Ritual

RITUAL

‘It is like saying grace. In the wine cellars of Baron Bachofen von Echt, under his schloss at Nussdorf, on the edge of the Vienna Woods, I have raised a glass of “Sir Henry’s” dry stout, brewed on the premises, and said a silent prayer of thanks to the Campaign for Real Ale.’

Called to the Bar — an account of the first 21 years of CAMRA, published 1992

By Adrian Tierney-Jones

If we define ritual as an act that is always repeated, as an act of devotion, sometimes as an act of exaggeration, often as a sense of belonging and being in the vanguard of something with its own quirks and language and a heightened sense of its own reality, then brewing and beer is as ritualistic as say the Tridentine Mass or the fulsome applause whenever Kim Jong-un utters some proclamation. Think smells and bells, chants, Gregorian or otherwise, gestures or fingers crossed in the air, prayer and meditation, the unknown and, when it comes to working with mixed fermentation and barrels of various denominations, an act of blind faith.

Like many a writer and brewer, I have heard the tale of a head brewer at Guinness’ former Park Royal plant in west London, who at the start of the brewing day would sit on a chair (or a throne even) overlooking the brewing kit, and, at the appropriate time, fob-watch in hand, boom out ‘let the mash begin’. Whether true or not, the very existence of the story (or myth, another important part of ritual) seems to suggest that ritualistic practices have their place in the world of beer. On a personal level, I’m reminded of my experience at St Austell about 10 years ago during the first brew of the day — it was customary to taste the runnings of the wort from the first mash. It was horribly sweet, but at least it didn’t have a raw egg in it, an experience Roger Protz wrote about in The Ale Trail.

So how is brewing ritualistic? The same procedures are adhered to for each brew of a certain beer (unless of course you have split away, hammered your theses on the door and work with the uncertainties of wild yeast); the correct amount of salts are added to the liquor; the same temperatures for the mash and the boil; the same time given to the length of the brew. Meanwhile, hop varieties — Citra, Cascade, Centennial and Eukanot, perhaps — are intoned with the dedication of a prayer, an evocation that these hops will make the beer that beguiles drinkers, batch after batch after batch. And finally, the quiet slumber of fermentation and conditioning, head bowed, thought cowed, the mediation on the ritual taken.

There is also ritualistic behaviour in the pub. We buy rounds for each other, we say, ‘cheers’, ‘good health’ or (in my case) ‘long legs to the squadron leader’s baby’. A multitude of Maß brimming with gold-flecked Oktoberfest beer is clinked with gusto at Munich in the autumn. Smartphones are tapped and glasses snapped with metronomic passion and Instagrammable aptness at beer bars up and down the country, companions to those for whom beer festival programmes and spiral bound notebooks are chapbooks for the faith when face to face with new ales.

With all this in mind, it makes me think: are the rituals that run rife through beer and brewing a case of making the ordinary extraordinary? For after all, it does seem that the fermented juice of the barley has had the power to cast a spell on men and women ever since the first brewer stood up and said (for all I know) ‘what has happened here is magic’? Or are they, as could be ascribed to any ritual, a nervous tic of behaviour, an itch that needs to be scratched, a way of celebration that leads to ecstasy? Is this the real magic of beer: the unknowable?

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First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Magic & Loss by Pete Brown and Brand, Myth and Magic by Daniel Neilson here.  


Brand, myth & magic

BRAND, MYTH & MAGIC

Daniel Neilson plots barstool stories from the very first trademark to the new age of label legends

Labels sell beer; we know that. On New Year’s Day 1876, under registration code UK00000000001, a red triangle, known in the file as the Bass Triangle, became the first registered trademark in the Intellectual Property Office. Under the List of Goods, it reads Pale Ale. It was first used in an advert in the same year. It worked.

