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Berkshire-based Siren Craft Brew has collaborated with Tate Britain to produce a beer that celebrates the current Van Gogh exhibition.

The beer, ‘Thousand Things IPA’, is a milkshake IPA that marks the anticipated The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain.

Andrew Downs, operations director at Tate Eats, said: “Beer can be done in a thousand ways, there’s so much room for creativity. Tate is about giving a platform to creative people and this is just another way of doing that.”

‘Thousand Things IPA’ was inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting, ‘Starry Night’ which is known for its bold colours and brushstrokes.

The brew reflects the artist’s radical style by combining loud ingredients such as toasted coconut, passion fruit and mango to create a creamy, full-bodied beer full of juicy fruit flavour.

The tropical hops like Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic and Chinook also contribute to this, while adding a delicate bitterness.

The beer gives visitors a taste of the exhibition through the incorporation of cypress wood which is a nod to the cypress trees that feature heavily throughout Van Gogh’s work.

The cypress wood in the beer augments the fruit-led aromas and tempers the lactose sweetness. In ‘Starry Night’, there is a looming cypress tree that is said to represent Van Gogh himself.

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Camden Town Brewery has launched Week Nite Any Day Lager, the latest addition to its core range.

The 3% dry-hopped lager is unfiltered and brewed with American Centennial and Cascade hops, complemented by the brewery’s house Pilsner malt and Bavarian lager yeast.

Chris wheeler, senior brewer at Camden Town Brewery, said: “Brewing a lower ABV beer is quite a challenge, both in recipe design and the technical details on the brewkit.

“The malt bill was key to making or breaking this style, to create a crisp lager that’s not too sweet but still packed full of flavour.

“Week Nite has a great balance of subtle malt character, using hops that gives this beer an interesting zesty citrus and floral notes that’s just enough hop bitterness, flavour and aroma to make this beer super drinkable any day of the week.”

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Heineken experienced a 4.3% increase in consolidated beer volumes during the first three months of 2019.

Volumes rose 4.3% year-on-year to nearly 53 millions hectolitres (52.7). This increase means the company is able to maintain its outlook for 2019.

Its Heineken brand alone saw volumes up 8.3% with double digit growth in Africa, Middle East & Eastern Europe and the Americas.

In Europe, despite the later timing of Easter, beer volume grew organically by 1.6% benefiting from better weather conditions across the region.

In the UK specifically, total consolidated volume was up low-single digit helped by some inventory build-up anticipating Brexit and the re-listing at an unnamed large retailer.

In the Americas, beer volume grew organically by 3.2%. In Mexico, beer volume was slightly down, impacted by the later timing of Easter and lower promotional activity. The premium portfolio grew double digit, led by Heineken.

Brazil saw double digit beer volume growth, driven by both the premium portfolio led by Heineken, and the mainstream portfolio led by Amstel and Devassa. Beer volume in the USA declined mid-single digit. Heineken 0.0 was introduced in the quarter.

Jean-François van Boxmeer, chairman of the Executive Board / CEO, said: ”We had a positive start to the year with volume growth across all regions despite the later timing of Easter, underlining our continued focus on growth and the breadth of our geographic footprint.

“The Heineken brand volume was up 8.3%. Our outlook for 2019 remains unchanged, we anticipate our operating profit (beia) to grow by mid-single digit on an organic basis.”

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It’s called non-alcohol beer, no-alcohol beer, non-alcoholic beer, very-low alcohol beer, NA, or malt beverage. It’s also been called a lot worse. However, thanks to a growing demand, both big and small brewers are putting out something you just might find yourself enjoying. Velo Mitrovich reports.

About a million years ago in the mid 1970s I was in the US Army stationed at Ft Bragg, North Carolina. It was not a good time to be in the army. The government was desperately trying to show that the all-volunteer peacetime army could work without a draft, so they took anyone and I do mean anyone.

One day in the middle of July, the powers that be decided they needed to throw a party to boost morale. “269 Aviation Battalion will celebrate this Friday from 1200 to 1600 hours. You will be there and you will have fun.”

While North Carolina is full of lakes, ponds, and natural beauty, they gathered all 200 plus of us in what looked like a giant dirt parking lot in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by scrub pines that were maybe about a meter high. There was absolutely nothing to do there except for one thing.

The barbeque that was provided – you had to pay for. Soft drinks, you had to pay for. But the beer – all 20 zillion cans – was free. 

Some supply sergeant must have figured: Mmm, hot as hell day and no shade. “Sir, each soldier must be provided with at least 12 cans of beer for pure survival reasons alone. Anything less and we could have a medical emergency on our hands.”

Because this was survival we’re talking about, they opted to have about a dozen open trailers placed strategically around the area, filled with ice and beer so no soldier was ever far from a cold one and there would be no lines.

Sounds great? No, these guys were all idiots at the best of times. You did not want to get them drunk.

I don’t recall why, I suspect it was because Old Milwaukee was the beer they choose, but I choose not to drink. So there I was, the only one completely thirsty and sober person in a field of over 200 drunks.

Within an hour, the command had given up the idea of being in command, figuring the beer would ultimately run out and order and discipline restored.

It doesn’t require a vivid imagination to picture what was soon happening in the field. There were arguments, fights, smack-downs, and more fights. The two medics on duty were busy putting in stitches and bandaging noses. 

Because a couple of drunks decided it would be fun to push over the port-a-loos with someone inside, the porta-crappers were smashed and unusable. A few soldiers couldn’t be bothered to walk over to the scrub pines and pissed where they stood like mules. 

At one point, I watched a staff sergeant pass out drunk, face down into a beer trailer. If his friends hadn’t pulled him out, he would have drowned, or had his face frozen, or both.

Promptly at 1600, those still standing got into their cars and drove off like it was the start of the Indy 500 except on a dirt track.

Looking at these drunk dunderheads behind their wheels, I decided to be in no hurry to leave. I looked over the field that looked like it was out of a war zone – in hindsight, it just needed the end music from Platoon playing. 

The field was littered with hundreds of beer cans, overturned trailers, vomit, the smashed-up port-a-loos, and someone’s boots – how could you not notice your feet were suddenly bare? 

I shook my head and went dry for 10-years.

