Monday 21 June 2010

Are you serious about beer?

Are you serious about beer if you constantly refuse to drink any beer made by big multinational brewers without trying it?

Are you serious about beer if you consider any beer that is not bottle or cask conditioned inferior?

Are you serious about beer if you think that you have to be able to drink a gallon of it for it to be a good beer? Are you serious about beer if you think it can only ever be drunk in pints, perhaps halves, or if you think the 2/3 pint or metric measure is balmy?

Are you serious about beer if you overlook beer that is not between 3.4% and 4.5%?

Are you serious about beer if you think that beer and food matching is a poncy activity that should be left to the wine bores?

Are you serious about beer if you consider beer that is too dark, too light, too brown, too malty, too hoppy, too sweet or too dry to be considered good beer?

Are you serious about beer if you think that beer can be too fizzy, or too flat, too cloudy, too strong, too weak, too old, too young or in some other way break from what your narrow mind can cope with.

Are you serious about beer?

Sunday 20 June 2010

Brewers objects of beauty no2 - pipe fittings

I'm afraid that it might be Freudian, but I have a fetish for pipe fittings. I could try and convince myself that it's due to my time as an Instrument Technician working with pneumatic based systems on a nuclear plant, but I'm certain that it's Freudian. I used to work in a place where they took nuclear fuel out of reactors and dissolved it in boiling nitric acid. The resultant liquid was then put through various treatment plants to recover any useful material from nasty stuff. My job was to look after various pressure measuring instrumentation, which by the nature of the place, tended to consist of much stainless steel piping. High grade stainless steel pipe, and the fittings used to join it together, gets me all excited.

It has bothered me for sometime that there were bits of ordinary copper and brass plumbing in my brewery. I know that there is a widely held belief that such things are not only harmless but positively helpful to a brewery. Copper reacts with sulphur and so removes this snatch producing element from the beer. That is true in a brewery where the water used contains sulphur, but in Cumbria sulphur is not a problem.

Copper is a pain if the brewer uses peracetic acid as it corrodes the metal at an alarming rate producing a green liquid. For that matter beer itself is quite acidic and will attack copper and take it into solution. The levels of copper, if the brewer is not very careful, might very well exceed maximum permitted levels in the finished product. I also worry about the fact that copper can become pitted due to the corrosion and so create infection traps.

Recently I bought a whole load of stainless steel and plastic pipe fittings. I don't like plastic as much, but it's easier to work with and a lot cheaper. BSP and RJT, John Guest and Hepworth, the box arrived, which was much too small for the amount of money. Still, it was fun getting the nice shiny smooth fittings out of the box, feeling the nice tight insertion tolerance and the sure knowledge that the fluid can now be directed exactly where I want it to go with a level of satisfaction. Like I say, Freudian.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Rake out

Gee, this last week has been busy; brewed 4 times in 8 days, I've never done that before. I pressed one of my recently acquired fermenting vessels into action and so increased my potential brew-length1. I've also had to rack beer into cask because it was sitting in fermenters, getting in the way, besides, we've also had people ringing up for beer, some we've even had to disappoint due to a lack of beer being ready. But before the reader starts thinking I'm complaining, I'm not, it's all really good fun.

Some months ago I was talking to Glyn, who manages The Rake bar on Borough Market. We had discussed the possibility of him putting our beers on at some point in time; not that easy a job as we have no real logistics network to get casks down to London or empties back. Neither was I sure I could be in a position to have enough beer, or casks, to make it possible. Just over a week ago, during twitter discussions, it became apparent that I would be in London next week and then again a few weeks later for the GBBF. I also realised that having just taken delivery of new casks and having increased fermenting capacity, I could indeed manage to get beer to The Rake. Moreover, if I can risk my delicate country boy lung tissue to the great smog, then perhaps I could hang around while the beer is stillaged, tapped and settled, just so I can be around to check its quality.

And so, on the 28th June 2010, I will be in The Rake from around 4pm, and so will my beer. I'm excited, Glyn tells me he is, I'd like to think that beer lovers in London might be too. I'm slightly wary of the possibility of a whole load of proper beer rating people there, armed with finely tuned palates, but hey, feedback is feedback.

Hope to see you there.

If all goes well with casking-up this next week we will have;

Light Cascade 3.4% - guess what? it's made with Cascade hops.
Continuum 4.0% - Our "standard" beer, dry hopped in the cask.
Fusion(?name still in thought process) 4.2% Ginger and a hint of chilli, all late hopped.
Dark Energy 4.9% - Sort of a stout, perhaps, dark and fruity dry hops.
Infra Red 6.2% - I'm not even going to try and describe this, you beery experts will tell me something different, the best description on the night gets a pint bought by me.


