Categories
homebrewing

Brewing again – trying to solve the stuck fermentation problem

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).

Categories
pubs

Go to the Pembury Tavern beer festival

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.

Stonch has kindly posted all the details here.

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?

Categories
breweries News

Marston’s Buys Ringwood

product_oldthump_pump.gifRingwood have been taken over by Marston’s, as this article in the Times explains. Mike Benner, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says:

As one of the larger companies buys a brewery and expands its estate, competitors start hunting for their next purchase to keep up. Our fear is that an increasing number of smaller breweries will be lost if this race continues and consumer choice will suffer as a result.

That’s an astute bit of market analysis. Marston’s seem to think they’ll make more money out of allowing the smaller breweries they buy to remain independent and local, rather than bringing production of their beers “into the mothership”, as Charles Wells and Greene King have done:

Ralph Findlay, Marston’s chief executive, said that while the wider ale market was declining, many niche brewers were still doing well. “There is good growth in brands with strong imagery and a strong presence in their locality,” he said.

This is a topic we’ve posted on before — the value to the “big boys” of having some smaller, more credible brands to hide behind — but it’s worrying to think that if the market changes, those smaller breweries could be snuffed out, or at least neutered, overnight.

Of course, the former owner of Ringwood can’t be blamed: he’s pocketed nearly £20m, which is what the Godfather would call an offer you can’t refuse.

Categories
london pubs The Session

The July Session – Atmosphere

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session topic has been set by Hop Talk, and is all about atmosphere. We have been challenged to talk about:

…the Atmosphere in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:

Why?

We thought that we’d focus on the why — what is it that make for a good atmosphere?

  1. The time, the place. Obvious really, but we’ve had some great times in terrible pubs just because there’s something magical about the circumstances. For example, when you’ve stepped in out of a sudden shower, or from the freezing cold; or when you’ve taken a week-day off work, and you should be sitting at your desk, but instead you’re in the boozer, with two elderly alcoholics, a dog and a couple of bluebottles for company. Almost any pub feels good on Christmas Eve, or if your country has won in a big sporting event.
  2. The company. Who you’re with is probably the most important contributor to atmosphere — the worst pub in the world can have a great atmosphere if you’re with good friends. Remember, the point of the pub is to socialise! And it’s nice, too, if the other people in the pub are of different ages, classes, races and so on. A pub full of people in suits can be miserable. A pub full of football fans can be miserable. A pub full of students can be miserable. But mix them all up, and suddenly no-one feels on guard or out of place.
  3. Pubs you’ve hiked to on holiday. Any pub you’ve walked a long way to get to, perhaps along a coastal path, in the rain, will have a great atmosphere. A pint you’ve earned tastes twice as good. A pint of bog-standard Flowers at the Anchor Inn, Burton Bradstock tasted like nectar after four hours walking from Abbotsbury and, again, it’s great to know that you’re there when you should be at work.
  4. Decor. Small rooms, subdued lighting, rich dark colours. Pubs like that don’t always have good atmosphere, but they’re more likely to than ones with large, white, echoing rooms with bright lights. The legendary and brilliant Pembury Tavern in Hackney has only one flaw, perhaps best summed up in a graffito from the gents toilets: “This place is like an Anglican church”. (We should add that the atmosphere there gets better every time we go, and that for some people, it’s one of the main attractions.) Good pubs are designed so you can hear what your friends are saying but no-one else can. They’re intimate, cosy and comfortable, like a home from home. They shouldn’t feel too “corporate”, as Fullers pubs have started to do.
  5. Friendly bar staff. It’s not always the case, but generally a pub with a landlord as opposed to a “management team” will be friendlier. Nothing crushes the atmosphere quicker than dead-eyed, tired, grumpy staff wearing identical polo shirts glaring at you over the pumps. It’s not usually their fault — they’re underpaid and treated like drones. But it’s great when bar staff engage you in conversation, know about the beers and say goodbye when you leave.
  6. The lock-in. A uniquely British tradition, the significance of which has declined with the change to licensing laws. Until recently, pub landlords had to call “last orders” at 11:00 and kick you out by 11:20. The “lock-in” was where the pub landlord spontaneously decided that he liked the crowd he had in, so decided to flout the law, shut all the doors, draw the curtains, and stay open later. Guaranteed good night out. I’d name a couple of pubs famous for never shutting, but I wouldn’t want to get them in trouble. Often local Irish boozers (not big Irish chains). Nowadays, it’s supposed to be easier for landlords to get late licences, and we haven’t been in a lock-in since.
  7. Noise or music. It doesn’t have to be music, but some kind of background noise is usually a good thing. Beer snobs seem to have some problem with music in pubs, which I don’t really understand. It’s preferable to complete silence or — worse — an echo. A good jukebox can’t be beat. And the best ever: sitting in a beer garden in Munich listening to the hubbub of conversation, and a distant oompah band.
  8. Busy but not claustrophobic. A pub should be busy enough that it has some life in it, but not so busy you can’t get a seat after, say, 2o minutes. Claustrophobic pubs — anywhere in central London between 5-8 on a Friday, for example — are a nightmare.
  9. Beer gardens and town squares in the sun. This is a cheat, really, because the atmosphere is that of the town or city you’re visiting. Sunlight, shade, bustle and beer are a great combination. Watching the world go by under a parasol.. just perfect.

