Monday, 24 April 2017

Tap Takeover at the Craft Beer Co, Clerkenwell

It's a big thing for a brewer, a tap takeover, as you're there at the bar with all your beers being poured for thirsty (and sometimes critical) customers and there's nowhere to hide (except the toilet, but they even corner you in there to talk beer as I found out)....

Hopcraft have a long association with the Craft Beer Co, having sold them beer from the start of our existence, but we've never before been asked to do a tap takeover / meet the brewer at one of their pubs; in case you don't know, this is pretty much the equal of a musician being asked to play a gig at a massive arena they know well and have seen bands perform at.... scary, yet exhilarating, and giving a sense of having arrived somewhere, wherever that may be, but it's something you don't turn down as it's a one-shot opportunity.

We had to send 15 cask and 14 keg beers to the event and so saved up beer for a month or so beforehand, selecting brews we thought might showcase us in our best light.  We also indulged ourselves in making up some one-off creations such as maple syrup milk stout, dandelion and burdock porter and and extra dry-hopped version of our CF127 UK experimental hopped beer amongst others.

So, 29 beers in all, with a few cask/keg repeats, were packed onto pallets, wrapped, and dispatched to central London for the event.... only to be told the next day by our haulier that there was a market in the streets around the pub (which we'd not been told about when arranging the delivery) so the beers would have to be delivered Thursday, meaning they'd have less time to settle for the event.... which should be no problem for our beer as it drops quickly, but still an annoyance and something we should have avoided really.

Then, out of the blue that evening, we had a message from the manager of the pub saying that beer we were launching on the tap takeover, our 250th brew "Another day closer to the Grave", had only arrived in keg and there was no cask... searching the pallet sheets we saw we'd accidentally (building pallets in a rush is never a good thing believe me) loaded two casks of "East Bay Pilgrimage" instead of one of that and one of Brew 250!  ANY of the other beers and we'd have been able to say fine, we'll credit for the missing cask, but we were launching this beer so it had to be there in cask; a frantic phone call to our haulier the next morning and we were sorted with the single cask on a tiny pallet making it's way down to London in an expensive but very necessary piece of making things right!

So, Saturday saw Gazza and Sue Hayward (plus Twiggy, the Hopcraft brewery cat) set off for Reading with a full van of beer to drop at the Nag's Head before taking the train to London and then, after a tube shambles where everyone seemed to have a different idea as to what was happening due to a closure on the Circle line, we eventually arrived in Clerkenwell where the pub - and outside drinkers - were bathed in an unearthly golden sunlight... a good omen for the rest of the day, I hoped...

In the end, it turned out that Bacchus was smiling on us... the event took place, we sampled all the beers, and I was pretty happy with all of them with a few being extremely satisfying to drink, the cold steep coffee rye stout being a particular highlight.  Even more satisfying, however, are the comments from drinkers who are sampling the beers and telling you how much they (hopefully) like them or (occasionally) dislike them.... to be treated like brewing celebrities doesn't happen very often, but it did on Saturday 22nd in Clerkenwell and, for a day, it felt like we'd arrived on the big stage.  We even, on the way back to Paddington, called in on Craft Beer co Covent Garden for the simultaneous Vibrant Forest tap takeover; now there's dedication.

Then it was back to the real world and paying every penny we owe to the government in beer duty.... but still, for one glorious day, we were rockstar brewers.... 

Tom Cadden, head honcho at Craft Beer co

photo - Steve Cassidy

Twiggy hard at work

"bloody hell, I helped make those!"

18 pints for the stag do upstairs....

we were happier than we look.

That's more like it!

Cask lineup

Keg lineup

Beer being poured

Nice bit of sales!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Gorse beer!

Last week we brewed a beer with a seasonal ingredient, one which we've thought about using for a while but have only now finally got around to it.... fascinating, eh?

This, then, is our latest collaboration with Sue Hayward (Sue the Brew, of Waen Beers) and we've created something quite unusual and very distinctive as we generally do.... our track record speaks for itself!

Gorse flowers, at their best in spring, smell of melon and coconut, reminiscent of the amazing Sorachi Ace hop, so it was only right that we paired the two together in a golden beer which, hopefully, will end up tasting of coconut (note - done a gravity test today and, indeed, it tastes of coconut!) and therefore will be bloody marvellous...

We've been beaten to the sorachi/gorse thing by Cromarty brewing who did a saison a few years back (and freely gave advice on the use of gorse, many thanks guys!) and Farmageddon brewing co-op but coming second (or, actually, third!) has never been a big problem for us and, therefore, we present to you "Bumper to Bumper", our spring gorse pale ale!

Finally, here's a quick note for anyone who, for some bizarre reason, doesn't know what "Bumper to Bumper" means...   just crank it up!! :) 

Adding the gorse flowers - and a little prick!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Brew 250!

