Sunday 25 April 2010


Some time ago I posed the question about what I should call my new brewery. As it happens we've been unable to find a brand name that I like better than Hardknott. Couple that with the fact that this name is already recognised it would seem that it will continue to be the name we will use.

Despite this we recognise the need for brand identity that will engage the drinker. As we intend to explore both the local cask market and the wider specialist bottled market the image we produce should be sympathetic to this broad audience. We are working with people to achieve some imagery that will hopefully manage to do this.

Dredgy has a post about bottle labels. I suspect I will go back to the comments on this post several times as we progress down the road of brand design. What I find interesting more than anything is that there is always some disagreement about what constitutes good or bad design. There is a wide range of branding from the ultra-traditional right through to the edgy in-your-face style of the more progressive people. All gain both praise and criticism from various quarters.

This puts me into a bit of a problem, and one that I believe stifles many small breweries. The problem is one of putting the brand image into the hands of somebody else who might not really understand the image that is being portrayed. How much to insist that a designer, who in turn assures that he knows what he is doing, should jolly well listen to what you are trying to tell him you want.

This does result in too many breweries designing their own pump clips, with various degrees of success. The worst designs make their way onto Pump Clip Parade, where Jeff Pickthall makes a concerted effort to shame offenders into reconsidering their style. Having said that, when the beer sells perfectly well without professional input into the process then there can often be a demand to consider more stainless steel by way of investment rather then being concerned about generating a market that can't be supplied anyway.

We have grasped the nettle and have engaged a small studio to come up with some imagery that will eventually translate into a logo, bottle labels and pump clips. The first iteration was promising and the following conversations encouraging. Let's hope that the second iteration, due to me early in the week, will fire up my imagination; after-all, my first new beer is in the fermenter as we speak and it'll need a new pump clip ready for it's launch at some new outlets.

Despite my continuing concern about the ability of global resources to match our desire for a growing economy; for my modest brewery to be viable I do need to generate new markets so that I can make a little bit more money to enable me to buy some more stainless steel. So far, things are more-or-less going to plan.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Making Adjustments

I knew it would be different; not running a pub. I was warned that a "mourning" period would be something more powerful than I'd expect. But not me of course, I'm a tough person me - I'd be happy to be free of the intolerable imposition on my freedom; the inability to have any sort of life that didn't breathe "pub, pub, pub, don't forget about the pub" as a tiresome whisper of guilt in my shell like if I dared to step away for a few hours.

And here I am, just over a month after we sold the millstone that was our home, our lively hood and our entire existence. We have a nice house in a pleasant neighbourhood with friendly people. Work progresses slowly on improvements to the brewery, marketing, branding and planning for the future. Still, I seem somewhat empty and disjointed, like there is something missing, an important part of my life disrupted to distraction.

I am certain that this is a transitory situation, like my infrequent blog posting. It's certainly not that I am bored, I've got plenty to do, like beer to brew for a start. The lawn is getting to the point of needing to be cut and many of the windows in the house still need curtains, lamps need shades and there are shelves to put up; both at home and at the brewery.

What does this really mean? Am I only born to be a pub Landlord? I don't think so. Despite not feeling quite right, I do, already feel healthier. Eating at normal meal times, for instance, improves one's digestive regularity and consistency in a way that I will refrain from describing.

I have been told by city dwellers that moving to the country takes considerable re-adjustment due to the unnerving silence at night, for instance. More tangible benefits of the rural countryside, like fresh air very often failing to make up for the lack of cultural stimulus and greater retail choice.

It seems I'm suffering from the same readjustment problems. Going from a full on, life engulfing situation to one where I have more choice about the hour by hour activities is causing disconcerting side effects that are hard to describe. Couple this with the fact that we are still living out of boxes and there is no real comfortable place for me to sit down and write. Perhaps this is the biggest problem; I miss writing and I need a desk.

Friday 9 April 2010


Æther Blæc – the origin of the name.

When I made Æther Blæc I knew I had created something special. A stronger stout, fermented with Belgian style yeast, matured in a 28 year Islay whisky cask along with dry hops sounds good to start with.

The stout only went into the cask at just over 6% ABV and some advisors were dubious about this being strong enough to ward off any unfortunate infections from the wood. I had ensured however, that the cask had remained sealed from the moment the whisky had been removed up until the point I was ready to put the beer into the cask. I was relying on the cask strength spirit to be a good disinfectant, and I am convinced that this helps. As the whisky had been permeating the wood for such a long time; indeed, since the time I was preparing for my “O” levels and around the time John Lennon got shot, bacteria will have long since been driven into a pickle rendering them unable to influence the beer.

A little residual fermentable carbohydrate and a reasonable amount of yeast remaining in the beer helps to combat both infection and oxidization as will the antiseptic effect of the whole cone hops. Never daring to open the cask, despite the compelling urge to taste the beer, ensured minimum chance of contamination.

