Posts tagged ‘cask’

February 12, 2014

Change? I’d rather you didn’t…

A warning: I shall repeatedly use the phrase “craft keg” to refer to a cross-section of beers currently available that do not fit in with CAMRA’s definition of Real Ale. I can’t think of a better term that would mean anything to enough people so that’s what I’ll have to use, even though I dislike the term. If you can’t deal with that, don’t read on!

Yesterday I picked up on a blog post by Tandleman here that itself referred to a letter in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing by Tim Webb. Apparently Mr Webb wants CAMRA to change and embrace the brave new world of “craft keg” and other great improvements in the world of beer. In his blog post Tandleman is, perhaps not surprisingly, somewhat more reserved about the level of change CAMRA should make, but agrees there should be some change.

What surprised me more, as a CAMRA member myself who has long said that the organisation needs to change it’s attitudes to avoid being left behind, and as part of the team behind one of the different sorts of beer festival that have grown up in the last couple of years on the back of the “craft” boom, is that I thought, “No!”.

I thought it quite vehemently actually. But I think I have sound reasons. I don’t suggest CAMRA doesn’t need to change in some ways, to become a little more tolerant and accepting of other’s (including a portion of its own membership) foibles. To modernise its language and eliminate misinformation. But to embrace and extend beyond its Real Ale focus? No.

The thing is, we now have a newly vibrant and I believe still growing beer scene where Cask Ale and Craft Keg can co-exist quite happily if proponents of one don’t take that to be the same as opposing the other – in fact you can be “for” both as many, if not most, drinkers are . A number of events have sprung up catering for the new market who want a mixture of great beers in both cask and keg – I should know, I’m involved in one of them. But what happens if CAMRA changes completely to embrace this? What if every beer festival they run starts to look like an IndyMan, a Craft Beer Rising, or a Beer Bash? Gradually, those events that set out to be something different all round start to lose some of their unique qualities. They start to look less different to every other event and eventually you might reach the point where they are simply an independent event of no real difference to the CAMRA one down the road. And when these events are seen as no different to any other, those with modest resources as opposed to backed by a large organisation, will be the ones to disappear. The (re-)homogenisation of beer festivals, just like the homogenisation of beer that was part of the reason CAMRA came to be in the first place. *

So yes CAMRA, acknowledge there are other good beers, be welcoming of the fact, don’t oppose them, but continue to fight for Real Ale, for pubs, for what you stand for. Strive for improvement. Leave room for others to do their thing and coexist happily, collaborate and be friends. But don’t feel you have to change because all good beer has to have a CAMRA-approved badge. Just to do the above well is change enough, and UK beer will be all the better for it.

* maybe that’s extreme. Maybe it would never go that far. But can you be sure it wouldn’t?

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December 25, 2013

Golden Pints

I’ve not attempted a Golden Pints list before, and within seconds of starting this I’ve realised how difficult it actually is. This has surely been my beeriest year to date and yet I feel in some ways even less able to pick out the highlights. Maybe that’s a good thing – I’ve been simply too immersed in good beer to be able to single out individual experiences as head and shoulders above the rest.

Still, I can try…

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Best UK Cask Beer
Tough one this. There’s been a lot. Not all good of course. But lots and lots of good, and a fair amount of very good. Having recorded most of these on Untappd I thought it would be easy to quickly pull up a list of those I’ve rated highest. But it simply isn’t that easy (hence I won’t be completing the best app category this year!).  Although there’s been loads of brilliant cask ales amongst the mediocre (and a fair few worse than mediocre, to be fair), I’m not sure that any one stands out above all others. If you were to hold me at gunpoint I’d probably say a good pint of Thornbridge Jaipur on cask is still pretty unbeatable – I have certainly had some good pints of it in the past 12 months, and it always a beer I’m happy to return to. There might have been a contender in Magic Rock High Wire, a previous favourite, but as I haven’t come across it on cask this year it doesn’t count. So, I’ll give Jaipur an honourable mention but I don’t think I can declare a winner for sure.

