BRITISH PIE WEEK 2021

Today marks the start of British Pie Week, a week dedicated to the undisputed champion of pub-grub.

To mark our celebrations, we’ve paired three distinctly British pies with their luscious beery counterparts. Let’s tuck in!

In history’s rich tapestry, pie first appears in Ancient Egypt, where a succelent honey filling was encrusted in oats, wheat or rye. The Ancient Greeks were next to leave their mark on pie, building on the knowledge of the Egyptians to create pastries with fillings baked into them.

Hot on the heels of the Greeks were the Romans, who marched across Europe with rations of food encased in pastry, protected from the blood, grit and dirt of the outside world. When their legions arrived in Britain, the Romans were swift in their introduction of pie to the newly conquered territories.

Pie continued to rise in favour over hundreds of years and, when the Middle Ages arrived, esteemed chefs put pastry at the centre of royal tabletops. Entertainment and food went hand-in-hand in Medieval times as chef’s became banquet coordinators, mastering the art of dinnertime theatricals.

Combining a more palatable flavour with increased robustness, chefs in the Middle Ages created extravagant pastries that were epic in proportion. Once baked these pies were used to conceal flocks of birds and even the occasional jester, primed to pounce at the surprise and delight of all guests in attendance.

Despite these pastry innovations, the crust continued to be discarded of (given as scraps to servants) as guests focused on the more exotic fruits and meats offered at the table.

Eventually our beloved pastry treat was affirmed in high-society, crust and all, in the fields of Melton Mowbray – the modern-day home of pie.

In 18th century Leicestershire, Melton Mowbray bakers began to embrace the heritage of pie as they prepared pork-filled pastries for local huntsmen. Decent enough for gentry on-the-go, pork pies became a favourite in picnics and packed-lunches across the land. Now entrenched in the British diet, the humble pork pie is heralded as a true national treasure!

Today, the town of Melton Mowbray is not only home to the British Pie Awards (the jewel in the crown of British Pie Week), but is also the central location of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association.

The work of the association’s ten producers came to fruition when, in 2009, their namesake product was awarded Protected Geographic Indication for its distinctive style (bow-shaped from baking without assistance of a supporting hoop and grey in colour through the use of uncured pork).

In accordance with the PGI, a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie must be produced using the methods that were first mastered by local bakers in the 18th century, and has to manufactured within 10.8 square miles of the town.

In celebration of pie’s most elevated form we’ve paired an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie with a pint of golden ale (brewed with East Kent Golding hops – another British foodstuff with protected status).

Pork pie and golden ale is a fabulous example of a ‘complimentary pairing’, one of the ‘threes Cs’ of beer and food matching. The herbal, fruity notes of the golden ale will bring out the sweetness of the pastry and highlight the delicate spices in the pork.

BACK TO THE STORY..

As the 18th century drew to a close, Britain’s workforces were thrust out of the fields and into the ruthless toil of smog ridden cities.

Among all the blood, sweat and tears of the industrial revolution, pie once again found itself as an everyman’s food. Returning to its’ functional roots the pie became a top pick for hungry workers, sporting a shell that was indiscriminate of sooty air or dirty hands.

With a large working-class population, the East End of London was teeming with pie lovers during the industrial revolution. Those not content with homemade lunches would opt for the pie, mash and liquor (parsley gravy) on offer from one of the many ‘Pie & Mash’ shops in the capital.

‘Pie & Mash’ is a proper London delicacy, showcasing hearty mince-meat that has been set in a suet pastry base. Once filled, the base is topped with either a rough-puff or short-pastry lid. The pie is then plated up with creamy mash and finished with a dousing of parsley liquor. The ultimate in homely nourishment, Pie & Mash is a sum of its’ parts and then some!

The Pie & Mash shops of London’s East End are today regarded a part of our national identity. Shops such as Manze’s in Walthamstow have been granted listed status for their beautiful heritage interiors – temples of pie if you will.

As the second of our ‘three Cs’, a cleansing pairing aims to reset our palette, preparing the mouth for many more swigs and bites. To drinks-match this bona fide British institute, we’ve gone for a pint of cask bitter (‘Ridgeway’ from Tring Brewery) to wash away the heaviness of the dish.

A perfect balance of juicy malts and floral hops clear the big foodie flavours, readying you for another onslaught of pie and ale. It’s a humble pairing but that’s what we believe makes it so great and true!

BACK TO THE STORY (AGAIN)…

As Britain grew to be a powerhouse of global industry, lower-class workers (such as those in the East End) were rewarded with restorative time off, and a modest amount of pocket money to spend along the way.

One popular pastime of the working-class was the thrilling sport of football. Growing into the worldwide industry that it is today, football was nurtured in the pitchside terraces of British clubs, filled to burst with impassioned fans throughout the 1800s. These weekend revellers were not hungry for glory alone, as many sought out food to keep them warm in the open stands.

As a hearty handheld meal, pie warmed the cockles on even the coldest night away in unfamiliar territory. As time went on, pie became the unofficial meal of match-day and the tradition spawned its’ very own subculture..

Representing a widespread acceptance of the category, ‘Football Pies’ are judged in their very own class at the modern day British Pie Awards. It is worth noting that quality of pie is not relative to a club’s stature, as Tom Dickinson found out in his book ’92 Pies’. 92 Pies follows Tom Dickinson, a Bolton supporter, as he ranks the pies from each of the 92 grounds in professional English football (across just one season!!), with Morecambe FC crowned overall champion.

‘The Shrimps’ pies are legendary within the subculture and their Chicken and Mushroom product has won big at the British Pie Awards, claiming both ‘Champion Football Pie’ and ‘Overall Champion’ of the entire competition!

Although Morecamb’s pie is a champion in all senses of the word, most British clubs offer only mass-produced pies at their grounds. In the spirit of accessibility, we’ve gone with the Chicken Balti Pukka Pie, which can be found at The Hawthorn’s stadium, home of Premier League side West Bromwich Albion.

We’ve paired this desi-inspired-pie with a brew that is intrinsically linked to India. For those who don’t already know, India Pale Ale (or IPA) takes its’ name from the style of highly hopped pale beer that was exported en-masse to British colonies in India throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As hops are antibacterial, huge amounts of the flower were used to preserved the brew during its’ long and turbulent journey at sea, introducing fruity aromas and a bitter aftertaste to the ale.

The match of IPA and curry is perhaps the most tried and tested example of a contrast pairing (the last in our ‘Three Cs’ of pairing), so we have confidence that Balti Pie and Tring’s Pale Four will knock it out the park!

The dank, piney qualities of the Pale Four should cut through the heat of the curry. Bright, fruity aromas will contrast well with a rich and spicy sauce.