Well, it's taken us almost 4 years to get to this point, but today we brewed our 250th batch of beer! This means, roughly, we've made nearly 500,000 litres of beer since we started brewing, which is such a huge number I can't quite believe it we've done it...

Well, we have... or, at least, something close to that and no, I can't be bothered to work out the total production, not even adding up our HMRC submissions! You'll just have to believe me when I say we've made almost half a million litres of beer....

Brew 250 is a golden ale using 25kg of light brown sugar in addition to the best ale malt, wheat malt and Carapils, and hopped with Galaxy, Columbus and Dr Rudi... we've not decided what to dry hop it with yet but it'll be something rather tasty I'd guess.

So, here's to the next 250 brews... we'll try to stick around if you guys keep on drinking what we make!  I feel that the quality of beer leaving the brewery has never been higher and we promise to keep on with our policy of "Permanent Revolution" to keep improving everything about the beer and brewing... 

Thanks are also due to our past members of staff without who we probably wouldn't be here, so massive thanks to Jay and Ash!  Also we'd like to thank those who we've collaborated with and have generally helped us out along the way... there's too many to list, but you know who you are... cheers.

So, from Gazza, Gav and Sue, cheers and keep the faith!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Meet the brewer in wildest Gloucestershire

Last week we did our latest meet the brewer at the Fleece in Hillesley out in the wilds of Gloucestershire.  Now you might wonder why we'd rock up at this (admittedly lovely old pub) out in the wilds for a meet the brewer when there must be loads of other (=better) options elsewhere?  Well yes, maybe, but Rod who used to run the Mumbles Ale House - which pretty much single handedly initiated the Swansea area to good beer - is in charge here now and so, having sold him beer for a long time, it wasn't a difficult decision to take the Hopcraft / Waen roadshow out onto the road yet again!

We were very well looked after in all respects with plenty of food, beer, gin and wine coming our way in return for what must have been our most downbeat description of the UK beer scene ever; if we didn't depress most of the audience I'd be very surprised!  Just telling it how it is, but looking back I'd guess most attendees to a meet the brewer would expect the brewers to be more upbeat on the health of the industry... yeah, righto!

Anyhow, everything went swimmingly in the end and a good night was had by all (well, we did OK, which is what matters!) and, we hope, we will have our beer out in Gloucestershire more frequently after our rocking up at their local....

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Prepping casks for filling - there's more to it than you might think!

You might think filling up a cask with beer is a simple process.  Well, you're wrong.

First of all the beer must be in the right state in the right place; this means it must have finished it's dry hopping period and be ready (or as ready as it's going to be) to be packaged.  Easy....

Then, we have the casks.  Imagine, if you will, a cask of beer at a pub.  It's delivered. gets drunk dry (hopefully) then it's put outside empty for collection.  All well and good, except a lot of landlords these days don't bung up (leave a cork and spile in the appropriate holes) the casks.... in winter this isn't a huge issue, but in summer it allows fruit flies to lay their eggs inside which result in small chrysalises of the flies dotted all over the inside of the cask, and they're incredibly hard to shift!  Then you have the sun baking the contents dry and then frying onto the inside whatever happens to get inside the cask.... this is generally worse with metal casks although plastics aren't immune to a bit of baking!

Then, it gets picked up and there begins the shit job of making it fit for being filled again!

Once our filthy, fly-encrusted sun-baked cask finally arrives back at the brewery it's inspected by a gagging employee - who wishes he'd not eaten before inspecting dozens of rancid casks - before being steam cleaned at 130c inside and out.  This sterilises the cask and removes the majority of the assorted crud, hop bits, yeast, flies and other detritus from the cask rendering it hopefully fit for stage 2.

The next stage involves a manual check of the cask's interior condition - basically by sniffing it when hot (to see if it smells "clean" and not musty or stale) and looking inside with a torch when it's cooled a bit (else you can't see because of steam!).  This will ascertain whether the cask is physically clean and free from contamination; if not it goes back through the steam cleaning process and is tested again.  In the very few occasions a cask is rejected 3 times (usually in summer when the fruit flies are more common) it's given a week's soak with caustic solution then goes back into the steam cleaning pile to begin the process all over again!

If the cask passes the visual / nose inspection then it's passed to the next cleaning step, a hot date with hot kegbrite!  This chemical is sprayballed (via our "mini-whirly" sprayheads!) into the casks at high velocity and hopefully removes any remaining crud and, more importantly, cleans the areas the steam washer doesn't get to properly!  After 30 seconds the casks are removed, then rinsed with water.  There is no further manual check of the casks as this stage is purely to do a "deep clean" of what is already a clean cask.

