Thursday 28 March 2013

Brit Hop

Craft beer is often associated with American, or perhaps New Zealand hops. There are some good reasons for this, mainly because the more exciting hop flavours do come from the varieties grown in these countries. Discussions continue between brewers and hop growers as to how much this is due to climate and soil and how much is just down to the varieties themselves.

It is generally agreed that both terroir and variety influence the favours and aromas to some extent. The more progressive flavours have been shunned by the British beer scene until recently and therefore the growers less inclined to grow them. Where British growers have dabbled, with cascade for instance, the result is certainly different, and described as more subtle.

Exploring how we can make a more distinctly progressive British craft beer flavour is something that interests me. Long gone, in my view, are the days when Made in Britain has to be reserved, staid and damn boring.

John Keeling, who is Brewing Director of Fuller's, and more importantly, a good friend, has been to my brewery when we made The English Experiment. Four experimental hop varieties were used in this instance. The beer was so successful that we went on to brew Azimuth, which has now become our core IPA beer, but it uses a combination of American and NZ hops, and as a result I call it a Pan-Pacific IPA.

I would use more British hops, really I would, if I was sure they can provide what I want in my beer. Perhaps with experimentation in breweries, expansion of the varieties that hop growers provide, and an increase of demand for more progressive flavours, we will in time see changes.

John asked me to return to help his team make lots of a new beer, hoppy and contemporary, just using British hops. A trip down to London, and a play around on a big automated plant and some great hospitality from the Fuller's people couldn't be sniffed at.

Brit Hop from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

Brit Hop was the result.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Being heard above the din

You know you’ve made it when you’re in FHM.

There are a lot of breweries in the UK now. Probably too many for them all to survive long term I’d suggest. The ones that do, who manage to keep their heads above water, are likely to be the ones that get noticed.

Making OK beer, in a shed, selling to local pubs is all very well, but that is no way to make a real viable business. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of reasons to support the little guy in a world where the vast majority of beer has little intrinsic value and is just mass produced, mass marketed blandness with more money going into glitzy advertising than into the actual beer itself. Power to that shed brewer.

It is unlikely that the strategy employed by many a microbrewer has a long term future. They may be able to rumble along. Perhaps even make a half decent living. It’s unlikely to be great, and certainly insufficient profit will be made to plough back for successful growth. But of course, for many brewers the satisfaction of brewing and getting paid for it is sufficient reward by itself. Nothing wrong with that.

Making great beer is a start. Beer that is about flavour and difference; Beers that stand out from the crowd and not just another bland offering barely better than mass produced predictability. Making noise is about variety, new flavours, challenges to pre-conceived ideas of what beer is about.

Once a brewer has made that great beer he must make the world aware of it.  It would be nice to think you could make lots of great beer, then just sit back for the orders to flood in. It is essential to make some noise, of some sort, somewhere.

So, that’s what we’ve been doing.  Making beers that are different, challenging, with lots going on in them. Some would say far too much going on in them sometimes.

And then we make a fuss. It doesn’t really matter what the actual fuss is about, just a little bit of nonsense to wake people up. Yes, perhaps sometimes it might seem like a child throwing a tantrum, but it sure gets everyone’s attention.

When I was a young man I became aware of the publication called FHM. Important people and trendy brands are the ones that get mentioned in there. I never dreamt I’d be responsible for an image, and be quoted in this glossy posh lads magazine1

But my beer, and some of my words are in April's edition.

Just because I didn’t get to be a rock star, silver screen actor or trendy business mogul doesn’t diminish my feeling of achievement for having made the grade along with the other craft brewers in the article2. I'm convinced that this has happened partly due to us making a little bit of a fuss every so often.


1We can't ignore the fact that it is quite legitimate to level an accusation of chauvinistic soft porn at the publication. I am torn on the issue of porn, mainly because I am a heterosexual male and I would be dishonest to the reader if I pretended that I found images of scantily clad women repulsive.

However, I do wish the beer was less masculine. For this reason I do have some reservations about the way that beer is more likely to feature in publications where the readership is predominantly male.

2Yup, I know there was a brewery that filled six pages. We all know who they are, so I’ll not mention them. In fact, I shall avoid comment other than to say they are proof to me of the point I’m making.