Friday 30 September 2016

Greene King – rising costs and penal taxation

I realise that I could be talking about current news with that title. But you know me, I rarely venture beyond the safety of the 1950’s. Which is where we’ll be today.

Looking at Greene King’s annual report for 1952. As is traditional, it kicks off with the chairman moaning about the level of taxation:

But shareholders get 21.25 per cent, divi

The hope that the Government may see its way to reduce the duty and taxation generally, to enable the Brewery to charge a more reasonable price for its products was expressed by the chairman (Captain Sir Edward Greene, Bart., M.C.) when the 65th annual meeting of the shareholders of Messrs. Greene King & Son, Ltd., was held at the Westgate Brewery on Wednesday.

We sincerely hope our expenses will not increase still further, and that the Government may see its way to reduce beer duty and taxation generally, sufficiently to enable us to charge more reasonable price to the public for our products." he said.” 
Bury Free Press - Friday 22 August 1952, page 1.

Brewers are still waiting for the government to substantially reduce beer duty. I think it’s fair to say that it’s probably never going to happen. The high price of beer was seen by the industry as the main cause of falling beer sales. I’m not sure it was quite that simple.

As with other breweries, sales were falling generally, but sales of bottled beer were increasing:

“Sir Edward said that barrelage showed a small decline on the previous year, but sales of bottled beer still continued to rise. During the year a stronger Pale Ale in bottle - Abbot Ale - was introduced to meet the demand of those who required and appreciated a beer of that character.

The new bottling store a Bury St. Edmunds was not progressing as quickly as they could wish, but it was hoped that it would be ready before December to deal with the heavy demands for bottled beer as the existing plant was extended to the full.”
Bury Free Press - Friday 22 August 1952, page 1.

The popularity of bottled beer probably explains the introduction of Abbot, which must have been intended to compete with posh bottled Pale Ales like Bass, White Shield, Ben Truman, Double Diamond, etc. In the early 1950’s brewers got a little more room for brewing stronger beers and many came up with a higher gravity Pale Ale, either on draught or in bottle. Young’s Special and Fullers London Pride both first appeared around this time.

The combination of wartime (and post-war) restrictions on building work and the surge in demand for bottled beer left many breweries struggling to keep up. Building new, or expanding existing,  bottling stores in a running theme in the early 1950’s

Despite decent sales, profits weren’t up much because almost everything they earned was being taken in tax:

"We have been obliged to realise some of our investments to meet these commitments as the penal taxation imposed on the industry to-day has taken away the cash required for the payment of such items." he said.

Turning to the Profit and Loss Account, the chairman said that it would be noticed that although gross profits (£468,043 compared with £411,399) had increased satisfactorily, the net profit, after allowing for taxation (£81,543 compared with £76,777) showed only a moderate increase. This was largely due to the amount required to be provided for taxation.

Referring to the cash position — "a point which must causing concern to all Boards of Directors to-day" — Sir Edward said that apart from paying £744,822 in Beer Duty, the Company had to find an extra £50,000 during the year for the purchase of barley and for erecting and equipping the new bottling stores. In addition increased costs of maintenance to breweries and properties had to be met and transport, wages, salaries and stocks had also risen.”
Bury Free Press - Friday 22 August 1952, page 1.

Looking at the figures, you understand why the chairman would be a little pissed off: three quarters of a million paid in beer duty but profits of less than £100,000.

Turning to the Appropriation Account, Sir Edward said that £32,000 had been allocated to the Reconstruction and Contingency Reserve, bringing that fund to £201,725. This would leave a balance of £136,374 18s 4d. to be carried forward in the Appropriation Account as  against £135,591 13s. 9d. last year.

Of the future, Sir Edward said that unless the duty on beers, wines and spirits was substantially reduced sales were unlikely to increase by an appreciable amount, and unless taxation was reduced it was impossible to create cash reserves with which to replace plant and machinery, or to rebuild and improve their licensed premises.”
Bury Free Press - Friday 22 August 1952, page 1.

An inability to generate enough surplus cash to update the brewery and its pubs was a reason many sold up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. At a certain point maintenance and replacement of plant couldn’t be put off any further and the only options were closure or sale. Last brewery to go that way was Gales.