The final stage is to rinse the by now immaculate (we hope) casks with peracetic acid solution which renders them "biologically clean" (there's a massive difference between this and physically clean") before being arranged as per this photo.  The final stage is the addition of the "finings" (fish guts which make the beer clear) and "priming" (sugar dissolved in water) which, when the beer is transferred from the conditioning tank under CO2 pressure, will mix and give the finished beer clarity and "condition" (sparkle, as the yeast still in the cask will wake up and eat this new easy to digest sugar creating CO2), before - as can be seen here - a flush with CO2 to make sure when the casks are filled no oxygen is inside which stales the beer and diminishes the all-important hop character.

Then the cask can go into cold storage before being sold and transported to a pub, where the whole cycle begins again!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Collab at Art Brew in deepest Devon.

We went down to see old mates Becki and John at their new place in Devon to brew a special beer, just because we could!  Called "Crystal Fumbles" there will only be a few casks and some bottles, but it's got some lovely hops in it!

Some brewers with ideas above their station should take note - not all collabs need to be about making money, getting noticed and sales... they can just be about seeing old friends, having a laugh and enjoying the brewday!

Monday, 27 February 2017

New member of the Hopcraft team!

I think a lot of people know this by now, but we've decided to come public with it.
Everyone, I'm sure, knows Sue Hayward and her longstanding links to Hopcraft, so it was a natural progression when she decided she'd like to join us for some sales, consultancy, collaborative brewing and other bits and bobs too....
So, here's hoping everyone will welcome her to the good ship Hopcraft and here's to lots of sales and the continuation of the Waen beers which have proved very popular so far.... and we might even celebrate by brewing a Waen beer which hasn't been seen for quite a while! 
Watch this space....

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Would you drink this?

Well, obviously you wouldn't.  Even I wouldn't and I bloody love hops, but this is more foliage than beer for even me to drink!

You may be wondering just why I've got a glass (or a polycarb, much safer in a brewery!) of what looks like grass cuttings swimming in... let's not go there.  Well, this is what us brewing types call a "tank sample" and is the first beer out of the conditioning tank, taken as a sample from the "racking wand" (contraption used to fill casks) because you don't want to be wasting time filling nicely washed and sterilised casks with beer which is only fit to tip down the drain.... no, you want to taste and smell the finished beer first, the final QC checks if you will, before it gets passed for packaging, so this is a very important job.

So, this is me QC'ing Waen Lemon Drizzle for casking.... obviously you can't take a mouthful, so you have to smell it first then strain some through your teeth!  Or, wait 5 minutes until the hops have settled and it's then a lot easier.... but who's got 5 minutes to spare, no us that's for sure!

All the hop debris and yeast settles out in the cask (aided by finings) so what you see at the bar - hopefully - doesn't resemble a tank sample, unless you're in a craft beer bar in London then it might look pretty similar to this...

Saturday, 4 February 2017

New clothing!

Well, it's about time.... we don't really do clothing as we don't have many options to sell it (we've not got time to post them out!) but we thought it was about time we had some more made as our brewing T-shirts and hoodies were showing signs of old age and, more worryingly, impending self-destruction....

So, here you go....  only for sale at the Brewery or, if arranged beforehand, from us at any meet the brewer / tap takeover / pub visit!  Just get in touch to sort this out.

Front is the Hopcraft cog, back the new Soviet-esque design, guaranteed to annoy and confuse Cyrillic readers and professors of Russian history....

Collaboration with a difference.....

We've recently done a collaboration Sue from Waen along with the guys from Totally Brewed in Nottingham who, like us and Sue, aren't afraid of hops!

So, what better beer to brew, then, than a nougat porter???

We've used roasted rye to give a toasty, spicy edge and then added honey plus honey, chocolate and almond flavourings to give (what Gazza thinks for what that's worth) a beer which actually does smell and taste of nougat... well, honey at least!

There's not a lot of it about so get weaving if you want to try it!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Look what's back!

Today we've rebrewed a beer which flew out last time, being a reserve SIBA cask champion medal winner, so with a new year's mission to keep more Waen beers on the list (and ours, obviously) we're cranking up production!

So, we give you Lemon Drizzle... a session beer with a big citrussy, lemony flavour.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Happy new beer!

.... to everyone who buys, drinks or otherwise engages with us!

This year, we hope, will turn a solid performance last year into a sustainable business, but that's not easy in the current brewing climate.  There's been a lot of talk on soshul meedya over the last few days about brewers going keg only and suchlike, so this is my take on it and what is wrong with the brewing industry as a whole.... other opinions are available, but these are mine!

As ever, if you disagree (or even agree!) please get in touch, we love to hear from our friends on any of the following; Facebook, Twitter or email.

Cheers, Gazza and Gav