Best UK Keg Beer
There are again quite a few to choose from. Everything I’ve had on keg from Wild Beer for example – Modus Operandi, Ninkasi, and Schnoodlepip all spring to mind. Beers from Weird Beard and Siren have stood out too. Harbour’s Pale Ales, and those of the Kernel, are also up there. What would I put above all else? I’m going to have to go for Wild Beer, who’s name immediately puts a smile on my face when I see it on a bar, and I’d have to plump for their flagship Modus Operandi.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I’d have to say it’s one of two here for me. Wild Beer Ninkasi or Kernel 1890 Export Stout. Both are beers I keep returning to, which to me illustrates the point.  I might have to call this one a draw.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
Only really one contender for me. De Molen Rasputin which I had on keg at the Birmingham Beer Bash. Decadent and glorious. Loads of others that came close, the most memorable runner-up being Black Malts and Body Salts by To Ol – possibly at least in part because at IndyMan this marked a downward spiral towards higher strength beers and consequently is the last beer I can reliably recall from that day…

Best Collaboration Brew
A number of categories here have me divided – I can come up with a best in terms of the quality of the beer itself or best in terms of the experience I had with it. This is one of those categories. I’ve drunk a number of different collaborations this year but one was an experience like none other – my own collaboration with Blackjack Beers, an American Pale Ale called Phoneticus. As my first commercial effort it was an unrivalled experience. But honestly, the best collaboration beer I’ve had this year? It’s up there, but there are many others. Juggler by Magic Rock / To Ol, or the latter’s Buxton collaboration Carnage are both beers I enjoyed greatly. Wild Beer’s Schnoodlepip (which quickly became an adjective for brilliance at the Birmingham Beer Bash), and another from Magic Rock – Salty Kiss, these stood out. There were yet others, but favourite of all for me was the Weird Beard / Northern Monk Bad Habit.

Best Overall Beer
Really? No, sorry, just can’t do it. I think there’s too much a case of “the right beer at the right time” to say that in a fair fight any one would win.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
As I started writing this at the beginning of December a late entry in this category popped up when I saw a picture of the new range of bottles from Liverpool Craft. They’ve taken the fairly simple theme of their existing branding and developed it further to apply to a great set of bottle labels. At the same time I continue to love the raw simplicity of the Kernel brand, and Wild Beer’s printed bottles have a feel of quality oozing from then (although as a recycler of such bottles for my own beers at home I find it a pain not having a label you can just remove!). Another honourable mention goes to Magic Rock whose branding continues to catch the eye – there’s no doubt whose bottles they are on the shelf without having to go anywhere near to read the labels. And that’s the thing – your pumpclips and labels have to draw the customer to the beer, and all those mentioned above do that incredibly well. My winner? I think I’ll give it to Liverpool Craft.

Best UK Brewery
For consistency, quality, variety, innovation, and for simply being a jolly fine bunch of people too, it’s a clear winner for me. Not a brewery I’ve named as a clear winner in any specific beer category (although there was a late honourable mention for the cask beer), but probably the one where I’d be most happy to walk into a pub and see no-one else’s beers along a very long bar. Thornbridge it is.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
As I’ve pondered over the past few weeks two names keep popping back into my mind. Siren, and Weird Beard. Another draw. Honourable mention for Northern Monk too. Though I begin to doubt myself and wonder if they are all 2013 startups…

Pub/Bar of the Year
For me, one place stands out clearly as the pub of my year.  Back at the start of 2013 a rather run-down, tired and uninspiring pub just the wrong side of Birmingham’s inner ring road got a new lease of life. More than just a lick of paint, the sensitive refurbishment returned a bit of glory to what is an attractive building, and the arrival of Chris and Sharon Sherratt made more than a modest difference behind the bar. Over the course of a year the Craven Arms has become a proper local for me, despite me living 30 miles away and not even working in the next-door Mailbox any more. It’s about a sense of belonging, being able to walk in after however long it’s been and feel you’ve come back to “your” local. And a cracking selection of beers guaranteed. I don’t think I’ve ever found a pub I’ve become so familiar with before, and so this is my clear winner.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
As long as reopening under new ownership and new management counts, then my answer has to be as above.