1Brew-length is the volume of beer that can be made at one time. Why it is measured in units of volume but given a title suggesting a linear dimension in space is perhaps slightly confusing.

Friday 11 June 2010

Fever Pitch

I don't really like football. I can also tend to have a dislike of large brewing companies, although they can be OK if they play fair. With the current mass hysteria surrounding the World Cup and the way that many businesses that are appealing to the lowest common denominator behave, my irritation at the whole damn thing is increasing.

Yates of Cumbria make a nice beer. I'll admit to having joyfully consumed several gallons over the past few years. They used to make a nice summer brew called Fever pitch; being a small brewery they never registered the product as a trade mark.

Marston's took over Jennings a little while ago, they saw that Fever Pitch was a good name, with the World Cup coming along, and quickly registered the trade mark. They then proceeded to threaten, as I understand it, good old Yates Brewery with legal action. They have now changed the name of the Yates version so I'm all confused.

I do not have a form of words that accurately describe my contempt for this kind of behaviour of larger breweries, or perhaps I do, but my kids read this sometimes. You are not nice people Marston's. I dislike the World Cup even more now. For the duration of the World Cup I am going to seek out as much Yates beer as I can find to drown my sorrows.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Brewers objects of beauty No1 - Shives

Dave's beer and stuff blog is getting neglected, it's just not good enough. I have little in the way of excuses other than I'm having great fun setting up our new brewery, which appears to be going quite well. However, as with all these things, there are little snaggettes along the way.

The first problem I had was that I brewed beer, got it out into the trade and then found I had no more empty casks. It takes time to get empties back to the brewery, a blog subject all by itself. We ordered some more casks which have now arrived. Today I'm brewing so I can get some more beer out into pubs.

I also realised a few weeks ago that I was going to run out of shives1. I use CypherCo plastic casks, which although not as robust as stainless, but I estimate that in the first 5 years of life they offer significant financial advantages. Again, the relative merits of plastic verses stainless steel is yet another subject. It is the shives I wish to discuss today.

The biggest downside of CypherCo casks, in my view, is the fact that only one type of shive works, one that was made by a company called TE plastics. To my horror, when we tried to order more, we found that TE plastics had gone into liquidation. Several weeks of frantic searching for a suitable alternative eventually brought me to the conclusion that really, the only design that worked was the TE plastics' design.

I'll be honest, at this point I was ready to cancel the order for the CypherCo casks as there appeared to be no short term solution. The lack of a suitable shive eliminated the financial benefits of plastic casks.

After some badgering of CypherCo they eventually managed to secure the tooling from TE plastics. We picked up our new casks the other day and while we were there the very first run of new shives were literally hot off the press.

On Monday I racked into new plastic casks and sealed them with new shives. I am a happy brewer.


1Pete Brown notes in one of his excellent books about the number of brewing terms that attract spell-check red underlines, shives is one of them. For those that don't know, a shive is a bung that seals part of the cask.

Saturday 5 June 2010

Wednesday 2nd June 2010 - my account

Wednesday was a surreal day; this has been said on many occasions. The impact of the actions of Derrick Bird on 2nd June 2010 affected many, many people across West Cumbria and beyond. During the day, as events unfolded, I found the media, in particular the BBC News channel on the Internet, an invaluable source of information about the safety, or otherwise, of people I know. Subsequently the media, both papers and television, have enabled local people to piece together the full story much more accurately than the local rumor mill alone. Pictures in the papers have helped to place the names of people who I only vaguely knew.

I found the whole day traumatic and we are all still trying to rationalize the events. It is unlikely we will ever be able to understand why Mr Bird found the need to cause so many people such terrible injuries, but part of the process of coming to terms with the events is a desire to find out the facts; Where Mr Bird travelled, where he discharged his weapons, who was killed, who was injured and what their injuries were and how well they are doing in their recovery. How the dissemination of this information can be done without the media being accused of pandering to macabre curiosity is a problem.

I am going to attempt my own account of the day, from my own perspective and I hope I can do this without crossing the wrong side of the decency line. I feel I need to do this especially as many of the events affected people I know well and the pub we have only recently sold. Indeed, Derreck Bird ended his dreadful actions, and his own life, only a few hundred yards away from the pub having already seriously injured, in Seascale by bizarre coincidence, the man I sold the pub to.

The fact that I know people who got caught by the ballistic discharges makes my need to know what happened all the more important. I know 3 of the dead and one of the injured, and in particular Harry Burger, who was seriously injured, is an important customer, past business rival and recent next-door neighbour of mine. I’d even venture that despite occasional disagreements in the past over various business issues Harry also shows a genuine caring side that makes him a pleasure to know.