GOOD, HUH?

Now that you are full of pie and beer, we’d like to introduce CONTEXT as a bonus C of beer and food matching.

Contextually speaking, beer and pie just go . It sounds right, looks great and tastes amazing. Under the guise of our last ‘C’, beer and pie can be matched in any combination, so please go ahead and try your own!

We hope that you have enjoyed these pairings and will enjoy future pies even more, in the knowledge that pie is as much a part of the British diet as a pint of cask ale.

Here’s to the pies of Melton Mowbray, the East End and rainy British football grounds – and to all those in between!

CHEERS TO BRITISH PIE WEEK

St Patrick’s Day: A Celebration of Irish Red Ale

St Patrick’s Day is the annual celebration of Irish culture and its patron saint Patrick ‘the Apostle of Ireland’. Celebrated globally on-or-around the 17th of March, St Patrick’s Day is synonymous with dry stout, however this is not the only style that the Irish lay claim to.

Irish Red Ale is a sweet, malty beer, brewed at session strength with a vibrant red hue. A prickly carbonation lifts notes of bread and caramel in this light ale, an ale much loved in Ireland and the United States. With regular, sizable exports there is no bigger brand than Smethwick’s Irish Ale.

Brewing has taken place in Ireland since the Bronze Age, with brewers such as Smethwick’s creating malt-forward styles to compensate for a harsh hop-growing climate.

In 1733, Irish brewers were given an ultimatum following a ban on affordable Flemish hops; shoulder the (high) expense of English imports or use innovative grains to bolster their brews instead. Many pursued the latter.

Roasted Barley became a favourite in Irish brewing as it was cheap to make and easy to store. As the grains were roasted intensely (in place of malting), they showcased the added bonus of astonishing colour and flavour.

The most famous Irish style brewed with roasted barley is dry stout. Brewers such as Arthur Guinness used the grain to impart flavours of coffee and chocolate in their beers, stouts that were jet-black in colour with highlights of sunburst red.

This attractive red hue was to be leveraged in lower-strength ales too, ales that were more accessible than strong, dark beers. Mirroring a growing market for session strength Bitter in England, these red ales became a staple for Irish brewers, with a sweet-malt palate and vibrant aesthetics enjoyed by generations to come.

It’s no coincidence that Smethwick’s are a market leader in Irish Red, with a history of brewing that stretches back in to the 1700s. Smethwick’s were established in 1710 in Kilkenny, an Irish town that many brewers call home, brewers including Sullivan’s Ales.

The affairs of Smethwick’s and Sullivan’s were more deeply rooted than beer and, down the line, the brewery directors became neighbours, sharing concerns of politics and philanthropy across their homestead partitions. The lineages of the two families became one when, as the legend goes, Sullivan’s brewery was lost in a horseracing bet to Smethwick’s in 1918. Sullivan’s and Smethwick’s were so entwined that, at the time of the wager, the families had already married into one another.

With a consolidation as smooth as Irish Red itself, Smethwick’s saw the style as a flagship brew, and sort to unleash it on the world.

Having grown export sales significantly (in chief to the United States), Smethwick’s was bought by Diageo (owners of Guinness, among many others) in 1965. By this time Smethwick’s Red Ale was an established Irish brand, capturing the fascinations of an emerging speciality beer market in the United States.

This speciality market had grown, in part, thanks to a celebration of European styles from beer writers such as Michael Jackson. Jackson is heralded as a savour of native styles and, through his musings, many exporters scrambled to get Irish Red Ale stateside.

Not before long the trajectory of Irish Red was accelerated once more, this time by amateur homebrewing, another emerging sector in the states.

Following half a century of prohibition-era restrictions, homebrewing was legalised in the United States in 1978. Ignoring the mass produced lagers that monopolised bars and restaurants, new hobbyist brewers took inspiration from European specialty styles instead.

The provenance of Irish Red struck a chord with American homebrewers, as many shared in the national heritage of beers such as Smethwick’s. As the story goes, these homebrewers graduated to commercial concerns and the American craft beer scene was born, with a rebirth of Irish Red in taprooms and brewpubs alike.

Today, Irish Red is brewed all over the world and no less in its’ homeland of Ireland. With its’ own new-wave of craft breweries, interpretations of Irish Red are lovingly produced and consumed throughout the Emerald Isles.

The heart of Irish beer is alive and beating, with streams of red pumping through its veins and into glasses the world over.

Slainte to Irish Red Ale, have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

CHEERS

Talking of glasses raised, here is a snapshot of three that I found, and how they measure up..

The Beer Lovers Guide to Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine is a celebration of love made global by the catholic church, thought to be Pagan in origin. Pagan, Christian or otherwise, millions of Brits flock to the shops each year in search of cards, chocolates and flowers to gift thier loved ones. Although beer is omitted from this trio, there are many ways that flowers, chocolates and cards can be manifested into a beery gift.

Welcome to the Beer Lovers Guide to Valentine’s Day, exploring a trilogy of themes starting with Chocolate – quite literally the sweet stuff!

Chocolate (in its’ simplest form) is the mass of the fruit from the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. To extract this mass, cocoa beans are fermented and roasted before their shells are removed to reveal the nibs. These nibs are then ground and liquefied at heat, before cooling to separate the cocoa solids (or mass) from the fatty butter. For centuries, these powdered solids have been used to create drinking chocolate, cocoa’s most popular form until the invention of the chocolate bar by British chocolatier Joseph Fry.

Having discovered a way to blend sugar with cocoa butter and powder into a paste, Fry then moulded this paste into a solid bar – Fry’s Chocolate Bar. Fry’s Chocolate Bar was a hit and in 1849, fellow Quaker and chocolate entrepreneur John Cadbury released his brand of bar to the world. The two had such a shared vision that, in 1919, the companies of both gentlemen merged. Having secured the merger that would establish a global brand, John Cadbury continued to pioneer the industry. In 1861 Cadbury’s cashed in on Valentine’s Day, releasing the world’s first heart shaped chocolate box.

These rose-adorned tins met an outstanding reception from prudish Victorians, who having emptied them of luscious chocolates, used the tins to store their ever-so-saucy Valentine’s letters. If you’re looking for a chocolaty treat in the form of beer, you can’t go wrong with the following:

Chocolate Marble – Marble Brewery, Manchester

This luscious dark ale is “brewed with an emphasis on chocolate malts; this unclassifiable beer straddles milds to porters, tasting of coffee, cocoa and liquorice with a quenching bitter finish”.

