Tuesday, 6 December 2016

We're better than the Bank of England

Five Pound Note - not vegan friendly
Apparently the new five pound note has traces of tallow in it. Tallow comes form cows, mainly. Veggies, vegans and Hindus for instance are getting upset about this.  This is a bit of a shame as I quite like the new more durable version. It occurred to me however that our bottled and keg beers have been free from all animal products for several years, but we just haven't really made a big deal out of it.

As it so happens, before the meaty five pound note scandalwe had already started to get our labels revamped to reflect the fact that our bottled beers are indeed significantly more vegan friendly than the five pound note.

We'd been spurred into action earlier in the year when CAMRA also performed a silly cock-up by making a big fuss about isinglass2. Silly old CAMRA, after all, it is only really cask beer that uses such finings. Dirty scummy keg beer and bottled beers that are not "Real" will certainly not contain isinglass. So the bulk of the beer CAMRA was campaigning for was in fact the very thing they were on that occasion complaining about.

Hardknot Bottled Beer - very vegan friendly

The first of these new labels have started to be used on new bottles we're producing, watch out for them on your next beer buying spree.


1To be honest, I'm having a struggle calling it a scandal. It's an unfortunate oversight caused by the fact that much of industry uses by-products of animals during manufacture. Most of us are blissfully unaware and would not make the effort to check. Vegans do care and can avoid purchasing products containing such animal derived compounds. Of course as the five pound not is now is fairly wide-spread circulation it is difficult to avoid using it if you do care. A rather silly and embarrassing thing to have happened. Rather than calling a scandal I'd prefer to use the term silly cock-up.

2I am sure most readers of this blog do not need me to explain about isinglass, but just in case....cask beer is generally racked direct from the primary fermenter into the cask. It may well have quite a high loading of yeast and other debris. The brewer puts a does of isinglass into the cask to help the suspended solids drop out once the cask is laid nicely in the pub cellar. The trouble is isinglass is manufactured from fish stuff. I'm not a vegan, but I still object to it because the stuff is quite horrible. It is often given the nickname of whale jiz, which is a fairly accurate description of it's appearance.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Hibernal Glow - a winter warmer

Buy Hibernal Glow

Well, here we go, the big rundown to Chrimbo. Every year we question if we should do a Christmas beer or not. Will it all sell, or will we have a job-lot left effectively unsalable in the New Year.

We've been lucky with our previous offer, Figgy Pudding, and managed to sell it all in time for Christmas. However, with the margins on beer being so damn tight it is important not to end up with waste that effectively turns margins into a negative number.

This year we went for something that was sort of Christmassy, but still without being overtly packaged as such. It's really just a winter warmer, a beer to hibernate with.

We made a chocolate orange porter, because it's a nice thing to have this time of year. Packed with orange peel and cocoa nibs you can certainly say that both are there in abundance.

I love winter in Cumbria. At least when it is cold and clear, rather than that miserable wet and windy season. I've been out on the fells and got various bits of imagery of our inspirational county, and bunged it into a very short video.

As usual we worked very hard to get a label design that matched the quality of our beer. The guys at LemonTop Creative pulled out all the stops and produced the rather arty design very befitting of the work of art inside the bottle. I'm really pleased with it, both the label and the beer.

It's getting to be a bit of an obsession of mine to take the label artwork and bring it to life. It is a sort of outward expression of intent as to the inward effort we put into creating our beers.

Hibernal Glow from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Rhetoric IV - the conclusion

It's been a long year it would seem. Although of course the time it has taken the Earth to actually circle the sun has not varied by any conceivable variation, it's just it seems like a long year to this carbon based Earth dwelling organism.

The Earth has nearly completed 11 full orbits of our closest star since I first mashed in. For our Tenth Anniversary year we felt should be marked with something special, and so this is exactly what we did.

We ended last year by brewing Rhetoric IV. The fourth, if you have a struggle with Roman numerals, in our series of experimental beers. It is a peat smoked porter. We put some of it into three separate spirit casks, and applied a certain degree of patience.

The long wait is over and we have now bottled these beers. Labels will be here in a day or two. It is a fairly simple job to run these bottles through the labelling machine and so be able to get them out to people far and wide.

