Beer Buzz meets Marble Beers director Jan Rogers

Marble Brewery

Marble Beers have been at the forefront of Manchester’s brewing scene for over 20 years. They have come a long way since the legendary Brendan Dobbin first helped install a second hand four-barrel plant in the rear of the Marble Arch pub with the fermenters in the cellar of the pub in 1997.

In 2009 the brewery moved just down the hill from the Marble Arch to a new 12-barrel plant in premises on Williamson Street. Now as they enter their 22nd year, they have said farewell to Manchester and relocated to new premises in Salford with a shiny new 2,500 litre (approximately 15 barrel) state of the art plant installed by premium brewery fabricator Gravity Systems, who have been responsible for installations at leading breweries including The Kernel, Wylam and Burning Sky.

At the helm of the brewery since the beginning has been director Jan Rogers. 

Jan and then partner Vance de Bechevel were already successful operators at the forefront of the burgeoning micro-brewing scene in the 1990s with Vance having taken on The Marble Arch in 1988 and the couple going on to run Chorlton’s Marble World Beers Off-licence (living above the shop), followed by the nearby The Bar and Bar 2 when they began the brewery.

Beer Buzz met up with Jan at The Marble Arch to explore the Marble Beers journey.

Why did you decide to set up a brewery?

It was partly for the economics of selling our own beer but also to give people a reason to come to the pub. Even in 1997, competition was tough. Manchester was cool with the Hacienda, Dry Bar, etc, but the Marble Arch wasn’t cool. We needed to help keep the pub in the local consciousness – a brewery was a unique offering.

How did the brewery begin?

Right back from 1988, the Arch had sold beers from Brendan Dobbin’s West Coast Brewery along with Tony Allen’s Phoenix Brewery. Brendan found us the brewery plant and provided many of the original recipes. Mark Dade was running the pub and became the first brewer. 

Initially we only sold the beer in our own pubs but others were wanting our beer elsewhere so we started selling the odd cask. Sales began to grow organically. When Mark left to set up Boggart Hole Clough brewery, it was Brendan that found us James Campbell and it was the triumvirate of James, Dominic Driscoll and Colin Strong that really built our reputation.

Why did the brewery move out of The Arch?

We had outgrown the space we had and the building was crumbling around it. We did look at putting an extension on the back of the pub to house the new brewery but the finances just didn’t work out. 

So we moved to a railway arch with a brand new kit from Vince Johnson Brewing Design. The brewers had space and were having a ball making some amazing beers. As sales continued to grow, we learnt that a split-level site maybe wasn’t the best idea. By the end, it was not a great place to work – everybody was falling over themselves in the brewery and the office staff were half a mile away above 57 Thomas Street.

And so a move to Salford?

We spent a long time looking for a new site in the local area, we met with every agency, lots of developers. But with all the development around the Green Quarter, with every space we found, there was a more lucrative use for the space than running a brewery. So eventually we looked elsewhere and found the new site near Media City.

It’s great that we’ve been able to bring the whole team back together – head office and brewery all in one building. People are getting used to travelling a bit further to work and there is a bit of relearning of sharing a space required – the brewers can’t have their music as loud as they like it for a start – but we are getting there.

The first Marble brewery kit went on to a new life with Blackjack Beers. What’s happened to the second one?

We sold it to Brinkburn Street Brewery in Newcastle Upon Tyne. We’ve known the owner there Lee Renshaw for some time and helped him start his business. Now they are increasing their production, it’s great to have been able to help them again.

The new Marble plant is relatively modest by modern standards. Was there not a temptation to get a bigger kit?

We like the size we are. We are growing modestly but there’s a duty break at 5,000 hectolitres a year and we have no current ambitions to grow beyond that. The new plant and site does allow room to grow in the future but that will be something for Joe (Head of Production) to look at when the time comes. 

Pint pump clip

The brewers have got a couple of 50hl tanks which allows the team to brew enough Manchester Bitter and Pint to meet demand – they are the backbone of the brewery and give the brewers the freedom to make other beers. 

Joe may decide to grow beyond 5,000 hl at some point but for now we are happy.

So Marble won’t be appearing on supermarket shelves nationwide any time soon?

I have nothing against supermarkets and it’s great that people can pick up a great tasting beer with their shopping. But as a businesswoman, it’s not for me – I don’t like the control that big businesses like that can have over their suppliers. We did work with Waitrose through Fullers, but Fullers dealt with that side. 

I don’t begrudge those that have gone down the supermarket route, each to their own and if that’s a model that suits them, all power to them. But ultimately, if supermarkets were the be all and end all, there would only be a handful of breweries left. We like being small, we like being independent and intend to stay that way.

