Tuesday 25 May 2010

Carling and a Peregrine, Sweet corn and ash

I have just managed to gain two extra fermenters. You probably don't really care that much that I have. If you weren't on the weekend Twissup at Burton then you might wonder what my new fermenters have got to do with Carling or birds of pray. The vessels I have acquired used to belong to the White Shield brewery, however the company who own it, Molson Coors, have made stacks of money out of the fact that Carling has been the number one selling British lager for over 30 years, so they are investing in a new White Shield Brewery. As a result these two fermenters were going to go to the scrap heap. I rescued them with the kind permission of Steve Wellington and therefore I put myself at risk of recklessly saying nice things about Molson Coors and Carling; you should know that.

Beer needs malted barley. OK, it is possible to make beer completely out of maize, as it is done in some parts of Latin America, or rice, as it is made sometimes in the far east, but nearly all European beer is produced from malted barley. Yes, even the popular mass produced lagers such as Carling derive the majority of their alcohol from malted barley and without that it just wouldn't be beer to the British beer drinker's palate, it turns out.

Molson Coors have their own maltings. Obviously that makes sense; Burton makes a huge amount of beer, not only Carling and other Molson Coors products but they also contract brew Fosters, for instance. There are economic benefits to malting your own barley when you might use 125,000 tonnes of malt a year. It seems that there are more reasons than just economics for doing your own malting. When I recently visited Burton for a twissup and to pick up the fermenters, we had the chance of a tour around the maltings and have the whole thing explained to us by the plant manager Graeme Hamilton.

You always know these days when you are entering a modern industrial site, there is always some sort of safety notice. As we entered the maltings, with the aroma in the air hinting at a rural activity combining with a dash of finished malt resulting in a combined smell similar to old fashioned gummed paper, I noticed the normal "time since last lost time accident" statistics on the large LED display. The memories of Blue Peter style activities, on my grandmothers dining room table years ago, triggered by olfactory stimulant, was interrupted by the realisation that the safety notice also warned us about volcanic ash. As it turned out our guide had only just got back from learning how Molson Coors did malting in the USA and had just flown in, what else could it mean? No flight takes off or lands from this site.

First we were shown where the barley comes in; It has always puzzled me how a seasonal crop was coped with by an industry that has a need for supply all year round. I wondered who took charge of storing the grain until it was required. It turns out that the maltings can store a good bit, out of the 125,000 tonnes it needs per year it can store 100,000 tonnes on site, with a further 9 weeks capacity of finished malt. During harvest the grain is taken in and its moisture adjusted by drying to the optimum for storage. Only for part of the year does the site need to rely on grain producers to store some of the grain.

There are two malting plants on the site. One is a low lying, rather boring looking building. The other one, which is the one that we looked around, is the Tower maltings, which dominate the Burton skyline. It was pointed out that there is a Peregrine Falcon nesting high up on the side of the building. I took pictures of the building as somebody pointed out the bird looking out of the nesting box. As is usual, the bird had flown off by the time I had changed to my telephoto lens. Clearly taking no notice of the safety notice and flying without any regard for the presence of volcanic ash, disciplinary action should be taken in my view.

From the top of the tower a grand view of the town can be gained. Many large tanks, no doubt holding various malted beverages of, if we are to believe the critics, unbelievably short maturation. It scares me to think how much volume is there, and more over, how much volume would be required if Carling was given the amount of "lagering" the purists would like to see.

To make malt the grain is first washed in water, this removes unwanted contaminants from the grain, it needs it, as it has had very little treatment since leaving the farm. This first steeping also increases the moisture content from percentage values in the low teens up into the high twenties or so. The "dirty" water is drained leaving moist, clean grains. A second controlled steeping further increases moisture content to perhaps high thirties where optimum conditions start for germination.

The purpose of malting is to trick the grain, which is a seed, into thinking it is spring and so time to germinate and grow into a plant. This breaks down the cell walls which are holding carbohydrates locked into the grain and optimises levels of amylase enzymes that are later used by the brewer to break down these carbohydrates into sugars, both fermentable and unfermentable.

To enable this to happen a warm moist environment is required, and so the grain is laid out in a circular bed and 100% humidity air blown through. The "air on" temperature is controlled to ensure optimum conditions and moisture added to prevent the corns drying out. The seeds start trying to grow into little plants; they put out rootlets and start to form the beginnings of shoots, or to give them their proper name, acrospires. The bed has to be turned every few hours otherwise the rootlets start to mat together causing a whole load of potentially expensive problems that can only be solved with the use of a manual spade process.

