Brewers Congress 2019

Brewers Congress 2019

For the third year in a row, Original Gravity was thrilled to be invited to the Brewers’ Journal’s Brewers Congress. Instead of a report or an un-report (see last year) or a podcast or a major movie about the event, OG has decided to let some of the participants speak for themselves.

 

Miles Jenner, Harvey’s Brewery
Staying relevant in a changing industry
My father was an incurable romantic when it came to beer and brewing

I love standing at the mash tun and thinking of how this is where others before me stood and watched over the mash

We in beer need to remain a broad church

I believe in using local hops in local beers, and we have also been using the same hop growing families for years 

I was in a pub in Nottingham and ordered a couple of glasses of a beer with Citra hop in it and my wife said that it reminded her of the lager and lime she used to drink in the 1970s 

 

Dawn Maskell, International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt
Dispelling myths around (ir)responsible drinking
Beer is the drink of moderation

It is a myth that you can get drunk by putting your feet in a bath of alcohol

 

Roger Ryman, St Austell Brewery
Tribute at 20
Tribute was my first born.

 

Nigel Sadler, Learn2Brew
Panel discussion: Education: Why we need to increase awareness and understanding in dispense and distribution
Brew it well, keep it well, serve it well. 

 

Gabe Barry, Brooklyn Brewery
Community and craft beer: The positive impact beer can have on people and place
The smell of brewing is reminiscent of the smell of baking which equals home. 

You always find money to go to the pub

Make our breweries more environmentally, socially and economically holistic parts of the communities they serve

Where there is beer, there is people, where there is people, there are communities

 

Carlos de La Barra, Omnipollo
Why taking a step back can help you take a step forward
Sometimes we fail but we always try to get better.

 

Mark Tranter, Burning Sky
Why new beer releases should only be a starting point
Barrel ageing was an audacious move for me, I had never done it until six years ago 

Saison à la Provision is still only in its nappies, it is still growing 

You keep plugging away to create your identity

Constant refining of your skill makes you a better brewer

 

Anders Kissmeyer, Kissmeyer, Royal Unibrew
How to succeed as a craft brewer in 2020
Define, demonstrate and strengthen what makes you different

The geeks will not sustain you anyway

Do not scorn the big brewers embrace them

 

Yvan de Baets, Brasserie de la Senne
Believe in yourself and brew the beers you want to drink
Believe in yourself and make the beer you want to drink (and refuse the tyranny of the geeks and the marketing department)

I never met anyone who was proud of making a NEIPA

I think sipping is wrong, gulping is cool 

I love bitterness but the balance is about malt, hops and fermentation. I always try to feel what my yeast feels 

No penis contests!

 

Christian Townsley, North Bar and North Brewing
Why people are your brewery’s great asset
We created North as somewhere we wanted to drink

We became militant about beer that wasn’t being brewed at source.  


Context is all

Context is all

You’re in a far away bar with the sun streaming down, in a happy place, and naturally there’s a glass of beer to hand. What’s it like? Hoppy, bitter, dry or sour? I dunno, comes the reply from Pete Brown, who explains that context is essential when considering the best beer you’re ever drunk

 

What’s the best beer you’ve ever drunk? 

I’ll go first.

I remember it so well. We were on honeymoon in Zanzibar, in Stone Town, and there’s a bar there right on the harbour that goes out over the water on a wooden pontoon. When you sit right at the end you’re in the middle of the water, and the dried palm roof above the deck puts the table half in shade and half not. Except the situation is never fixed: the sun slowly creeps round, and if you’re there long enough, you find yourself directly in its crosshairs.  

This happened more than once. We didn’t notice at first, because we were sitting there with our shades on, alternating between reading our books and drinking in the view. The water was bright, the sun was sparkling off the ripples like twinkling stars. I’d never seen anything so blue, so pure. Every 30 seconds or so, a shoal of flying fish would break the surface and skip along it. We couldn’t take our eyes off the water, and suddenly we realised we were baking in the sun and viciously thirsty. 