The logo appears in a Manet painting, and more than 40 Picasso drawings. James Joyce wrote about it in Ulysses. It distinguished Bass from other beers ‘many years before 1855’. The Guinness Harp, based on Ireland’s oldest surviving harp dating back to the 14th century, was registered not long after the Bass Triangle. It’s a better logo.

Why? There’s an emotional connection: it was designed to appeal to a renewed interest in Gaelic art and music, but also to appeal to homesick Irish workers in London. The harp is a symbol of their homeland. It tugged heartstrings as well as thirst. Other early labels are a nod to the city or country: Amstel’s lions are from Amsterdam’s crest, and Beck’s key is on Bremen’s coat of arms.

Others are symbolic: the chimerical creature of the kirin, appearing on Kirin Beer, is a harbinger of good luck. Some are even politely mocking: the goat on bottles of German bock comes from the accent of Bavarians, who apparently when asking for Einbeck, sounded like ‘ein Bock’ or ‘a Billy Goat’. Labels sell. But so does myth; everyone likes a good story. No matter how authentic the origins, however, having a good story is also Marketing 101.
Take another classic logo: the red star of Heineken. Even the brewery’s own historians haven’t unearthed a definitive answer, but a favourite is that it was a symbol of European brewers in the Middle Ages, ‘who believed it to have mystical powers to protect their brew’. Cool.

More modern breweries also look at myth and legend for inspiration. Beavertown’s cans tell a story of something, though I’m not entirely sure of what: Star Wars viewed through the prism of Futurama perhaps? Take a browse of Magic Rock cans.
There’s a story there, an intrigue that allows you to draw your conclusions.

Designs on Burning Sky and Cloudwater all invoke something other than mere brand recognition. Sierra Nevada has an imperial stout called Bigfoot while Great Divide’s is called Yeti.
By latching on to existing myths, a brewery can set out a stall of enticing curios of which the beer inside is just one of them.

Allegory and myth have carried the human story since man first traced a handprint on a cave wall in somewhere like France and said here I am. The fear in stories where Prometheus ends up chained to a rock or Oedipus descends to the underworld warns us mere humans, against moral failure or mortal danger. Except, that is, in beer. In beer it means one thing: drink me, I’m interesting.
You hope.

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First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Magic & Loss by Pete Brown and Ritual by Adrian Tierney-Jones here.  


Magic & Loss

MAGIC AND LOSS

If you go back far enough, magic, superstition, religion and science are all essentially the same: observing phenomena in the world and forming the best theory you can about why they happen. By Pete Brown

I know someone who once wore a pair of gloves to a football game and his team won, so he now wears the gloves to every game, even in summer. Even though his team often loses, he still believes the gloves play a part in their victories.

If you know nothing about the rotation of planets, or much else outside your local valley, and you sacrifice a goat in mid-December, it makes some kind of sense that you’d sacrifice a goat every December, and when the days start getting longer each time you do, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that your poor departed goat had something to do with it.

For thousands of years, we’ve observed fermentation happening and exercised some degree of apparent control over it. But we’ve known the truth of how it actually happens for less than 150 years. And let’s be honest: from a standing start, the notion that alcohol is created by invisible fungi eating sugar, pissing booze and farting CO2 sounds, if anything, less plausible than alcohol being a gift from the gods, or a function of magic.

Go back to the first appearances of the magical stave in myth and legend — the forerunners of Harry Potter’s wand or Gandalf’s staff — and it always appears as an instrument specifically of transformation. In ancient brewing cultures from Norway to Africa, a stick or staff was stirred through the wort to start brewing. In traditional South African villages, prayers are still said to the ancestors as the wand stirs. We now know that yeast cultures that have lain dormant in the wood since the last brew are introduced to the fresh wort by this practice and start the fermentation once again. Without microbiology, repeated practice and observation make it seems obvious that the waving of the magic wand is transforming grain and water into alcoholic beer.

In the middle ages beer was mostly brewed by women, known as brewsters, ale-wives or — sometimes — ale-witches. In surviving engravings, these ale-witches are pictured in tall, conical hats. When a brew was ready they would sometimes mount long poles or even broomsticks outside their doors to show that the beer was ready.

