then the phone rang and it was time to pull the plug and head home.

A good night out all told, my usual haunts lived up to their billing, one place will need revisiting and the other, well perhaps I shouldn't be so opinionated and hasty.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Brewer of the Week

Denmark, home of at least two of my favourite Liverpool players (Jan Mølby and Daniel Agger since you ask), home of my friend Astrid and home of possibly the most expensive bottle of beer I have ever purchased. If you have been following Fuggled for a while, you may remember this post, where I bought a bottle of La Granja Stout for the equivalent of $8 when just a few days before, in a different pub, I had paid closer to $20. Hopefully at some future point I will be able to get to the brewpub in Copenhagen for myself and try their beers in situ, until then I give you.....

Name: Kasper Larsen, Beer Ambassador
Brewery: Nørrebro Bryghus

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I'm not a brewer by trade, I do brew, but we've got better brewers than me at Nørrebro though. As for getting into beer, it was a long time coming. I home brewed while studying, plenty of hits and misses with my ambitious roasted rye bread brown as a shining example of a spectacular failure. Some good beers too, obviously. This interest sparked beer ambitions, and I got into the brewpub business via bartending and beer geeking! 

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

It's not rocket science is it? I guess a sound work ethic, a knack for flavours and a love of the craft would be a nice starting point. And a certain curiousness and willingness to learn new stuff. Looking sharp in a pair of wellies doesn't hurt either! 

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

None of my recipes have been converted completely, although some ideas from the home brewed stuff have found it's way into the beer.  

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Nah, not really. Come to think of it, I think I loaned my wonderful two-bucket lauter tun and bent copper chiller to another home brewer. I don't remember who?

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

It varies somewhat. I guess the newest one is always a favourite. I am obviously very proud of our barrel aged stuff although my friend Shaun Hill, now of Hill Farmstead, Vermont should take credit for that. if I was to choose one specific beer I guess the Sauternes barrel trippel would take the cake. It is very special indeed! We've got some new gorgeous beers coming in the same tradition. They will most certainly be favourites too.  
If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Never did.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink? To drink?

Hmmm, It depends on the time of day, the company I'm keeping at the time, food I'm eating, the wheather outside? I can always drink one more New York Lager though.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I'm not sure I understand completely? What is a non-authentic beer? If the result is delicious then I'm more than happy! 

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We've done many collaborations with the likes of Garret Oliver and Sam Calagione but if I was to choose a Russian River collab would be pretty great. They do the best hoppy beers and the best sours I've ever tried.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Purely from a flavour point of view, I would love to have invented the Orval, the Blanche de Hainault, the Köstritzer Schwarz, the Fullers London Porter, the Radeberger Pilsener, the Pliny the Elder and about 500 others. There are very many great beers out there!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Touring the Brewery

I never really know what to make of brewery tours. Sure, when I work at Starr Hill, I do the occasional tour of the facility and wax lyrical about the process of brewing beer, but I must admit there are few breweries that I would absolutely want to tour.

In ten years living in Prague I didn't go on the brewery tour at Plzeň, at the time I didn't see the need - I did however enjoy their wares in the brewery pub. When we went to Ireland back in 2008, I felt no urge to go to St James' Gate, though I enjoyed pints of Guinness in Dublin, Galway and points in between. The closest I got to a brewery tour before moving to the States was sitting in the brewery bar at U Medvídků while they were at work creating their magnificent Oldgott Barrique. I have of course had the pleasure of seeing up close and personal the workings of the Devils Backbone brewhouse, with its decoction kettle and various other bits and bobs.

This whole train of thought came about because a friend asked me what breweries in the world I would really like to visit, in terms of looking that their process and equipment rather than just going to a tasting room or pub to drink their beers - something I do thoroughly enjoy, especially when the tasting toom is as nicely set up as Williamsburg Alewerks. So without further ado....

1. Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, England

From what I understand, Hook Norton is one of the few, if not the only, remaining tower brewery in the United Kingdom. A tower brewery used gravity to move through the brewing process, so basically you start at the top of the building and work your way down. The brewery also has a 19th century steam engine, and I love steam engines. It also helps that Hook Norton make several of my favourite beers, including their Double Stout.

2. Kout na Šumavě, Czech Republic

I know I bang on about how much I love their beers, and so what better reason to go and see the old buildings that house the production of some of the world's best beers (I was going to say just lager, but I think they are better than many an ale as well - hence people who deride lager are idiots in my world - here endeth the lesson). Part of me would also love to see where my good friend Evan put his foot through the floor without spilling a drop.

