Sunday, 14 July 2013

Back to Brewing

This was written a couple of weeks ago but for some reason didn't publish...

Yes yes, it's been a while, but it turn's out a lot has been going on that generally leaves me far too tired to blog, or even think about blogging.

Whilst most of my work has seen me working quietly in the background, all being well it will soon come to fruition and I can talk openly about it. But mostly I've been busy with home-based things, like having a beautiful women move into the house. And learning to enjoy the smell of horse.*

So onto today, I'm brewing. First brew I did, years ago, was with Buster Grant, then head-brewer of Breconshire brewery. As a young manager of a free-house who saw a gap in the local market for a pub with a lot of good ale and cider, naturally I spent one day off a month at the local brewery, learning more about beer and it's preparation. This naturally developed into a house-beer for the pub, Kilvert's Gold, that I enjoyed brewing each month.

It's been a long time since I've brewed, so today I've come down to see Buster again at his own brewery, Brecon Brewing. 2 years old and going strong, the brewery has turned out some absolute cracking beer I'm happy to report, from limited edition Genesis series of beers to a one-off Bock (that I didn't get to try), the heart of this brewery is a good quality core range - beers not designed to be delight hop-heads or Belgian-lovers, but for the average man in the pub. Something personally I applaud - strong and special bottle beers have their place around the dinner table or next to the cheeseboard, but good pubs need good local beer at sensible a.b.v.s and prices.

Today's beer is Orange Beacons - a clear summer wheat-beer, infused with oranges and with a mix of US and UK hops. And it's brewed with a Saison yeast, so not quite as simple as I thought I'd be brewing one of the core range I mentioned earlier.

I'm writing this blog at the brewery so I don't miss any bits out, so here goes...

8am: Brewing Day starts. I'm not there yet.
8:20am I arrive and jump straight in, tipping the various bags of malt into the mash tun as Buster doesn't have a grist case. I soon remembered that I'd forgotten that Buster's brewery is 20BBL, the old one being 10BBL. Buster grins as me and reminds me about digging out the mash tun...

Mashing in complete
10:30am - Nip out to get the Oranges from the local Greengrocer, come back and start breaking up hops. Hops come into the brewery tightly compressed and vacuum packed, and obviously for maximum effect in the boil they need breaking up to increase the surface area. This is done by hand as you weigh them out, leaving you with beautiful smelling hands (I love hops!). Then, to get the hop oils off your hands, you use a hand scrub which gets all oils and difficult to remove substances off your hands by removing several layers of skin.

11am - start the transfer of wort from mash tun to copper. Again a process that takes longer than I remember it taking before. 20BBLs is a lot...

13:30 - fire up the copper to bring the wort up to a rolling boil

2pm Lunch :)

4pm: Not sure what's happened to the time, but a massive mash tun has been dug out, hops and oranges added to the copper and we're currently re-circ'ing the contents of the copper before transferring it to the FT through the heat exchanger. Buster let's me brew by myself for a bit

4:30pm Transfer to FV

5:10pm pitch yeast. Starting to dawn on me how long a day brewing on this scale is - the transition times for liquids is so much longer than smaller breweries

6pm: Cleaning down

A cracking day - I miss brewing full days like today. Got me thinking I might pull out my old home-brew kit one day soon :)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

How to enjoy Hay Festival

A simple guide, now that I'm out of the pub trade and can say these without them being misconstrued on any local business. Just my thoughts as a local...

1) Roads are for cars. Not pedestrians. Walk on the pavements, same as you do when you're at home. You'll understand this a bit more in a minute.

2) Expect to wait. Food in pubs around here can take roughly 20 minutes to come out normally - none of the pubs do microwaved crap, but proper home-made food. When 40 meals have been ordered before yours, don't expect it out within 10 minutes. Definitely don't tell the staff you've got a show to go to and expect this to magically make your food hot quicker. It won't. Refer to #1 - that car you were holding up by not walking on the pavement? That was the shopkeeper/chef/guide. Now you see why holding them up will bite you on the arse.

3) Children. They are yours. Yours only. YOURS. You might be at a show you want to watch, or want to browse the shops, or a quiet pint. Don't expect other people (on the street, shop workers, waiters etc) to look after your children. Hell, put a sodding lead on them or strap them to your back if you have to. Little Timmy might run around your local Sainsbury's or Waitrose while you shop, but not in Hay!