Whilst in this part of the plant our guide explained a key control criteria for malting, that of acrospire development control. DMS, or Dimethyl sulfide, is considered an off flavour in most beer enthusiasts opinions. The precursor to it's production, called SMM, is present to some extent in all malt. Levels in ale malt are generally controlled to as low a level as possible. However, according to Molson Coors, research shows that Carling drinkers actually like that rotting cabbage smell in their beer, they get it confused with sweet corn it would seem, and everybody likes sweet corn. So, contrary to some belief, Carling is actually made deliberately the way it is, because the customer likes it that way. Goody, well done them, make loads of money out of Carling and I get a couple of cast off fermenters - hurrah for DMS, that's what I say.

But back to malt, after these little plants have been allowed to grow a little, just when they think life is getting good we say "oh no you don't", throw them in a dry hot place and kill them. Stopping the germination at just the right time ensures quality beer, and the right time to stop germination is different depending on the end use. The kilning room spreads the malt out in an optimum depth of about 1 - 1.2m. The malster would prefer a thinner bed, but the building would just cost too much to make. Any thicker and the process would be far too energy inefficient. Careful control of finished moisture content is also required. Lager malt requires less energy as the finished moisture content is higher at around 6%. For ale malt the energy required to lower the moisture content to the optimum, around 3.5%, is actual disproportionately higher. Lager malt only needs a maximum air temperature to kiln of 75oC as opposed to ale that requires up to 100oC. Us ale drinkers ought to feel guilty about the increased environmental impact of making ale. We really ought to feel guilty, sadly, I have to report that I do not feel guilty and will continue to drink pongy ale.

I am not at all sure I have done justice here to the very interesting tour we had of the maltings. The twissup day was really made very special mainly due to the hospitality of Molson Coors. Their Brewery Tap bar is great, the lunch they laid on very well appreciated and the ability to buy a couple, or three, halves of P2 quite special. Having said all that, I would have liked to have tried lemon tart and Kasteel Cru too, but it would be churlish to complain, especially as I have two new fermenters to play with.

Oh dear, that took a long time to get written, I'm not even sure it was worth the effort, but thanks for reading the drivel anyway and apologies to Graeme for any glaring technical errors, especially after he made the effort to answer my daft email questions.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Fast Cask

New technology is a great thing. Anything that helps to make something better has to be good. FastcaskTM is something new from Marston's that might just help the cask market. The fact that the yeast in the cask is held in a gel ball ensures that cloudy beer cannot occur, even if the beer is put on sale as soon as it is delivered or even if the cask gets knocked. I'm pleased that this technology has been embraced by the beer world as a good thing and perhaps shows a grown up attitude to technological developments.

It makes me nervous then to progress in my discussion of this technology. There is a possibility that I might end up convincing some dinosaurs that it is far from a good thing, and that is not my intention. What I endeavour to do is challenge the very definition of cask and its relationship with cask breathers and unfiltered keg. Again.

I will start by suggesting that Fastcask is, in actual fact, something of a smoke and mirrors technology better suited to products that suggest it might be possible to restore hair to my bald patch or cream that might make me look younger. You are already thinking I'm setting out to cause trouble. You are probably right.

I'm going to go off on one of my technical explanations on cask beer, conditioning and the role of yeast and fermentable carbohydrates in this post, so be warned.

Lets start with the definition of "Real Ale" by CAMRA and apparently The Oxford English Dictionary.
"Real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide."
That's nice because that is exactly the type of beer I make. My beer goes into the cask after primary fermentation and stays there for about a week before going out into the trade. I slow the fermentation by chilling the beer while there is still a little bit of sugar remaining and the small amount of yeast present in the beer acts on this to make a little bit of CO2 once the beer is in the cask and so give the beer condition.

Many breweries use conditioning tanks to ensure that the levels of yeast, sugar and CO2 are carefully controlled before the beer goes into the cask. This enables beer to be racked into casks on the day of delivery and so limiting the amount of time the beer spends in the cask. Often tank conditioned beer has very little yeast left in it and precious little in the way of fermentable sugar. It often does have plenty of CO2 and will appear to be like cask conditioned beer. However, very little, if any conditioning has actually occurred in the cask. If it is transferred into cask carefully, so as to prevent fobbing and so loss of condition, it will be ready to serve very soon after it has been delivered to the pub. The beer will possibly not have been fined with isinglass in the tank and so will still contain some yeast and other stuff that might leave residual cloudiness, this has to settle before the beer can be served.

