Sunday, 24 February 2013

People in brewing

People are needed to brew beer. Even the biggest automated breweries need people to make them work, maintain them, take readings, analyse samples and, of course, sell the beer. Big brewers also need bean-counters to add up all those huge profits.

Small breweries need fewer people. However, if you calculate the amount of beer produced per person employed in a small brewery you find that to make the same amount of beer, smaller breweries employ more people per volume brewed. I think this is important. A very good reason to support us little guys; we create employment, which s good for the economy.

Anyway, Alex Routledge has been very good for us. He has been our production brewer/production manager for about 18 months now. He's decided to move on.  New pastures, a new start and as far as I can understand an exciting new brewery opening up somewhere near here. It's not my job to say what or where or how or why. He should have the pleasure of that.

All I can do is wish him well and thank him very much for all his help in getting Hardknott to where it is now. We couldn't have done it without him. I hope he's got as much out of working for us as we've gained from him being with us. I certainly think he's improved his brewing skills and I'm sure he'll be part of the brewing community for a longtime to come.

Meanwhile, we need to replace him. Meet Graeme, on the left in the picture above with Alex. He comes with the advantage of being slightly smaller. He can get into the copper and doesn't bang his head on the celling above the malt mezzanine. Rumours about him having furry feet and getting fractious if he misses second breakfast are completely untrue. At least that's what he claims.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Container Snobbery

We've recently invested in some proper stainless kegs. We've been putting beer into KeyKeg for some time and we have a few plastic kegs too. Most of our kegged beer has been exported to Italy where it has been well received. Today we are sending a further 48 KeyKegs.

As we've been gaining experience putting un-filtered craft beer into keg we've found there to be some issues. Un-filtered means the beer will contain some live yeast. This can sometimes, if there are some fermentables left, result in over-conditioning of the beer. This is especially true if the beer is allowed to warm up1 during transportation.

Cask of course can, and should be vented prior to being served. Any over-condition is allowed to be released until the carbonation is at an equilibrium with cellar temperature and atmospheric pressure. This means that fresh cask beer should have a minimum carbonation of about 1.1vols upon serving. Effectively this is an advantage of cask beer for micro-brewers as the exact carbonation level is determined by how the cellarman treats the beer rather than precise process at the brewery. Every good cask cellarman knows there will be some variability in the carbonation dependant on many factors including the timeline activities between racking in the brewery and the point of being tapped and vented.

I've talked before about how to reduce the pressure2 in KeyKegs - it works. I even managed to do it on-the-fly in Turin last year for various British brewers' beers to help get them served on the bar at Salone Del Gusto. My thumb acted as the release valve. It was a risky process. And yes, I did end up getting a beer shower.

We have improved significantly in our skills at getting carbonation right since we started putting beer into keg. From that respect the beer will be no better, or worse, in the stainless kegs than the beer we are now sending out in large quantities in KeyKeg. However, as is the case with most craft brewers who are exploring keg the early editions have been in KeyKeg and less well executed versions than the beer we now send out.

When we first started brewing all our beer went into plastic casks. It worked for us because way back then, in late 2005, we only sold it through the pub we then owned. Any problems we could manage and anyway, as the beer went straight from racking into the pub cellar there were rarely any issues. However, when we started selling a lot more to various outlets we found that the beer was less tolerant to variability especially in hot weather.

Again, we've improved. A lot. We rarely send out beer out in plastic cask, or plastic kegs. Mainly because in trade they just don't stand the knocks. Longterm, plastic just isn't a sensible investment. However, for startups it makes sense and as a result many new brewers use plastic. Low investment costs equals reduced risk. The result is that less experienced brewers, who have yet to perfect their processes, may have a greater degree of variability.

I've noticed a wide range of snobbery towards containers. There is of course the ongoing question of exactly what CAMRA should accept. I've noticed some distributors now refusing to accept KeyKeg because of a high rate of return of over-conditioned KeyKegs. The same distributors will accept stainless kegs. I've heard publicans snoot at plastic casks because the beer tends to be more variable. Either it is under-conditioned and flat or it has a much bigger tendency to blow keystones and shives.

I'd argue that none of this is the fault of the container, although I don't doubt that the correlation is real.

Our beer is getting better and better and better all the time. Over the next few months we will be putting out much more keg beer into the UK and it will mostly be in stainless kegs. It'll be very good indeed, trust me. It's not getting better because we are putting beer into stainless, we are putting it into stainless because we are better and way more confident in what we are doing.

Of course, I could now start to talk about bottles versus cans.........

