I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for New England.

Right now, the hottest trend in brewing both sides of the Atlantic is the hazy, juicy style of pale hoppy beer that has come to be known New England IPA or ‘NEIPA’. There has been a trend towards IPA that is less bitter, less caramel-chewy for quite a while now. All those rasping, bittering arms race 100+ IBU citrus and pine bombs of the early 2010s seem old fashioned now despite being less than ten years old. I have to admit I’m not a massive fan of this style of beer. Generally, I find them to be overly sweet, underbittered and a bit one dimensional.

The rise of these beers has come from a fairly small number of breweries in the U.S., Trillium, Tree House, Other Half and Hill Farmstead and a couple of others seem to have kicked it off, but it is a style aped nationwide now. Brewers on the West Coast like Monkish have jumped on the hazewagon, with limited runs of their IPA and DIPA cans. Monkish regularly have queues of several hundred snaking down the street on ‘release days’, with people desperate to buy their six pack. In Europe there has been an explosion in brewing this style of beer too. In the UK the likes of Cloudwater, Brew By Numbers, and Magic Rock have all brewed deliberately hazed IPAs. Verdant and more recently Deya have based almost their whole business around brewing juicy, tropical, hazy IPA and pale ale. Further afield, Omnipollo, Dugges, Brewski, and Stigbergets are making the same style beer. Clearly this beer is very much in demand.

Typically this kind of beer is fairly poorly attenuated and has lots of residual sweetness, along with a rich, thick, creamy body, low bitterness and a heady, tropical aroma of mango, peach and lychee.

What is this haze that these brewers are trying to capture in their beer then? Haze can be a few things really that either come from the wort production or from the fermentation stage of production. All of the below, depending on the beer can be a factor.

  • Firstly, yeast. The use of non-flocculant yeast such as the Vermont strain favoured by many NEIPA brewers doesn’t drop out of solution particularly quickly or easily, meaning it can still be present in packaging. The Vermont strain also throws lots of peachy esters which compliment the tropical hop aromas. Too much yeast left in solution can add nasty tangy flavours as well as autolysed off flavours if left too long.

 

  • Secondly, beta glucans. Beta glucans are polysaccharides of D-glucose monomers that have β-glycocidic bonds. Many brewers will do a β-glucanase rest after mashing in at around 40 degrees C to allow enzymes present in the barley malt to break down these gummy molecules. Oats, wheat and rye are all much higher in β-glucans than malted barley, and without a β-glucanase rest are run off from the mash and remain in the finished beer. Β-glucans increase not only the haziness of the beer but also the viscosity and in turn enrich the mouthfeel. Lots of brewers of NEIPA will add anything between 30-40% oats in the grist for their beers.

 

  • Polyphenols. These complex molecules can enter the brewing process at both the start and end of the process. Tannins in the grain husk and are washed out of the malt during sparging. A small quantity tannin is usually a good thing as when the wort is boiled they bond with protein molecules to form the hot break in the kettle. Too many and the beer can become astringent and drying in the mouth. Think the tongue sapping character of stewed tea or rough unaged red wine. Secondly, polyphenols can come from the dry hopping of beers, especially when the dry hopping is very heavy. Normal IPA hopping would be somewhere between 5-7g/l but many NEIPA producers are using upwards of 20g/l. Polyphenol haze especially from dry hopping is accentuated when the beer is cold so, is sometimes referred to as ‘chill haze’.

 

  • Malted barley is comprised of between 10-11% protein, of this only around 20% of these are soluble in water. The rest, if not coagulated in the boil or cooldown will be present in the finished beer.

 

  • Other stuff. Some producers are adding wheat flour to their NEIPA to create a stable protein haze. Pectin too, can be used to haze things permanently. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and is a gelling agent that allows things like jellies and jams to set. It also throws a heavy haze. Apples are the fruit richest in pectins, which is why many farmhouse ciders are so cloudy. Some NEIPA producers are adding apple concentrate to give a stable haze to their beers too. Pectin also adds viscosity to a liquid which again enriches and smoothens the mouthfeel.