Just a couple there, where would love to go?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Keeping it Simple

I think I am about to utter the most disgustingly unutterably awful phrase you could imagine as a tippler. So abhorrent is this phrase that I fear I will be cast out into eternal darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, having taken a mouthful of Coke Zero for courage (it being too early for beer), here goes. I prefer simple beer.

I often find myself agreeing most heartily with Martyn Cornell over at Zythophile, and his recent post "Why extremophiles are a danger to us all" was read with many a nod and waving of papers whilst mumbling "hear, hear". That post came to mind again this weekend as I sat on the patio of Devils Backbone enjoying some spring sunshine and beers with Mrs V, Eric from Relentless Thirst and Steve, who works for a local beer distributor.  New on the beer menu at Devils Backbone is a beer called Ein Kolsch, an excellent example of the style and exceedingly drinkable, but I had to reign myself in and only have 4.

Having indulged in a further pint of Vienna Lager, and a half of Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy to drown my sorrows in preparation for the inevitable theft of the Calcutta Cup by perfidious Albion, we headed down the road to Blue Mountain Brewery. Their take on an altbier, Evan Altmighty, was very drinkable and named after brewer's son, and the film which was made in the area. As ever, the Classic Lager was most enjoyable. 

Classic beers, well made, are, in my ever so unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers craft. Sure, your imperial IPAs might be interesting to sample at a beer festival, but to drink several pints of on a night out? Sat with our pints of Ein Kolsch, or the Styrian Blonde in Steve's case, the sum total of geekery was as follows:
  1. observe colour and clarity of the beer
  2. take a mouthful
  3. nod appreciatively and say "that's good"
  4. continue discussing Steely Dan/Liverpool/homebrew/insert theme here
I don't want beer to be an existential experience, I am not looking for the next big hop high, I just want to drink several pints of something tasty, in the company of fine people and still be able to function the next morning. I am fairly sure that I am not in the minority on that front, and so Fuggled will continue to celebrate the session beer, the classic beer and the pubs in which to enjoy them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brewer of the Week

This week we head back across the Pond, to Guildford in Surrey, home of Lewis Carroll, The Stranglers, Ford Prefect, Gerald Seymour and, naturally enough, the chap kind enough to answer some questions.

Name: Ross Hunter
Brewery: Surrey Hills Brewery

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I had my first sip of beer as a young child and thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted. I immediately decided I wanted to make beer when I was older

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

To love beer

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes. Five home brew recipes have been converted to full scale production. They all taste a little different from the original home brew recipes, which, I think is inevitable.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

No. I don’t have the time or actually, the inclination to home brew any more.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Gilt Complex

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I like brewing beer, and there is not a particular beer I like to brew. The aromas of a dark beer during mashing in always seem extra special. Having said that, I really enjoyed brewing a particular batch of Triplefff Dazed and Confused (pale), mainly because the hops used in it were all from really high quality crops that year and I knew it was going to be beautiful.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Whilst Gilt Complex is my favourite beer that we brew, I really enjoy quaffing Ranmore. It is thirst quenching and satisfying, with enough hop character to keep you interested and wanting another. Ranmore is a proper drinking beer.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

We use traditional brewing methods and ingredients, not to be authentic, but purely because I believe they produce the best beer. If there was an easier way to brew the same quality beer, I would unashamedly follow that path. I really enjoy using the basic four ingredients for beer and try to get the most out of them without using other ingredients. I really enjoy drinking beers with different ingredients, but I personally like to brew beers with water, floor malted barley, whole leaf hops and yeast. Nothing else.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Dark Star. We all love their beers and are very good friends with them. They are great fun and so nice to us as well, so I think it would be a brilliant experience. I think the beer would be awesome too.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Absolutely none. I love our beers and I love many other beers and respect their creators. I would not wish to have invented a beer that has been created by another, it seems a very alien thought to me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Plea To Pubs

Imagine the scene.

The wife has plans, you have finished everything you wanted to achieve with your day already and thus have a couple of hours spare. What could be nicer than spending said couple of hours in the pub? More specifically the pub where you spend a large amount of your drinking time. Pulling up at the bar, because that's where you sit as a rule, you survey the beers being tapped that day. The list is overwhelmingly stuck in a single beer style. A style which has come to define the beer culture in the country where you find yourself.