Wise women, accumulating the knowledge of the poisonous, healing and transformative powers of various plants and passing it on through generations, had knowledge that sat outside the patriarchal pyramid of the church. Monasteries gradually took control of brewing away from ale-witches who were eventually, inevitably, persecuted as evil.

Science was born as the conjoined twin of alchemy, with both conducting experiments to discover how the world worked, and magic — such as the transformation of lead into gold — not yet discounted. The foamy cap atop a fermentation vessel was known as ‘godisgoode’, a substance that seemingly appeared from nowhere to create beer.

But gradually science progressed, with chemistry disproving the spontaneous creation of matter in the 18th century, and biochemistry proving that microorganisms were responsible for both fermentation and beer spoilage in the late 19th. Finally, we understood the fundamentals of brewing. But as in many aspects of life, detailed, rational knowledge killed some of the magic around us.

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Pete Brown’s book, Miracle Brew, is out now. 

Illustrations by Sam Marsh @sam_marsh_illustration 

First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Ritual by Adrian Tierney-Jones and Brand, Myth and Magic by Daniel Neilson here.  


Q&A: Adam Matuška, head brewer, Pivovar Matuška

Q&A: ADAM MATUSKA, HEAD BREWER, PIVOVAR MATUSKA

On a beer journey to the Czech Republic, Adrian Tierney-Jones

I was a very bad student in elementary school…

…in everything, then when I was thinking about going to high school, my father, who has been a brewer all his life, said maybe you can try this chemistry degree as you learn a bit about brewing. I told him that I was bad at chemistry, but he taught me enough so that I was prepared for the exams. The course was four years, and the first two years it wasn’t about brewing, just chemistry and physics and bullshit and I played baseball.

Then I met Jamie Hawksworth…

…(founder of Pivovar pub company), who was visiting my father with the intention of learning how to brew Czech beer. The three of us went to a beer competition in České Budějovice and Jamie was a judge there. I was 16 I think and on the way back I told Jamie that I wanted to go to the UK and learn about brewing. He said that he had a small pub Pivni in York and I could come and work there.

I had no English and I had to learn it…

…but in this bar there were 20 beers on tap and hundreds in bottle. At that time in the Czech Republic there wasn’t anything like this, and it changed my thinking. Before that I had just thought about brewing beer, but now I wanted to brew an IPA and other styles. I was shown a new world of beer.

I have a motto in brewing…

…every beer that I brew you have to drink 1/2 litre of it, and then you have to be thirsty for another 1/2 litre, even if it is 9%, you don’t have to drink it but you would like to. This is my credo. The first time I said to my father I will try brewing an IPA beer he replied you have to sell it, he said that people need to drink it. I learnt everything from my father.

California is not a pale ale style…

…it is a highly drinkable beer style. I didn’t want to have it as a sipper, I wanted to develop an ale like Pilsner Urquell, with high drinkability. The thinking behind California was that we wanted to brew the beer like a typical Czech lager, very balanced.

When I brew a new beer…

…I always try and pair with food at one of my favourite restaurants Krystal (krystal-bistro.cz), which also sells four of my beers. The chef has the same thinking as me, new things within tradition. For instance, a Czech style goulash which is different. What I don’t want to do is mystify people, so with the beer Ella, which is a lager with the Australian hop Ella, I mix three things I love, my daughter Ella, the decoction style and the hop.

ATJ / pivovarmatuska.cz

Read Adrian’s Beer Traveller’s guide to Prague here (http://www.originalgravitymag.com/beer-travellers-prague/)


Beer meets the devil

BEER MEETS THE DEVIL

Adrian Tierney-Jones travels to the dark side to taste the demon brews

The Devil has the best tunes, but does he also have the best beers? With Duvel (devil in Flemish), he certainly has one of the most exceptional Belgium beers to keep him company as he puts another hapless soul in the toaster. On the other hand you could argue that he is promiscuous in his drinking habits: if you go to Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig, you’ll see a dummy Dr Faustus sitting on a massive wine barrel. Whatever the truth, here are three beers with a sympathetic shine for the Devil (we’re only joking, he said, as he spotted a cloven hoof beneath the pub table).