Whilst Chocolate Marble does not contain any actual chocolate, it’s delicious notes of cocoa and caramel have earned the brewers many an award over the years (Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2016 and Champion Bottled Beer of Britain 2014).

Cocoa Wonderland – Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell

“Cocoa Wonderland is a full bodied, robust porter with natural mocha malt flavours from the complex malt grist, complementing the decadent additions of real chocolate to the maturation process.”

If the chocolaty notes of malt alone aren’t giving you a sugar rush, try Cocoa Wonderland from the revered Thornbridge Brewery.

Hoodwink White Stout – Mad Squirrel Brewery, Hertfordshire

“Hoodwink, this is one trick you will enjoy being played on you.”

Looking to buy local? You can’t go wrong with a can of Hoodwink from Mad Squirrel Brewery, especially if you’re looking for a wildcard. Made with lactose, vanilla and white chocolate this luscious dessert beer hides behind the disguise of a clear golden hue.

The blank canvas for all literary Casanovas, Valentine’s cards are also believed to be a British institute. Sending cards on Valentine’s Day was first popularised by Charles Duke of Orléans, who wrote to his wife whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London, having been captured in the Battle of Agincourt. Addressed to Bonne of Armagnac, Charles sent his ‘Valentine’ poem across the pond in 1415.

“God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.”

Enraptured with the beauty of their prisoner’s gesture, British romantics wrote their own poems to be received by loved ones on the Feast of Saint Valentine.

It was not until four hundred years later however, with the introduction of Penny Mail, that the sending of sweet nothings became an entrenched tradition.

The Royal Mail takes its’ name from the service it offered when it was launched by Henry III in 1516; carriaging letters to officials of government and crown. Although this service was made public in 1635 by Charles I, it continued to be prohibitively expensive until 1837.

In 1837 Rowland Hill proposed a set of reformations to the Royal Mail system, including Penny Mail, which received parliamentary approval in 1840. Black penny post stamps were dark in colour, bore the likeness of Queen Victoria and most importantly, cost just one penny. This new ‘Penny Post’ service made the delivery of love letters accessible to all, with 70 million stamps purchased in the first year alone.

With Duke Charles’ sentiments now echoed the nation over, Hill’s memory survives beyond his passing in 1879. Rowland Hill is buried among Britain’s most influential figures at Westminster Abbey, an apt resting place for a postal angel – cupid if you will.

If you’re looking for a sweet sentiment that is wrapped conveniently round a bottle or can, keep an eye for the following:

I Love You Will U Marry Me? – Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell

“Belgian style Blonde ale matured with strawberries. Refreshing and balance with subtle sweet and fruity flavours.”

Successful proposal ratio = 1:1 (officially).

I Love You With My Stout – Evil Twin Brewing, New York

“Why am I doing this? I didn’t honestly know. It was just an instinct about beer as pure form… in a sense this stout is like a metaphor for freedom – the sum of all the beauty that surrounds me and my perfect contemporary existence.” – Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Brewer and founder of Evil Twin Brewing

A hefty 12% imperial stout brewed by Brooklyn based Evil Twin Brewing. If one is in search of the world’s beauty, enjoy a sip or two of this brew, just as its’ founder did.

Kiss – Harveys Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex

“Light in colour, with prominent floral and ginger notes that mellow into a gentle sweet bitterness. The perfect Valentine celebration beer.”

Produced by one of the old guard of British brewing, this seasonal ale is released on draught and in bottle throughout the month of February.

The giving of flowers on Valentine’s Day dates back to the 1700s, when Charles II of Sweden introduced Europeans to the Persian custom of gifting botanicals.

As the favourite flower of Venus (the goddess of love), roses became synonymous with Valentine’s day. This red-petalled plant is purchased from florist, street vendors and petrol stations as a sign of affection, received by millions on the Feast of Saint Valentine.

Since flowers are an international influence on our Valentine’s celebrations, we’re broadening our guise for botanical brews. Here’s some of the best from around the world:

Lilac – Brekeriet, Sweden

“Sour Ale brewed with Lilac Flowers picked fresh in Skåne, Southern Sweden.”

What could be more romantic than a bunch of flowers? How about a beer brewed with actual flowers!

Kriek Boon – Brouwerij Boon

“For this speciality, we use old and young lambic beer that has aged in our oak casks. When the lambic is 6 months old, we add 25% black cherries. This provokes the second fermentation. We then clarify, filter and bottle it. The cherries and young lambic create a red beer that is both natural and fresh, with an absolutely unforgettable sweet and sour taste.”

Red is the colour of love, so we’ve chosen a red beer to keep on theme with your Valentine’s palette. Kriek is coloured red through the process of cherry maceration that takes place in the cask, as this style of Belgian sour ages over time. Sweet and sour, this cherry flavoured brew is perfect for pairing with rich chocolate desserts!

Carlsberg – Denmark (kidding, but you’ll see why)

Although macro-lager doesn’t hold many romantic connotations, one eccentricity of Carl Jacobsen (son of Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen.) did. Every morning Jacobsen’s gardener would deliver a single red rose to him, which he would carry between his teeth for the rest of the day. “He believed the fragrance of the rose would add to the beauty of his life.”

If the above gift guide has worked, you may find yourself duly married. Don’t worry, beer doesn’t end here..

Raising a glass of beer is an important part of wedding cultures throughout the world, with many enjoying a beer brewed especially for the occasion. Until recently it was thought that the word ‘Bridal‘ was etymologically linked with beer (as in ale for the bride ceremony). On deeper investigation, it is now believed that ‘Bridal‘ is a corruption ‘bride-ale‘ – an umbrella term for imbibing and celebrating.

One famous beery wedding was the marriage of Crown Price Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, held in Munich on 12 October 1810. To mark the occasion the citizens of Munich were invited to participate in festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates. Now an annual tradition, Oktoberfest sees six Munich brewers produce special Festbeers for drinkers to enjoy – a hark back to celebratory ales enjoy over two hundred years ago.
If you’re brewing a beer to mark the big day, you might as well go the whole hog and make your very own beer wedding dress.

In 2015 fashion designer Donna Franklin collaborated with scientist Gary Cass to to create a dress made entirely from beer, a garment impressive enough to be displayed at the 2015 Milan World Expo.

The Australian duo added Acetobacter (a special type of bacteria) to a quantity of ale, converting fermented liquid materials into raw fibres. Beer in textile form, what a breakthrough!

If you find yourself alone this year, why not fall in love with beer all over again?

It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady.

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy (1880)

However you’re enjoying Valentine’s Day this year, we hope you have a great day – with some good beer in hand!

