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Well someone must be hurting

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UK beer sales fell by 4.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2013, according to the British Beer & Pub Association’s quarterly Beer Barometer, so why are so many brewers recording record sales?

Losses in the on-trade (pubs, bars and restaurants) were higher at 5.8 per cent. Off-trade sales also fell, but the 3.6 per cent fall was the lowest second quarter fall since 2005.

As the sun is traditionally the brewer’s best salesman the current good weather will be good news. But the industry’s figures don’t reflect the spring in the steps of many brewers as reflected in some of the stories I have written for CAMRA’s What’s Brewing this month.

They show that for some brewers their fermenters are not just half full but overflowing, it makes me want to know whose are half empty.

The Hog’s Back Brewery has recorded a 30 per cent growth in sales in the first months of the year and now its investing in new equipment.

New fermentation and conditioning vessels have been ordered for the brewery, which is based in Tongham, Surrey.

The Yorkshire brewer Ilkley has invested in a new cask filling machine and will soon be increasing its brewing capacity by an additional 33 per cent to 160 brewers’ barrels or 46,000 pints a week.

Later this summer, the brewery will also acquire a new 40 barrel fermenter which will boost real ale production even further.

Saltaire Brewery is expanding its team with four new recruits and increasing brewing capacity by 30 per cent to meet the growing demand for its hand crafted ales in the North of England, and increasingly beyond its heartland of West Yorkshire.

Tony Gartland, Managing Director, sees this next stage in the development of the brewery as a step change in its ambition to be one of the leading breweries in the North of England.

“Growth in the premium ale sector is strong and we’ve grown ahead of the market. In the last couple of years our bottled beer sales have doubled. Capacity is a challenge, so as well as growing our team, we’ve invested £100,000 in our production infrastructure which will enable us to increase our capacity by 30 per cent by the end of this year.”

Acorn Brewery has celebrated its 10th birthday with the announcements of a £70,000 investment in new equipment

In the past three months Acorn sales grown by 16 per cent over the same period in 2012 and the brewer is now commissioning a state-of-the-art cask- washing equipment, extra conditioning tanks and a keg filler.

So who is hurting Carlsberg, Heineken Molson Coors, AB-InBev, SABMiller, the companies behind the generic Let There Be Beer Campaign which is currently on TV? I don’t know, but according to the Grocer magazine Britain’s biggest alcohol brands are falling faster than the total drinks market.

The full Beer Barometer excel tables can be downloaded from the BBPA www.beerandpub.com

Written by timhampson

July 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

Turf Tavern, Oxford – a “heart-warming oasis”

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The Turf offers an education in intoxication

One of my favourite pubs in Oxford has been dubbed as a “heart-warming oasis and named Britain’s town pub of the year by the Good Pub Guide 2011.

The Turf is a historic pub located just outside the Oxford city walls. It is a village pub in the heart of a city. With foundations dating back to the 14th century, its city centre location makes it a favourite for both town and gown. The Turf is probably Oxford’s oldest pub. The current timbered front part is seventeenth century when it was progressively a malthouse, a cider house and finally an inn (circa 1790), called the Spotted Cow. It was renamed the Turf Tavern in 1805 and thus it remains to the present. The pub has been frequented by the fictional character Inspector Morse and President Bill Clinton, and some would claim that it is the “obscure and low-beamed tavern up a court” visited by Jude Fawley in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure – although this pub is later referred to as the Lamb and Flag.

The Turf is owned and managed by Greene King and even though its corporate hand has clearly touched the pub, it is to their credit that it has such a free-wheeling atmosphere and a wide variety of ales from many brewers.

Hard to find, the Turf is worth the search

There must be an art in finding the Turf, which is seemingly hidden away down labyrinthine alleys in the heart of Oxford’s ancient colleges. The inside is low beamed and quirky at the front – leading through to a clutter of small rooms. The outside of the pub seems bigger than the inside for it comprises several twisting passageways and courtyards covered in awnings, which are warmed in the evenings by heaters. Here students, tourists and locals sit, stand and vie for space in this busy pub.

Yes it does get crowded, yes it is very popular, yes the wait at the bar can seem too long and yes sometimes the staff are almost overwhelmed, but even the most perfect pearl has imperfections. But, as one student says to a friend as he walks into the bar, “doesn’t this place make you want to have a pint, it’s just perfect”.