Where do you see Marble fitting in to the ‘craft’ scene.

That’s for you to tell us. 

I don’t consider us ‘craft’ – we just do what we do. We do ‘traditional’ and we do ‘modern’ – I don’t know what that makes us. We were called ‘New Wave’ at one point but that didn’t seem right either. 

Manchester Bitter

Our mission is to straddle the genres. We want people to appreciate the full spectrum that beer has to offer. There is still a lot going for the subtle flavours of a pint of traditional English ale.  There does seem to be a growing appreciation that there is more to beer than 12% stouts and extremely hopped beers and that’s something we are passionate about.

Hopefully we are seeing the end of the beer scene arguing about different styles and different formats with people learning that it all has its place and is what makes beer great.  

We’ve got a really great and stable team down the brewery. Joe is at the helm, organising and planning. He started at Phoenix in Heywood and through his time with Buxton and Magic Rock, he’s got the experience of a growing brewery. 

Slaw is lead brewer and is about to step up to run the brewery while Joe is on paternity leave.  I asked him recently if he was going to be OK when Joe goes on leave – “No problem”, he said, “I’ve done it before (when Matt Howgate left)”. Paul and Carl have been with us for a few years now, providing solid backup to Joe and Slaw, and we’ve just taken on Andy who has joined us from Phoenix. And last but no means least is Graham running the dray. 

Marble Brewery Team
Marble Beers team:
Left to right Back Row, Joe, Carl, Magda; Left to right Front Row, Diana, Karen, Slaw, Andy and Paul.
Photo: Marble Beers

The brewery will have a tap room?

Yes, it won’t be large and it won’t be fancy but we are looking forward to welcoming people to the brewery. We’ve built a blockwork bar but the rest of the design is only just coming together. We plan to offer eight keg beers and three cask and will open Thursday and Friday late afternoon/evening then all day Saturday and Sunday. 

With Seven Bro7hers and Pomona Island Breweries and taprooms just the other side of Weaste cemetery, we hope people will come out and see us. 

We also plan to offer brewery tours – something we just couldn’t do at the old site as it wasn’t safe to do so. 

The Marble Beers Tap Room is expected to be open by the time Beer Buzz hits the streets. It will open from Thursday to Sunday offering eight keg lines and three cask lines. It’s located at 7 Boston Court, Salford, M50 2GN. Nearest Metrolink stop Langworthy.

Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) – how it works

The Champion Beer Of Britain (CBoB) competition is one of CAMRA’s flagship awards and is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards by the breweries in the United Kingdom that win it. 

There are eight CBoB areas, – these are London & South East, South West, East Anglia, East Midlands, West Midlands, North East & Yorkshire, Scotland & Northern Ireland and North West – these don’t mirror the 16 CAMRA regions, and some CBoB areas cover more than one CAMRA region.  

There are currently competitions covering 11 beer styles – milds, bitters, best bitters, golden ales, strong bitters, speciality beers, old ales/strong milds, stouts, porters and barley wines/strong old ales, and bottled varieties. CAMRA is currently reviewing its beer styles guide so these styles may change in future.

Nominations process

Every year in September CAMRA members  nominate their favourite beers, up to five in each style. Also at this stage, tasting panels from each CAMRA region have their chance to nominate beers they believe should go forward to the next stage. The results from members’ votes, and the tasting panel nominations  form a short list of the most recommended beers.

Ideally the next stage is for local judging. This is usually at CAMRA or pub based beer festivals, to give the opportunity to select an area winner. This can be a prestigious local award. These choices can then go forward to judging at The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) and GBBF Winter (for the four winter beer styles – old ales/strong milds, stouts, porters and barley wines/strong old ales) and, hence, to find CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain (and Champion Winter Beer of Britain).

The Finals

At the GBBF the final CBoB category judging of the area winners takes place, with one winning beer from the Speciality Beer, Mild and Strong Bitter categories, coupled with two each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories proceeding into the final round in order to judge the Supreme Champion, which is crowned the best beer in Britain. The reason for two beers each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories is to accommodate for the proportionate share of the commercial beer market these beer styles command.

Four beers are fast tracked to the final round at GBBF; these are the winners of each category of the Champion Winter Beer of Britain (CWBoB) competition, held at the GBBF Winter festival in January-February each year. As these beers were judged to be the Champion Beers of their style earlier in the year, they are entered automatically into the final round of CBoB.

