Changing Tides and Pearls of the Pacific

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.

A thirsty Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery

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…

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

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…

Montage!

Montage!

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…

Lincoln Cathedral by night

Lincoln Cathedral by night

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.

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

 

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!

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

Good

Wow. I think that’s the one word that sums up the last year of my life. From leaving Epic Brewing in Auckland to moving down to Raglan and taking on the head brewer role for Good George Brewing to heading to Fiji and Canada to help out with some brewery consulting to judging at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, the NZ Brewing Awards back home and the excellent National Homebrew Competition held here in Hamilton to running the brewery here to hiring the fantastic Nate Ross (ex Kernel Brewery in London and Renaissance Brewery in Blenheim) as my assistant brewer and being in the process of hiring yet another great assistant brewer, Jean-Baptiste Martineau from France (whom due to the colour of his locks and Heriot-Watt training, I have dubbed French Martin Dickie from Brewdog) to now heading over to the UK to brew 40 000 litres of a nice, hoppy black ale called Pacific Pearl (at Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire) for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival.

Image

That’s why I decided I needed a long sentence. It’s been a busy and brilliant year.

Good George has taken off with a hiss and a roar! In just three weeks of production, we hit our capacity and were able to look at getting in new tanks and kegs, which have just arrived. We thought that we’d grow into our capacity over the first year, but far out have we been surprised! There has been some fantastic feedback from customers and the odd lukewarm response from beer-geeks and die-hard “cheap beer” fanatics, but I’ll get to that a bit later…

So what has been happening here in the little suburb of Frankton? I’ve been working hard on our core group of beers and ciders, never quite 100% happy with each batch, but that’s what been a brewer is all about, right! I’m a massive believer in continuous improvement and this also ties in a lot with taking our customers on a bit of a journey, which is definitely one of the things I truly believe in and am hopefully achieving.

The original range of our White Ale, Sparkling Ale, IPA and Amber Ale as well as our Cider, Drop Hop Cider and Doris Plum Cider have all been tweaked at every brew which has been great fun. I love experimenting. There is an important reason behind this. To begin with, the majority of people who visit Good George and have become our regulars haven’t had a lot of experience with craft beer. They may have tried the odd bottle or pint, but I keep noticing that the majority of folk would rather start off in their comfort zone and learn a little before venturing into this large, unknown world of different flavours.

Image

Nate Ross and Nathan Sweetman try out our White Ale Beersicles that we dreamed up for our Waitangi Day celebration

I suppose it’s quite interesting that our little brewpub used to be The Church of Saint George. The beers that we brew here are about conversion. Moving people away from the cheapest 24-pack of bottles they can get at the supermarket, realising that craft beer isn’t necessarily just about big, bitter beers (which can be quite scary and shocking for those new to the world) or thick, rich coffee and chocolate stouts (which again can be a bit flavour-forward for a lot of people who are used to drinking relatively flavour-neutral brews). I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I’ve spent a lot of my brewing past making bigger flavoured brews and love doing this, though the more I work and play in this industry, the more I realise that there are a heap of people out there that just don’t really know where to begin. They may pick up the odd bottle of craft at the supermarket to give it a go but are put off by the flavour or bitterness or sheer intensity! These are things that a lot of us craft beer lovers and beer-geeks strive for in a brew, but we’re a minority. Luckily though, we’re a minority that wants to turn the world of the uninitiated into a world of great beer lovers. That’s a special place to be and that’s always in the forefront of my mind.

I think back to a question from a great NZ brewer who came to visit soon after we opened. He tried the beers and looked at me quite quizzically. “You wouldn’t have brewed these types of beers before, would you?” he asked. By this, he was referring (well, hopefully!) to easier drinking brews with a little more balance and subtlety than others I’d done before. “Of course!” was my reply. I told him of the wonderful Fyne Ales brews… Highlander, Piper’s Gold, Maverick, Vital Spark. Of Thornbridge with it’s Hopton, Lord Marples, Brock, Wild Swan, Jaywick, Ashford and so many more. Beers that were lighter in strength, were rounded and full of flavour and balanced and drinkable. Each with their own personality and enough accessibility to allow those that don’t know a lot about the flavours and aromas of craft to appreciate them and begin them on the road to being a beer-lover.