/ Duvel Barrel-aged 2017 (Bourbon), 11.5%

Legends attach themselves to Belgian beer like barnacles to a sea-battered galleon and Duvel is no exception, apparently getting its name when a brewer exclaimed that it was the beer of the Devil on first tasting it. With this barrel-aged expression, firm and eloquent, the gates of Hell are well and truly opened (in the nicest possible way).

/ Unibroue Maudite, 8%

This potent Abbey-style beer with its panoply of spices, alcohol warmth and bittersweetness on both nose and palate is named after a Quebecois legend in which a bunch of lumberjacks, in their eagerness to get home in time for Christmas, made a deal with Lucifer, who then arranged for them to fly home in their canoes. Wonder what happened after Christmas?

/ Thornbridge Lukas, 4.2%

Lukas sounds like the sort of spooky name given to a small boy who is really the Devil in disguise, isn’t it? No? Ok, how about a gulp of this finely made Helles from Derbyshire instead — it’s as blonde as a sunlit smile, light and sparkling on the palate and an elegant and uplifting contrast to all this talk about supping with the Devil.


Beer Travellers: Prague

BEER TRAVELLERS: PRAGUE

Adrian Tierney-Jones explores the Czech capital and discovers simple pleasures

I am in Prague, a city that I fall in and out of love with, a city that brings joy, but can also frustrate, but on this Sunday morning it is a city with which I am very much smitten. And when the stars come out and the planets strive to influence my moods, I love to walk the streets of Prague without purpose, to stroll with no ambition of arrival, to be a flâneur, to be an observer, to vanish into the beauty of its cityscape. The joy of this urban-based wandervogel is that I never know what I will find but I do know that I always build up a thirst, and so on this grey Sunday morning the end result of my aimless amble in the Holešovice district on the north bank of the Vltava is Klášterní Pivnice.

I had heard its name before, old school, smoky, an authentic corner pub and an antidote to the city’s craft beer joints that look like coffee shops and where IPA is the lingua franca (not that there is anything bad about this, I love Zlý časy, Pivovarský klub, Illegal and Ale! Bar, for instance, but sometimes I just want to drink a Saaz-ravished světlý ležák — and lots of it). So there I was, taking time out from my travels, outside the pub, along with a couple of smokers, a thirst continuing to build up like an array of buses stuck on Oxford Street. Before I went through the door, I played a little game and tried to imagine Klášterní Pivnice as a person — perhaps a gruffly-spoken, take-no-nonsense bar tender, male or female, the kind of person that turns even the biggest of mouths into timid people-pleasers.

After all, it’s an unremarkable looking place, located on the ground floor of an apartment block, maybe built under the communists and tarted up in the last few years, but then I noted the three windows, each of which was stuffed with odds and sods such as old typewriters, empty bottles and a lone laptop from the age of steam. Instead of being unbearably quirky (like children’s TV presenters who shout out that they are ‘WHACKY!’), this felt more like a let’s-put-some-old-tat-in-the-window-for-a-laugh kind of thing, which I rather liked (though I could be wrong and maybe the typewriters represent some kind of literary crusade).

Inside, there was a silence reminiscent of a church before the service begins — the odd laugh, the murmur of conversation, and a sense of tranquility. It was 11am but there were only a few drinkers about. In the back room where I took my pint of Klášter Ležák (crisp and refreshing, an ideal companion for this first sip of the day), there was an harmonious balance between the silence of several drinkers reading their newspapers and the occasional clunk of glass mugs as a group of four guys toasted the morning once more (though I did wonder if they had been to bed yet, as a couple had the look of the swiped, slack faced pot-valiant about them). Meanwhile the bar tender was unceasing as he roved the back room looking for who wanted their glass replenished.

