Weird and worrying news, which we picked up through Akelas Biggins – Steve Harrison, the Vice President of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, has gone missing. It seems he had been depressed. Let’s hope he’s OK.
A quick post on the highlights of GBBF for us. More posts to come on some of the beers we had there in the next couple of days…
Things we liked about GBBF
- The diversity of the punters. You get a lot of people here who would not normally come to beer festivals. The ratio of women to men is considerably higher here than at other festivals, and it’s not uncommon to see groups of women enjoying the beers. OK, so there’s still a queue for the gents but none at all for the ladies… but each time we come back to GBBF (we were last here a couple of years ago) it becomes more representative of the UK population as a whole.
- Obviously, the huge numbers of beers, from some quite obscure breweries. Nice to see so many milds, porters and stouts – even real ale pubs don’t tend to stock these as much as “plain” bitters styles. Our favourites from the UK were “Old Freddie Walker” from the Moor Beer Company in Somerset – a dark strong ale (7.3%) with a lovely rich, raisiny flavour, and Glencoe Wild Oat Stout, made by the Bridge of Allan Brewery in Scotland. This latter packed in a huge amount of flavour for its 4.1% – and it’s organic too.
- We liked the layout by region, and the “new” stalls, such as the vegetarian / organic beer, and the “Bar Nouveau” – handy for helping you organise your session!
- The Bieres Sans Frontieres stalls. The beer-tasting highlight of the evening was probably a couple of American beers – Pennichuk Halligan RyePA (5.1%) and the Portsmouth Brewery’s “BottleRocket” IPA (6.something I think). Both full of aroma and flavouring hops, but beautifully balanced.
- The third-of-a-pint measure. Really nice little glasses, fabulous for tasting as much as possible – and economical too. And you didn’t feel bad about tipping 60-pence worth of beer down the sink.
- The programme was extremely helpful to beer-geeks and non-beer-geeks alike, and helpfully priced at Â£1. The tasting notes, basic information about beer, and interesting articles about beer and food, and the “local” nature of cask beer, will surely help raise interest in good beer amongst the casual punters.
- The fact that we found some Baltic porters! We bought these for takeaway (and later blog posts). Seriously impressed that GBBF can deliver what even specialist beers shops and Russian delis cannot…
- The food selection – we thought this was pretty decent, with a range of meat products, Thai & Indian food, and of course “snacks to beer” (pork scratchings and pies). Not too over-priced either, considering this was a “premier venue” in the middle of London.
It seems churlish to point to weaknesses when we had such a good time, but as my line manager would say, there’s always something you could do better.
- The condition of the beers. This is probably our biggest gripe – let’s face it, a beer festival is not the best place to store cask ale, and a lot of the beers we tried (particularly low ABV British styles) were slightly off – had to tip a few down the sink. To return to the point of yesterday’s post, it seems a shame to get so many potential new punters in one spot and then serve them stuff that smells like farts and tastes like cider. No, I wasn’t at the cider and perry bar at the time!
- More seating – or at least make sure the floor’s a bit cleaner. If I was being really lah-di-dah, I’d suggest more umbrellas for the tables – this would help the venue feel more like a large beer garden and less like an aircraft hangar.
- It would be great to have some water points. You need something to (a) cleanse your palate (b) cleanse your glass © help stave off the hangover.
All in all, we had a great time, and well done to CAMRA for excellent organisation. Special mention of the pre-festival publicity on the Tube and in the London papers for raising awareness outside the beer-geek world.
Don’t just take our word for it!
Other bloggers have some good perspectives on GBBF. Stonch gives us a fabulous description of the atmosphere, together with a roll-call of the great and the good in UK brewing. We loved Pete “the second-best beer drinker in Britain ” Brown’s view on GBBF, which challenges the insistence on cask ale but still recommends you go. Melissa Cole (“Girls Guide to beer”) seems to have had a good time as well.
The GBBF is on until Saturday at Earls Court, London. We’ve found that a lot of the beer runs out by Friday, so go as soon as you can! Link to GBBF page on CAMRA website.
James Clarke is the Managing Director of legendary Oxfordshire brewery Hook Norton, and a great grandson of the brewery’s founder. He dropped by here a few weeks ago to comment on a post which mentioned Hook Norton. We took the opportunity to subject him to our first ever interview.
B&B: How involved in the brewing process are you?
JC: Very. I started at HN as Second Brewer in 1991, my first job being to establish an in house laboratory facility. The brewing side is the bit I enjoy most, and I still do two or three early mornings brewing, as well as every third Saturday looking after fermentations. I have also been responsible for new beers such as Cotswold Lion, Flagship and Beefy’s Bitter.
B&B: Which of your beers is your favourite, and why?
JC: I think my favourite has to be Old Hooky, but I am also keen on the environment where I drink my beer, so for example a Hooky Gold in the sunshine, sat outside a pub is a great experience, as is supping a Twelve Days on a dark night in front of the log fire. Depends very much on how the mood takes me.
B&B: Old Hooky is highly regarded – it’s in both Michael Jackson’s and Roger Protz’s lists of “essential beers”. What’s the secret?
