Monday 27 October 2014

Boisterous Brown Beer

We're about to launch our Christmas beer. It's really stunning, but you'll just have to wait and see. First we need to get that business of Halloween and Bonfire Night out of the way. Once we've done that the Christmas beer will be released to the world.

Our foray into seasonality is a bit of a first for me. I've been wary of making festive beers on the grounds that their best before date tends to coincide with the festival in question. Not because the beer is bad afterwards, but just because it is tied to that date by nature of the label. In particular, if a Christmas beer isn't all sold out before Christmas it becomes very difficult to sell.

Way back in August, when the sun was still shining and there was still daylight to be had outside of office hours, I was contacted by a customer asking if we were going to do a Christmas beer. Now, the other problem with such a beer is that if you are starting to think about it now, that is in October, then it's probably too late. This is the other reason we've not done it before, simply because I don't normally think much about Christmas in August. Generally I prefer Christmas to start on 24th December. I'm a bar humbug normally, but as you will find out in due course, I'm now actually quite excited about the whole idea. I'm really itching to tell you more, but kids, we'll all just have to be patient.

Now, I've already told you too much, as I'm supposed to be waiting until after 6th November to tell you, but it is relevant, as you shall see. I decided to make said beer as a parti-gyle with a weaker beer. There was a copious amount of less strong wort to be played with. An ideal test for Scott, our not quite so new production brewer.

We recruited Scott, an American, earlier this year. We needed a solid and reliable brewing type person to take over day-to-day operations. He had a steep learning curve having little experience in anything other than home-brew. But, by the time we got around to brewing this seasonal part-gyle he had gained my trust so much that I felt it was time to give him a project all of his own.

"Scott, why don't you decide what to do with this small beer?" I said to him. "Go wild, anything you want"

"What hops do you think I should use" he came back at me.

Sometimes you have to explain things to people more than once "It's your baby, whatever you choose"

Further discussion ensued, mainly with my replies consisting of "It's your project, I'm sure it'll be fine" I don't think he quite believed that he is one of the few people who have managed to break my control freakishness.

I would state here that Scott is possibly the best asset we have right now, only he might read this and demand some sort of improved T&Cs, which we can't really afford. It is true that Scott turns out not only to be a competent, skilled and creative brewer with a good palate, he also gets exactly where Hardknott is heading and totally understand our ethos. He also works very hard with a solid commitment to our goals. A giddy sense of humour helps lighten the day when things aren't always going to plan, as is often the case. It was time to give him a project all of his own.

Now, the beers were going to have a bit of colour as the big boy is based loosely on Colonial Mayhem. So, Scott eventually decided that an "American Brown" would be in order. With discussion it seemed to me this was a bit like a boring brown bitter, only with all elements of boring carefully removed. Indeed, with a slight glint of rascality in his eye, a waggish smirk and perhaps just an faint hint of an evil tone in his voice, he declared a list of hops that included Simcoe, Chinook, Galaxy and Cascade.

My American friend Ted, who was the inspiration behind Colonial Mayhem, called in to see us on one of his trips to the UK whilst Scott was brewing. Two Americans in my brew-house? What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1605, when Guy Fawkes failed in his bid to rid us of those scallywags in Westminster, the British Colonies over on the American Continent were barely getting going. Scott and Ted both provided British Colonial influence to this beer. They also provide various amounts of playful misconduct that might be considered appropriate for Halloween and Bonfire night. The naming of this beer was easy.

Colonial Mischief is, according to Scott, a West Coast American Brown. I think it's quite tasty with plenty of great West Coast hops packed in but with just enough malt in the background too. A little mischievous, perhaps slightly naughty. It'll try to lead you astray, but at 4% it'll not get you into too much trouble.

It is rolling out of the door as I type, some off to Newcastle I believe and Lancaster too. Perhaps some might make it down to Manchester, Stockport and of course around our favourite pubs in Cumbria. We'll definitely have some in our bar sometime soon. So, indulge your darkest mischievous devil lurking inside, go out and find some cask, or even better keg version of this beer. We are quite sure that the elevated carbonation of the keg version will be something quite impish and bring out the hop characteristics in a vibrant goulishness that might just have the cask brigade citing high treason. Hopefully there will be plenty of fireworks.

Friday 10 October 2014

Keg beer and exporting

I was in Stockholm last weekend. I had a chance to visit a few bars around the city. There was cask beer, but not very much of it. Mostly, the draught beer is keg. Even if there was a big market for British cask beer out there, it wouldn't be particularly practical to send cask beer long distances where the journey might take over a week and where temperature control isn't particularly good. On top of that, getting empties back would be problematic.

There is quite a bit of beer imported into the UK. I think this is OK, and I'm responsible to some extent as I like to try different beers from time-to-time. Distributing new styles and ideas makes the beer world more vibrant. Personally, I'd like to see the foreign stuff made by more UK breweries, as it seems daft to transport large amounts of beer around the world. However, it does happen, and as a UK beer producer, if beer is imported into the UK I'd like a slice of that global beer market. I don't think that's unreasonable.

To be able to export beer it is almost essential to be able to put it into keg. When doing so it is also important to develop keg products through local domestic markets. How else can solid and dependable quality be tested and assured?

The above is a key reason for majoring in keg at Hardknott OnTrack. We have one cask line, and most of our customers don't really care so long as the beer is good.

But is does get a little irritating when a few people, you know the type, have to make a big deal out of it. Hardknott is moving forward without the constraints of preconceived ideas about cask beer. I think this is very important for any progressive craft brewery.

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Friday 3 October 2014

Banging good beer

I'm in Stockholm, which no doubt you know if you follow me on twitter, or are my friend on Facebook. I"m here because I have sent beer to a beer festival. Well, to be more precise, the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival. Obviously I'm hopeful this might help us expand our export market into a new country. Whilst I'm here I'll have to sample a few beers and whiskies, it would be rude not to.

Meanwhile, back at base, it's the weekend of Beer'n'Bangers in conjunction with The Broughton Festival of Beer. Ann is left running the show, and I'm hopeful the team will be run off their feet.

It'll be a busy weekend, if previous years are to go by. There are numerous hostelries taking part and there is sure to be plenty of great beer.

Of course there is Hardknott OnTrack, which is just two stops up from Foxfield on the train. I believe there is a bus connecting the centre of Broughton to Foxfield. A veritable exploration of various beery establishments is to be had this weekend.

I spent a couple of days making food that can be quickly re-heated for the event. A curry, cheesy party things, savoury rice, "sticky" sausages, sausage casserole and some black pudding scotch eggs1.

I'm guessing you won't all be flocking to Stockholm this weekend to try Hardknott beer, but if you are the south of Cumbria you could do worse than head towards Broughton and Millom for good beer and local Cumberland sausage.


1The scotch eggs are work in progress. Half of them split during cooking, making them much less visually appealing than they tasted. Next time.