Posts tagged ‘real ale’

October 22, 2014

Salford Independent Beer Festival

It seems that independence is all the rage when it comes to beer festivals, and as part of the Birmingham Beer Bash team I can’t fault that.  This coming Friday and Saturday sees a newcomer to the scene, the Independent Salford Beer Festival, and scanning through the beer list today there’s an exciting lineup including some of the newest breweries recently to appear in the Manchester area, and others from around the North-west and Yorkshire.  A short bus ride out of central Manchester, at the community centre for which it is raising funds, you can find some fantastic beers for two days only.

Putting on an event like this on any scale as a truly independent venture, is no small undertaking.  The underlying support of a parent organisation (such as CAMRA of course, but also robust charities like the Round Table who are quite possibly second to CAMRA in terms of the number of beer festivals they put their name to) that can provide much needed organisational and logistical support and ultimately carry the burden of any financial loss is not to be underestimated.  Nor are the costs that are involved!  And so when a relatively small and genuinely independent event such as this one at Salford pops up with wholly charitable intentions it deserves special attention.  Especially when you look at the effort that has been put in to make what’s on offer so appealing.

Knowing full well what it is like to be underwriting an event through Messrs Barclaycard* I wish Salford all the very best with their first of hopefully many events.  For all that any organiser can do to put an event together its success is ultimately down to those who choose to attend.  Very reasonably priced tickets are available in advance (check the website – salfordbeerfestival.com – for details and the beer list) so if fancy sampling an excellent selection of beers while supporting a worthy cause then what are you waiting for?  And if you don’t, well what’s wrong with you! 

All credit and every success to Jim (@BeersManchester) and sponsors and others who have provided vital support, for all the effort that has gone into getting the festival off the ground.  Buy a ticket, buy another one for a friend, spend a few hours enjoying some great beer, and support a fine endeavour for a worthy cause.
* other card providers are available

 

 

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July 25, 2013

T-2 – a session sells out

One more day of setup to go. I’d say tomorrow but clearly from the time of this post it is actually today. I don’t think I’ve got a single one of these posts out on the day to which they actually apply, have I?

A slightly quiet day but not without its dramas and excitements. The high being the selling out of Friday evening tickets. We have tried to allow a few to be kept back for walk-up sales but maybe we should release these as advance tickets, given the level of demand. We’ll see.

An interesting fact about tomorrow. I think it may be the first time the team of ten behind the Beer Bash have all been in the same place at the same time. Seems incredible really.

Time for bed. It’s an early start for the biggest day of setup, T-1!

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.

June 26, 2013

The final countdown…

If you know where to look, as you head south out of Birmingham New Street on the train (just as I did as I wrote this) and glance out of the window at just the right moment, you can briefly follow the canal cutting its way through the back streets of Digbeth.  A building stands proud above the former industrial district currently getting its second wind as a place of business and arts, its upper stories leaning out over the narrow strip of water, a large blue banner hanging down revealing its identity.

The Icehouse, centrepiece of the group of Victorian buildings now known as The Bond Company.  A place of history where once upon a time huge quantities of ice were produced for use in the local markets, surely making it the coolest place around.

Exactly one month from now, once again this site is destined to be the coolest place going as it makes another little dent on history.  The first Birmingham Beer Bash.  July 26th and 27th.

The list of breweries sending beer, and in many cases attending in person, has continued to grow and there are still a handful left to announce. It is, quite frankly, a stunning list, the like of which Birmingham has never seen.  From established breweries that have been at the vanguard of bold and progressive brewing for some time, to some of the new upstarts only recently coming to the scene and even launching their beers at the festival, we think we’ve found some of the best the country has to offer.  We’ve also had to make hard choices about breweries that aren’t there.  It simply wasn’t possible to include everyone we wanted to, but we think we’ve made the right choices and hope you’ll love what we’ve put together.

It isn’t just about drinking great beer though.  The “fringe” programme has been gradually coming together, and a week or so ago we finally announced our headline acts.  The seminars on hops and malt are a unique opportunity to learn more about what goes into the beer in your glass and they’ll both be presented by industry experts, Paul Corbett of Farams and Dom Driscoll of Thornbridge respectively.  We’re about to add to this with the list of tutored tastings that will be taking place throughout the weekend – places will be limited so you’ll need to sign up for these when you arrive at the festival, and if you follow our announcements on Twitter (@BirminghamCubed) and Facebook (BirminghamBeerBash) in the next week or so you’ll soon see why you’d want to do that!