Beer Festival of the Year
Another category where the element of experience interferes with the more subjective view. There can’t be many who read this who don’t know of my involvement as part of the team behind Birmingham Beer Bash. Naturally for me that was the festival of the year. It has to be. Not because of the sheer self-promotion of that, but because it was a truly incredible experience to bring that event to life, to build a festival that was how we wanted it to be. And, to be fair, moat people thought it was a pretty good effort. Was it better than the other festivals? No. Were any of them better than the Bash? No, actually. The real winner here for me is the whole range of modern, progressive beer festivals, in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London, that can’t quite be compared like-for-like because they are all different. United through their independence, and their sometimes radical approach. Here’s to those new wave beer festivals!

Supermarket of the Year
I have a rather grudging relationship with supermarkets. I’d rather buy from local independents but realistically that isn’t possible for everything and so there is a dependency on the supermarkets for some things. Beer isn’t one of those, and I generally find supermarket beer selections rather depressing. If I was selecting this category based on best selection for me I’d go with Waitrose because a) they have more beers that interest me than the other stores, and b) because they are slightly too far away to be a regular shopping trip and infrequent visits mean the selection always feels a bit fresher. However, I’m not going to award this category on the basis of which supermarket serves me best, but the one I feel has done most for promoting beer in general – that goes to Sainsbury’s, thanks to their Great British Beer Hunt which is probably the most positive promotion of beer from any supermarket.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Having no truly local independent in my corner of the land (for now, anyway) Stirchley Wines is my usual go-to retailer as they are most easily accessible for me and have a range that more than satisfies my needs. They face a stiff challenge from neighbours Cotteridge who I get to much less often but who always manage to provide some different options when I do – between these two retailers the south part of Birmingham has seen fantastic development in the quality of beer choice available and have done great things to help move forward the local beer scene. However, I can also head north for bottled inspiration now, and visits to Beer Dock in Crewe have started to feature in my occasional visits to that town. They’ve made the bottled beer shop slightly sexier, and added value with the ability to drink in (from bottles, keg or cask) and adding meet the brewer events to the repertoire. Quite a debut for them, so they get my vote this year.

Best Beer Blog or Website
I enjoy reading so many blogs but rarely get enough time to do most justice. Winner for me in this category is the one I can’t stop myself constantly dipping into. Ron Pattinson’s Shut Up About Barclay Perkins is an absolute treasure trove that keeps on drawing me in again and again.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
I enjoy the tweets of many, and it feels unfair to single one out. I can get round that, if stretched, by sort of picking two – Boak and Bailey have probably given me the most beer-related Twitter interest this year and so I’d plump for them as my winner.  Special mentions also to Phil Hardy, who used his beer tweet powers for good rather than evil when he arranged the reportedly excellent Macclesfield Twissup, and to Nate Dawg for his unrivalled services to swearing.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
This year has seen the pairing of beer and food become a much more dominant theme. I’m not going to try and pick out a single match that stands above the rest. For me the winner is simply beer, paired with food.

Inevitably the list above overlooks plenty of great breweries, people, and events, but like anyone else there’s only so much one person can experience in a mere 12 months. There are beers I’ve not had chance to try this year that might have changed the list dramatically, and there are people I’ve met or even worked with who are probably just as deserving of a mention as anyone else, but I couldn’t quite find the right reasoning while compiling these Golden Pints. To all in the wonderful beer community, thanks for being part of 2013, and I look forward to what the next year brings.

November 7, 2013

Counting down the hours

It’s really quite nerve-wracking. There’s less than 100 hours to go before people can pay good hard-earned cash (I am assuming it is hard earned, anyway!) for a beer of my making. There is nothing I can do to influence the end product. Short of delivering it (tomorrow I believe, if not already) there’s nothing much the guys at Blackjack can do either. And then it is in the safe hands of Chris at the Craven Arms in Birmingham until the big day on Monday.