I have to point out that the length of time in the conditioning tank, the yeast cell count and the residual fermentable sugars will depend upon the brewery. SIBA used to define these levels I believe, but I have been unable to find any reference on their site. I'm not actually not sure how much it matters. In high turnover cask beer pubs nearly bright beer can be delivered and served in three days and would be good beer. It would also still be "real ale" as it will still undergo some secondary conditioning in the cask, if very little.

I suspect in Fastcask the beer will be fully isinglass fined in the conditioning tank, the alternative method might be filtering. It will then be transferred to the cask, probably with sufficient condition to be served immediately. The yeast jelly bean is introduced simply so that it can be called cask. In my opinion a single gel ball would serve to provide so little contact of the yeast with the beer, due to it's small surface area, as opposed to yeast in suspension, as to render secondary fermentation insignificant.

There might be a small amount of secondary fermentation occurs which will keep the cask slightly fresher after opening than completely filtered beer, but I suspect it will make little difference.

Fastcask technically might conform to the definition of "real ale" and I'm very happy for it to continue. I don't however see how this is any less of an enemy to "real ale" than cask breathers, especially as with Fastcask beers most of the conditioning will have occurred under "extraneous CO2" in the conditioning tanks. As the beer is designed to be racked into casks, delivered to outlets and possibly served all in one day, it is not matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed.

I have been asked if I think that the lack of yeast in suspension will detract from making FastCask beer a good beer. I doubt it. I've had many very good beers from keg where the beer will have been cleared in conditioning tanks. Stone Ruination and Sierra Nevada Harvest being two very notable examples. They are different to cask, and I've had many good examples of cask beers too, Thornbridge Jaipur for example. I've had some really terrible examples of cask beer and of keg beers.

I propose that FastCask beers are unlikely to be outstanding beers, not because they are FastCask but because the companies who make the beers are making beers for broad appeal, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Monday 10 May 2010

How important is the Beer Blogosphere?

Pete Brown is encouraging us to be more controversial. Beer blogs are getting very boring it would seem; talking about great beer we've drunk is all well and good, but he thinks we should discuss issues that are more pressing. There are plenty of issues to discuss, so let's get on and do it. But is there any point if we are just a few lonely souls huddled over our keyboards because we have little else to do? There certainly would be little point if it is just a closed loop of beer enthusiasts sounding off at each other completely detached from the real world. I don't think this is the case. OK, perhaps it is partly, but I do still think there is relevance to a greater audience.

There would be no point in blogging if nobody read blogs. It might be that some people only blog for their own fun and it's a nice bonus if there are others who read them. Not me, I am competitive and seek attention, if I knew nobody read this blog I would stop, it's as simple as that. However, how do I know my blog has any influence at all? Perhaps it would be useful to know how representative the collective views of the beer blogosphere are compared to a wider beer enthusiasts perspective.

In reality, I think that measuring this is a little difficult. I know that my blog gets around 75 unique visitors per day, I have no way of knowing, reliably, how long each visitor spends reading because if only one page is down-loaded then my stats counts this as "less than 5 seconds", you can read quite a lot with only one page load.

It can be estimated, because I post, on average, about once every three days, that each post is read by more than 200 or so people. 75 x 3 = 225. The bloggers who post more often seem to get proportionally more hits, based on the comments on my last post. So I expect Tandleman, Curmudgeon, Mark Dredge and Pete Brown have several hundred people read each of their posts.

I estimate that around 50% of the hits on my blog are repeat visitors. Again, this is hard to be sure about because it relies on a cookie being placed on your hard disk, and presumably you need to resisting the urge to eat it before you visit again, otherwise you look like a new visitor. Also, the same people might be reading the blog on different computers, my stats have no way of knowing this. The numbers of repeat visitors seems to be greater than the number of commenters by a reasonable factor. Additional anecdotal evidence of silent readers comes from the number of people I meet who have read my blog, but don't comment on-line. These are not an insignificant number. Again, I expect more prolific and popular bloggers than myself will correspondingly have greater readership.

I suspect that beer blogging does have a reasonable influence and more importantly an influence with a younger, more internet savvy population, the future beer drinkers.