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(Picture via Daniel Vane @DanielVane)

Some of these beers have had some production, stability and quality issues. The recent Brewdog vs Cloudwater NEIPA for example has had quite a few people open their bottles to be surprised by wodges of hop and protein trub. This is really not what this kind of beer is about. More ‘bits’ in the beer doesn’t mean more desirable flavours. JK from Marble has a great analogy for the inclusion of hop and protein trub in beers. His argument is that if you were to eat a banana, skin and all, it would taste more accurately of banana, but would you actually want the flavour of the banana skin? Almost definitely not. The inclusion of hop, protein and yeast trub is essentially that.

It is pretty clear that there is very little flavour imparted by the haze itself, though the flavour of hop polyphenols is widely and inconclusively debated. All the haze does is add mouthfeel to the beer, that creamy body that so many people mention in their tasting notes of this type of beer. For me at least the haze seems to muddy the hop flavours. They don’t sing and dance with the same brightness as they do in beers with greater clarity. It seems to be harder to pick out individual flavours and aromas in these kinds of beers. Perhaps it is because broadly, they all using very similar combinations of hops that all contribute the same aromas and flavours. I think the sweetness in some of these beers also makes flavours harder to pick out too, especially as some producers have been adding unfermentable lactose to their pale beer to further sweeten and ‘juicify’ them. That said there are a few exceptions, the latest Brew By Numbers ‘55’ DIPA is an absolute masterpiece of juice, bitterness and smooth mouthfeel. Deya’s cans that I have tried are well balanced and bitter enough to make them drinkable, rather than cloying.

I think this haze phase will pass just as the raspingly bitter IPA did before it, we’ll find something new and exciting to try that I hope, to my tastes at least, will be much more drinkable….

 

 

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Cloudwater and casks.

Everyone seems to have had a reaction to Paul at Cloudwater’s blog summarising their experience of 2016. What Paul has written is, as ever, open, honest, self-assured and almost impossibly veracious.

Amongst some fairly amazing growth figures the thing that really blew me away was that in ‘22 months… we’ve brewed 240 gyles using 145 different recipes and 24 different yeast strains’. I can’t think of another brewery in the land that has been that experimental, particularly in their use of yeast strains. Back when I first worked in a commercial brewery there was abject terror at the concept of keeping more than just one house strain in the brewery.

The big news of course in the blog is that Cloudwater are to discontinue the production of cask beer in 2017. There has been a trend that started with Brewdog’s typically swaggering, contentious withdrawl from the market in 2011 (they, in true Brewdog style have now single handedly ‘reinvented’ cask and serve ‘live’ Dead Pony Club in their bars). Buxton, Camden and Beavertown have all since followed suit. Magic Rock’s cask beers have seen a considerable hike in pricing this year after they re-appraised their margins on cask beer too.

Paul cites a few reasons why their cessation of packaging beer in casks is happening but firstly and foremost, the crux of the matter seems to be price tolerance. Beer in the cask market is currently very much undervalued. As a perfect illustration of this, where I live down in East Kent there has been a ‘Micropub revolution’. For those not in the know, the micropub is the brainchild of Martyn Hillier who owns and runs the very brilliant Butcher’s Arms in Herne village. He developed a model that exploits the 2003 Licensing Act as an easier way to repurpose a small shop into a licensed premises for on and off trade with limited opening hours. Usually micropubs have three or sometimes four casks on, depending how busy they are. No bar, but either a stillage or cellar room dispensing cask via gravity. No music. No TV. No lager. Sometimes cider. Food, if available is a bit of cheese or maybe a local pork pie. Micropubs because of their small size become friendly, chatty, informal third spaces of the highest degree. You can’t have a private conversation in one and they are all the better for it. My problem with them is often the beer selection. Because of their stripped out nature and low overheads, micropubs are expected to make cask beer cheaper than perhaps a normal pub might. £3 to £3.50 seem to be about the going rate round here as opposed to £3.50 to £4.20 in most of the traditional pubs nearby.

