Tuesday, 29 September 2009

British Made World Beer

When I was in London last I ended up tasting some delicious American beers. There were quite a few beer writers at the event and of course we all loved the beer. Most of us would like to see more of this type of beer in the UK. Of course many continental styles of beer are regularly imported from Germany, Holland, Belgium and Czech Republic. Some of the more popular brands are contract brewed in the UK. Oriental beers like Tzing Tao may well be contract brewed closer to home and certainly don't come from China or wherever.

Is that a bad thing? Contract brewing I mean. After all, beer is normally over 90% water1 so brewing it closer to the point of sale is nearly always a better option for reasons of both carbon footprint and shear cost benefits. It was mentioned to me by one of the beer writers present that we should be making more "world beers" in this country, for exactly that reason. I agreed, reluctantly, as the American brewers present are all jolly nice chaps.

Being a beer writer I'm interested in who the competition are, after all it's difficult getting paid for this beer writing job as it is. A good place to start is the Guild web site. I was happy that in Cumbria there was just me and Jeff Pickthall in the guild and whilst Jeff makes a worthy competitor, at least there is only one of him2. But wait! Who is this guy in Workington, just up the coast? He is called Graeme Mitchell according to the listing of Guild members, I hope he doesn't steal too much of the available journalistic work in the county3.

At the recent Good Beer Guide launch I met the guy, and it turns out he's a brewer, possibly in the loosest sense of the word, but a brewer he is. He is behind a company called Mitchell Krause Brewing and he has commissioned three "World Beers" to be contract brewed here in the UK. A Czech Pilsner, an American Pale Ale and a Bavarian Hefe Weiss. Of course this was of great interest to me and I told him so. He said he'd pay me a visit in a few days.

Yesterday we got a call from a Marstons' sales rep. Apparently we haven't ordered anything from them for a while. Oh, what a surprise. They offered to check to see if they could sell us Guinness or Carling or Coca Cola Schweppes products cheaper than their competitors. I think he was quite taken aback when he found out we didn't sell any of this type of tat. I twittered the fact with "Marstons rep has just been on the phone. Why do they think we might suddenly be interested?" which prompted the reply from @thebeernut "Think? What makes you think they think?" Good point Beer Nut.

Anyway, all of this made me think about Graeme Mitchell and his world beers. Was his ears burning? The next phone call I got was from him. He wanted to come and see me and bring me some of his beers. Fantastic, free samples, that's what I like.

So, the beers. Well firstly the lager. Anybody who follows this blog regularly would know that I'm not the worlds biggest lager fan. To impress me it's got to be a tasty lager. This one is properly lagered at -1oC for at least 4 weeks and the CO2 is not removed prior to bottling. Rather than letting the beer gas off and then be force carbonated during bottling, as much of the gas as possible is retained in the beer, presumably with just a head pressure applied as required. I think this might make all the difference. This lager actually tasted quite bitter, had loads of hoppy aromas from the Saaz and a long bitter finish that was really quite pleasant. It's still lager and still a little too fizzy for my liking and with an aroma that is reminiscent of buttered asparagus that I always get from more flavoursome lagers. But then the comment came from Ann. "It doesn't taste like lager, well not shit lager anyway" - goodness, I'm going to have to do something about her.

Next I tried the Hefe Weiss. Massive esters on the nose. I simple adore esters, it's what I love about my favourite Belgian beers. This one is based on Bavarian style and the characteristics are all in the yeast and the name literally means "yeasty white" so there you go. This for me was my favourite. It tastes gorgeous, with a velveted body palate, not so bitter but with plenty of hop stuff going on. A short aftertaste, which would be it's downfall, were I to venture one, but all in all a grand beer.

Finally the American Pale Ale. I knew it would not quite live up to my expectations of it's style. Graeme told me the IBU and it's just not enough. But, it's brewed for the British market and so the ABV is a little lower than say Sierra Nevada, perhaps it's right for the intended market; the people who might progress away from traditional British styles but might be put off by the hoppy greatness of American style beers.

Well, having got my major gripe out of the way, lets be nice about the beer. I decided to open a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to put up against it. Yes, the S.N. was more bitter, of course. But wait, Mitchell Krause has managed a lot more nose on this one. The aroma from the C hops just bounce out of the beer. Much more than the Sierra Nevada. Nothing like a real IPA from the USA, but still, a fine beer to hint to the unaccustomed Brit what might be available in the hoppy world and significantly more hoppy than the British cask interpretation of IPA that floats around my county.

If there was a real down side to these beers it might be that they are contract brewed. But that's not the future Graeme is looking towards. He hopes to get the brand established and once he has done so he'll start brewing in Cumbria. Still, is contract brewed somewhere in the UK not better than shipping a world beer over to the UK? I think so, although I'd personally look forward to the day he does a proper IPA, you know, IBU closing 100.

Overall a grand job Graeme, you've got my backing. Now, all I have to do is remember if we're still trading with the wholesaler he's gone with. Better get the order in, although the space in the fridge is getting tight.

As an aside, the glass for Mitchell Krause is a twother. Topical it would seem. I quite like the option of a 2/3rds of a pint as a measure. Yes, sure we could complain about the threat to the Great British Pint, and a worthy worry this is too, but for some beers it makes sense. Now, I need to conclude this post as Mark has thoughtlessly4 written a post that I probably have to comment on.

I think I complained about blogging getting to be a chore in the last post. Well that was fun, ignore the previous comment, I was talking rubbish.

