The Name Game

Arrogant Bastard AleOne of the things I love about brewing is the creativity that seeps in at every opportunity – that perfect mix of malts, that carefully chosen yeast strain, that skilful blend of hops which all add little nuances to the end result.

It doesn’t just stop with the final brew. With the best beers, it runs through the entire process, from barrel to glass.

Craft brewers and micros in particular are very creative with their names and branding.

Their beer names often reflect local landmarks or historic incidents.

But if not protected, any other brewer could use the same name, causing confusion or, potentially, damaging reputations.

We looked at this through my day job, as part of a feature on brewing for the magazine I edit. My colleage spoke to a local solicitor – Catherine Slater, partner at Serjeants LLP – who provides specialist advice on the protection and enforcement of trademarks, designs and copyright worldwide, an important consideration for micro breweries.

She said that as well as brewing really good beer, breweries also have a great tradition of coming up with ingenious and often witty names for those beers which further distinguishes them from the offerings of the giant breweries.

However, there has been a trend in the food and drink business for the giant companies to actively try to make their goods look like the offerings of a small, independent business.

If the big breweries ramp up their efforts to try and mimic the presentation of craft beers, it may well lead to more trademark disputes.

“The best way for smaller breweries to prevent such a dispute affecting them is to protect their own branding with trademark registrations in both the UK and internationally for when the time for expansion is right,” she said.

“The rights are then secured and can be used to stop any brewery, no matter how big, using a similar name, logo or strapline.”

On the other side of the beer mat, the Norwich-based brewery Redwell was accused of infringing the trademark rights of the energy drink Red Bull, which said its name was too similar.

Red Bull decided not to proceed with a case, but it’s still a warning shot to micro-breweries that they are not so small that they won’t be scrutinised, making protection vital as well as being a valuable asset for the balance sheet should a buy-out occur further down the line.

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to get bogged down in heavy legal mumbo-jumbo.

It is to celebrate the creativity of brewers who not only manage to come up with the perfect pint, but then who can come up with a name so ingenius and clever that if you see it on the shelf or behind the bar, your first and only reaction is “Yeah baby, gimme gimme gimme.”

So, with that in mind, here’s my top five:

5) Shut Thi Gob. The Barnsley Brewing Company has a full range of beers with the names spoken in the local vernacular. Bee By Gum, Bobby Dazzler and the delightfully-monickered Ronnie’s Owd Cock are all worthy contenders, but none can hold a light to its signature strong brown ale.

4) Evil Dead Red. Any beer which pays homage to arguably the greatest comedy-horror flick ever committed to celluloid has to be a good thing, right?

3) Arrogant Bastard Ale. “You are what you drink and I’m a bitter man,” or so say The Macc Lads. Can’t really argue with this one…does exactly what it says on the tin.

2) Buster Nut Brown Ale. In the list for two reasons – it’s a nice innuendo, but its also made by the Ska Brewing Company and anything which manages to combine my favourite type of music with my favourite type of drink deserves my utmost respect.

1) Swift One. This pale bitter from Hampshire-based Bowman Ales just nicks top spot for my money. Why? It’s subtle, it’s multi-layered and when you say to your other half “I’m just nipping out for a swift one,” it can mean whatever you want it to.

What’s your favourite beer name? Leave it in the comments below and if it makes me laugh, I’ll send you a virtual pint this Friday.


For those about to rack…

image…we salute you*

Racked into secondary today. Relatively straightforward process and my fermenter is now sat in the darkened corner of my spare bedroom, gently farting away every few minutes or so to let me know it’s still there.

There was a ring of dingy-looking scum around the top of my fermenting bin after siphoning off the sweet nectar, and a whole heap of shit in the bottom, but I’m hugely relieved that I didn’t skunk my beer.

I siphoned off a crafty sample before racking and am pleased with the results. Here are my preliminary tasting notes:

imageClarity: Still quite murky, but at this stage I’m not too concerned. I plan to leave in secondary for at least two weeks so plenty of time for the sediment to drop and the batch to clear a little.

Colour:  A warm amber. It was at the darker side of brown ale when it went in, but has lightened a lot and has come out much closer to what I was expecting.

Taste: Undeniably beery, but quite light on the pallete. Lacks body – possibly a result of a rushed sparge – but drinkable nonetheless. The hops hit right off the bat, with the sweeter malty notes kicking in and carrying through right at the end. Not fully mature by any stretch, but at this stage, it’s bitter enough to incite a second swig and the finish is quite dry. I’ve drank better and paid for worse, so can’t really complain. If the taste improves as it matures, I’ll consider it a job well done.

imageGravity: Went into primary just shy of 1035. Went into secondary at 1017. Aiming to get it down to 1013 if poss. Again, could be better but could be worse. More attention to the sparge next time should yield better results.