The trouble stems from the fact that none of the Micros want to be more expensive than each other so pricing is informally locked down. This means that to make a decent GP the owner is forced to pay less for the beer. Pricing certainly hasn’t changed in the six or seven years I’ve been drinking in them. In a bigger pub you have other items like keg, bottles, softs, minerals, tea and coffee where you might balance your overall GP figure, but not in a micropub. The owner will buy one cask of beer at the £70-80 mark from someone decent and usually local like Gadds, Darkstar, Burning Sky or Harveys and then two or three casks of dross from further afield that is cheap on the AVS or Flying Firkin list. Shite like Titanic, Skinners and Cottage all get regular rotation on the stillage. I’ve heard anecdotes of £45 casks of beer and buy one, get the cheaper cask free, with free national delivery. I’ve no idea how the breweries selling that beer make any money doing that, maybe they don’t. This does nothing to expand or rejuvenate the market or to challenge new drinkers to try something new. The same old boring, badly made beer ad nauseam. Though I have singled out micropubs here for the sake of my argument, it is true of the whole cask beer segment, it is seen as a cheaper drink by almost all drinkers.

This lack of willing or ability perhaps of publicans to pay what the beer is worth squeezes the margins that the brewery make so than can still service the market. As a brewery in this situation, you have three options, either you suck it up, reduce the cost of ingredients and make an inferior product or you make something else that makes a better margin. This article illustrates how some of the mid-tier breweries making cask beer are feeling the squeeze too, though I’m of limited sympathy for them. If they dared to innovate and embrace the market that is evolving rather than trying to fight it they might have an easier ride.

A few people have chimed in on Twitter, giving Cloudwater a tough time for placing emphasis on their efforts towards making a profit. These people need to understand profit is not a dirty word. Profit is what secures growth, allows you to pay and train your staff fairly and offer them a secure future, innovate and make the company the best it can possibly be. Profit is not a dirty word and having an aspiration towards it isn’t wrong.

Paul also mentions that the beers he and his staff are excited about making are not the ‘traditional beer, albeit with a modern twist’ cask beers they have made, but ‘our (keg) SIPAs, IPLs, Grisettes’ are. From the off Cloudwater have been all about evolution, reinvention and seasonality. This might be their ‘Kid A’ moment, but I’m sure we’ll love them all the more for it, they are growing up and finding out who they are and what they want to be. If it means more of their excellent kegged and small pack beer, I’ll be a happy man.

The final bit of the puzzle is the issue of quality. It is much, much easier for a brewery to get the beer to punters in the condition it was meant to in either keg or small pack. Pouring cask conditioned beer properly isn’t as hard as some make out but, it is harder than the (mostly) plug and play nature of kegged beer. I can totally understand a brewery wanting to reign in the amount of variables in the way their beer is kept to protect their brand. Cloudwater are also huge advocates of refrigerating their beer in transport, storage and in people’s cellars. I’d add to Paul’s trends for 2017 that stock that is refrigerated from brewery to glass will start to be talked about and, put into practice.

We all need to remember though this is a bit of a storm in a teacup really. Cloudwater, as they stand are not a big brewery. By my calculations, we are looking at 3000 less casks a year across a market that consumes well in excess of 9,000,000 casks a year. Hardly something to get our knickers in a twist over. To quote Paul again but back in 2014, it is now ‘up British brewers get on with making tomorrow’s beers and free themselves from yesterday’s constraints’.

 

 

Big Beer Buyouts (again)

‘I’m never drinking their beer again’

A phrase I have seen banded about a lot in the last twenty four hours since the news that Camden Town Brewery has been sold to international brewing giant AB InBev.