If you are in Leeds next week you might find kegged Azimuth and/or Duality in North Bar. We're also sending keg Azimuth to BeerX in Sheffield. I believe there are also places in Newcastle that might have our keg either now or in the very near future. These include The Free Trade Inn, Bacchus and Lady Grey's.


1Beer will always keep better, irrespective of whether it is filtered, live or even pasteurised, if kept cool from the point it is packaged to the point it is served.

2Although I accept that beer ought to be as good as it can be for the establishment to handle, I do wonder why some don't at least make the effort to gas off kegs from those brewers who are experimenting. I'd love to still have my own bar so that I could iron out all the troubles within my own control. However, we do make mistakes and sometimes places get beer that fobs due to over condition. If it's not right then clearly a refund is in order, but it would be nice to still get the beer on the bar and showcased, especially if we've made the effort to ship it a long way.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Are CAMRA's Wetherspoons vouchers good for The Pub?

CAMRA like to champion the "Community Pub" I applaud that. When we ran The Woolpack Inn I was a little unsure about the term Community Pub, as ours served the Tourist Industry more than locals, but still, a minor point I feel. Even a pub that serves tourists is serving the tourist as a transitory local I guess.

Anyway, a problem I always had was the Wetherspoons voucher incentive is that the pub chain is as much, if not more of a problem for established pubs than supermarkets. If the reader thinks about it, there are only so many drinkers. Those drinkers only have so much money to spend on beer. Most Wetherspoons open in buildings that have never been pubs. One I know is a huge cavernous building that used to be part of a bus station garage. I reckon that every Wetherspoons that has opened has taken away the revenue from numerous smaller pubs.

Now, the commercial minded side of me says that competition is good. If the public want Wetherspoons over other forms of pub then that is fine. However, CAMRA on the one hand fights to keep pubs open but then instigates a commercial partnership that is contrary to that. If CAMRA want to support Wetherspoons then they just have to accept that other pubs will fall as casualties as a result.

Harry Berger bought The Woolpack off us. He and his wife are making a fine job of running it. They buy our beer and as far as I know have it on the bar most of the time. Harry phoned me up the other day, quite outraged really, because CAMRA had asked him to help recruit members, and display information1 about the Wetherspoons vouchers.

He isn't pleased. It's not that he doesn't want to help increase CAMRAs membership, and would happily display the information if it didn't contain the reference to a competitor. But to ask a favour of publicans with this lack of sensitivity seems slightly ill thought out and so I agree with him. I feel this is one of the many issues that irritates a lot of publicans when it comes to CAMRA.


1The information is in the form of a tent card which is designed to be displayed on the tables in the pub. I expect it was a waste of money on CAMRA's part as Harry probably isn't going to display them, and to be honest I wouldn't either.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Azimuth - as drunk by The Prime Minister

That's him, The Prime Minister, drinking Azimuth
Of course, everyone in the beer industry is somewhat irate at our Government right now. The beer duty escalator is a way of the beer duty being unreasonably increased without having to announce it in the budget. A stealth tax. The two most important charters in this piece are Jamie Reed, who is Labour, and  David Cameron, who is the Tory Prime Minister, in case you didn't know. To be honest, if it comes to politics, I sometimes want to bang heads together. They're all as bad as each other with their political party nonsense.

Still, when Mr Reed, bless him, invited us to attend The Palace of Westminster, I was reservedly pleased. Reservedly, as in I was unsure what the commercial advantage was of spending a few hundred pounds on yet another trip to London. It's PR I told myself, probably get me in the paper, again.

So, on Tuesday night we found ourselves on Whitehall saying hello to the plebs nice policemen with semi-automatic Maglight holders1 at the end of Downing Street. We hadn't deliberately gone to see Mr Cameron early, but we had a long day travelling to London, doing deliveries and picking up empties on the way, dropping the van off at a friends pub before hopping on the underground into town. We got there very late, checking into the hotel, ran off to Chinatown to scoff late night stir fry. By the time we had eaten, the tube had stopped, so as the hotel was on the Thames the route took us down Whitehall right through the heart of our UK democratic power. To be honest, I'm surprised the police on Westminster's gates didn't arrest us for peaking through to try and see where we had to go the next day.

David Cameron meets Hardknott
Due to the early morning walk and subsequent late start in the morning we were one of the last to pitch up to our half table in the all too small Jubilee room. It wasn't easy to get ourselves organised and so irritations were starting. Discovering that the whole case of Rhetoric II had been put into the goodie bags for MPs added to the frustration. This underpinned a feeling that perhaps the trip might be a bit wasted, after all, what commercial benefit was there to giving away beer to politicians? Beer we would still have to pay duty on. paying members of the Government to drink our beer.