4) Prices. Hay is bloody expensive all year round. Huge rent and rates are just two reasons why. Don't moan, and sure as hell don't make a sarcastic quip to the staff when you have to pay. We all pay these prices all year round. The staff have heard it before. 100 times. They can't change the price, they don't set them. They are just doing their job.

5) Be polite. Something like 100 000 people visit Hay in 10 days, less than 2000 people live here all year. That's a huge influx of people, and the vast majority of people who live here are lovely and enjoy festival and all it brings. Those in the service industry especially work amazingly hard over those 10 days, and the odd thank-you and smile makes all the difference, it can literally brighten up someone's day.

6) This isn't the same as home. We love that we don't have a massive supermarket on the doorstep, that we get our meat from the butcher, veg from the greengrocer and ale in the pub. But if you're particular loaf of bread or size of tomatoes aren't available, venting or stressing about it isn't going to solve anything.

7) Stupid questions - leave them in the hotel room. One I've heard in previous years is 'is the back garden in the same place'. If you've come in the front door, best bet is to head for the back door and look for the massive sodding green space. If nearly every table in the coffee shop is eating, don't ask 'do you serve food'. We've all done it - go on holiday and leave our brains at home, but take a second to think.

8) I've left the most important one until last. Enjoy yourself! Smile, relax and embrace Hay! It's a beautiful town, some great architecture, fantastic independent shops and people that really make it special. It can be a nightmare at festival when everywhere is busy, but if we all chill out, appreciate everything is going to take longer (car journey/served at the bar/walk to the site) and smile at each other it's such a better vibe. The worst festival was one where it rained nearly none stop, everyone was grumpy and nothing was good enough for everyone. Bring wellies. Bring bin bags. Wear them if necessary. Don't if not. Simple.

9) Buy me a pint...

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tutored Tastings in Cardiff

I'm happy to kick-start this blog again with news I'll be doing a tutored tasting in Cardiff in a week's time.

Alongside Sue, the Brewster from Waen Brewery, I'll be found in Cardiff's Fire Island on Sunday night, talking about the range of beers from Waen and items from their BBQ menu that would mix nicely. It's going to be fun, with a couple of speciality beers such as the Chilli Plum Porter and Sick & Twisted, an Imperial Stout with a little coconut and cocoa in it.

So the 4 beers we'll be going through are:
Sick & Twisted is limited edition & I couldn't get hold of any in bottle!

Janner's Pride 4.0% - a malty best bitter
Landmark - 5.5% - a strong hoppy IPA
Chilli Plum Porter - 6.1% - a dark smoother Porter with (surprisingly) chilli and plum flavours
Sick & Twisted - 6.0% - A special collaborative brew with Downlands Brewery, Imperial stout with coconut and cocoa.

There will be two versions of the Porter available, one with extra chilli, and the newly improved Landmark which I'm looking forward to trying for the first time on the night (having previously drank the 'old' version!)

I'll be trying a couple of the beers in bottled form tonight - probably with a couple of tweets to go with from my @welsheddie86 twitter. So come and join us. Drink beer. Chat. Tell me why I'm wrong. Tell me why I'm right! Ask Sue complicated questions about the brewing process. It's why we're there.

Sunday 27th April 7pm ish £6
6pm at Fire Island, Cardiff
Phone 029 2023 6091 to book tickets

@welsheddie86 @thewaenbrewery @fireislandcf @DLBrewery #WelshBeerTasting

Friday, 19 April 2013

Craft bars not beers

No, it's not about Craft or craft beer. Directly.

I'm thinking about the bars. Personally I like good beer, no matter how it gets in the glass. Bottle, keg, cask, direct from the F.V. - as long as the end result tastes good to me I'm happy.

But when it comes to venues, I prefer comfortable, cosy, traditional style. Will the two ever meet? Have they?

The recipe for a craft beer bar at the moment appears to be:

Stripped out large building, preferably ex-industrial
Bare brick wall somewhere
Wooden or flagged floor
Shiny metal
Uncomfortable wooden seating
Half-painted logos

From what I can gather, this is a style that works both sides of the Atlantic. And I'm not knocking the style - the bars I've visiting like this have all been busy when I visit. I haven't been to a lot I'll be the first to admit. But think of any Brewdog bar, Jolly Butchers (one of my favourites but haven't been in nearly a year!), Zero degrees (Cardiff), the new Fire Island in Cardiff.