You can buy these beers on our website, of course. But to help you out, and to give folk a chance to try these beers together, we are organising a few Meet The Brewer type things in various locations. We will be bringing a small sample of all our Rhetorics for a rare opportunity for a vertical tasting of all 7 versions.

The Hardknott Anniversary Roadshow

Cherry Reds, Birmingham - Friday 2nd December 6 - 8pm
Otter's Tears, Burslem, Stoke on Trent - Saturday 3rd December 7 - 9pm
The Tap House, Lancaster - Wednesday 7th December 7 - 9pm

Locations where details are still to be confirmed;

The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne - "sometime after the 12th"
The Mill, Ulverston, - date to be confirmed
Somewhere in Scotland, hopefully - details still to be clarified
And others still in discussion

About the beers

Rhetoric IV.I - peat smoked imperial stout

Total of around 3,000 bottles produced

This was the original beer using peat smoked malt. It's a great big imperial stout at 11% and gives big chocolate and raisins in the aroma, a taste of orange pith and of course an edgy smoky note reminiscent of a good peated whisky.

Works really well matched with mature cheese.

Rhetoric IV.II - wine cask matured imperial stout

Total of around 620 bottles produced

We put about 220 litres of beer into a red wine cask.

The most striking thing is that the oak has mellowed the peat smoke considerably. So much so that were we to do it again we would increase the peated malt. We get earthy tannic dryness, a hint of mint, peppery merlot and camphor cedar.

Matches well with haggis or orange duck savoury.

Rhetoric IV.III - brandy cask matured imperial stout

Total of around 480 bottles produced

Here we put around 200 litres in a brandy cask. Unfortunately we had a minor issue with the bottling line where a filling valve stuck open. It happens very occasionally. We lost around 30 litres of very delicious beer!

Again, a much reduced smokiness but a lovely in-yer-face milk chocolate tone, very liqueury nose, candy cinnamon spice aroma, destinct coffee and tones of liquorice.

Matches well with apple slice or gingerbread.

Rhetoric IV.IV - whisky cask matured imperial stout

Total of around 550 bottles produced

Again, about 200 litres went into a whisky cask. It seems the distillers have got a little cautious now about what brewers are using which casks and we got very little detail about the cask. It's normal ends were painted over to prevent us seeing the brand.

A significant problem with all of the casks was the debris from the charred insides of the cask. The whiskey cask in particular was very troublesome.

The resultant beer however is a striking with a campfire and charred wood thing reminiscent of simple fire baked bread. Toasted, roasted, smoky oak chips. Mellow cherry aroma and a glace cherry taste.

Matches well with plum crumble.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Long Drop

Beer, a nice drop and a long drink, generally. There are exceptions, like barley wine, imperial stouts and massive double IPAs, but on the whole beer is drunk in longer measures. In our fine and soon to be proudly independent1 island most beer is drunk in the fantastically traditional measure that is the imperial pint2. It's a cultural thing that has incredible resilience3.

I really like beers with a bit more about them. I believe a really good IPA has to be in the 6% region, or there or there about. This of course creates a few problems for people who sup beer all night long in pints. Indeed I've been asked many times if I can produce an "Azimuth Light"4

We've wrestled with this for a while. You see a beer at lets say 3.6% should never, in my view, have the letters IPA next to the name. I mean, just look at Green King and thier thing. No. Never. Brewing beer and calling at IPA at that strength only encourages the wider general beer drinking public to believe in that sort of nonsense.

I believe, with a fair degree of conviction that beer brewed, fermented and dry hopped at higher ABVs make for much more delicious beers. There are quire a few good scientific reasoins why this is probably the case.5

We wanted to have a go at a lower ABV beer, that we could still call an IPA. We thought about the hop rates, appropriate use of modified malt to retain some mouthfeel and body to the beer. We thought very carefully about dry hopping and maturation techniques so as to blast the sense of that general IPA ethos.

We've done it, we've made that very beer. We like it and we are sending it out to various places all over the country.