The CWBoB competition is similar in its structure to CBoB, as the final round of judging is made up of beers having reached this stage via the process of CAMRA members’ and tasting panels’ nominations, followed by area competition success. The categories in this competition are Old Ales/Strong Milds, Porters, Stouts and Barley Wines/Strong Old Ales.

There is a separate competition for the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain (which now includes cans too). Like CBoB the structure of the competition relies upon CAMRA members and tasting panel nominations, followed by the area competitions, with the final usually held at the BBC Good Food Show in November.

Eligibility

Beers are categorised according to their ABV, as it is now considered that this is more reflective of style and easier for most beer drinkers to understand.  To be eligible for CBOB, a cask conditioned bitter, best bitter, strong bitter or golden ale must be available for seven or more months of the year, and a cask conditioned mild or speciality beer must be available for three or more months of the year, or the cask beer must be one of the beer styles associated with the winter season. We also categorise according to their Original Gravity (OG). If we have two beers with the same abv then we turn to the OG.

Beers with misleadingly promoted geographical origin, brands with non-cask versions promoted using CAMRA awards, or beers which have sexist or otherwise discriminatory pump clips or other branding are excluded.

Graham Donning

Roll out the barrels


Beer festival organisers herald another successful festival

An extended version of the review from our April – June 2019 issue…..

There was a treat in store for visitors to the preview session of January’s Manchester Beer and Cider Festival when the UK’s only independent Master Cooper gave a demonstration of his craft.

Organisers invited Alastair Simms from Yorkshire Cooperage to complement one of the new attractions, the Beers from the Wood bar. Arranged with support from the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, both Alastair and the bar proved big hits with festival goers at Manchester Central’s great hall. The bar was so popular, it had been drunk dry three hours before Saturday’s closing time, as drinkers sampled both traditional and new beers put into oak and chestnut barrels.

Photo: James Darcey
Continue reading “Roll out the barrels”

Bar Buzz EXTRA – April 2019

Beer Expos at The Prairie Schooner

Urmston’s Prairie Schooner Taphouse let Beer Buzz know about a new series of events,

Although their main commitment will always be to local brewers, they are launching a series of regional beer showcases on the first weekend of every month.

Their first ‘Beer Expo’ at the start of April focussed on London brewers. This will be ,followed by Wales and the Peak District at the beginning and end of May respectively (latter forming part of a larger beer, cider and music festival)

Showcases dedicated to breweries from Newcastle, Bristol, Scotland and Leeds are also being planned.  

Dates for your diary:

  • Welsh Beer Expo is scheduled for the first weekend of May (brewers TBA)
  • Spring Cider & Music festival will kick off with a cider & cheese night on Weds, May 22nd. Local bands will be playing live music daily on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday (acts and cidermakers TBA)
  • Peak District Beer Expo will begin with a Thornbridge cask and keg tap takeover with street food on Weds, May 29th (other brewers TBA)
New craft beer bar & restaurant for King Street

As Beer Buzz Issue 2 went to press, news broke of a new venue set to open on King Street, Manchester.

The Mash Tun is due to open on April 19th in the site formerly occupied by Grafene Restaurant at 55 King Street.

The venue is being opened by Adam Regan who opened Stage and Radio bar beside Port Street Beer House in the Northern Quarter and Scott Martin who runs Fundamentum bakery on Piccadilly Place, working with Grafene’s former owners Paul & Kathryn Roden.

It promises a host of local ‘real ales’ and beers from local breweries including
CloudwaterRunaway and Beatnikz Republic and a range of their own ales. Advertising a total of 26 taps along a 12m long bar, it’s not clear if there will be any cask conditioned beers available.

The menu will include a mix and match selection of ten different sausages and ten different mashes, with choice of gravies. There will also be ligher lunch options and baked goods from Fundamentum’s bakery.

The venue will feature live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with the bar due to be open until 3am. at weekends.

Talking Tech – The battle between good and bad carbon dioxide

An extended version of the article from Beer Buzz April – June 2019 issue.

In our last article we looked at the some of the containers that beer comes in. This time we are taking a look at something which divides many beer lovers – the role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in beer.

Let’s start by getting one thing out in the open – all beer should have carbon-dioxide dissolved in it. Whether it is a pint of Holt’s cask conditioned mild or Fosters made in Heineken’s factory in Moss Side, there is CO2 in your beer. There are many things that make the two drinks different – that one would be considered ‘flat’ and the other ‘fizzy’ is just one of them.

Carbonation, also referred to in brewing as ‘condition’, is measured in ‘volumes of CO2’. A volume is the space that the carbon-dioxide would take up at a standard atmospheric pressure at a temperature of 0° C. In other words, if a gallon of beer contained 2 volumes of CO2, the CO2 by itself would occupy the same space as two gallons.

