Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Joy of Beer Festivals

The Mondial de la Biere festival, Strasbourg is unlike any other beer festival that I've ever been to. British beer festivals are home to some very peculiar customs and people. Gargantuan bars that home the seemingly endless racks and racks of casks to allow traditional gravity fed serving is almost always the norm. The rooms that contain these festivals often lack any central focal points and as such often generate a lot of congestions at the bar. These spaces are almost always filled with the die hard CAMRA members rubbing shoulders with the new generation of ale enthusiasts. Entertainment is often very limited with small local bands and some ropey folkey types playing to often quite deaf ears. Food options are usually diabolical, with the greasy spoon burger type vans often being the only caterers for events that are quite often incredibly well patronised. The focus of events like this is beer and nothing else really gets a look in. In many ways this allows for a great variety of products and a really quite effervescing atmosphere. But, and there is always a but, I find that with the limited variety of “real ale” available in the UK, there really needs to be more on offer to call these events a festival.

Mondial de la Biere was the polar opposite to my previous encounters of beer festivals. The variety of beer on offer was for one thing stupendously huge. Over five hundred different beers were available to sample and around twenty to thirty different styles. Already a major difference in the approach. The next major difference is that far more brewers were represented at this festival than any other that I have been to. Perhaps this is simply because there are not that many festivals in France, or that the brewers in France make a bit more of an effort to connect with their customers. But it was not just French brewers, as many of the international brewers had made the trip to the festival to show off their beer. Who knows, but it was very refreshing to chat to the likes of Justin Hawke from Moore Brewery, the guys from Dieu du Ciel, the Libieration crew, Anne and Jacques from Matten, the wonderful Jo from Belgoo, Jonathon at La Corne toname but a few. These were small breweries but they were all there to show off their products. The next big difference was in the layout, no big long bars and huge queues but dozens of small stands peddling their wares. A much more pleasant way to search out the beers and also learn a little more about the brewery and the beers on offer. The food options available were also of a much higher calibre (it was in France after all) with more than a burger and chips or pie on offer. We managed to feast on various Alsation delicacies such as Tarte Flambe along with all the other regular feast of cheese and charcuterie. A great festival all round and an joyous experience was had by all. This was far more to my liking and I will be back . Hopefully I'll manage a visit to the elder brother festival in Montreal (a bientot Serge!).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The woes of bottling

Bottling day at Le Brewery is always a bit of an epic as the system is fully manual. It requires up to five people working on a production line to rinse, fill, cap, wash and then stack the bottles. This is done at a rate of about 200 bottles an hour so 1200 litres of beer takes about 6 hours! What a waste of time and resources.

I've made a couple of enquiries into fully automated plants from Enterprise Tondelli and ABUK. Sadly all have been a little out of budget for Le Brewery at the moment and also would finish all the bottling too fast for them to be worth while. I feel like there ought to be some machinery that is a little more small scale but would make the process of bottling much easier and much less resource demanding. The only plant that has come close to this is found here.

I know nothing about the product but will email for more information and most importantly a price. If anyone knows of any small scale bottling plants that might be suitable then do let me know.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Temperature controllers AGAIN!

The temperature controllers in the fermentation room are on the blink again and I've been given the task of trying to sort it out. The last time I was here I managed to sort out the thermo-couple probe for the mash tun with a CAL9000 temperature controller. But alas, the Eliwell 961 controllers with their thermistors are on the blink.

I stress, please don't use Eliwell controllers unless you know what you're doing because all the downloads are not useful and hard to get your head round. During my research I discovered that there are two types of thermistor, negative temperature coefficient (NTC) and positive temperature coefficient (PTC). So after a lot of trial and error and comparing the settings from one broken controller to one working. I figured out that the temperature controllers need to have two thermistors of the same type connected for them to function properly. So and old PTC thermistor and a new one were connected and the whole thing sprang into life. Problem solved. Well not quite.