Finally the food.  The beer and food matching dinners, served up by two of Birmingham’s finest chefs – Brad Carter (Carters of Moseley) and Luke Tipping (Simpsons, Edgbaston) – are a gourmet masterpiece and (if it really worked like that) would possibly make us the first Michelin-starred beer festival!  Take a look at the menus on our website and book quickly to avoid missing out on a fabulous opportunity because tickets are selling fast.  There’s also a great selection of local street food from great suppliers so there should be something for everyone.

We’d love to see you there.  All of you.  But we probably can’t fit you all in.  So make sure you get your tickets in advance because there really is no guarantee of tickets being available on the door.  Come and say hi to me (@OthertonAleman) and all of the organising team – Carl (@CarlDurose), Chris (@ckdsaddlers), Dan (@mediocre_dan), David (@mrdavidj), Jen (@ilovecherryreds), Krishan (@StirchleyWines), Shaun (@19irishdragon), Stewart (@TheRealStewbert) and Tim (@PolymathTim).

You might also want to watch out for an article on us and our stunning new poster in the Birmingham Post this week, and if you’re listening to BBC Radio WM on Friday morning you might just hear us on the Adrian Goldberg programme.

30 days to go.  My how time flies!

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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March 19, 2012

A brewing dilemma… or a no-brainer opportunity?

I’m in a little bit of a quandary.  I guess I’m being given the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is on the one hand, and being asked to sell my soul on the other.  But before I tell you about that I need to go over the background…

Just (I suspect, anyway) like many other people who write blogs about beer, and about the countless other subjects that drive people to share their thoughts in this way, I have a full time day job that pays the bills.  Once upon a time, if memory serves correctly, it represented the career in Engineering that I at least once wanted, and I was maybe even lucky in that I genuinely enjoyed what I had chosen to do for five days a week, fifty or so weeks a year, and have been doing now for some 15 years – sadly that is less the case now though.  I do still realise how lucky I am in that it pays me well enough to allow me to indulge my interests outside of work though.  If circumstances were different I might be happy to jack it all in to pursue something much more rewarding to me personally, but I’m not quite in that position just yet.

When I’m not working (and assuming my boss isn’t reading this, then sometimes when I am too!), however, my thoughts turn to those other interests.  Mostly to beer (my 3-year-old daughter frequently asks me if I’m “thinking about beer again” which is a running joke in our family, but is also usually pretty close to the mark!).  And what a wonderful thing it is to be interested in, to be passionate about.  But when I started this blog it wasn’t actually with the primary intention to be writing about drinking beer in the way that I have so far – that’s just what my thoughts and beer-related activities have led to recently.  The real purpose behind this blog was to try and document a journey into a different aspect of enjoying beer – brewing it, firstly as an amateur, and then, hopefully, eventually, as a professional.

So what of that journey?  Well progress is slow.  I expected that, but even so, it is slower than I thought.  The opposing claims of full time work, and a full time family, leave precious little spare capacity for getting out there and brewing, and in the time that can be set aside to brewing I have to make a further choice – get on with making beer, or spend the time building up the newer, larger, more reliable brewery that I’ve been working on for the past 6 months or more.  The latter doesn’t directly help develop my brewing skills (though it is starting to improve various aspects of my brews), it doesn’t help me work on the recipes that I want to try and refine, and it doesn’t provide me with my own stock of beer that I can enjoy drinking.  On the other hand, if I spend all my time making beer as best I can with the hotchpotch of equipment that I currently have to use, constantly trying to work around the debris of the new build, the longer term aim remains a distant dream.

I didn’t entirely help myself by coming up with a smart idea for our local pubs to put on a beer festival as part of the village Jubilee celebrations in June.  Not because it isn’t (at least in my opinion, anyway) a great idea, but because it means a lot of things for me to organise in order to make it happen that I’d naively expected to get some support in.  In hindsight that was a predictable outcome!  For the next ten weeks or so I have to pull out all the stops in order to make that thing actually happen – rallying the landlords who have agreed to take part (herding cats now seems trivial by comparison!), finding advertisers / sponsors, producing copy for the booklet, getting the word out.

