Brewing Beer – In Theory

Having been in the beer industry most of my working life it was a bit of an odd realisation that I didn’t know much about beer. I knew I liked it, but I didn’t really know anything about how it’s made and what goes into it.

My industry path started in a Boddington’s freehouse back in the early 1980s. In our part of the North West Boddington’s had an almost cult following and the pub I worked in, the Mariners at Norbreck near Blackpool, had gained a reputation for good beer and was one of a couple of sites (Sumners in Preston was the other) that got through serious volumes of beer. At the Mariner’s we routinely ordered 20 Hogsheads a week, a Hogshead contains 54 gallons and weighs in at over 200kg. No surprise that we don’t see them these days, presumably health-and-safetied out of existence.

So I learned about cellar processes, the importance of hygiene and allowing the beer to ‘work’ for as long as it wanted to. I learned to appreciate what a decent pint looked like on the bar and what the customer expected, and what I expected as well because I relly enjoyed the beer myself.

I didn’t know what went into beer though, and I didn’t know why it did what it did. I knew how to spell ‘fermentation’ but didn’t know what the word meant. I’d heard of hops but had no idea what part they played in the beer I was enjoying.

For me, this isn’t really a problem. I don’t really understand how aircraft work either but I’m glad they do and I don’t neccessarily need to understand flight in order to appreciate it. I get the fundamentals; thrust plus lift equals my flight to Bangkok , but I’m blessed if I get how jet engines work and why 30,000 is a good number of feet to be off the ground when  a couple of hundred looks like a lot to me.

It’s the same with beer, I’ve always just liked it but never been tempted to look under the bonnet.

That started to change over the last couple of years as more and more interesting beers became easily available. I had ignored the craft beer movement, I think I once described craft beer as ‘boiled up lager imitations’ but my friend Chris at Doghouse Brewing told me he was disappointed to hear me say that and asked me to open my mind a little bit.

I still enjoyed cask at the pub, and was noticing that we could have light and citrus flavours which worked really well; a bit of a surprise given that I was more drawn to the traditional malty beers like Draught Bass. Then I tried a Sierra Nevada bottle, probably Hop Hunter, and then I found Brewdog and tried their Punk IPA. Then came Goose Island and their stellar IPA and my beer appreciation changed; mind completely opened.

So after all these years being of the opinion that cask beer is the high water mark of the brewer’s craft I found that there were a zillion young and funky brewers out there producing amazing beer and not letting history, or narrow minded prejudice, get in their way. I joined the party, late but grateful, and now I really don’t give a rat’s ass about the dispense method of my beer. If it comes out of a cask and tastes great that’s fine, if it comes out of my fridge in a can or a bottle and tastes great that’s equally fine; it’s just a great time to be interested in beer.

The interesting side effect of this is the democratisation of the brewing process. Loads of people are doing it and posting videos online. Good equipment is available and the entry cost is not exorbitant. There’s lots of information out there, lots of amazing ingredients, and lots of people enjoying brilliant beer and sharing the process of making it.

So I’ve opened my mind to new styles of beer and am starting to see that small brewers can produce amazing products. I’ve built a new shed with the intention of buying an old motorbike to restore but spent an evening browsing ‘micro brewery’ online which eventually led me to pop outside with a beer and a tape measure to weigh up the space I had and a possible change of direction.