Can a 4.8% beer ever really be a session beer? Well, I drink beers much stronger than that during a session, and I know a few more who do. I'm sure there will be some who will disagree, but there you go, it's still more "sessionable" than Azimuth.....

Oh, and I did a video.

Long Drop Constant from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Are their still people who don't get why it is called "Long Drop"? Oh come on!!


1For the avoidance of doubt, yes I am being sarcastic.

2No, I haven't applied the closing </sarc> tag yet

3</sarc>yes, I do think it truly does have serious cultural inertia. Not that much of a great thing in my view.

4I kid you not.....

5Way back in my early days of brewing a brewing type from a significantly larger brewery came to the pub and we chatted about beers. As is oft the case, I started to chat about how much I liked a beer with a bit more poke. I forget his name or which brewery, and for that matter I'm fairly sure he had a fair bit of experience in several different breweries. He explained that in tasting panel tests a beer brewed and fermented at a much stronger gravity will be preferred by drinkers when cut back to a lower strength when compared with a beer brewed at target gravity.

The way the yeast works at higher gravities, the way the hop compounds are biologically processed by the yeast, the way the alcohol solution subsequently acts as a solvent on dry hopping all change the flavour profile of the finished beer.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Vigo Hand Labelling Machine

Righty, quick technical post. This is mainly to help out a brewing friend, but hopefully some other people might find it helpful.

We have had a nice bottling line for over 3 years now, It works well and we're really pleased with it. Prior to that we hand bottled. To be honest it's really hard work and tedious. However it is a way forward for breweries wanting to have control of thier own product, rather than contract bottling.

We started by applying labels by hand. That really is tedious. Later we borrowed a hand driven machine from Stringers. Nice people, who seemed very happy to continue to let us use their's. However, we got a little fed up of not having the machine right there and handy, so we bought our own, exact same machine.

It is supplied by Vigo. It's OK, but doesn't have great instructions. So I did a video. It's a bit roughly edited, but, you know, time and that.

Hand Labeling Machine from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Moo Bar - a public information post

The beer supply chain is complicated. There are lots of links with beer going one way and hopefully money flowing back to brewers, eventually. What goes on behind the scenes is fairly much hidden from the drinker. If we get grumpy with a pub because they are well over-due paying an invoice we might stop supplying. Sometimes this is temporary and may even go completely unnoticed by the beer drinker. A few harsh words, or more often than not carefully worded emails are exchanged, owed money gets paid and the beer flows again. Everyone is happy. I would not normally publish information about which outlets are more trouble, it wouldn't be right, but there are times I feel like grumbling. Brewers do tend to talk to each other and there is an increase of sharing of information in this regard.

Sometimes it gets to the point that there is a company that is behaving so abysmally that it is only right to call them out for the sake of all the very good businesses that are above board and working hard to run successfully businesses legally and more importantly in a morally sound manner. Be it pubs, breweries, wholesalers or any other businesses in the whole of the beer and wider alcohol industry we should not have to fight rogues.

I want to share with the reader my all-time worst ever experience bad business practice. In 12 years of trying to eek out an honest living this has become the one defining event. I refer to Moo Bar, that small chain of venues in the Penrith and Carlisle area. The concept is the brain child of a Nigel Tarn, previously famous for a bogus sale of his previous business for £7 million. (the sale never actually happened and Turbo drinks went bankrupt) In an apparent shock event this week the landlord of Moo Bar Carlisle, the property owner, evicted the operators, Moo Bar limited (Company number 08447386).

There has been local support for Moo Bar. Clearly the operation has found a good following amongst enthusiasts in the city. Be it for a good range of beers or for providing a music venue I am uncertain. Never-the-less the support is impressive. However, the facility that has been provided is clearly not a viable business and has been funded by unscrupulous and unauthorised borrowing from many people, in particular many smaller breweries like Hardknott. I have information that would indicate sums of in excess of £50,000 to brewers and beer wholesalers alone. Moo Bar owes Hardknott in excess of £2000, and this is after we helped Nigel's cash-flow problems in the early days with a supply of £500 for lines dedicated to Hardknott (which was never honoured in any reliable way) - we know some other brewers have done similar.

