Thursday, 3 September 2015

Crazy Intergalacticness

This post has developed into a rant. You are best advised to avoid reading it and just watch this video. It's daft, I put quite a bit of work into it and despite the effort, I still wonder if it'll hit the spot. I love it if folks watch it, share it, and if you really want to, take the mickey.

The beer is called Intergalactic Space Hopper. It's 5.2% pale and hoppy as hell. We're launching it at Glasgow Craft Beer Rising and Grasmere Guzzler this weekend. Ann and I'll will be a Glasgow, Scott will be at Grasmere on Saturday.

And so, to the rant.

Promoting beer is an interesting job. It's certainly getting trickier to make oneself heard with so many breweries out there now. Makes me kind of frustrated when some people seem to feel that it isn't simply great the choice you beer drinkers have. The choice out there is fantastic, there is just a huge amount of cask beer everywhere now. Microbrewer keg beer is becoming much more popular than to be honest even I thought it'd become. Choosing just how bright or murky the beer you buy is all down to walking into the pub or craft beer bar you know and trust. If you want it cheap, go to Wetherspoons.

For the poor brewer it does mean putting in extra effort to get noticed. We know we don't always get it right, but we try, and it's pleasurable when we get noticed, there's no doubt about that. Sometimes the reasons for being noticed aren't exactly the way we planned, but getting noticed in an ever increasingly crowded marketplace is almost always a good thing, even if the attention gets a little uncomfortable.

We are releasing a beer this weekend. It's a good beer, stacked full of bright hop aromas and a good punch of complex hop flavours. I'd say stunning. Considering we've had some problems this year getting the hops we wanted, partly due to our own inability to accurately predict growth combined with administrative cock-ups both at Hardknott central and at hop merchants. It didn't help that some hop harvests were short last season.

Despite the brilliance of the beer, that just isn't good enough to generate sales all by itself. So, I do what I do to try and promote the Hardknott brand, and if I were honest I'd say it's getting tougher to get it right. When we started Hardknott it almost seemed all we had to do was write a few blog posts and everything would be alright. We were actually saying to people that we hadn't got enough beer. So, we took the risk and took out some fairly eye watering loans, by my modest standards anyway, and went for expansion.

We've made some mistakes, worked hard, put out some marketing projects, on next to no budget, and had some success.

"O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!"

Indeed, it is something I consider all the time. How is Hardknott perceived? How am I perceived? We work very hard, make a meagre living out of beer. I imagine much like most people in the beer industry we are driven by a passion1 for beer. I do wonder just how much the diversity of beer out there is so great because a huge number of people are working very hard for very little financial return. Yes, some breweries are doing fantastically well. We're stuck just a little bit far away from the metropolises to make it quite as well, but we do OK, partly because I refuse to wind my neck in, and give an outward impression of having limited self awareness.2. The reality is, as Jeffrey Bell is well aware, I consider frequently how both myself and my business are perceived.

So, if I were honest, I'm not entirely happy with the video I post here. I've put a huge number of hours into it. Learned a lot about animation and syncing it with music. I had some fun trying to get the right feel to the sound track. I am sure it'll get some people going WTF? Whatever, it's here, and so is the beer. Go ahead, talk about me, I'll cry into my beer tonight, but so long as it gets the Hardknott name out there, on balance I'll feel good about it.


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1There you go, an example of a word that we become afraid to use, because it has to some extent become a cliche. But I believe there are many people, working their fuckingi socks off to make fantastic beer, driven not by greed, or sinister capitalist intentions, but by passion. Let us say that we do exactly that, eh? without taking the god damn piss.

2Stonch has returned! I give himii two links to his blog in this post. That should please him. But then, despite his reasonably successful attempts to wind me up, his blog has given me good mention this last few weeks, so I can't, in reality, complain.iii

iYup, that's out of character for this blog. But, right now, after going to bed at 4am to get this video finished, and now being up with fire in my belly, determined to get the beer to Glasgow, I feel it's justified.

iiOr should it be them? Seems there are four of them contributing now. Geez, that makes it all the harder for me to keep up with blogging too.....

iiiYup, you are right, in a way I'm complaining. But whatever. What leaves me slightly confused is what on earth Mr Bell is actually playing at. His comments seem directed at suggesting I should stop doing what I do. My persona, and that of my brewery are organic and from the heart. We're still an incredibly an incredibly small brewery and to be honest I absolutely have no intention of winding my neck in. To stay afloat in this new and incredibly busy craft beer scene we simply have to work hard with limited resources. So stick that in your pipe Stonch.

