When beer meets bikes

WHEN BEER MEETS BIKES

Budvar and BOLT motorcycles are teaming up to create a custom ‘Budvar Bike’. We hear from BOLT’s Andrew Almond

What was the idea behind BOLT?
Motorcycling is an ever-evolving culture and I wanted to create a new type of store that resonated with the current scene of motorcyclists emerging in London. At the time there was a new wave of custom culture taking shape using relatively affordable vintage motorcycles and along with it came new types of riders. What appealed to me was the accessibility and creativity it inspired. The scene grew globally and at that time there was not a place for it in London. Traditional motorcycle stores held little interest for me; they essentially stocked practical garments that lacked the style and quality. I wanted to curate a store that brought together items that reflect the styles of clothing I wanted to wear, proper leather jackets, vintage inspired helmets and independent motorcycle owned brands. There was also a need for a social space as riding bikes is as much about hanging out with friends and building communities. I wanted to create a space the progressed the scene, to host events and exhibitions and champion the scene as well as the rich cultural heritage that preceded it.

Were you a Budvar drinker before the project came about?
Yes. My favourite has long been the Budvar Dark, which balances the strong flavour typically associated with stouts with the freshness and lightness of lager.

Why did you choose the Jawa bike?
There was really only one option for the Budvar Bike, it had to be a JAWA, a classic Czech design. Originating from Prague and starting production in 1929 they grew to exert a huge influence in the motorcycle world. By the 50s they were exporting to over 120 countries and new overseas factory were introduced in India. With typically small capacity engines, they reflected the economies of their time providing an affordable means of transport. They really stood out in racing though, coming into their own in Motorcross and Speedway.

What are your plans?
I really want to showcase the range of crafts that are at the heart of everything we do at BOLT. It is a great opportunity to utilise our network of collaborators for each aspect of the build, from a hand-fabricated frame to hand-painted design and hand-tooled leather seat. I’m not sure if I have ever seen a JAWA exhibited in a custom motorcycle show, so I really want to build something that changes people’s perceptions. It’s the ugly duckling story! The JAWA we have is a very utilitarian design but there is real beauty hidden within elements of its design, we want to showcase these aspects and create something truly original and stunning.

We’re really only keeping the engine (which will be overhauled) and the wheels. The frame will be chopped and remade to a hard-tail design – this means removing the rear suspension in favour of a rigid rear-end. Being 6′ 4 we need to adapt the frame to fit my proportions, stretching it out while being careful not to dwarf the engine which is just 250cc. We will custom make a tank, fenders and seat pan to fit, using vintage parts and following the styles of the 1930s JAWAs. The overall design however will be very contemporary, referencing the past but looking to the future.

What are the main challenges with the build?
Time is the challenge as this involves managing many different people working on different parts and ensuring it is all brought together on deadline. The other main challenge is building a bike that is both a show bike but which will handle a 1000-mile road trip, this is especially the case considering the small capacity two-stroke engine. Anyone with experiences of JAWAs will tell you they are best ridden with a tool roll in hand, so it will really be a test of our skills to make this bike fit for the journey.

Who are you using for the specialist fabrication and sign writing?
We work with some of the best crafts people in their fields and this bike will really be a joint effort involving many of the BOLT Family. This is the fun part for me, involving lots of friends in one project, bringing together different elements in a distinct vision. Jake Robbins who traditionally fabricates impossible to find parts for early motorcycles will be handling the fabrication work. I always like to give Jake projects that differ from his day-to-day work; he is real creative at heart and has a great balance of form and function. We work with Jake Collier for our leather work and he manages the costumes for major films, making everything from hand-carved centurion breast pieces to the latest Marvel character costumes. Dapper Signs is a traditional sign writer with a distinct style who will hand-paint the bike.

You visited South Bohemia and the Budvar Brewer recently for some inspiration of the build. What did you take from the trip?
It was great to get a sense of the area and the brewery. We took a chairlift up in the snow to the top of a mountain overlooking a medieval town. The landscape there is beautiful; the castles and architecture give South Bohemia this amazing timeless feel. Visiting the brewery was really enlightening too – far from the big commercial operation that you might expect. It felt more like a family business. I was surprised to find the things used to brew the beer, like the huge copper brew kettles, were actually incredibly beautiful. All these things come from an approach to brewing that hasn’t wavered over the centuries, a belief in staying true to principles and techniques and in doing what it takes to create a beer of the best quality. I often feel that I put business interests aside in order to do things that I am truly passionate about, and it was inspiring to see that ethos at work in a large brewery too.