On this particular day I was in the brewery to get on with some maintenance whilst Ann was out making deliveries. She first stopped in Ireleth in Furness to pick up some help in the form of Ben before heading north toward Keswick. Ann left the brewery at about 11:08, according to a DM she sent as she left. She phoned me about 15 minutes later to say that she had just passed 7 police cars all with the full blue lights and sirens going and travelling in something of a hurry. I assumed that there had been a serious traffic accident and so checked the Internet so I could mail Ann back if there was anything that might cause a problem for her journey that day.

The BBC Cumbria travel information showed no problems. That's odd, I thought, that normally gets updated quickly in the event of an accident. Further searching of my favourite news source indicated a shooting in Whitehaven and apparently there was a gunman on the loose. This appeared to be at around 11:50am, according to my timeline on Twitter. It took a little while to fully comprehend the seriousness but very quickly I became concerned for quite a few people.

It became apparent that this was a significant event. I was already getting worried about Ann and Ben who were out on the road in the name of beer and it seemed that the situation was getting worse. It sounded a little bit like the police had apprehended somebody but there was somebody else on the loose. My concern showed by this tweet, suggesting to Ann that they should not travel back north towards the problem. It seemed that they had in fact missed that tweet and were already heading towards the Central Lakes.

I was also discovering that the gunman had been firing in Egremont and Seascale. This all seemed to be getting a little too much. I was brought up in Seascale and I know many people there. This was truly getting scary.

A little while later Ann phoned, she had been listening to BBC Radio Cumbria1, and told me of the situation. Unknown to her I was getting live information off BBC News channel via the Internet and other web based resources. I had already thought that heading from Central Lakes meant either Wasdale, which is a dead end, or more likely Eskdale where the Hardknott pass would take the gunman to Ambleside. She suggested I warned The Woolpack Inn of the situation and make sure they were inside.

I spoke to Alan, who of course worked for me for about 3 years before we sold the pub. I asked if they had heard about the problem. He told me, calmly and like it was complete routine, that yes they were safely inside, the police were all around and the helicopters were overhead. He added that shortly before the police arrived Harry's wife, Paddington, had been called away because he had been badly injured. Also, there had been a shooting at the Brook House further down the road. I ran these two facts together and knowing Harry could easily be travelling past the Brook House assumed Harry had been shot. It turns out that he had, but it seems that it had not happened in Boot but in Seascale.

It is almost impossible here for me to explain the incredible mix of emotions running through my head. Clearly I did not know how badly injured Harry was, but the news was reporting by now that there probably were people dead. A report of a farmer being killed in Gosforth. I later found out this was Garry Purdham, who lives up the road from my ex-wife and my children and was shot dead within about 100m of their house. Harry could also be dead and I was desperate to know more about what exactly was going on.

Because of my tweeting I was contacted by the BBC for further information on the occurrences. I did a short interview via telephone for 5Live. I knew Harry was injured, but it was not my place to name names. I was asked to find people in Boot who might be able to give on-the-ground interviews. I was unsure about this but did tentatively ask, unsurprisingly the answer was very definitely no.

I felt in a terrible conundrum; I was absolutely desperate to find out more about what was going on. I also had more information than I was prepared to give out to the media. I was relieved that the BBC finally found that Harry had been injured and so that piece of information was in the public domain.

However, on a second call to The Woolpack Inn I was told, before it was announced on the BBC, that the gunman had been got. That was a relief. I was also told that Harry had been made stable and was on the way to hospital.

That was not to be the end of my concerns. It’s a tough job running your own business. If the business is a brewery then at least, in times of disaster, you can generally drop everything. Beer can always be delivered tomorrow and worst case a fermenting vessel full of beer might have to be thrown away, which might be distressing, but when one’s own health, or that of a loved one is at risk, it’s a small price to pay. Raining back on production, reducing sales volume and deferring deliveries can easily free time to deal with any personal tragedy. In my case, overheads are very low and losses in such a situation would be very manageable.

The overheads for a pub are high. Really, they are very high indeed. A pub is not the type of business that can easily be shut down for any length of time. Additionally, customers seem to lack much appreciation that the licensee might actually get the sort of problems that normal people do. My thoughts about how Harry and Paddington are going to cope concern me greatly. I don't know the extent of Harry's injuries, but I believe they are not insignificant. I really hope he makes a speedy recovery, his wife, children and pub needs him.

I was sent a link by a friend. It talks about Harry telling people that he appreciated their help, but could they just mind "getting a f***ing ambulance". It also shows footage of Harry receiving treatment and the air ambulance arriving to take him to hospital. It's quite disturbing and it has been remarked that this is too much of an intrusion by the press. I am unaware of what Harry might think of this sort of publicity, but for me, the ability to share just a little of the pain of the day helps me.

I believe some press photographers were taking pictures of dead victims. As far as I know, none of these photographs have been published. Local people have been getting rightly upset at some press who have overstepped the mark.