If you’re interested in such trifles, there were four draft beers on (none of them an IPA): as well as the one I was drinking, there were beers from Chotěboř, Primátor and one other, whose name I couldn’t be bothered to record. I think the mood of the pub affected me, got me to forget my constant rattling around the taxonomy of beer and join in the sheer joy of this unpretentious boozer, where time seemed to stretch and turn in on itself. As I gulped my beer (it started as sips, but it was soon apparent that this was a beer to gulp), an elderly man came in and sat at a table, his face like a map of a distant fabulous land. Up sprung the bar tender once more with a pint and a chaser, and the man with the face of a world we shall never see sat with his magazine, silent and still, each gulp (the gulping was infectious) of the beer like a soliloquy to his place in the world of this pub.

The back room had the feel of a hideaway, a cave perhaps, a wooden, panelled cave, painted green, while the tables and chairs were brutalist brown. As if to demonstrate the room’s communal aspect, a bench travelled along the three walls. Old faded prints of local football teams lined the wall alongside scarves and – curiously – a pennant for West Ham. Once more the sense of local was emphasised.

A dog (a French Bulldog called Rocky), who’d come in the company of the four revellers, roamed the room and settled beneath a table where a man in reflective clothes, his night shift finished perhaps, sat with a friend and ate his lunch (a robust, meaty menu, old school). The man surreptitiously slipped the dog scraps and I continued diving deeper into my beer (24 crowns for a pint if you’re interested in that sort of thing, which makes it about 90p). It wasn’t the best beer in the world but it was perhaps the best beer in the best pub in the world at that moment in time. There was an informality and a homeliness about the place even if I didn’t share the language and the life choices on display.

If you want to see the Czech love for beer before craft took over or away from the PU, Staro and Budvar pubs, then somewhere like this is an essential place to visit. It’s a boozer’s paradise, a hiding place, an easy place to write and a lair where enough time might make you part of the crowd. Which is sometimes what beer and pubs are all about: belonging.

Meanwhile Rocky continued to scout across the room and the bar in search of fallen titbits and his human companions kept carousing.


Q&A: Georgina Young, Head Brewer, Fullers

Q&A: GEORGINA YOUNG, HEAD BREWER, FULLERS

We quiz the Head Brewer of Fullers about the future… and the past

There’s been brewing on this site since the 17th century (though brewing took place at Bedford House in the late 16th century), it’s a historic site, a brewery rooted in its place, do you ever feel a sense of kinship with what went before, how do you feel about the link with those who have made beer down the centuries?

I think the way that we have brewed beer has been passed down. If you look at the old mash tuns and copper. We are connected to the previous generation of brewers here. We promote from within, having just become the head brewer. Passing down of the baton is normal here.

If London Pride was just one moment in London, what would it be?

It would be the Olympics. We were so proud to be Londoners, winning lots of gold. We took the world by storm and it was a really amazing day. It was an iconic moment.

Do you dream about brewing and beer or do you manage to switch off when leaving the brewery?

I don’t think as a brewer you ever switch off. One of the wonderful things is that you can do your job even when out with your friends. Inspiration comes from all sorts of unusual places.

What did you feel on your first day as Fuller’s head brewer?

We had a lovely evening when John Keeling announced I was going to be the next head brewer. I’m usually quite chatty, but I was actually lost for words. It was quite emotional and I’m extremely proud to have the title. We want to maintain quality as well as making new and exciting beers.

What can we expect from you and Fuller’s in the future, what kind of beers, projects, inspirations and aspirations?

