It’s amazing what 2 1/2 years away from a country can teach you. Coming back to the UK provided me with a huge lungful of fresh (and remarkably cool) air and sometimes the mind and soul needs inspiration. I found bucket loads…
So, as I talked about in my previous post, it was back to England for me with an invitation from the JD Wetherspoon pub group to come over and brew a tasty beverage for their biannual International Real Ale Festival. The ale of choice was a nice, hoppy, black number, brewed at the fantastic Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire with a liberal dosing of Kiwi hops in the mix. The festival just began a couple of days ago, so it has been brilliant to see people on social media enjoying the beer and commenting so positively!
It began (inevitably) with the long airway trek from the Land of the Long White Cloud via various countries to the ever welcoming London Heathrow airport. I was met there by Ian Jeffery of Naked Brands, the company that has the fun challenge of organizing all of us international brewers and ensuring we arrive and get to our corresponding breweries on time! After 50 hours of travel, I did find myself slightly dehydrated, so by luck, there was a pub in the airport. Fellow international brewer, Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery was obviously also feeling a little dry, so we shared a couple of pints, had a few yarns, as seems to happen in British pubs and made our way to the hotel in Euston. This hotel was conveniently close to the Euston Tap and even closer to the Cider Tap. Needless to say, we sampled like we hadn’t been there for years and slept like babies that night.
The next morning it was up bright and early and on to the train to Lincolnshire. I was off to Batemans Brewery in the bustling metropolis of Wainfleet All Saints to lay down a couple of brews and freakin’ excited at the prospect! The train ride gave me a bit of time to reflect on the quality and diversity of the beers and ciders that I’d been sampling the night before. I thought back to 2006 when I first arrived in the UK and began brewing there and the offer of beers that was around. There wasn’t a lot of non big brand beer available, seldom did you see something from the US. The keg beer from smaller breweries in the UK was pretty much limited to breweries like Meantime and Samuel Smiths and even then, I could imagine the challenge to get tap space in bars was a tough one. Changing tides? Absolutely.
Leaving England in 2010, I remembered the beginning of the London Brewery Alliance, with its 9 or 10 breweries back then. Returning a couple of years later, I was absolutely staggered by the amount of intensive growth. The new wave of breweries, all working hard to promote and interest people with a good pint… An impressive 40+ breweries now operating in the London region. It’s amazing to see this change and how this industry is metamorphosing with a great combination of tasty keg and cask beer on offer in a growing number of pubs and bars.
My mind shifted back to the flat, agricultural fields of Lincolnshire and the heady, sulphurous Brassica aromatics that came from the surrounding countryside, cabbages abound. I made a mental note that fresh cabbage leaves should never make it into any speciality beer…
I met up with Martin Cullimore, Batemans’ Head Brewer at the train station and we made our way to the brewery. I was really looking forward to seeing the distinctive windmill tower that is heralded in their branding and was suitably impressed by the choice of flag that stood proud at the top…
It was up bright and early the next morning, with 120 UK barrels (around 19640 litres) to be brewed, it was going to be a decent days work! I met up with brewer Adrian Symonds and we began mashing in some tasty Pacific Pearl wort! Interestingly, Adrian and his family (including his parents and uncles) had worked collectively for around 180 years for Batemans Brewery. How amazing is that!!
The Pacific Pearl hop and grain grist came about from a bunch of phone calls and emails between Head Brewer Martin and myself. We chose to use some malt varieties that Martin used in his Batemans beers, in particular the Flagon variety of barley along with a blend of Munich, Chocolate, Black malt and a hint of Crystal to provide a bit of dextrinous richness to balance out the bittering hops. Hop wise, I chose a triumvirate of Kiwi powerhouse hops… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem and Pacifica. The plan was also to use some Nelson Sauvin or New Zealand Chinook in the dry-hopping, but due to lack of supply and the seemingly endless infatuation with Kiwi hops abroad, I decided that an alternative that would give a similar resinous, citrus kick would have to be the lovely US Chinook… It is grown close to the Pacific, so I thought that was enough for me to allow it into the mix…
Always a fan of the montage, here is a bit of an explanation of the odd picture to the left (clockwise from George…)
Interestingly, Batemans Brewery was founded by George Bateman in 1874… Is it sheer coincidence that a brewer from Good George Brewery should be brewing beer there a mere 139 years later? I think not!
