Growing Beer goes national!

It’s strange really. What started as a personal challenge has rapidly grown into something that has taken me across the country, over to Europe and into the national media.

The last 9 months have been exciting, entertaining and tiring, but so far I’m still just about on track to make that beer only from ingredients grown or gathered on the allotment. The interest in the project has been great, with features in various magazines, local press and The Guardian, national and Devon-wide radio coverage.

Growing Beer has also been featured on regional television, whilst this week will see me showcase the project on Gardeners World – 9pm, BBC2 on Friday (27th September). I’ve also been speaking about the adventure at various public and private events, including River Cottage and Powderham festivals.

And last but not least, the Growing Beer podcast is now live. Running for 10 weeks you can join me on the journey from the very beginning right up to the final tasting, assuming everything goes to plan. It’s free, and you can listen or find out more from the growingbeer.co.uk website.

Growing Beer

Plot-wide-Ben-edited-1170-flipOver the coming months a lot of my attention will be focused on my attempts to brew a beer just using ingredients grown or gathered on my allotment. It’s quite a big challenge but as I go I’ll be talking to a lot of friends and experts, documenting the journey through the separate site growingbeer.co.uk, and also creating a podcast for release in late summer.

You’ll be able to follow the progress in various ways, and because I’ve got support from There’s a Beer For That I’ll be able to tell a lot of people about how it’s going. It does, however, mean that with the extra work going into this on top of my normal events and talks you’ll see less activity here.

Wish me luck!

My 12 beers of Christmas

When you reach adulthood, Christmas changes. With two small kids I now find myself having the entire family over for the day (14 this year), my focus is on the little guys and my gifts include the classic socks and pants combo. That’s why I squirrel away a few bottles of beer in the run up to December, so I can join my children in blog-piecedriving my wife mad with our relentless, excitable countdowns to the big day. From Christmas eve onward I then enjoy them with friends, take a few minutes out to try one that is new to me or experiment with which goes best with the invariably excessive meals on offer.

This year was a chance to revisit some favourites and to encounter some completely new beers. The full list is at the bottom, but the ones that stood out were Wild Beer Co’s Black and Blue, Chorlton’s Dark Matter 2016, Thornbridge’s Serpent and my own dopplebock (but for very different reasons).

Black and Blue – This beer formed part of the 2016 Rainbow project in which 7 UK breweries are paired with an international one, this year all being from New Zealand. I’ve been holding on to this box to share with my brother-in-law to be, as he returns from a year away in Rotorua. It’s another style-expanding offering from the Somerset outfit that provides sharp, tangy acidity with a subtle peppery finish – it’s described as raw, having been neither boiled nor hopped and aged in bourbon barrels to let the various cultures do ferment and change the beer.

Dark Matter – A dark, stronger interpretation of a soured, salty German gose this was wonderful. Drunk over an evening with friends, each of the roasted malt, citrus sour or salt elements had the potential to dominate but none did, with the beer remaining balanced, smooth and effortlessly enjoyable.

Serpent – Yes, there is a theme here. Whilst I dearly love traditional darker beers, pales and lagers, recent years has seen the range and quality of sour brews increase to the point where I am continually greeted with exciting new approaches and Serpent is no different. Brewed by the benchmark for contemporary quality that is Thornbridge, this 9.5% collaboration with Brooklyn starts life as a Belgian tripel before being mixed with cider lees (yeasts) and barrel-aged for a year. The end result is astonishing: it maintains the rich, sweet body of a strong Belgian beer but adds a complex, fruity acidity with a very dry finish that blurs the boundary between beer and cider.

Finally, my own bock. A 6%, dark amber lager, this had been fermenting in my beer fridge for 2 months in the run up to Christmas and, as the third in a series of homemade lagers, was much anticipated. On opening it was well carbonated but very fruity, something was not right with the yeast and it completely lacked the crispness you would expect from this family of beer. I hadn’t got enough sediment to drop out following the first part of fermentation and the clouds of yeast that launched from the bottom on opening were not good. It was just about drinkable but not what I was hoping for, a world away from the other 3 beers listed above.