Let’s take a look at Abbot and some of Greene King’s other beers from this period:

Greene King beers 1954 - 1960
Year Beer Style Price per pint d package OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1954 Stout Stout 19 bottled 1034.3 1012.7 2.79 62.97% 450
1954 Sweet Stout Stout 26 bottled 1046.6 1020.3 3.39 56.44% 450
1956 Harvest Brown Ale Brown Ale 22 bottled 1035.2 1013.9 2.75 60.51% 105
1959 India Pale Ale IPA 20 bottled 1033.3 1010 3.02 69.97% 25
1960 Lager Lager bottled 1034.9 1006.4 3.56 81.66% 9.5
1960 Suffolk Ale Strong Ale 34 bottled 1056.8 1015.7 5.14 72.36% 70
1960 Abbot Ale Pale Ale 30 bottled 1048.6 1006.7 5.24 86.21% 19
1960 India Pale Ale IPA 20 bottled 1033 1007.7 3.16 76.67% 25
1960 Abbot Ale Pale Ale 22 draught 1051.3 1007.9 5.43 84.60% 20
1960 Best Bitter Pale Ale 15 draught 1038.4 1007.4 3.88 80.73% 20
1960 Ordinary Bitter Pale Ale 13 draught 1033.9 1005.7 3.53 83.19% 26
1960 Bitter Pale Ale 15 draught 1037.0 1006.3 4.00 83.11%
1960 Mild Mild 12 draught 1030.7 1006.1 3.20 80.29%
1960 Burton Ale Brown Ale 20 bottled 1033.4 1011.7 2.80 64.97%
1960 India Pale Ale IPA 10 bottled 1033.2 1008.5 3.20 74.40%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.

You can see that by the end of the 1950’s there was also a draught version of Abbot, plus two weaker draught Bitters. Pretty sure the one called Ordinary Bitter is IPA. They were almost certainly all parti-gyled together.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Chicago day four

It’s my last full day in Chicago. I know. It’s been a ridiculously short trip.

Mike is picking me up later. He has to work in the morning. Which I guess is fair enough. No need to rush downstairs for brekkies. I stuff down the usual grease ball, then retire to my room for some lazing around. Until I remember. I need to get Andrew some Bourbon.

While searching the internet for a nearby liquor store, I notice there’s a Trader Joe’s not far away. I know they sell spirits from my last visit to Chicago. I head on down there. They have a fair selection of whiskey. I settle on a mediumly expensive one. And one I’m certain Ton Overmars doesn’t sell.

I’m tempted by the adjacent beer and pop a couple of cans into my basket. At the checkout I’m informed that I have to buy either four cans or a six pack. What? It’s the law apparently. Not sure what purpose it serves, other than to force me to buy more beer than I intended. I can’t imagine encouraging more beer purchase was the law’s purpose.

After a bit more lazing around my hotel – what a lazy git I am – Mike picks me up and we zoom off to our first destination, Cruz Blanca Cervecería. As you might have guessed, it’s a Mexican-themed brewpub. Mike knows the brewer and he gives us a quick tour.

I’m amazed at how well-equipped many American brewpubs are. And how much kit they can fit into a restricted space. Even a few of the obligatory oak casks. They’ve clearly the capacity to brew a lot more beer than the pub could sell. Some beer is packaged. Mike is very taken by the small bottling unit they have. Looks very labour-intensive to me.

We eat some tacos (very good) and try a few beers (also pretty good) and chat a while with the brewer. The tap handle design is great, too. I love the simplicity of the interior. Not Spartan enough to feel barren, but not overcomplicated. Overall, a class act.

I’d stay longer, but there are places we need to go, people we need to see.

Or next stop isn’t far. Just a few blocks away on Randolph. And it’s another pub brewery, Haymarket. The interior as dark and. No brewer Mike knows is there. With no-one to guide us around, we don’t hang around long. A quick beer and we’re off again. To a very special spot.

To where the story started in 1988: the Goose Island brewpub.

We start off inside the brew house. It’s hot. Very hot. Way too effing hot. You get the idea. It’s quite a rickety old brew house, unlike the one at Goose Island central. With a good deal of charm, it must be said. Apart from the heat. I wouldn’t want to work here in August.

It’s with a good deal of relief that we head into the bar. Much cooler there. The island bar counter in dark wood gives it some of the feel of a pub. Which I guess is the idea. We try samples of a few beers with the brewer. Just to be polite, obviously. No element of pleasure involved at all. Do you think I make these trips to have fun?