Note that good beer does not appear in this list. When we started to think about this post, we noted that almost all pubs where we’d had a truly amazing time had indifferent beer, at the very best. And we often choose to go to pubs with mediocre beer but great atmosphere whenever we’re meeting “normal friends” (ie those that aren’t beer obsessives). If it’s just the two of us, that’s different, but most people are not willing to trek to a “weird” pub because they have an interesting beer or two.

We wondered whether, in fact, “good beer” and “good atmosphere” were negatively correlated. How many times have you gone into a new pub with a “good beer” reputation, tried all the beers you’ve never had in as short a space of time as possible so you can move on and try somewhere else. We certainly have on day trips to,e.g., Oxford. Does this help create an atmosphere?

However, with a bit more consideration, we thought of a few places that do manage to pull off both great atmosphere and great beer:

  • The Rake, near London Bridge. A tip from Stonch, which we can’t drag ourselves away from now we’ve found it. Great range of beer, very friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff. Very busy, but we’ve got a seat within 20 minutes every time we’ve been. It’s tiny, which is, in fact, probably what gives it a “buzz”, even when there are only 10 people in it.
  • The Fitzroy Tavern, near Oxford Street. A nightmare in the evenings, but on a Sunday afternoon, a lovely place for a pint. Victorian style booths break up what is actually a big space, and make it feel more intimate. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not, but there’s always the sound of the street outside. And we love several of Sam Smith’s beers “real” or not.
  • Quinn’s, Camden. It’s a normal pub — one that looks too scary to go into at first glance — with a mixed and friendly clientele, but which also has fridges full of great German and Belgian beer. Sitting drinking Schlenkerla Rauchbier in a normal pub is how it should be.

This was a great topic!

Categories
Beer history london

Old School Beer “Blogging”

Before blogging, anyone who wanted to record something interesting they’d come across to do with their hobbies and interests had to stick it in a scrapbook.

The Westminster Archive1 (which we’ve mentioned before) has an astounding collection of beer related scrapbooks — 82 volumes in total — all of which were the work of a mysterious chap2 called “D. Foster”.

Between around 1880-1900, Every time Mr Foster came across anything in a book or magazine to do with beer or pubs in London, he copied out the section by hand. His scrapbooks, of which there are between 10-20 per bound volume, are meticulously organised. The first 60-odd volumes cover London pubs from A-Z. Then there are volumes on beer and ale; drinking vessels; coffee shops; and so on.

It really does read like a blog, and is a priceless resource of knowledge about beer. The copy in the Archive is the only one — it’s never been printed or published — so if you’re in the area, it’s worth popping in for a look.

Notes

1. The archives are on St Ann’s Street, in Westminster, and are open every day except Sunday and Monday.

2. We’re assuming D. Foster was a chap — the librarians didn’t know much about where the scrapbooks had come from, except that their author was an “enthusiast”.