But that will all be over in a few weeks, and I can concentrate again on my own beery pursuits.  And there’s been an unexpected side-benefit of all this, which is where my issue, the real subject of this post, lies.  Through getting involved with local pubs, I’ve met a few local publicans.  One of these has his own aspirations to turn his pub into a brewpub, and having got wind of my own plans, has proposed a collaboration.  This is, of course, very exciting, especially as a taster of my recent beers hasn’t seemed to put him off.  Instead of just cobbling together a 0.5 BBL brewery in my spare time, brewing up my own recipes in fairly short volumes and selling the odd barrel here and there in order to cover my costs, I could instead be looking at operating on anything between 2.5 BBL and 10 BBL, with a guaranteed outlet for a reasonable quantity of beer and enough capacity to supply other pubs and beer festivals in the local area.  For the time being this would have to be a part-time venture – I can’t afford to throw in the well-paid job just yet and put my house, my family’s wellbeing all on the line, just to pursue a passion. I have to give up a lot of free time at weekends, and evenings, but it will result in more time brewing than I get now.  As part of a longer-term plan it probably isn’t too bad a sacrifice as long as I can still balance it up with sufficient family time.

However, to do all this the focus shifts from being a one-man operation with no real ties, to being the partner in an enterprise that has different priorities.  To keep a pub stocked with its core beers means brewing primarily those same two or three beers on a regular basis.  Yes, there’s scope for seasonals, festival specials, trial brews, but only brewing part time keeps this quite limited.  I can no doubt set up a small pilot plant alongside the main kit, so every time I’m brewing I can also churn out a new recipe before risking the full brewery capacity on an experiment.  But I certainly won’t have the freedom to brew whatever I want, whenever I want, every time I fire the equipment up.

It seems to me too that the target audience probably changes a little with the increase in output – the odd barrel of something different and unique usually goes down well at festivals and in the odd pub with an appetite for interesting beers, but when “one-offs” are produced in batches of the order of 10, 20, or even 40 firkins at a time then a good portion of these will clearly need to be sold through the parent pub, and others that may be prepared to take on the beer.  That means it has to be acceptable to the landlord (and major partner in the brewery) and of course to the regular clients on whom he depends to keep his pub business afloat.  And for all the excitement and passion for big hoppy flavours, high-strength artisan beers, obscure, exciting and challenging beer styles, and so on, amongst a proportion of the beer drinkers in this country (I know that many readers of this blog will identify themselves with this group) there is also a probably much larger range of drinkers who are, to be fair, still the lifeblood of many pubs up and down the country.  People to whom that pub is their local.  People whose tastes might be (perhaps unfairly) criticised by some as conservative, but yet they are still often absolutely essential to a pub’s survival, especially in a village location where there is otherwise relatively little incentive for beer tourism footfall.  If the locals who turn up every day aren’t interested in what lies outside the core range, then there will only be a limited market for the specials that represent, to me as a brewer, the more interesting things to produce.  Obviously that core range doesn’t have to be bland and uninteresting, but it has to appeal to those to whom the pub is relying on for its existence.  Over time a successful venture will see changes – success with the basics provides a great platform to experiment more, and a successful brewpub would hopefully start drawing in more custom that will provide an outlet for a greater range of more adventurous beers over time.  There’s a bit of a catch-22 though – if you don’t have the exciting beers to offer then the new customers aren’t drawn in, but if you don’t look after the core clientele, then there is no business left to draw new customers into.

Of course, I could choose to stick to the solo approach, and eventually jump through all the hoops I need to in order to continue making what I believe is great beer on a very small scale, and to sell the odd cask here and there.  It is quite likely that it wouldn’t ever be more than some sort of personal “vanity” brewery, and realistically it will take me a lot of time to get to that stage on my own, but I would remain my own master and no-one would need to tell me what to brew.  Even then though, there is only so much I can drink myself and if the surplus can’t be sold then there is no point in brewing it.

On the other hand I could accept that an opportunity exists to do so much more, but I would need to be able to compromise for a while and focus in the first instance on what satisfies that core range of drinkers, while doing so with enough commitment to good beer that I avoid being labelled as a brewer of bland and uninteresting beers.  Maybe that is actually the whole challenge of brewing.  Bland and uninteresting certainly isn’t what I set out to brew for myself and it isn’t what will keep my passion for brewing alive and healthy.  And there are enough great small (and not so small) brewers out there that are producing exciting beers that appeal to an increasingly wide range of drinkers to see that it can be done.

There’s a balance to be had, its just a question of finding the right way to reach that balance.  It seems to me that taking the opportunity by the scruff of the neck ought to be a no-brainer, but then again, is it really that simple?

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