After my talk yesterday I got talking to Kristina the owner of an offie. Who offered to take some of my leftover books off me. We struck a deal and agreed to meet at her shop, West Lakeview Liquors, this afternoon.

It’s quite some shop, with a huge range of all types of alcoholic drinks. In particular good beer, whiskey and mezcal. A few quick samples of the latter open my eyes a treat. It’s in this moment of clarity that Kristina asks:

“Would you like to trade the books for some bourbon?”

“Depends on what it is.” I reply.

“What about a Van Winkle?”

“Ooh, I’ve heard of that. Andrew will be impressed.” I mentioned Andrew was a big bourbon fan earlier.

She throws in a bottle of Buffalo Trace as well. I think I’ve got a very good deal.

Our final spot to pummel is a pretty new brewery, Dovetail. One that concentrates on Central European styles. It sounds right down my Gasse. We start off in the bar, which has a very industrial feel with its bare brick walls and bare board bar top. The giant inflatable pretzel is a nice touch. And about the only decoration.

But I’m more impressed by what’s behind the bar: an enormous grand. I won’t try to explain for those of you who don’t know what that is. Easier to show you a photo:

After a quick beer at the bar, the brewer takes us around. He has a really impressive beard – full ZZ Top. It doesn’t look like they bought new kit, given the slightly hotch-potch look. They do have a copper copper, which scores them extra points. And some crazily complicated piping.

Once we’ve had enough of the shiny things, we return to the bar. Where I give their beer list a good perusal. It lists just four: Lager, Hefeweizen, Rauchbier and Grodziske. But the Rauchbier is crossed out because they’ve run out. Thankfully, the Grodziskie isn’t sour. But that’s not the beer that impresses me most.

That honour belongs to the Lager. A beautifully, easy-drinking Helles that throws itself down my throat. Best get another. I’m dead, dead, dead impressed. It’s as good as a good German version. And this is a style that’s really difficult to do well. There’s nowhere for any faults to hide. It bodes well for the future that they’ve come up with a beer like this right off the bat.

We leave it there. I say my goodbyes to Mike and trail back to my hotel. Where Mr. Laphroaig is impatiently drumming his fingers.

Cruz Blanca Cervecería  
904 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60607.

Haymarket Pub & Brewery
737 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60661.

Goose Island Clybourn
1800 N Clybourn Ave,
Chicago, IL 60614.
Tel: +1 312-915-0071

West Lakeview Liquors
2156 W Addison St,
Chicago, IL 60618.
Tel: +1 773-525-1916

Dovetail Brewery
1800 W Belle Plaine Ave,
Chicago, IL 60613.
Tel: +1 773-683-1414

Disclaimer: my trip was paid for by Goose Island as part of my consultancy fee.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1947 Shepherd Neame SS

I’m continuing my watery late 1940’s Shepherd Neame beer theme. With a Stout. Possibly the least stout Stout ever brewed.

Because you need to remember what Stout originally meant: strong. And that’s one thing you couldn’t accuse this beer of. It’s under 3% ABV. I have seen weaker ones than that. Stuff under 2% ABV. But they were Scottish Sweet Stouts, which at least had an OG over 1040º. Just a rubbish level of attenuation.

There’s only one dark malt in the grist, black malt. This seems to be the biggest difference between London and provincial Stouts. The former had more complex malt bills, which always contained brown malt in addition to black.

I was surprised to see a decent quantity of oats include. In contrast to London “Oatmeal” Stouts which tiny token amounts. Though it doesn’t state it implicitly in the brewing record, I’m sure they were malted oats. Why? Because of the position in the brewing record. Where the malts go, not the adjuncts.

Checking the pre-war records, I see that in 1938 they used R (presumably rolled) oats in their Stout. In rather smaller quantities. I was going to say that moving over to a larger quantity of malted oats was probably as a result of the war. Then I noticed that the practice didn’t start until 1947. I believe they were trying to brew an Oatmeal Stout. Albeit a very weak one.

The sugar was proprietary stuff. No. 3 invert is just my guess at an approximation. It could possibly have been more like No. 4. Use a combination of the two if you feel like it.

