East Lancs Micropub Tour

In September 2018, a small posse of unlikely lads from Trafford & Hulme CAMRA branch set off from Manchester on the WitchWay bus to explore East Lancashire’s growing offer of micropubs.

Carefully synchronised to avoid the hoards descending upon Turf Moor for the Burnley v Bournemouth match, we arrived in Burnley just after 3pm and headed for New Brew- M. Disaster loomed when the expedition leader found the doors locked to the bar he’d only visited a few weeks previously. However, panic over when it was discovered that New Brew-M had just moved across the road to larger premises. The popular town centre micro is an outlet for the town’s Reedley Hallows brewery and the Pendleside and New Laud Dark were sampled, the former going down particularly well. The bar normally has a guest ale and also on offer was beer from Offilers Brewery in Derby.

Re-joining the excellent and regular X43 (group day-riders come at a value for money £19 for up to 5 people), we headed up to Colne where three micropubs are huddled together in a row.. First up was the Tapsters Promise and a broad range was on offer here with Rammy Craft Trung Viet Coffee Stout possibly the pick of the bunch. Also sampled were Beer Brothers Session IPA and Wishbone Night Star Key Keg, the latter evidencing the trend for micropubs to be open to mixing cask and keg. This aptly provides the name of the third bar in the line Cask n’ Keg, where we had Theakston’s Barista keg stout and another offering from Reedley Hallows – Old Lawns Bitter. Squeezed in between was Boyce’s Bar (photo inside Boyces Bar) where some found the beer slightly off form from a normally high standard. Upham’s Punter and Bosum’s Mocha Stout were tried here.

Following a traditional back street chippy tea, we started our journey back alighting in Haslingden to squeeze into the very popular and crowded Hop. The group went for a variety of brews here including Half Moon’s F’Hops Sake, Brewsmith Bitter, Deeply Vale Hop Ale and Acorn Wolf IPA. This was followed by a short walk up to the equally popular brewpub Northern Whisper where there was a generally lukewarm reception from our ranks for Yammerhouse, Soft Mick, Small Talk and Blighty. Our final pitstop was an enjoyable one at Casked , a ‘steamed-up’ micro where the beer was in good form including Irwell Valley’s Breadcrumbs and also Marshmallow Unicorn Milk Stout, and Brewsmiths IPA.

Casked, Haslingden

Canned_ciderAfter a scrum to get to Casked’s sole loo, the intrepid crew sailed happily home on the X43 with worries that one of the branch’s stalwarts had hit the canned cider! . Rest assured, it was only a bout of public-spirited litter picking duty.

It was an enjoyable day where we sampled a good range of micropubs proving that not all of the latest beer trends are the preserve of the big cities, nor are the cities the only places to sample good ale. Thank you East Lancs for your hospitality. We shall return.

Tim Field – Trafford & Hulme CAMRA

Explaining Beer Containers – Casks, kegs & KeyKegs

This is an expanded version of the piece which appeared in Beer Buzz January-March 2019

On the way from the brewery to your glass, beer is delivered from a variety of containers, including bottles, cans, kegs, casks and KeyKegs. You all know about bottles and cans, you probably know about casks but what about keg and KeyKeg?

Before we go on, we had better briefly mention the difference between container conditioning and brewery conditioning – we will return to this subject in more detail in future issues.

If beer is container conditioned it means that when put into the container, it still has some yeast and sugars and can continue to ferment and mature in the container. This gives a natural carbon dioxide (CO2) ‘condition’ to the beer – gas is dissolved in the beer naturally and produces the head and ‘bubbles’ when released into your glass. If the beer is pasteurised and/or filtered, then the yeast is killed and/or removed and the beer doesn’t ‘condition’ in the container . It will typically have CO2 (or nitrogen) injected under pressure to give the head and bubbles.

Some beers are conditioned in tanks at the brewery before putting into casks so the beer in the container is ‘bright’ – it contains very little yeast but is not pasteurised. Brewery conditioned beer can be “primed” with the addition of sugar and/or a small amount of yeast at packaging to gain condition in the container without having any significant impact on the flavour.

Generally, most cask beer contains yeast, while mass market keg lagers and “smooth” beers are filtered/pasteurised and artificially carbonated. The modern generation of keg & KeyKeg beers blur the boundaries as the beer they contain can be container or brewery conditioned.

