New Year, New Beer!

2009 has been an interesting one and a challenging one. Being part of the development, installation and commissioning of a new brewery has been brilliant and I’m sure all of those other brewers that have done the same over the last six months can testify that it’s not easy (I’m talking about you, Dark Star and Marble)!

As of today, we’ve put through 60 brews and we’re all beginning to learn more and more how the brewhouse works, how changes in process are affecting changes in flavour, how we can get our yeast to do what we want it to do. It’s a bit like ice-skating uphill, but hey, we like a challenge.

Lots of beer writers have given their opinions on the best of 2009, but I find it that little bit tougher to do this. For a start, we produce some beers that I think are great and I work and live in a pub that not only does great food and beer, it also had a pretty cool beer festival earlier in the year. I guess you could say my interest is vested and I can’t vote for any of these things. So I’ll keep it short and sweet instead.

Without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite Brewery of the Year has to be Marble in Manchester. I’ve read a few blog comments of late with people moaning that Marble are getting far too much kudos, or that they’ve been doing great beer for years, so why acknowledge them now etc. Whatever!

The Marble team personify the freakin’ awesome new wave of British brewing. You can argue with me that we’re following the Americans, or that the Italians and Australians and Kiwis are also doing great craft beers, but to be honest (and you all know this already), there are probably only a good dozen microbreweries in the country that are pushing the envelope (does the envelope need to be pushed, I hear you cry). Leaping away from the standard 3.5-4.5% cask ale that sells oh-so-well in a pub and tastes nice, but doesn’t flick that ever so important switch. I like this type of beer, but does it make me stand up and go wow? No chance. So instead, I can pop down to the Sheaf View in Heeley and ask for a beer (in the same alcohol range as I mentioned above).

In fact I can ask for a Pint… a Marble Pint (my Cask Beer of the Year). I can taste it and be blown away. I can tell everyone that I know how good it tastes. They can look at my pint of Pint and say it just looks like a standard pale ale. I can give them a good jab in the chops and tell them to stop being so bloody British and try drinking with your nose and mouth instead of your eyes. And I can be amazed and wowed and impressed and know that this country can take a traditional beer style and turn it into something else altogether. The Marble lads love beer. They travel around the globe to beer festivals, to the New World, to the Old World, all to hunt out good beer. And then they make it. That’s why they’re my brewery of the 2009.

Runner up is a bit more difficult. Joint second goes to Dark Star, with Mark Tranter, their head brewer brewing some brilliant beers. You can’t go wrong with Hophead or their American Pale Ale and I’m gutted I didn’t get to try their Saison. The thing I love about Dark Star is that Mark is a purely instinctive brewer. He doesn’t need the flashy Masters degree in brewing or the ten years spent in a macro-brewery learning the technology and science. He just follows his gut and his nose and his palate and does what he does and does if with flair. Leading the way in the revival of cask ale and the plethora of styles that can be brewed? Absolutely!

Also in runner up, which probably is no surprise to you all, is BrewDog. Martin and James are masters at what they do. They have a crack team of staff, a work ethic second to none and the spirit of Scottish invention is as strong in them as it was the guys who invented the telephone, bicycle, television, tyre, raincoat, gas light, steam engine (funny enough, a guy named James Watt…coincidence??), you get my drift. They have shown us that keg and bottle and cask can all showcase great beer and I’m sure this is only the beginning.

My favourite non-UK brewery of the year has to be Odell Brewing. Not only is  IPA absolutely exquisite, the St. Lupulin Ale was also my Bottled Beer of the Year. It screams hops, but it also screams control. It has balance and class and style and is incredibly quaffable. At 6.5% it slides down far too easily and with all of those beautiful pine and citrus and floral characters, it amazes me that it only weighs in at 40 bitterness units. It’s also a seasonal beer, so if you do see it this year, buy loads, you won’t be disappointed. Cheers, Doug. You rock!