Nigel Tarn - Business buffoon
or downright crook?
either way, don't trust this man.
Nigel was from the start erratic in his payment of invoices. Initially not the worst, but never paid them in any structured way. Amounts paid were inconsistent with invoiced values making reconciliation of accounts difficult. If I were charitable I could say this is because Nigel is an accounting buffoon. However, I do wonder if this was a deliberate and cynical attempt to be obtuse so as to try and con us from day one.

Fast forward to September 2015. Much of Moo Bar's account was grossly overdue. Many invoices were over 90 days from delivery date. We were starting to fight with Moo Bar to get payment for beers and repeatedly had the company on stop.

We also noticed that companies house records showed a lack of filing of accounts and other mandatory documents. They have never, to this day, filed accounts for an operational company despite clearly trading. We were getting extremely worried and had already had the tip-off from other brewers that Moo Bar was in trouble.

Nigel suggested that we delivered more beer COD. Now, we have a strict policy here at Hardknott; Being on stop for unpaid invoices means being on STOP. No, we will not accept cash-on-delivery until the outstanding invoices are paid down. Starting up the van to go all the way to Carlisle to find the cash wasn't there was an option I was not prepared to consider1. Several other brewers had reported that COD delivery agreements had been made only to find no cash ready when the delivery was made.

We hit an impasse. We were not going to deliver unless Nigel paid his outstanding bills. Although we were not explicit he probably realised we were not only at the point of not delivering until he paid down his account, we had also already made the decision to reduce his account facility to zero.

Please remember, this is all before the floods in December 2015.

Nigel made some excuse about a serious illness, and being robbed by a member of staff. If I were honest I had already long ago placed Nigel in the chancer, bluffer and query rogue bin since my early dealings with him. I was fairly sure these were nothing more than excuses and based at best on distortions of the truth. We asked for a crime number as presumably it had been reported to the police2.

Nothing more came of it. No monies paid, no further communications from Moo Bar, despite us sending repeated email requests for payment. Of course in the middle of all of this there was the floods, giving Nigel a perfect sob-story to cover the fact that his business was already in serious trouble.

After what I thought was a reasonable amount of time I sent a final email pre-warning of a letter before action.3 This was then fairly swiftly followed up with the promised letter. By this time all of Moo Bar account with us was well over 90 days aged. We had paid all the beer duty, staffing costs, VAT, cost of malt and hops etc to our suppliers Further emails were sent indicating that the next course of action would be application for a County Court Judgement. No reply, no money. So, I applied for a CCJ, which we were awarded. I sent further emails stating that the bailiffs would start knocking next.

At this point there was an attempt to make amends. A second villain of the piece made an entrance. For the time being I shall refrain from further details, other than to say we realised that this character already had form and there are very possibly innocent people (or at least unwilling accomplices) who I am not willing to drag into this sorry story. An attempt to do a deal ensued, but sadly the deal fell far too short for us to be happy and we decided to walk away.

In the interim I discovered that many breweries and distributors were owed significant amounts. I started to investigate further and found a huge amount out about Nigel and some of his business dealings. In the end I stumbled upon the employee who was alleged to have robbed Nigel. This was a revelation, and certainly gave a signifiant alternative view on the dark dealings that had been going on.

The chef involved had been accused of stealing, it seems because he was paying suppliers cash on delivery out of the till to make sure stock could be bought. The chef was arrested on the day of his granddaughter's christening. We have checked the information we have in our emails and there is a sneaking coincidence in the dates of the start of the investigation and the date we requested a crime number. We are afraid we might have precipitated an innocent man's arrest as a result of us demanding proof of this "crime". He was interviewed and released, but too late to attend the important family event. To my knowledge no further action has been taken.

I also have information about signifiant PAYE irregularities in the Moo Bar empire.

The two ex-employees I have spoken to have indicated that there was never any "serious illness" - the information I have suggests that Nigel suffered from a bit of acid reflux. An uncomfortable but not serious condition. I know, I suffer and have to take "proton pump inhibitors"3. It is quite normal for the quack to recommend a camera is sent into the oesophagus and stomach just to make sure it isn't cancer. Decent people don't go around using this as an excuse to avoid paying debts.

