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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Beer Festivals and Music

I’m sure you’re familiar with the moment. You’re sitting (or standing, depending on the venue). You have a nearly finished pint in your hand and you’re having a really interesting conversation with someone you’ve just met who shares your love of beer. Or maybe it’s a nice person of the appropriate gender, and chemistry is just starting to develop. You’re settling in nicely for the evening.

Then there’s an ear-splitting squeal from the speakers (which look like a scale model of Manhattan) and the band begins to play. For some reason, the band (one you’ve never heard of and will never come across again) thinks that you’re there to listen to them, so they’ve turned their Dixon’s budget amp to maximum.

The result is an instant shock to the system. You glance at your beer, and see that it is bouncing like the cup of water in Jurassic Park as the Tyrannosaur approaches. As conversation is now impossible, you indicate by sign language to your new friend that you’re going to the bar for a top up.

Once at the bar, a member of the bar staff approaches and indicates  non-verbally that he’s ready to take your order.

‘Half a Crudgie please’ you scream at him.

He looks puzzled. ‘HALF A CRUDGIE PLEASE!’ That hurt – you think you’ve loosened your tonsils.

‘Pint of what?’ he bellows back.

You indicate with your finger and thumb. ‘HALF – HALF – HALF A CRUDGIE PLEASE!’

‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?’

‘WHAT?’

‘I SAID, WHAT DID YOU SAY?’

‘WHAT?’

Eventually you walk back from the bar with a drink you didn’t ask for. You don’t even know what it is. The band is so loud that you can’t really hear it. It’s just a sharp pain in your ears. Your new friend has gone.

As you can tell, I have a bit of an issue with bands at beer festivals; and I’m not alone. I, and I believe the huge majority of attendees at beer festivals, do not go there to ‘listen to’ (i.e. be deafened by) a band that believes (as they all seem to) that louder is better, loudest is best. Their ears may be useless wreckage, but I have no desire for mine to be.

The problem is that the noise completely inhibits conversation. It is unpleasant, and frequently injurious to the hearing.

I’ve held these opinions for many years, and am very sorry to see that bands are now becoming a fixture at nearly all festivals. The worst festival for this, in my experience, is the Wigan Beer Festival. It is held in a huge gymnasium, three or four badminton courts in area. The acoustics are the worst it is possible to imagine. There is nowhere else for the ‘entertainment’ to go, so they’re in the gym with the rest of us. Maximum volume. The sound bounces mercilessly around the space, making talking quite impossible. It’s a really horrible experience. Wigan CAMRA generously provides what they call a ‘quiet session’ on one afternoon of the festival. Note – one afternoon. If you don’t want your ears to bleed you have to start drinking at lunchtime. I don’t like drinking at lunchtime, I like drinking in the evening.

I wasn’t at the National Winter Ales Festival this year, but my spies there informed me that they had the same problem. The band was in the same room as the bar. Apparently, when the band started, a large proportion of the punters drank up and left, and during the performance, takings at the bar dropped considerably. One of my sources said the noise eventually gave him a headache, and he left the festival an hour and a half before he had planned to. He says he’s not going again.

So what is the point of a live band at a beer festival?

Do they draw in more punters? – most likely no, but the people who are attracted by a live band when they are not attracted by the beer festival itself, are not the sort of custom we’re looking for at a festival. They are the wrong sort of punter.

Do they add value to the festival? – this depends on the band. If they are poor (and let’s face it – the bands that a beer festival can afford are going to be trending that way) then no. If they are good but too loud then no. If they play reasonably well at a reasonable volume, then probably yes.

Are they value for money? No.

Do they provide more takings for the charities supported by the festivals? – no, quite the reverse.

Do they increase takings at the bar? – Demonstrably not. Again, quite the reverse.

The answer is quite straightforward to my way of thinking. If a band has to be hired, the following areas should be addressed:

1. Is there a separate room for the band to perform in?

2. If not, will the band undertake to play their music at a level that will permit non-shouted conversations?

3. Is the band truly worth the price that’s being paid for them?

4. Would the money spent on the band be better going to the charity supported by the festival?

5. Do you really want to depress your beer sales?

6. Do you really want to lose a portion of your attendees early?

7. Do you really want people to stay away for fear of aural assault?

I think the majority of festival attendees would be happy with a little gentle piped background music. Really, nothing else is necessary. Less is more.

Those of us who think this way should be prepared to speak to the organizers of festivals and make these feelings very clearly understood. The simple and plain fact is that overloud bands are ruining our beer festivals. Please stand up and be counted.

Words are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 24 February, 2012 in Beer Festivals

 

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My First Full Mash Brew

The planning had been done; the equipment purchased; the recipe decided on and the ingredients gathered.It was time. Time to make my first full mash beer.

I was up early (for me – not a morning person), and spent some time thoroughly sterilizing boiler, bins and other equipment. I carefully measured out each ingredient, and poured the required 8.8 litres of water into the boiler.