During this dry decade, I tried to find alternatives. There was near-beer, which was started in the US during Prohibition. It was horrible – and I’ll just leave it at that. 

After a long, long search I found a couple of German alcohol-free beers but these were so malty, they tasted like something you’d give your kids if they had whooping cough. 

Ten years later, I was living in Seattle, in the Coast Guard now, and was with some friends at a pub in Pioneer Square. While they were drinking their pitchers of Bud, I was getting ready to order a black coffee. The bartender though had other ideas for me. 

“You should try a Ballard Bitter.” 

“What’s that?” 

“It’s better than what they’re drinking,” she said, pointing with her chin over at my mates. “It’s an IPA from this small brewery – Redhook – that’s just opened up the road. You’ll really like it, trust me.” 

IPA? Small brewery? I had no idea what she was talking about, though I was 100 percent sure whatever it was, it had alcohol in it. But then, she did have an English accent so a course I completely trusted her. 

I took one sip and shouted out the F-word, so loudly, it’s still probably floating over Seattle. Ballard Bitter was everything that I had ever wanted in a beer, like I had spent my entire life waiting for that rush of hop flavours.

With that, my quest to find a non-alcohol beer that tasted like beer ended – until now.

It seems like about every decade or so for the last 40 years, the beer industry has rolled a non-alcohol beer and said this is the future, but if you watch the Simpson’s, you know how this always plays out. 

When Duff’s Brewery goes alcohol free – due to Springfield’s local prohibition – the owner comes out and says he knows Duff’s fans drink the beer for it’s great taste, not for its alcohol content. And then three hours later, he’s locking the gates of the shut-down plant.

Why will this time be any different for alcohol-free?

In asking random people at this year’s Craft Beer Rising Festival at Truman’s and at the Pure Gym I go to, it seems very much like you can draw a line. 

For those over 30, alcohol is part of the beer drinking experience, with numerous people – both male and female – telling me it was at least 50 percent of the reason why they drank beer. 

Those younger, however, said they were open to the idea of non-alcohol beer – if it tasted good – and could see sometimes when it would be preferable.

When pressed, the reasons given were: It’s in the middle of the week; or you’ve already had one regular beer so now you switch over to alcohol free; or you want to look like you’re drinking; or you’re in a situation where you need to keep your wits about you, i.e., meeting the future in-laws; or you feel better not drinking; or it seems healthier; or you don’t feel like drinking but still want a beer.

While my generation in the States sees shame in drinking alcohol free and it would be something you’d try to hide; for the Millennials, not at all. 

As far as tasting good, at the CBR show, there were numerous offerings of non-alcohol beer, with some brewers such as BrewDog and Brooklyn Brewery offering it alongside their regular. Mitch Adams of Euroboozer plied me with bottles of German non-alcohol beers that they import along with regular European beers. Online beer shops such as Beerwulf and Dry Drinker have a huge assortment to try.

Thrown into this mixture of no-shame and tasting good is the report last August in which The Lancet said no level of alcohol consumption improves health, and the massive marketing campaign that Heineken is doing on both sides of the pond with its Heineken 0.0 lager in the familiar green bottle. 

Suddenly an ice-cold non-alcohol beer starts sounding good.

Taking Europe as a whole, around 10 percent of all beer sales were non-alcohol last year. All are expecting this figure to jump for at least the next five to six years.

How big of jump, that’s the question.

Some market research groups are claiming that worldwide it will double in growth, being worth a staggering £20 billion by 2024. But, knowing how many of these research groups operate, I find it even more staggering that people believe them.

The UK papers have reported that last year our supermarkets saw a jump of 27 percent in the sales and/or consumption of non-alcohol beer. A magazine article said that in the UK, the sale last year off non-alcohol beer rose 60 percent. 

While that sounds like every shopping trolley no longer has room for food – just non-alcohol beer – without knowing the actual figures behind the 60 percent, that could be six bottles or six million. Percentages are too easy to exaggerate and blow out of proportion as we know from the weekly health scare in any newspaper. You sold one can last year and five this year, way-hey, you just had an increase of 500 percent in sales.

But, what we can agree on, however, in talking with brewers and distributors, sales are rising and as I mentioned, the stigma that used to go with drinking non-alcohol beer is disappearing, especially with Millennials here in the UK.

Dry opportunities

In a December Brewbound podcast, Brooklyn Brewery CEO Eric Ottaway said that breweries needed to quit thinking of themselves as only makers of beer, but to look at other potential revenue streams, which includes non-alcohol beer.

He said that Brooklyn’s entry into non-alcohol beer is a way to diversify Brooklyn’s products offerings and build a buffer against beer’s overall slowing sales in the US. 

Brooklyn spent a year developing its non-alcohol Special Effects lager that is now available in Sweden and which they had at the Brick Lane show. When will it be available Stateside, Eric wouldn’t say, but did say said that the US has had it backwards when it comes to non-alcoholic beer.

“If you were drinking a non-alcohol beer, there was something wrong with you. It was kept in the back of the bar fridge and carefully poured into a glass and given to you so nobody would see that you’re drinking non-alcoholic beer,” he said. “It was kind of an embarrassing thing. Whereas you go in Europe and it’s celebrated. It’s treated as the opposite in most countries. People would never sneer at you or look down at you like you have a problem.”

Ilaria Lodigiani, head of global marketing innovation, Heineken brand, characterises this as moving away from a focus on “can’ts” – such as pregnant women and designated drivers – to “don’t want tos”, who “like the taste of beer but just don’t want to drink alcohol at a particular moment.”

Lodigiani agrees that alcohol free beer is seen as something that’s “not cool”, but believes the brand equity of Heineken can play a big part in transforming perceptions. The business is putting its money where its mouth is: it has committed to spend 25 percent of Heineken’s marketing budget on its non-alcohol in every market

She thinks the potential for the product is broad. “It’s a zero-alcohol beer, but also very low in calories, low in sugar. The consumer mind-set is changing quite a bit – they’re looking for 100 percent natural products, but with less sugar, less alcohol.”

CMO Jonnie Cahill of Heinekens says: “It’s for beer drinkers who love beer…but sometimes just don’t want the alcohol. We are going to change the game, it’s like nothing else in the market.” 