Cheers

BURNS NIGHT 2021 – A CELEBRATION OF SCOTTISH BEER

Burns Night is a celebration of the life and work of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most revered poet. For this year’s festivities, we’re going to guide you through some of our favourite Scottish beer styles and how they came to be. Let’s start at the beginning..

Brewing is thought to have taken place in Scotland for at least 5000 years, drawing a large influence from Pictish and Northern European tribes, who practiced farmhouse brewing techniques with foraged ingredients.

One style of brew believed to have been mastered by the Picts was Heather Ale. As it sounds, this quintessential Scottish style has been brewed for centuries with the flowering tips of purple heather plants. Heather is just one foragable that hunter-gatherers would have used in place of hops, which are a relatively modern adjunct in British brewing. Instead of hops (which were not widely cultivated in the UK until the fifteenth century), many fruits, spices and herbs were infused in British ale – to balance out the sweet, caramel flavours of the malted brew.

Heather Ale was brewed with other adjuncts, such as bog myrtle, which complimented the drink, the main ingredient however was heather. The unique fragrance imparted by the heather proved a hit and historic recipes for the brew have been passed through Scottish families ever since. Today, heather ale is considered to be one of Britain’s most ancient beer styles.

Although hops have now displaced other adjuncts in the brew due to their impressive antibacterial properties (keeping beer fresher for longer), the flame for Heather Ale is kept alight thanks to the dedicated work of a few Scottish brewers.

Williams Brothers Brewery is the chief guardian of the style, producing its’ Fraoch Ale (Leann Fraoch being Gaelic for ‘Heather Ale’) for commercial consumption since 1992. Williams Bros use an old family recipe that has been passed down ten generations or more.

You’ll be pleased to know that, in life’s cyclical fashion, craft breweries are adopting ancient techniques and recipes to bring vibrancy to their portfolios. Fresh, delicious interpretations of Heather Ale are now brewed the world over!

As can be observed, the Scots have never let a lack of hop-growing regions affect a quality brew. Scottish barley crops are celebrated worldwide for their pedigree, it is for this reason that many a Scottish brewer has pivoted to producing malt-forward beers. These robust national styles are rich in body with an amazing depth of flavour – truly luscious!

One example of an amazing, malt-forward Scottish style is the ‘Wee Heavy’. Wee Heavy is named as such because it was traditionally packaged in smaller bottles, more suitable for the enjoyment of a strong beer. As the strongest of a brewer’s batch (partigyle), Wee Heavy can range anywhere from 7% to 11% or more!

To ‘partigyle’ is the practice of brewing one large stock of wort (brewing terminology for unfermented beer), to be split down in to three or four seperate ales, the strongest receiving the most fermentable portion of wort, the weakest receiving the least.

As the first runnings of the mash (the process in which malted barley is mixed with hot brewing water), the first brew in a partigyle would contain the most fermentable sugars and would therefore finish at a strength in the ‘Wee Heavy’ range. Wee Heavy was a premium product enjoying a long boil in the kettle, caramelising the beer to give it a sweet, slick mouthfeel.

As beer is taxed on ABV, the Wee Heavy regularly featured as the most expensive beer on the bar. In a world of ’60’, ’70’ or ’80 shilling’ beers (denoting the duty invoiced to the brewer per cask), Wee Heavy would often sit in the higher 90 shilling bracket, making it the most costly for the brewer to produce.

As one of the final runnings in a partigyle brew, the 40, 50 or 60 shilling ales would have been the weakest (and cheapest) on the bar, meaning it was affordable and sessionable for any drinker. Due to the incredible consumption of these ales, the shilling system of naming beers has now outlived the denomination of currency itself!

With Shilling Ale, Heather Ale and Wee Heavy still produced and consumed to this day, it is easy to see a Scottish influence on the wider beer world.

Despite their celebration of low-hopped beer styles, Scottish brewers became a key exporter of IPA to the British Empire. These brewers capitalised on the mineral rich waters of Edinburgh, much the same as English brewers had done in Burton-on-Trent. These waters, flush with sulphates, yielded a crisp palette in pale styles, enhancing hoppy brews such as IPA. With huge demand and gargantuan exports of India Pale Ale, the Scots had proved once again that they could master any brew they set their minds to.

Here’s to Scottish beer in all its’ embodiments, a drink legendary enough to join haggis and whisky at the perfect Burns Night tabletop!

BEERS PICTURED: ‘Heather Honey’ and Wee Heavy Ale from Brewdog (Ellon, Aberdeenshire), ‘Froah’ Heather Ale from William Bros. Brewing (Alloa, Clackmannanshire)

*Fraoch Ale supplied by BerkoBeerFest, in collaboration with Platform Wines. To find out more about their Burns Night box, please click here.

STORIES FROM THE CELLAR : 3

 

Welcome to my blog on the history of brewing, and thanks for reading!

This blog will be spread across a series of short posts telling the story of beer – thirsty work which I have paired with beers I have been ageing at home, centring around the theme of time.

 

Brewing In Europe

Once the Egyptian empire had fallen (giving way to teetotalism in the cradle of civilisation), seeds of brewing knowledge were flung across the world.

Phoenician traders were selling cultivated grains around the globe and persecuted Israelites had fled to Northern Europe, bringing with them the skills for the production of ale.

For most of its history the lands of Britain have been densely forested, lending themselves to farmhouses and cottage industry. It is believed, that for this reason the fermenting of soft skin hedgerow fruits, apples (for cider) and honey (for mead) would have pre-empted the production of beer – beer requiring the germination of grains so that yeasts may access their fermentable sugars.

By the time that the Romans conquered Britain brewing knowledge was common place in local populations. At this time brewing would have been a domestic affair, undertaken by house-wives (or ale-wives) as part of general housekeeping. This ale would have been brewed using forageables such as herbs, spices and fruits (as apposed to hops) in order to balance the sweet flavour of the malty beverage.

Although the Greeks and Romans are seen as wine lovers, the Greeks learnt of brewing from the Egyptians, and passed this on to the Romans. It is believed that the Greeks and Romans shared knowledge of the hops plant, although hopped ale (or beer as it became defined) would not become widespread in Britain for some time after Roman invasions.

The lands of the Greeks and Romans enjoyed Mediterranean climates and were therefore more suited to the growing of grapes and the production of wine.

Both the Greek and Roman societies were proud of their rich culture, grounded in arts and humanities they looked down on British life (ale drinking included) as barbaric and primitive.

Although the Romans held distain for British imbibing they regularly drank ale alongside the locals, to foster synergy (and therefore obedience) within conquered populations.

Tablets taken from Hadrian’s Wall note orders of beer, to be delivered to (and consumed by) the Roman soldiers that were stationed there. The fulfiller of this order may be one of the earliest examples of commercial British brewing.

