Innovation

Some businesses seem to hit the nail on the head when it comes to their mottos or catchphrases. The first brewery I worked for, Tui Brewery in New Zealand, has a fantastic advertising campaign entitled “Yeah Right” which pretty much takes the piss out of anything and everything it can. I would probably be right in saying that this campaign helped to cement Tui’s place as one of the top selling beer brands in the country.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about Tui as a beer though. It’s touted as an East India Pale Ale, which I’m sure it would have resembled way back in 1889 when Henry Wagstaff stopped off at the Mangatainoka River, made a cuppa, thought it was fantastic and set up a brewery there, but it’s definitely moved away from this style of beer. People will probably laugh at me, but I think it’s a pretty good beer. It’s consistency, like any beer from larger brewery groups is second to none, it’s served nice and cold and slakes the thirst as well as any 4% brown draught lager will and I know for a fact that DB Breweries quality control is awesome (yeah, okay maybe I was a brewery microbiologist for them for a while).

As always, I digress. Breweries often come up with great slogans or mottos that help market their products for them. I think that Dogfish Head with their “Off Centered Ales for Off Centered People” is a cracker and completely epitomises Sam Calagione’s fantastic, whacky and wonderful approach to brewing. I guess even Wychwood Brewery’s “What’s the matter Lagerboy” campaign is effective, even if it does create a divide between cask ale and lager and insinuate that you can’t enjoy both.

I don’t quite know how Guinness would get away with “Guinness is good for you” in this day and age, even though recent research has indicated that beer actually is good for you, being full of antioxidants (like the ever-touted “oh-so-great for your heart” red wine). Then there’s the recently discovered research that certain hop compounds (Xanthohumol in particular) have testosterone blocking abilities, thus helping with the prevention of prostate cancer (links in well with the recent Movember event we held at the Coach and Horses, raising over £2,500 for prostate cancer awareness). I should also mention that brewer’s yeast is a great source of B vitamins, lots of riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, even folic acid as well as a bunch of trace elements and minerals. Maybe we should be arguing against the fining of beer… de-yeasting it surely makes it less nutritious for us?

But I suppose my favourite motto of all, and I know I sound as cheesy as hell when I say this, our motto. Innovation, Passion, Knowledge. Everything that beer means to me is encompassed by this simple slogan. It probably means bugger all to some of you, others probably think it’s quite pretentious or a bit wanky, but I’m sure there are a few of you out there who read it and understand it. Maybe you’re a brewer, or someone who loves beer, in fact it can apply to anything you do and that’s yet another reason why I think it’s pretty cool.

Thornbridge as a brewery has been built on this creed and I really hope it rings true as we progress as a brewery. I look around me now as I sit at my desk tapping away at the laptop. I see Stefano, arms cleaned like a surgeon, working away fastidiously in our microbiology plating room organising the new yeast propagation that moved into 200 litres of fresh wort today. I see Mauro, a student we have from Sardinia, already initiated into the way we do things and carefully pipetting yeast nutrient media into sterilised glassware. Andrea slaves over a couple of computer consoles, meticulously recording every part of the process, leaping out of his chair as an alarm sounds and he has to go and see to another part of the brewing process, earlier, his nose deep in hops as he weighs them out. Dave and JK on the brewery floor, cleaning and chatting and talking about beers they’ve tried recently while making sure every thing is done perfectly and to the letter. Matt, brewing up at the Hall brewery today but always in contact, telling me about the new technique he is using to extract as many aromatics as possible from the vanilla pods that have been used in today’s brew. Hell, even I still have the intense warm and aniseed-laced character from some Tellicherry Black Peppercorns that I chewed with gusto… all in preparation for a cool new beer we have on the horizon.

That’s what brewing should be about, it should be about excitement and interest and fascination with new ways and ingredients and approaches. We have this here and it’s awesome!

Which brings me into the plan that has been devised for the coming year. I was going to describe it, but might as well just show you the email I sent out instead!

The Concept – Do what we do best. Create innovative, interesting and unusual beers using choice ingredients and a range of different processes.

This element of innovation is essential. It may involve different types of brewing practice, different yeasts, unusual or different beer styles than we have done before, different post-fermentation modifications or bottling techniques etc.

The Approach –    One of these beers will be brewed per month at Thornbridge Hall with a different beer to be chosen every month.

The brew-plan is to include all relevant information, be well researched, methodical, analytical and scientific and explain everything from the initial thoughts behind the beer, your inspiration to brew it, why you want to brew it, what ingredients you are going to use, how you will approach the process, any relevant research you have done on the internet or by reading books (correctly referenced) and anything else that you think is important with regards to the novel processes, ingredients and beer style that you are to develop.

The Action – In the plan, you will be expected to outline all raw materials including extracts, IBUs, pitching rates, times and temperatures etc. If you are looking at using other ingredients, a link to these materials would also be of use.

So hopefully this will mean we’ll get some really interesting craft beers coming out in cask (and maybe even in very limited bottlings) with all of us brewers already strapped firmly into our thinking caps! In fact, I’ve edged in to do the first one of these beers next week, so you’ll just have to watch this space to see what it is! The beers will all be brewed at the Hall brewery and this is really a continuation of what we used to do on our one barrel pilot plant with the Alchemy range. Ending up with only a couple of casks that I would put on at the Coach and Horses meant that not many people got to try them though. This should mean a batch size of 30-40 casks, so we’ll be able to get them a little further afield to see what people think.

I can’t wait!!!

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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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