Climate Change and British Beer

The Guardian today features a story about the Cantillon brewery in Brussels which, owner Jean Van Roy says, is suffering as a result of climate change:

“Ideally it must cool at between minus 3C and 8C. But climate change has been notable in the last 20 years. My grandfather 50 years ago brewed from mid-October until May – but I’ve never done that in my life, and I am in my 15th season.”

This reminded us of an exchange we had with a senior figure at one of the larger British breweries last year who said that climate change was among their biggest long-term worries.

In particular, they suggested, cask ale still relies to a great extent on naturally cool pub cellars. (And, as a result, warm summers can already be a problem for cask ale quality.) If those summers last longer, and get hotter, traditional British beer will struggle. Cellar refrigeration is already common but might become absolutely necessary, even in pubs that haven’t needed it in the past.

That’s on top of concerns over how it might affect hop farming and malting barley; a nagging sense of guilt over the amount of water used in brewing; and about the amount of energy used to ship it, and its ingredients, very often under refrigeration.

We’d be interested to hear from others involved in brewing and the pub trade: is climate change on your ‘risk register’?

Beers With a Pinch of Place

For as long as we’ve been pondering what ‘local’ means in terms of beer, we’ve also been interested in beers made with ingredients that evoke the place of their origin.

In the last year, others have crystallised that into a conversation across various blog posts and articles, of which there have been a particular flurry in recent weeks.

The idea that what is at hand — what grows in nearby fields or hedgerows — might shape the design of a beer is alluring and, frankly, rather obvious to anyone who’s ever clapped eyes on, say, bright yellow gorse flowers, or glossy rosehips. Realising that our stash contained a few beers which make a virtue of containing unusual place-specific ingredients, we decided now was a good time to taste them, with a question in mind: does this approach create tastier or at least more interesting beers?

Continue reading “Beers With a Pinch of Place”

Adnam’s East Green and the Crown pub, Victoria Park

The Crown pub, Victoria Park, as photographed by EwanM
The Crown pub, Victoria Park, as photographed by EwanM

On one of our random wanderings round East London, we stopped off at the Crown Pub, next to Victoria Park. I gather this has been through a few incarnations, and is now part of the Geronimo Inns chain. It’s gastro-y, with a lounge bit downstairs and a dining room upstairs.

Top marks for the feng shui — despite the cowskins and bare floors, they do manage to make it feel cosy (good lighting, darkish walls and a cleverly placed book case).

They had Adnam’s East Green on tap, which claims to be carbon neutral. We haven’t heard lots of enthusiastic reviews about this beer, so we weren’t expecting much. We were pleasantly surprised. It had an orangey, spicy aroma, like a Belgian wit beer, which was how it tasted too. The Adnam’s website makes no references to use of spices, but I’m blowed if I can work out how they got that flavour without them. Refreshing and different, and worth trying even if you don’t want to save the planet.

They also had Pride and Doombar on tap, in reasonable condition. In bottles, the usual selection of dull world lagers, but they also had Anchor Steam.

We liked this place, as it was genuinely relaxing and cosy — too many wannabe modern pubs just don’t manage to pull this off. We didn’t try the food, although it’s supposed to be good. Worth a visit if you’re in the area, and a great spot for a Sunday afternoon pint after a stroll through the park.

Boak (via text)

Notes

1. The Crown is at 223 Grove Road, E3, next to Victoria Park, and is equidistant from Bethnal Green and Mile End tubes. Beer in the Evening review here.

2. Adnam’s have achieved carbon neutrality through a mixture of genuine reductions in carbon emissions and by offsetting the rest. We’re not that convinced by offsetting, but it’s interesting to see a brewery quantify the carbon emissions created by brewing and attempt to do something about it.

3. Geronimo Inns also own the Phoenix in Victoria, which is rubbish, and The Betjemen Arms in King’s Cross St Pancras, where we haven’t yet been. So I don’t know what belonging to this chain is supposed to mean in terms of quality.

Once again, we find ourselves indebted to EwanM at Flickr for the picture. He appears to be on a mission to photograph every London pub and put up his pictures under a Creative Commons license. Thanks, Ewan!