The more pressing issue of whether or not the beer blogosphere accurately represents the view of a wider beer drinking audience is perhaps a little more difficult to be sure of. However, as bloggers are the more internet savvy proportion of beer enthusiasts it would be reasonable to suggest we might also represent part of the future of craft beer in this country.

Sunday 9 May 2010

What is wrong with CAMRA?

I drink a reasonable amount of cask beer. There are various reasons for this; partly because the pubs I like to go in serve good cask beer, partly because I want to improve my brewing abilities so I try the competition. I even drink my own sometimes so that I know when I get it right or wrong. I suspect that alone my cask beer drinking exceeds some government limit or other but unfortunately for my liver I also drink some keg beers and some bottled beers too. Some of this is pasteurised fizzy muck and a subset of that last group I actually enjoy, shock horror.

The biggest reason I drink cask beer is because I like it.

CAMRA has had a large influence on the beer and pub market in this country. Our craft beer market is dominated by cask beer. Small brewers like myself have been helped significantly by the small brewers discount on beer duty and CAMRA almost certainly helped this advance. There remains the question of what the craft beer scene would be like today if the infant beer consumer group had decided to simply campaign for flavoursome beer made by smaller producers. I think that one has already been argued out elsewhere and remains a rhetorical discussion until we discover time travel or a way to switch between alternative present day scenarios based on alternative past events.

What we do know is that CAMRA has over 100,000 members, is a voluntary organisation and has both vehement supporters and harsh critics. The organisation does have an effective PR machine that is able to get stories into the press and certainly has connections with members of Parliament enabling them to influence government, even if the magnitude of that influence is open for debate.

It still remains that amongst the beer loving world, contrary to the assertion of Roger Protz, there are a number of critics of CAMRA. The statement that CAMRA " .. is listened to with respect by all serious beer lovers" is certainly overconfident, and I hope regretted, as there are certainly people I know who are beer lovers who disagree with that. Again, the significance of this group of people might well be open to debate, but that group of people exist and some are CAMRA members.

This post is not written to explore the detail of what is wrong with CAMRA. I am writing this to explore the fact that there is this group of people who have various misgivings about the organisation. More importantly, this group of people are largely beer lovers who are also important to the overall beer industry.

There have been many posts in the blogosphere about what is wrong with CAMRA. There have been many counter comments that claim there is nothing wrong with it and anyway, bloggers aren't important, the rest of the world loves CAMRA, so there.

Recently Pete Brown has written about a couple of specific experiences. I want to support that particular article because I too have experienced similar annoyances from CAMRA activists. It's not exclusive and I know many CAMRA branch members who work very hard to support cask beer and pubs rather than having a narrow objective of finding the most economical way of buying a gallon of bland session beer in a pub somewhere.

Pub Curmudgeon has also written about his concerns over CAMRA policy. A piece that raises interesting concerns and appears to have some support from various bloggers. I too feel that there is a divergence away from CAMRA by a growing number of beer lovers. Perhaps this is inevitable due to the fact that CAMRA is all about cask beer so should not be concerned about anything else.

I've lost track a little bit of what's going on in the wider beer world over the last few weeks. CAMRA do not know my new address1 so I do not receive What's Brewing, for instance. I did, for a while, receive press releases direct by email, but as the URL I was using was sold on with the pub, I no longer receive these. I should check the CAMRA web site, I know, and I will....just as soon as I have completed this post, promise.

I understand from comments made on blogs by Tandleman that CAMRA, at their AGM, have agreed some sort of review. I dare say this won't include embracing cask breathers or proper real keg, that would be asking too much. I do hope that it looks at its image, as this is the real problem. It is the growing perception that something is wrong and that it no longer " listened to with respect by all serious beer lovers"


1Entirely my own fault, as I've not told them.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Best Before

I like Stilton. Actually, I like all blue cheese. Actually, I like all cheese. No, not quite true, I don't particularly care for the processed stuff that feels like mildly cheese flavoured Playdoh. But I digress. I like cheese that tastes of cheese, I like it when it is threatening to get up and walk off on its own, Stilton doesn't get to this point until after its best before date making said regulatory marking an irrelevant and contradictory semantic, in my opinion.

Fullers Vintage has a best before date and any beer less than 10% has to have such a date by law. Wine, on the other hand, does not. OK, most wine is over 10% but even a sub 10% light German white fails to attract this trading standard law. The oldest Fullers Vintage, and indeed the oldest beer I own, is over 10 years old, well past its best before date and much better than it was before the best before date. Best before dates are just silly on beer.