To publicly state that you’ll never let a drop of beer pass your lips that they have brewed smacks of cutting of your nose to spite your face. In many pubs (Youngs, M&B, Nicholsons and Spirit spring to mind) Meantime and Camden still make up the only quality offerings on the bar. Will I still drink their beer? Absolutely. Will I call them out if quality slips or the quality of ingredients changes? Absolutely. It is fine to have mixed feelings about the sale of a brewery. The craft brewing industry is an odd one in that there is lots of dialogue between punter and brewer. People feel loyalty and identity with a brand and the way that they are perceived for liking those brands.

I feel uniquely placed to comment on the round of sales that have happened recently in the UK. I was at Meantime while the SAB buyout happened, before Meantime I worked at Camden Town Brewery. I know people at both breweries and the fact that they have sold isn’t really a surprise. Meantime nailed their colours to the mast that they would be growing the brand to sell the moment that Nick Miller was made CEO. He was the guy they needed with the experience of big beer to get the infrastructure in place to grow the brand. And expand they have, in 2009 they brewed 14,000hl in total, I believe the target volume for this year was around 100,000hl. Bear in mind 70% of what they brew stays inside the M25. Camden similarly have grown hugely. In five years they have grown from nothing to producing around 35,000hl at their London facility and contracting further volume out in Belgium. It was reported that AB were sniffing round Camden six months ago and the buyout will allow Camden to buy a huge production facility and make the jump to the size they want rather than the size that crowdfunding and bank loans would have permitted.

None of that growth comes easily. There are people at both breweries who have worked twelve hour night shifts, cursed at slow filtration runs, sweated buckets filling kegs and stacking them on pallets, battled through shitty London traffic in vans to deliver beer, replace cooling systems and walked hundreds of miles with heavy bags full of POS and samples for bars, cafes and pubs.  To tell those people who have worked so hard that you aren’t drinking their beer anymore after a decision that was beyond their power to do anything about is a real slap in the face. Both Camden and Meantime employ brilliant, hardworking, passionate people who, for the most part, will benefit from the company having deeper pockets and a more secure backer.

For those who were senior enough to make the decision to sell, consider them. They too have worked incredibly hard. This is their reward. If their aspirations are for a truly global brand then I very much doubt that without a big brewery backer that would ever become a feasible reality. I can’t see any evidence from any of the buyouts that have happened that big beer is looking to strip craft breweries of quality and hike up profit. As I have said before, big beer can’t do craft, so acquisition is the only way they can have a slice of that market. They still don’t fully get it, Budweiser had a fairly spectacular marketing gaffe at the Superbowl this year. Most big brewer’s brands are in decline in the domestic market and the only real areas of growth for them are South America, China and Africa. AB InBev bought SAB to have a slice of those markets. It makes sense that it will snap up craft brewers to increase it’s domestic share. Both big beer and craft have put their hands up at the point where their knowledge ends to ask for help.

As for the ‘I don’t drink macro beer’. Don’t tell me you haven’t ever eaten at Pizza Express, Byron, or, in fact any chain restaurant, drunk a macro lager at party or pub where nothing else was on offer. Drunk just about any spirit owned by Diagio or Pernod Ricard, which is pretty much all of them, including some of the very best Scottish whisky distillers (that nobody ever seems to fuss about the ownership of), drunk Coca Cola or one of it’s subsidiaries, used one of Kraft’s food products in the kitchen, filled up your car with petrol at Esso, shopped at Tesco etc, etc because you have, unless of course you are Swampy. You’ll probably keep on drinking Camden and Meantime’s beer too.

Homebrew fermentation temperature conundrum. Help!

I am a man of many skills. However, control electronics are not one of them and I’m after some help.