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I quite like the music for this, although it could do with a fair bit of mastering to get it better. Time, you know. Anyhow, some of the complexities of the piece are lost due dipping it to hear voice overs and the like. If you if you are daft enough to want to hear it unadulterated and with the sound synced animation too, it's here. Ann say's I should issue a epilepsy warning as the animation is quite flashy light by itself.




Intergalactic Space Hopper just the music and sound to motion stuff. from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Cheese making

Starter culture added.
Careful temperature control
needed from this point
So, beer 'n' cheese. It's fab. I love cheese nearly as much as beer, or perhaps if I were pushed on the subject it'd be difficult to choose.

Anyhow, the other day I had this daft idea that I'd have a bash at making some cheese. You folks might while your Saturdays away making home-brew beer. As I mess with that sort of stuff during the week, I thought I'd have a bash at some food to go with the beer. Anyway, milk is cheap these days, didn't you know?

Curds and whey
So I bought a cheese making kit from some on-line place. It came with a press, rennet, starter containing relevant bacteria, cheese cloth and some other necessary goodies. Just add a big pan and some milk and you're away.

Now, interesting trouble occurred; good hard cheese needs full cream non-homogenised milk1. After a trip last night though to the metropolis that goes by the name of Barrow-in-Furness, and a hurried visit to Pizza Hut2 to pacify my not-so-little kids and Ann, we traipsed around the supermarkets. We found, amongst the oceans of ridiculously low-cost milk, 7 litres of Jersey Gold Top in Tesco. Asda? Nada. Morrison's? Not open late. I was looking for 10 litres. Turns out this type of milk is a quid a litre or more3 and not so easy to get on a Friday night.

Starting to look OK
Anyhow, today I set to at my very first attempt. A cheddar clone, nothing exciting, but it's a start. That 7 litres did quite well, and probably will make best part of 1kg of cheese, once it is properly pressed and matured. Only a month to wait, but already I'm planning my next experiment.

Break up to salt
Beer-washed cheese anyone?

Anyhow, not much of a beer-related post, but it was fun, I hope someone finds this interesting. If nowt else, it's an excuse for me to collate the pictures somewhere sensible.






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Adding curds to mould for pressing
1Most milk these days is homogenised, and so the cream is distributed throughout the milk rather than floating on top, like it used to in the olden-days. Today they squirt it through tiny holes, as best I can work out, to make the fat globules smaller and the milk take on a more "creamy" texture. So, most milk in supermarkets is homogenised, and what smooth-flow is to beer I guess.

2Sorry, yes I know, I feel ashamed.

Not much left for me to do
3We do have a source of unpasteurised milk, which will make just the best cheese ever. However, I wanted to eliminate the uncertainty of farm or animal spoilage organisms before progressing to that stage. If this experiment works, I'll have a bash with the raw stuff.

I lived on a farm for a couple of years when I first left my parents tender care. We got unpasteurised milk fresh every day. It was delicious, really delicious. Just like sneaking a beer from the tank at the brewery, there is something really special about milk that has travelled only a few yards and had no messing done to it.

I do have a deep suspicion that the reasons for pasteurisation are much more to do with shelf life and commercial pressures than any real health risks. Never did me any harm. Some French cheese is made from unpasteurised milk and is simply gorgeous. I'm hoping to get to make something similar sometime.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Craft Beer Rising Glasgow - Intergalactic Space Hopper

Who remembers space hoppers? I do, first time around. I was about 5, and back then a bouncy rubber ball with a couple of handles where just the thing for a family who couldn't afford a chopper bike for Christmas. I have fond memories of bouncing around on such daft things.

It's been a while since we've been to a good craft beer festival with a new beer. We thought we'd bounce along to the Glasgow version of Craft Beer Rising this year, and decided it would be a wheeze to try out a new recipe. Scott is getting quite good at formulating stuff all by himself, with only a cursory glance at the recipe from me. I wanted to see just how much space-age hugeness we could get into the beer. So, he set about a hop loading that was almost entirely at the end of the boil, after flame out and in dry hopping. The aroma is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.