You sigh. There are times when you just want something different, something with flavours other than those in pretty much every other beer. You sigh again, after all this is a pub where you not only spend an inordinate amount of time, but also has a reputation for having a broader selection of beer than anywhere else in your town. The barman notices your inability to make a decision and offers you a sample, sure enough the culture defining beer placed in front of you tastes exactly as you expect. Those hops, that malt, it all feels so predictable.

As well as a larger than normal selection of taps, the pub has an impressive stock of bottled beers lining the walls, so you have a stroll and again nothing is really speaking to your tastebuds. You return to your seat at the bar, the food you ordered has arrived - the food is never a problem, simple, tasty and good. It is times like these that you have a fall back option, a beer which isn't sexy, isn't trendy and isn't laden with craft beer kudos, but you know what you are getting.

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am describing my drinking life back in Prague, and sure there were many a day when I would go to PK or similar and 5 of the 6 taps would be pale lager, with a weizen on the other. However, that scenario has played out in many a pub here in the States since I moved over, just with pale lager replaced by pale hoppy ale, whether of the India persuasion or otherwise. Usually, when this scenario happens, the beer I end up supping happily is Guinness - occasionally fuelled with a drop of barleywine chucked in the top.

When I first wrote this post, and showed it to Mrs V she commented that it was kind of depressing. I don't want to come across as a malcontent, but there are times when I go to a pub, whether here in Charlottesville, in Columbia or wherever we happen to be and the "choice" is really a case of pick a pale ale, any pale ale. Often the non pale ale choices are high octane barleywines or imperial stouts, which don't make for good drinking by the pint, a proper pint, when you have to pick the wife up at some point.

I guess then I am making a plea to pubs that have loads of taps, let's see a little less of the hoppy pale ale world and a bit more of the dark lagers, weizens, milds and Scottish ales of this world. Heck, how about ditching the Guinness altogether and getting Wrasslers XXXX on tap, or O'Hara's, or one of the excellent American made stouts, Sierra Nevada for example, or Starr Hill's Dark Starr?

Monday, March 7, 2011

International Homebrew Project - The Brewing

It's half past six on a Saturday morning and I have beer on my mind. No, I am not standing outside Masarykovo nádraží having a breakfast pint to wash away the aftertaste of Fernet. I am in fact standing in my Charlottesville kitchen preparing for the 2011 International Homebrew Project brewday. In a small pan raw cane sugar is boiling away, with a dose of citric acid, to become invert syrup number 3.

The grains have been measured out as I ready myself for my first ever mash. Generally speaking I get most of my fermentables from light dry malt extract, adding colour and flavour with specialty grains, but today I want to start taking steps toward all grain brewing. Just a quick aside, I agree with the chap in Brew Your Own magazine who said that the reason people brew better beer when they go to all grain is less because of being all grain and more because of the added investment in better equipment.

In the mash is half a pound of Maris Otter, plus the necessary amber, brown and caramel malts, and of course the roasted barley. My mash tun is a steel can which was once chock full of coffee. A total of 2lbs of grain sit in a nylon bag as the necessary liquor is added. To keep the mash heat in, I put a sheet of foil over the top and popped the plastic lid over that. The can was then wrapped in Mrs Velkyal's Harrods oven gloves, and then put inside an insulated picnic hamper. Sure it's not elegant, but it got 76% efficiency, so I was happy.

After ninety minutes the mash was done, a bit of sparging later and I had a boil volume of 2 gallons (remember my batches are 2.5 gallons), the extract was added, along with the invert syrup and away we went on the mammoth 150 minute boil. Fuggles were added at the very beginning of the boil, with Goldings after an hour, and that was it for the hopping schedule, though with 15 minutes to go, I dumped in the lactose. Having started the boil with 2 gallons, I ended up with about half a gallon of boiled wort to chuck into the waiting ice cold water in the carboy. I do have a wort chiller, but I need to get a connector for the tap in my kitchen so I can use it. If we had a house with an outside tap things would be different, but we don't, so they are not.

