Monday, June 23, 2014

In Praise of Science

Business is booming. Breweries are springing up left, right, and centre. It seems like not a month goes by without reading about a new brewery opening up, an established brewery expanding, homebrewers 'living the dream' by opening their own place. It seems as though every one and his uncle wants a piece of the everyman drink right now (which kind of makes me nervous, but that's for a different post).

In all the excitement of the new, I wonder if we forget the excitement of the improved? Let me give you an example. I work in the tasting room at Starr Hill from time to time, it's a job I love doing, and the most recent cause for excitement from my perspective is the continued resurgence of a beer I once really enjoyed and then went off. Jomo Lager is one of the staples of Starr Hill's range, it has been brewed, as far as I am aware, for as long as there has been a Starr Hill Brewing Company.

In the last couple of years the brewery has invested a lot of time and money into process management, quality assurance, and brewing science. It is an investment which is paying off in the most important place, in the glass. There was a time when Jomo was something I didn't really care for, because it was inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. With the improvements in process over the last few years, Jomo is a beer I have come back to and found myself thoroughly enjoying once more. In fact, I think it is the Starr Hill beer I have drunk most of so far this year, even more so than the lovely Dark Starr Stout.

I sometimes wonder if the science of brewing doesn't got lost in the excitement and occasionally homespun culture that is much of 'craft' brewing, almost as though scientific rigour in the brewing process is a path to the dark side of BMC-esque status. Whether or not you want to drink the beers being made by the big boys, you cannot deny that they have the science side of things down to a fine art, ensuring a consistent customer experience, and the brand loyalty that comes with it. It makes me think that there are breweries out there that need to spend less money on more tanks and more money on getting the liquid in their existing tanks consistently excellent.



It has been the application of brewing science that has made Jomo one of my go to Starr Hill beers, making it again the beer I described as:
a lovely clean lager which goes down with inordinate ease, nicely hoppy but with a lightly sweet undertone - just the kind of beer which requires a leafy beer garden, a warm late summer afternoon and a busty serving wench making regular trips to your table, laden with steins of joy, the smell of bratwurst grilling nearby and so on.
There really is no higher praise for a beer than wanting to drink lots of it...

Two 'In Praise of...' posts in a couple of weeks? What the heck is wrong with me? I haven't had a rant in a while.

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Praise of the Brewery Tap

I went to the pub the other day, shock horror, and something has been on my mind ever since.

The pub in question had a good selection, including a decent range of local beers and those from further afield, such as:
  • Champion Killer Kolsch
  • Three Notch'd Hydraulion
  • 21st Amendment Bitter American
  • Bell's Oberon
Something that piqued my interest was the pricing. The 2 local beers in that list, Champion and Three Notch'd, were priced at $5 and $6 for a pint respectively, and the beers from further away were both $5.

Said pub is about equidistant between the two local breweries, so what would be the reason for the extra $1 in price? Sure it could be the extra 0.3% abv that Hydraulion has over Killer Kolsch, though the extra 0.3% abv, but given that Blue Mountain's very nice Full Nelson was likewise priced at $5 on the menu and is 0.6% abv more than Hydraulion, I assume not.


This little vignette shows the one big annoyance of mine with retailers of 'craft' beer, their sheer inconsistency when it comes to pricing similar products, oh and don't get me started about places claiming to have hundreds of 'craft' beers and then including Estrella, Guinness, and Leffe in their lists.


I guess this is one of the reasons why I find myself drinking more and more locally produced beer ('local' beer is a total misnomer given that ingredients are shipped in from around the world) in the places where they were brewed. I prefer my money to be going directly to the producers of the beer rather than through the mitts of various middle men. One of the best things to happen to Virginia beer is the passing into law of SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints through their tasting rooms.

The brewery tap is fast becoming the best place to drink, and support, local producers of beer. Long may it continue.