Monday, September 12, 2011

The Craft Delusion

Lately I seem to be spending a lot of time in off-licences, some might call it an occupational hazard, turns out the ones I am in and out of, are pretty cool. One recent visit however left me a little annoyed. The source of my annoyance can be traced to one word, that word: craft. Big breweries just sticking this one simple word on their beer label and suggesting it is craft beer is ridiculous to me and serves to highlight the priority of these breweries, (as if it isn’t blatantly obvious).

People can argue over what the meaning of the word craft is, but to us, craft beer is not just word on a bottle, it’s a community thing. The people that support what we do know us, and understand what we are about; the people that buy and drink our beer, the publicans, the off-licences the other breweries, these are the people that make up this community. These are our friends and our friends’ friends, they are people that have heard about us and are interested in supporting our story. A story of people that enjoy and care about what they do. It is an insult to these people and us to class themselves in the same bracket.

It’s one thing for craft breweries to evolve into relatively big breweries, for example, the Boston Beer Company and the Brooklyn Brewery. This is naturally going to happen when you have a well run brewery making great beer. But when it comes to the big boys seeing the success of smaller breweries, and the demand for the beers they produce, and deciding that they can stick the word craft on their beer and take advantage of this, it just shows a complete lack of understanding for what is happening in the world of craft beer.

For me, it’s like the politician that rolls up in his brand new Merc to insist he is still in touch with his constituents, as far as I am concerned it’s only themselves they are fooling.

All that said, I am strongly of the opinion that no one has the right to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t drink, people should be free to drink what they like. However I know what beer I will be reaching for the next time I fancy craft Irish Pale Ale.

Stephen - Owner, delivery man, head of sales, brewing assistant, event organiser, chief keg washer...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mummy, Daddy, where does bottled beer come from?

Here's one we made earlier.
Beer festivals are great fun, they give a brewery, or at least the workers therein, a chance to get out from behind the fermenters and meet people. Though people have questions. Some good: "Where can I get more of your tasty, tasty beer when not at this beer festival? Even if I shall be drinking it for the rest of the day, as I scarcely imagine that there'll be a tastier brew to be had all evening and dare not waste any of my precious beer tokens on what will be undoubtedly a less enjoyable beer" Some understandable: "So why did you open a brewery?" To which the answer is obviously; "so we'd own a brewery and the alternative is to work in a office with other people." Some bad: "Do you have a lager?" To which the inevitable reply is; "yes indeed, we have both ├ôr Golden Ale Lager or Dark Arts Porter Lager". And finally the ones that require long and tedious explanations like: "So can I get your beer in bottles?"

To the off-licence, my friends.
So in order to avoid long and tedious explanations to people at beer festivals as to why we only have kegged beer (and the occasional cask), we decided to put the beer in bottles. Or rather, we decided to pay some putting-beer-into-bottles specialists to do the job for us, as the only thing longer and tediouser than the explanations about the non-bottling of beer is the bottling of beer itself.

And so after a few mundane e-mails about transport logistics and some thoroughly more interesting ones about making the label look cool, we arranged all the arrangements and sent off the first shipment of beer. Expecting that the next time we would see it, in 18 to 21 days, it'd be sub-divided into small 500ml sections, surrounded by glass.

This indeed came to pass.

The evidence of which we observed when we took delivery of the multitude of bottles of beer. Obviously a quick quality check was essential, unfortunately it turns out we don't possess a bottle opener, which we only realised after a frantic search around the brewery. But where there's a beer bottle to be opened, there's a key or a radiator or a shoe that can be pressed into service to accomplish the task. We'd previously been remiss in capturing such landmark occasions in the medium of digital imagery; but not this time! Indeed we sent a wee teaser of a photo, of all hand and very little bottle, into the digital wilds on our Twitter account.

Not just your average picnic...
All that was left at that stage was to load up the van and drive the beer to all the off-licences that had been busily pestering us, in the nicest possible way, for deliveries since the word had got out that a bottled Trouble beer was afoot.

So next time you see the Trouble stand at a beer festival, we're happy to answer any questions, with the exception of "So, when are you bottling the Dark Arts...?"  Though the answers given might variously be factual, facetious, curmudgeonly, brief or downright unbelievable depending on our mood, the time of day or if we've chosen underwear that is too tight.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Not what we had in mind for World Domination...

Source Code: only safe in the hands of a trained expert
Our brewery has a great trick of being able to scare the bejesus out of you all by itself. It happens when you stand too close to the chiller unit when it's just reached it's high temperature limit and chooses to click into action with nary a warning, emitting a deafening roar of fans and refrigeration motors, blindsiding anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. Now I'm not normally one to anthropomorphise ugly bits of industrial machinery, but I reckon that chiller has gained intelligence in a Terminator Skynet sort of way and is out to get me. Luckily for us all, it's chosen not to try taking over the world and killing all humans but to use it's powers of evil to make sure it frightens me as often as possible. I reckon it's taken the fact that I called it's use of the Fahrenheit scale nonsensical, (which I standby, I get offended that we have to chill our beer to 33°F rather than 1°C). Generally we try to be a pro-SI units sort of brewery, though PSI seems to have slipped through the unit selection process, which is unfortunate as the alternative is "bar", which would seem to specifically lend itself to use by a company in the beer business.