The beer will be released Friday 4th September at the first session of Craft Beer Rising Glasgow and simultaneously that day available from our webshop. If you are a pub, or distributor and want to get an advanced order, give us a call and ask for Ann.

This is an unusual announcement for us, as the beer isn't quite ready yet. I'm ordinarily uneasy about saying too much regarding a beer before it is ready to go. However, you guys need plenty of notice so you can get your tickets and try the stuff.

Just in case you can't get to Glasgow, we've also got some going to Grasmere Gussler at Tweedies bar, along with a fair selection of other Hardknott beers. This event occurs the same weekend as Craft Beer Rising.

Just a warning though, there is a chance that I'll get around to making some sort of daft video to go with the release. It might involve real, retro space hoppers, but I've yet to decide.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pondering the Pub Thing Again

You know I love pubs. You don't? Look, I even owned one for a while, that's how much I love them. Owning a pub, it turns out, isn't always quite as much of a love thing as just going to one on a Saturday night, getting a bit tipsy and making slightly knob-head innuendo flirty jokes at the nice lady bar staff. Which is fun, until you get home, sleep it off, and get next day it gets pointed out by your partner, who of course was there too, that actually, you really are a knob-head. You remember through the haze of the hangover that actually, yes, you realise now, and for a few hours vow to never drink again. Or at least not quite so much. At least until next week at any rate.

The problem is, when you own a pub, and that drunken knob-head is in fact making irritating flirty jokey innuendo at your partner, you realise that actually drunk people, when you are not drunk, are very much not funny at all. But still, they are part of the territory, and you have to remain calm, as a person of responsibility, when you are the pub owner, and the person who might have to be up in the docks should anything turn nasty. Trying to square some of these circles was the reason I started writing this blog in the first place. Ultimately the stresses made us decide to leave the pub, before it got the better of us, although arguably, it already had.

I'm really going quite far off the track with this opening, but it is relevant background I think. And just to point out, we are just over a year into having our own licence on-trade outlet again1, on Millom Station. You might have heard of it, it's called Hardknott OnTrack. We like it. We'd like it to be busier, and open more often, but it serves it's main purpose, which is to ensure there is somewhere in my town we can get Hardknott Beer served the way I want it. Due to the way I have it staffed, I'm normally only found in there sober when it's closed, generally fixing something. Any other time I'm found in there I'm a drunken dick-head. The arrangement seems to work OK, most of the time.

I possibly didn't need to give you that "I think I know what I'm talking about" preamble to introduce the main theme of this post, but I think the wrapping around the subject helps to make more of what would otherwise be just a favour for someone.

Earlier in the week Frances Brace, a British Guild of Beer Writers member forwarded me some information about a pub in her village that was potentially never going to open again. Asking if I could raise awareness as the village is trying to raise enough money to buy the pub and run it as a collective. The pub is call The Duke of Marlborough in Somersham I'm only too pleased to try and help, although I'm not sure what mentioning it on my blog will do, but happy to do so.

It got me thinking, as oft times I do; If no one want's to buy and run this pub, then perhaps this is just a lost cause? Putting all your money into a pub, or even finding a bank that will help out, can be a bit daunting. Haven't you heard? Pubs are struggling, so why would anyone in their right mind want to fund such a daft idea. If you think I'm working against Frances' request, bear with me.

The trouble with owner-run pubs is that often you become too close, too passionate, too caring. Very often everything you've ever owned has been ploughed into the pub and it is the licensee's whole life, and complete existence. Couple that with long days, a need to unwind, and a pint or two at the end of the day and you can end up with an incendiary situation when dealing with the thing day-in, day-out.

Could pubs run by the community be the very thing? I used to think not. How on earth can a pub be run by committee? That's just daft.

But it does seem to be working. In Cumbria there is the Hesket Newmarket pub The Old Crown. This is reputed to be the country's very first community owned pub. Why does the model seem to work? Why should a pub that doesn't seem to thrive under private ownership seem to do OK when run under the guidance of a gathering of pub enthusiasts?