We’re doing an exciting collaboration project with a range of different beers that will be in a mixed pack in Waitrose. We were in touch with some of our friends and we’re brewing a lager with Fourpure, New England IPA with Cloudwater, ESB with Moor in Bristol, a saison with Marble, a rye ale with Thornbridge and a smoked porter with Hardknott. I haven’t created any of the recipes, instead, we paired each of our six brewers with six breweries and they have brewed a beer. What’s been lovely is seeing how my team have blossomed with the project.

I’ve also been busy with preparing to install a ten-barrel pilot brewery. It will enable us to try out new malts, new hop varieties, different yeast strains and be a bit more adventurous with our beer styles.

/ fullers.co.uk


Ghana’s incredible microbrewery

GHANA’S INCREDIBLE MICROBREWERY

Do you know what sorghum is? Daniel Neilson does and he meets a man who’s making beer with it

On a large plastic sheet weighed down with bricks, a thin layer of a reddish grain is drying under the intense West African heat. Clement Djameh picks it up and plants it in my hand. The tiny red grains have a little tadpole-like tail. The grain is sorghum, a grass crop that grows abundantly across large parts of Africa. It is used for making porridges, couscous and, in this case, beer.

Accra, Ghana. It’s a place full of life and excitement. It’s a tropical jumble that assaults all five senses. The shattering heat, the pulsing music, the smoking grills, the spic’n’span malls, the crashing surf, the cocktail terraces, the chugging exhausts, the pavement hawkers and swish hotels; it all combines to create a frenetic and thrillingly unpredictable city. The unexpected is to be expected so that there is a guy in Accra who is starting a microbrewery using only sorghum I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had to see it.

We meet at a petrol station on the very outskirts of Accra, beyond the posh bits and beyond the shanty towns. We hop into Clement’s old 4×4 and bounce along the rough roads to an old house with a large garden. There’s an old car, a large metal container about the same size as the car, and some greenery. At the house, he opens up a large wooden door to reveal the small brewery. Corny kegs that would be recognised by homebrewers are stacked up on one side. On the kegs are tied little labels: “IPA”,  “Trial beer, Belgian type”, “sorghum lager” and “pito”, a local alcoholic drink. There’s a large refrigerator and a bottling unit and I reckon the brewhouse has a 100-litre capacity. He pours a spectacular wheat beer and we walk into the garden.

“This is sorghum,” he says clasping a leafy eight-foot-high plant. He picks apart the grain head and isolates a little seed. “All of our beer is made from sorghum.” I’m noticeably taken aback. Taking another sip of my wheat beer, I don’t note any discernible difference. I try the lager, again no difference, I try the IPA, same. “You have to use what you have available,” Clement tells me. Sorghum beer is also naturally gluten-free. The potential is astounding.

Sorghum is malted in a similar way to barley: soaking and then drying. Clement malts his own in the metal container in the garden and then dries it under the hot equatorial sun. The whole set-up embodies the adaptable and positive Ghanaian spirit I’ve come to love over the eight annual visits I’ve made.  

The real skill is brewing with it, however. The husk on barley acts as a natural filter when draining the sugary liquid during sparging. Sorghum has no husk, and it is very glutinous. Clement, who trained at Weihenstephaner, is a pioneer in the use of sorghum. Pointing welders in the right direction, he adapted the brewery equipment to deal with this difficult grain and will have to do so again, when his much larger brewhouse arrives later in the year.

I look again at the beer in my glass and delve into its smooth bubbles. This is a beer 40 years in the making. A beer that could tell of trial after trial, set back after set back. It tells of brewing in a country without a constant electricity supply, with no hop merchants, with almost no barley. It reflects the heat of the sun, the torrential downpours of the rainy season, the ground that nurtures the sorghum plant. It tells of the farmers in the north that send the sorghum to Clement, bought for a steady price. It tells of overcoming great adversity, and of love for beer. Forty long years. This beer I have in my hand is bursting with more than hop aromas, it is alive with the spirit of an unassuming man who is quite remarkable.

For more details go to Inland Microbrewery.