The resistance from the secondary probe was a little too high and the temperature reading was a little out. After consulting the useless instruction manual, I did find that you could add a temperature correction to the controller to ensure the correct temperature is read out. The next problem was that the probe was not waterproof. No good if you're going to dunk it in beer. Sosome silicone bathroom sealant and some heat shrink were used to create an all singing and all dancing new probe! Job done.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Hip to the Hop

The hop harvest has happened at Le Brewery and we are picking like crazy at the moment. They will be used in the Christmas beer for the brewery. The smell you get from the picking is absolutely amazing. So much citrus and pine on the nose and then all the resin on the fingers that lasts for days. What an absolute pleasure! Can't wait to see how they perform in the beer.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Moor Beer?

So arriving back at Le Brewery, I have been charged with investigating options for kegging Steve's ale. As mentioned, other breweries are doing this with success so I put some feelers out to try and gather some information from source. A bit of googling led me to Justin Hawke at Moor Brewery in Somerset. I tried to visit Justin over the summer on the recommendation of Rob from the Halfway House Inn at Pitney Hill, Somerset. Rob informed me that Justin was an extremely innovative brewer from the United States with a passion for un-fined beer. Sadly I didn't have time for a visit, but google informed me that Justin was kegging his beer for export.

I emailed Justin and within minutes I had a reply. The next day I sat down with a list of questions for him and gave him a call. The story is that they have been kegging for a while now and there are very few of the customers that they have that are concerned with this. From the conversation I quickly gathered that Justin is not concerned with containers and dispense, but how the product tastes. Moor Brewery have been using Ecokegs, a one-way recyclable keg as their keg of choice. I was informed that they will allow their beer to condition in the kegs at the brewery in the same way they would condition in tank. The beer is allowed to clear naturally in the keg and then dispatched with instructions to allow to settle for 24hrs prior to use.

We tried this method at Le Brewery, but alas our beer was a little too yeasty for our liking. Next step was to try using brite beer. We then set up the kegs with 2 bars of CO2 bubbled through the beer at 1 degrees celsius for between 48 and 72 hours. Hey presto! Carbonated beer good to serve from the French style font. Next thing to do is to find the appropriate container to distribute the beer in.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What is "Real Ale"?

While working at Le Brewery in Normandy, I was searching for ways to increase the sales of the beer in the region. The solution that I decided to pursue was to keg ale so that it could be easily dispensed in the bars locally (i.e. without the installation of hand pull pumps). The head brewer Steve challenged this idea by saying that he didn't want to compromise the quality of his product by not producing “real” ale. This lead me to finding out what “real” ale is. QYPDGRW7MSK5 

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) state's on its website that:

In the early 1970s we coined the term ‘real ale' to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland processed beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence was under threat.'

It goes on to say that 'Real ale is a natural product that is left to mature in cask (container) from which it is served in the pub.'

Now here lies the problem. In the United States the Brewer's Association which is similar to CAMRA states that 'A craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. ' By small it means the brewery produces less than 6 million barrels per year. More than 25% of the brewery cannot be owned by an alcoholic beverage industry member. The beer also perversely has to be made with all malt! No mention of what container the beer needs to be made in.

So looking further into this conundrum it would appear that within the UK there is the beginnings of a back lash on the restrictive CAMRA regulations. Breweries such as Brewdog, Thornbridge and West are using containers to house there beer that don't comply with CAMRA's rules. Thus they can't be described as real ale, but I'm sure the brewer's who make these beers aren't bothered as they are producing a fine product that is focused on taste rather than volume of sales.

This leads me to think that what both CAMRA and the US Brewer's Association are trying to say is that beer should be brewed for taste not for volume of sales. The rules should be flexible and should allow a quality product to be available to all who would like it!

So Steve can rest easy for several reasons.
  1. He's brewing in France so CAMRA's rules don't apply anyway
  2. He's producing beer that is really tasty
  3. By kegging his beer he will allow more bars to stock it.
Win, win and win again for Steve!