1947 Shepherd Neame SS
pale malt 2.75 lb 52.38%
black malt 0.50 lb 9.52%
malted oats 0.50 lb 9.52%
No. 3 invert sugar 1.25 lb 23.81%
malt extract 0.25 lb 4.76%
Fuggles 120 mins 0.50 oz
Goldings 30 mins 0.50 oz
OG 1027.1
FG 1006.1
ABV 2.78
Apparent attenuation 77.49%
IBU 15.4
SRM 22
Mash at 159º F
Sparge at 170º F
Boil time 120 minutes
pitching temp 62.75º F
Yeast a Southern English Ale yeast

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Chicago day three

I’ve arranged to be at the brewery at 9 am. The Goose Island brewery, that is. We’re brewing a wet hop beer. Never done that before, so it should be fun.

The breakfast is mobbed. The very friendly Asian hostess tells the party in front of me that there will be a 10-minute wait for a table. That could bugger up my plans. But, as there’s just me, the hostess asks if I’d like to sit at the bar. Fine by me, as long as I get my fried fix quickly.

The taxi driver takes a very different route to the brewery, joining Fulton Street as soon as possible. It takes us through a big industrial section, low workshops and factories on either side. At least there’s still some industry here. Unlike in most British towns.

Mike Siegel is already at the brewery. Obviously. It is his job, after all. He takes me for a quick spin around the brew house. It looks much the same as before. Then he shows me their new mash filter. You know, I’d never seen one of these devices before, then on both this and my last US trip I bump into one. I’m not really sure how the things work. Only that they’re very efficient.

Downstairs, there’s a brand new 2-barrel pilot plant. Which is where the wet hop beer is being made. Mashing is almost done and the wort is recirculating nicely. Tim, whom I met at the Brettanomyces Festival in Amsterdam, is looking after the brewing. While the wort froths merrily, he’s busy filling sixtel kegs from the miniature conicals. It’s the sort of brewing setting I’d love to have in my luxury shed. (The shed I dream of, not my actual shed. That’s held together with string.)

The wet hops should be along any minute. They’re being supplied by Hop Head Farms, a Michigan grower. They were picked in the early hours and are being rushed to several Chicago breweries. You don’t have much time with wet hops. They can start to mould in less than a day.

By the time the man with the hops arrives, the wort is boiling and the mash tun has been cleaned. It’s going to be used as an improvised hop back. The hops – Chinook – look very impressive: green and fresh. They smell even better. Citrusy and intense. As we rub them to release the aromas, our hands are covered in sticky resin. The hops Dolores picked last week in Amsterdam looked very similar. But were nowhere near as sticky to the touch.

There are only 50 pounds, but the hops will the mash tun almost to the brim. The boiling wort is then run over them via the sparge arm. As they become soaked, the hops turn brown and compact a little. But the still almost fill the tun.

It’s fun hanging around the mini brew house. We try a few samples drawn from the conicals. And a few bottles are cracked open to try. But I’m not my usual chipper self. Feeling a bit knacked, to be honest. A couple of hours standing around isn’t what my body wants.

After the wort is run off from the wort and cooled, Mike takes me to pick up some lunch. A sub from Italian deli Bari. We eat them in a deserted taproom. It isn’t usually open on Monday, which is why my talk is scheduled for today.

Nosh noshed, Mike suggests we take a look at the barrel warehouse. No longer over the road as it was on my last visit, it’s now a short ride away. The building is a single storey, with no indication on the outside of what’s going on inside. Which I’m pretty sure is deliberate.

It’s even more cavernous than the former location, which I guess was the idea. Mike says that he thinks they have around 20,00 barrels in total. Split pretty evenly between whisky and wine in their origin. There’s still plenty of room for more.

One thing has changed. No longer are there just stacks of barrels. Lurking behind one such rack is a pretty row of vats. Or foeders, as everyone calls them here. That gets me thinking. Especially when Mike tells me most are empty. I’ve an idea what could fill them. A couple of ideas, actually.

Feeling totally Donald Ducked, I ask Mike if I can rest a little before tonight’s do. I need more energy than I currently have to do my talk justice. No problem. He drops me back at my hotel, where I chill for a couple of hours. Before returning in a cab.

It’s a little before 6 pm, when the taproom will be opening, and I’m surprised to see a clutch of punters waiting outside. I’m let in and check everything has been set up properly for my presentation. It’s all looking good. All I need is a beer in my hand and I’m ready to go.

There’s a pretty decent crowd. And a well-behaved one. They’re quiet and attentive. Not that I, armed with a mike, give them much opportunity to interrupt. I rattle through the presentation at a fair old pace. Must be thinking of my bed.