The Turf is popular with students, tourists and locals

Turf Tavern, 7 Bath Place, Oxford

01865 243235

www.theturftavern.co.uk

Written by timhampson

October 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

We must end the myth of 24 hour pub opening

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If you listened to some politicians and elements of the media they would have you believe that all pubs in the UK were open 24 hours a day, leading to a breakdown in society as we know it.

Well it is not true, was never true and completely ignores the fact that the pub is probably the best, most controlled environment for people who want to have a drink.

New government figures released by Department for Culture, Media and Sport reveal of the more than 200,0000 places where alcohol can be legally sold in England and Wales less than four per cent have a 24 hours licence and most of these are supermarkets and hotels – and not pubs.

Of the 7,567 venues in England and Wales with a 24-hour licence, nearly eight out of 10 (78 per cent) are off-licences or hotels. According to the DCMS 4,200 were hotel bars, 1,700 supermarkets and stores, 950 pubs, bars and nightclubs, and 740 other premises types.

The DCMS also debunks another myth that a 24 licence means 24 hours of opening. It says “the possession of a 24-hour licence does not necessarily mean that the premises will choose to open for 24 hours”.

The great advantage of the current licensing system is that they offer pub operators flexibility – and this could be put at risk by the current review of licensing law.

The BBC ran the headline “Round-the-clock drinking licences at record level” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11436311).

But again, what do DCMS figures show – there was a four per cent rise in the number of 24-hour licences, but in real terms this meant around 100 more shops and supermarkets were permitted to open around-the-clock and 100 more pubs and bars.  Well the BBC headline “Round-the-clock drinking licences at record level” was right in one respect, there was a small increase in the number of licenses issued, so I suppose they are at record levels. But the DCMS analysis of the increase has a different interpretation it says “the main premises types that have 24 hour licences to sell or supply alcohol – remained constant at 4,400 over the last couple of years”. Now that hardly sounds like an epidemic of 24 hours drinking.

If the pub industry does not fight its corner better – and do more to rubbish claims about there being a 24 hours pub culture, the current review of licensing laws could mean an end to pubs staying open to midnight or even 11pm. And if that did happen the chances are that even more people would choose to drink cheap alcohol bought from a supermarket than go out to the pub.

Go to http://www.culture.gov.uk/publications/7456.aspx for the latest licensing figures.

Written by timhampson

October 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

Bamberg – can there be a better place in the world to drink beer?

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Bamberg's Old Town Hall, which seems precariously balanced on an ancient bridge.

Bamberg is a beautiful, Baroque, island city, on the banks of the River Regnitz, and the Main-Donau canal is in Upper Franconia, Bavaria. It is built on medieval foundations and is home to 70,000 people and 11 breweries.

The city is a base for many United States Army personnel and their families – and they no doubt have helped take the fame of this beer paradise around the world.

Many of Bamberg’s beers have a smoky secret. To malt a cereal the grain has to begin to germinate, converting complicated sugars into simpler ones, which then can be broken down even further in the mash tun. But the process has to be stopped before it goes too far and the grain’s goodness is lost to the brewer.

Heat is normally used to arrest germination, but in Franconia, maltsters developed a smoky technique of stopping the grain’s growth.

The germinating grain is heated over beech wood fires, which imparts marvellous wood fire, peaty textures to the finished beers.

Schlenkerla (Dominikanerstrasse 6 www.smokebeer.com ) is a vibrant, friendly bar and restaurant and Bamberg’s best known. The warmth of its world famous rauchbier, with its smoked whisky and cheese overtones is as warm as the welcome. Tables are often shared and people soon embrace in the comfort of conversation and the language of laughter. Beer is the social lubricant and the perfect accompaniment to the robust Bavarian dishes – onions stuffed with beery meatballs is a particular favourite.

Two doors down is the Ambräusianum (Dominikanerstr. 10 www.ambraeusianum.de ). Here the brewing vessels can been seen, which makes it seem more like a modern brew pub than one of Bamberg’s traditional establishments, well it is a relative newcomer being opened in 2004. Weekend breakfasts are a special treat – a glass of wheat beer with three locally made Bavarian veal sausages and a pretzel.

