Monday, 30 November 2009

BrewDog go bonkers

BrewDog have surpassed themselves with their over-inflated egos and naked ambition. They chose -- deliberately, of course -- to launch on the very day the Scottish Parliament was discussing a minimum price for alcohol a "beer" with a strength of
32%. Naturally, the wild buckeroos in Fraserburgh claim this is the world's strongest beer, even though technically it's not beer at all, as brewer's yeast cannot work beyond a strength of 12 or 13 degrees. Clearly the new product, called Tactical Nuclear Penguin (what were you smoking last night, chaps?), was finished with a wine or champagne yeast.
James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, said the beer was "completely pushing the boundaries". Indeed, and it's also pushing beyond breaking point what sensible beer writers and connoisseurs will take from this bunch of ego-maniacs. Those of us who attempt to paint an image of beer as a fine drink enjoyed in moderation by sensible people have the ground cut from beneath our feet by BrewDog, which just plays in to the hands of the yellow press, ever anxious to give beer a bad name.
I don't often agree with the likes of Alcohol Concern but I think Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, hit the soft spile on the head when he said BrewDog was guilty of "childlike attention-seeking". He added that the fact that the beer, priced at £30 a bottle, had achieved a new record was not admirable. "It's a product with a lot of alcohol in it, that's all. To dress it up as anything else is cynical."

Friday, 27 November 2009

Hopes rise at Jennings

Jennings could be brewing beer again as early as mid-January, executives of Marston's have told me. Casks and malt supplies have been lost in the floods and the bar and reception area have been ruined but most of the essential brewing equipment is on the first floor and has not been badly damaged.
Peter Jackson of Marston's told me that everything will depend on how quickly the electrics can be sorted out. In the meantime, Jenning's main brand, Cumberland Ale, will be brewed in Burton-on-Trent and pumpclips will have an attachment explaining that the beer is temporarily brewed in Burton until the flood damage is repaired.
Jackson said he was dismayed at media suggestions that Marston's would close Jennings. He pointed out that Marston's has invested £250,000 in the brewery. Marston's director of brewing, Richard Westwood, has been in Cockermouth for several days, overseeing work at the brewery to get it up and running again.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Jennings hit by floods

Jennings, the Cockermouth brewery, is closed as a result of the floods that have wreaked havoc in the Lake District.
Water rose to between three and four feet deep in the brewery, which is just off Main Street in Cockermouth. The brewery stands at the confluence of the rivers Cocker and Derwent and is always vulnerable to flooding. But important equipment and stores are on the first floor of the brewery and may have escaped serious damage.
The staff were evacuated last week as the waters rose. Stephen Oliver, managing director of Marston's Brewing Company, which owns Jennings, said brewing had ceased but there was sufficient beer in the system to supply pubs in the region. He hoped brewing could start again once the brewery had been cleared of water and debris and damage had been assessed.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Burton brewing museum saved