Once finished, I hang around to chat and shift a few books. I easily move all the copies of Bitter! I’ve brought along. The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer is another matter. I only sell a couple. It seems most people of the home brewing persuasion in the audience already own it.

There’s a food truck outside doing Belgian frites. I order a Philly cheese steak and am surprised there’s no bread involved. Just chips with meat and cheese poured over it. Like poutine, but posher. It’s rather nice.

The event finishes at nine, which is fine by me. I fancy an early night. Being stroked to slumber by the soft hands of Laphroaig.

Hop Head Farms
4630 W Hickory Rd,
Hickory Corners, MI 49060.

1120 W Grand Ave #1,
Chicago, IL 60642

Goose Island Taproom
1800 W Fulton St,
Chicago, IL 60612.

Disclaimer: my trip was paid for by Goose Island as part of my consultancy fee.

Monday 26 September 2016

DDR Labels

You can never have too many obsessions. If you've endless attic space.

Fortunately, beer labels take up fuck all room. Even Dolores doesn't object: "Just as long as it isn't more stinky books, Ronald."

DDR labels. Why do they obsess me? Because I neglected to collect them? I have a bad case of Ostalgie? They have their own distinctive aesthetic?

All three obviously. With a syrup of personal memories poured over the top.

I can't help searching for DDR label collections on ebay. They're so tempting, I try not to look too often. All those pretty labels. Just awaiting for a good home.

"I've no idea how that happened."

"You bought 450 labels."

"They only cost 40-odd euros. Bargain. I can use them on my blog. I'm always banging on about the good old DDR days."

"You didn't live there, Ronald. It was very different for us. You only saw the best bits."

"I went to Merseburg."

"I lived there."

She's trumped me with that.

Let's move on and look at some of my . . . .

Almost forgot. Due to my incompetence on ebay, I sort of bought another 300 DDR labels. It really was an accident, I told her. Dolores just shrugged her shoulders. "Better than buying lots of smelly books" I saw her thinking.

Back to the pretty labels. Enjoy.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Chicago day two

I awake to the noisy whir of a helicopter. Sounds as if it’s about to wreak rotor wrath on my window.

Minutes of chopping chunder later, I take a look.

A helicopter is right outside my window. Well, above the building on the other side of the street. Dropping some ventilation gear onto the roof.

A relatively late start allows me to take advantage of the downstairs egg and bacon opportunities. And have a decent lie in. I feel like a new man. A much older, sicker man. No, honestly, I don't feel that bad. Considering I was up for 24 hours yesterday. Or was that tomorrow? I'm feeling a bit confused day-wise.

A fried breakfast always perks me up. Almost as much as a quickly downed double whisky. When I jump in a taxi, I'm totally sure it's daytime, even if I'm not totally certain which day of the week it is. Saturday? Monday? Sunday. Must be Sunday. Because Mike Siegel told me Sunday was media day. That's why I'm on the way to the studio of Good Beer Hunting.

It's quite warm and I'm quite early. Standing on the sun-scorched pavement outside the studio waiting for the others to turn up, isn't my idea of a funny, fun, fun time. I shift to the street's shady side to snap some snaps.

Michael Kaiser turns up first. Just about on time. The realisation that there’s draught beer soon soothes any sores of annoyance. I’m impressed. And have a beer in my hand.

Mike, topped by an impressive cowboy hat, arrives when I’m about ready for a refill.

We adjourn to a mike-topped table, crack the Brewery Yard we’re pimping and start to chat about beer. About five minutes in, I realise the crafty bastard has already started recording. I’m tempted to spew a stinking stew of swearing, but I’m too busy talking.

It seems to go well. The quality really upping when I manage to shout the others down. At least that’s my recollection. Thankfully, there’s no documentary evidence. Oh, shit. It was a podcast.

No time to rest. But enough to finish our beers. A cab takes us to our next gig. At the Goose Island brewery. A Jeff Alworth podcast

We seek an empty office after seeking something more soothing at the bar. I speak better with a beer in hand. Especially when there’s video. Stops me fiddling with other things.

No video here: it’s a speaker phone job. But a beer in hand is obviously better than no beer.

We don’t repeat ourselves too much. I think. I struggle to remember what I’ve said anytime I speak. Even when it’s whether Alexei is or isn’t allowed to drink vodka. 

“Daaad, you said I could.”

“Did I? When did I say that?”

“When you were drunk, Dad.”

“I can’t remember that.”

“Exactly, Dad, you were drunk.”