After the Romans departed, Britain settled back in to domestic brewing.  As the dust settled across the land, beer became the drink of the people; a source of calorific sustenance, refreshment and communal imbibing (the latter to gain prominence within emerging ale-houses, building on the success of licensed premises in ancient Egypt). Although it became a key source of sustenance at this time in Britain (even prescribed for medical ailments), ale would never again reach the heights of spiritual celebration it enjoyed in ancient society.

 

TIME FOR A BREAK

Buxton Brewery – The Living End

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For my third post I have chosen a bourbon barrel-aged stout. This beer was purchased in 2018 from the back of the fridge in a beer bar in Nottingham. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, I had been hunting down The Living End since it was released three years prior in 2015, all hope up until then was already lost.

This beer was packaged on October 30th, 2015 – when I open it today it would have spent over three years ageing in the bottle.

The beer is a hefty 11% imperial stout, having ‘spent months in wood’ to pick up ‘vanilla and oak’ flavours from the bourbon barrel.

The bottle cracks open with a quiet hiss and immediately boozy bouquet.

As the beer pours it forms a rising oily mass in the glass, jet-black in colour with a thin burnt-caramel lacing.

The boozy aroma is of brandy and stewed fruits. The stewed fruits aroma has appeared in every single aged beer I have tried, so probable a sign of oxidisation, in many cases however not a negative trait.

The first sip is a throwback to big, bold export stouts – bracing bitterness and notes of dark chocolate with amazing depth and complexity. The bitterness builds on the palate with nutty, herbal flavours intermingled – this seems a distinctly British stout.

Although the beer was in bourbon barrels for some time there is almost no vanilla notes or hints of oak.

The boozy aroma carries stewed fruits through on the palate, combining with nutty flavours and dark chocolate bitterness. This beer is a sophisticated chocolate bar in a glass.

I don’t know how this beer tasted fresh but three years on it tastes perfect. Any effects of ageing seem to have complimented what was already an amazingly robust, old-school imperial stout.

Again I am happy with the ageing on this bottle and look forward to the next already!

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Back to the story…

 

As the Roman empire fell the Catholic church took its place and monasteries were established across Europe.

The consumption of alcohol has always been acknowledged and allowed by the church, the bible itself is peppered with references to wine – commonly enjoyed as part of religious ceremony. With domestic brewing now widespread in Northern Europe, Monks began to produce ale within the confines of monasteries, imbibing in God’s house, away from the temptations of the outside world.

The brewing of beer was a form of Monastic self-sufficiency and many Monks were believed to have survived Lenten fasting on diets of ale alone. Records dating back to 1004 show the daily allowance of 1 gallon of each of Strong Ale and Weak Ale for Monks in Burton.

The flow of thirsty pilgrims soon became key to monastic finances. A life of self-sufficiency was secured for the monks as they expanded their brewhouses to satisfy the growing demand for ale.

It can be argued that monasteries were the first commercial brewhouses in Britain, and the monks of Burton-upon-Trent were forebears of today’s British brewing industry – more on that next time..

Next time: Vikings, Hops and Medieval Commercial Brewing

Paired with: Siren Craft Brew/Evil Twin – ‘Even More Jesus VIII’ (cellared early 2016)

 

Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.

 

STORIES FROM THE CELLAR : 2

Welcome to my blog on the history of brewing, and thanks for reading!

This blog will be spread across a series of short posts telling the story of beer – thirsty work which I have paired with beers I have been ageing at home, centring around the theme of time.

A Prologue to Europe: The First Civilisations and Their Breweries

Oktoberfest is a celebration of successful harvest and brewing held in Germany every year. This (relatively modern) institute builds on an ancient culture of celebrating beer’s intrinsic link with society.

From man’s first experience with fermented grain, intoxication has been seen as a state of transcendence; dancing with the gods. The escapism of alcohol and religion married hand in hand in early societies and alcohol soon displaced all other intoxicants as it took centre place in societal rituals.

Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians all took turn to host religious ceremonies centred around beer.

The Aztecs classed intoxication as a divine state; religious ceremonies encouraged all in attendance to get ‘divinely’ drunk. Anyone caught drunk outside of religious celebration could be put to death for abusing a gift from the gods.

Early civilisations brought with them the first writings of man, from these ancient artefacts we have learnt what beer meant to these societies.

Sumarian tablets (from atleast 1800 BC) bear the hymn of ninkasi, a hymn praising the goddess of beer. This hymn even included a brew recipe.

Ancient Egypt marked the start of significant commercial brewing, fuelling the large scale engineering of the day. Egyptians used 40% of all harvested grain to make beer and it was common place to pay workers with the liquid nectar. Alongside general imbibing, beer was used as a key component in hundreds of medicines, prescribed for all manner of ailments.

Commercial brewing saw the birth of ale houses with staffs or brooms erected outside to signify beer had been fermented, and was ready for sale.

TIME FOR A BREAK

Buxton/To Øl – Viscously Viscous

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For my second post I have chosen a barrel-aged barleywine. This beer was purchased in 2017. I was delighted to find that the beer had been sitting in a beer shop cellar for close to two year before being dispatched to myself. I decided to go the whole-hog and make it a nice round three years before opening this 10.4% collaborative brew.

Upon opening the bottle there is a hiss, albeit slight and short-lived. The brew pours with almost no discernible head, caramel lacing sits atop the oily beer. Aromas of stewed fruit, wood and candied sugars are forthcoming, along with slight oxidisation. The first sip is soft but with no lack of body. A coating mouthfeel stays throughout, with low bitterness and hints of sticky toffee on the palate.

Viscously Viscous is a brandy barrel-aged barleywine brewed by Buxton Brewery, in collaboration with Danish outfit To Øl. Although this beer is a sum of its parts, these parts have become homogenous and entirely melded within the bottle. There is no beginning or end of brandy notes, it is knitted throughout every slick, weighty sip. Soft flavours of raisin and fudge leave you in imminent want of your next swig. Although oxidisation is apparent, and carbonation is relatively low, flavours are not muted and the caramel lacing lingers for as long as the beer remains undrunk.

I am very new to aged flavours – I suspect I may have confused oxidisation with wooden barrel at times. Overall the beer was fantastic and I am very happy with my ageing efforts for this bottle. Again, I am excited for my next cellar beer already.

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back to the story…

Egypt was the first civilisation to tax beer, this taxation is still extremely lucrative to governments today. From taxation came the first state controls, such as the licensing of premises.