Art of Beer: Drew Millward/Northern Monk

ART OF BEER: DREW MILLWARD/ NORTHERN MONK

Drew Millward’s artwork for Northern Monk caught our attention for its vibrant illustrations for a special series

It started as so many collaborations do, through a beer. Drew Millward was dropping off a portrait of John and Jane Marshall. John Marshall was responsible for the building Temple Mill, Leeds, and by extension of that, building the flax store, home to Northern Monk. A bond was formed. Here we speak to Drew about his remarkable artwork for the new Northern Monk Northern Tropics series and his other work for clients including Bundobust, BrewDog and 21st Amendment.

What was the brief you were given from Northern Monk?

There really wasn’t one. In fact, it was almost the other way around. We drank beer, we discussed what we like about beer, I told them that my ‘holy grail’, in beer terms, is basically to find something that tastes like a hoppy Um Bongo. They went away and concocted ideas for what sort of beers might fit that bill, and I just got to work drawing pictures that combined Leeds’ industrial landscape and a load of tropical nonsense. It was pretty much a dream project really. Like having a suit tailor-made. The Northern Tropics series have genuinely been some of my favourite beers I’ve had in years and to play a part in how those are presented to the world has been an absolute pleasure. Long may it continue.

How did you first get into illustrating in the first place?

Somewhere, in the mists of time, I started making posters for gigs that myself and some friends were booking. We needed to advertise the shows, so myself, and my buddy Luke Drozd took turns in designing flyers and poster for the stuff we were putting on. That friendly rivalry between us probably spurred us on to do better things as time progressed. From that, people saw the work and started asking me to make posters and such like for them. I think someone offered me about £35 to make a poster for a show in London, shortly after which I quit my job. That was about 14 years ago. Since that point, I’ve more or less, kept the lights on by drawing pictures. I suppose I fell into it, as it was never a goal or ambition to do this, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You have such a distinct style, where does your inspiration come from?

Anywhere and everywhere. I suppose my roots in posters and screen printing plays a massive part in the way I work, and the work I make, and certainly the worlds of music, DIY and punk rock all play a part in what/why/how I operate. I would say, stylistically it’s probably a progression over the past 14 years of looking at design, illustration, art and ephemera, filtered through my own mind and limited capabilities.

You’ve done quite a bit for Bundobust, how did that come around?

Those folks are good people. Leeds is a small enough place that most people know of, if not know each other, certainly in more independently minded circles, so things often come about fairly organically. Marko Husak asked me to get involved with what they were doing, and since I drank (at The Sparrow) and ate (their street food before they got the bricks and mortar place) there, it was foolish not to. I love what they do and how they do it, so it’s not difficult to get behind working collaboratively with these people. I think a lot of people within the independent community, and you see it a lot in the smaller end brewing industry as well, have a great attitude and mind set about taking risks and working with artists or other like-minded people. It goes back to the principals that punk rock and the DIY music communities are built on. It’s a good way of going about things.

/ northernmonkbrewco.com

/ drewmillward.com


Beer Traveller: Catalonia transformed

BEER TRAVELLER: CATALONIA TRANSFORMED

Pete Brown celebrates and salivates over the Catalonia’s evolving beer transformation

It doesn’t work on everyone, but beer has the power to perform a kind of transformative magic. One minute you have an average interest in the impact of flavour on your palate, enjoying the odd glass of wine or pint of lager. The next, you’re on your way to jacking in your job to make, sell or communicate about beer and converting the cupboard under the stairs into a cellar space.

It happened to me in 2004 in Portland, Oregon, and I’ve seen it happen to a great many people since. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness the actual moment: a handful of times, I’ve been the perpetrator of it. I’ve seen it happen to men and women, close friends and strangers. And now, I think I’ve just seen it happen to an entire region.