I feel I do understand a little. For a start, a pub has a large user base. People who own the pub, in a collective, are likely to want to use their asset. They are also providing a feed-back into the pool of ideas, but generally off-line, rather than as a drunken knob-head saying "''eresh mate, what syou wants to do ish..."

I've had some great ideas when I've been drunk. I've also had some really lousy ones. The trouble is, when you've had a long day, and trying to unwind, the last thing you want is some drunk trying to tell you how to run your business. Rather than being receptive to new ideas, the scenario tends to make me more determined to ignore them all, even the ones I shouldn't.

A committee of genuinely caring people, who love the pub, and can discuss collectively the ideas, hopefully whilst not too drunk, may generate a truly inspirational environment. In any case, so long as they keep the job ticking over, and the books balanced, whatever they do, they'll be maintaining the pub the way they want it to be.

Most importantly, if the pub is in the hands of the community, perhaps it is more loved. Despite the fact that most licensees work very long hours for precious little reward, very often annoyance is directed at the licensee for "ripping off" the beer drinker. At least in the case of a pub run by the villagers, and other interested parties, the price of the pint is at least going back into the village asset with full transparency of the economics involved. The pub goer is empowered and given a little bit of control, and everyone is happy.

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1It is now over 5 years since we sold our first pub. It is interesting that many people are unaware that we are no longer there. Indeed, we recently decided to stop supplying that pub with any beer at all, hence no mention of the pub's name in this text.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Being Above Board

It's an interesting time in brewing. With Craft Beer seemingly going from strength to strength the appearance to the outside world is that it has to be a great thing to get into. In many ways it is, and living he dream can be very rewarding, but not without it's troubles.

It is true that the price of a pint in those contemporary craft beer bars is going up. The disparity between that and some more traditional pubs is disconcerting to some. Equally the fact that often keg beer is more expensive than cask also causes some angst.

This article is inspired by the news that Jarrow Brewery has recently had over 20,000 litres of beer seized by HMRC. It seems unclear exactly why. HMRC seem to state that they were brewing, and hinting that they were selling beer without a licence. The brewery simply state that beer has gone out of date because they can't sell it without a licence. Either way, it seems a drastic step to seize beer if there isn't a concern that underhand stuff is going on.

It continues to be a problem for brewers to get their beer to market. With an ever increasing number of breweries inevitably there is significant competition. At times that competition can manifest itself as eye-watering price cutting at wholesale. Off course, in a competitive capitalist economic system this is what we expect.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that there are going to be casualties. Equally, in desperate attempts to stay afloat, some might be tempted to moving a little to he wrong side of the law. I do hear reports from publicans about sales of beer "without paperwork" I am told that the way this is handled for the beer duty return is that the beer is officially not sold, but instead has been "destroyed".

To compound this situation HMRC have been somewhat silent for several years. When we first started brewing we got two visits from HMRC. Both went reasonably well and we were signed off as compliant. It was slightly nerve wracking, but I found the inspectors all very helpful. In discussing the destruction of beer I had some helpful tips from one very nice officer which basically run a long the lines that if it was the occasional cask then we should just get along and do it. If it was a whole gyle, a good number of casks, or a regular thing, we ought to let him know, just so as he could come along if he wished and witness the destruction.

We did that, on an odd occasion, when we were unhappy with a beer, and tipped a whole tank down the drain. Back then, around 2010, we were still only around 350 litres, 3.5hl, 8 firkins or 2 brewery barrels per brew. He was grateful I got in touch and said it was OK to just get on with the job of tipping it down the drain. Provided of course that United Utilities was happy that we had the correct discharge authorisation.

Since then this particular gent has moved on. Indeed, the last communication was that officers were being thinned out as a result of cutbacks caused by the economic situation. We even had one officer telling us that really, us little guys were not much of a concern as there were much bigger fish to fry. We were told we should just record all the beer we destroy and not worry about it.

So, you can see that this is a clear signal to go ahead and pretend that beer is being destroyed, when in fact it is being sold "without paperwork" for cash, no questions asked. Beer duty and VAT no doubt being evaded. I know quite a few business friends that think this is not only OK, but the only thing that can keep a business alive in a tough competitive time. After all, it'd be doing the beer drinker a service by getting the cost of their pint down.