The Cask

The cask is the container from which most ‘real ale’ is served. Most casks are made of stainless steel, although many smaller breweries use lower cost plastic casks. Some breweries still use some traditional wooden casks for special beers – these impart additional flavours to the beer. The Society For The Preservation of Beers from the Wood continues to encourage brewers to keep the traditions of wooden casks alive.

Usually containing some yeast when filled, cask real ale continues to ‘condition’ in the brewery and/or pub cellar. Cask beer is “vented” before service, allowing the carbonation to settle to a natural low level prior to being served. Lower carbonation is one aspect which sets cask ale apart from other formats. Cask ale is most commonly served from hand-pumps but is sometimes directly from the cask (as at beer festivals). In a small number of pubs it is pumped using electric or gas driven pumps to taps either on the bar or on the back wall.

Cask beer can be ‘fined’ (where a material, usually isinglass, is added to help the yeast drop to the bottom), or ‘unfined’ when the yeast drops naturally, sometimes leaving a ‘haze’ to the beer which is quite natural and not a fault.

Traditionally, the cask is placed on its side and beer poured or drawn from a tap inserted at the bottom. A more modern method of service allows casks to be stored upright and served using ‘spears’ that draw beer from the bottom or ‘widges’ that float just below the surface of the beer. The float systems mean the beer is always drawn from the top and therefore avoids the risk of drawing yeast sediment into the feed – assuming of course that the cask has been allowed to settle in the cellar!

As the beer is drawn out, air is drawn in either through a porous spile placed in the shive (the opening at the top of the cask) or, if the cask is vertical, through a vent that forms part of the extraction device.

Air is cask beer’s enemy and will result in the beer oxidising and spoiling if not sold within around 3 days. There is a device called a ‘cask breather’ that draws in CO2 at low pressure to replace the beer drawn out – this can help to prolong the life of a cask beer before it spoils. Some drinkers don’t approve of cask breathers and for many years CAMRA barred beers served on cask-breathers from being listed in the Good Beer Guide. This has now beer withdrawn with CAMRA neither encouraging or discouraging the use of cask breathers.

The Keg

This is the container that most of the major mass-market beers come in – the heavily branded ales and lagers which form the majority of beer drunk in pubs.

These mass-market beers have no yeast in the keg and the beer is pressured from a gas bottle (usually either pure CO2 or a mix of 60% CO2 & 40% nitrogen) in order to get it from the cellar to the tap. Keg beers usually pass through a flash cooler to give the ‘ice cold’ beer that the marketing folks love.

‘Smoothflow’ keg beers (including Guinness) use nitrogen instead of CO2 and are served using a mix of 70% nitrogen and 30% CO2.

Many newer ‘craft’ beers are also served from kegs. Most of these are not ‘conditioned’ in the keg but they will often have lower carbonation than the mass-market lagers and are intended to be served warmer.

The keg connector applies pressure from the top, forcing the beer out from the bottom of the keg via the spear. The pressure applied and the gas used can affect the product in the glass and it is up to the landlord to set the pressure appropriately for the beer. Unfortunately, many pub cellars are set up for serving mass market lagers without the adjustment needed for serving lower carbonation ‘craft kegs’ which can result in ‘craft’ keg beers not being served as the brewer intended.

Most kegs are made from stainless steel, but there are now several variants of plastic keg in widespread use (brands including Dolium & EcoKeg) – these are intended to be disposable, removing the need for brewers to collect empty kegs.

You should not confuse a keg with a KeyKeg, which is a relatively recent invention…

The KeyKeg

KeyKegs are an invention of a Dutch company called Lightweight Containers. They consist of an outer plastic container with an inner non-porous flexible bag that contains the beer. Pressurised gas or air is fed into the gap between the outer and inner containers and the beer is forced out of the feed at the top of the Key-Keg to the tap – the bag collapsing as beer leaves.

The gas never touches the beer so the carbonation level is set by the brewer and cannot be changed by settings in the pub cellar (although it I possible to “vent” a KeyKeg – or any keg for that matter – to reduce the carbonation).

If the beer is conditioned in the KeyKeg, as the gas used for serving it never touches the beer, such beers meet CAMRA’s definition of ‘real ale’. Some brewers are intentionally producing KeyKeg conditioned ales which contain active yeast although the majority of KeyKeg beers are brewery conditioned.