I need to brew a hell of a lot of beer for August as I have somewhat foolishly shot my mouth off and said I’ll make all the beer for my wedding. This means making ~200l on my little homebrewing kit. I’ve ordered a 60l fermenter so that I can double brew and speed things up a bit. However a 60l fermenter is a right pain to lug in and out of a fridge to try and control the fermentation temperature and, to crash chill.

What I want to do is to be able to submerge a stainless cooling coil which I already have, in the fermenting beer and connect it to the cold water recirc of a Maxi 210 chiller that I also already have. However I am going to need some sort of PLC unit and a temperature probe to to talk to each other so that I can set a high and low value for the temperature and some sort of switch that I can wire into the recirc pump’s power supply to turn it on and off.

Anyone built anything similar or have a cheaper, easier, more elegant way of doing it? Below is a rough sketch of what I want it to do….

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Why breweries need to be more like The Clash and less like The Sex Pistols

The Clash buying beer

Every generation rebels against the one before them, be it with the music they listen to, the clothes they wear or the values they have. Most recently musically this has been jazz, rock and roll, the hippy movement, heavy metal, punk. Every ten years or so young people sweep in and reject the old way of doing things. Blow out the cobwebs of the past and say ‘everything that has gone before is wrong, this is our time, and our way of doing things.’

The Sex Pistols individually were not good musicians. In fact I’d go so far as to say that they were pretty terrible. Three chords, a ragged 4:4 beat, simple, single note bass lines that directly mirror the chord changes. But, they were critically acclaimed, people sing their praises still and, for a generation they were the angry mouthpiece with the rabble rousing yell in a bad time to be young. Strikes, three day working weeks, power outages, pretentious, noodly prog rock and rampant unemployment are the backdrop to their sound. Their music wasn’t well put together, there was no willingness to progress, and their music has not stood the test of time well. Whilst relevant, irreverent and indeed shocking at the time, a real cultural hammer-blow, they look more like a one dimensional novelty band now.

The Clash on the other hand are a band who felt similarly to the Sex Pistols, they too were angry young men. Formed at the same time in the same city, they hung out with the Pistols as part of ‘Punk’s inner circle’. The Clash were more political if anything, than The Pistols, just as angry, just as loud. The thing was, the Clash were less of a circus. Less novelty shock value, more integrity. They embraced other sounds, other musical styles, ska and reggae in particular. They learned to play their instruments properly and they wrote intelligent songs about stuff that mattered to them. They sung about their lives as young blokes in West London. The Clash did way more to progress music than the Pistols ever did. The Clash were a cultural scalpel cutting sharply, accurately and to the bone, the Pistols were a fired up yobbo smashing you in the face with a sledgehammer.

In the last ten years in the UK and probably the last 20 years in the US we have seen a rejection of the old ways of doing things in the beer industry. Young people have come into the industry and have shaken things up, brought new, innovative ways of doing things. They have questioned, challenged and generally made a nuisance of themselves amongst the old guard. This is good, authority must be challenged. However we have to make sure it is not just challenge for the sake of challenge.

A lot of new ‘craft’ brewers make a lot of noise whilst making edgy, extreme, alienating beer. They have their fans for sure, but the beer often isn’t well put together- it is rough round the edges, the knowledge isn’t there. They are have a go heroes. Image comes before quality, repeatability and longevity. Others are much more willing to learn from others including (gasp!) the older generation, look abroad to other styles for inspiration and to improve their knowledge. They want to improve as they realise it will have a wider, longer lasting, more sustainable effects on the industry.

New breweries: innovate. Be angry about the shit that went before, it wasn’t good enough. Sing about what you are doing, and sing it loudly but remember to be like the Clash, not The Sex Pistols.

Picture credit goes to: http://focusonthebeer.com/2013/01/the-clash-buying-beer.html/

Camden vs. Redwell 2: The Shamen

The Shamen once sang that ‘E’s are good/E’s sublime/E makes you feel fine’. Now I couldn’t possibly publicly endorse the use of illegal recreational drugs, but I can’t help feeling if the addition of the letter ‘E’ was deployed in a current situation, a big problem would just go away. Though, as an aside, a little of the chemically induced empathy would probably grease the wheels too.