I’ve not seen the Goose Island taproom before. They didn’t have one last time around. Given the location – industrial estate with no nearby housing – I’m surprised they have enough custom. Then I remember the location of Weihenstephaner: industrial estate with no nearby housing. They seem to do OK.

Our final media date, with Christopher Quinn of The Beer Temple (a specialist beer shop), awaits. It’s taking place in Owen & Engine, an English-themed pub. With lots of dark wood, it’s sort of like a pub. But not quite. Just as attempts at pubs outside the UK never are. I don’t know why, but no matter how accurately the fixtures are mimicked, the atmosphere is never right.

The recording takes place in the upstairs, which isn’t open at the moment. Obviously. Otherwise it would be way too noisy. A pint in front of me is all I need. And that’s what I have. Should be enough to see me through. We chat some more about Brewery Yard and about historic brewing. I could do that all day. Which I sort of have.

Interview over, we adjourn to Fat Willy's Rib Shack for some barbecue. Pulled pork, collared greens and baked beans is what I have. It’s rather nice, but I can’t manage to finish it all off. I’m not as big an eater as I look. Not anymore. I used to eat a whole loaf of bread a day when I was a student.

Even though it’s not that late, I‘m as knackered as ten knackered sticks when my taxi drops me back at my hotel. I watch a little crap TV. Then Laphroaig waves me off as I board the sleepline train.

Good Beer Hunting Studio
3624 W Wrightwood Ave,
Chicago, IL 60647.
Tel: +1 773-627-7709

Goose Island Taproom
1800 W Fulton St,
Chicago, IL 60612.

Owen & Engine
2700 N Western Ave,
Chicago, IL 60647.

The Beer Temple
3185 N Elston Ave,
Chicago, IL 6061.

Fat Willy's Rib Shack
2416 W Schubert Ave,
Chicago, IL 60647.

Disclaimer: my trip was paid for by Goose Island as part of my consultancy fee.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Let's Brew - 1947 Shepherd Neame BB

Since we’ve had Shepherd Neame’s watery Mild from 1947, we may as well have their watery Ordinary Bitter, too.

Don’t get the idea that I’m blaming them or anything. Brewers had no option but to brew very low-gravity beers in the immediate aftermath of WW II. It was called Austerity Britain for a good reason.

This beer is a real, real rarity. Especially in the difficult years after the war. Because it contains no sugar. The tiny percentage of diastatic malt extract I’m sure is just there for mash efficiency purposes. The amount is so small it couldn’t have contributed anything to the flavour or character of the beer. They were compelled by the government to use the flaked barley.

After the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880 almost no-one brewed all-malt. I’m straining my mind to think of any that I’ve seen. The occasional one-off, but that’s about it. Whereas Shepherd Neame used only malt in their Pale Ales from 1920 right through to the 1960’s. With the exception of WW II and its immediate aftermath, when they were compelled to use flaked barley by the government.

The relatively high attenuation of this beer might have left it tasting a little thin.

Around half the hops are designated “SN” in the record. I assume this means that they were from Shepherd Neame’s own hop gardens. The dry hops are a guess as the records don’t list them. It would have been strange indeed if a Bitter weren’t dry hopped.

1947 Shepherd Neame BB
pale malt 5.75 lb 78.55%
flaked barley 1.50 lb 20.49%
malt extract 0.07 lb 0.96%
Fuggles 120 mins 0.75 oz
Goldings 30 mins 0.50 oz
Goldings dry hops 0.25 oz
OG 1031.3
FG 1006.6
ABV 3.27
Apparent attenuation 78.91%
IBU 19
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 170º F
Boil time 120 minutes
pitching temp 62.75º F
Yeast a Southern English Ale yeast

Friday 23 September 2016

Chicago day one

Being a cheapskate, I take the 197 bus to the airport. A bargain at just over 2 euros. Unlike the extortionate taxi fare.

I'm in plenty of time at Schiphol. About two hours before my flight is due to depart. Just as well. After checking in my bag, I'm surprised by an enormous queue at security. Surprising and disappointing. Since they introduced centralised security checking for non-Schengen flights, I've always breezed through.

It takes 40 minutes before I'm safely airside. Seriously cutting into my drinking at the bar time. After nipping into duty free to nab a bottle of Laphroaig, I finally park my sorry arse at the bar closest to the gate. Time is pressing, leaving me only enough time for a small Heineken and a large Jamesons. Bit of a bummer that. My rusty bits are in need of a good oiling before jumping on a transatlantic flight.