So, for those of you don’t already know, clear your diary for Monday evening at 7pm. You’ll need to get yourself into Birmingham but fingers crossed the results will be worth it. At the very least there’ll be a host of other great Blackjack beers to enjoy and you’ll get to meet the guys too. Plus me. Still, you can’t have it all…

And if you can’t make it into Birmingham on Monday then there will be a few other opportunities to try Phoneticus. It’s coming home to Penkridge, and it will be making its way to a few as yet unspecified venues. Let me know where you see it, and what you think if you do get to try it.

July 23, 2013

T-3 the build begins

It is both exciting and scary to see the cask and keg bars coming together today. Exciting because we’re getting close, and scary because, well, we’re getting close.

Having that final access to the venue gives some opportunity for getting to grips with some of the last minute details, to make sure that how we planned things is in accordance with how things are, or at least how we can rearrange them to be. You also start to feel a sense of the space for the event, rather than having to imagine it the way you want it. It throws up some interesting alternative views on how things really need to be and makes you question lots of things that you thought were all set and decided on.

It wasn’t just about the bars today, either. The beers are all coming together nicely now, with a few extra deliveries swelling the ranks. No further changes to the beer list but for an additional unexpected offering. Who are we to say no…

 

July 23, 2013

T-4 the road trip

Short and sweet today. We went north, and then east across the Pennines. Huddersfield was the target and we returned with three portions of keg bar and assorted ancillaries. We also returned west with beer from Magic Rock and Northern Monk. The North is, indeed, coming.

Back to Manchester for collections from Blackjack and Marble, plus a dodgy-looking backstreet exchange to take on kegs from Hardknott in the shadow of the railway arches while angry drivers waited for us to move the vans involved in this seemingly illicit deal. At Marble the firkin of Decadence was decanted from a vessel twice its size, the compensation for the Earl Grey IPA having failed to pass the exacting quality control standards. Plus the chance for a taste. If you don’t get the chance to try this at Birmingham Beer Bash then you clearly haven’t been trying hard enough. Wonderous, and exquisite.

Off then to deliver posters to friendly locations in the Northern Quarter, before returning back to the Midlands, ready to deliver to site at the crack of dawn (ish). All in all a lovely day, made even more lovely by ticket sales which went through the roof on what has proved to be our busiest day yet, double any day previously. So many tickets are now on the verge of selling out. That is a brilliant thing.

It was all great. Until later. Until an occurrence which shall remain undisclosed for another week, until I can do it justice.

For now though there is only one focus. Tomorrow (today), Beer Bash hits site.

July 20, 2013

T-7 (and counting)

Just seven days away now, Birmingham Beer Bash is tangibly close. And because I don’t have much to do in the next week (this may be a lie!) I thought I’d see if I can manage to chronicle the final build-up on a day by day basis. 10 posts see us through to the ‘take down’ and the final party at the end that is hopefully a celebration of a great event.

So today, a week before we open the doors to the public, has also been my last day doing the “day job” for a week and a half.  The last day before going on holiday from work is a busy enough time, but throw in the final preparations for a beer festival and it becomes manic.

After a few days of herculean effort to finalise the programme and get it to the printers (and thanks go to @carldurose in the main
for pulling that all together) it was perhaps inevitable that today would see the last minute changes start to pop up. That’s an obvious risk when you’re publishing a beer list in your programme which has to be printed several days (or two weeks as was the target set by the printers) in advance. So we lost a couple of beers that were planned to be be on the bars. In one case the heat won when our cask decided enough was enough, and “exploded” in transit, in another the beer was found to be just not right before leaving the brewery and so, quite simply, we can’t have it.  But that is good, and fits in entirely with us only wanting to serve the best. And importantly, we’ve made changes as a result that bring in equally worthy alternatives.

The day continued with an ongoing panic as the van belonging to one of our key suppliers closed in on London to collect a range of beers from several breweries. Some of the beer wasn’t in the right place, and moreover we couldn’t get hold of the brewer to confirm where it was! In this case all ended well with an admittedly quite late final pick-up from the last brewery in the capital, and we are very grateful to @realaledirect for their part in bringing together the brilliant beer list we’ve concocted.