One major benefit of brewing this way is that cooling the wort to pitching temperature takes about 15 minutes total. The yeast for this project was Danstar's dry Nottingham, and this time I was prepared. When I last used Nottingham the fermentation was insanely vigorous and within 24 hours I was scraping krausen from the ceiling. This time I would use a blow off tube from the beginning, my thinking confirmed by a tweet from James of A Homebrew Log saying that he was switching to a blow off because the fermentation was cracking along. Yeast duly pitched, it was just past midday. Mrs V had gone rowing and so I had the pleasure of brewing to Texas Greatest Hits and not feeling the need to skip the occasional track.

Less than an hour later I had the clear signs of krausen. I was delighted, I was nervous, I was glad I didn't have to prepare for an afternoon of ceiling cleaning duties. Fermentation has been vigorous and the krausen didn't approach the top of the carboy, so no need to worry on that front, yes I am sad enough to make a video of CO2 bubbling from the blow off tube.....

That was my brewing experience, a few firsts and although the OG fell a bit short, I am looking forward to a tasty, low alcohol beer, which of course will be reviewed here in about 5 weeks.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brewer of the Week

The Fuggled Brewer of the Week series is more about the brewers themselves than the breweries they work for, although there is naturally a great deal of overlap. Last May we interviewed former Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan, today we return to Thornbridge....

Name: Matthew Clark
Brewery: Thornbridge Brewery

How did you get into brewing as a career?

By accident. I used to be a chef in Norfolk and my girlfriend was offered a much better job in Derbyshire so we moved. I didn’t fancy cooking again because of the unsociable hours so I scoured the county for suitable jobs. I originally applied for the van driver’s job and they asked me to come in and work for a day. I really enjoyed myself and asked lots of questions but they gave the job to someone else. It seems the brewery had other plans as they offered me a job of Assistant Brewer and that was 4 years ago.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

A willingness to learn new things.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Before becoming a professional brewer, I homebrewed once. It was disastrous. So there is hope for anybody.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Since becoming a brewer I homebrew quite often now. Playing around with different brewing techniques and interesting ingredients. Next one, Number 7, will probably be a Kvass.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

It has to be Jaipur. Weighing out the hops for Jaipur is one of the best jobs in the brewery. It’s a very bitter beer but has a really strong malt backbone to back that bitterness up. Because of this balance, at 5.9% it drinks like a session beer. And the aroma is incredible too.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Before Thornbridge, I was a brewing virgin.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

It depends, Spring – Jaipur. Summer – Wild Swan. Autumn – Ashford. Winter – St. Petersburg.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I think authenticity matters if you want to use it as a selling point. If not, as long as the beer is made with love, care and attention and it tastes great, who cares if it’s authentic.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We’ve been lucky enough at Thornbridge to collaborate with Garrett from Brooklyn Brewery, Doug from Odell’s, Agostino and Maurizio from Birrificio Italiano and Mark from Darkstar. I think though because of his influence on brewers old and new, I’d really like to do a collaborative homebrew with Charlie Papazian.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Sierra Nevada Pale ale. I think this is one of the best beers in the world. No gimmicks. No fuss. Just great beer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Simply British

I was planning to write a piece today about being proud of British beer. Indeed, I have twice deleted entire posts because I thought the tone didn't do justice to how I feel about my home, and the beer that comes from those islands on the western edge of Europe. I don't do nationalism, I don't do jingoism, and for me, the SIBA video posted on Pete Brown's blog yesterday is neither of those things. As I said in the comments to that post, it was "a bloody magnficent video".

There are many good things about Britain and being British, not just our beer and breweries. Our sense of fair play, our sense of humour, our love of the simple pleasures in life - and really, what could be simpler, or better, than a pint of best, porter or mild in a comfortable pub?

I am convinced that one of the most insightful books on the British character is Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island. Though the context is slightly different, I think this section could well describe British beer as much as anything else:

"And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.

"Oh, I shouldn't really," they say.

"Oh, go on," you prod encouragingly

"Well, just a small one then," they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish. All this is completely alien to the American mind. To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright. You may well say "Oh, I shouldn't really" if someone tells you to take a deep breath.

I used to be puzzled by the curious attitude of the British to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies - "Mustn't grumble," "It makes a change," "You could do worse," "It's not much, but it's cheap and cheerful," "Well, it was quite nice" - but gradually I came around to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier."

Thinking about Monday's post, perhaps I will soak some fruit in stout and make rock cakes at the weekend.

Of Bostonian Beer...

 A couple of weeks ago I was up in Boston for a work related conference. Having only ever been to the city for a few hours previously, to vi...