Things to do with crap beer (1) – improve the lawn

What do you do with crap beer that people generously bring round? In an attempt to use up some of the cans of Stella and John Smith’s we’ve got knocking around from the last party, we’ve been researching some things you can do with excess beer. This will be an occasional series, hopefully with reports on how it’s worked in practice.

Number 1 – the gardening tool. Apparently, beer is useful to fertilise and improve your lawn. This site shows you how you can make various solutions to remove thatch and fertilise the greenery, and this site suggests using beer to remove brown spots.

We’ve not tried this ourselves (the landlord pays for a gardener, so our lawn’s in great shape) but there are lots of other websites out promoting the use of beer on lawns. If anyone’s tried it and it works, do let us know. Can beer be used to fertilise other plants?

Petty rant about beer bottle labels

Homebrewers know the pain of bottling. The boring bit of the whole process. Tedious, painful and messy. We try to minimize the pain by using polypins, but this means you have to drink the beer a lot quicker.

Cleaning the beer bottles is bad enough. But what really gets my goat is getting the labels off British ale bottles. I don’t know what they use to glue the damn things on, but chemicals, steam and good old fashioned elbow grease are not enough to get rid of them, and you end up with bottles with unsightly bits of paper and glue marks all over them. Not what you want to serve up your pride and joy in.

American labels are pretty bad, but then their bottles come in all sorts of weird shapes, and what with the preponderance of screw top caps, we tend to put them straight in recycling. Nothing more frustrating than spending all that time cleaning and sterilising a bottle, only to find the bugger won’t cap.

German and Belgian beer bottle labels come off with ease, on the other hand. Is this related to the fact that there is much more of a practice of reusing bottles there? Germany has a bottle deposit scheme, and in Belgium bottles often seem to be collected by the bar staff for return to the brewery.

Come on, British brewers! Do your bit for homebrewers and the environment, and use something with a half- life of less than a millenium. Flour and water paste works for us. Or Pritt Stick.

Boak

Interview: James Clarke, Hook Norton brewery

hooknorton303_beerhunting.jpgJames 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! james@hook-norton-brewery.co.uk

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…)?

JC:

  1. 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).
  2. Donnington Bitter – a local beer for me, and brewed in the most picturesque brewery, with great yeast (from HN).
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Ochakovo Brewery Pollution Scandal

baltic_mild.jpg

We posted enthusiastically on the subject of Ochakovo a few weeks ago, so this story from the Russian News and Information Agency caught my eye.

The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and its watchdog accused Ochakovo of spilling unfiltered industrial sewage, possibly containing malt into the offshoots of the Moskva River in the west of the city in early July.

Mmmmm. Industrial sewage — with added malt. Gargle.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s a suggestion that there might be some corruption at the top of the Russian environment agency:

“We cannot consider the test results objective, knowing the originally prejudiced attitude by a senior environmental official against Ochakovo,” Yury Lobanov, vice president and chief engineer of the company, said in an apparent reference to Oleg Mitvol, deputy chief of the environmental regulator.

It’s a nice beer, but clearly pumping rubbish into the environment isn’t a good thing. Perhaps they could do to learn a few lesson from Adnams.

Adnams and Sustainability

adnams1.gifAs part of their push to build a reputation as one of Britain’s greenest brewers, Suffolk brewery have stuck a nice little booklet (printed in vegetable ink, on recycled paper) into every issue of New Scientist this week. The booklet outlines, in some detail, everything they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact.

Brewing and beer (especially beer from abroad) is a guilty pleasure for people who worry about the environment. Most breweries waste a lot of energy to turn barley and water into beer. Adnams are ahead of the game in trying to reduce the wastage. For example, they say they reuse 90% of the steam produced by the process. They’ve also made their bottles lighter and, in so doing, reduced their “carbon footprint” significantly, because they’re easier to transport.

I’ve never been particularly excited by any of their beers — I suspect this is to do with the crappy pubs where I’ve tasted them! — but do applaud the huge commitment they’ve apparently made to this cause.

Update: I’m not the only one who’s interested in green breweries today…