JC: Old Hooky was first brewed as a celebratory beer for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. It was very popular so we kept it going, and initially called it Old Bill, after my grandfather. However that name conflicted with another Brewer who was already using it, so it was renamed Old Hooky. It is a good, solid, traditional premium beer – it delivers good flavour, and a respectable amount of alcohol. It is very much the big brother to our Bitter, which itself is known for having good flavour for a 3.6% beer, and I think these attributes are similar with Old Hooky, at a premium level. A genuine quality beer, and I think delivers what is expected – no particularly outlandish type flavours, just what one expects from a good ale.
B&B: You make a very good stout – can Britain’s independent brewers challenge the dominance of Guinness in pubs?
JC: I love dark beers, and Double Stout was resurrected in 1996 from a recipe which hadn’t been brewed since 1917. I would love to challenge the G, but it would be tough! I know a number of regional brewers are trying with their own stouts, and maybe we should. However we have never kegged our beers, and have no kegging plant here, and I do feel it would need to be as a smooth beer to attract the G drinkers. Maybe if it worked, we could then try and move drinkers to cask stout? Would be interested to hear your readers views on this point! email@example.com
B&B: It would be great to see cask stout available!
B&B: How did Hamburger Union come to sell Hook Norton Bitter?
JC: Sorry, where or what is Hamburger Union?
B&B: It’s a chain of slightly upmarket burger restaurants – there are tons in London. They only sell two beers: Pilsner Urquell, and Hook Norton Bitter.
B&B: Adnam’s are pushing the environmental angle at the moment – what are your plans in this area?
JC: Adnams have done a great job in this area, and are justifiably proud.We are undertaking some studies to see where we can harness surplus energy
from the process. The Victorians had some good ideas, where we re-use cooling water which gets heated up during it’s duty, etc.. We have educated staff regarding individual energy use – PCs, photocopiers etc, and we now need to tackle the bigger bits. One of our engineers has been working with an Oxfordshire Energy forum, and the next step is to get the Carbon Trust involved. And of course we use shire horses locally for deliveries!
B&B: What would be your five desert island beers (not counting your own…)?
- Youngs Bitter – just a great beer, relatively modest alcohol content, but a great session beer (if I am allowed to say that with the current alcohol lobby).
- Donnington Bitter – a local beer for me, and brewed in the most picturesque brewery, with great yeast (from HN).
- Fullers ESB, bottled – probably the greatest balance of hop aroma on a bottled beer I have ever tasted – had some last Wednesday, and reminded me of just how good it is!
- Coopers Pale Ale – I had the pleasure of visiting their Brewery a couple of years ago, as well as some great beers, there was an amazing Company ethos – some of the nicest people I have met.
- A Czech beer, can’t remember the name, but a small brew-pub just off Wenceslas Square in Prague, where they served the beer direct from fermentation tank. Had two great nights there, even had my wallet stolen, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment!
B&B: What future developments can we expect from Hook Norton?
JC: We are continually developing our beer range. The next new one will be a limited edition to celebrate Oxfordshire’s 1000 years. This will be a beer brewed with Oxfordshire grown Maris Otter malt and Fuggles hops. A dynamic beer programme is essential, and consumers seem to love variety.
B&B: We certainly do!
JC: We are also looking to increase our pub estate, as well as investing in existing pubs. We are just about to complete on our 47th pub, and invest significantly in The Coach and Horses in Banbury. It is as much about improving what we have as expanding, particularly with the current high price of pubs.
B&B: How do you measure success? Is it about expanding the business; developing a wider range; winning awards, or something else?
JC: Ultimately, success is about the bottom line, but the general measure is beer quality, and from that stems everything else. Our consumers measure us on the quality of beer – they are far less concerned with how much money we may be making, or how many pubs we have etc.. By maintaining beer quality, and brewing new beers, we can build the rest on this.
B&B: What do you think of beer blogging?
JC: Beer blogging is great, though I must confess this is my first encounter. It is an effective way of communicating. There are so many beers out there, many of which are relatively easily accessible, that it is really the only way to get up-to-date news.What a great balance of modern technology and traditional processes!
B&B: James, thanks for answering our questions, and good luck with your plans for the future of Hook Norton.
We haven’t brewed for a while. Since moving to all-grain brewing last year, we’ve had a couple of successes – a tasty mild and a blackberry wheatbeer, for example, as well as some drinkable if unremarkable bitters. However, we’ve suffered stuck fermentations in the last couple of brews, and it’s been rather depressing. All that effort, and you end up with sugary water.
(Note – a stuck fermentation is where it starts off fine, but stops fermenting before it reaches the expected final gravity. Final gravity should be around 25–30% of the original gravity. So our last brew had O.G of 1053, but only got down to 1025, i.e. 45%)
This has happened twice (and in fact, our third-from-last brew only got down to 35%), and we can’t understand why this has started happening – we’re not doing anything different with the yeast or aeration, which seem to be the usual culprits for stuck fermentation.
We consulted all our books, and searched the internet, and came up with the following theories (and counter-arguments). Continue reading “Brewing again – trying to solve the stuck fermentation problem”
If you’re in London or within a train ride of London between now and Saturday, go to the Pembury Tavern beer festival in Hackney.
We can echo his recommendation for Cairngorm “Trade Winds” – it has a fantastic aroma (probably due to the elderflowers) and a complex finish. As they say.
We also loved Milton brewery’s Elysium – a very smoky stout. In fact, we loved almost all of the ten or so beers we tried. And they do good food too. Go on. What are you waiting for?