Despite all these precautions I was somewhat nervous the day I did prepare to bottle the beer. Would I have just made a whisky flavoured malt vinegar? Perhaps a phenol bomb with no balance to offset this challenging, and considered to be an off flavour by the traditional view. Those present that morning got to taste the raw cask version. First me, just to make sure, in the privacy of the cellar taking a pipette full from the shive hole. Once I found that the result suited my tolerant taste I was lucky to have the new, but superbly enthusiastic beer geek Ben (@AKA_Franklin) to give a second opinion. Even Ann decided that the combination of whisky flavour in a stout to be superior to whisky in its normal form. A winner, it was decided, had been born from its oaky womb.

But what do you call such a special beer? A mysterious and complex beer that has taken nearly 3 decades, effectively, to achieve this end result, deserves a name with equal mystique and complexity. A name one might be scared to say incase it got pronounced incorrectly and a name that makes you question how it came to be and what does it all mean. A thinking man's beer and a thinking man's name.

The name of course has no direct meaning and I’d challenge anyone with knowledge of the various languages it is derived from to delve deeper. I started, however, with the premise that as the beer becomes as it does due to the influence of those lovable maverick countries of the British Isles, a nod to their cultures was appropriate. In short I wanted a strong Gaelic influence and an old historic feel to the name.

I started with my understanding of the origin of the meaning of the word whisky. Derived Eau du Vie, water of life or in Gaelic "Uisge Beatha" which became "iskie bae" by 1583 until eventually being called whisky. I like that explanation, but failed to find exactly what I was looking for. I also like the diphthong usage that can be applied in such languages, not sure if it is appropriate and more knowledgeable people will no doubt throw in comment on that, but putting in a couple of æ’s into the name seemed an appropriately poncy thing to do.

Ether is a somewhat nebulous word to find a definition for; Scientifically it refers to a chemical compound which links to ethyl alcohol but it’s origins go back to Greek and refer to spirits, air, heaven or space. A Wikipeadia search finds the spelling Æthere. There, that’s my first word, shortened to Æther, and by my definition meaning spirit, or liquid of life.

Further Wiktionary searches found an old English spelling of blæc, which of course means the complete absence of any visible colour, as you might find in a stout. Perhaps this unnecessary spelling might confuse the customer, as has been pointed out by my new branding team, but I like it that way and hopefully will stay that way.

This explanation of the name might well be flawed and unsatisfactory, but there it is. An honest and truthful explanation of how I arrived at the name. As for how to pronounce it, well, it contains diphthongs, which should be self-explanatory and is certainly subtly different to Ether Black.

Just this morning I received confirmation of the ABV by distillation analysis. It appears to have picked up around 1.3% ABV from the whisky cask. More knowledgeable people than myself have pointed out the grogging law might cause various problems with HMRC. I would like to think that my explanation here of the process used demonstrates that it is for the purpose of making a superb beer, and not for the purpose of "extracting any spirits absorbed in the wood".

My point would be - that to first allow the angels to consume the spirit off the wood would also permit spoilage bacteria to contaminate the wood; the alcohol is essential to ensure sterility of the timber. To dilute the beer back to the original ABV, which is the other "fiddle" used to satisfy HMRC, would also have a detrimental effect on the quality of the finished product.

Therefore, in the spirit of the grogging law, I am not trying to avoid payment of duty.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Borough Market

Borough Market is known as a centre for excellent food and drink; The Rake, and its related enterprise Utobeer, being great beer geek venues. In the wider areas there is a great supply of artisan food from hand baked bread, olives of many varieties, rare breed meat and of course some great cheeses. Disposing of spare income becomes dangerously easy for those with expensive tastes and poor will power, like myself. As a side observation there is an alarming amount of Cumbrian produce that is almost impossible to source in my part of Cumbria, this I find telling and the subject of future posts I expect.

On this occasion we also visited Brew Wharf, a place I had heard about but seemingly not heard great reviews. Indeed, one or two respectable beer commentators have been somewhat derogatory about this spacious venue. I had, however, also been informed of the involvement of a new brewer. Phil Lowry has beer in his bones, having been in the industry for much of his life. Certainly, he is not new to brewing and has taken on the job of brewing beer at Brew Wharf with enthusiasm using his moniker Saints and Sinners.

Of course the most important thing about beer is how it tastes. Unfortunately, immediately prior to my trip to Brew Wharf, I had a glass of Stone Ruination. It might seem strange to some of my readers that I actually regretted this great beer making an appearance. When it was pulled through the taps in The Rake the detrimental effect on subsequent beer appreciation should have been taken into account. Despite following this massive American hop bomb, Hoptimum still managed to hold its own. This is a great American hopped golden ale. Phil claims to be very choosy with his selection of ingredients. Many brewers concentrate on just the grist ingredients when looking for a malty beer. Conversely, heavily hopped beers can give faint consideration to the grist resulting in a thin and watery hop tea.

Hoptimum however has an integrated approach and the malt provides a great textured canvass for the complexity of the hops to shine. Its little brother, goldfish bowl, named after the feeling the brewer has in his glass cage, is a session beer looking remarkably like it’s bigger sibling, despite a very different list of ingredients. Much more a session beer, but still with enough punch for those that like a little bit of flavour in their beer.

Necessarily several pints of each were consumed, just to check the drinkability. Once the over-the-top completeness of the true American IPA was subdued, and my palate was once more able to appreciate subtlety, I found significant drinkability did indeed exist in these new Brew Wharf beers.