I have information that would indicate that Nigel pretended to be in hospital when in fact he was on holiday living it up leaving staff to fight with the problem of an increasing number of suppliers who were refusing to deliver due to unpaid bills.

This morning I spoke to a spokesperson for Walton Goodland, the estate agency who is dealing with the lease. The outstanding bill for rent on the property amounts to in excess of £20,000. Moreover, the reason rents have been returned by the landlord is because the rents have been paid in the name of Baa Carlisle LTD (10087794) - where as the lease is in the name of Moo Bar limited. This is important in many ways. Firstly if the landlord accepted the payments from the wrong legal entity that incorrect legal entity would then achieve a right to operate from that property, whist the previous entity would still owe outstanding monies.

The debt with the landlord goes back in excess of 9 months and well before the floods.

Nigel is trying to set up new companies and allow the old Moo Bar Limited to become struck-off as a result of the company appearing to Companies House to be inactive. This is easy to achieve if all the directors resign. Once a company is struck off there is no longer a legal entity that can be chased for debts. It is a tidy trick used by unscrupulous rogue traders like Nigel and his friends. However it can be fought if there is proof that there is still action against the company, which there is. We intend to continue to fight this, as I know several other people are also doing.

Taking the action to communicate this story, which really only looks at a fraction of the deceit and bad-practice at play, is not something I am doing lightly. Calling out a "customer" might make prospective accounts worry that this is my normal MO potentially giving Hardknott a bad name. I hope they will understand that Moo Bar is a competitor to above board routes to market. I would hope that legal and ethical businesses will see ultimately my action is in the name of improving the lot for any decent business in the alcohol industry.

There are a lot of very reasonable and above-board pubs and bars doing things in an honest and reasonable way. It simply is not fair that this outfit is taking good business away from good places.

Yes, I'll not deny I want my pound of flesh, I can't have my money, and I do want to hurt Nigel, seriously. Baseball bats are probably not a good idea, and anyway, Nigel is using the keyboard as his weapon of choice, so why should I not do the same?

Nigel is a good bullshitter. He has various people believing the rubbish he is pumping out. However, he has robbed me of £2000. He has robbed numerous breweries of various amounts of money. He is damaging the brewing industry and my biggest fear is that he will "restructure", form a new entity and successfully trade from a new premises. I want people to know exactly the sort of person he is.


1It seems to me if you have the cash to pay for the beer you want now then you should be able to pay down a previous invoice. Once an account is in the state whereby the aged debt is shelved and future deliveries are all paid COD then a serious cash-flow problem has started. It is only a matter of time before that business goes south.

2it is worth noting that much communication with Nigel was via emails.  We have various dates in that email thread that helps us piece together and be sure about certain things.

3No, I'm not really sure what that means either.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Temperature Control of Fermentation

There is a risk I am entering into a techie phase in this blog. I'd like to extend an apology to anyone who is checking in for some sort of controversial hyperbole of increasingly doubtful declaration of awesomeness. Making really great beer does require some diligent appliance of science, technology and engineering. We're still a very small brewery, but intent on growing and improving along the way. For various reasons, not least of which is the fact that a lot of brewers read this blog, I thought I'd share some details of our current journey.
Our current temperature control panel.
Note replacement controller at the top as the
original units became expensive to replace.

One of the most important parameters in the brewery is fermentation temperature. Sure, mash temperature is also important, as are things like timings of hop drops in the copper etc, but you can manually monitor and correct for them in process. Fermentation happens over a period of several days. You can't be there all the time to turn on the chilling as and when. Some sort of automatic temperature monitoring and control system is just about essential.1

A simple thermostat would do, to a point2.  Unfortunately this form of control is inherently unstable and there will always be an oscillation of the actual controlled process variable4. This is generally being made worse by the presence of relatively large RC and DV lags5. If you are trying to control at 20 degrees centigrade using a regular thermostat your temperature is highly likely to be oscillating anything up to 2 degrees either side of your set point6. Yeast isn't too keen on this sort of environment.