Malt measured out and awaiting mashing

I’m not quite sure at what point the water becomes ‘liquor’, but it’s certainly that by the time it reaches 66°Celsius. Just at the critical moment, my friend and brewing mentor, Dr Tristan Robinson arrived. Under his supervision, I gently poured the grain into a mashing bag that I had placed in the boiler. It took some time to get all the malt in, constantly stirring as it went in to ensure there were no clumpy dry patches. Eventually it was all in the bag, and we settled down to wait out the 90 minute mashing period. Every 15 minutes, I checked the temperature and gave the mash a good stir.

The malt in the mash bag in the boiler during mashing

My boiler is not very large, so once the mashing had finished, we drained the boiler off into a fermentation bucket before sparging the mash. We sparged the mash with 16 litres of liquor at about 75°C. As we drained off, the sweetness could be tasted. Sparging continued basically until the liquid being drawn off started tasting watery.

Sparging

By this time, we had about 22 litres of wort, which was put back into the boiler (minus the mashing bag, of course) and the first hops added (25g each of Goldings and Styrian Goldings). The hops come in a vacuum-sealed packet, and look somewhat unappetising, but when loosened between the fingers give off the most glorious smell.

Unappetising looking vacuum-packed hops

Once opened up, they look a lot better – and smell fantastic!

The boil lasted in total about 90 minutes, with some time being lost as we learned the eccentricities of the boiler’s thermostat. I’ll be able to do better next time. For the last ten minutes of the boil, a further 16g of Styrian hops was added, plus a few grams of Irish Moss to help the beer clear. We found that with the lid in place, the wort boiled over somewhat messily, so most of the boil was done in the open boiler. Naturally, after 90 minutes of boiling, the volume had reduced a fair bit, and we ended up with about 13 litres to go into the fermentation bucket.

Into the fermenting bin

Next came the long, tedious wait for the wort to cool to a temperature when the yeast could be pitched. I had a great little pot of live moose-like yeast kindly given to me by Jay Krause of the Quantum Brewery in Stockport. I first drew off enough wort to take an original gravity reading, and once the wort reached 30°C, I added the yeast. I had to wait a little longer before taking the OG, as my hydrometer is calibrated for 20°C. It didn’t reach this temperature until about midnight, when the OG was measured at 1.064. I made a note and went to bed.

The following morning I boiled up 7 litres of water, and when it had cooled to the same temperature as the now busily fermenting wort, I added 6 litres to the fermenting bin. Adding the extra water had two vital effects. The target volume for the brew was 19 litres, at which volume the OG was lowered to the target of 1.042. It also ensured that I’d get the correct quantity of beer from the brew. If I’d left the volume low and gone with the 1.064 gravity, the resulting brew would have been considerably stronger, but the taste would probably have been adversely affected.

First thing the following morning, the fermentation had really taken off.

The recipe I followed was for a beer of similar characteristics to Timothy Taylor Landlord. This is a great beer, and a fairly simple recipe, so is ideal for a first brew. As I write this, it is nearly five days since fermentation began. I’m expecting it to be completed in another couple of days, and then I plan to put the beer into a cask for finishing. I’ll let you know how it tastes in a few weeks.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 17 February, 2012 in Cask Ale, Home Brewing

 

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India Pale Ale

India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are experiencing an explosion of popularity at the moment. It seems no brewery’s standard list is complete without at least one IPA.

Pale ales require the use of pale malts, and the technology for producing pale malts in any commercial quantity became available during the 18th century. Pale ales had been brewed before then, the earliest known example dates to 1675, but large, commercially viable production of Pale Ale had to wait a little longer. The normal malting process is a smoky affair, leading to dark, roasty malts, but pale malts require smokeless malting, using smokeless fuels such as coke. This paler malt naturally produces a paler beer, quite different to the brown ales that were the staple of the time.

Pale Malt

The original IPAs were of high alcohol content (typically 6.5%, occasionally even higher) and were heavily hopped. Both these features helped to preserve the beer in the non-regulated temperatures of rolling sailing ships as they undertook the long journey to India, where there was a huge demand for fine quality beer.

It’s an old tale that George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery ‘invented’ India Pale Ale in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s a nice tale, but there is actually no evidence for it whatsoever, it’s just been repeated so often that it has become a factoid.* All we can say for sure is that the style developed in the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The name ‘India Pale Ale’ is first recorded in an advert in the Liverpool Mercury dated the 30th January 1835 – though that is no indication of how long the term had been used.

The experience you can expect from an IPA begins with the smell, which should be rich with hop aromas. The head should generally be white and persistent. The taste should be good and hoppy, but balanced by a sweet maltiness. Other flavours often present include citrus fruits, particularly a grapefruit pithiness.

Here are a few IPAs that I have enjoyed recently:

Acorn Conquest (5.7%) Light yellow in colour, this beer starts with a smooth opening to the taste that hints at fruit without being overtly fruity. There’s a spike of flavour in the midtaste that is slightly soapy and there’s a lingering quinine-like bitter end. Unusual and very good.

Blakemere Cosmic (6.0%) This’ll knock your socks off if you’re not careful. The smell is pure grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nice and smooth and the taste has a lot of citrus zing, particularly grapefruit. It’s very moreish, and at 6%, that’s its danger!