Boarding is at an advanced stage by the time I troll up at the gate. I'm flying with KLM. For the very good reason that I want to keep my silver status. And the free checked-in bags that come with it. As I'm in economy comfort, there's no rush to board. One of the reasons I'm prepared to divvy up extra dosh for the privilege.

Having booked relatively late, I've a window rather than my usual aisle seat. Which does at least have the advantage of occasionally something outside to distract me. I pick up my usual routine of bolting on noise-cancelling headphones and watching crap films. The choice isn't great on KLM. But there's enough to occupy me for eight hours or so.

I always dread US immigration. Not because I'm worried they won't let me in, but because of the queues. This time, because I've already entered once on my ESTA and my fingerprints are on file, I can use a machine instead of queuing up to be processed by an official. Result. I'm through so quickly, I have to wait for my bag. Before I know it I'm bouncing along the motorway in a cab.

O'Hare is quite a way out and I'm staying pretty centrally, just off Michigan Avenue. The journey takes a while. Yet still costs around the same as the 10-minute journey from Schiphol to my home. As we get closer to the centre I start getting the big city feeling. That rush of energy that oozes from the pavement. I'm having fun already.

Mike Siegel, my co-conspirator from Goose Island is at the hotel bar and spots me as I enter. We've arranged to meet at 4 pm and I'm a little late. But I see he's been keeping himself amused. I rush upstairs to dump my bags and freshen up. Knocking off a quick email to Dolores to let her know I've arrived alive and conscious. Pretty much. I don't take too long about everything. There are several beers with my name on them around the city.

Tyler Jackson and Thomas Thorpe of Present Tense Fine Ales are there when I come down from my room.We don't linger at the hotel bar, instead heading straight off to my next rendezvous, at Rock Bottom. Mike tells me that it used to be one of the few decent spots for beer downtown, back in the days he worked around here.

The person I've arranged to meet are already here. English expat Les Howarth plus  Introductions over, we pull the bar up to ourselves and I wrap my lips around the first beer of the trip. Something IPA-ey. That's usually where I start.

We don't eat at Rock Bottom, as our next stop is the Billy Goat Tavern, famous for its double cheeseburger. And featuring in a Saturday Night Live sketch. It dates from the 1930's and used to be the haunt of journalists, back in the glory days of Chicago newspapers. Its location is pretty weird. At some point the street level was raised one storey, leaving the Billy Goat looking like it's in the basement of a multi-storey car park.

The furnishings are simple to the point of Spartan: plastic-topped tables and metal-framed chairs. A bar counter runs the full length of two walls, with a food counter opposite. There are a few OK beer options and as soon as we've ordered food - cheeseburgers, obviously - we load up with mugs of something dark.

The lads from Present Tense have a cask of ESB that "needs finishing". Sounds like a challenge to me. We head for their brewery, which rather exotically is located in a garage in a friend's back yard.

It's not huge. The brewing kit is made from converted kegs and can't be more than a half barrel. But the beer is spot on and soon thumping several spots very hard. The night is warm and the garage door is left open. I'm in a cosy and comfortable place. Enjoying the crackle of the night outside and the cackle of conversation inside. A few more people arrive and soon killing the cask is no longer much of a challenge.

I hold up well, but hit a wall a little after midnight. Saying "It's a night", I jump in a cab and return to my hotel.

As we weave our way back through the darkened streets, lights leap and buildings blur. As if the wall I hit has fallen on top of me. No need to bid the day farewell in the company of friend Laphroaig. I'm totally knacked.

Present Tense Fine Ales

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
1 W Grand Ave,
Chicago, IL 60610.

Billy Goat Tavern
430 N Michigan Ave,
Chicago, IL 60611.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Shepherd Neame

Obsessive is all 73 of my middle names. But collecting brewing records is my biggest obsession. I claim it's to record brewing's true past. Really I'm just a nosy git.

John Humphries of Shepherd Neame graciously invited me come and have a rustle through the brewery's undercrackers. Wasn't going to turn that down. The brewery has outlasted most, including a couple of royal dynasties. Bound to be some good stuff.

Thought I'd give you a quick overview of what I dug out of the grime. There's always lots of dirt involved in archive research. My hands were black by the end of the afternonn. I'm amazed that Kathryn Tye, who helped me get settled in and prise open a cabinet, shook my hand at the end. Before I'd had chance to scrub off the filth.