A LOGO!8 PLC and a touch screen HMI

There is a control technology, which is really quite old, so old in fact that it predates my first study of the subject when I was starting my career in the early 80s. It's called three term control and applies proportional, integral and derivative algorithms to the system to keep the process variable, our fermentation temperature, absolutely blob on and a stable as a rock. It's what we currently use on all our fermentations. Our yeast really seems to like it a lot. However, I think there are better ways of doing it still... The panel I've built is looking a little sorry for itself and the controllers I've used are somewhat overpriced now in my view - long story, but it turns out to be expensive to maintain, despite being originally economic to make. Time has come to update the system

Proving the PLC and HMI can talk to each other via ethernet
At BeerX I had some very lengthy chats with the nice people on the Siemens stand. I had already told them that I had used on of there PLCs7 on a keg washing project. I had already identified that this nice little module has got three term controllers built in. The conversation galvanised some action to actually taker advantage of combined wisdom.

So, as a collaboration project I've decided to work with them to get a turnkey system up and running that is appropriate for the micro-brewery sector. The last two days I've been getting it set up on the bench, complete with a rather sexy touch screen HMI8

There will be more posts to follow describing my journey back into the world of control engineering and hopefully provide some of my previous experience, and even a little bit of my degree to develop cost effective and appropriate automation to the small scale brewer9.

Meanwhile, you'll have to excuse me, I have some PLC programming to do.

I'm looking forward to getting the trending function working
Being able to graph the control system will help tuning.
1I know some brewers get up at stupid o'clock in the middle of the night to deal with this sort of thing. I have too when something has gone wrong with my system, but you really shouldn't have to. I don't think it's a sign of dedication to the cause, I think it is just daft when the technology exists to eliminate the need.

2Thermostats are what we control engineers3 call "on/off control" - there is almost always a thing employed called hysteresis or time lag, without which noise would be amplified and cause contact chatter.

3Actually, I've come to realise that if I drill down into my skill set, my qualifications and  experience, this is actually my true core skill. Luckily brewing can use a lot of knowledge from this particular discipline, and so I intend to apply a lot more over the next couple of years to make our brewery even better.

4There we go, that's proper control engineering techie speak. The process variable is the thing you are trying to measure and control, in our case the temperature of the fermenting wort.

5Wow, WTF? RC = resistance x capacity and DV = distance / velocity. So, your cooler can apply a certain kW of cooling to your tank. The tank has a certain thermal capacity - that's RC. It is a time constant. The circulation in the tank, which has some sort of velocity figure, means that between the cooling cutting in and the cooler wort being seen by the thermometer will create a time delay. There may also be delays in the cooling system itself, between cooling being demanded and the cooling action actually acting on the tank.

6Set point is just the value at which you are trying to maintain your process variable.

7**yawns** - PLC = Programable logic controller. They are highly specialised little computers that are dead easy to program, if you are a control engineer, to control all sorts of stuff. Quite a lot of bigger breweries automate their production with such things.

8More acronyms - HMI = human machine interface. This one seems quite powerful, and actually the most expensive part of the set-up.

9One of the down sides of this blog, and generally being a little bit gregarious, is that many people call me up for advice. I sort of like that really, but it is a drain on my time. Mostly they are brewers who have not long been brewing and have hit a technical challenge they can't fix, or more often than not people thinking of setting up a brewery and looking for advice. My advice has generally been to try to lean on the side of "don't do it, it'll ruin your life forever".

I think there are too many breweries in the UK now. I'll make absolutely on secret of that opinion. So,  more and more I am becoming reluctant to hand out random advice with no return on the time invested. Indeed, there are one or two notable examples of negative experiences in that respect, I'll say no more.

That might seem a little churlish, and quite unfair on some of my very best brewing friends, who have stayed loyal and friendly, even if just behind the scenes. However, I am now looking for some sort of monetisation for any help I give. I believe there is a gap in the micro-brewery sector of the skills of a control engineer who also has significant brewing experience. I'm pleased to say that Siemens also recognise that and we are developing a very positive relationship. Part of the agreement for me getting some support from Siemens is that I can be a resource to help brewers who want to use their equipment to help automate their brewery. I'm happy to do so, and will continue to monitor if this is a diversification I should be looking to generate revenue from.