But I do worry about it. In fact, the fear of HMRC coming and finding something is amiss and we'd get a great big tax bill we can't pay is something that fears me most in this business. We do not sell beer "for cash, without paperwork" Obviously we take cash, it is handy to avoid bank charges, and is perfectly legal, but we record it and issue an invoice. For a start, I want a new brewhouse. Hiding turnover and profit from the tax man also hides it from the bank manager. The banks want to see legal economic performance if they are going to lend for new shiny stainless steel.

Evading the tax man is something that I particularly find offensive. Yes, I think we pay too much tax, but we are all a liberty to vote for the politicians that decide what is going to be taxed, and how much tax is to be charged. We are also all at liberty to lobby who ever we like, demonstrate legally or complain about taxation on our blogs. However, once the taxation system is set, we all have a duty to put into the coffers what is due.

Now, as there are more and more breweries, there is more and more cut throat competition and more and more breweries desperate to make their dream work. Many of us in the industry are worried that this is going too far, and that the price of cask beer at wholesale is becoming increasingly unsustainably cheap.

What I do know is that as the economic situation continues to improve HMRC are again being funded a little better. With the increasing number of breweries, and evidence becoming clear that micro-breweries are in fact now contributing to the avoidance of duty, make no doubt about it HMRC will again be knocking on our doors.

HMRC are also looking at the whole supply chain. Since last year it has been a legal requirement to ensure that we are confident that anyone we sell beer to is adhering with the law. In the New Year HMRC will require every wholesaler to register. In some ways all of this puts an ever increasing burden on those of us who are already trying very hard to ensure we are above board.

Luckily, SIBA are doing quite a lot to support us. They have various tools available on the website in the members area.

Despite this I expect over the next couple of years some breweries will only able to keep trading by avoiding some beer duty and VAT. These breweries are going to find it difficult. I wonder if Jarrow is the start of the whole pack of cards tumbling? Certainly, those breweries who already have a strong pricing structure, defended by good marketing, strong PR message, quality beer and adherence to the law are much more likely to survive.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Nucleated Mind

Yesterday we launched our beer, Nuclear Sunset. It occurs to me that my blog post was a little ill-thought out, and perhaps some other things I've written. I've been working on this for a couple of weeks, on and off, so yesterday I was somewhat blasé about the subject. Besides, we were bottling and sending out some samples, so I was also quite busy.

Not surprisingly there has been a view from some that using the subject of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a way to sell beer is "grotesque". Yes, I'd like to sell more beer, of course I would, but I genuinely care about the issues I'm trying to raise. This piece will become a personal expression of my feelings. From my heart. It might well end up being too honest. I'd like to write now about my own personal feelings surrounding this. Explain where I am, where I come from and detail my own thoughts about the subject.

I am fairly completely the result of an atomic age. My parents met when they both worked at Windscale1. When they got married my father decided to return for a short while to teaching. They settled in Kendal and I was born. However, perhaps due to the draw of the good salary and conditions at Windscale, or perhaps he just didn't like teaching, whatever, we moved to Seascale, where I spent the next 14 or so years growing up. Some days I wonder how my life would be had they stayed in Kendal.

Seascale is less than two miles from the perimeter fence of Sellafield. Most of the people who live there work at Sellafield. Indeed, many have been born there and their parents, and perhaps even grandparents worked at the plant. I still know many people who live there and I care about these people a lot.

During the 70s and 80s there was significant media attention, not unreasonably, as a result of various problems at the plant. Back in 1957 there was a fire. That was fairly heavy shit, to be fair. It should never have happened and was mainly due to the drive to produce our own UK nuclear deterrent. During the 60s and 70s and beyond the public became more and more concerned about the safety of nuclear power. In the 70s a program called Not The Nine O'Clock News did a spoof of the Ready Brek advert. For a kid living close to the plant, we didn't really find it that funny. In the 80s there was also the regrettable incident of the beach contamination and various other events. The press surrounding the events sometimes made us feel like we were in a microcosm very different to the rest of the world. When on holiday it was genuinely scary to mention where we lived.