NA controversy

Non-alcohol beer first made an appearance in the US in 1919. Why, you ask? That’s when Prohibition became law. It was decided that the strongest a beverage could be and considered non-alcohol was 0.5 percent ABV and that’s where that magic number comes from – at least in most of the world but not here.

At present, to be “Alcohol-Free” in the UK, a beer brewed here has to be 0.05% ABV or below, while products at 0.5% have to be called “De-Alcoholised”, although some non-alcohol beers don’t have to have alcohol removed to be at 0.5 percent. 

But, products from the EU and elsewhere, distributed in the UK can be 0.5% and still labelled “alcohol free.”

Confusing? Oh yeah. 

Why doesn’t the government then put the marker at 0.5 percent and call it a day? Because, not all want this.

Steve Magnall, chief executive at St Peter’s Brewery, a producer of a range of 0.05% alcohol beers, says: “We’ve put time, effort and money into producing a zero-alcohol range of beers, so why should a 0.5% beer be branded as zero alcohol when it isn’t. Someone wishing not to drink alcohol doesn’t want a 0.5% ABV beer, that would be like feeding a vegetarian a tiny bit of thinly cut ham.”

A course, if someone comes out with a 0.04 percent or lower beer, they’ll be making the same argument against St Peter’s Brewery.

In Germany, where 0.5 percent is treated as the gold standard of alcohol free, there have been numerous tests regarding 0.5 percent and complete alcohol free. Their researchers didn’t see any difference in the effect it has on people.  

Making it dry

Most of the time it starts off like a regular beer, from making a mash to the fermenting stage. But, while regular beer will now be bottle, canned or further aged, non-alcohol beer has to have its alcohol removed.

If you remember your school chemistry, alcohol has a much lower freezing temperature than water – thus the reason for that bottle of vodka in the freezer – and it has a much lower boiling point than water – around 78 degrees C. You can in effect, boil off the alcohol before the water starts boiling. 

This additional cooking, however, gives alcohol free beer the taste we all can’t stand and it’s why most have been in the past heavy on the malt flavour. Hop flavours, forget it, they’re not going to happen with all that additional heat and cooking time.

The problem with boiling beer is that it doesn’t just remove the alcohol, it also destroys other flavour compounds that give beer its fullness and character. According to Brew Your Own, “The hop aromas will usually be driven off within the first five minutes, while the hop flavours will be gone within the first 15 minutes.” Which is why finding a decent alcohol-free IPA can be a challenge.

One thing most people notice with non-alcohol beer is that quite a few have a metallic taste that ranges from being very slight to quite pronounced. 

Regular beer can have the same problem but we don’t notice it due to the hop flavours. 

When brewers inject CO2 in alcohol-free beer, besides tiny bubbles in your drink, it also adds carbonic acid, which can give off a metallic or sour favour – which could be one reason why non-alcohol seems to work extremely well with sours.

Some brewers boil under vacuum pressure to reduce the boiling point thereby mitigating damage to flavour. A course, you need the additional equipment to do it.

That said, two American craft brewers, Jeff Stevens of WellBeing Brewing and Philip Brandes of Bravus Brewing, have taken on the challenge of creating craft non-alcoholic beer by using the vacuum boil method. Depending on the power of the vacuum, the alcohol’s boiling point can be lowered to around 40 degrees C.

A couple of friends and I tried WellBeing’s Heavenly Body Golden Wheat and Hellraiser Dark Amber. We all agreed if we were offered a Diet Coke or either of these two, we’d take the non-alcohol beers in a heartbeat. If we were offered the real thing or these two, that’s where opinions differed.

Another dealcoholizing technique that’s sometimes employed is reverse-osmosis. As Chow.com explains it, “…beer is passed through a filter with pores so small that only alcohol and water (and a few volatile acids) can pass through. The alcohol is distilled out of the alcohol-water mix using conventional distillation methods, and the water and remaining acids are added back into the syrupy mixture of sugars and flavour compounds left on the other side of the filter. Bingo—a non-alcoholic brew.” 

Because the main ingredients aren’t heated, this technique causes less flavour degradation, so it gives generally preferable results, though it’s more labour intensive and requires even more equipment.

Regular beer drinkers will tell you that no matter what brewers do, non-alcohol beers won’t taste completely the same because there’s no alcohol.

And they’re actually sort of right. While alcohol doesn’t really add any flavour, alcohol adds to what is called the mouth-feel of the beer. It gives it that dryness, and according to some, it can accentuate some of the sweet flavours in the malt. If you don’t believe me about the lack of flavour, next time you’re in the USA’s Deep South, try having a swig from a bottle of Everclear which you can sometimes find being sold at 190 proof.

After sampling some of the non-alcohol choices at CBR, I wanted to see what else was out there. In the UK, online seller Dry Drinker in Staines has Britain’s largest assortment of non-alcohol beers – 103 at last count – along with wines and spirits, so I went out there to meet with founder Stuart Elkington and to do a bit of sampling.

A bet

While in the USA what seems to drive craft brewers into non-alcohol is an alcohol-related problem, joining a dry-religion such as the Mormons, or other guilt, in the UK we don’t carry all those same issues and Elkington is an example of this. He went dry to win a bet with his wife.

They were trying IVF treatment for a baby and the doctor told Stuart that he should cut back on his drinking. His wife said he couldn’t make it six months and the bet was on.

During this period, Elkington says that he found he was feeling and sleeping better so he decided to continue staying dry. However, he still wanted a beer. Elkington says that he searched locally but couldn’t find anything. Complaining to his wife about it – and how this lack also seemed like there could be a business opportunity – she told him to either put-up or shut-up. Dry Drinker was born.

“People ask me if I’ve stopped drinking? ‘No’, I tell them, I just drink dry,” says Elkington. “While for many people this is a negative thing, for me I see the positives.

“With Dry Drinker, we’re not a preachy brand; we’re here when you want to drink; we’re here when you don’t.”

In the three years that Dry Drinker has been up and running, he says that he’s seen a big change in the market, with more people drinking alcohol-free beverages. But, it’s not always an easy slog to try to convince people to try it.