We all still have a desperate need to understand why. Clearly the actions of Derrek Bird are completely incomprehensible to most people. The press still have a job to do to inform us of the reasons why. I need to know. I need to know why so many people I know have been affected by this. I need to know why this disturbed person finished up killing so many people and finished up ending it so close to the pub I have only just sold.

I needed to write this account from my own perspective. I am a writer, I was touched by the days events. I hope this is not just seen as a feed for macabre curiosity.


1I love the BBC and nearly always turn to them for information. I first turned on BBC Radio Cumbria to find out what was happening. It now shocks me that they only gave updates on this dangerous situation at news bulletins and played music most of the time. Given the gravity and considering many Cumbrians listen to it whilst in the car, I believe they should have carried 100% updates.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Strong Beer

It started before I was legally able to drink in a pub. Around that time, the early 1980's, there was a plentiful supply of Scotch. Sadly, this was not scotch whisky, but Younger's Scotch Bitter, which was, and I believe still is, awful. When I was around 17¾ I made regular attempts at pretending to be a proper man, the reader will be thankful that by now I've realised this is unlikely to happen, but back then I was nieve and believed that 8 pints of said beer would do the trick. It never did, it just turned me into a wretch, generally a retching one at that.

One pleasant evening I found myself in a remote Cumbrian pub. The un-clean-tal were all pleasant people, aromas of lanolin, sheep urine, wood smoke and crag moss filled the air due to the cosmopolitan mix of Crag Rat1 and upland farmer. On the bar there was a row of handles sticking up all proud and erect, most of them claimed to harbour some form of bitter or other. Not liking the option of turning yet again into the sort of ingloriousness my father would have disapproved of, not least of the reasons for this was the presence of my father, I opted for the aptly named Old Peculier.

With my regular peer group there was always the tales of conquest from the weekend. Invariably at least 1 and a full half gallons of some form of beer was consumed. Incredibly, these same people also managed sexual activity afterwards, if they were to be believed. This all tended to be a bit of a concern for me, even after a gallon I was still reasonably good with numbers, therefore able to determine consumption quantity, and generally found that a gallon of that nasty watery stuff failed to have sufficient density to remain at the correct end of my oesophagus. Amorous activities with anybody was highly unlikely; how on earth did anyone manage after half as much again?

The first evening on Old Peculier resulted in a very significant reduction in my ability to count. Obviously I became more intelligent, and was able to hold significantly in depth discussions with my father on the correct nomenclature for various parts of a dry stone wall, like you do. However, counting the number of pints failed me, or perhaps I didn't care, seeing as how my glass never really seemed to be empty, and nobody pushed me to drain my glass either. The beer had a warming feeling, tasted good and wholesome and made me feel oh-so-good inside. This was what drinking beer was about, being social, savouring a good thing and being content from head to toe.

Old Peculier is 5.6%. It is about 50% stronger than a regular session beer. I can probably drink a gallon on a good night, when you can find a good pub that has it on. I like beer at 5.6%, it's far more satisfying than 3.8% beer and I don't end up feeling like a water balloon at the end of the night. At 50% increase in alcohol a good measure would be 2/3 pint. The alcohol would be the same as a pint of 3.8%, more or less.

But there are not many pubs sell beer at 5.6%. Not many that sell beer over about 4.5%, unless we talk about premium lager, of course. Why is that? I think it is simple; we are far, far too focused on the pint as a measure. "A man can't drink a half, he's a puff if he does. A beer over 5% is far to strong. A 2/3 pint measure is just daft" - cognitive dissonance, that's what it is.

A hydrating pint of something refreshing can be such a fine idea. The first pint of the evening might as well be something light, bland and watery. The second might be too. After a couple of stupid American IPAs2 a palate cleanser in the form of a West Coast Blonde might be in order, before moving onto a Belgian Trappiste or a night cap of a barley wine.

Of course, the reason for this rant is the difficulty in finding, as a strong beer lover, strong beers in pubs. Also, as a brewer I prefer to brew strong beers, but they don't sell as well as I'd like them to, and I end up feeling guilty when the cask comes back with far too much ullage in it, a sure fine indication that the publican didn't make his margin, not least because he daren't put the stuff on the bar at the price it should be, the punters probably wouldn't pay it.

Now Stringers has written about the subject of strong beer too. He's right of course, but I don't want him accusing me of not keeping up, again.

I blame the pint, I really do. Although Scotch Bitter might have something to do with it too.


1A Crag Rat is a term for a tourist or more specifically the type of young hip yuppie that thought rock climbing on Cumbrian crags was cool - I used to be one, although I never was a yuppie.

2No, look, it's the strength and IBU rating of the beer I'm calling stupid.....