And what about the beer? How was drinking Budvar straight from the tank in the cellars in Budweis?
The experience of tasting the beer from the tank was a real surprise. I genuinely did not conceive that beer could taste that good. While the flavours came alive, it was the freshness that really amazed me. It was like drinking spring water! You could literally throw a pint down in one. During what I am sure will be a gruelling journey, the idea of the running down to that cellar for a celebratory pint will be a big inspiration.

Finally, you’re riding the finished Budvar bike through Europe to the Budvar Brewery in the Czech Republic. Where are you going and what are the challenges going to be?
We’re planning a route that avoids any major roads or motorways as the bike will not be able to cope with the high speeds. This is the exciting part: the road less travelled. I’m looking forward to passing through the towns and countryside as we ride our way across the different countries. Motorcycling for me is very much about friendships and I plan to stop off and show off the bike as we go. We will drop into fellow motorcycle stores Hermanus in Bruges and Rusty Gold in Amsterdam and hopefully pick up a few riders who will join us too. The main challenge will be not to blow the engine, running at high speeds for long times can be fatal for two strokes which prefer a more varied tempo. I expect the journey to be a real challenging but that is the adventure! It will not be easy, by any means, but the harder it is the better the first beer will taste once we arrive!


A pub table and a beer

A pub table and a beer

The pub is a mediator to the events life can often throw in your way. By Jessica Mason

 

It is a setting where we can unravel as people — where we can laugh and where we can cry without judgement. And it can, on some occasions, nurse our hearts and minds back to health.

I didn’t know my real father. He was Indian-Malay and I only met him a handful of times. Even though my mum had a court order to keep him away, if he showed up on our doorstep he’d be welcomed in. Sometimes, he would bring stories. Other times, new siblings.

By the time I was a teenager, the man with the leather trousers who I had seen approximately five times in my life had completely disappeared.

When I was 20 and the internet was just getting going, a friend and I tracked down my old surname and found an uncle of mine living in Germany. He’d been the best man at my parents’ wedding. He didn’t know where my father was either, but he asked me to visit. It was the first time I had ever been in an aeroplane and flying out to meet him and his son, a cousin of mine, I felt a deep surge of hopefulness. I was going to discover a family I had never known.

Two days later, after running barefoot down the streets of Dortmund at night, flagging down a car and spending time in a police station, I was flown back to the UK chaperoned, for safety reasons, by the British Consulate. My uncle, after telling me rather a lot about his brother, “the person whom everyone liked,” took away my naivety and replaced it with a fear I had never known.

My university pals, who had helped in my escape, took me to the pub and, within the walls of the Mash Tun and the Black Boy in Winchester, they nursed me back to life with love and beer and the unspoken familiarity of friendship that bound us like a family of our own.

At age 26, to my bewilderment I became a parent myself. So when an out-of-the-blue phone call led to information on my real father’s whereabouts, I was wary. I greeted the event not as the animated optimist, but as a protective, yet numb sage. I suggested meeting on neutral territory – a pub.

I knew I had mere hours with a man I didn’t know. But with a hundred questions in my head none of which could be answered by someone intent on impressing me, I would need to put my questions aside and make him feel at ease enough to remove his veneer. But how would I do that? Strangely enough, I did know. I needed just two simple props: a pub table and some beer.

I recognised him immediately. Not because the crumpled wedding photograph of the smiling man I’d been carrying around for years resembled the homeless man in front of me, but because we shared the same eyes. Two deep dark pools of despair looked back at me like a foreboding reflection. His carrier bag of possessions was at his feet and he was wearing a suit at least three sizes too big for his frame and a red baseball cap. He told me he had taken the day off of work especially to meet me and that he was “a business consultant”. I smiled and bought him a pint, saying I hoped he wasn’t going to be missed at the office that day.

That evening, he introduced me to his friends and I bought the rounds. His friends, who also had their work bags or kitbags stowed beneath the table, regaled me with proud stories of my father’s cheekiness, his humour and willingness to help others. Traits I’d never personally been privy to, but nor could I dismiss as non-existent. The man had nothing, but he clearly still had mates.