In 1981 I was lucky enough to start an apprenticeship at the plant. The company subsequently funded my Open University degree. I ended up doing a fairly interesting job for a while, and the salary was very good indeed. Leave, pension, heath care and working hours all very favourable. Why on earth did I leave? It was a job for life, very probably, had I just stuck in and played the game.

But I'm not like that. I get frustrated easily. I like to get things done, and progress a job. I'm quite individual and in reality felt a lot like a square peg in a round hole. Having to do a written justification for nearly every move eventually drove me to near breakdown2. In 2003, after being there over 22 years, I left and bought a pub. There are days when I wonder why, but I did, and I am now doing what I do, dreaming that one day I'll make a sufficient success out of it to be able to retire.

During my time there I learnt about various things to do with potential accidents called "criticality"3 - I worked closely on systems that were designed to prevent such events. In brief, a criticality incident is where an uncontrolled fission chain reaction occurs giving out intense bursts of radiation. It is quite different to a nuclear explosion,  keeping fissionable material together long enough to explode is in fact, incredibly difficult to achieve.

Prevention of criticality events is probably one of the most rigorous and carefully thought through combinations of science and engineering I can imagine. Indeed, the complexity of the whole technology was the part of the job that thoroughly fascinated me4. But what captured my imagination more than anything was the very need for such layers of safety.

The intense radiation that is given off without warning when an accident like this happens will give personnel a lethal dose of a combination of gamma and neutron radiation in microseconds. The last time I know that this happened was in Japan at the Tokaimura plant. Two people died. Death from radiation is very, very slow and protracted. Closer to home we are all familiar with the death of Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning. A different cause, but the effect is similar.

I have had an interest, not a macabre fascination, but a sympathetic empathy for anyone who has been exposed to such lethal doses of radiation. In our training, we were given advice as to what to do in the event of the very specific alarm should such a criticality event occur. On the flip chart, the lecturer would write, "RUN LIKE F....."5 and leave the last bit unwritten. The very obvious intent of the word might have offended, in a formal and large company environment was unusual, but the effect of implying the very real dangers of such an incident justified the potential offence. Just to pacify sensitive course attendees, he would then complete the sentence "RUN LIKE FURY" but we'd already got the point.

The difference between these criticality accidents and an atomic bomb is the fact that it is only when assembled in a bomb, and detonated with an implosion shock-wave6, do we get anything that might approach a nuclear explosion. I know very little about this part of nuclear technology. I'm really quite thankful that I don't know more. This part of nuclear warhead production does not and never has occurred in West Cumbria. If you want to know more, go and find out for yourself.

So, nuclear warheads. Frankly, they terrify me. Nuclear technology doesn't, beyond the criticality scenario I explain above. But the effect of nuclear detonation, deliberately to cause the biggest bang that is humanly achievable, really does scare the living shit out of me.

The suffering of the casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki genuinely moves me. Having undergone training over many years to drive home to me the dangers of the materials present on nuclear sites, it is difficult to not feel affected thinking about the utter devastation. The question of whether in fact the Americans had to drop those bombs to end the war is still unanswered in many war historians minds. We simply cannot know the answers to the questions. Even so, if they had not dropped the bombs then, might some other world conflict have precipitated something similar? Pandoras box is open, and we cannot get that genie back in that bottle.

We now know what the effects are. Subsequent American occupying troops documented details of the effects of the radiation on the sufferers. The troops did nothing to help the victims, just monitor, document, for the record, the technical biological effects. We know what happens now, we do not need to repeat that experiment. Indeed, it is difficult not to think that the real need of the Americans was to prove the bomb. After all, they had spent a colossal amount of money on the project, they might never, ever have the justification to drop a bomb again. We can't deny it proved the point.

The problem with the whole question of nuclear is the conflation of the aggressive use of military nuclear technology with peaceful power generation. It is true that the technologies do have some unfortunate cross-overs. It is possible for a state that has a peaceful nuclear program to divert into military use. However, we can say the same for conventional explosives, and for that matter chemical and biological technology.

Additionally, set between Sellefield, and BAE in Barrow where nuclear submarines are made, I cannot ignore the very great economic impact on my part of the world should we eradicate nuclear. The whole of the economy in my area depends very heavily on these industries. Should we abolish completely nuclear technology we'd have to think very carefully about how we manage thousands of people that have no other skill-sets outside the industry. They can't all go off and brew beer.