Anyway, soon things got going. Rallying speeches from the likes of Eric Robson and Doug Scott about how wonderful Cumbria is, helped buck me up. Soon the MPs of Cumbria were walking around, chatting and we got into full flow talking about beer and hops and all the wonderful flavours in good craft beer.

I did get several digs in at various people about beer duty. Pubs were discussed. All the MPs and their researchers, assistants and whatever hangers-on there were, seemed to be understanding and assured us that it should change. It does make me wonder why it doesn't when so many MPs are sure it should.

Soon there was a hubbub. Stand by your tables the Prime Minister is on the way.2

I poured a glass of Azimuth as he approached and he happily took a good taste.

"What have we got here?"

"Azimuth, it's an Indian Pale Ale"

"What makes it so sharp?"

If you look, you can see the Azimuth bottle on the left hand side.
I do wish people would stop saying that when they taste hoppy beer. Having had a flustered start to the day I didn't manage to have the presence to explain all the flavour descriptors of peach, apricot and honeysuckle that I find in the beer. I just blurted something about New World hops I expect.

After that I continued to serve and explain about beer to other hangers-on while Mr Cameron continued to walk the room. I did feel slightly shaky, although I noted later, far less excited about the whole experience than I have felt about far less important events in my life. I mean, it isn't every day you get to serve a beer to the Prime Minister that has been made in the brewery you own. OK, I know he's a Tory3, but we all have our faults.

Anyway, the ensuing press coverage has certainly pleased me. Our friends at the North West Evening Mail, in particular the Business Correspondent Will Metcalfe, got us good coverage in the paper out today. Also a good bit on the local ITV news where The Main Man is seen drinking aforementioned beer.

Not a bad day out I'd say.


1Why anyone would want to call a man holding an assault rifle a pleb is anyone's guess. Oh, and I'm no expert on guns, so don't flame me for using the wrong terminology here.

2I found it interesting that the Tory MP Rory Stewart had to be the one in PMQT that asked if David would visit the Cumbria Day. I expect it would not be seen as the right thing for him to agree if an opposition MP had asked the same thing.

3I've always wanted snobs to drink my beer. You can't get a bigger snob than a Tory4

4Yup, your right, Labour deserve just as much of a slagging, after all, they brought in the duty escalator in the first place, and besides, Jamie is my MP, and he's OK, despite being Labour.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Veggie/Vegan issue

I’m a confirmed meat eater. Before I go on I’d like to apologise to all my vegetarian and vegan friends and readers. Bacon and sausage would be my weakness. I could probably live on cheese alone for my protein were it not for these essential food groups. Fillet steak is nice once in a while, but to be honest, it’s a bit overpriced for what it is. Still, I respect, if remain baffled, by the altruistic stance on not eating things that walk, swim, fly or otherwise move autonomously.

Cask beer almost always contains isinglass. This is a processed fish product. It is very, very good indeed at removing certain particles from beer that might make it cloudy. In particular it helps promote yeast flocculation.

Cask beer, true cask conditioned beer, needs yeast in it for secondary fermentation. At around 250,000 cells per ml the beer will be slightly hazy and most drinkers would find this aesthetically objectionable. The fact that it won’t actually do you any harm, and in some people’s view might actually make the beer taste better, is probably irrelevant. It is a tough job to sell cloudy beer.
It is possible to get beer acceptable bright from cask without isinglass, and there are brewers do it. However, it’s not likely to be something that is universally accepted in the short term within the UK, much as I’d like it to be.

What this effectively means is that, by the strict rules, our cask beers are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. It’s OK for pescetarian and veggies who ignore the fish product issue, because beer is more important. But principled vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t really be drinking cask beer and I know a few who won’t.

Bottles and keg are a different matter. Despite the fact that we use minimum filtering and in many cases bottle condition it is much easier to get bright beer in these formats without the use of isinglass. For keg we settle bright in tank before we rack. Because the keg is hermetically sealed and positively pressurised there is no need to have live yeast in the keg, although in our case there is very likely to still be a few thousand per ml.

For bottle conditioning the cell count may well be similar to that for cask. If the bottle is not settled a faint haze will be visible. However, the volume is small, and therefore the distance the yeast has to travel to get to the bottom is much less than cask. A very thin and compact layer is the result after 24 hours in the fridge even without isinglass.

Our kegs and bottles are all very suitable for vegans. We can guarantee that there are no traces of animal DNA anywhere in these products. If it used to have eyes, or teeth, or legs, or fins, we ensure that none of its body parts have been processed and slung in our beer for the reasons of scrubbing s beer just a little bit brighter.

I’d love to hear from veggies about their thoughts on this matter. Do you care? Or is beer more important than principles? Or are you actually disgusted that the issue of fish products in beer isn’t more widely broached?