We are finishing the design for our two 2009 vintage beers. Both are higher gravity and great care has been taken to ensure that clean and oxygen free products are produced and so extending their shelf lives well beyond any scientifically determinable lifetime. I arbitrarily set the 8% whisky stout at 3 years after the bottling date and the 10% barley wine at 5 years after bottling. We also designed into the label a couple of tongue in cheek comments that hinted, perhaps not that subtly, that the best before date was silly.

Mr Stringers, being the ever helpful fellow Cumbrian as he is, suggested we ran any label design past trading standards. That, I thought, was a very sensible idea.

We got a list of stuff back from the nice man which included objection to my "rendering the best before date an irrelevant and contradictory semantic" It would seem that the best before date is a legal requirement that I'm not allowed to take the piss out of on my bottle.

My friends at Plain Creative, who are rather less hot headed than me, rewrote the label to take into account some of the gentleman's concerns; like for instance the fact that one of the beers proclaimed to be a wine, all be it a barley one, instead of stating it to be a beer. One is tempted to think that our local trading standards office fail to understand esoteric beer. The resultant labels can be seen here. I like them a lot.

You will see that the jibes at the best before date are staying. I'm not going to write a letter to trading standards complaining about my own beer, but it's tempting. Let's see what happens.

I repeat, for hand bottled beer like these, the best before date is indeed an irrelevant and contradictory semantic.


I try not to let politics creep into my blog too much. Although I do take a great interest in the subject I hold no allegiance and tread carefully when discussing such subjects for fear of offending readers. However, there is a subject which I do feel strongly about which seems to have come to the fore this week; immigration.

Before I go any further, I shall break a little and outline some thoughts about the election, mainly for the purpose of convincing readers that I don't hold deep rooted political agendas. It is my view that throughout our history the likes of The Suffragettes, Winston Churchill, The Union Movement, Thatcherism and New Labour have all contributed to our relatively stable political status. The wealth generating greed of capitalism is necessarily offset by the economically debilitating compassionate altruism of socialism. This particular election is getting very interesting, although I do worry that the majority of the general public haven't got any idea how the government, which ever one it happens to be, is really going to tackle the budget deficit. Then again, I'm not sure that government, which ever form it takes, has any idea either.

We live in a country that permits free speech, at least in most cases. If people believe that foreign immigrants are taking British jobs then they have a right to express that concern. I worry that this concern is indeed driven by a growing bigoted attitude and that the issues surrounding immigrant workers is much more complex than people realise. It affects the labour market, this is true, but I think it is important to understand some of the more subtle ways this happens.

The hospitality industry in general, which of course includes pubs, have a relatively large proportion of the workforce who are not British nationals. Many ethnic restaurants and takeaways have for years been run and staffed by people born outside this country. Many hotels depend upon overseas workers for kitchen porters, cleaning staff and often front of house as well. In a time of economic depression, when there are large numbers of British nationals out of work, it's not surprising some members of our society resent these foreign workers taking our jobs. I want to try and explain that really it is just another price we have to pay for being one of the most developed countries in the world.

For many years the governments of both parties have been trying to improve our lot. It's the way they stay in power, or get into power. When we feel that the incumbent administration is no longer making our lot better we tend to vote them out. One of the issues that wins or loses votes is education. If the government, or prospective government, are likely to improve our, or our off-springs' education, we like them. It's quite simple really. One of the things we like a lot is an increase of the proportion of the population who get to progress to university.

Of course this is wonderful. However, there is a down side to this. A greater proportion of degree educated population and a corresponding increase in overall education raises overall expectations. An example of this was one day, in the pub, during a time when I was having difficulty recruiting British staff a customer commented that his recently graduated daughter was finding it hard to find a job, all she was being offered were menial jobs like kitchen porters or cleaners. Why go to college if that is all she was being offered?

The pub we used to run is in a remote part of the Lake District. It is far away from centres of population and so our staff tended to live in, great for getting to work. However, without transport, there is little to occupy young people when they are not working. 20 years ago much of the staff for such hospitality businesses were outdoor enthusiasts, perhaps students on holiday or taking a year out. Today many of the adventurous younger students are taking working holidays abroad, after all, what young person would spend time in The stuffy old Lake District when they could work in The Alps, for instance?