Something that is very close to my heart is the consideration of energy generation. It seems to be generally considered that global warming is real. There are not very many people who deny7 that at least in part global warming is increased by man's industry. I've recently been to Chamonix in the French Alps. There are a number of glaciers there that have retreated significantly over the time I've been visiting. One railway that connects the town to the most famous glacier, Mer de Glace, is now in completely the wrong place resulting in a significant climb down to get to the surface.

Renewables are a solution. Personally I love wind turbines, which isn't an entirely universal thought in our part of the world. Solar in the UK I think might be dubious, but I'm hoping that the technology will improve.

Covering the Sahara Dessert in solar panels might be helpful. I know enough about electrical transmission to at least question how efficient the movement of this energy would be. Hydro might help, but how many valleys might we need to dam, and how popular will that be? Biomass, anaerobic digestion and wind do have a part to play, and absolutely we should explore all of these, but I doubt they'll solve the problem in time.

Since I was born in 1965 world population has more than doubled. In the same time global energy usage has more than tripled. Most of the increase in energy usage has come from fossil fuels. Whatever your belief is about global warming, oil will become more difficult to find and more expensive to extract. We may have to accept fracking, for instance, if we cannot find ways of reducing fossil fuel dependancy.

Although it might not be something that gets general public agreement, especially after major disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl, but I believe we have to keep nuclear energy as a tool in our kit of things to help us into the future. Yes, we have to learn how to do it right, and my ex-colleagues are working very hard to help do that.

But back to my original intent to attach the question of nuclear to the beer we have just released. I have read extensively about nuclear weapons and their direct and indirect impact on populations. I personally feel that the questions in the minds of the general public have subsided over the years since the peak of questions back in the 60s and 70s. I do not think it is wrong to reignite that whole question.

Perhaps my intent is "naff" I don't know. Perhaps it is just the actual application of my intent that isn't quite right. Maybe as a businessman I should have just got on with the job of selling my beer and leave these issues for someone else to address.

That perhaps is true. Perhaps I should have just left this particular dog to sleep. I expect that at some point in time this issue would have surfaced and what I'd hope is that what I've written here makes it clear that the issues are genuinely important to me.

Sellafield, formally Windscale is there as a direct result of The Manhattan Project. I was conceived because my parents met at Windscale. I am truly a product of the nuclear age. I cannot undo that.

So, when I think about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, about the suffering of the people. About the people who didn't even know what happened because they were vaporised instantly. Or about the people who suffered for many days, weeks or even months afterwards only to die a painful and distressing death as a result of what was argued a necessary action to end the war with Japan. When I think about the people that survived, and rebuilt the cities, rebuilt their lives and still remained scarred both physically and mentally, I remember that my life and theirs are inextricably linked.

And so is my beer. I am my beer and my beer is me. I don't make a huge amount of money out of beer. Hardknott is still a frighteningly small and vulnerable business. Yes, we'd like to sell more beer. I'd like everyone to like what I do.

I am who I am and I do what I do because I care about what I do. I want to make good beer, and I would like to get it out to more people. I also care about the future of mankind, how we make the world a better place for us all to live in. Is it my place to raise awareness of a terrible event that occurred 70 years ago? Perhaps not, but I've done it now. I expect I'll have got people to talk little more than they would have otherwise done. I expect in reality it'll not make much difference to my business.


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1Windscale was the name then given to the place we all know as Sellafield. Back in the late 70s the people in charge changed the name as Windscale had got itself a bad name. There were all sorts of excuses given back then, but we all know it was a PR thing.

2I would not even want to try and suggest that anything should change in the way that safety is conducted on the site. I do not think it is wrong to have the inevitable heavy layers of safety systems that exist. Some people revel in that environment and many of my friends work there and continue to keep our nuclear industry safe. It's just not for me.

3Life after Sellafield is an interesting thing. There are things I know, mostly things that are available for people to look-up in Wikipedia, that I am unsure how sensible it is for me to discuss. I am of the view that mentioning criticality incidents is reasonably safe a thing to discuss. It is all very well documented on the internet and something that concerns a fair few people who work at the plant.