Highlight is a brewing log from 1798. Now I just have to read the bloody thing. Paper must have been expensive back then looking at how tiny the handwriting is. I'll need a while.

The 20th-century records are pretty decent. Except for the brewer in the 1930's with the terrible handwriting. It's almost as bad as mine. And one really, really annoting feature.

The first records I looked at were a real disappointment. Just fermentaion records. I thought I was screwed. Then realised the brewing records were a different set of books. The false start was really a blessing. Had I seen the brewing records first, I might not have realised the fermentation records were elsewhere.

I didn't match everything up. As not all the fermentation records were to hand. But they did for 1956. For the beer* that was brewed on the day I was born.

* A watery Bitter, if you're interested.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1947 Shepherd Neame MB

It’s a special day. As is every day I get my hands on a new set of brewing records. Especially when it’s a brewery whose beers I’ve supped.

And when I can combine the records with my post-war austerity obsession, I’m like a pig on a spit. No, pig in shit, that’s what I meant. (That image of me roasting a spit will now live with me forever.) Throw in a lovely watery Mild recipe and paradise is adjacent.

For the day, it’s a pretty honest recipe. Just pale malt, brewing sugar and malt extract. Plus the obligatory flaked barley of the late war years.

The sugar bill is slightly simplified. There was a bit of something that looked like WWCS. I just bumped up the No. 3.

1947 Shepherd Neame MB
pale malt 3.25 lb 59.09%
flaked barley 0.75 lb 13.64%
no. 3 sugar 0.75 lb 13.64%
malt extract 0.75 lb 13.64%
Fuggles 120 mins 0.50 oz
Goldings 30 mins 0.50 oz
OG 1027.1
FG 1005.5
ABV 2.86
Apparent attenuation 79.70%
IBU 15
Mash at 156º F
Sparge at 170º F
Boil time 120 minutes
pitching temp 63º F
Yeast Go to a Shepherd Neame pub, buy a pint of cask beer. If it's nice and fresh, buy another pint and surreptitiously pour it into a bottle, add a half teaspoon of sugar and wait 3 days. Carefully decant most of the beer into a glass and drink. Add malt extract and leave in a warm place for a few days.
Or just use a Southern English Ale yeast

Lots more to come.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Chicago to Margate

Last week was an interesting one. And challenging, fitting in as it did two foreign trips.

First was Chicago*, where I was in town to help launch my collaboration beer with Goose Island: Brewery Yard. A Stock Pale Ale brewed the 19th-century way. A project I’ve been trying to get off the ground for several years. It was a great feeling to finally have it in the hands of the drinking public.

I finally got a glimpse of downtown Chicago, something I missed on my last visit. Then I just had two days in town. Less than 48 hours after my flight in from Toronto was delayed. I’m a big fan of early skyscrapers and Chicago has some crackers. There’s something about a gothic tower I just love. The Woolworth Building on Manhattan has always been a favourite and Chicago has a few that match it.

The beer launch went pretty well. The audience listened attentively and laughed when they were supposed to. And there were some sensible questions at the end.

Mike Siegel, the brewer I’ve been working with at Goose Island took some time to show me more of the city. Mostly breweries and pubs. Plus feed me some BBQ. All very much appreciated.

I arrived back in Amsterdam on Thursday morning. Dumped my bags, showered, changed my clothes and after a few hours jumped into Mikey’s car. Bound for the chunnel and Margate. It was all rather surreal.

Margate was mostly just a beer, bacon and pie trip. With some shopping. Nothing even vaguely geeky, for the most part. Just trailing around ordinary boozers drinking standard cask fare. And the occasional evil keg. Not even the “good” evil keg, but the old-fashioned “bad” evil keg. There are times to replace my geek head with my drinking head. This was one.

I did have a few nerdy hours. In nearby Faversham at Shepherd Neame. Who said I could come and look in their archive. Not the sort of chance I’m going to pass up. I snapped 23 of their brewing books, all 20th century except for one. The oldest brewing record I’ve yet had in my hands, dating to 1798.

Sunday morning we headed back. Not that I’ve long in Amsterdam. Thursday I’m off to London for another Goose Island launch. What a jetsetter I am. Or an idiot who’s killing himself as Dolores describes me.

* Goose Island paid for my trip as part of their contractual obligations for my consultancy work.