So, very conscious that as I write this the time has moved on to day T-6, it is time to close on a busy busy day and prepare for the next. Still much to do, but also a semblance of a normal weekend to maintain.  Monday looms close with the prospect of a Beer Bash road trip to Manchester and Huddersfield, before the start of set-up on Tuesday.  Follow the next instalments for an inside

November 28, 2012

Saison a Trois – the brewday report

I’d be surprised if anyone reading this wasn’t already well aware of what a fabulously sociable thing beer is (notwithstanding all those of us who quite enjoy a solo pint, as The Session a few months back proved!).  Equally it is often remarked that the brewing industry is a pretty friendly world and that seems to be backed up by the various collaborations that seem to be getting more popular these days.  So when an idea began to form (over a few beers, obviously) that myself, @MarbleTim and @ckdsaddlers could brew up a collaboration of our own, well it seemed perfect.

Of course, being a drunken idea, it was never going to be a simple affair.  By the time we parted that evening we’d already settled upon a strong dark saison, which was to be aged in a wooden cask with a helping hand from a little Brettanomyces.  A few days later and we’d added a fruity secondary fermentation on blackberries into the mix and from that point on we never looked back.

It wasn’t without its difficulties though.  For starters we didn’t actually have a wooden cask, and it quickly became apparent that the only way we were going to get one small enough to be any use was to buy new – a second-hand wine or whisky barrel would have added flavour and complexity but at 55 gallons the size just isn’t practical.  Eventually a nice new chestnut (less intensely woody than oak apparently) 30l cask was sourced and so we were well on track.  But to fill a 30l cask you need at least 30l of beer.  Actually you need more, as even over the course of a few months aging there’ll be evaporation – the whisky distiller’s angels’ share – and we really need to top that back up.  And it felt wrong not to have something to bottle when the main batch went into the cask, so we could get an earlier idea of how it would turn out while we were waiting for the aged version to be ready. 

So the target was 50l.  Not a problem in theory, given that I’d already got the makings of a 100l brewery in progress.  But that is the key point – in progress.  Not finished.  Still, nothing like a bit of incentive to get on with a job.  A 60l fermenter complete with a cooling coil, was quickly ready but the real challenge was the mash tun.  There was always the option of mashing twice in my tiny (by comparison) original mash tun, but this wasn’t an ideal solution and even with two mashes it was going to be a tight fit to get enough wort to end up with 50l strong enough to ferment out to around 7% ABV.  Having decided that the only solution was to crack on and get the new mash tun finished, and realising that I needed to get off the fence and either make the last bits I needed or get them bought, I finally put my hand in my pocket and, despite some hiccups along the way, am glad I did.  The insulation may have still been a work in progress on the morning of the brewday, but it did the job and a last minute reconfiguration of the plumbing work didn’t hurt either.  There may have been more satisfaction about making every last bit of it myself, but if I’m really honest, in 12 months time I’d probably still be waiting to get around to it and instead I can now get on with brewing instead.  Or rather, focus on finishing off all the other jobs that are still outstanding…

So, finally, as a result of that slightly drunken conversation back in July, on a cold and frosty morning last weekend we finally got to turn our plans into reality.  By half past 9 the liquor tank was warming up nicely as Chris and Tim turned up raring to go, and so we quickly got underway.

Our planning over the previous months had seen the theme of “three” firmly embedding itself, not least in the chosen name of our brew, “Saison a Trois” (which should explain the regular appearance of that hashtag on Twitter recently!) and so we started off with preparing our grist made up of three different types of grain – barley, wheat and spelt, and before long were mashing in the largest grain bill that the Otherton brewery has faced to date.  The mash was deliberately on the cool side to get a higher than normal level of fermentables – we wanted this to finish on the dry side, while the spelt will hopefully give an increased perception of body to avoid it being too thin. 

The grain bill...

The grain bill…

Mashing in

The start of the sparge saw the christening of the new sparge arm (see my previous post on that subject) which I’m pleased to report was a definite success, and before long we were collecting a lovely dark wort into the copper ready for the boil.