The brewing museum and visitor centre in Burton-on-Trent has been saved and will reopen in 2010, possibly as early as Easter. This major victory is the result of a sustained campaign by beer lovers, brewery workers, the local MP and the Burton daily newspaper. Together they have forced the owner of the centre, global brewing giant Molson Coors, to reverse its decision to axe the brewery last year.
Molson Coors has awarded a 25-year lease to Planning Solutions, a company with a wide portfolio of leisure activities, including Conkers in the New Forest. Planning Solutions has also had an involvement with the Vinopolis wine experience in London and therefore has experience of promoting the beverage industry.
Molson Coors will make a half million pound investment in the venture and will also provide annual funding of £200,000. This is a massive turnaround from January 2008, when the brewer announced it would close the former Bass Brewery Museum as a result of falling visitor numbers.
When the closure was announced, Janet Dean, the MP for Burton, immediately convened a meeting in the town that attracted support from the local and county councils, Burton Civic Society and Chamber of Commerce, national and local beer writers and local branches of the Campaign for Real Ale. Mrs Dean organised a further meeting with Margaret Hodge, Secretary of State for Culture, who wrote to every brewery in Britain asking them to support a national museum dedicated to beer in Burton.
The Burton Mail ran a sustained daily campaign against the closure and oragnised a 20,000-strong petition to Margaret Hodge. A protest march was held in Burton and Coors employees defied their management by bringing the famous Bass dray horses from their stables to support the march.
Coors executives in the United States were appalled by the negative publicity the company was receiving and sacked the senior manager in Burton who had announced the closure of the museum.
Janet Dean turned the protest group into a steering committee that looked at the possibility of achieving Trust status for the museum that could apply for Lottery funding. But the committee was well aware that this approach could take several years and has welcomed the arrangement with Planning Solutions. The company says it will turn the centre into a National Museum of Brewing that will trace the history of beer-making in the whole country, not just the East Midlands. Nevertheless, the centrepiece of the revamped museum will be Burton's key role in brewing pale ale in the 19th century.
All the existing artefacts and archives will survive but Planning Solutions will have working and interactive displays rather than static ones and will use actors rather than models. It will be a true leisure centre with activities for children and it's hoped the dray horses will return to the Burton stables.
The key attraction will be a working 30-barrel brewery run by Steve Wellington, who currently runs the on-site White Shield Brewery. Visitors will see beer being made and the brews -- all cask-conditioned beers -- will go on sale commercially.
The centre will have bars, restaurants and rooms for meetings and events. There will also be faciliteis for education and information. Forty-two staff will be employed. Planning Solutions is in talks with local coach companies with the aim of running coaches from Derby station to Burton to maximise ease of travel for visitors.
It seems there is now a real possibility that Britain, with its great brewing heritage, will have a brewing museum worthy of the name.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Hooky hits the City

As City bankers prepare to count their Christmas bonuses, they will be able to celebrate with good ale rather than wine and champagne. Oxfordshire brewer Hook Norton has its bottled beer range on sale in the Corney & Barrow wine bar in the Lloyds Building in the heart of the City of London.
Hook Norton managing director James Clarke said after the launch of his beers: "The atmosphere throughout the evening was electric and it was pleasing to see that people from different countries and all different ages were equally keen to learn about our range of beers and the brewing process. One American from New Orleans said he wished he could take cases of Hooky beers back home with him on the plane."
Corney & Barrow has 13 bars throughout the City of London. Each one provides a service that ranges from business breakfasts and lunches to evening parties. Hook Norton bottled beers are sold in all Corney & Barrow bars while the Lime Street and Lloyds bars also sell the beers on draught.
*Hook Norton beers have been judged as among the best in the world in the International Beer Challenge for 2009. The judges awarded gold medals to Double Stout, Twelve Days, Haymaker and Old Hooky -- more than any other brewer in the world. Two more Hook Norton beers picked up bronze awards -- Hooky Bitter and Hooky Gold -- and all six beers won medals for the quality of their bottle design and labelling.
*Viewers who watched Country File on BBC last Sunday and who wondered which brewery was featured -- it was Hook Norton. Why the Beeb has this ridiculous attitude to banning commercial names is beyond comprehension. They don't say "A leading American manufacturer has made a bid for a chocolate firm founded by Quakers in the West Midlands."

Sunday, 15 November 2009

BrewDog -- enough is enough

See the correspondence on the Forum and the link to Pete Brown's Blog.
Yes, it's high time James Watt and Martin Dickie grew up and stopped behaving like a couple of precocious teenagers standing on a street corner with back-to-front baseball caps screaming for attention.
The latest example of their idiotic behaviour, which serves to get beer a bad name, came in Saturday's Independent. Oz Clarke chose BrewDog Hardcore IPA as the "Best Artisan Beer". (Why the Indie chose a wine writer to do this is another matter but they did give Oz a nice plug for his Pocket WINE Book).
He wrote: "I first arranged to meet them last year in Edinburgh. I found them there on a park bench, well away, like a couple of old topers, swigging their beers from brown paper bags and raising the finger to anyone who dared come on all self-righteous. I joined them and we had a riotous time."
Well done, Oz, and well done the lads. How wise to choose Scotland for this escapade where the government is planning an even bigger crackdown on alcohol than Westminster.
Watt and Dickie are lunatic self-publicists. They are handing ammunition to the likss of BBC Panorama and the Daily Mail and those members of the medical and scientific communities that are hell-bent on taxing drink out of existence and handing more power to supermarkets.
Nothing we say will deter the BrewDog people. They thrive on negative publicity. I note that BrewDog is not a member of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers. Most craft breweries are SIBA members but BrewDog is outside the loop and can't be taken to task by SIBA for activities that do great harm to the entire brewing community.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Stand up and be counted

