November 09, 2021 5 min read
Hello again. I can’t remember the last time I put pen to paper – it’s been a long time I know. The last 18 months have been tumultuous for brewing beer (amongst other things) and all my time has been spent on the brewery floor with precious little time actually sitting down to cogitate over the merits of bottles versus cans, or the meaning of the term craft beer.
Fast forward to the present day and things have changed dramatically. For starters I now have a new brewery assistant by the name of Michael (more on that later), and secondly I broke my toe a few weeks ago which initially rendered me horizontal. I’m now hobbling with crutches when not desk-bound. So a little more time to sit and type!
So what has happened over the last year? Up until the easing of lockdown restrictions this Summer, an enormous amount of time was spent decanting cask beer into mini-casks, minipins and polypins to fulfil online orders, customer collections and deliveries. This was on top of continuing to brew our core beers and limited editions. We have been able to keep a steady sequence of limited editions despite all the disruptions and they all seem to have gone down well. A few repeat brews of our “Flaxen” were required owing to its popularity – a crisp blonde ale brewed with wheat malt that showcased the floral and fruity Azacca and Ekuanot hops. Then there was “Stance”, which unexpectedly sold like hot cakes. We had customers waiting at the brewery on the Friday afternoon for the promised delivery of the bottled beer, which didn’t turn up, yet customers were still happy to return on the Monday morning when they did arrive. It goes to show that there is still a market for beers brewed with traditional malt and English hops, albeit the hops were experimental varieties that neither I, nor any of our customers were familiar with. Luckily we had good feedback which I passed on to the hop growers. Whether we can ever get hold of the hops again is questionable, so if you have a few bottles still tucked away, crack one open an enjoy the blackcurrant and spicy hops balancing the toffee malt character and hope one day you can experience it again.
Moving into Summer, things picked up a notch. Despite us not being able host the Revelry Day, we still produced the annual brew so that fathers and their families could revel at home. This beer was probably one of my favourites this year – a biscuity malt backbone flooded with tangerine, lime and floral notes from the Crystal and Summit hops which I hope everyone enjoyed as much as I did.
Once all the restrictions were eased, things became a bit manic. Not only were pubs placing big orders, but we had to fulfil a Wetherspoons contract to brew “Divine” for national distribution. This wasn’t ideal timing, but it also wasn’t our fault. Originally the contract was to supply them with loads of lovely “Divine” during the late Autumn and early Winter of 2020 when we were much quieter. This would have been ideal as we could have kept our fermenters full and our precious yeast nice and healthy. Oh well, we managed to do it all and hopefully we now have Bishop followers all the way from Peterhead to Penzance.
Things never stop and next up was our 10th Anniversary celebrations. Not only did this involve organising a big party on the first Sunday of September, but also, not just one, but two extra special limited editions were called for. The chosen names were fittingly “Landmark” and “Milestone”, but what was I to actually brew? Bishop Nick isn’t an exclusive brewery. We like to cater to the many diverse tastes out there. Not everyone wants an explosion of mango and marshmallow from a crafty can, nor does everyone enjoy the subtle “twiggy” notes from a bottle of British bitter. “Landmark” was chosen as our fruity beer – golden in colour with a blast of pineapple and passion fruit from the Mosaic hops and a crisp finish, whilst “Milestone” was our twiggy best bitter, with extra helpings of English East Kent Goldings, Sovereign and Endeavour hops, and a splash of amber malt to add a hint of coffee to the caramel crystal malts. I think they both went down well, but I was more pleased with the “Milestone”. It’s actually quite easy to brew an in-your-face hoppy American style ale – extract the sugary wort from the pale malt, chuck in lots of big brassy hops, boil, ferment, add more dry hops, and voila, there you have it. Beers like “Milestone” are much harder to pull off – they’re all about balance and subtlety, but additionally being careful to avoid the generic blandness of some of the national stuff that infests many pubs and supermarket shelves. My beer of the year so far.
With the nights drawing in, we brewed our annual “Witch Hunt” porter, which is always popular. Easy drinking, with espresso, liquorice, molasses and a dry finish. This predictably sold out very quickly in cask but if you want to try it, we have it in 500ml bottle. It’s highly recommended and packs a bit more of a punch than a dark mild.
As I mentioned earlier, we have employed a brewery assistant to help with all aspects of the brewery operation. His name is Michael, he’s an enthusiastic homebrewer with a background in brand marketing (and also weirdly likes football and Arsenal FC!). After bringing in some of his homebrew for us to try, I was so impressed I went out and bought a home brewery there and then so I could experiment a bit more (I’m not telling you how much it cost though!). Admittedly, brewing beer at home is a very different proposition to brewing it commercially, but like me over 20 years ago, Michael has been up to the challenge and is eager to learn all the tricks and potential pitfalls.
Michael really jumped in at the deep end as his first week coincided with me turning on my foot and fracturing my fifth metatarsal! Initially in excruciating pain, I was incapacitated with orders to rest, ice, compress and elevate. Nelion and Michael had to press on with getting beer ready for Christmas. Rest is not something I can cope with. I want to brew beer, that’s what keeps me going! So I’m happy to report that I’m back and at it again albeit with a couple of crutches by my sides and a very capable and amiable assistant to point them at!
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