We ordered a couple of beers, and two minutes later there was a waiter in a white starched jacket with a silver tray. There were two Pilsner glasses, frosted because they’d obviously just come out of the freezer, and two bottles of beer with chunks of ice sliding slowly down the sides. The waiter poured the beer and it had a thick foam on top of the gold, and we. Just. Necked. Them. 

The best beer I have ever, ever had.

At this point, you could be forgiven for responding, ‘That sounds amazing. What was the beer?’

I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea. The local beer. Doesn’t matter.

‘What did it taste like? Was it particularly bitter? Clean? Watery? Strong?’

Sorry mate, can’t remember.

I’ve asked this question of many other people, and while I haven’t yet met anyone else who can corroborate my experience that Blues Bar in Stone Town harbour is the best beer bar in the world, their answers are otherwise very similar. Variations involve weddings, infinity pools — lots of infinity pools — hotel roof terraces, significant birthdays and toasts to lost friends or relatives. 

So far, they have never involved evaluations of hop bitterness, head-shattering sourness, or the subtle interplay of balance and flavour. 

The beer is a catalyst for a magical moment that can be recalled in incredible detail, in every respect — apart from the beer itself. Without the prompt, the cue, of the beer, the memory wouldn’t be so complete. But the memory is of the moment the beer created, a memory shaped like a big fat doughnut.

A cup of tea a is always better if you’re outdoors. Guinness tastes better in Ireland. And Ouzo cannot be drunk outside Greece.

We all know this. But often, when we have these experiences, we dismiss our impressions as sentimentality. When we bring that bottle of Ouzo, or whatever that bottle of Zanzibari beer was, back home in a suitcase, open it under leaden grey skies and find it severely lacking, we beat ourselves up for having been so impressionable. 

But we weren’t being stupid: these things really do taste better in the right situation. 

Context is everything. What we see, hear and feel has a massive effect on our perceptions of flavour. On top of that, all this sensory information isn’t just splashing onto a blank mental canvas. If you’re happier or more relaxed, if you’re comfortable and warm, if you have less noise going on in your head, there’s simply more capacity to truly experience what you’re tasting, and a more favourable environment in which to appreciate it.

So stop feeling guilty that you once proclaimed Mythos lager, or that fruity young red that only cost you two euros from the market, or even grappa —yes, grappa — to be the best thing you’d ever tasted. At the time — in the context you tasted it in — it really was. 


It means nothing to me…or does it?

It means nothing to me…or does it?

To cut a long story short, if beer is punk then cocktail beers could be the new romantics of our time,
as Anthony Gladman discovers

 

Above the houses a long line of human figures is silhouetted by lights, bright in the rainy dusk. They stand on the raised platform like statues looking down from their niches as I approach from below, a pilgrim nearing his journey’s end. A train speeds behind them. In the archways beneath there is a taproom.

I have come for cocktail beers. The bar in the arch next door serves actual cocktails. But here I am, glasses spangled and misting, ordering a kettle sour that’s been made to taste like a martini at half the price and a fraction of the ABV. It’s one of two cocktail flavoured sours on tonight. The other is inspired by a Manhattan. Both are available by the pint for masochists or the unwary, but I’ll stick to a half. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather be having a pale ale on cask or a proper martini next door.

Often, when a beer tastes like spirits, it’s the result of hunkering down in wooden barrels and picking up the ways of the previous occupant. That’s for the heavy-hitting beers though. This one is fresh and dainty. It swirls with lime and botanical flavours, its sourness tempered. Without knowing, I ask myself, would I guess this was meant to be a martini?

People come, people go; a post-work parade ducking out of the rain for one drink on the way home. The young woman at the other end of my table sniffs over her novel, head resting on one hand, elbow on the table. A bearded 30-something pays for drinks with his phone. Which of these drinkers are those cocktail beers for?

Cocktails are adult playtime writ large. Creative, showy, sophisticated, exotic. And strong. They’re not for workaday drinking. Cocktail beers have got my mind muddled. This martini beer, I could be disappointed that it’s not a cocktail or I could embrace and enjoy it for what it is: an homage. A fun experiment. A brewer’s flourish. The trill of a violin breaking free from dutiful scales and arpeggios.