Programming: a high pressure job
Anyway, it so happened that the subject of this evil chiller and the various unpleasant character traits that it's wont to display came up when we were enjoying a few-post match drinks in The Mill. (No prizes for guessing the beer of choice.) So during the course of the conversation it fell out, that the evil chiller was a source of disquiet in that it needed a good deal of manual intervention to keep beer at the correct temperatures during the various aspects of fermentation. Involved in this conversation was our soon to be Senior Process Control Engineering Consultant Shane, who immediately saw an opportunity for the practical application of his knowledge of electronics, programming and computery stuff generally, in that the process of checking temperatures, opening and closing valves could be readily automated. Computers being much more suited to that sort of thing than Stephen, who rightly objects to being asked to stand beside the chiller interminably to make sure it's chilling prowess isn't misdirected. (Seemingly sleeping and eating are also other priorities that he's using to try and absent himself from his chiller baby-sitting duties.) So it was an enthusiastic Shane that left the pub that evening, with a grand scheme concocted to automate the refrigeration process, fermenting in his brain. I was enthusiastic about the not having to crawl in behind the fermenters to open or close valves every time a change to the beer's temperature was needed. I was less enthusiastic about giving the chiller more processing power, after all maybe that's why it hadn't wiped out humanity yet: not a lack of ambition, but insufficient processing capabilities, that couldn't take it beyond occasionally frightening people.

Still, at heart, I like to do things the easy way if at all possible, so I gave Shane the green light to go ahead with his operation and he didn't disappoint. A series of ever more complicated and incomprehensible technical drawings came winging to our Corporate Headquarters during the design phase, until the point where I gave up trying to decipher them and was happy to go with the nod and smile approach. I limited my input to reminding him that although the Fahrenheit scale is indeed silly, just be mindful of not airing that view within the brewery itself, and especially not near the evil-minded chiller.

The Trouble Fermention Control Nerve Centre
So the "go live" date, as those in the computer nerd business say, is just upon us, so if this is the last blog post ever then you'll know what has happened: we have over-specced the equipment, our evil chiller has seized control of the spare processing capacity and is now waging a war against mankind. And has no doubt, ruined the beer in the process.

On the upside, if the chiller is merely playful rather than some sort of genocidal maniac, which we all hope, it'll make us a little more environmentally friendly and gives Stephen a chance to go and have dinner and a sleep.

I have a feeling though that Shane won't merely be content to stop with upgrading the fermentation process, and other automation processes will soon be envisaged. Before that happens, I really ought to give him a small token to say thanks for his good work, I think a selection of some classic sci-fi movies would be appropriate: The Terminator, The Matrix and Robocop seem like a good start.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Dark Days Aren't Over.

The tap font to look out for!
So things have settled into something of a routine at Trouble HQ, the crisises that we stumble our way through have become less crisisesier and the time between them has increased. Which is all well and good for keeping stress levels in check but less good for writing blogs where people are expecting to hear about exciting and interesting stuff. Honestly, apart from the car crashes, and the fighting zombies it's been general routine mundanity. Filling up, and emptying, various sized stainless steel containers seems to be the order of almost every day. That, and wondering why they're called "stainless" when they need constant cleaning. I'm going to give the good people of Sheffield the benefit of the doubt and presume there was some kind of typographic error when the original name was conceived, and that somewhere the space between the "n" and "l" got lost in translation. Those being days when the correction of misspellings was a considerably more difficult operation.

Kegged, labeled and ready to go.
Though as a result of this constant cleaning, we noticed that we had several clean fermenters to spare, that would be eminently suitable to use to ferment beer, the hint for their use being in the name. So we made a dramatic and momentous decision that we'd double the range of beer that we produced. Overnight we'd increase our range by a massive 100%. Although I might be overselling the drama or momentousness of the decision, I'm sure I'm spot on about the accuracy of my figures. Our previous range of one beer would be increased to two beers; a 100% increase, ask any mathematician, I'm sure they'll tell you the same, before berating you for the elementariness of the question. Thereby reinforcing my long held opinion that there are stupid questions, despite academia's reassurances otherwise.

Dark Beer, Dark Logo, Shiny Fermenter.
So with the mathematics of increasing production taken care of, we moved on to the thornier issue of the form that this new beer would take; that it would be a dark beer for some contrast had been the consensus view. However some said stout, others said porter, yet others said they're both the bleedin' same anyway, as a rose by any other name would still taste as sweet, assuming you were in the habit of eating rose bushes. (or Rose's bush, as a to-remain-anonymous friend of mine did for a while, well before they split up anyway.) We settled on the porter option, to be called Dark Arts, and the bleedin' difference between it and stout is one that I'll leave to be judged by anyone with a pint of it on front of them. The pub being the ideal location for the airing of such generally inconclusive debates, and doublely so when it comes to the vexed question of beer categorisation.

We also went with a more complex grain recipe, with chocolate malt and black malt thrown into the mix, in addition to some flaked barley, the idea being that it would be a more malt driven beer, with the hops being cast in the supporting actor role this time.

  • Dark Arts Porter is currently on sale in L. Mulligan Grocer, Stoneybatter and Glennons, Allenwood.