“There is a pre-conceived notion here that it won’t taste good,” he says. “But for European drinkers, it’s not that big of deal with European breweries presenting non-alcohol beer as just part of their range and not plastering non-alcohol all over the label.”

In sampling non-alcohol beers, some styles do work better than others, a fact that Elkington is quick to point out.

“Sours work well, they’re a good fit in the range like BrewDog’s Raspberry Blitz. IPAs can be found that are full of flavours and hops,” he says. “If you start with good ingredients, you get a good beer.”

Lagers don’t work as well, but that said, Germany, Latvia, and surprisingly Russia, all make a decent lager.

Elkington says that he is lucky right now with Heineken’s big push for their alcohol-free beer. “When the bigger brands come into the market, it reassures the consumers that it must be a good thing because they’re doing it.”

I asked Elkington with something like Brewdog’s sour, is it his job or Brewdog’s to market it?

“Looking at Brewdog’s latest accounts, they have just a bit more money than me,” he says laughing.

“Any brand we’ll work with. I tell them that I want to be their biggest supplier and distributor, but they need to do their job as well,” he says. “With the small UK brewers who are doing alcohol free, they know us and we work together.”

The elephant in the room for all of us who are involved in the beer industry is alcohol. It’s there – it’s most definitely there – but it’s something we never discuss at beer conferences, trade shows, in bars or in tap rooms.

Which in a way seems a bit screwy on our part if for many people, one of the main reasons why they have a cold one is to enjoy a bit of buzz, enjoyment, and temporary mental escape from what life throws at us. 

Why do we pretend otherwise? It’s why people have been drinking for thousands and thousands of years, so why should we feel embarrassed to discuss it?

If we acknowledge that alcohol is an important part of our industry, then we should acknowledge, too, that sometimes we should be offering an alternative. Guinness has its H2O Guinness Clear – also known as tap water – in their campaign to drink moderately. Breweries across the world are offering up non-alcohol beers by the hundreds.

Should this alternative be, however, something coming from your brewery? For those of you who are small, no. It takes time and money to do it right and you have bigger things to worry about. For you medium to large brewers, let me pass on this bit of advice from the US Western days. The pioneer gets the arrow, the settler gets the land.

If this time around, alcohol free will be here to stay, which I suspect it will be, I don’t see much advantage in being the first out the gate. Let the big boys like Heinekens use their massive marketing budget to create the demand and then follow behind.

When visiting Stuart at Dry Drinker I enjoyed the Braxzz Porter. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was the finest porter I’ve ever had, but it was far from the worse, I’d place it right in the middle.

But, what in a way made it the best was, I had the enjoyment of the drink, without the sluggish feel afterwards. And, without giving alcohol blood levels a single thought, I got into my car and drove off, knowing I wasn’t a danger to anyone on the road – except for my usual crappy driving. 

I’d say that was a pretty great alternative.

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Coldchain is a phrase increasingly prevalent in the British beer industry but what is it, does it really exist, and is it being used correctly? Yvan Seth from Jolly Good Beer takes a closer look.

Coldchain distribution is nothing new – you see refrigerated lorries and vans on UK roads all the time. It is used for many food products – often as a serious matter of food health and safety, but also to preserve the quality of fresh produce.

What it means simply is that the product being distributed is kept chilled all of the time including transport links. This is what makes it a “chain” – every link is chilled. If you remove the refrigeration from one of those links then you don’t have a chain any more. The important thing about the chain is that it should be connected up all the way from the producer to the consumer (see below). 

The Coldchain

Brewery Coldstore @ 4°C

⇒ Transport @ 4°C
⇒ Distro Warehouse @ 4°C
⇒ Transport @ 4°C
⇒ Retailer Coldroom/Fridge @ 4°C
⇒ Consumer

Why 4°C? At the most basic level the choice of 4°C comes down to food handling standards. The fact is that there is simply a lot of existing infrastructure and equipment set up for this temperature – “fridge temperature”.

I tend to regard our target storage temperature as “circa 4°C” and know a few cases where 6°C is used, and know a few breweries using 3°C for coldstorage. As 4°C is common for food storage it is also the temperature which most study and literature will refer to – such as “Freshness” by Dr Charles Bamforth.

In “Freshness” Dr Bamforth refers to the work of Swedish chemist Svante August Arrhenius that relates temperature to chemical reaction speed — and for beer uses a 3x faster reaction time for every 10°C temperature increase.

If you fit a curve to this trend and interpolate for 4°C versus 12°C the result is that at 4°C changes ought to be slowed down by approximately 2.4x – and versus 20°C this is 5.8x. In my own testing with 1-month changes in beers across 4°C, 12°C, and 20°C there was often a notable flavour difference between 4°C and 12°C for pale beers after just the one month (this is an experiment you can try at home!)

Of course the changes in a beer are on a continuum – unlike the general public view of “best before dates” being some sort of quality cliff-edge. The 4°C sample tasted fresh, and the 12°C notably degraded but quite drinkable, at 20°C it had become something I called “onion water” (the beer I have in mind here was a mid 4% pale dry hopped “session IPA”.)

In the associated diagram I have used the Arrhenius equation to show relative shelf life at 4°C, 12°C and 20°C. Beer aging is a complex and many faceted chemical, and biochemical, process — the key observation is the exponential nature of the rate of chemical change versus temperature.

Another way to think of coldstorage is as preventing heat exposure. Every bit of additional heat a beer is exposed to will push its chemical reactions a little further along that taste spectrum from “fresh” towards “stale”. By coldstoring beer we reduce this exposure and prolong the “fresh” life of the beer.

In the UK coldchain does not really exist for beer. There are a handful of cases where breweries both large and small have chilled vehicles. Stalwarts of British cask ale Timothy Taylor has curtain sided lorries with chiller units. The complex flavour nuances of traditional cask benefit from coldchain stability, not just the latest NEIPA juice bomb. And when Iron Pier brewery bought a dray van they took the plunge on getting a properly refrigerated vehicle. But these rare cases are an exception to standard UK practice.

Things get worse when you look at the wholesale distribution tier of the beer industry in the UK. Most distributors rightly have some cool-storage for cask ale, especially the larger well established ones. However there are many small distribution businesses, and surprisingly some large ones too, that don’t even have this for cask. It’s entirely the norm for all keg and smallpack beer to be kept at ambient temperatures.