Breweries in Egypt sustained many thirsty workers and kept them content in testing times, but overconsumption hindered work ethic, and stalled construction. The first recorded death by alcoholism through beer was in Egypt around 2800BC. Further state control followed as licensed premises were ordered to ‘call time’ on drinking, keeping a hold of worker inebriation.

These measures were an acknowledgement that populations can be controlled through the restriction and incentive of beer.

When ‘the man’ tinkered with the drink of the people there was often public outcry – perhaps the first instance of ‘beer culture’.

Egypt is of course known for its hieroglyphs and there was a hieroglyph dedicated to the brewing of beer. This hieroglyph can be found in none other than the tomb of Tutankhamen. Nefertiti’s temple had its own brewery and many mummified Egyptians had their mouths filled with beer, keeping them fresh on the journey to the afterlife (known as ‘Liturgy of Opening the Mouth’). Beer was the drink of the most squalid slave, and the drink too of the most celebrated pharaoh.

Beer has not been held in higher regard since these most early civilisations. It was in these times that people and beer were one, through large scale public ritual. King Ramses II is known to have sacrificed close to half a million jugs of beer in the name of divine ceremony.

Despite the status of beer in ancient times, the conquest of the Middle-East by teetotal armies put an end to Mesopotamian and Egyptian brewing culture.

This quell of beer was compounded by the conquests of Greek and Roman populations who brought with them alcohol from the grape, more suitable for cultivation in Mediterranean climates.

Beer was set to sleep in a dusty tomb, a liquid relic of Earth’s first civilisations.

The arts and humanities that the Greeks and Romans brought to the world has ensured that wine is thought of as ‘the drink of the civilised’. The ‘lager-lout’ image of recent times has only propelled the perception that wine is a cultural cut above beer.

Greeks and Romans would have their (wine) time, but beer was to make an epic comeback, across Europe and onto the rest of world – more on than in the next blog..

 

Next time: Brewing In Europe

Paired with: Buxton Brewery – ‘The Living End’ (cellared late 2015)

 

Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.

The White Lion, Apsley

An Old-School Boozer

 

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Do you ever enter a pub out of unquenchable curiosity? An A-board on the roadside advertising Oakham ales should help you along..

Frosted windows keep the interior of The White Lion in Apsley a closely guarded secret, something only known to those who venture in off the pavements of London Road. London Road is awash with small-businesses; high-fi, hardware and hair extensions can be found dangling in shop windows, interspersed by the occasional takeaway. The London Road in Hemel Hempstead tails off from a large business park adjacent to the A41 and can be seen as a gateway into ‘New Hemel’.

Apsley Lock has enjoyed substantial rejuvenation in recent years and now boasts many brand-spanking-new homes and ‘marina nightlife’; with restaraunts and pubs decorating a spotlit curving bridge, akin to newer parts of canal side central Birmingham.

George, a vetted regular of The White Lion, would argue that Aplsey is a gateway to the town’s past also.

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There are records of a ‘White Lion’ pub in Apsley dating back to the 1600’s, at the time Apsley was a village, just like Boxmoor and Leverstock Green and also Hemel Hempstead old town. It was not until later in Hemel’s lifetime did it see the almagamation of these suburbs and the creation of many more. In the 1600’s Aplsey was independent of Hemel Hempstead, and many local residents, including George, still sight distinction between local borders.

Politics (no matter how localised) don’t belong in the pub right? Back to The White Lion.

Records from the 1600’s show a ‘White Lion’ pub selling beer in Apsley at the time, it is interesting to note however that the pub is said to have been in Featherbed Lane, a couple of (small) roads away from where The White Lion proudly stands today. I could only rely on the landlords’ knowledge to solve this gap in the pub’s timeline.

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Peter and his wife Caroline took on The White Lion three years ago seeking to make a change for local drinkers. Although they saw the old-school charm of this boozer, they felt the offering to be a little dated – in a bad way.

Previously a tied bar, Peter and Caroline applied for permission to curate their own beer pumps at the Fuller’s public house. Over a year since and the couple have not once looked back.

Peter professes to me that he is not a drinker himself, and I believe that implicitly, so why would a dry landlord want to curate a range of real ales?

Because Peter and Caroline are devoted to their regulars, that is why.

With Watling Street, Paradigm, Tring, Haresfoot, Mad Squirrel and many more local brewers regularly on rotation through the four handpulls, drinkers of cask ale will never get bored in this beautiful street corner establishment.

 

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Beery memorabilia graces the wooden backbar, peppered with several presentation cases of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, looming in the shadows.

The wooden backbar accompanies the wooden front bar, which accompanies the wooden booths with seating in the form of wooden stools. The frames of the booths (which used to divide the lounge bar and the saloon) hold up beautiful stained glass windows. In the darkest of nights, glowing orbs of soft lighting can be seen floating and dancing in the beautifil panes.

Back to the history..

In the middle of the 20th century (just after World War II), close to 500 people signed a petition to extend the licensing of The White Lion, changing it from a beer house (exclusively) to a premise that could sell both beers and wines. Clearly the establishment had become a hub within the Apsley community.

It was in the mid-1840’s when The White Lion relocated from Featherbed Lane to its’ current address on London Road. The move was due to the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway Line which required the upheaval of much earth throughout both Apsley and Boxmoor.

The move would see the pub open its’ door to construction workers utilising what is now Aplsey’s main road, a road which falls directly in front of Frogmore Paper Mill.

Frogmore Paper Mill houses the world’s first mechanised paper machine, and was owned by the industry leading ‘British Paper Company’ during the 20th century. When the whistle blew in Apsley, there were many, many workers in need of liquid sustenance!

At this point I have pestered Peter and Caroline on a busy Friday night for long enough. Content with my findings, I retreat to finishing my pint of Watling Street (which had been kept in excellent condition), before disappearing into the night. This is where George comes in.

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A tall silhouette shadow falls on outside of the frosted glass, already Peter can tell it is George and begins pouring his favourite brew into his jug of choice. Peter then proceeds to the entrance to give George a hand in. Sitting entranced by my mobile phone in the company of other drinkers in this ‘old-school boozer’ simply felt rude and inappropriate; I engaged George while polishing off my pint.

Four pints later and Goerge is still going, explaining to me the geographic boundaries of Aplsey, how his father used to drink in this very pub (and probably his father before him), and that the pub had once been a Mann’s tied house, before becoming a Benskins’ tied house. As George opens up the secrets of the pub’s past (some unknown even to the landlords), others begin to horseshoe around – we have an audience. It’s not just me asking the questions anymore. George entertains the whole front bar with the history of The White Lion.

Anyway, back to the my drnking experience – I left The White Lion with a renewed appreciation of local history, and a strong idea where the pub itself had played a role within it.