It was, however, a reason to go back to the drawing board, review what went wrong and try again so that by next year I’ve got it perfected and the 2017 variant will keep it’s place in this list, but for the right reasons.

The full list:

  • Wild Beer Co: Black and Blue
  • Chorlton: Dark Matter 2016
  • Thornbridge: Serpent
  • Me: Utter failure (bock), success (shwarzbier)
  • Hawkshead: Kia Moanna Gose
  • Electric Bear: Cherry Blackout
  • Omnipollo/Buxton: Yellow Belly and Texan Pecan Pie
  • Northern Monk: Festive Star
  • Chorlton: Mandarina lager
  • Odyssey: Grievous Angel

 

Hop walk in the sun

img_2002It’s a wonderful summer day as we enter the marquee set up next to the lake at Pridewood hop farm in Ledbury. I’ve been invited on the annual Charles Faram hop walk, a chance to meet others in the brewing industry and look at new hop varieties, get updates on hop harvests across the world and to explore the processes that take the humble, oily green cone of Humulus lupulus to the finished product that adds so much to beer.

After trialling several beers with experimental new hop or malt varieties the two hundred attendees sat down to hear about the hop yields in the UK, US and Europe, the significance of the male plant and the growth of the British Hop Association. It was a great chance to network, meet suppliers and understand more about about why our hop industry is so important.

img_2038The highlight of the day is the hop walk – a guided trip around the farm itself. With a team of staff explaining the various stages it’s a good way to see the steps involved and the scale of growing, the differences between the varieties and how, at this time of the year, the teams of harvesters gather in the bines. There’s a wonderful contrast between the towering, vibrant green hops in the field and the thundering machinery used to strip and separate the cones from the rest of the plant: large barns full to the roof with clattering metal, meandering treadmills and wide, shimmeringly-hot kilns. The entire process, from planting to baling happens onsite and the volume of hops that are picked, dried and packed is impressive considering there are only a few weeks to get it all done when the hops are ready.

All in all a cracking trip, and great chance to catch up with brewers, growers and suppliers from all over the country – a big thanks goes to Ben Adams for the invite and to all at Charles Faram and Pridewood Farm for hosting the day.

 

Bristol Beer Week Festival

I wasn’t able to attend too much of this year’s Bristol Beer Week but I managed to get up there for the Friday, heading round the back of Templemeads for the start of the Craft Beer Festival.

Organised by the same people that put on the London Craft Beer Festival it brings together around 30 breweries from around the world. Adopting my favourite format for modern festivals, entry provided a small glass and freedom to try any number of 90ml tasters form the small, approachable bars set around the edge of the ‘rustic’ warehouse setting.

Bigger or well known breweries included Sierra Nevada, Brewdog, Stone, Beavertown, Kernel, Magic Rock and Thornbridge, whilst those that were new, local, growing or unheard of (to me) made for a great mix.

As a fan of Northern Monk, Yeastie Boys, Cloudwater and Wild Beer it was great to try some of their beers that were new to me, whilst it wouldn’t have been Bristol Beer Week without locals Left Handed, Good Chemistry and Lost and Grounded.

However, that said, my stand out brewers were all from outside of the UK. The rather talented Swedes on the Dugges bar offered the bold, fruity Tropic Thunder, a rich barrel aged quad and the aptly named elderflower Dream Beer. I have little experience of modern French breweries so the FR Indie stand was a revelation. Adventurous, well made and totally unexpected, Amorena (La Debauche) was a rich, 14% number that provided the deep, raisin and malt you’d expect from that strength whilst the barrel aged Berlinerweisse from  was outstanding. Starting off light, zingy and tart as you’d expect, it had a deep, robust body into the finish that I hadn’t experienced from this style before.

Top 5 beers of the day:

  • Mont Salève BA Berlinerweisse
  • Dugges Tropical Thunder
  • Northern Monk Patrons Coffee Porter (1.02)
  • Wild Beer Sourdough
  • Good Chemistry Morello Theory

All in all a great afternoon. Nice atmosphere, minimal queues and good company (in my case at least). See you there next year – I may even take some photos next time.