I learnt this after I started my own distribution business. I started out by talking to brewers and asked them how I should do things. Every single one of them said I needed to get coldstorage for stock. So back in April 2014 that’s what I did – and that’s where Jolly Good Beer started. It wasn’t until months later I began to discover that what I was doing was unusual.

This put me on a path of promoting this missing link in British beer quality and ultimately to trying to achieve real coldchain for beer. The choice was to promote doing it right, or stop doing it right – because unfortunately the higher cost overheads make it a competitive disadvantage if the difference is not understood.

Coldstorage is not coldchain however – it’s just a link needed to create the chain. To achieve a chain we all need to move to refrigeration on the road as well as at brewery, warehouse, and retail.

A serious issue

There’s a combination of lack of knowledge and inertia. A lot of the problem at the retail and distribution level is simply a case of not knowing any better. Historically UK keg and smallpack beer has been predominantly the domain of stabilised products with simple flavour profiles — pasteurised and sterile filtered lagers for example. Even these beers are not immune to the depredations of time and heat, but a lot of work has been put into extending their shelf-life. I don’t think I need to convince brewers on the technical issues of beer stability – but if you’re unsure then look up the work of Dr Charles Bamforth, for example in his books “Freshness” or “Beer: A Quality Perspective.” These should both be mandatory reading.

It’s not the brewers who need convincing – it’s everyone else. A common sort of challenge I hear is “everyone else is doing it this way, why should I do it any differently”. Which is a sort of defeatism really. “Why try any harder?”

If we all took that attitude, where would British beer be now? (See also: food and coffee.)

The fundamental problem is that doing beer better costs more money. At retail the start-up costs and running overheads of a warm shelf are a lot less than a fridge. In distribution a large shed costs a lot less than a large coldstore. And if you’re already operating with beer at ambient, it is a big jump to upgrade to full coldstorage. Significant inertia exists within the established retail & distribution sectors — which is why most of the fully chilled operations in the UK are new businesses.

I know many great breweries who really care for the beer they produce and have full cold-storage at the brewery… when traveling around the country I am often saddened to see their beers sat on a shelf in an 18C room – heated in winter, not cooled in summer. Kegs under a counter or in an ambient back room, often actively being heated by a nearby integral flash cooled. It’s a sorry state of affairs. (There are also very good business reasons to do keg dispense better in terms of yield as well as quality.)

Where does the responsibility lie

Everyone in the chain has a part to play – everyone needs to really care about getting the product to the consumer as good as it can be. This includes the consumer! In his book “Freshness” Charles Bamforth states “Ultimately, substantial responsibility lies with consumers if they are to enjoy a beer with the characteristics that you expect them to appreciate”. The phrase “vote with your wallet” comes to mind – although how do you do that without retailers to buy from who take beer quality seriously? I firmly believe this is a natural result of caring for beer better and businesses that take quality seriously will benefit. So what can we do to even give consumers access to the better option?

One approach is to encourage better practices and push that message whenever possible — this very article for example. The use of good marketing, with the right amount of education. BrewDog have done the UK a fantastic service by educating many bar staff to Certified Ciderone® level – arming them with a degree of beer quality knowledge practically non-existent at retail level before.

Interestingly this meant enough knowledge to realise that BrewDog’s own bars and processes were not equipped to US quality and coldchain standards. It’s a powerful indirect endorsement of everything UK coldchain advocates been doing, that BrewDog is now rolling out chilled central warehousing and properly chilled direct-draw dispense in bars. Ultimately we’re all taking lessons from the top standards of the American craft beer industry.

When you own the whole process from brewery to bar you can properly solve these problems. What about all the independent operators?

That’s where the brewers come in and ultimately the responsibility for their product rests on the shoulders of the brewers. It’s massively in their best interests to encourage better standards to ensure their beer reaches the consumer at its best. The better a beer is the more consumers will come back to it – and to your brand. Ultimately this is a matter of brand protection for the long term. It can only take one bad beer to drive a customer away from your brand forever – how tragic it is when fantastic beer is brought low by bad keeping.

So what now?

Right now there’s very little chance you can have your beer distributed via a coldchain. Typically beer is moved around the country by ambient pallet networks and vans. Breweries need to encourage better practices – and give recognition to businesses that take this duty of care more seriously. They also need to bite the bullet and plan for investing in refrigerated vehicles and shipping. Take the case of Gravesend-based Iron Pier brewery – unwilling to compromise, they acquired a refrigerated van.

“For us refrigerated delivery was something we knew we wanted to do from day one, and it will become more important as we grow and as our delivery area, and therefore transit time, grows. We try and control every process we can in the brewery to ensure consistency batch to batch, so I just see controlled temperature in storage and delivery as an extension of that. It’s effectively a chain of custody, we’ve treated this beer as well as we can, and we would like to expect the same from the publican.

“In the keg market we see a lot of places with kegs at room temperature, often under the bar, and just running through a flash cooler of some kind. That beer is going to age so much quicker than even a beer kept in a regular 10c cellar, let alone if it was kept at 4c like some of the direct draw systems. Any instability in package is going to show up much more quickly for these people than someone with a cold cellar. Refrigerated delivery for us is about taking the best care of our beer, but also setting an example to our customers of how they should be looking after beer,” explains  James Hayward from Iron Pier Brewery

I think this is key all the way down the chain. If you’re delivering beer “warm” to distributors, then why should they see any reason to do better after that point? If you’re delivering beer warm to retailers – same again. At Jolly Good Beer we have convinced several trade customers to improve simply by the fact the beer we deliver arrives cold and it feels somehow wrong to then let it warm up. But ultimately a larger industry change needs to come top-down from breweries.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us should sit back and wait for them mind – at Jolly Good Beer we’ve started working from the middle to implement coldchain where possible, having deployed our first refrigerated HGV this March. Coldchain is an achievable goal.

One of the most shocking things to me is that in five years of trading I have only ever had a single brewery request a site inspection, albeit many others have visited on my own invitation. I would welcome more inspections with open arms. If I was a brewer I’d be much more interested in how my beer is being cared for down the supply chain than seems to be the norm.