The beer exits via the top of the container with any yeast/sediment collecting at the bottom of the bag – KeyKeg conditioned beers need to be settled in the cellar just like a cask (although KeyKeg conditioned beers are rarely fined so will likely have a ‘haze’).

The majority of the plastic of a KeyKeg is PET, the same material as plastic bottles, however as they need to be dismantled, the UKs recycling industry still makes recycling KeyKegs difficult.

To counter this, the manufacturers have initiated a “OneCircle” project to build a network of collection hubs as part of a logistics operation to route used plastic kegs for recycling, initially in the Netherlands.

Hopefully, this helps you understand how your beer gets from the brewer to your glass. Now what the brewer puts into the container, that is an entirely different discussion!

This article has been adapted from an original piece written by Jack Summers-Glass for InnQuirer, the magazine of CAMRA’s Furness branch.

Brewer’s Corner – Beer Buzz Meets Beatnikz Republic

This is an extended version of the version which appears in Beer Buzz January – March 2019.

Grimsby born Paul Greetham is the founder of Beatnikz Republic Brewery, based on Red Bank in Manchester’s Green Quarter and  their eponymous bar on the corner of Tariff Street & Dale Street in the Northern Quarter. Beer Buzz met up to quiz him on his beer journey so far….

Where did your beer journey begin?
At Big Hands and Sandbar in Manchester.  I came to Manchester to study a Leisure Management degree, swapping to English after a year. At Big Hands I discovered the newly imported Brooklyn Lager while Sandbar offered Fruli, the Belgian Strawberry beer. I particularly remember being blown away by a bottle of Schneider Aventinus Eisbock that somebody bought for me in Big Hands. I had never tasted such complex flavours.

From there I slowly built a love for beer. I moved to London in the late noughties and not long after Kernel were setting up and became a regular visitor in the early years of the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Work began taking me to the USA and New York in particular, where The Rattle & Hum, a back street German inspired boozer became a favourite. They  introduced me to a new world of hop flavours including one seminal night where first tasted Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA – wow!!!!

That was the night I first decided that when I returned to the UK I was going to start brewing. I announced this to my friends who thought it was just the beer talking.

So did you start brewing?

Yes – from the kitchen of a one bed flat in London I brewed my first Simcoe & Citra IPA shortly after that trip. I then brewed constantly every Saturday, quickly progressing to double brewing with multiple fermenters to fill. We held an increasing number of barbeques to get people round to drink the beers. Overall, I must have done 100 brews in the first year in that flat.

In 2015, I was one of the early members of UBrew, the crowdfunded shared brew plant, where I brewed my first commercial beer, Beach Bum, on their 100 litre kit. I hawked the bottles around bars in South East London and didn’t look back.

A year later, I was gypsy and contract brewing my recipes wherever I could find capacity – my beer was brewed as far afield as Hartlepool & Scotland. However, I was often unhappy with the way the finished product turned out – I wasn’t in control. It was clear that to make the beer taste like I wanted it to, I needed my own brewery to keep control – which brought me to a railway arch in Manchester in January 2017.

Why Manchester?

My wife Dagmar was working in Huddersfield, commuting from London two or three times a week.  I knew Manchester from being a student here and know if had an expanding beer scene so it made sense.

I found the railway arch on Red Bank online and put a bid in on it without ever having seen it. I did a course at Dave Porter Brewery Installations to learn how his brew kit worked and started planning on installing a 10 barrel kit backed by investment from friends & family.

Unfortunately one of the investors dropped out so I had to downscale to a 4 barrel plant but with 8 barrel fermenters.

When you moved to Manchester, what were your ambitions?

Being honest – to get to a point where I could create recipes and get someone else to brew it. My interest was in recipes and the business side.

Brewing as a one man band was damned hard work. When I started in Manchester, I had never done a full size commercial brew from start to finish. I learnt by my mistakes and strived to make each batch better.

As we got established in Manchester, I had great support with listings with supportive distributors including near neighbours Blackjack Beers and Bury’s WDS. Fifteen months in, I’d reached my targets but the physical work was taking its toll on the body. I decided that I needed to employ a brewer but to pay a wage on top of my own, I knew I had to increase my volumes.

Was that where you started producing cask ale?