New to the table, a mismatched couple grinds through a bad first date. He asks what her favourite thing is only to take the piss out of it. His conversation brims with ego and extremes. Everything he asks her is secretly about himself. Is my drink all about the cocktail or the beer? It leaves me with more questions than answers.

I try the Manhattan sour next. It is a deep ruby red, lustrous and enticing in its glass. It has more or less the mix of flavours you would expect; the vermouth and bitters plus a cherry on top, but no whiskey kick.

I drink. I muse. The red concrete floor is stippled with black. Distressed trestle tables. Bare wood and corrugated white steel. The rumble of wheels overhead. Oversized bulbs dangling on thick black wire. My tongue explores a tooth and finds a ghostly maraschino cherry. It’s in the aftertaste that these beers really pull off their trick. Phantoms of spirits whirl around my palate. Chimeras of mixed drinks conjured by the brewer’s art. Castles in the air. Gone as fast as they appeared. Leaving just an impression. It’s clever, but is it good?

 Before too long the couple are both hiding behind their phones. Then come accusations of mansplaining, more forced attempts at humour, and finally an apology of sorts. They’re gone five minutes later and I still don’t know what I think of the beer. It’s clever, certainly. And pleasant to drink. And without play and experimentation nothing moves along. Still I’m left feeling that cocktail beers fall between two stools.

 Then again why not? The place has dozens of taps, a couple of hand pumps, fridges. There are plenty of beers here that ‘taste like beer’. Why shouldn’t there be one or two that strain at the leash? No one’s forcing you to drink them.

Eventually the coming and going slows. Drinkers settle in for a Thursday night session, grabbing chips and burgers from the food truck outside to line their stomachs. I head back out into the rain, the ghost of a manhattan on my lips, cocktails swirling in my mind.


Gateway to heaven

Gateway to heaven

Much is made about gateway beers, though what about punk as a gateway music to a world of different sounds, movies, authors, and even clothes styles? That’s what Adrian Tierney-Jones reckons anyway

 

I have of late come to the conclusion that punk is what Blue Moon is to beer. 

It’s a gateway music, whose noise and fury and DIY ethos opened up my mind and many others’ to different sounds, aspects of culture, movies, authors, clothes styles and just a way of living your life. It was not a full-point but the opening of a book, a chapter, an essay, a song cycle. And then I went exploring. 

When I now listen to the music I worshipped after ditching flares and long hair for Levi’s drainpipes and a spiky, short-haired barnet, I just hear nostalgia and music that set me on the way. Yes, there’s a certain frisson in hearing the tinny dramatics of the Clash’s first LP or the drone of the Buzzcocks’ Boredom, but it’s my youth and I’m not young. 

More positively, I also hear music that brought me to Joy Division, Franz Kafka, semiotics and Elizabeth David (I was already with the Stooges, MC5 and Motown). Heaven knows I might have been miserable without punk’s clearing of the way and still be listening to prog rock (gulp). 

All this is why I have never felt that destroyed or bothered when a certain Scottish band, sorry I mean brewery, does something its fans declare to be un-punk (talking of which Punk IPA seems to have become a gateway beer). Was it John Lydon who yelled at the final Pistols’ concert: ‘ever got the feeling you’ve been had!’ Mind you, PIL’s Metal Box was fantastic. I digress. 

What do we mean by gateway beers? For some, they are beers that are not explosively flavoured and certainly not on-trend opportunities for Instagram or Twitter, though some contrary souls might like the idea of letting the world know how down with the people they are as they pose next to a man-sized can of Blue Moon (surely there must be one). 

So that means gateway beers are mass-marketed beers, produced by a large brewing operation? Anheuser-Busch as EMI, Heineken (think Maltsmiths) as CBS. That’s easy and worth a punk-like sneer. However they can also be part of a smaller brewery’s portfolio, a seductive outreach to the beer-drinker who always plumps for a pint or glass of the same. 

They can be beers as different as the aforementioned Blue Moon’s Belgian witbier, a pleasant and inoffensive thirst-quencher, or instead Thornbridge’s Tart, an ideal starter sour beer for anyone who pulls a sour face at the very idea. 