There is probably call for a brewery-backed scheme to verify supply chain standards. A more modern-beer targeted version of Cask Marque? There’s nothing like getting a check-mark of approval to motivate people to up their game.

A changing landscape 

It’s pretty much coming hand-in-hand with industry adoptions of other aspects of American “craft beer” practices. The popular new beer styles are so sensitive to time and temperature that awareness of the need for better practices is growing – and I’m talking session IPAs and West Coast IPAs, not just NEIPAs. It’s all starting off in ones and twos. One of the first fully chilled retailers to be fully coldstored was The Stoneworks bar in Peterborough – somewhat unsurprisingly one of the partners in this business is from the US. Steve Saldana looked around and wasn’t happy with what he saw so in opening the bar decided to do something about this.

“There was no other place doing it right.  It angered me that when asking people why beer was being served this way (bad dispense) they said it was the best way and there were no other options… I wanted to prove them wrong,” says Saldana.

The bar is going strong, now well into its third year of trading, and I use it as a prime example of good practice. This year, via Jolly Good Beer, they will start receiving beers from key brewers via a full coldchain on a regular basis – I believe this may be a UK first.

I have started building a map of UK “coldchain-ready” retailers. I tried this two years ago and decided a map with just 3 pins on it wasn’t much use to anyone. Today, not including brewery taps, I am up to 9 – which is certainly an improvement but it’s a miniscule proportion of the total number of beer retailers in the UK.

The most positive thing right now is simply that people are actually talking about coldstorage and coldchain more. It is becoming “a thing”, per se. Our fellow wholesalers The Bottle Shop also moved to full coldstorage at their warehouse in 201X(?), and last year BrewDog announced they were moving their central distribution warehouse over to full coldstorage. Through the work of businesses like The Bottle Shop, importers Cask International, and ourselves we’re seeing more importance put on imports being fully coldchained to UK coldstorage facilities.

It is a bit of a joke that we don’t show British beer that same level of respect. It’s even reassuring, albeit disconcerting, that people have been caught out lying about having coldstorage and coldchain … it means the right questions are being asked, and those without the correct answer are feeling compelled to lie.

We have discussions in place to help four venues this year launch coldchain-ready, and a long-term goal of connecting up coldstore dots to form a chain to all these sites. My hope is we can encourage more people at all levels to move in the right direction, for the sake of awesome beer.

The future is brightly flavoured: the future is chilled.

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In an age of countless one-offs and seasonal beers, the team at London’s Bohem Brewery have nailed their colours to the mast of perfecting a core range in the challenging lager market. And by offering an authentic taste of the Czech Republic, they’re winning over drinkers left, right and centre.

A lot can happen in seven months.

On a blistering afternoon at the end of June last year, the team at Bohem Brewery were in the company of 40 or so other outfits pouring their beer at the London Brewers’ Alliance festival. An event held in the venerable surroundings of the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, West London.

The festival, spearheaded by Fuller’s ambassador and former head brewer John Keeling, its then head brewer Georgina Young, and members of the London Brewers Alliance, was a resounding success.

The sun was shining, excellent beer was pouring, and everyone was having a jolly good time. 

But things change

The impending completion of Fuller’s sale to Japanese brewing giant Asahi surely puts this year’s event in doubt. 

The aforementioned Young, in the role of head brewer at Fuller’s since 2017, has departed to pastures both new and old. Returning to the area she grew up to take up the position of head brewer at Bath Ales, a business acquired by St Austell back in 2016. 

Heading up Bath Ales’ Hare Brewery, she reports to Roger Ryman, the group’s brewing director and a figure understandably delighted to be working with a brewer he respects on both a human and professional level.

Weeks before said appointment was announced however, Ryman was busy swapping the South West coast for a sojourn to England’s capital for a brewday with the team at Bohem. 

There’s perhaps some circle of life irony to unravel there, or maybe not. But what is certain is the lager brewed on that day is likely to be very good, very good indeed.

Ryman teamed up with Petr Skocek, Bohem’s co-founder and head brewer as well as Bohem brewer Matej Krizek (below) to produce Otakar Brut Lager.

St Austell’s brewing director transported the yeast used to brew the Cornwall brewery’s Korev lager to London. The recipe, originally developed for a one-off beer called Korev Brut, was given a new twist by being brewed by Ryman and Skocek on Bohem’s decoction brewing kit.

The result is a 6.4% ABV beer named for the several King Otakars who ruled Bohemia, which today sits within the Czech Republic.

Lagered at a low temperature for six weeks, Otakar Brut Lager was brewed with Pilsner, Cara Gold, Acid Malt and maize, along with Magnum, Hersbrucker and Saaz hops, as well as Nelson Sauvin in the dry hop.

Described as having a fresh, vibrant aroma, and initial light citrus tones of lemon and grapefruit, Otakar has low hop bitterness, which combined with the soft carbonation delivers an easy drinking beer that belies its strength. It was also the first time Ryman had made a decoction mash.

Such collaborations, and there’s more to come, are effective indicators of how far the brewery, completed by co-founder Zdenek Kudr and chief tapster Marek Průša, have come since the early brews of Victoria, their 4.2% Session Pils, back in May 2015.

Kudr (above) previously drove trucks across Europe before moving to London in 2010, where he started his own lettings business for Czechs and Slovaks arriving in the capital.

Skocek (below), originally from Pilsen, had made London his home five years prior to Kudr’s arrival. While, he admits, the USA was his planned destination, the opportunity of work proved too much and here we are, 14 years on. 

But there was one part of London life Skocek couldn’t get on board with and that was the lofty price of a pint in the capital. So naturally, he turned to home brewing.

“I knew Petr from games of football we played in Finsbury Park. He’d often bring bottles of beer for people to try, which was very welcome,” explains Kudr. 

Kudr would soon find himself in need of beer, a lot of it. He’d be hosting a party and as was customary at such gatherings, he needed a keg to keep the thirsty guests watered.  Conveniently for Kudr, Skocek had recently brewed a Belgian-style beer with orange peel for the Christmas that has just passed. However the 8% number ended up not being ready in time for the celebrations.