Consistently we found that the British candidates for jobs in our place were people who had come to us because they could not find work elsewhere. Perhaps they were drug addicts, at least three members of staff in our time turned out to be. Some were running away from problems in their home town or with family or simply wanted to try and raid the till and then vanish. Yes, all of these things happened, and more. Put simply, due to our location, many of the British workers available to us had poor work ethics combined with social problems that were completely incompatible with our business.

In contrast we have employed many Europeans. We have also employed workers from further afield through various legitimate agencies as part of work experience training programs. There are two main disadvantages of this. One is that they tend to be short term workers. The other of course is language. Many are coming to the UK to improve their English. Some have reasonable English and can hit the ground, perhaps not running, but at a reasonable jog. Many however have not got the grasp of English that is satisfactory for working in a busy pub kitchen.

We once had a pleasant French lad called Alex. Actually, over the time we were there, we had a total of two French guys called Alex, both of whom contributed very well to the business and for that matter my sense of humour. This particular Alex had not concentrated quite as well as he should have done in his English lessons, however, he made up for it with determination and he worked very hard to learn the hard way. Shortly after he started with us I taught him to make chips. We had several trays of blanched chips in the walk-in fridge and one out on the counter as we entered a busy service.

As the orders came into the kitchen the normal operation was for me to get on with cooking, head down, and ask politely for various ingredients to be brought from the walk-in fridge. Prepped veg, perhaps a tub of sauce, perhaps a tub of mash or a lettuce. As it gets busier the requests might become less polite and have a sense of urgency. The vocabulary becomes colourful and the word "please" seems to get forgotten. "Oh, bugger" or some other words of a similar meaning get uttered as I realise that the order that is due to go out, 8 covers, all need chips and my tray of blanched chips is nearly empty. ".... another tray of chips Alex" I urge. "Sorry?"

Now I like Alex, he's trying very hard and does everything in a very timely manner when he actually understands what you want, so I remain calm and repeat my command a little bit more slowly "A. Tray. Of. Chips. From. The. Big. Fridge. Please. Alex......." there is then a short pause whilst Alex tries to convert the sounds he hears into something he can execute as a series of physical moves, but still stands there looking bemused and irritatingly cute, in the way that only a small child ought to be able to. "Sorry?"

"Oh for fuck's sake Alex, chips. You know, we rumbled the potatoes, you eyed them and chipped them through that machine outside, brought them in here and I blanched them off in the fryer and put them in trays. You then put them in the fridge and now I want
a tray here. Go and get me some fucking chips" - Alex's cuteness starting to wear off by now as I had already plated up the meals and all they needed was a few sodding chips, which would take but a minute in the hot fryer if only I had some right here and right now. Alex responded with yet another pitiful "Sorry?"

At this point Ann came to the rescue. Alex was led to the fridge and shown what a tray of blanched chips looked like. "Oh my god!" was all that the poor lad could say, along with "Sorry!" bless him, he never forgot what chips were and more importantly this story betrays the enthusiastic and determined way that this French worker helped our business, as all the other various foreign, non-skilled workers did.

I have employed people from Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France, and more latterly Rumania and Bulgaria. Recently employing people from Poland has become more difficult because their economy has picked up, thank-you-very-much. The enlarged EU regulations stops me from employing Rumanians directly, but I can hire them as self employed temporary workers. Perversely, it is not possible to apply for a work permit as they are part of the EU and as I'm not recruiting skilled workers no points based system helps.

All we wanted to do was employ these workers legitimately so that we could pay their taxes and make it above board. The only way we could employ them was to hire them on a temporary contract and let them sort out their own tax affairs with HMRC.

The only other alternative we might have had was to offer wages at a higher rate and so attract British workers who were sufficiently competent to do the work we required. There are two very significant problems with this approach. Firstly, the business could not afford it. We would have needed to put up our prices too much. Secondly, and more importantly, despite getting employment agencies involved to help solve the problem, people just didn't want to relocate to our part of the world, almost at any reasonable salary.

I believe that foreign workers are essential for seasonal and remote businesses and the current bigoted view towards them by the general public is detrimental to the economy.

I would propose that the reason many businesses recruit foreign workers is because they are much more likely to be happy to clean pub toilets, peel potatoes or make beds. Much happier to do a whole range of menial tasks that UK citizens believe are below them. Raising our expectations are all very well and good, but lets not complain that foreign workers are taking our jobs, they aren't, they are doing the jobs we won't do.

And if any politician mentions a points based immigration system or a cap to immigration again they will fail to get my vote. Bugger, that doesn't leave many.