Without punk, though, would we have had Burning Sky, for instance (there might be no Original Gravity either or dirty burgers). For founder and owner Mark Tranter, punk ‘was about doing it for yourself, about being able to take control and operate independently, to make what you want to make, regardless of outside influences. I also liked the sort of misfit nature of it, the ideas, the music, aesthetics and the fact that although the first wave of punk quickly became a commercial operation, what happened afterwards was more of a network of friends, going DIY, fans doing fanzines.’

Which was presumably why he left Dark Star and set up Burning Sky, whose beers are some of the most creative and boldly flavoured in the country. Could the likes of Coolship #1 and Saison à la Provision be called gateway beers? Possibly, but only In the same way Cantillon Gueuze was my gateway to that most enigmatic and envious of beer styles, Gueuze.  

On the other hand, I would like to think that Tranter’s custodianship of Hop Head down through the years made it into a gateway beer. Punk as what Hop Head is to beer? That’s more like it.  


The imperfect smile of beer

The imperfect smile of beer

About to ’gram that beer and post it online? Don’t. Beer, like punk, like the beer-drinker, is imperfect and that’s the way Jessica Mason likes it

 

I’ve poured out a beer and set it upon the table beside its bottle. And, although I can tell that this composition is visually pleasing, my lonely beer looks back at me, despondently. The shadow, created by the glass and the sunlight from a nearby window is beautiful. No one can deny that. Aesthetically, the scene is perfect. So perfect in fact that I immediately photograph it.

But beer isn’t about all of this, is it? It isn’t about staged images. Beer is the opposite. It’s chaotic enjoyment. It’s chatter. It’s the spill of a pour. Or the way a flavour can linger and dance on your tongue and provoke a memory or a thought that can make you stand up, leave a room or talk and talk and talk with enthusiastic glee. 

Beer is not a flat image. It is too multi-faceted for filters. It’s the eye contact made over clinked glasses. It’s the start of the evening. It’s the end of the night. A comfort for a lonely heart. A day trip for the taste buds. Beer has the unique quality of reflecting real life (with all its ups, downs and sideways glances) with a fistful of emotions that can raise a smile. It isn’t neat, or preening. It’s why I like it so much.

So, I destroy the scene. And, suddenly, with its positioning now not being choreographed for anyone else but me, it makes me beam an anarchistic grin. My glass leaves an imperfect ring of wetness upon the table. And, I put some music on. Loudly. I’ve heard it once said that imperfection is a form of freedom. And it is something that I can’t seem to forget.  

I’m not keen on sparseness. I find it lacks the authenticity of the accidental. I find it clinical. And a little contrived.  Others, I know, find clean empty spaces calming. Orderly, in fact. Some say that kind of thing helps them to relax. But that isn’t the case with me. I’d rather loll on a battered sofa than perch upon a high stool. And I wonder — am I part of a misfit generation? Part analogue, part digital: a contumacious anachronistic punk. Someone who longs for the confines of an old boozer more than the pretension of bar glamour. A place where things make sense.

I miss the winding of spools on that once much-loved mix tape. Or doctoring the errant tear in a cigarette paper with careful Rizla origami. I look for the imperfections. Always. Because, I want to see life in everything. In beer. In people. I want the unvarnished truth. The unfiltered and the honest.

I look around my tiny kitchen and it makes me smile. Pans hang, books crowd shelves, the wooden table surface is uneven. An immortal voice belts out gravelly lyrics from a nearby speaker. There is distortion. All of it is over-the-top delinquency.

And my beer waits. Its head quivering amidst the din. It looks appealing. And I love this beer, I really do. It’s asymmetrically exquisite. Soft and full. Rich and moreish. All the contradictions. 

Pour yourself a beer now. Any favourite beer.  Your favourite beer. And reread from the top. Each time a sentence begins with a word someone might have declared against the rules of grammar, take a sip of your beer. And allow yourself a mutinous grin. 

Because we’re renegades. The lot of us. We are rule-breakers. We are beer drinkers. And, sometimes, simple is dull. And tasteful is, paradoxically, empty. And it is no bad thing to crave a little florid complexity now and again. Especially if it keeps life interesting.