Not directly. In my time in London, cask wasn’t on my radar – it didn’t feature majorly in the bars I frequented. The only cask ale I can recall drinking and loving was a pint of Five Points Pale in the Southampton Arms in Highgate – I remember tasting it and thinking “wow, that’s really good”. However, other bars might have had cask available but they also had so much more to entice me so I didn’t partake.

When I arrived back in Manchester, I started drinking in The Pilcrow, The Marble Arch & The Smithhfield where cask ale was prominent and as I tried them, I discovered the cask beers were every bit as good as the keg beers and often better.

I was loving drinking cask beer, but when it came to brewing it, I couldn’t afford to invest in the hundreds of casks I’d need to sell it so kept on brewing for cans & keykeg.

Eventually,  industry friends put me in contact with rental company KegStar who offered me a pallet of rental casks. I grabbed the opportunity and planned a brew to fill them. That pallet was pre-sold before it was brewed, as were the next two pallets and the next….

Although I’d never brewed a beer for cask, even in my homebrew days, I was given some pointers by friends and quickly learnt to brew cask ale on the job. We’ve had very few problems since – the odd cask gone wrong but few and far between.

Now between 60 & 70% of our production is cask. It doesn’t yield the same margins as our keg production but it sells more steadily and more quickly giving us a stable base.

What’s the brewery capacity?

We’ve expanded to five fermentation tanks and three conditioning tanks doing double brew days four days a week. We’ve got three full time brewery staff – head brewer Lewis Birch who came to us from Magic Rock, Lee Coates who was previously with Blackjack and James Ardwick who is a recent graduate from Heriot Watt – plus Rosie who runs sales & operations and a part time delivery driver

You closed the brewery tap room not long after it opened – why?

It as a lot of work running the brewery on my own and the tap room just added to that work. I got somebody in to run it for me to reduce my work, but it still meant work to prepare the brewery for opening every week. For whatever reason the location just didn’t attract enough foot fall on a consistent enough basis – we had some great days at the tap room but other times were quiet. Ultimately the numbers meant it just wasn’t worth the effort for the income it generated. We now have a cold store where the bar used to be.

But now you have a bar. How did that come about?

It wasn’t really in the plans but a friend who is a commercial surveyor kept talking to me about properties he was seeing in the city. Out of nowhere, I was contacted by an investor who wanted to invest in the brewery. I wasn’t interested in sharing my equity in the brewery so I turned them down. However, I then got thinking on what I could do with investment so I pitched opening a bar – they got straight back to me and agreed.  

A few days later the deal was done and we started looking for the right site.

How was the process?

All things considered, not too bad.

We lost out on our first site which would have been perfect due to legal delays with the landlord sorting out the lease. The site on the corner of Tariff Street and Dale Street was only the second site that we seriously viewed and when I walked in I knew it was right – good space, great neighbors in Idle Hands coffee and in a part of town which is on the up.

Our first choice of bar fitters didn’t work out but once we got past that, our solicitors were great with sorting out the lease, we found a good architect who completed the design and planning and the licensing was straightforward. Our contractors Lancaster Construction were amazing, working day & night to turn a 12 week fit out around in 5 weeks.

The bar has been really well received by our customers. Even when we were in our soft opening phase when we didn’t have proper seating or toilets at the bar, feedback was good. Now it is fully finished we are really pleased with it. We started with a Burning Sky takeover for our soft opening and then had Overworks for our full opening weekend We are developing a regular programme of events including a games night on the last Sunday of the month and DJs on Fridays & Saturdays.

What’s your favourite beer or brewery?

Of my own, it’s Beach Bum – it was the first beer I brewed commercially & it was the first beer I canned. I hadn’t actually drank it for a while but I had a pint a week or so back and I’d loved it – I love the Mosaic & Azzacca hops.

I believe Burning Sky are the top brewery in Britain today – everything they do is great. Internationally I think Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn can do little wrong. I was fortunate to meet him once, he was so down to earth and I still heed the advice he gave me as a fledgling brewer – hit your targets and keep it simple.

What does the future hold?

We’ve just started exporting with a pallet of casks shipped to Sweden. We had to double check taht they really wanted casks.

We’re going to start canning again in January and we’ve already got enquiries for cans from Italy, France & Holland. We expect that canning will take up all of our remaining capacity so growth by some means or other is on the cards.