Beer has been brewed at Klosterbrau (Oberre Muhlbruck 3) since 1533. Down a cobbled street, time seems to slip away in this fairy tale of a brewery tap. The range includes a schwarzbier, braunbier, weizen, pils and a bock.

The river and its pretty walks is never faraway in Bamberg and the stroll to the Spezial passes the spectacular medieval stone and timbered Old Town Hall, which seems precariously balanced on an ancient bridge. Max Platz which is off Gruner Market is a square of elegant and genteel proportions.

The Brauerei Spezial’s–(Obere Königstrasse 10 – is a locals bar decorated with laughter and conversations. Its Spezial Rrauchbeer has subtle, soft toffee flavours and even a hint of burnt straw. Spezial uses smoked malt in at least four other of its beers. By the bar is a serving hatch, where locals come to fill containers with beer, for drinking at home.

Directly opposite is the Brauerei Fässla (Obere Königsstraße 19-21 www.faessla.de ). Brewing started here in 1649 and the pub has a comfortable wood panelled country style room. The brewery’s logo, a dwarf rolling a barrel of beer, decorates the glasses and dark furniture. Its Lagerbier is easy drinking and melds malty flavours with a fresh, soft bitterness. It is also home to a small, hotel.

The exterior of the Weinstube Pizzini (Ober Sandstrasse 17) is somewhat unprepossessing, and do not be deterred by its name, it is neither a wine bar nor a pizza restaurant. Inside this small, brown decorated and time worn bar, there is warm hearted welcome and the opportunity to try Fassla and Spezial beers as well as a Dunkel from Andechser.

Bamberg’s other breweries

Greifenklau (Laurenziplatz 20; Kaiserdom (Breitackerstrase 9 www.Kaiserdom.de; Kneesmann (Wunderburg 5 ); Mahr’s Brau (Wunderburgh 10; Robesbierre (Oberer Stephansberg 49).

The Bamberg Tourist office (Geyserwörthstr. 3, www.bamberg.info ) has an excellent guide to all city’s breweries.

Written by timhampson

September 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Sometimes they just ask the wrong question.

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So when was the first beer brewed?

“So who knows when the first beer was brewed?”

I’m not sure if our guide Eva Kočková at the Pilsner Brewery museum knew who she was asking. I was in the company of three of the country‘s best beer writers – Peter Brown, Mark Dredge and Adrian Tierney Jones. Beer writers are a bit like economists – get three together and you will have at least four different opinions.

The craft of brewing is as old as civilization. Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, some people discontinued their nomadic hunting and gathering and settled down to farm. Grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process.

Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, some historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. Here, the oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians or Mesopotamia as Eva told us.

However there is some evidence from  China which shows brewing took place more than 8,000 years ago. And in South America there is evidence of some early civilisations, pre-Columbus, making a fermented drink made from corn. In truth we will never know, but it seems fair to assume that brewing like the use of fire could have developed almost simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Na Parkane, a good place to enjoy a beer and some dumplings

The excellent Pilsen Brewery Museum is housed in an old 15th century maltings, one of the many which were once found in this brewing town. It includes a gothic malt house, a mock-up of the laboratory used by the man credited with developing Pilsner style beers Josef Groll and on the remains of the city walls outside, which kept enemies at bay for centuries, there are small plots of barley and hops.

It really is a pleasant place to wile away an hour or so.

On special days actors create scenes from Pilsens beery history, including the improbable tale of the ale connor – a myth which too can be found in many British accounts of the history of beer. According to legend, the quality of beer was judged by the stickiness of beer and whether the ale connor’s leather breeches stuck to a beer soaked bench. The more the trousers stuck, the better the beer. Well it is a good story.

Hard hats are a necessity for the undergound tour

Underneath, a separate tour, for which hard hats are obligatory winds through a 800m labyrinth of narrow tunnels, linking streets and houses. Hewn from the soft sandstone the first tunnels date from 1290.Here can be seen some of the 360 original wells from which brewers drew water to make beer. The temperature is 7’C perfect for lagering. Here too, the citizens sought refuge when the town was under siege.