When I took the train back home that evening, I thought about the dimly-lit pub and the things I had learnt on the premises. It had only taken an hour to deduce that the man before me was, quite possibly, the worst man I had ever met in my entire life. He wanted to be admired, only the version of himself he had conjured didn’t really exist. He was the Moon Under Water, personified. He was not the father of which anyone might dream. Yet, in his presence, while my heart silently moved from my throat to the pit of my stomach, hopefulness was replaced by avid fascination. He was a performer and the pub was his stage. I didn’t need to like him; I didn’t need to know him. He was the jester in his court and I was simply his audience for the night.

And there is no remorse. Because we are all kinds of people, drifting through life and some of us are better at getting things right than others – these hostelries we have in Britain taught me that. They strip us down to the bare souls of the people we are and they bind friendships and relationships. They make us people of mirth and they remind us that being ourselves is enough. They are there for the good days and the bad, because life does that – it just keeps throwing things our way.

And even when things don’t go our way, there’s something we can do about it. We can reset our perspective and, within mine, there’s always a pub table and a beer.

R.I.P. The man who gave me my eyes.

/ @drinksmaven


Anatomy of: Barley Wine

Anatomy of barley wine

The barley wine, one of the strongest tipples of the beer canon, is designed for cold days barley lit by the winter sun. Here’s all you need to know about it and three of the best. Image: The British Library

 

A barley wine is a contemplative beer, the kind of beer that you pour out in small measures, a beer that has rich fruity overtones, luscious maltiness and a fiery booziness. It’s usually dark amber in colour, but there are also pale barley wines, and it’s strong enough to make a cat speak.

Because of its strength it has always been a minority pursuit, but sustained study of its attributes reveals a beautiful beer that could be seen as the height of the brewer’s art. British brewers got there first but now barley wine is produced all over the world with North American riffs on the style invariably more hop forward. Drink deeply and study hard this style.  ATJ

STRENGTH
Some start at the relatively light strength of 7.5%, while others stretch out their limbs towards 12 or 13%. So far no one has claimed a session barley wine.

FLAVOUR
Lush is the word you might be looking for on the first sip, with rich notes of dark or dried fruit, smooth chocolate, caramel, vanilla and occasionally a bracing bitterness.

APPEARANCE
Dark mysterious amber or a well-polished mahogany though some barley wines can also be reddish gold in colour. Dive into an enticing tan-coloured head of foam.

HISTORY
‘The barley wine of the English Rhine’ was a slogan used by a brewery in the 1880s, though it wasn’t until the early 1900s after Bass’ No1 Burton Ale was called a barley wine that it was more commonly used.

AKA
Some would say that barley wine is also interchangeable with a Burton ale or even an old ale. Best to keep things simple though.

FOOD
It’s an end-of-dinner drink so eschew the port for the barley wine, especially if it’s accompanied by a slab of creamy, pungent Stilton — that way heaven lies.

WHERE TO DRINK
Because of its strength, it’s either a seasonal or brewed intermittently. Scour your local bottle shop

WEIRD FACT
British barley wine drinkers used to call the style a ‘sitting down beer’, because they had less distance to fall if they’d imbibed too deeply of it. Honest.

THREE OF THE BEST

/  Cameron’s, Where the Buffalo Roam, 11.2%
Time well spent in bourbon barrels gives this Canadian barley wine a sleek and warming character with delicate waves of vanilla, dried fruit and rich malt.

/  Arbor, Barley Davidson, 9.7%
Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic combine with nine months of barrel ageing to create a luscious and potent, fruity and caramel-smooth
palate-pleaser.

/  Harvey’s, Christmas Ale, 7.5%
If you left this burnished mahogany hued and richly malty beauty out for Santa on Christmas Eve he’d be reluctant to leave and demand more.


Beer Moment of the Year: Daniel Neilson

Beer Moment of the Year: Daniel Neilson

The pub. The wonderful, cosy, convivial pub made the beer moment of the year for Original Gravity’s publisher Daniel Neilson

 

Life is too short to be indulgent when it comes to writing about beer, but as the year seems certain to immolate itself once more, Original Gravity has decided that its self-imposed rule about indulgence can be broken for once — here, then, is the team’s beer moment (s) of the year. We’ll see you in 2018, we’ve got a few things we going to do that we think we will like (you might as well, but we certainly will).

For our next moment, it’s the founder Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson, Original Gravity’s Founder

I’ve been very lucky this year to meet a great many people in the beer industry who I deeply admire. Meeting Jamie in the lovely Highland setting of his brewery Fyne Ales was a highlight. Other visits, including Siren, Burning Sky, Wiper and True, Lost & Grounded, Thornbridge and many more, were all united by one thing: the unerring, relentless passion of beer. 

