I've been busy, very busy. We are starting our long awaited brewery upgrade, the VAT return needs to be done and beer needs to be brewed. All well and good, but I miss writing my blog.
I wrote this last week but never got around to proof reading and publishing. I'm going to get back into writing, I have lots to say, most of it will of course be challenging the standard drinking and pub ethos that I sometimes think constrains us from achieving broader acceptance of new ideas. My views on this makes people think I object to what we have got, which is not true; I'm interested in augmenting what we have in our national pub and beer culture, not wholesale change. The words I wrote the other day were an attempt to prove this.
17th August 2010
I brewed today, Infra Red as it happens; We seem to have very little beer of any description in stock, but one or two beer festivals have asked for that one so that's what I made. Brewing is fairly physical, at least on a little brewery like mine. By the end of the day I generally feel satisfied emotionally with the fact I made something real, but quite physically tired and, well, hot and sweaty. The only appropriate course of action is to visit the pub that happens to be conveniently between our brewery and our home. It's handy because it normally has one of my beers on and one of someone else's. I can try someone else's and then one of my own and see if I prefer my own beer. Mostly I win, but not always; it's a handy little QA test, that's my excuse.
Because the pub in question is a fairly normal sort of small-town pub the beer choice is generally the normal suspects. Cream flow bitter, a couple of main stream lagers, a very well known stout, keg mild and a cider. The two handpulls don't do too much volume, just enough to keep two cask beers going. If either handpull has got anything on that is too dark, too strong, or worst off all, dark and strong, it doesn't sell and the competing beer sells out in no time.
If I'm writing this in the way I intend you will now be expecting me to launch off into some tirade about how terrible this situation is; about how awful it is that this pub can't sell something a bit more interesting. Readers of this blog will know my fondness of strong beer and might be forgiven for thinking I detest session beer. This really is not true.
It struck me when I read a fellow Cumbrian brewers blog about the difficulties of selling stronger, more "interesting" beer; perhaps the fact that I am vocal about my love of stronger, darker beer suggests I don't like anything else. That simply isn't true, quite the opposite in fact.
Returning to the thoughts of my journey break on the way home, it is better for this particular pub to have two handpulls selling two good session beers than to have one handpull selling a session beer and one handpull serving a slow moving beer that few of the locals would drink. The vast majority of their clientele drink keg, and there is no way of changing that. To be honest, it's a miracle they keep two cask beers on.
From the brewery's point of view it is nearly impossible to make a viable business without the bread and butter of session beer. That's what pays the bills, and would buy the cat food, if I had a cat.
Moreover, there are other good reasons to make session beer, even if there is no financial driver. The biggest one is yeast propagation, a subject I'm still building up knowledge about. I intend to start pitching-on yeast once I feel both my knowledge and brewery infrastructure can guarantee a good outcome. During my investigations into this I have discovered that yeast multiplies cells better and more quickly in low gravity solutions and with a low alcohol level. As soon as yeast is in a high sugar concentration or high alcohol environment it is less likely to replicate and more likely to make more alcohol, or perhaps die.
This results in some of the very best brewers only cropping from their standard session beers. This is not an urban myth, more than one brewer has told me this.
So, as a brewer who gets hot and sweaty when brewing I can now celebrate session beer for two good reasons; It slakes my thirst without getting me too drunk and I can use session beer to propagate excellent healthy young yeast for my stronger beer.
Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue to explore how it might be possible for brewers who would like to make more challenging beers to get the fruits of their hard work into an appreciative audience. But then that will be for future blog posts.