Not all craft bars are like this - Craft in London is a bit more traditional, but still minimalist.
The Grove Inn, Huddersfield, appears to be what I'm after (only going off photos I've seen on the internet, it's on my to do list though), and the Sheffield Tap has a more traditional style.

I wonder if this minimalistic style is just a faze and will die out, or if it's here to stay. Obviously a pub or bar is a lot more than just how it looks, but can 'craft' survive in a traditional setting. Just because the beer is 'urban' or 'hip' or whatever word the cool kids use, does that mean the bar selling it has to be?

Or can it be sold in a comfortable, traditional style. Are the beers cool enough to sell anywhere, or does the whole package have to be cool?

I'm going to be travelling a lot more this year, getting back into the beer scene so to speak, so hopefully I'll find more examples of both. Until then, any recommendations of places to add to my 'to-do' list are more than welcome.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Beer Blogging will be back soon

Yep, soon enough this blog will be up and running again, just as soon as I've got my personal life sorted. Here's the first thing I'll be talking about as it'll be my first beer in over a month:

Friday, 3 August 2012

Charity Run

I'll post later about where I've been this year, but in the meantime somethats quite important to me: charity.

Basically I'm running 10k in October to raise money for Parkinsons. It's called the spooky sprint and is my first 10k. I'm hoping to build on this to run further and raise more for Parkinsons, but this seems a good place to start. I'd really appreciate it if you'd take a couple of minutes to donate a couple of quid here


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What to look out for in 2012

I've tried to steer clear of the cask VS keg argument. I'm a firm believer that good beer is good beer. The way to find good beer is try lots of beer. One of the best ways to do that is to go to a good beer festival. Hold that thought.

So what am I looking forward to in 2012, a
question I first asked myself after reading Mark Dredge's blog here. Now he knows his stuff, but I thought I'd have a go from over here on the Welsh borders.

1) Local breweries.

I'm blessed to be situated where I am. Breweries 'local' to me as operated by our local branch of CAMRA include (in no particular order)

Wye Valley - a strong 'family brewer' sized brewery. Key descriptive word: Consistent - Butty Bach has never left the bar, and I can't see that changing.

Brecon Brewing - the brewery may have just been established, but Buster the Brewer has certainly been established for years. Cracking core range, small, close and friendly enough to let me play regularly. I'm looking forward to brewing a house ale soon.

Otley Brewery - I'm not allowed to describe them as the Welsh version of a Scottish brewery, and to be fair that wouldn't do them justice. They think in terms of beer evolution, as opposed to beer revolution. I've just taken out Erdinger in favour of their O7 Weissbier on the kegs, and I'm deadly serious about putting their CreosO on instead of a Copenhagen beer if they ever keg it. The best thing about these guys is they really do let the beer do the talking.

So straight off, I've got 3 excellent breweries, each offering something different and each of which will be regularly available. I've also lined up regular beer tastings and variants, starting with Brecon in Feb, Wye Valley in March and Otley in April.

2) Better Service

Something I'm a stickler for when I'm a customer, and a huge factor in the Value for Money stakes. With trading conditions likely to remain difficult, the days of just plonking a pint on the bar without saying more than 4 words to the customer are well and truly behind us. I love the opportunities I get to drink in London as the pubs I visit, and go well out of my way to visit, are ones that get these simple things right. A personal recommendation to publicans who sell many different beers/ales - get rid of branded glasses, or get your own branding on glasses. We've done this for the last 3 years on ales, keg should be this year. Apart from anything else, when someone nicks/buys one off you, their advertising your pub for you.

3) Better Anti Alcohol propaganda

Possibly I haven't phrased that correctly, but a more realistic approach is something I think the industry could get behind. I've often laughed at the notion that more than a pint and a half is 'binge drinking' and the concept of units. The latest suggestion from government advisers isn't laughable either - ditch the daily recommended limits, which handily ignore the simple fact that alcohol affects every single person slightly differently. Instead recommend that people have a couple of dry days a week.

This sensible advice may or may not have anything to do with Alcohol Concern's Don Shenker stepping down after their funding was cut.

I'm going to limit myself to these top three, as I'd love to know what you think the future holds for pubs and good beer. And what do you consider to be the best beers out there at the moment, brewed in the UK?

Apologies for the poor layout settings of the blog, Blogger have decided to dick around with their editor taking out key features such as resizing pictures.