Overall: At this stage – and for my first brew – am moderately happy. It tastes OK, it hasn’t skunked, and is close to what I was aiming for. Not flawless by any stretch, but broadly what I was hoping to achieve first time out and a starting block on which to build. It’s the start of my journey and I build from here.

Cheers, people!

* For those who couldn’t resist the title of this post, this one, courtesy of the world’s ultimate beer drinking band, is just for you…

#FF Pint – Castle Rock Harvest Pale

CC BY 2.0 Smabs SputzerThis will be the first in a series of posts to tip a nod to the good advice of my friends and followers, both here and on Twitter.

The plan is to send a virtual pint, using the #FF hashtag, each week to all those in the homebrew community I have swapped messages, tips, advice and comments with during the week.

As I said the other day, I’ve been blown away by how friendly and welcoming the community has been so far and am looking forward to meeting and tweeting more budding amateur craft brewers along the way.

So, I’m kicking things off with my favourite tipple from my local brewery, Castle Rock.

Harvest Pale is its flagship brew, a delightfully hoppy pale ale with a long, crisp finish. Multi-award winning, it was named Camra’s Champion Bitter of Britain in 2007 and Champion Beer of Britain in 2010.

Although brewed in my home city of Nottingham, using mostly British ingredients, it is the blend of citrussy American hops which give it such a unique flavour. It’s quite a bitter brew compared with some of the other pale ales I’ve tasted, which, in my view, sets it apart and whilst not a winter warmer, there’s no better accompaniment to a sunlit early evening in the beer garden or family barbecue.

If you’ve arrived here via the #FF hashtag, cheers! If not, thanks for checking this blog out and I hope to see you again soon.

The waiting game…

IMG_20140422_203843-148 hours since pitching and the waiting game continues.

Still plenty of carbon dioxide puffing up the lid of my fermenting bin and I can still see clumps of yeast shooting up and dropping down inside.

This time last night, there was a 2cm dense, thick pancake of yeast on top of my wort, which was a dirty, sludgy brown.

Have just checked and the yeast layer has double in size but looks a lot more foamy and the wort is starting to clear. There is a definite layer of crud at the bottom of the bin now, which seems to have grown in the few hours since I got home from work. The wort is much, much clearer than it was yesterday.

The big decision I have to make now is whether or not to rack into a secondary fermenter to complete the process. The recipe says yes, my gut feeling is that things are progressing well and I should leave it be… for now.

A cursory search of t’interweb would suggest that secondary may help give me a clearer finished brew, but is not essential. I’m going to go with my gut on this one.

Brewing is confusing, but I kind of like the conundrums it’s throwing up for me to consider.

One final word – this blog and its Twitter are barely a week old and already, I’ve been overwhelmed by the welcome and support I’ve received from the homebrew/craft brew community so far.

I’ve joined online communities before as a noob and found them insular, unwelcoming and unfriendly temples to enter, but not so here.You guys are such a friendly bunch!

Special mention, in no particular order, must go to Gary at Bionic Brewing, The Apartment Homebrewer, the Homebrew Handyman, @BeerGeekUK, @SussexBrewer and not least @TucsonHooligan (COYR!) and The Happy Homebrewer for your advice, guidance, insight and support this week, it is truly valued and appreciated.

I look forward to sharing experiences and swapping stories in the months ahead.

It’s been a fun week. For now, cheers people.

Reflections on brew day

Brew day has been and gone and in my porch proudly sits a fermenting bin full of lovely mahogany-brown wort bubbling away under a pancake-like layer of yeasty froth.

It remains to be seen how it turns out, but I’m relatively pleased with the process so far – although there are a few stages where I know mistakes were made and which I will improve upon next time.

The wort itself tastes better than I was expecting for my first effort. It  is very sweet and although there are malty notes there, the citrusy hops cut through and lift it away from being too sickly. Looking forward to seeing how it develops once the yeast has gone to work.

Colour-wise, it’s a lot darker than I was expecting. I was thinking it would take on some of the more warm, amber hues of the pallette, like a Theakstons or an IPA, but instead, it’s a deep chestnut colour, similar to a Bishop’s Finger. It may lighten during the fermentation phase, we’ll have to wait and see.

In terms of the day itself, there were a few highlights and a few takeaways which I’ll use to refine my technique for next time.

The aroma hit from the moment when the hops hit the boil was a sensory experience in its purest form. That the citrusy-sweet hoppy smell still lingers in the kitchen is an added bonus.

The main worries I have are as follows:

1) The Sparge – don’t think I was as diligent with this as maybe I could have been. The liquor was running almost clear by the end, but it only took about 15 minutes to achieve this, not the 30-45 stipulated in the recipe, so I’m thinking maybe I didn’t manage to extract every last drop of fermentable goodness from the spent grain.

