Ochakovo Brewery Pollution Scandal

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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.

Adventures in Cornwall Part 2 – St Austell Brewery tour

Having had my socks knocked off by St Austell’s bottle-conditioned “Admiral’s Ale” (see previous post), I was determined to find out more about it. So I booked myself (and friend) onto their brewery tour on Friday afternoon.

Simon, our tour guide was very good and knowledgeable, and it was a very interesting and enjoyable tour (particularly given our recent forays into homebrewing). I particularly liked seeing the mix of old and new equipment in the brewery. During the tour I learnt that they consider one of their key ingredients to be their own source of water (I believe it comes from a well in the old family home) – a pure and steady source, filtered through limestone (just like in Burton).

My second-favourite part of the tour was seeing the microbrewery where the head brewer experiments with new brews – I reckon all that equipment would just about fit in the spare room…

My favourite part of the tour came with the session in the bar afterwards – as well as the obvious activity of trying the beers, a number of the brewing team were in the bar as well, including the Head Brewer, Roger Ryman. Being the roving reporter that I am, I obviously took full opportunity to have a chat about some of the interesting brews that St Austell have been producing.

cloudedyellow.gifFirstly, I asked about Clouded Yellow, a bottle-conditioned wheatbeer that manages to pull off many of the main flavours of a Bavarian hefeweizen, while remaining unquestionably an ale. Roger explained that they use their standard yeast (so as not to risk contamination from the rather wilder Bavarian strain) but recreate the flavour using spices and vanilla.

It’s a very interesting flavour – possibly not to everyone’s taste, but I’m a fan, particularly when it’s slightly chilled, with the yeast shaken in. I also think it’s great that St Austell is willing to experiment with a beer like this.

Then I asked about the Admiral’s Ale, which I had been truly amazed by. The “secret” to this (not too much of a secret, it’s on the label!) is the malt that’s used.

The standard way that colour is added to beer is to brew with a pale malt base with a little crystal malt, or other dark malts, or roast barley. (The longer you roast the malt, the less fermentable sugars you get and it becomes expensive or indeed impossible to get fermentable wort).

For Admiral’s Ale, the brewery uses 100% “Cornish Gold” malt, which is kilned for a little bit longer than standard pale malt – not long enough so that it loses its yield, but enough to add colour and flavour.

Back to the bar, I sampled the other products I hadn’t seen. Cornish Cream is their take on the Guinness market, described as a “dark smooth ale”, and is slightly sweet. Possibly a good first step to weaning people off Guinness?

freebeer.gifSt Austell have also just launched “Freebeer 3.2”, which will be on sale at the various Tate Galleries across Britain. This project is worthy of a blog post in its own right – the recipe and branding of FREE BEER is published under a Creative Commons license (Attribution-ShareAlike2.5). This gives permission for anyone to use the recipe or create a derivative to brew their own FREE BEER and to use the design and branding. For more on Freebeer, see this link.

St Austell has considerable regional dominance (over 150 pubs, the vast majority in Cornwall), and also, interestingly enough, only makes around 20% of their turnover from beer (the rest comes from wines and spirits wholesale and retail). Given this, they may have been tempted to skimp on the quality of the beer. Instead, there’s innovation and experimentation – great to see.

Boak

1. The St Austell brewery is in the centre of St Austell, Cornwall. There is a small museum in the Visitors’ Centre, where the tour starts. They seem to be running a lot of tours at the moment, but appreciate a phone call before you turn up.

2. If you’re staying in St Austell, I recommend the B&B I stayed at – Topos. It’s about 10-15 minutes walk from the station (and brewery!)

3. Since my visit, I’ve subsequently found out that Roger Ryman was awarded “Brewer of the Year” by British Guild of Beer Writers in Dec 2006. So I’m by no means the first to praise St Austell’s innovation!

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.

Adventures in Cornwall part 1: St Austell’s Admiral Ale – in a good restaurant!

bottle_beer_cropped_admirals_ale.jpgLast night I was in a lovely restaurant in the fishing village of Fowey, Cornwall. (I’m down for a wedding).

Having been involved in a minor bus crash, I was keen for a drink; my heart sank slightly on seeing the Peroni tap. “Do you have any other beer?” I asked. “Yes, we have San Miguel, Kronenbourg…”. Heart sank a little further, which the waiter picked up on. “Do you like ales?” he said. “er…yes” I said. “Well, we do have some ale. One of the local brews”. And out came St Austell’s Admiral’s Ale. It was bottle conditioned and absolutely superb – glorious red-brown colour, slight toffee aroma, tasted a little bit like a cross between a good dark wheatbeer and an ale. I’ve enjoyed their “Tribute” a couple of times, and recently picked up a couple of their other products, “Proper Job” (an IPA) and “Clouded Yellow” (a continental-style wheatbeer brewed with British yeast). But this was the king of the crop. I was so impressed, I went out and bought a case.

And how great to see a good restaurant offering quality beer. (I got some funny looks mind. I like to think this was the mixing strong tasting beer with strong tasting seafood, and not some lazy stereotype about ladies drinking ale)

More on St Austell later – I went on the brewery tour today and had a chance to chat to the head brewer about how they make it… And it has just been on BBC local news, as they are now doing double shifts to cope with demand for Tribute. Well done lads.

Boak

  1. The restaurant was “The Other Place” and was fantastic. Fowey can be reached by public transport by taking a train to Par or St Austell, and getting a bus.

Ruddles Rebranded

Marketing magazine (July 11, p.6) says that Greene King is rebranding Ruddles — they’re changing the slogan from “serious country” to “proper country”, so they can “run a range of fun activities”. They’ll be giving drinkers the chance to win a tractor, for example.

They’ve also come up with a new “fun” variant on the beer: I don’t know about you, but I’m almost as excited about the exclusive “rhubarb flavoured” Ruddles they’ll be selling in branches of Tescos as I was to see “Greene King IPA — Extra Chilled” on a pump the other day…

If you do have a yearning for a real country beer, I’d highly recommend anything from the Cotleigh brewery in Wiveliscombe, Somerset.