I have waited a couple of days after the news broke that Camden are taking Redwell to high court over the use of the term ‘Hells’. I didn’t initially want to write about it as I’m fairly certain Redwell want press out of the situation, nothing else, but I feel like I ought to throw my opinion into the ring. I wrote about the situation here and still stand by what I said, but with the escalation of things I think things have become a little clearer as to who the villians are.

Redwell are sticking by the argument that ‘Hells’ has been in use for a long time, and is a commonly known term. They also state that all you need to do to verify this is to look on Ratebeer. I looked on Ratebeer, and there are two other beers with ‘Hells’ without an apostrophe as part of their name one German, one Swiss. I again asked two German brewer friends of mine and a native German speaker, none of whom had ever heard of ‘Hells’ as a descriptor for pale lager. Hell or Helles are the choices. Hardly a convincing argument to my mind.

Camden have, I’m sure sought some pretty heavyweight advice as to this situation. They have familial links with the vice president of legal affairs for Sony Entertainment and the owner and founder of one of the most highly regarded advertising agencies in the country, if not the world. If it goes to court, I’m pretty certain Redwell won’t get very far.

Putting the legal side of who is wrong, who is right and who owns what for a minute, my biggest issue is how Redwell have dealt with the situation. They have, from the very beginning cast Camden as the bully boy big brewer, throwing their weight and Scrooge McDuck mountains of cash around, which is pretty unfair. Camden isn’t really a big brewery, they are the third largest in London, quite a way behind Meantime and Fullers. Compare them to the multinational and regional family brewers, they are a drop in the ocean. That is part of it, however, the bit that has really upset me is that Redwell, after portraying Camden as the bad guys have set up crowdfunding for their legal costs as, they claim that paying the £30,000 legal fees will jeopardise jobs at the brewery. I can’t get my head round how a right minded person would potentially risk their business and, put the people who work for them at risk too. It is a bit like betting on a horse with the mortgage money then asking your mates to bail you out when the bailiffs come knocking. Hardly responsible or grown up behaviour.

Redwell named their beer ‘Hells’ I don’t doubt in full knowledge that it would raise Camden’s hackles. This is a problem they have created. It is their duty to make it go away. For their reputation, for the reputation of the small brewery business in the UK and, most importantly for the security of their staff. Hells is Camden’s best selling beer, Hells is Redwell’s smallest selling, it wouldn’t harm them to take The Shamen’s advice and pop an E in, I’m sure they’d feel better for it.

Hangover

The alarm sounded. With trembly fingers he rubbed the crust of sleep away from his greasy, pale lids and slowly peeled opened his eyes like two, reluctant Christmas tangerines with a small whimper. There was a slow, fat, slime shielded slug in his mouth that tasted like it had been exploring the deepest crevices of the bathroom floor since he passed out. The room fell into focus. A sharp stab of pain through the eyes looking at the light rose to an exquisite, shimmering orchestral crescendo of white noise and pain that washed round the swirling plughole in his head. His heart hammered viscous red blood round his veins, every thump a white flash of pain deep in his eyeballs that radiated in waves through every shred of his being. He felt shrivelled inside, arid, demi-sec.

Demi-sec? A flashback to necking a pint of sweet white wine spritzer. Why did that seem like a good idea? His stomach roiled at the thought. His nose started to pick up his funky effluvia. A solid heart note of stale sweat with base notes of slopped, stale beer, heady high notes of other people’s cigarette smoke and smeared burger sauce. Buffetting swells of bilious abhorrence rose from his stomach.

Corvine thoughts swooped in from left and right. A heavy feeling of dread settled on his shoulders. He resolved to close his eyes and never do anything as foolish as opening them for the foreseeable future.

Today was going to be a long day.