Next is a picture of Pacific Pearl in the later stages of fermentation in one of the many open fermenters that Batemans use.
That strange looking fella is a brewer at 5am in the morning loading the giant grist case with a little under 2 tonnes of malted barley.
This Batemans pump clip montage appears on a wall of the bedroom in the brewer’s cottage.
That bright red glowing light is what the Pacific Pearl wort looks like as it rushes through the heat exchanger.
The crazy, creamy stuff is the yeast at a stage known as High Krausen… it’s right at the peak of active fermentation and smells incredibly fruity!.
The final picture is of the four separate wort samples after all 240 barrels were brewed… Good to see that colour consistency!
All in all, I can’t speak more highly of my experience with the Batemans team. They looked after me really well, it was amazing to brew in a place with such heritage and, as always, you learn so much from hanging out and brewing with brewers. Everyone will always do something slightly different and its always an extremely educational experience. The thing that impressed me most was the loyalty that the staff had… I think Adam, who was in charge of quality assurance and the brewing laboratory was still thought of as a newbie after being there for 12 years…
I also got the chance to head into Lincoln for a night on the town with Andrew, the Batemans Sales Director. It was brilliant and many pints and curries were sampled :)
Next stop was back to London where we headed to the impressive Cross Keyes pub to meet up with all of the other international brewers and have a meet and greet with the Wetherspoons staff. As well as Jason from Devils Backbone Brewery, the international team included Cam O’Connor from Deschutes Brewery in the US, Evgeny Tolstov from Vasileostrovsky Brewery in Russia, Klaudio Mouzakitis from Corfu Brewery, Lodewijk Swinkels from Bierbrouwerij Koningshoeven (La Trappe) in the Netherlands, Gary Lohin from Central City Brewing in Canada and Honza Kocka from Brewery Nomád/Kocovnik in Czechoslovakia. Needless to say, a few pints were enjoyed in a few of the local Wetherspoons outlet before we made our way to Borough Market and the celebrated Rake bar so that we could continue to enjoy the plethora of delightful brews that the UK has to offer.
The following day saw a bunch of us head for a brewery tour at Fullers Brewery out in Chiswick. I had never had the chance to visit this brewery and (as you can imagine) was pretty damn excited about going to check out this important part of London brewing history. In my mind, their London Porter is the epitome of this style of beer and I always find myself absolutely amazed by its richness, body and the incredible chocolate character. It’s one of those beers that is great on either cask or keg.
Speaking of which, there is some crazy, weird debate going on in the insular world of brewing, beer blogging, beer social media etc. about whether cask can be craft (Mark Dredge of Pencil and Spoon puts forward an interesting blog here), whether it’s okay to refer to keg as being craft or non-craft, whether breweries are allowed to put forward cask dispense and keg dispense options for the same beers, why keg beer costs more than cask beer, blah blah blah.
Two words. STOP IT.
How on earth is this industry going to keep moving forward at the rate it has over the last 10 years if everyone is riding the wave of pedantry, getting pissed off with terminology and generally alienating each other. So brewers… Please, please, please spend lots of time brewing great beer and promoting it and educating people about it, not moaning about your dislike of the term “craft keg” which exists in the minutiae of beer marketing and promotion. We’re an industry that works really well together, let’s aim to keep it that way! Make good beer and let the moaners moan.
Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough and will fill you all in on my tours of Fullers, Meantime, Camden Town, my road trip with brewer extraordinaire, Mark Tranter and super-fun collaboration brew with the Wild Beer Co guys in Somerset, a trip to Bristol and their great Beer Factory, as well as a couple of days at the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield (and a brief interlude or two at Thornbridge Brewery) in my next blog. I’m also pretty keen to let you know about my 5 favourite beers of the trip!!
Cheers and Beers!