2) The Temperature – my thermometer was inadequate for the job I needed it to do and with it being Easter Sunday, there was nowhere open where I could purchase one that was up to the job. As such, I relied on guesstimates rather than actuals to judge temperature at some of the stages. Not ideal and hoping I don’t pay the price later on.

3) The Chill – even after packing my fermenting bin in an ice bath, it took an age to cool the wort down to a temperature at which it could receive the yeast. It was covered at all times, but I’m more than a little concerned about the brew picking up an airborne infection and ending up tasting like roadkill. I’m going to diy an immersion chiller ready for next time.

4) The Pitch – The yeast went in OK and has developed a nice merangue-like layer on the top of my brew. Although there is some pressure in the lidded bin, it’s not as puffed up with CO2 as I’d have expected, although I have no prior experience to compare it with so, again, there may be a touch of paranoia on my part. Also, I didn’t add in any of the yeast nutrient I purchased though, and think it may be too late to do so now.

So, there you have it. An enjoyable day and I’m looking forward both to sampling my brew and to my next brew day.

To all you seasoned home brewers out there, are any of my perceived mistakes fatal and what should I be looking out for during the fermentation stage.

All advice gratefully received.

Brew Day Tunes

Happy Easter people and greetings from a cold and damp UK.

It’s brew day. I’m boiling a batch of water to brew with at present and plan to start my first-ever brew shortly. The plan is here.

Kitchen will be wiped down and my kit will be sanitised shortly. My yeast is already rehydrating.

The only essential missing ingredient for the day is the tunes. Here’s what’s on my playlist:

220px-Sublime40OztoFreedomalbumcoverSublime: 40oz to Freedom – This is a Sunday morning album by any definition, but is the perfect choice for brew day. I’m looking to create a chilled vibe in the kitchen while I’m toiling away and save for the odd blast of hardcore punk sandwiched in between Sublime’s unique blend of Hip Hop, ska, rocksteady and reggae, this will fit that requirement perfectly.

InBetweenDreamsJack Johnson: In Between Dreams – Building on from 40oz, another Sunday morning album. It’s got a wake up, roll out of bed and drink coffee on the patio kind of vibe and its strenght is its simplicity. It was his breakthrough album here in the UK and to this day, remains his best. Hoping the sunshine breaks through by the time this one comes on.

AugustusPablo-KingTubbyMeetsRockersUptownKing Tubbys meets Rockers Uptown – Heavy dub. Normally reserved for later in the day when the lights are turned down low and the bass is cranked up high. Not only is the musicianship first class on this album, but the use of the studio and its technology as an adjunct of the band is unmatched. One of the first ever pure dub albums, this was a pioneer of the genre and has few equals.

51h4UbjN7IL__SY450_Prince Buster: Fabolous Greatest Hits – This will lift the mood up a notch towards the end of the brew today. The godfather of ska, Buster’s influence runs large through most of the music I love. The Specials and The Beat – two of my all time fave bands – owe him a huge debt, as do the Fish and some of the other third gen American ska bands I’ve taken to my heart. Speaking of which…

TimArmstrong-APoet'sLifeTim Armstrong: A Poet’s Life – An interesting departure for Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, who teams up with white reggae rabble-rousers The Aggrolites for his maiden solo effort. The result is A Poet’s Life, a sublime mix of Hip Hop, punk and the unique brand of dirty reggae his collaborators are famed for.


That’s the soundtrack for the day folks. I’m off to start brewing. I’ll be posting a review of the day later on.


Early Inspiration….

Brewery_Sign_sBrewday is tomorrow, it’s family day today, but I was thinking about why I was kicking off this whole project earlier and one of my early inspirations came to mind.


Way back in 2001, when I was a trainee journo on my local paper, I was lucky enough to be given the task of covering the last day of production at the local brewhouse, Mansfield Brewery.

Financial struggles and the decline of the brewing industry in the UK had led the the demise of this iconic local landmark, which had been a part of the landscape and very fabric of the former pit community for almost 150 years.

It was a sad day, but despite the emotion, it was also a fascinating experience, as I was walked through the entire process by the head brewer, before repairing to the brewery tap to sample one of the last pints of Mansfield on offer.

Mansfield has never been the same since that day. That distinctive smell of mashed hops, malt  and yeast no longer hangs in the air and a once-thriving business which provided employment for generations, is no more.

I’ve got a pdf of the article I wrote, as it appeared in print, and you can read it here.

It seems weird to read it again after so long, as I remember it like it was yesterday.

I can still remember the taste of the beautiful, bittersweet brew that day. If my own brew gets anywhere close to it, I’ll be a happy man!