“I bought it off him for £120 and the whole keg, all 50 litres of it, went in about three hours that night. The Czechs, the Slovaks drank every last drop!” he laughs. 

Returning the empty keg, Kudr would regale the beer’s virtues to Skocek, encouraging him to take his beer-making prowess to the next level. But for the brewer, he wasn’t sure where to turn in order to move from a labour of love that enveloped every Saturday, to something more viable.

“The paperwork, premises, resources, finances, the lot,” recalls Kudr. “It was clear he had given it some thought before, but these were all hurdles in the way. “However, we worked things out. I felt I could help, and we shook hands there and then. Bohem Brewery would be established in 2015.”

A modest premises in North London, towards the outer reaches of the capital’s Piccadilly Line, was secured and with it, an equally unassuming one barrel kit and 200 litre kettle. 

Beer produced on that kit include Victoria, a 4.2% Session Pils with a sweet butterscotch and floral aroma. The flavour has a little grapefruit and a touch of sweetness, as well as notes of fresh baked bread, and a building bitterness on the dry, subtly spicy finish.

Amos, its 4.9% Czech Pilsner has subtle lemon and honey in the flavour, balanced by a dry bitterness and a spicy burst that lingers in the aftertaste, while Amber Lager Sparta has bitterness and hop spice complementing the honey and Dundee orange marmalade notes. The aftertaste has orange peel, toffee and a building dry spiciness. 

Though amber beers have fallen out of fashion in the UK market, Sparta had the opposite effect for Bohem. The beer resonated so much with one local drinker, known for his love of variety, that he stuck on the lager for a whole evening during a session at nearby pub, The Prince N22. Not only that, he and another friend sought out the brewery to offer investment.

Such an approach was well-timed, enabling the team to move to a significantly larger facility in Tottenham in early 2018. Beers made here, much like those produced at the existing site, help serve a range of customers including the company’s taproom near Bounds Green, North London.

Its Tottenham brewery comprises 215 square metres, with a brewing capacity of 6000hl a year and, currently, a lagering capacity of 2400hl a year. Bohem produces its beers through decoction brewing, the traditional European brewing style which sees part of the mash boiled, and returned to the main mash to raise the temperature. The process adds the depth, complexity and flavour which characterises authentic Czech lagers. 

2018’s expansion at Bohem not only enabled the brewery to grow but also its team, too. Matěj Křížek, awash with experience from Břevnov Monastery Brewery, one of the oldest micro‘s in the Czech Republic, joined Bohem that March.

At High School, he gained his Maturita certificate, similar to A-Levels, in Food Technology, specializing in brewing beer. Upon joining Břevnov, Matěj brewed many different styles but found he was particularly excited by lagers, and so wanted to specialize in that area.

“I was looking for something that I could do for the rest of my life. I went to a small event where lots of different schools would attend and I saw some demonstration of fermentation,” he recalls. “And there and then my father told me that’s what I was going to do. Why? Because people are going to drink beer for the rest of time. They’re never going to stop, so I’d always have a job!”

Moving to London to be with his girlfriend studying in the captial, Křížek emailed many of London’s breweries but with no luck.

“I had zero responses but thankfully got wind of two Czechs running a brewery in London. I got in touch, they replied within minutes and two weeks later I was here,” he laughs. 

Křížek says the most automated kit he encountered at the Břevnov Monastery Brewery was the keg washer, so to be part of a growing, evolving outfit at Bohem offers up a whole new, exciting experience. But he’s in no rush to push things too fast, either. 

“We are just doing our best and we don’t want to rush things so we opt for quality over quantity,” he says. “As a result, we’re maybe not as visible as we’d like but we have to do what’s right for us.”

Křížek adds: We want to perfect our core range of beers because that’s what our reputation relies on. They are always improving because you have to be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect beer. You can always improve somehow, no matter how minor the detail.” 

Skocek, Kdur and Křížek are passionate about making the best beer they can, trying to reverse the reputation lager has long held in many circles. 

“All lager, regardless of quality, is too easily associated with the cheap and fizzy liquid produced by major brewers and dismissed by CAMRA. The media still uses the term ‘lager louts’ to describe any alcohol-related disorder,” explains Kdur. “However, in the Czech Republic, lager is rightly celebrated for quality. We believe that the same quality standards should be applied in the UK, and is making its quality pledge through the Bohem Lager Manifesto.”

He says: “It is not helpful for consumers that the term ‘lager’ is applied to such a wide range of products of differing quality. In the absence of EU appellation regulation being applied to the traditional lagering method for beer, as it is to Champagne and other food and drink, we are making the quality pledge for our own products and production.”

And in accordance with their own personal manifesto, Kdur says the brewery can guarantee the following: There are no additives, including no added sugar, there is no forced carbonation, its brewing equipment is a bespoke design for brewing lager, manufactured in the Czech Republic, its lager is unfiltered and unpasteurised, only specialist malts designed for brewing lager are used, its lager is always bottom-fermented using specialist lager yeast, no high-gravity concentrate is used, beer is lagered in a precise temperature-controlled fermenter and finally, all its beers are lagered for a minimum of five weeks.

This passion also extends to the way their beer is served. Marek Průša (above), the brewery’s chief tapster, is a Certified Pilsner Urquell Tapster and has more than 20 years experience in the Czech Republic, and latterly at Galvin Hop in Spitalfields. He is responsible for the expertly-poured beers found at the brewery’s North London taproom.

For Zdur, the taproom is an essential part of the Bohem jigsaw and something he’d like to see grow, too.

“Successful breweries tend to have their own retail source, which helps make a significant contribution to cash flow. It is so important,” he explains. “I’d like us to open more bars, giving us the opportunity to showcase our beers while offering guest taps to the many other breweries across London. We promote their beers, they promote ours, and everyone wins.” 

Zdur is particularly keen to push this aspect of the business in what he sees as an increasingly competitive market and one in which Bohem needs to stand its ground in. 

“Too many people are competing on price, and that’s not something we wanted to be involved in. Instead we remain focused on quality and creating a premium product,” he says. “Sure, you would never call it a premium product because that term is meaningless today. If something says it’s ‘Premium’ on the package it normally means the complete opposite.”