Josef Groll's laboratory is recreated in the museum

And to end the tour, what could be better than to visit the adjacent Na Parkene pub for a glass of dark, unfiltered beer, and of course some dumplings. Potato or bread?

http://www.plzenskepodzemi.cz/en/

So what came first beer or bread? According to a couple of Irish archaeologists it was beer not bread which civilized the savage beast.

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Billy Quinn and Declan Moore get mashing bronze ale style

Many ancient historians will have you believe that it was farming and bread making which tamed nomadic man and turned hunter gatherers into people who lived in a stable community.

Not so say archaeologists Billy Quinn and Declan Moore. A few years ago they did some research which they believe shows that one of the most common archaeological monuments in the Irish landscape was used for brewing a Bronze Age beer.

If it is true that we are what we eat, then it is also true that we are what we drink, and Bronze age man was probably little different from modern man or woman – if given the choice of what to do on a cold wet winter’s night – drink a beer and party or eat a slice of bread which  would you choose?

Ireland has many well preserved Bronze Age sites where it is possible to see the enigmatic fulacht fiadh. These monuments, of which there are more than 4,500, can be seen as small, horseshoe shaped grass covered mounds. Conventionally archaeologists have described them as ancient cooking spots.

However, Quinn and Moore believe that they were used as breweries.

The equipment was kept simple

According to Quinn: “The tradition of brewing in Ireland has a long history, we think that the fulacht may have been used as a kitchen sink, for cooking, dyeing and indeed many other uses, but a primary use was the brewing of ale.

“It became clear to us that the making of beer was one of the first steps in turning man into civilised man and that beer making came before bread making.”

To prove their theory, Quinn & Moore set out to recreate the process.

The experiment was carried at Billy Quinn’s home in Cordarragh, Headford, Co Galway.

“Seeking authenticity in replicating our Bronze Age ale we decided that our equipment should be as basic as possible,” said Quinn.

They used an old wooden trough filled with water and added heated stones. After achieving an optimum temperature of 60-70°C they began to add milled barley and after approx 45 minutes simply baled the final product into fermentation vessels. They added natural wild flavourings – and wisely took care to avoid anything toxic or hallucinogenic – and then added yeast from the Galway Brewery, after cooling the vessels in a bath of cold water for several hours.

Whatever the age the prinicples of brewing remain the same

According to Moore “including the leftover liquid we could easily have produced up to 300 litres of this most basic ale”. Through their experiments, they discovered that the process of brewing ale in a fulacht using hot rock technology is a simple process. To produce the ale took only a few hours, followed by a three-day wait to allow for fermentation.

Quinn and Moore point out that although their theory is based solely on circumstantial and experimental evidence, they believe that, although probably multifunctional in nature, a primary use of the fulacht fiadh was for brewing beer.

Billy Quinn and Declan Moore prepare their ancient brew

“Beer is liquid bread, and if our theory is correct it is the making of beer that turned the savage beast into the civilised man,” said Quinn.

Written by timhampson

September 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Join the search for the Welsh John Barleycorn as Hay on Wye become Beer on Wye

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The town of Hay on Wye on the English and Welsh border is world renowned for its literary festival. But now it is having a rival ale and beer books weekend – 24-26 September – at Kilvert’s pub in Bear Street.

Organiser Ed Davies says he has arranged for some of the country’s best beer writers to come and talk about their work.

Hops and Glory author and beer writer of the year Pete Brown will describe his three month journey from Burton Trent to India in the company of a cask of IPA.

You get two pints for the price one when Adrian Tierney-Jones (1001 Beer You must Try Before you Die) and myself (The Beer Book) debate which are best – ales from North Wales or the South.

Melissa Cole will take the “beard out of beer” and lead a tasting for the ladies and a beer and food matching. And if all of this is not enough, Zak Avery, author of 500 Beers, will describe some of his favourite brews.

From the Wye Valley Brewery Peter and Vernon Amor (brewers of Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout) will be giving readings from the Dorothy Goodbody stories and Breconshire Brewery’s head brewer Buster Grant will talk about the future of beer in the Principality.

Should you tire of the beer, there will be talks and readings by several local authors and poets. And if you want something that goes with a bang the Sealed Knot’s Hay Garrison will be firing their muskets. More than 50 different Welsh ales will be available at the festival.

Tweet it, blog it, tell people about it. Go to www.thehaybrewery.co.uk/festival for more information.