Sparging

Sparging – or as Chris put it: “swirly thing alert”

By this stage it was becoming apparent that, unlike some of my recent solo efforts, this was going to be a well organised brewday and we were able to relax with some tastings of the last two Otherton efforts – including a porter straight from the fermenter which needed to be emptied before the saison could go in – as well as some bottled treats that Chris and Tim brought along for the occasion.

First runnings

First runnings into the copper

Hop addition

Transfer

The boil came and went without incident, three hop additions of Bramling Cross to maintain the theme, and before long we were chilling and transferring, and then it was time to pitch the first of the yeasts that will play a part in making this beer.  Allegedly the strain of yeast used in Saison DuPont, or at least the main one of the blend, we had settled for WLP565, and a healthy starter was pitched following transfer.  Two days later and this was already fermented down to half the starting gravity, and another day on it has passed 75% attenuation while still looking lively.  With this yeast strain supposedly favouring warmer temperatures the normal rule book was thrown out and gradually the temperature is being allowed to rise up by a couple of degrees a day, towards a maximum of 32C targeted by the end of the week – fingers crossed this really does work the way it is supposed to, because it feels very unnatural letting the yeast get so warm!

Starter

The yeast starter (split between demijohn and flask) alongside a better known example of its heritage.

Fermentation

So that’s it for now, until the target gravity (tests have indicated this should go down to 1006 in primary fermentation) is reached and it can be racked off onto the blackberries for a couple more weeks where it should pick up some fruity flavours and an interesting tinge of colour.  Then it is into the cask for a few months for the majority, where the second yeast addition comes courtesy of a couple of bottles of Orval – a handy way to get a little Brett into the cask and an enjoyable task to empty the majority of the bottles out first.  Tough work, but someone has to do it.

The cask!

Bend from the knees…Fortunately this lifting technique was only demonstrated while the cask was empty!

That cask is currently sitting (almost) ready to go, filled with water to allow the wood to swell and seal.  After an initial bout of incontinence mostly caused by an ill-fitting bung, all is holding well and so we are, quite literally, holding water. 

The final stage, once the beer has aged sufficiently (and I guess there’ll need to be some regular sampling, just to make sure…) will be the final bottling – anything left over when the cask is filled up will go straight to this step too – with a suitable third yeast addition to get them nicely carbonated.  We’re thinking a champagne yeast would suit the style and strength well and some sturdy bottles with cork and cage will provide a nice finishing touch.  Watch out for these next summer, just in time for saison season, when hopefully I can provide an update on what it tastes like and whether all the effort was worthwhile!

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June 21, 2012

So is it a *beer* festival? Really?

Let’s imagine there’s a city – we’ll call it Davestown for sake of argument – which has had an annual beer festival for many years. But Davestown Beer Festival only sells real / cask ales. Some enthusiastic upstarts want to hold a festival celebrating a more diverse range of beers – including many that don’t fall into the real / cask ale definition. A festival that is perhaps more befitting the broad term of Davestown Beer Festival. But obviously calling it that would be confusing at the very least – there can’t really be two. And there’s no intention to compete with the existing festival, the plan is to complement it, so there’s no desire for creating antagonism with the organisers of the existing festival.

So how do they name their festival? Some useful adjective to better describe the scope of the beers on offer perhaps? But what? It’s about good, or even great beer, but calling it the Davestown Great Beer Festival feels like a dig at the existing Davestown (presumably not so great by implication!) Beer Festival. Good Beer or Fine Beer have the same problem. What other term is there? Davestown International Beer Festival? Well that might work as long as there is definitely a good showing of international beers, but that isn’t necessarily the case, or the focus might be primarily on British beers. What else can the organisers do? Perhaps it can be Davestown Craft Beer Festival? Well it works, but as we all know Craft is a hugely subjective term and causes all sorts of disagreement. Could it even alienate key parts of the target market for the festival who object to or interpret differently the use of the word?