A well-kept cask ale at cellar temperature should contain approximately 1.1 volumes of carbon-dioxide. A typical mass-market lager would be expected to contain 2.4 to 2.6 volumes of CO2 where a carbonated soft drink will typically have between 3 and 3.5 volumes. The reaction of the palate to the dissolved carbon-dioxide in your beer is part of the flavour profile – be it the gentle tingle on the tongue of good cask ale or the more pronounced ‘bite’ of a keg beer.

‘Nitro-keg’ beers (including the ubiquitous Guinness) are another category again – these tend to have low volumes of dissolved carbon-dioxide – in the 1.2 – 1.5 volumes region but also have nitrogen injected into them. The nitrogen has smaller bubbles which gives the characteristic ‘creamy’ appearance and mouthfeel. 

There are several ways carbon-dioxide gets dissolved in beer, but the most common is that it is generated naturally during the fermentation process. As yeast sets to work converting sugars in the wort to alcohol, the main biproduct is CO2.  

Many brewers will ferment in sealed tanks so that the naturally generated gas carbonates the beer while others ‘force carbonate’ either by applying CO2 at high pressure and low temperature or by forcing CO2 through the beer using a device known as a carbonation stone (for those of a certain age – think of a SodaStream in action).

A ‘Closed Conical Vessel (CCV)’ at Manchester Union Brewing Company

During cask conditioning, the carbon-dioxide generated during secondary fermentation in the cask is trapped in the sealed cask and absorbed into the beer. Contrary to what some believe, fermentation in a cask does not stop under pressure. There is a relationship between pressure and fermentation rate but at the pressures found in beer production, the effect is negligible and does not slow down secondary fermentation. 

Although commonly referred to as a process which takes place in the pub cellar, beer packaged with live yeast and sufficient fermentable sugars and held at suitable temperature will undergo secondary fermentation whether its in the brewery, in a warehouse or in the pub cellar. 

The levels of carbonation in a sealed cask can be significantly in excess of the expected final 1.1 volumes but the brewer must take care not to allow too much fermentation as the closures on a cask – the shive where a cask will be ‘vented’ and the keystone where the tap will be placed – will only hold back a relatively low pressure.

Cask beer which has been allowed to become too warm will frequently ‘blow’ one of its closures, increased temperature resulting in an increased rate of secondary fermentation and increased generation of carbon-dioxide.

The amount of carbon-dioxide which remains dissolved in a beer is determined by two factors – temperature and pressure. Physics determines the amount of CO2 which will remain soluble in a liquid at a given temperature – the lower the temperature, the more CO2 will remain dissolved.  

In a cask ale the CO2 produced during secondary fermentation stays dissolved in the beer until cask is ‘vented’ in the pub cellar – at which point any excess CO2 will then slowly escape to the atmosphere until it reaches the level which is soluble at cellar temperature. At 13⁰C this is 1.1 volumes and a vented cask beer needs time for the carbonation level to settle. Typically the time taken to vent off excess CO2 also allows other unwanted flavours in the beer to dissipate and desired flavours to develop. 

In a kegged beer higher carbonation levels are maintained by applying pressure to the liquid to keep the CO2 in solution (the skills of applying the right pressures in the cellar are for another day).

In many mass market lagers, carbonation is used to stimulate the tongue and mask the generally low flavour profile. However, for many modern brewers producing ‘craft’ beers for keg dispense, the intended carbonation is very much part of the design of a beer.

‘Craft’ brewers will design their keg beers to have anything from 1.2 to 3.0 volumes of CO2. A carbonation of 2.4 – 2.6 volumes would be typical but lower levels are often used for stouts and porters while highly hopped IPAs may use higher volumes to push out hop aromas from and prevent them tasting cloying.  Too high a carbonation for a given style and ‘carbonic bite’ can become overpowering and masks flavour.

It’s important to remember that all carbon-dioxide is the same gas – there is not ‘good’ and ‘bad’ CO2.  Whether it is generated during fermentation in a tank at the brewery, comes from a cylinder or is generated by secondary fermentation, it is all made up of one molecule of carbon and two of oxygen and once it is in your beer, you have no way of telling how it got there.

Whether you enjoy your beer gently or highly carbonated is a matter of taste.

Cask ale lovers enjoy the creaminess that comes with low carbonation while other drinkers find cask ales ‘flat’ and ‘dull’ and seek the lift from carbonation.  Different beer styles suit different levels of carbonation. There is no right and wrong.

Just enjoy the beer.

 

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 Rawtenstall 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.

Worker Bees – 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.