He adds: “We are not focused on producing many one-off beers. That works for some, but not us. I’m more concerned with cementing what we do and giving people confidence in what they buy from us.

“I think that the craft beer revolution in the UK is almost dead. It’s not going to move anywhere else because realistically, everything has already been done. So now is the time for a really good quality, consistent, core range of beers.

“There are many breweries in the UK but within the next 10 years I see 30% of those going bust because they’ve not prioritised correctly. People want reliability and they want consistency, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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A new brewery tour business, Ale Hunters, has been set up with the goal of showing guest the best of beer in Belgium.

Ale Hunters, founded by Beer sommelier Paul Davies, will take guests from London to the best breweries and beer festivals in Belgium.

Designed for between 8-10 guests, upcoming trips include the ‘Toer de Geuze’ in May which takes place every two years.

For wild beer fans this trip will also include visits to Flemish Red and Oud Bruin producers. Future tours include the ‘Antwerp and Beer Passion Weekend’ in June and ‘Wallonia and Namur Capital de la Biere’ in July. 

Paul Davies, explained: ‘When I left Fuller’s last last year I had just returned from yet another trip to Belgium and managed to pack in six brewery visits.

“After visiting the country so frequently for almost 30 years I decided it would be a good time to share my knowledge and love for Belgium with fans of quality beer.”

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The Tate Modern is to mark Anzac Day with its first tap takeover event to feature Australian and New Zealand breweries.

Beers from 8 Wired, Funk Estate, Yeastie Boys, Stone & Wood, Nomad and Young Henrys will be pouring as well as a range of meals and snacks inspired by both Australia and New Zealand. 

The full beer list is as follows:

  • 8 Wired: Ghost Chips IPA
  • Funk Estate: Afrogato Stout 
  • Yeastie Boys: The Droste Effect West Coast IPA
  • Stone & Wood: Killer Kween Imperial Berlinner Weisse
  • Nomad: Beach House Sour Pale Ale 5%
  • Young Henrys: Newtowner Australian Pale Ale 4.8%

In addition, future Tate Modern Tap Takeovers include Beavertown in May and Siren Craft Brew in June.

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Northern Monk has collaborated with Sheffield sauce institution Henderson’s Relish to produce ‘Bloody Mary Porter’.

Leeds-based Northern Monk has today launched ‘Bloody Mary Porter’, a beer many thought was an April’s Fool’s prank when it was unveiled at the start of the month.

The Henderson’s Relish Bloody Mary Porter is a 5.0% rich, lightly smoked porter inspired by the savoury cocktail, infused with subtle spice and finished with relish.

The beer is brewed with Henderson’s Relish, cayenne pepper, ancho chilli and Szechuan pepper. 

Russell Bisset, founder of Northern Monk, explained: “Henderson’s Relish is without a doubt one of Yorkshire’s most-loved brands. It’s a true Northern institution.

“The way this product has united the Sheffield community is an inspiration. Like us, they came from humble beginnings, but through hard work, a consistent product, and clear focus on their local area, they’ve built a legacy. Here’s to the next 100 years of Hendo’s.”

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The Brewers Lectures come to Nottingham for the first time this June as part of the 2019 Nottingham Craft Beer Week.

Talks on brand building, filtration, malt, marketing and brewing great beer are all on the agenda for the inaugural Brewers Lectures in Nottingham this June.

The event takes place at The Canalhouse on the afternoon of June 12th, featuring leading lights from across the brewing industry.

Tickets are available on a donation basis here, along with full details of the day.

The full line-up of talented speakers is below. Join us on what will be a great afternoon!

Hannah Davidson | Brewery Consultant  

Hannah is a freelance brewery consultant with a background in sales, events and communications who has over 12 years experience in the beer industry. Hannah has previously worked with Marble Brewery, East London Brewing Company, Fuller’s brewery, and several award winning pubs.

Stu McKinlay | Yeastie Boys 

In the four short years since moving to the UK from New Zealand, Stu McKinlay has become a familiar and popular part of the UK brewing industry. Beers such as ‘Digital IPA’ and ‘Gunnamatta’ are mainstays while a burgeoning number of newer releases such as ‘Joy Juice’ and ‘White Palace’ have ensured the business is finding new fans across the board.

Jamie Ramshaw | Simpsons Malt

Jamie Ramshaw is the UK Technical Sales Manager at Simpsons Malt. Jamie has more than two decades worked closely with most of the UK brewing industry in his previous roles at Murphy and Sons and Wells & Youngs.

Roger Ryman | St Austell

Roger Ryman wrote his name into UK brewing history when he created St Austell ‘Tribute’ nearly 20 years ago. Much has changed since he first produced that ale in 1999 but with the subsequent, popular creation of numbers like ‘Proper Job’, ‘Bad Habit’, ‘Gem’ and ‘Black Square’, beers that have picked up awards across the globe, Ryman, brewing director at St Austell, has helped guarantee ongoing success for the historic Cornish brewery. His expertise in brewing is difficult to rival.

Alex Troncoso | Lost and Grounded Brewers

Alex Troncoso is the co-founder of Bristol’s Lost and Grounded Brewers. Known for their standout flagship Keller Pils, this unfiltered lager epitomises which they are about: understated simplicity and creating something delicious and complex. Troncoso’s brewing journey is more than 20 years in the making. His CV includes roles at Little Creatures in Fremantle, Australia, Camden Town Brewery and most importantly, his own brewery co-founded with partner Annie Clements.  Alex has a BSc in Chem Eng, Grad Cert and Diploma’s in Brewing, and an MBA.

Meghan Waites | Beavertown Brewery

Meghan Waites is the events coordinator extraordinaire at London’s Beavertown Brewery. Before moving to London, Meghan spent four years at Thornbridge Brewery organising and executing events, travelling across the UK creating specialist events with a range of diverse venues from independent bottle shops to large scale pub chains.

Rod White | University of Nottingham

Rod White is the assistant professor at the International Centre for Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham, UK. A Master Brewer and Brewing Academic, he now runs the Global Filtration User Group at the International Centre for Brewing Science at Nottingham University. Rod was formerly a senior technical brewer with Bass / Molson Coors with experience in troubleshooting problems all over the world.

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