A close second for Bottled Beer of the Year has to be Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. An absolutely unique brew, flooding the senses with vanilla and caramel, chocolate and tobacco leaf, raspberry and dark spirits, an unexplainable wood note, all perfumed and smelling of an old hardwood bureau, sun heating it and forcing out those crazy notes of cedar and sandalwood, even some patchouli? It’s 12% and it’s decadent. You’ll open a bottle to share and find yourself hiding in a closet like some weird, beer-geek Gollum, guarding it and obsessing over it. Hunt it out!

Pub of the year is a tough one. I generally just pop downstairs and have a pint at the Coach and Horses. It’s easy and lots of my friends drink there and its minimal effort. I do venture out of course! The Sheffield Tap is great. Has a big range of our beers as well as close to 200 bottled beers and a bunch of cool keg stuff. The Old Poet’s Corner in Ashover is cool, as is the Sheaf View in Heeley. I guess I like pubs that have a large and diverse beer selection and at the same time are comfortable and inviting and a great place to have a chat. Actually, the more that I think about it, I don’t think I can give a pub of the year award! I just didn’t get to enough pubs in 2009…how sad is that!

That’s my relatively succinct summary for 2009. Come on 2010!

Already we’re about to unleash our latest brew into the market. The new site has been dedicated of late to our core beers. The Jaipurs and Kiplings. Wild Swan, Lord Marples. So we thought it would be a good idea to try something different. Not only a different beer, but a different brewing style.  At the Hall brewery, we always did something called a single-step infusion mash, where we mix the milled malted grain and water together at a certain temperature, then leave it to sit and allow the enzymes to assist the breakdown of starch into sugars. At Riverside, we do also do a step infusion mash, but increase the temperature over a period of time. This allows the different enzymes to work at their optimum and assist in the breakdown of sugars and other carbohydrates more effectively than at a single temperature.

This time though, we went for a method more commonly used on the Continent. Back in the day, the malts used by brewers in places like Germany were a lot less modified (modified means that the starch wasn’t as readily available to be attacked by enzymes and broken down into sugars) than malts used in the UK. They developed a system where a part of the mash would be taken away, boiled to aid in the release of starch granules, and to raise the temperature, and then added back to the mash. This would increase the overall mash temperature and allow the enzymes present in the non-boiled mash to attack the starch that had been released by boiling. This system, called Decoction mashing takes a lot longer than our standard system, though it is argued that it can produce slightly different characteristics in the finished beer. Some say that it affects head retention, others say it gives the beer a cleaner flavour, some say it adds a hint of caramel character to the beer, some say it aids fermentation. Whatever it does, it’s worked!

The beer we brewed, called Equinox, (thanks to Mark from http://real-ale-reviews.com/ for naming this brew on Twitter) is 5.9% and has been brewed with a large amount of Vienna malt, as well as Maris Otter and Amber malts. Hop wise, we went for Warrior, Chinook, Perle, Ahtanum, Magnum and Centennial, so has a bunch of character and bitterness. In fact, here are my tasting notes for it.

Hints of biscuity malt, bananas, oranges, some berry fruit. Clean and crisp in the mouth with more light malt characters coming through. Subtle dryness blends into a rich, lasting bitterness, balanced well by a hint of caramel sweetness. A citrus peel after-bitterness lingers.

We should have a good 100+ casks floating around, so hopefully you see it in a pub near you! Well, by near you I actually mean within a 50 mile radius of our brewery…

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5 thoughts on “New Year, New Beer!

  1. Totally agree with you about Marble/BrewDog/Odell (i’ve yet to try Dark Star but there’s a nice bottle of Espresso sitting in my beer cellar waiting for the right opportunity!).
    Of course Thornbridge are great too 🙂
    See you at the Sheffield meet up!

  2. nice roundup – had that St Lupulin on the list for a while. I agree re marble’s Pint though – I love it when something comes along that just makes you rethink the whole genre.

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