My beer moment of the year, however, was a little closer to home. 

They call it the Cathedral, Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes. I was there on an ‘away day’ with Pete Brown, Adrian Tierney-Jones and the designer Adam McNaught-Davis. After a  planning session and a tour of the ‘Cathedral’ we all retired to the John Harvey Tavern for lunch. And it was there, as I took a long draught on Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter and looked around the table, that I marvelled the power of a humble drink in a humble pub. Beer had brought together great brewers, great beer writers and great friends. I sat down again and the banter continued.  


Beer Moment of the Year: Pete Brown

Beer Moment of the Year: Pete Brown

That was the year that was. And for Original Gravity’s Editor at Large Pete Brown, the great beer moments of the year happened on a trip to America

 

Life is too short to be indulgent when it comes to writing about beer, but as the year seems certain to immolate itself once more, Original Gravity has decided that its self-imposed rule about indulgence can be broken for once — here, then, is the team’s beer moment (s) of the year. We’ll see you in 2018, we’ve got a few things we going to do that we think we will like (you might as well, but we certainly will).

For our second moment, it’s our Editor-at-Large Pete Brown

Pete Brown, Original Gravity Editor-at-large

My beer moment of the year has to be the mini-book tour of North America I undertook to promote my new book, Miracle Brew. Most of my events took place in breweries, and my publisher is in Vermont, so, apart from flogging a few books, I got to visit some of the most exciting breweries around right now.

I kicked off with a talk at the Brooklyn Brewery, after which Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver dragged out some of his ‘ghost bottles’ for us to taste — strong, experimental beers aged in wood with a variety of different yeast and microorganisms that start to blur the boundary between beer and wine.

A few days later I was at Hill Farmstead in Vermont, watching the queue for growler fills of their New England IPAs and Belgian style beers grow outside an hour before the taproom doors opened. And then up to Toronto, a city I’ve loved for a long time, that’s now starting to transcend its beery influences and excel in styles that are different from what you might find in bars elsewhere. In 2018, keep an eye out for the Canadians.

—–

Tomorrow evening Original Gravity’s Publisher Daniel Neilson picks his moment of the year.


Beer Moment of the Year: Adrian Tierney-Jones

Beer Moment of the Year: Adrian Tierney-Jones

What was that? Oh, it was only 2017 passing by. Still, Original Gravity’s Editor and Beer Writer of the Year 2017, Adrian Tierney-Jones, picks out one great moment of the year

 

Life is too short to be indulgent when it comes to writing about beer, but as the year seems certain to immolate itself once more, Original Gravity has decided that its self-imposed rule about indulgence can be broken for once — here, then, is the team’s beer moment (s) of the year. We’ll see you in 2018, we’ve got a few things we going to do that we think we will like (you might as well, but we certainly will).

First up, it’s Editor Adrian Tierney-Jones

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Original Gravity Editor (and Beer Writer of the Year, I thought I’d just get that in)

No notepad, no laptop, no pen or pencil, no smartphone snapping away, no blog post or deadline, and certainly no Tweet suggesting that this is the life, but the evening that I and fellow journalist Joe Stange spent at Foerster Feine Biere in the south of Berlin lingers long in the memory. A neighbourhood bar (was it on a corner?), popular, unremarkable in its looks, but a home from home for beers with a Franconian heart. No notes were taken, just the simple pleasure of beer and conversation with a friend, and the rich honeyed tones of draft Schönramer Saphir Bock, to which I tried to return to the following evening, but was told with a smile by the barman that we’d drunk it all up the night before. Such is the simple pleasure of a beer moment well won.

—–

Tomorrow evening Original Gravity’s Editor at Large (and 2016’s Beer Writer of the Year) Pete Brown picks his moment of the year.


INTERVIEW: Moor Beer Co's Justin Hawke

INTERVIEW: Moor Beer Co’s Justin Hawke 

Moor Beer’s supremo Justin Hawke in his own words. Interview by Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

How does it feel to be the British Guild of Beer Writers’ brewer of the year?

It was quite a fantastic moment. Getting beer awards is always nice, but this one was quite emotional and it felt like a lifetime achievement. It was also special coming from the Guild as my inspiration for beer came from my dad’s reading of Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, whose books I have on my desk here. To have Roger there shaking my hand, that was a fantastic thing.