Barcelona has always been one of my favourite cities to get drunk in. For a long time, the only beer available was Estrella, but that wasn’t the point: it was the manner of its drinking that was so appealing. In the Boqueria — the best food market in the world — Estrella was served ice-cold from the bar of a little kiosk where fresh langoustines wriggled on a hot plate a few feet away. In side-street bodegas, Estrella was served in tiny glasses — or cañas — to accompany plates of padron peppers, octopus or heroic portions of patatas bravas. And in the twisting warren of the old Bario Gotic quarter, Estrella was drunk in pints in a selection of randomly themed bars.

Four years ago, I was back in Barcelona and looked again for these bars. They’d all gone, replaced by generic craft beer bars from central casting. All sold beers from Meantime, Brooklyn and BrewDog, and all had stripped wooden floors, bare brick and a smattering of heavy metal sights and sounds. I could have been in London, Manchester, or Nottingham. Sitting on a bar stool sipping a pint of Punk IPA, the ghost of the Starsky & Hutch theme bar that had once stood here whispered in my ear, ‘This is what you wanted, isn’t it? I distinctly remember you complaining that it was just Estrella last time you were here’.

If this was victory, it felt hollow.

In March 2018, I’m back for the seventh annual Barcelona Beer Festival, in a vast convention centre reminiscent of the Great American and Great British Beer Festivals. There are brewers and drinkers here from both those countries. I suspect they’ve not come all this way to try beers from Brooklyn and BrewDog.  

‘There are now 100 craft breweries in Catalonia,’ says festival organiser Mikel Rius. ‘This is not about a movement from the city. It’s all around the rural area of Catalonia.’

The day after the festival, we’re driving up into the hills through stunted, winter-pruned vines. At one chilly peak in the centre of a region most famous for Cava, Tempranillo and Grenache, we meet Carlos and Montse Rodriguez. They quit the city for an almost ruined former winery around the turn of the millennium. In a cool stone room that smells of cats and has a bar that looks like it was stolen from a Devon country pub, Carlos serves us some of the best traditional British cask pale ale I’ve tasted in many months. In the cellars next door, this self-taught brewer is re-fermenting his beers in local red wine barrels with a wild Brettanomyces yeast he isolated and cultivated from the air around us.

Catalonia has lots of wine barrels. That’s why at least a third of the breweries here have a barrel ageing programme. But it doesn’t have much in the way of hops and barley.

That’s why Oscar Mogilnicki Tomas and Quiònia Pujol Sabaté have put together the ‘Full Circle Project’, with the aim of growing everything they need to produce a beer not just in, but entirely of the region. He’s an engineer, she’s a biologist, and together they’ve built the Lo Vilot brewery by hand. The number of different skills they possess between them defies comprehension, as does the consistency of their range of beers including sour fruit beers, IPAs, Pilsner, wheat and Belgian-style ales.

Back down in Barcelona, over a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian-style dubbel, someone asks the American-born head brewer of Edge Brewing what attracted him to the idea of working in the one of the world’s most beautiful cities.  

‘You’re from a scene from the US — which had lost its beer culture — brewing in a country that never had a beer culture to start with. So, you’re doubly removed in terms of creative freedom,’ he replied.

Days later, after gorging ourselves on homemade salami, barbecued spring onions dipped in romesco sauce and the simple brilliance of rustic bread rubbed with garlic and ripe, fresh tomatoes before being drizzled with olive oil and salt, all offered at every one of the dozen or so breweries we visit, I decide this creative freedom is one half of an explosive combination.

Catalonia may have never had a beer culture, but it’s always possessed a proud sense of gastronomic independence, a genuine love of food that is as amazing as it is simple and democratic. Craft beer was a perfect foil, a natural fit. After that initial wide-eyed genuflection to the global titans of craft, the Catalonians simply got on with the job of making beer their own.

They’ve only just started, and already they don’t seem to be able to brew a bad or mediocre beer. On my next visit, I suspect it may be my turn to have my original beer epiphany all over again.

This article was written after a trip organised and paid for by the Catalan Tourist Board. You can find out more about Catalonia’s gastronomic heritage at www.catalunya.com