Traditionally the time of year for reflection we thought we’d talk about how 2016 has gone for us together with our hopes and dreams for 2017.
Winter is always a trying time in the brewery; with no heating George and I are usually fighting to dig out the mash tun and the copper simply to keep warm. Ironically the cold room is warmer than the rest of the brewery at this time of year. A particular highlight of 2016 was our visit to Manchester Beer and Cider Festival where our beer went down well and and we got to drink with good friends from the Manchester beer community. We really love the beer scene there and see it as a force for good. In spite of January being a quiet month sales wise, we’d also ordered our first conical fermenter for delivery in April. Crucial if we were going to expand.
February saw the resumption of our London beer runs and our busiest sales week of the year (our financial year runs from October to September) thus far. In February, bonkers.
We’d been thinking about export for a while and in March we dipped our toes in the water by trying to sell coals to Newcastle, or beer to Belgium at Tavola 2016 in Kortrijk. We were greeted by comments like “why do you want to sell beer in Belgium, we already have the best beer” which, frankly, is hard to argue with. They also told us our beer is a bit weak which was ironic given that some of the more rural pubs in the UK were looking for more sub 4.5% abv beers. I also took my first couple of days off in more than a year to do a bit of sightseeing and dragged the long suffering Jacqui around some breweries. Talk about busman’s holiday.
The new fermenter arrived in April and with it some head scratching as to how we were going to get it into the brewery. Jez, our knight in rusty forklift, from the garage across the road came to our rescue and after two hours of head scratching, sweating and cursing FV4 was in. Having launched Skylarking, our Session IPA, in February, it was by now our best selling beer which was a surprise to us to say the least. That is to say, whilst we knew it was a good beer, we didn’t think it would sell out quite so quickly. It certainly contributed to our first “100 tub week” (a tub being a cask or keg) once again breaking our weekly sales record.
In May we said goodbye to Sam our brewery assistant, a more lovely and reliable youngster you’d struggle to find, but his commitments as a dog trainer and gamekeeper meant he couldn’t do the hours we needed him to. Luckily George, homebrewer, barman, photographer and beard owner extraordinaire had been working for us on a day to day basis and went full time. Unbelievably, Robin’s planned getaway (again the first for a long while) had to be postponed due to illness, he was later to grab a few days in June. A particular highlight was brewing our first saison. Most of our beers had hitherto come from my homebrew recipes but I’d never brewed a saison before.
We had a hop. An interesting hop, previously known as OZ97a (read about it here and here) and now called Ernest, that had a sherbert lemon character we felt would blend beautifully with the saison yeast. We were right; we called it Signs of Triviality, a quote from the Importance of Being Earnest - see what did there. Surprisingly the cask sold out immediately, we wish we’d brewed more but it did whet our appetite for brewing more unusual beers.
We brewed a witbier with orange peel and amarillo, and a mango saison for Birmingham Beer Bash and then, in time for the same event, made our first Double IPA, Doublethink. It’s probably a good time to mention the limitations of our kit. Because the brewery was already in situ when we moved in, we never specced the kit ourselves. It makes beers up to about 5.5% really well but the combination of a small mash tun relative to the rest of the kit and the position of the element in the copper, limiting the minimum size of the brew to about 800L, means big brews over about 7% are impossible to brew to 1600 litres. Additionally the hot liquor tank element is underpowered making double brewdays impossible (not necessarily a bad thing from the production team’s point of view).
In any event it’s no exaggeration to say that Doublethink found favour with Birmingham Beer Bash punters, and when it went on general release, the rest of the country. A relatively quiet June was put into the shade by a freakishly busy July when all I seemed to be doing was brewing, racking and delivering beer, breaking our best week for the third time in the year.
If July was busy, August was even more bonkers and we even managed to squeeze in two collaborations, with Blackjack and Runaway before the green hop beers took off. Green Hop is a great time of year, they’re relatively expensive to brew because you need to use so many of them to get the same hop character but they’re also great fun. This time we managed to schedule in a beer I’ve had in mind to do for the last two years but didn’t quite find the right hop for, Green Spider Rye. There aren’t many hops that stand up to rye in the same way as Centennial and Columbus but, if you use enough of them (and we used 75kg), Pilgrim is one of them. Using our mash tun as a hop back the aroma of lemon meringue pie pervaded the brewery and we were very happy with the results in cask.
Something amazing happened in September; George, Robin and I all had a week off. Not at the same time obviously, that would have been silly. Ironically we all went to France, did not much at all and came back refreshed ready to start brewing for the run up to Christmas. We also had our first open day of the year, which went well and we’re happy to say that we will be doing these regularly in 2017. Our end of year results were pleasing; a 50% increase on turnover on last year and we turned our attention to an aspect of our beer that we feel has been holding us back. Smallpack.
We’d never been 100% happy with our bottled beer, again the compactness of the unit precludes onsite bottling by ourselves so we have to outsource it. We used two different companies with varying success levels so we decided to dip our toes in the water of mobile canning, and with it, unfiltered beer. I have to say I’m very pleased with the first attempt, Whispering Bob which finally has the hop presence my homebrew did all those years ago. I know Robin’s going to write about our future canning plans so I’ll leave that to him.
I’d like to finish by thanking all those of you who support what we’re trying to do; it’s massively rewarding to see and hear the joy you have in our beers which inspires us as we go forward into 2017.
Thank you so much.