The problem is the original Davestown Beer Festival has (in hindsight, and no doubt without any ill intentions) rather unfairly taken the generic term and used it for a very specific purpose – real / cask ale. So there’s a need to have a word to help categorise this beer festival as something other than a real / cask ale beer festival. I don’t mind if that word isn’t craft, but I don’t know what else it would be.

And if it is craft, then a clear explanation of what that is understood to mean by the organisers of the festival is essential so that everyone else can at least understand what the event is all about, even if they don’t necessarily subscribe to the same definition of craft themselves.

In the meantime the debate about the “C” word rages on, particularly recently with this post from Hardknott Dave and this one from Zac Avery.

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June 12, 2012

Penkridge Jubilee Beer Festival – a review

It’s a week now since the beer festival here in Penkridge officially came to an end, although some of the festival beers were still kicking around later in the week – i should point out that not all had been brought on at the start of the festival so this wasn’t a case of beer hanging around too long, just the ones that didn’t make it onto the taps earlier getting their chance. So, this was something of a first for the village. Was it a success? Will it be repeated?

Three pubs all got involved and all had a different approach. One brought more handpulls into use than they normally would, and had about six ales and ciders on at a time. With a quiet word to the right people the beers waiting in the wings were coming up direct from the cellar too, in absolutely stunning form. The place was quite rightly heaving and it is all a good sign for the future here when proposed brewing activities start on site. Smiles all round from the landlord and a buzzing atmosphere reinforced how well the weekend’s events were going.

The next venue was not known for being a beer destination, much more as a (good) restaurant, but this was a preconception they wanted to change. To demonstrate how much more they can do they set up an outside bar alongside the BBQ with six ales, and although the weather didn’t really help, early on the third day the first of these had already run out. Had the weather improved this would have been a runaway success, and despite that I think they achieved what they set out to do and proved they can cater very well indeed for the ale lover as well as their restaurant side. I look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

Finally the third venue was, sadly, a bit more disappointing – logistical issues meant that their input wasn’t ever going to be as strong as originally intended, and with just three handpulls available it was a case of cycling the festival beers through as quickly as possible. Subject to them being consumed of course. Unfortunately the beers on the Friday night had been on all week and weren’t at their best, and two days later were still on – a catch 22 situation because there was little temptation to drink them with so much other good beer available elsewhere.  As a result most of the other very tempting beers on the list didn’t even make it on over the course of the event. However the Oakham Citra which came on on Monday was replaced again by Friday which shows that a good beer in good condition will sell, and so it is just a shame that the first impression of the festival here was marred by the beers available for the first few days.

So, was it a success? Yes, definitely, overall and for at least two of the pubs involved it seems to have been a great weekend. I’ve yet to get full feedback from the landlords but conversations over the weekend suggest they’re were more than happy.

Will it happen again? That remains to be seen. Even if the combined event doesn’t take off I’m certain there will be more beer-focussed events at pubs in the village on the back of this. But it would be great to repeat this in even bigger and better style next year, and with the parish council also considering an annual event to build on this year’s jubilee weekend there may be a place for a Penkridge Festival in future.

In the meantime the Penkridge Round Table are planning a beer festival for later in the year and so an exciting range of beer will return to the village in just a few months’ time. Knowing the RT guys they will be putting a lot of effort in and aiming to raise plenty of money for some very good causes, so best of luck to them and please support if you can.

Maybe Penkridge will now be starting to earn its place on the beer map…

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May 16, 2012

Integrity, beer reviews and a bit of tongue in cheek

Oooh I thought.  Free beer.  I like the sound of that.  Well, who wouldn’t?  And all I have to do is write something?  I can write something, I’m sure I can.  Obviously it will have to be good, this is a sort of a competition, and there’s a prize to be won.  Can I write something good?  I can try.