You went to Croatia the day after the awards, what was that like?

It’s fascinating for me to go out to these countries and watch the beer scene explode. I was in Italy in its early stages and in Spain.

Is Spain the new Italy?

Not yet, but it does have some amazing places, but Italian beers are just fantastic.

I agree, though I did have a dreadful Puglia beer with artichokes in it a couple of years ago. Just why? Why?

I like artichokes and I like beer, but not together. I call such things gimmick beers or shock beers. I can’t stand so much of the crap coming out these days, it’s not my thing at all. We tinker around the edges, but these are always things that will enhance the beer. The mango tea pale ale we have done, the beer was designed around it and it all worked, but we are never going to put caramel syrup or whatever in beers.

Modern real ale is what you call your beers, was this a conscious decision to use that phrase?

Our philosophy has three core components: there’s the Californian one, where everything has to have a lot of flavour; there’s the German one, what is called naturaltrub, unfined hazy beers. By the way, I wish I’d never made up the word unfined. I hate it. When I tried to change it to natural beer it didn’t stick. As for the third component, because I love real ale and its drinkability, that came from the UK. Those three things to me made it modern.

Why did you want to get into brewing?

My dad started me on drinking when I was a kid. Not drinking drinking, but the culture and the flavour. He lives in Las Vegas (pulls a face), but on the outskirts and never go to the strip. He had a business in LA selling antique prints and framing them and they travelled back and forth to the UK and that’s where my love of this country came from. They were selling high value stuff to actors and the like but they then got into reproducing it and selling it to hotels out there.

I remember him and my uncle drinking Paulaner Dunkel one day and my dad said, ‘if you’re going to drink you should know what the good stuff tastes like’ so I had a sip of beer. I was around five, I liked it, he used to give me sips. Then there were Michael Jackson’s books. We would also go to liquor stores and look at bottles. That’s how I learned about beer. As I got older, I didn’t think I could brew beer, you thought someone else could do that but when I was at West Point my tac officer (he was a captain responsible for discipline for a group of us) was a home brewer. There was a time when we had to do a formal dinner at his house and he pulled out his home brew and it was amazing and he was like, ‘yes I made it’. He also had home brew catalogues and the like and that was my inspiration and I realised I wanted to brew.

The funny thing I saw his photo in the news a couple of months ago. He’s a major-general now and responsible for the disaster relief in Puerto Rico and coincidentally I knew someone who was deployed out there and I got in touch to ask him if he ever saw Buchanan. He replied that he did now and again. So I asked him if he would do me a favour and go up to him and tell him that because of his inspiration I got into brewing. The next day he ran into him and he took a photo together and he loved it.

So was there a lightbulb moment when you thought, I want to do this?

Yeah, that was when I learnt to home brew and like every home brewer I wanted to open my own brewery. In the UK it is so easy, probably the easiest in the world. This is good and bad, I get where everyone is coming from cause I had the same journey, but the beer world is different now, you have to have quality, it’s not enough to want to be a brewer.

I was living in San Francisco when I learned to home brew. The Speakeasy brewpub was a big inspiration and I was originally going to take a job at Steelhead. They were Oregon based but had several brewpubs around San Francisco. I was a business consultant at the time and earning good money and I was offered a job as an assistant brewer, which was $8 an hour. My friend who was head brewer said, ‘save your money and when you have enough go and open a brewery’, so I took his advice.

I had always wanted to do it in England, so my wife and I moved to England, and we saved money for 10 years, still working as business consultants. I was also a CAMRA member. I remember seeing a brewery in the West Country for sale in What’s Brewing, so I went down and saw the place, and the owner told me that he just wanted to sell it. We talked and discovered that we had a lot of similar ideas and I somehow got him re-inspired and we were going to work together. Then I was in Germany seeing a customer and he gave me a call — this was before we’d done all the paperwork and money — and he said that I had had him all fired up, but that he knew that within a month he would want out again. He didn’t want to drag me and my family down to the West Country and then pull out.

It was a good thing of him to do it, but I had come down to the area and liked it and then I read about an award-winning brewery up for sale or partnership. This was Moor as it was then. So I met the owner and he told me about his plans, about making the brewery site, which was a farm, a retail outlet and there were some good ideas. The brewery was shut at the time and there was nowhere to drink the beer, but new kit was being installed. So it all seemed good until I moved down. This is the beauty and the problem of the UK, someone who had no background in professional brewing, who had been playing around on other kits, I didn’t know any better, I would open up the back door to do cask washing and there would be a bull looking right at me. From the outside I saw champion winter beer, the vision and new kit, this all made sense for someone who was keen but it got sour.