Image

Sure, there are nay-sayers and there always will be in this sometimes dichotomous world of brewing and beer. There are always those that want more. More flavour, more hops, more body, more esters, more acidity, more malt, more richness, more roastiness, more intensity, more drinkability… you get my drift. There are also the others. The classic “that beer is crap” folk. They taste a beer with a little more character than usual, think about the beer that they drink every day, possibly bought in a crate of 745 mL bottles or on super-special at the liquor store and insist that it tastes like mouthwash, dog’s arse (yes, that has been said and we have queried how someone knows what that tastes like!) or something else that they draw from their vast experience of beer tasting. I’m not saying they’re wrong for not liking it of course! I’d be surprised if everyone liked every single beer they try and everyone is entitled to like or dislike what they want. I honestly think everyone is entitled to an opinion about beer, but only as long as they can argue that opinion… with me… 🙂

Image

Crate! (Image from http://www.connox.com)

The other great thing about brewing beers and ciders that appeal to a good cross section of people is that it helps us to grow the business. The great thing about growing a business is that it then gives you the resources to do more fun things. Interesting, eclectic beers, barrel-aging programmes, experimenting with different yeasts and bacteria and having the staff and time to do these things. We’re getting closer to this point and this is another source of excitement!

We’ve just had a bit of a play with something a little different… Nate and I sat down with a selection of hops, got our noses primed and decided on what we think is a great combination that we’ve put into our 5.5% Black Pearl, a hoppy black ale that is a bit of a brother brew to Pacific Pearl that I’ll be brewing in the UK.

Black Pearl used a combination of Pacific Jade, Pacifica, Amarillo, Admiral and NZ Chinook to give a decent level of hoppiness without being massively over the top. I really wanted this beer to have a nice, rich maltiness without being over-roasty or too chocolatey. It had to dance gracefully with the hop bill and with 55 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the bitterness had to also be soft and gentle in its intensity. I see this beer as a little bit of a stepping stone. It begins to take people out of their comfort zone slightly. It always surprises me how many people think that darker beers are instantly more “heavy” or “a meal in a glass”. To have explained to them that they still use the same ingredients, they still contain the same amount of water and they aren’t like that old, skewed memory of their first pint of Guinness (which I have never really found to be heavy but I know that people drink with their eyes!). This is important. The act of getting them to close their eyes and have a sip. To have a second sip to allow their palate to get used to the initial bitterness. To ask them if they find an ice chocolate or an ice coffee or a coolish glass of red wine or a mug of iced tea to be heavy because they are darker in colour. To get them to think a little about what they’re drinking. That’s the first step. It’s not being disappointed that they don’t appreciate the nuances that the brewer has worked hard to get into the beer. It’s just the first step on the road of appreciation. Beer as a refreshment is a given, as a craft brewer I love watching that voyage of discovery for the new craft beer drinker. That conversion

Image

So it’s a countdown now until England beckons again. I’ve missed the wonderful world of cask ale, I still nod disappointedly at the generic Kiwi terminology for British Ale… “That’s that warm, flat stuff isn’t it?” In fact I really hope we can get a good cask ale programme cranking here at Good George… one for the future I think and I’m looking forward to it!

Image

Teaming up with Bateman’s is really exciting. I’ve been working closely with their Head Brewer, Martin McCullimore on getting this recipe exactly where I want it. Pacific Pearl is going to be jam-packed with some of New Zealand Hops’ finest… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem, Pacifica and because it’s truly Pacific (and I can’t source any NZ Chinook in the UK), we’ll even throw in some US West Coast Chinook to bring in a hint of piney intensity. We’re dry-hopping this brew, it’s going to be rich and bitter and I can’t wait to brew it (though a 6 am followed by a 5 am start after 40 or so hours of flight and travel is going to be a good challenge). If you’re in the UK and are close to a Wetherspoon’s pub in April, please go and try it and let me know what you think of it!

Because I’m travelling all that way, I’m also going to team up with my great mate, Mark Tranter, the (soon-to-be) former head brewer and wizard behind the fantastic Dark Star Brewery in Sussex and head to Somerset to put down a brew with that whacky, wild duo of Brett and Andrew at Wild Beer Co. It seems fitting with Good George being on Somerset Street here in Hamilton that I do something fun with them!

ImageAnd fun it shall be… I can give you a few hints on what has been going on in our twisted brewing minds… Think Hibiscus, Passionfruit, Pink Peppercorns, Barrels and Brettanomyces and you’ll begin to form a picture of what is going to be an extremely exciting beer!

I’m also going to head up to the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield for a day to catch up with lots of brewers hopefully as well as pop in to my old home of four years, The Coach and Horses in Dronfield, to catch up with all of my great friends and locals there. Hopefully some of the Thornbridge crew as well!

So that’s where I’m at.

Good?

Hell, yeah!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.