I had relished in the fact that Peter had offered me some Pope’s Yard ale, the first batch from a former Watford based brewer who have now set up production seconds away in Frogmore Paper Mill!

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I had drunk with people I had never met before and shared stories over numerous pints of well-kept local ale.

What was meant to be a pitstop flyby for a short-read piece had quickly unravelled. This piece became the case study of a place with one foot grounded in rich heritage – the other in the grassroots of Herfordshire’s growing beer scene.

The continually sidetracked nature of this narration is a perfect homage to the pub itself.

Take a trip to The White Lion in Apsley. Venture beyond the frosted windows. Peak around the stained glass booths. You might fall down a very beery rabbit hole…

#Tryanuary 2019

What a month!

Tryanuary began with the an epic CAMRA pub crawl through Hemel old town, smashing expectations with huge numbers. Over 30 CAMRA members ended a cold New Years’ evening in Monks Inn, Hemel.

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To keep up early momentum, local beer writer Alec Latham released ‘A Short Beer History of St.Albans’, telling the story of ale in the historic city; home to many traditional pubs and indeed the Campaign For Real Ale.

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A week to the day of the epic Hemel crawl, Mid-Chilterns CAMRA were at it once again, this time with a jovial crawl through Chesham. Days later Alec Latham released his second blog exploring ‘Five Beers That Make Hertfordshire‘.

McMullen’s, Pope’s Yard, Paradigm, Mad Squirrel and Tring Brewery all stood to define beer and brewing across the county.

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On Wednesday 18th, a sold-out crowd of 30 attendees huddled into the backroom of The Rising Sun Pub in Berkhamsted, for a special collaborative pairing.

Nigel Oseland from BerkoBeerFest teamed up with Mark (culinary genius at ‘The Riser’), curating six beer and food matches.

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Sour beers, smoked ales and weizenbier were paired with the likes of salmon blinis, thai chicken skewers and stilton cheese – with vegan options available for all!

The ticket sales for the event went entirely to DENS (Dacorum Emergency Night Shelter).

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Two days later at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (the oldest pub in England) Roger Protz hosted a Farr Brew Tap Takeover with Matt from Farr was on hand to talk beers.

Roger Protz (Founder of the British Guild Of Beer Writers) was joined by landlord Christo to give impassioned speeches about St.Albans’ beer scene.

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The day following the tap takeover saw two different Tryanuary events, including a Mid-Chilterns CAMRA crawl of Berkhamsted.

As beer lovers were crawling Berkhamsted, The Mikkeller Running Club St.Albans (a beer & fitness group) turned out in record numbers for a special 5K run, commencing and concluding at Tring Brewery. All runners took part in a brewery tour and tasting session, featuring the exclusive launch of Tring’s Tryanuary ale.

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Alec Latham kept us educated, publishing his third Trynaury blog ‘A Short Beer History Of Watford’, telling of the mighty brewer established in Hertfordshire’s largest city, and of promising times to come.

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Pushing into the last week of the month, Mad Squirrel took over the D20 Games Café in Watford for another sold-out Tryanuary event. Tim from Mad Squirrel took the drinkers through a series of ales using his Sommelier knowledge, exploring the differing styles of Mad Squirrel beers.

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On Saturday 26th a ‘Beer & Biltong’ session attracted 30 visitors to Tring Brewery, pairing 5 different ales with just as many cuts of South-African cured meat. The event closed with the launch of ‘Death Or Glory Biltong’. Believed to be a commercial world first, the meat was cured at The Original Biltong Company’s location in Chesham, using Death Or Glory barleywine and Mexican Guajillo chillies.

More Tryanuary literature was released this week, with Alec Latham telling of ‘Six Hertfordshire Beer Haunts’. Acting as a visitor’s guide to the county, Alec explores beery hot spots for those travelling through Herts.

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In the final week of Tryanuary a dedicated ‘Hertfordshire Day’ showcased some of the county’s best brewers across the campaign’s social media accounts, with the spotlight on both Pope’s Yard and New River Brewery.

On the penultimate day of the campaign Alec Latham released the final part of his five-part series. ‘A Short Beer History Of Ware’ unveils the town’s historic significance, at one point the ‘world epicentre of malting!’

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Drawing this month to a close I would like to acknowledge all of the donations, campaigning, events and launches that have made this year the most successful #Tryanuary yet!

Thank you in particular to Alec Latham and Johan Conway who have been in my team of Hertfordshire volunteers, proudly waving the banner for our county.

Thank you to the local beer scene made up of amazing pubs, bars, brewers and drinkers who have shown that even during the toughest month of the year; Hert’s beer scene is getting stronger by the day.

Cheers to #Tryanuary!

STORIES FROM THE CELLAR : 1

Welcome to my blog on the history of brewing, and thanks for reading!

This blog will be spread across a series of short posts telling the story of beer – thirsty work which I have paired with beers I have been ageing at home, centring around the theme of time.

Introduction: Modern Beer and The First Brew

As of today beer is the world’s third most popular beverage, pipped to the post by tea (2nd) and water (1st) – following in tow are coffee and cola. The British beer industry is believed to employ around 900,000 workers with £10B in salaries paid. An estimated £13B in tax revenue is generated through the industry per year, putting us at the lower end of the top ten brewing nations in the world, with China holding top spot. Although China brews the most beer, it is the Czechs that drink the most per person, despite the UK’s 90,000 pubs offering ample choice for British punters. The Red Lion and The Crown are your most likely watering holes (by count of name) and your most likely brew may well be a golden ale. You spent 12 pence on a pint of ale in 1971, a beautiful thought compared to today’s average of around £3.70. The first ever Campaign For Real Ale ‘Good Beer Guide’ recorded 141 brewers in the UK, 50 of these classified as national/international. Each job in a brewery equates to one further job in supply chain, one further job in retail and roughly twenty further jobs in pubs. In 2019 the UK market can now enjoy over 2,000 breweries; so how did we get here?

The artisanal process of brewing is steeped in history, mythology and religion. Did you know that brewing has its very own Patron Saint – St.Arnold of Flanders? Did you know that Britain started Europe’s most successful consumer campaign, in order to save the nation’s brewing heritage? Maybe not, so let’s start at the the very beginning, before civilisation itself..

ORIGINS

The word ‘Bibere’ in Latin means ‘to drink’ and this may be a derivative of the word BEER that we use today. For centuries beer has been seen as ‘the drink of the people’ with restorative qualities (post-boil, the sanitised liquid could be drank in weak and small doses by small children, men and women, instead of unsafe drinking water) and sustenance from naturally occurring ingredients (monks often referred to beer as liquid bread, in its most basic form being made from water, yeast and malt). The drink of the people has always held a close connection to within environments it was brewed in.