That was then. I was pleased to read about Moor’s new tap room in Bermondsey.

We are not going to brew there, it will be for our barrel ageing projects. We will grow organically — at the moment we produce 6000 h/l a year, though we have the capacity to do 9000 or even 10,000, beyond that we will see what the steps are from there.

What’s all this thing about Star Wars, your office seems to be plastered with posters?

Who doesn’t like it? I’m so looking forward to The Last Jedi.


Should beer have a sense of place?

Should beer have a sense of place?

Pete Brown asks whether a beer should reflect the place where it is from

 

Beer’s easy accessibility and unpretentiousness are some of its most appealing aspects. But this down-to-earth nature sometimes causes suspicion of any attempt to make beer sophisticated or classy.

Take the on-going debate about the ‘Thirteen quid pint’: non-beer drinkers and many beer fans are united by a belief that no beer, no matter how it was made or how strong it is, can ever be worth that much because it’s ‘just beer’.

Another sticky topic is that of terroir, the French term used by the wine industry to argue that a particular combination of climate, aspect and soil type creates conditions in certain places that give their character to the fruit grown and wine made there.

Can beer have terroir? Again, winemakers would argue beer is not sophisticated enough to demonstrate it, while some beer drinkers might dismiss terroir as poncey.

An additional problem is that beer can be made anywhere: a brewer might buy hops from Washington State and malt grown in Norfolk and still call herself a local brewer, whether she’s in Manchester or Melbourne.

But the truth is that beer has always been tied to a sense of place.

It can be helpful to adopt a close English approximation of terroir, and refer to it as ‘land taste’. This concept is just as important to hops and barley as it is to grapes. How could it not be?

Take hops from one area and plant them in another, and their characteristics will change. The citrusy, tropical fruit, dank and piney hops we love from North America are the descendants of earthy, spicy English styles such as Fuggles and Goldings. Bring some Cascade hops back from the States and plant them in Kent, and they’ll take on some of the characteristics of their ancestors.

Norfolk is the best barley growing region in the country because of its light sandy soil, and the cool sea mists that blow in and keep the fields cooler and moister than they should be in high summer, allowing the grain to ripen for longer.

Yeast, invisible in the air around us, goes through thousands of generations for every one of ours, and evolves rapidly to suit its environment. The wild yeasts of the Senne valley create Lambic beers at breweries such as Cantillon, while brewers like Verzet and Rodenbach have their own cultures up the road in West Flanders, creating Flemish red ales.

But perhaps the beer ingredient which has the greatest land taste is the one that’s least thought about.

When water falls as rain, it’s more or less pure. As it seeps through the ground, ions from the minerals in the earth dissolve into it. It becomes hard or remains soft. It may become acidic or alkaline.

When it’s taken from a spring or well, it’s literally full of ‘land taste’, and these attributes have myriad different effects on beer.

The Czech Republic evolved into a lager brewing country because its soft water is perfect for that style, whereas London pale ale brewers of the 19th century had to set up satellite breweries in Burton-upon-Trent because those beers simply weren’t as good brewed anywhere else. Today, any pale ale or IPA brewer will ‘burtonise’ their water to recreate the town’s unique sulphate cocktail.

Beer may be simple. But it’s also four times more complex than wine.

Pete’s Miracle Brew (Unbound Press, £9.99) is now available.


The fall and rise of porter

The amazing fall and rise of porter

Adrian Tierney-Jones contemplates the history of London’s beer.

Ilustration by Elliot Kruszynski for Original Gravity (elliotkruszynski.co.uk)

Porter is the beer that returned from the dead. It is the beer that rose from the grave in which it had long laid dormant, an unknown grave, as lost as the tomb of Alexander, all that was left was rumour and conjecture. Was it the drink of the men who moved London’s goods in Georgian times and gave the beer its name? Did Mr Pickwick enjoy the odd noggin? And was a dinner party really held within a wooden vat at one of the monstrous London breweries that made their name and fortune with porter?

Yet porter was real enough to me late last winter as I sat in the cool, shaded confines of the Royal Oak, a Victorian-style corner pub that is a few minutes stroll from Borough Market. The Oak is the London flagship of Sussex brewery Harvey’s and a place where its complex Porter can be studied at length, especially welcome on a cold, crisp and introspective winter’s day such as this. 