Redwillow Endless (3.8%) There’s that brewery again! This beer is way down the strength scale, probably too far down to be considered a true traditional IPA, but the taste is spot on. It’s bright and cheerful with lots of that grapefruit pith and bags of hops. All expertly balanced with sweet malt to provide an excellent taste sensation.

Whim Hartington IPA (4.5%) Not a standard IPA taste by any means. The hops are far less apparent here than in any of the previous beers. Overall I found this to be dominated by the sweet malt. It is smooth and refreshing with a tiny hint of cream. Very tasty.

Swale Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2%) This beer is brewed under licence by Archers. Another very smooth ale but this time with a lasting aftertaste that dries in the mouth. Very refreshing.

BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0%) BrewDog have gone off on their own with this one. A massive hop bomb that delivers a very strong hoppy flavour and heaps of citrus pith. The mouthfeel is quite thick with a rush of thick sweetness. The aftertaste develops slowly and is really quite bitter.

BrewDog Punk IPA – one of the new breed of IPAs

BrewDog Proto Punk IPA (2011) (5.4%) The smell delivers tons of very aromatic hops (I don’t know, but I suspect these are American hops – Cascade?). The taste is much smoother than the Punk, and less abrasive, though still strongly hopped.

York IPA (5.0%) This is just as an IPA should be. It’s smooth, hoppy, zesty and refreshing.

*Factoid – a piece of information that has every attribute of a fact apart from truth.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 10 February, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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The Bent ‘n’ Bongs Beer Bash

The first highlight of the beer year for me comes in the last week of January. The annual Bent ‘n’ Bongs Beer Bash is organized by Atherton and Tyldesley (Bent and Bongs in the local dialect) Round Table. It’s a charity do, a new charity being selected each year. This year the charity was the Marfan Association. Marfan is a little known syndrome which is not particularly rare, but can be fatal. More information about Marfan and the Marfan Association can be found here.

This charity was selected because of the death of Simon Taylor, a regular volunteer at Bent ‘n’ Bongs, who died suddenly from Marfan’s Syndrome in December 2010. He didn’t know that he had it, and neither did anyone else.

There are three sessions at the Bash, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and Saturday afternoon. I volunteer for the three evening sessions. I work at the lager and fruit beer bar, which surprises people when I tell them, because I don’t like lager and fruit beers. The answer is obvious, really – I’m not tempted to drink the product. We get enough breaks for me to grab plenty of fine real ales for myself. Also, the lager bar is the busiest bar at the festival, and the time just flies.

It’s a great festival, one of the busiest I regularly attend. The venue is Formby Hall in Atherton, about ten miles WNW of Manchester. Not a huge place, but just about right. There are actually two halls, side by side. The large hall houses the lager and foreign beers bar, a real ale bar and the food, whilst the small hall has a second real ale bar and the cider bar. This year there were 85 real ales, 12 ciders, 5 perries, 19 foreign draught beers, 12 bottled beers and 10 bottled fruit beers. Full list here. Plenty for every taste.

Over the past few years, we have found that the most popular beer on our bar is Van Diest Früli, a strawberry flavoured lager. It is in huge demand and we get through many barrels in the three days. Personally, I find it thick and cloyingly sweet, and a little piece of my heart dies every time somebody asks for it, turning their backs on the fantastic porters, stouts, goldens, pales and bitters behind them. Hey ho, each to his or her own.

Each session has entertainment. Now I have to ‘fess up right away that I’m not a great fan of live music at beer festivals. I’ll go into this in more detail on another occasion, but basically, the problem is decibels. There are just too many of them. It all makes for quite an exhausting three days, but it’s fabulous fun, and as I’ve noted before about beer festivals in general, it is all very good-natured. We have bouncers on the door, but there is no trouble.

The fast, furious, noisy sessions when the doors are open are one thing, but then there are the quiet moments. As a confirmed ticker, I spend an hour or so before the doors open on the Saturday evening just walking slowly on my own along the two real ale bars, pouring myself a taster of each beer that I’ve never had before. This year I got 27 new ticks.

So to my favourite new beers from the festival. This year, four beers stood out for me. In alphabetical order, they were:

Dancing Duck Dark Drake, a 4.5% stout from Derby. Very smooth and creamy, sweet and treacly with highlights of chocolate, liquorice and toffee.

Geeves Smokey Joe,  5.0% stout from Barnsley. It certainly lives up to its name, smoke is the predominant flavour – dark and malty with a pleasing dryish finish.

Phoenix Porter, 5.0% porter from Heywood near Manchester. Very smooth with obvious notes of coffee and treacle and a hint of chocolate. Sweet but with an interesting undertaste of bitter hops.

Redwillow Heartless, a 4.9% chocolate stout from Macclesfield. Here’s Redwillow again. Previously mentioned in these blogs, they’ve come up with another winner. This beer is rich and malty with treacle and chocolate flavours with a slight underlying hint of smokiness. Beautiful.

It seems that as soon as its started, its finished. Time to hang up my beer festival socks until the next time. Can’t wait.

www.bentnbongs.com

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 3 February, 2012 in Beer Festivals, Cask Ale

 

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