4It might be worth pointing out that nuclear safety is something that is totally necessary. I might have already given the wrong impression by suggesting that it is this that drove me away. Not at all. I was genuinely very much enthralled with the necessity to ensure safety of nuclear material. Having multiple layers of safety mechanisms so that the risk is kept as small as humanly achievable is paramount. It was the stuff like "hold on to that handrail when walking up stairs" was what drove me mad. FFS, I'm a climber in my spare time, I'm not having some jumped-up manager tell me I can't walk up and down stairs without holding the handrail, that's just daft.

5Conventional evacuation of a building, in the event of fire for instance, advises that people should simply walk in a calm manner. Panic in such cases might cause bigger issues than the danger actually presented. We were left in no doubt that panic was indeed the thing you should do in the event of a criticality. The technical reasons for this are that fissionable material, when in solution, may well boil the solution in the event of a criticality and the resultant foam be sufficiently sub-critical to halt the event. However, once the foam died down, it might go critical again, and so cause pulses of radiation. The first pulse might not be enough to kill you, so run like fuck whilst you have the chance and are still able. The inverse square law may yet save you.

6Holding together a fissioning chain reaction is incredibly difficult. The energy involved in these events is so incredible that even the thickest vessel would be torn apart in microseconds creating a nuclear "fizzle"

7I actually have a cousin who is highly active as a sceptic of global warming science. I'm not sure I understand what he gets up to, but I admire his approach. What is important is to question, and to keep questioning our rational. There is danger of group think. I like the fact that we can discuss issues in our society. The fact we can question various outputs of human learning, opinion and scientific research is part of what makes us human. It is important in a democratic society that we can do this. I do not expect the reader to agree with my points in this piece, or for that matter anything else I write. But it is important to be able to rationally, intelligently and constructively debate.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Explosions

The bomb squad turned up at our bar on Saturday. We share the building with a museum. It seems a long time ago people had donated mining memorabilia to the museum and amongst the stuff was a stick of dynamite. Just to make things worse, as the dynamite was at least 50 years old, it had turned crystalline, and so risked spontaneous detonation with the slightest knock. The museum staff quite rightly contacted the authorities. A couple of nice blokes in fatigues, and a van full of very expensive toys turned up.

The dynamite was moved to the school field and a controlled explosion was carried out. Unluckily for the school kids the school was undamaged, even so I have the song "We break up, we break up, we don't care if the school blows up" running through my head.

More seriously, and by complete coincidence, we are releasing a beer today. It is called Nuclear Sunset and is 4.7% ABV. It is a wheat beer that was inspired by a Japanese beer. It is made not only with orange peel and coriander, but also has orange juice and nutmeg in it. Unlike european wheat beers this one is fermented with our house yeast1, which is an American ale yeast.

The rather troubling thing for me is that I now worry people will believe I planted that stick of dynamite to further the launch of this beer. If only I were that clever, and devious. But no, trust me, I had this all thought through well before the weekend.

There is a bit of a story to this beer. Scott came up with the name Nuclear Sunset, which I instantly liked. However, whilst putting together the backstory to the beer I realised that this week is the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 6th and 9th August to be precise. This could not be ignored.

I've already written quite a lot about the topic, for our press release, as covering emails to go out with the press release, our website and for a comment piece to go on Roger Protz's1 website, so I'm not going to put too much down here. But what I will say is that the power of the atomic explosions is something that genuinely moves me. The suffering that the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have gone through is incredible. It is humbling to me to know that science can bring both great technological achievements, but not without great dichotomies for humanity to consider.

Couple this with the fact that I am where I am today partly due to a previous career in the nuclear industry. But even more importantly, I live in a community that depends upon nuclear technology for its very existence, the importance of this fact can not be under estimated.

I hope you will all understand my genuine need to honour the people of Japan on this anniversary. This need for me is all the more acute as I am in favour of peaceful uses of nuclear technology, but at no time do I ever underestimate it's dangers if mankind misuses the technology in the future. I truly hope we continue to take seriously our responsibilities and hold precious the thought that the errors should never be repeated.

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1As I type this the piece it is yet to go up on his site. He's in the middle of finalising the Good Beer Guide and we're just getting the final copy agreed before it goes up.