Beer Matters

Second-hand Prose

Since joining the British Guild of Beer Writers I find myself on the receiving end of various mailshots, press releases and trade journals from the brewing industry (and Cains send me a Christmas card which is nice of them). SIBA Journal, the quarterly organ of the Society of Independent Brewers, came through the letterbox the other day and contains some fascinating facts which, in that phrase beloved of preachers, I would like to share with you.

There are now over 500 small breweries in Britain. I find this statistic enormously heartening, given the recent shenanigans involving some of our more established regional brewers. At one time I could probably have named every brewery in the country and had tasted ales from the majority of them at least once. Clearly this is far from being the case now. Still, I'm not averse to doing a bit more research.

Also encouraging are the results of a consumer survey indicating that a wish to support local and regional breweries is the second most popular reason for drinking cask ale, after “taste preference and quality perceptions” (Does that mean some of us enjoy drinking something we can actually taste?). Another popular reason was “positive associations between real ale and the type of pubs serving it”. Concern over “beer miles” reflects growing consumer awareness of the tremendous waste of resources in transporting food and drink generally.

In a similar vein, an article entitled “Barriers to the continued growth of local beer” identifies the lack of their own pubs and prices being forced down by major pub chains and supermarkets as the main problems facing small brewers trying to find a market for their wares. All power then to The Contented Cow, a consortium of Devon brewers who persuaded the organisers of the Devon County Show to throw out the industrial caterers and offer local beer, cider and food in the refreshment tents.

Less welcome is the news that the 2006 hop harvest was a bad one due to the hot, dry summer. Yields of some varieties are down by 30-40% and the situation is not much better across Europe. A better harvest in the USA might have provided some surplus but for a disastrous warehouse fire which destroyed 18,000 zentners*. All a bit worrying for a hop head like me.

The technical article “Miss out your maltose” had me intrigued. Bottle-conditioned beers are making a come-back (e.g. Wobbly Frame) and the secret is in the priming - adding just enough sugar to the bottle to promote a modest secondary fermentation, enough to keep the beer lively but not so much as to make it inordinately fizzy or even explode the bottle (I had that happen to a bottle of home brew once. I was picking up shards of glass for months afterwards but miraculously the other dozen or so bottles were left intact by the explosion). Recent research suggests that the type of sugar is important too. Curiously, glucose and sucrose were found to produce better results than maltose.

Results of the SIBA North beer competition were announced. I was not surprised to find Moorhouse’s (Blond Witch - gold in the best bitter category) and York Brewery (Guzzler - gold, ordinary bitters) up there among the winners but it was particularly gratifying to see 20 different breweries represented among the 24 awards.

And finally, a little statistic I almost missed: “Over 1.5 million pints are exported every day (my italics) to more than 120 countries worldwide”. The message is clear - as a nation, we’re simply not drinking enough at home.

* Oh surely you know what a zentner is? Actually I had to look it up - it's 0.984 cwt or 50 Kg.


Talking of things one finds in journals - I was immensely flattered to read in Diary of an Indexer a few weeks ago “Another goodie: Max Bib cheerfully raising a pint, definitely one for the office wall.” Me, a pin-up! Brad Pitt, George Clooney, eat your heart out!

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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