Dave Bailey, of HardKnott fame, put an interesting post out yesterday inviting bloggers to respond with the chance of getting their hands on a rather special-sounding beer they’re just bottling.  This wasn’t obvious from the title, or even the opening paragraphs, but the post drew me in, as I sure it will have done lots of other readers, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly (get the flattery over with) I always enjoy reading Dave’s posts.  Secondly, the title was “Blogging Integrity” and it followed an excellent recent post (sorry, more flattery – hopefully that is the last) on integrity of awards ceremonies.  With the European Beer Bloggers Conference just two days away now, I was expecting stark views on the perils of sponsorship, advertising, and free stuff from breweries swaying the independence of the blogger.  After all, it is an obvious risk, and was nicely picked up by Boak and Bailey in this post here where the emphasis is on being upfront about freebies when writing, which I think is only fair to the reader who can make their own judgement on how much faith to put in the review as a result. 

But Dave’s post wasn’t really about that at all.  It was about HardKnott proposing to give away free beer so that the lucky bloggers to receive it can all tweet and blog about it together when the official “opening day” comes.  Sounds fun.  And all you have to do is write something that convinces Dave of your worthiness to receive a bottle.  Now, I don’t generally review beer in any sort of detail.  Not publicly anyway.  I’ve given appraisals of beers I’ve received from fellow amateur brewers and I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to make serious negative criticism of more than one of those.  I do tweet occasionally about a particularly fine beer I may be enjoying, and sometimes pass comment about ones I’m not so impressed by, but that is all.  As a result I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to consider how I’d deal with the review of a free beer as opposed to one I’d paid for.  I’d like to think I would be able to set to one side any possible bias and give just as fair and honest a review as if I’d paid my own money for it.  But whether it is free or paid for, there is a bigger issue for me anyway – I don’t think it is necessarily fair to write a review of a beer based on a single sample. 

Sure, if it is good and you like it, then one sample is probably sufficient – how often will a rogue “good” beer get out?  But what about if you aren’t happy with it.  Have you had a representative sample?  Did you happen to have a bottle that picked up a defect or infection?  Was it an isolated case or has a whole batch been affected?  Is the beer as the brewer intended and you just don’t like something about it?  If your sample is from a cask the parameters are even greater – taste the same beer from the same cask a couple of days apart and you may well notice quite a difference.  And from the moment a cask leaves the brewery there is potential for the beer to end up not as the brewer intended, if it isn’t handled right at some stage.  So is one negative experience enough to condemn a particular beer or even the whole brewery?  I really don’t think so.

I can give a practical example – I had two bottles of the same bottle-conditioned beer this week.  Both were slightly past their printed best before date, but only by a couple of weeks.  They both appeared to be from the same batch, and certainly came in the same order from the same supplier.  The first one was a “drain pour”.  I could best describe it as a lambic best bitter.  Not a flavour combination I expected, and certainly not one I liked (I am quite happy to drink lambics from time to time, but this was far from right!).  Two days later I opened the second bottle, expecting little from it.  This one was fine.  I didn’t think all that much of the beer, but there was certainly nothing technically wrong with it.  So if I had reviewed it on the basis of the first bottle, would I have been showing the required integrity?  I really don’t think so – I think we owe the brewer the benefit of the doubt, and should always cross-check a bad beer with another sample, preferably from another batch / supplier if that is practical.  And that doesn’t matter whether you received it for free or not.

There’s some more interesting and related discussion from Boak and Bailey here.

Hang on a minute though, I said to myself.  This integrity thing, well, that’s all well and good, not being swayed into giving good reviews to bad beers just because you received them for free.  But what about writing a blog post that is driven by a desire to win a free beer.  Isn’t that just the same?  How on earth can I possibly write a post aimed at convincing someone to give me something for free, while giving my readers (for I know there are at least two or three of you out there, unless one person is making comments under several different names!) the reassurance that what I write isn’t being swayed by the potential prize.  Well, I can’t.  If I’m to have any integrity at all I can’t possibly sacrifice my independent thought in order to get free stuff, now can I?  So to maintain any sort of integrity surely I won’t be able to write anything in response to Dave’s invitation, and therefore can’t make my pitch to win a bottle.  Morally* that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Clearly, though, I’ll have to publish this post now in order to explain why I can’t possibly write it… 
* No morals were harmed during the making of this post.  In fact, very few were even found!  Should it somehow manage to attract free beer then obviously I will have to just live with the guilt.

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