1Except in the case of Tokyo* where nearer 80% is water.
2Some people might be very relieved at that fact.
3Just in case anybody thinks I'm being remotely serious here, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of work for beer writers here. It's marginally easier to make a living selling and making beer, not much, but every little counts.
4By thoughtlessly I don't mean the post has no thought put into it, despite Mark being a real competitor in this beer writing thing, I'm not going to start slagging off such a nice chap. By thoughtless I simply mean I need to direct my thoughts over to his blog. A cynic would suggest this is tactical play of course. We are in the run up to the Guild awards after all.


Tandleman said...

"Being a beer writer" Does that mean I'm a beer writer too? Hooray.

Must join the club then.

Mark said...

Mmm, interesting. I don't have any problem with contract brewing and think it's a good thing, my only dislike is the branding - it looks cheap, like a copy, like a contracted beer. There is no sense of the brewery on the label and it's got such a generic name. Still, the beers sound good and whatever gets more world beers on the market!

Interesting they sent a twofer (I prefer twofer as the glass name) with it. I think that's a good size for drinking bottles of 330ml beer with. I have a few 400ml high balls at home which are great for them.

Competition...? Bring it on!! :D

Jeff Pickthall said...

Do we know where these beers are being brewed?

Curmudgeon said...

I have often made the point that, if you are really serious about reducing carbon emissions, you should actively support the local licence-brewing of international beer brands. Unfortunately, although CAMRA incessantly bangs on about "beer miles", this is something they criticise as it means that, in their eyes, such beers lack "authenticity". Seems like you can't win.

Woolpack Dave said...

Tandleman, I'm not sure what the criteria for guild membership is, I got a slight hint that there is one when I applied. Personally, I think the more people that are working together to promote the overall image of beer the better. Although for the awards you don't need to be a member of the Guild.

Mark, what I am learning about branding is that what turns some people on switches others off completely. My customers vary from the very conservative to fairly trendy. The reserved customer hates the sight of the Sierra Nevada bottle for instance and despite sitting on the shelf, shouting out with with bright jolly colours, does not sell as well as the more reserved Belgians. I've got a blog post in my head about my own branding - but in summary it's about speaking to the people you want to speak to. Has Graeme got it right? A matter of opinion I would venture.

I had assumed that you'd be entering the awards....indeed, bring it on!

Jeff, he did tell me the brewery, but it's not one I recognise. It's down south somewhere. Apparently commitment to detail, like proper lagering, is key to his ethos. I think that shows through in the beers. I think he intends to contact you once he is selling in the south of the county.

Curmudgeon, I saw Coniston Bluebird in Oregon. I know that their bottled stuff isn't brewed at Coniston, but does that matter? It's still Coniston Bluebird and in the States it might well be contract brewed out there, who knows and does it matter if the benefits are reduced carbon emissions?

Tandleman said...

Dave: I was being tongue in cheek. I might just join to improve my Wikio ratings. (-;

Barm said...

Are you really allowed to put "Czech", "Bavarian" and "American" on the label when it's not brewed there, or does it say "-style" in microscopic print underneath?

Barm said...

Curmudgeon, I suggest that people drink local brands to begin with, rather than locally brewed international brands.

Barm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StringersBeer said...

I'm sure that they're perfectly nice beers. And I'm sure they'll sell - why not? That's the point of being a brewer isn't it? Making nice beer that sells. Although local world beer does seem a bit twisted...
Incidentally, a typical bottle of beer is 40-50% glass (by weight), so draught is always going to be "greener".

Mitchell Krause Brewing said...

I'm new to this blogging thing so am not sure of the etiquette. Forgive me if I get it wrong but it feels as though I should just answer some of the questions/views aired. Here goes....

Dave - thanks for the blog coverage and your support. I'm not sure I'll ever hit 100 IBU's but look forward to tasting one of yours that does! Grapevine by the way, I'll bring in some 'twofers' in a couple of weeks!

Tandleman - I know you're being tongue in cheek. Membership of the Beer Writers Guild is open to all who 'improve the standards of beer writing and extend public knowledge of beer'. I guess we're all doing that by drinking/brewing it and then blogging about it!

Mark - there is an educational (and I have to say non-commercial) aim to my design. I am trying to encourage the 'great beer uninitiated' to broaden their beer drinking horizons and felt that bigging up the country of origin for all these wonderful styles of beer was the best way to do it.

Jeff - Hepworth & Co in Horsham, West Sussex. One of only about 4 breweries in the country who can brew my beers technically and emotionally. They are 'Warranty of Origin' and 'Organic' accredited so share my beliefs. If only the banks had lent me the money to build in Cumbria....

Curmudgeon - agreed! Importing beer from Europe gives off 200% more CO2 and from West Coast America 490%! I can never be totally 'authentic' but if the beer tastes great, true to type and you can help the environment surely that's a good thing. I am a long serving member of CAMRA but the more fundamental sections (and stereotypes) just give beer drinkers a bad name! IMHO....

Barm - I clearly state 'British Brewed Beers of the World' on the front label. I am not trying to 'hoodwink' rather 'educate' as mentioned above.

Barm - the only local beer brands I can buy are variations of ale. If my mood or the occasion I find myself in lends itself more to a tasty lager, or a Hefe Weiss or any one of a hundred or so different styles of beer, why should I have to drink an import?!

StringersBeer - would love to launch draught! Brewery conditioned and in keg of course (topic for another heated blog I am sure!) but as I've only been going 3 months I'll see how the beers are received in bottle first!

Thanks for all your feedback everyone. I look forward to buying you all a beer at some point.

Cheers, Graeme