The beer was sleek and sensuous in the glass, a confection of treacle toffee, chocolate, vinous fruit, saddle leather, tobacco box and even hints of dandelion and burdock.

It was a beer to be studied and appreciated at length, a beer that beguiled. Over several glasses a series of lines from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding swirled to mind: ‘for history is a pattern/ Of timeless moments./ So, while the light fails/ On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel/ History is now and England.’

Ok I wasn’t in a chapel but the light was failing on a winter’s afternoon; I was in England and there was something devotional in the way in which I regarded the beer in front of me. That’s the problem with porter — it is inspirational, but it can also become an obsession as well. 

If IPA (or more frequently a mash-up of IPA) is one of the first beers that a new craft brewer thinks about making when they go pro, you could bet your very last hop sack of Citra that the next beer style/variation/thingy they chance their arm at will be a porter (though some ambitious souls have been known to zoom straight into saison). The beer has an aura about it, a gravitas in the glass, a sheen of heritage and the theme tune of history that makes it so endlessly fascinating. It is seen as the first world beer, the beer of the industrial revolution; it’s London’s beer gift to the world (Burton and London share IPA but porter belongs to the capital). It’s porter. 

However, it’s easy to sit back in an imaginary armchair and pontificate about porter as it was, but what about now? In modern terms porter is Janus-faced as brewers look backwards and forwards as they make it: categories include Imperial porter, Export India porter, London porter, Dublin porter, Baltic porter, table porter, coffee porter, pastry porter (WTF?) and of course just plain porter (which takes us neatly back to London). That’s the exciting thing about what craft brewers (for want of a better word) are doing with beer — they are taking venerable styles and bringing them back to the future. 

American craft brewers first resurrected the beer, adding lots of hops but still maintaining the creamy, soothing centre that in my mind differentiates modern porter from modern stout (though some argue that they are the same beer, the world’s not going to come to an end). I have always enjoyed the lush, smoky, bitter, mocha-like temperament of Anchor’s Porter, perhaps one of the first returnees to the porter fold in 1972; I believe it is one of the best examples of the American style. Then there is Alaskan Smoked Porter, with its rich malt character, peppery hop, stewed fruits and bonfire night smokiness (Stone’s Smoked Porter is an equally smoky ravishment). 

Everyone’s got a porter in the US: some have more hops in them than is decent; others are aged in all manner of barrels, while Ohio brewery Willoughby produce a peanut butter cup coffee porter, which is not just pushing the envelope but setting up the Pony Express and the Post Office all at once. This might not taste like a porter from the early 19th century but who cares?

Sometimes a beer style should be seen as a blank music manuscript with the notes and the order in which they are placed still to be decided.

In the UK, porter was slower to return: the late 1970s saw porters released by both Timothy Taylor and Penrhos Brewery, the latter famously supported by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. Sadly, Penrhos didn’t last too long, while Taylor’s Porter is rarely brewed these days, but this was the first inclination that a venerable beer style was being resurrected. Now the world of British porter is choc-a-bloc with variations on a theme from the likes of Meantime, Kernel, Fuller’s, BrewDog, Elland, Salopian and Burton Bridge, whose Porter has been brewed since the early 1980s (they also produce one with damson juice in it)

History? For a long time it was thought that landlords in the early 18th century mixed up three different kinds of beer in their cellar — the famous three threads — and that a London brewer replicated this in his brewery and hey presto porter was born. Nice story, but it didn’t happen that way — porter somehow emerged, brewers didn’t keep records, there was no Twitter and to be honest the story of beer styles emerging into the world rarely approaches an eureka moment. There are no records of Ralph Harwood (for centuries thought to be the creator of porter), running into the street, Archimedes-style, telling all and sundry what he had just discovered. As for porter’s heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries I haven’t got a clue what old time porter tasted like though the tradition of aging, or staleing, blending and the use of brown malt might suggest an exceptionally characterful beer; perhaps the lion of acridity lying down with the lamb of acidity. 

For the moment though I’m happy to lie down with another glass of Harvey’s Porter and watch the light of the day fade and marvel at the power of porter, the beer that came back from the dead. 


Porter timeline

Early 18th century London brewers start producing the beer that would be known as porter, though it was also called entire — according to Martyn Cornell in Amber, Gold & Black the name porter isn’t used much by London brewers until the 1760s. 