For fermentation to occur grain must first germinate through soaking in warm water to release its fermentable sugars. After these sugars are available, yeast may be pitched into the solution which will convert the sugars into alcohol and produce CO2. With this science lesson in mind it is is easy to see how the first brew(s) were likely a happy accident, through the germination of grains collected by hunter-gatherers, compounded with the wild yeast strains, occurring naturally in the outside world.

TIME FOR A BREAK

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Brouwerij De Molen – Hemel & Aarde

 

For this post, my first, I have chosen to open my cellar (a wardrobe with a few cases of beer stashed inside) and crack open the first ever beer that I started ageing, which has sat for three years now. At the time I bought it, it was a pretty intimidating beer, which is why I sat on it for a while, and when I came to decide that I wanted to start a cellar, it was the first beer to go in – it already had some of the ageing legwork done for it.

Three years on and I have over 100 beers in the cellar and have tried quite a few aged beers in different scenarios, some gaining in complexity at a graceful rate, and some that should have never had been aged in the first place. Some of these bad example had made me cynical of my cellaring project altogether, but the only way to find out if a beer tastes better with a bit of life behind it, is to put all your blind faith in the hands of time and resist the temptation to crack it open for a a little while.

 

Well, this bottled is amazing – I’m overjoyed with the efforts that have gone into storing the beer, a 10% smoked stout. The smoke has rounded out beautifully, and what used to be a spiky, boozy beer has now melded into one homogeneous, viscous peat bomb . I am very happy with the way this beer has evolved over the three years or so I have had it, and cannot wait for my next cellar beer already.

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Clay pots excavated in China show a residual substance likely to be beer, dating back roughly 9,000 years. This discovery means that beer may well be older than this, as containers crafted from animal-skins were used prior, unfortunately these have been lost in time due to their perishable nature.  With little understanding of the world around them, except the realisation of their own morality, many early nomads saw the transformative effects of alcohol as a gateway to a transcendent plain, a gift from the gods themselves to enlighten mankind.

It is most likely that the gruel-like substance that fermented into beer would have occurred before tribes possessed the knowledge to make bread. In fear of losing this mystical substance man would have tried to domesticate the barley crop; to ensure future stocks of ale (and not because of their love of baking loaves). Through these first farms began the primitive settlements, and so civilisation was formed; to brew beer (probably).

Next time: The First Civilisations, Their Beery Ceremonies and The First Ever Breweries 

Paired with: To Øl/Buxton Brewery – Viscously Viscous (cellared late 2015)

 

Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.

Hemel Hempstead’s First Ever Micropub

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Hemel Hempstead is one the biggest towns in Hertfordshire, with a population breaching 100,000 and convenient links to both smaller and larger towns within the home-counties as well as the country’s capital. There are around 2,000 breweries in the UK, with close to 100 in London alone, with this Hemel Hempstead is a sitting duck in the burgeoning British beer scene. Introducing: Monks Inn

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Monks Inn is set to be Hemel’s first ever micropub, opening November 10th in the former Jenning’s betting shop in the town’s market square. 9 lines of cask ale will flow as 4 handpumps accompany a choice of 5 ales on gravity dispense, all alongside 6 still ciders.

Monk’s Inn may sound like the perfect tribute to the British institute that is cask beer, but it is the spirit of South Africa that will course through the town centre establishment. Owners and brothers Clint and Des assert:

“There’s two things us South Africans are passionate about, hearty imbibing and great conversation to go with it.”

 

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The cellar: Four hand-pump lines,
two keg and one wine.

Clint is the passion behind Watford Rugby Club Beer Festival, the most recent in July boasting 36 beers and 38 ciders, with fancy-dress rugby matches played to raise money for charitable causes. Clint and Des’ charitable nature does not end there as they are now neighbours of The Salvation Army in Hemel, and look forward to working with them closely in the near future.

Community is a big part of the ethos behind Monks Inn; discounts for CAMRA members and the elderly will be offered, and acoustic music evenings will see a strong focus on interaction and local talent. Live music will be amongst a varied roster of events that are planned to bring in the local drinkers.

The general feel of Monks Inn is cosy, warm and inviting, softly lit in keeping with a ‘monastic beer hall’ theme. The namesake of the micropub comes from Clint and Des’ local back in Durban, South African, where they cut their proverbially drinking teeth and forged some of their best beery memories before moving to the UK.
Whilst standing in the sawdust peppered skeleton of the future boozer, Clint told me of how he came to love British cask beer.

“I only ever drank fizzy stuff up until a decade or so ago, the gateway beer for me was Tring Brewery’s ‘Side Pocket For A Toad’, it opened a door that hasn’t shut since”.

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Panoramic view: Future bar front.

Clint went on to say,
“Despite my insight into the industry, I would have never considered opening a micro pub without the entrepreneurial experience of Des. It was Des’ suggestion that kick started this project.”

After ten years of enjoyed success running beer festivals in Watford, Clint and Des looked to a good friend of their’s, Craig Douglas (of the late, great Bree Louise, Euston) for inspiration. Craig had run a tight ship at the ‘Bree Louise’ until it closed in February 2018, with a cult following for his extensive offer of impeccably kept cask beer. Unfortunately the space (just outside Euston Station in London) had to be made vacant for a section of the soon-to-be HS2 rail line.

Don’t fear though, as the spirit of ‘The Bree’ is still with us. If you ask one of the brothers, they’ll be sure to point out exactly which pieces of furniture are ex-Bree, kindly donated by their friend Craig.

As I was guided around the old bookies, little remained to indicate that it had operated as such since before I was born (early 90’s), in fact everything was looking well polished, especially considering many other pieces had been either donated or up-cycled.

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Des (left) & Clint (right)

“The main reasons for us doing this fit under the three D’s” the brothers told me, “Determination, Desire and Desperation.” 

– these guys have really put everything they have into this, countless savings and man hours, the resources and kindness of close friends and family, and their undying love of a great pint. This place has been built on kindness, warmth and passion and I have no doubt will become a community asset for the town of Hemel Hempstead.

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The pub is looking forward to opening its doors to all on November 10th, with a fully stocked backbar of spirits, wine on tap and two further beers on keg; one rotating craft beer and a craft lager from Windsor & Eton (SIBA Assured Independent British Craft Brewer). There are already plans to introduce South African cuisine to Monk’s Inn such as biltong, joining a range of other cold bites, with the possibility of hot ‘Bunny Chow’ in the pipeline too.

Cheers to the ‘Three D’s’ and to the bright future of cask beer at Monks Inn,
Hemel Hempstead.