Both the Forum and responses to my Blog show that all of us who contribute to beer-pages have one thing common: a love and passion for good beer. But recent comments on two issues -- the statement by Professor David Nutt on cannabis, ecstasy and alcohol, and the Independent's feature on 50 Best Beers -- show deep divisions among us.
Where alcohol is concerned, I think it vital to stand up against those who would seek to tax it almost out of existence. We may disagree about the relative harm caused by cannabis, ecstasy and alcohol but we must not waiver in defence of our drink of choice. Beer is a legal drink, consumed on draught in legal, licensed premises. Sections of both the media and the scientific community are campaigning for increased prices for beer and other alcohols and more restictions on their availability. The Tories have said they will take a hard look at the current licensing law and may return us to the restricted pub hours that prevailed before the new act was introduced.
It's essential that we make common cause in defence of beer before it's taxed even more highly asnd more pubs close as drinkers are forced into the arms of supermarkets who are more interested in discounts and profits than choice.
I have to say frankly that some of the comments about the 50 Best Beers feature in the Independent are naive. First let us be grateful for the fact that the Indie, almost alone among national newspapers, gives regular space to beer, including a major supplement that coincided with the Great British Beer Festival in August. The critics of the choice of "50 Best..." are clearly unaware of the fact that every Saturday the paper runs a feature called "50 Best..." We could scarcely ask the paper to change that to something along the lines of "50 Not Bad Beers". It was promoting good beer. You may disagree with the choice but it was made by a team of seasoned beer writers (none of whom were paid, by the way). I think the Indie made a mistake in inviting too many writers to contribute, as a result of which many of our chosen beers did not feature as the paper had around 200 to choose from. In one case at least, a beer attributed to me was not on my list and never would be. But let's, above all, be pleased that a feature promoting beer appeared in a newspaper while most of competitors wouldn't touch beer with a barge-pole.

Compost advice from Stella Artois

Full-page ads in the national press from Stella Artois inform us that their cardboard packs are now 100% compostable.
You should follow this proceedure:

1. Buy a pack of Stella from your local supermarket.

2. Open the pack.

3. Pull the rings on the cans of Stella and pour the contents on your compost.

4. Add the cardboard.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Coors gets back into cask

Molson Coors, the Canadian-American brewing giant that owns the former Bass breweries in Burton-on-Trent, is testing the temperature of the cask beer market with a new beer, Red Shield. The name indicates the company is cashing in on the success of Worthington's White Shield, the legendary bottle-conditioned India Pale Ale that was first brewed in Burton in the 19th century.
Red Shield is 4.2% and is still being tweaked by head brewer Steve Wellington until the company is satisfied with all aspects of the beer -- colour, aroma and flavour. It will replace Draught Bass in the Molson Coors' portfolio. It's an indication of the curious state of the brewing industry in Britain that Draught Bass is owned not by Bass's successor but by AB InBev, which gets Marston's to brew the beer a couple of miles up the road from the old Bass breweries.
Red Shield is a genuine pale ale, brewed only with pale malt. The hops are English Bramling Cross and two American varieties, Cascade and Centennial. A large amount of late hops are used at the end of the copper boil for additional aroma and flavour. The beer has a tangy citrus fruit aroma plus a delicious hint of pear fruit. Steve Wellington doesn't want to overpower the aroma with citrus as he feels American hops can offer too much grapefruit on the nose and palate. The fruitiness is balanced by a fine juicy malt note. The beer has honeyed malt, tart fruit and hop resins in the mouth followed by a finish that, in typical Burton fashion, balances sweet malt and tangy, bitter hops. Red Shield has 18 units of bitterness.
Meanwhile, production of White Shield has been moved to the historic North Brewery within the Molson Coors complex to keep up with demand.