Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Beer Hunter of Mauritius

The BBC have something on the beer revolution coming to Africa:


How many breweries is too many?

I'm going to another do at Brewers' Hall next month so I've started reading up on The Worshipful Company of Brewers. As the company goes back a long way so does Mia Ball's history of it. One of the fascinating facts it contains was the number of breweries in London in 1380. Records collected for a poll tax that year show there were over 1,000 brew houses, one for every twelve inhabitants. If that's extrapolated to the current population across Britain there would be over five million breweries. That would keep the beer tickers busy!

As the current booming number of breweries has caused some concern we might be reaching saturation point, it's interesting to see quite how few we have now compared to 1380.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Great British Beer Festival 2014

Things worked out well for me at the GBBF this year. I met all the people I planned to, as well as a few I hadn’t, I made it to the IBD meeting on hops, off loaded some books I’d brought up for a mate, and I even managed to drink some beer. Which is probably for the best as the meeting on hops was a little disturbing.

The rise of craft beer, with its higher rates of hopping means that it’s now approaching the stage where half the American hop crop is going to craft brewers. As craft beer sales continue to rise real hop shortages are looming, so contracting ahead for hops is highly recommended.

Even more worryingly three more British hop growers have packed it in, so overall acreage is down over 8%. As there are so few British hop growers left  every loss makes a difference. The one glimmer of hope is that the craft beer boom means exports to the US are picking up, particularly of East Kent Goldings.

As to the beer I'd started early at a do put on by Sharp's, and the Atlantic IPA was most excellent, the fact it was free being balanced by the fact I was drinking it before noon so couldn't just get guzzling. At the festival seeing Harvey's Prince of Denmark on draught I couldn't resist it, the beer having the flavour of a historic Imperial Russian Stout at an intensity I can cope with. There may have been a couple of other beers but they're the ones that stood out. As usual I stayed longer than I'd planned but I managed to pace myself well, and took lots of water, so had a cracking day without unduly suffering when it was time to get up the next day.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Crisis in craft beer

The results are now in and they shockingly reveal a crisis of craft beer in Britain. Over 70% of voters don't know who John fucking Kimmich is, despite there being a link to Total Ales where this all important information is disclosed. This shows an almost wilful levels of ignorance, as if people don't even care! This sorry state of affairs shows that even most beer geeks are no better than Wetherspoons drinkers, and therefore unworthy of craft beer.

As trying to spread information has clearly failed I will have to resort to direct action. I've knocked on the head all my plans for the GBBF tomorrow and will now be touring the foreign beer bars armed with a cattle prod to drive anyone can't answer the all important question back to the boring brown bitter bars where they belong. It may seem harsh but you've left me no choice.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Historic hopping

I've been woefully slack in disseminating the fascinating facts from Hubert Parkers 'The Hop Industry' (1934) so here's another chunk, this time on the amount of hops used in beer and where they came from: 

"...it should be recalled that less hops are now used for brewing, i.e. there is a reduced rate of 'hopping'. For European countries, the present rate of hopping does not exceed 250 grams per hectolitre in most cases: for England it is rather more than double this amount, and in the Irish Free State it is about treble the continental rate of hopping. There rates are substantially lower than they were a generation ago and account for a proportion of the reduced demand for hops."

In modern terms 1000 grams per hectolitre is full blown craft beer dissolve your tongue standards so even in the dark days of depression they were still using a lot of hops in some pretty weak beers.

On the following page he has more details showing how many hops were needed for this:

"England is a very large consumer of hops, her annual consumption, home and imported, amounting to not much short of 30 percent of the world's total supply. Her imports of hops represent 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the production of the rest of the world. The record of the last thirty years shows that it is to America that England turn for the bulk of her foreign supplies. In very few years in this period did the importation of hops from America fall below 50 per cent of the total importation.: frequently it exceeded 75 per cent. On balance therefor the European hop growing countries, taken together, have contributed only about 40 per cent of our foreign supplies, while imports of hops of the Bavarian or Bohemian types are represented by a much smaller proportion."

The ending of prohibition in the USA caused problems for the British brewers:

"The increased demand for hops in America which has come about through the modification of the prohibition laws may result in English brewers having to take a larger proportion of English hops until American production of hops has adjusted itself to the new demand, and customs may veer round in the direction of an English 'hopped' beer. It need hardly be said that we could undoubtedly grow in this country hops in sufficient quantity to meet brewers' requirements, but so long as brewers insist on a mixtures, it is on America that the trade will mostly rely for the foreign portion of it's supplies."

American hops contained more alpha acid than English hops so provided more bitterness. Though the hops breeding programme at Wye College was by now well established and things were moving on from the old landrace varieties:

"But the trade is taking great interest in Professor Salmon's new varieties - some of which, it will be recalled, combine the virtues of the American and English hops - and is is hoped that he will be able to satisfy them with types of hops of this character, which will reduce, if not altogether obviate, the necessity for the use foreign hops."

Professor Salmon's hop breeding programme was highly successful, and all of the high-alpha varieties grown today contain hops bred by him in their ancestry. Germany and the USA are however by far the biggest growers of them.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Are you worthy of craft beer?

Though the question of what craft beer actually is has now been answered, you might not be aware that the equally vexing question of whether you are worthy enough to drink it remains. Like me you may have though that you qualified by a simple willingness to hand over your money and pour the beer down your throat, but if you did you were sadly mistaken. 

I've only just become aware of this, but I really should have realised it earlier. Modestly talking of their own beers craft brewers Stone, and by an amazing coincidence Brewdog, have put it clearly:

"It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth." 
Now thanks to a post on the Total Ales blog I know that by answering a simple question you can learn if are one of the sophisticated craft beer elite and worthy enough to drink the nectar of the gods, or just a low life bottom feeder that deserves nothing more than boring brown bitter that oxidises instantaneously the moment it’s tapped. 

The ultimate question of life, the universe and craft beer that must be answered is:

Do you know who John fucking Kimmich is?

I’ve put up a handy poll on the blog so you can register your answer, don’t forget to close the door on the way out if you answer no.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Slumming it with my siblings

I usually drink in the wholesome surroundings of Beer Street though I occasionally wander into more dubious territory. The last time was when my siblings decided they were going to have a gin and tonic challenge. As a professionally trained taster (and amateur piss head) I thought I’d slum it in Gin Lane with them. 

A selection of gins was assembled with bottles of Fever Tree tonic, as well as some cans of ready mixed gin and tonic. There was no definite consensus on the best, and the spicy nibbles we munched through weren’t ideal for serious tasting, but the ready mixed drinks generally fared worse than the do-it-yourself ones. 

The overall scores are here, but there was wide variation of scores amongst the different tasters so take them with a pinch of sale, or as we did copious quantities of nachos:

Brecon 13.8
Sipsmiths 13.0
Gordon's Ready mix elderflower 12.4
Bombay sapphire 12.2
Gordon's 12.0
SW4 London 11.8 
Gordo'ns Ready mix 10.4
Bloom premium 9.8
6 O'Clock 9.6
Gordon's Ready mix cucumber 9.6
Bloom Ready mix 6.6