 1760 Whitbread opens its vast porter tun room, which replaces four private houses and whose unsupported roof span is exceeded in size only by that of Westminster Hall’s.

c1780s Guinness starts brewing porter.

1814 A porter vat at Meux’s brewery off Tottenham Court Road bursts and eight people are killed. 

1817 Daniel Wheeler’s method of roasting malt, which would give porter its distinct darkish hue, is patented. 

1890 Pardubický Porter is brewed for the first time, in the style of the dark beers of the Baltic; it is still made today and one of the few of its kind made in the Czech Republic.  

1920 While working out what beers to send for sampling at the Brewers’ Exhibition Watneys decides not to brew any porter for the event — porter is in its death throes. 

1941 Whitbread stops brewing porter.

1972 After the success of Anchor Steam in 1971, brewery owner Fritz Maytag is emboldened to start brewing Porter. 

1973 Guinness stops brewing porter

1978 Penrhos and Timothy Taylor both produce porters

2009 Evin O’Riordian founds Kernel and one of his key beers is Export India Porter.

2013 Elland’s 1872 Porter wins Champion Beer of Britain

2014 Guinness releases Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter.


The art of beer: Burning Sky

The Art of Beer: Burning Sky

Simon Gane has been creating the artwork for the Sussex brewery from the beginning. We catch up with the artist about how the labels are created

Daniel Neilson

Burning Sky, in the folds of the East Sussex South Downs, produces world class beer and demonstrates a clear sense of where it was made. The evocative label artwork by Simon Gane similarly conveys this idea. We caught up with the illustrator to understand how the artwork is produced

Is a sense of place important to your illustrations and that of the brewery?

Massively so! It’s always something I enjoy trying to capture, while sketching, drawing comics or designing brewery stuff. It lends itself well to beer, I think because it’s a product so tied to certain regions and regional ingredients. It’s funny you should ask because the next label will feature Firle, where Burning Sky is based. Whether I manage to capture it is another matter, but at least the beer will be good.

How did you first meet Mark?

We’ve been good friends since school. I won’t say how long that is. His early homebrewing days never went unappreciated, but we’ve been working together on beer labels and pump clips since 2001 when he was at Dark Star.

Did you find a style that fitted with the beer straight away?

It took some back and forth. We knew we wanted a mix of traditional and new, and Mark was keen for these to feature my illustrations somehow. I was settled on the somewhat mid-20th century feel to the design elements pretty much immediately, but the logo itself was troublesome. It was based on an idea I’d quickly abandoned without showing Mark, but fortunately he noticed it on my computer when he was visiting. The benefits of a close working relationship there, as well Mark’s own artistic eye!

They’ve developed somewhat organically since then. Bringing in cut ‘n’ paste elements is a reflection of our fondness for punk rock, but also allows flexibility at the design stage. Aside from the logo and type style, they are often quite different from each other in terms of subject matter and colour scheme, but this is craft beer, not corporate beer. The Burning Sky guys run with their influences and passions, so it makes sense that the artwork should reflect that.

How do you go about designing a label for a specific beer? 

It usually starts with the beer. After discussing ideas with Mark, I’ll do a rough version of the design so I can see what space I’ve got for the image and take it from there. The Petite Saison label (pictured) probably took the most planning because you can’t cover up a character’s face like you can a haystack or similar background detail. The final images are inked with a brush, scanned and then coloured, always in the hope that Mark doesn’t change the name to something longer!

Where do you get your inspiration from for the Burning Sky labels?

That’s also led by the beer. You’ve got the Grand Place in Brussels on the Belgian-influenced Gaston and the Victorian-style decoration on the Imperial Stout and so on. They’ve gradually encompassed more of my own influences and interests, from the design style to the imagery. Because Mark and I are pals, he’s able to suggest things for the labels from other aspects of my work too. For example, the view on the Anniversaire label is based on a sketch, and the cafe scenes are based on a
comic series I once drew. 

What else do you illustrate for?

Yeah, nerd alert: most of my time is spent drawing comic books. That’s my day job, so to speak. At the moment, I’m working on They’re Not Like Us, a monthly series published by Image Comics in the States, with a couple of other comic projects in the works too. Examples of these, along with process shots of Burning Sky work, can be found on my Instagram and Twitter accounts.

/ burningskybeer.com

/ T: @simongane

/ I: @simonjgane