Brewer’s Blog

Brewer’s Blog

Brewer’s Blog: Hello again, Alex here with a few spare minutes to update you on the comings and goings in the brew house.

I got the impression that Christmas was a success. I’m not very good with figures and I’m not at the sharp end on the phone, but what I do know is that we were very busy and the cold room and bottle store were left empty on Christmas Eve. For the first time in my short career at Bishop Nick, our entire range of one-off specials were depleted from the shop (“Crown” and “Prancer” sold better than expected). This could only mean one thing – better get some more brewed for the New Year!

I’ve always found January to be a strange month. Customers go wild for beer in December and then want to abstain the following month. All that effort for Christmas and then everyone disappears after promising to give up beer for the New Year. Luckily for breweries, this resolution usually crumbles after a week or two and the beer drinkers come back looking for a low gravity, flavoursome, but easy drinking bitter. To satisfy them we brewed “Vision” for the arrival of 2020 (vision – 20-20, get it?). This 3.8% amber ale has a good caramel malt sweetness from the pale crystal and Vienna malts, balanced by an easy going bitterness, and finishing with a fruitiness from the Cascade and Simcoe hops. It’s proved to be a popular medication for the January Blues as it’s already sold out in cask, but luckily we have plenty of bottles available.

One resolution we made for 2020 at Bishop Nick was to brew a stout, and depending on it’s popularity, keep one on sale for the darker months – or maybe longer! I like dark beers, I always have done since my grandfather offered me a 330ml can of Guinness Original at the Bush Inn in Robeston Wathen, Pembrokeshire. I was only 14, but I was told it was full of iron and would help me develop into a top class Welsh rugby international. I diligently followed his orders and my father gave me a can every Saturday evening with my steak supper. I adored the roasty bitterness of the Guinness, but hated rugby, so my grandfather’s master plan was doomed. On leaving home at 18, I took up my father’s hobby of home brewing and 50% of my output was dark. Dark beer wasn’t particularly fashionable at the time, drinkers seemed to be more interested in Caffreys and smoothflow and all that nonsense, but I was pleasantly surprised when I moved to Cardiff. Cardiff is the home of Brain’s Brewery and their best beer (in my opinion) was their “Dark”. This was the first time the style of mild had appeared on my beer radar. I had discounted it for years based on my father’s advice that it was bland and of poor quality, drunk in volumes by people who knew no better. However, a well brewed dark beer, be it a stout, strong ale, porter or mild always has plenty of flavour, owing to the liberal use of roasted malts and should never be discounted as substandard. Unfortunately dark milds earned a poor reputation in the mid 20th Century when bigger breweries started churning out flavourless imitations coloured with caramel.

In 2001 I started as the brewer at Mighty Oak in Maldon, and unusually for a south eastern brewery back then, they brewed a mild called “Oscar Wilde”. I made a point of taking a minipin of Oscar home with me at the end of my first week. To be honest with you, it was really poor, but it made me very determined to improve it. It’s main failing was the recipe called for caramel and only a small quantity of black malt – not enough to get your taste buds tickling. So the caramel got chucked and the black and crystal malts were given stage, and that was that. Over the course of the next ten years, sales went from a few firkins a week to 30 or 40, culminating in it winning Champion Beer of Britain in 2011. People really fell in love with it, and I always attribute that to “Oscar Wilde” being on the roasty end of the mild spectrum.

I’ve probably now drifted well away from the subject of stout, indeed anyone reading this may have already drifted off, but what I’m getting at is there is a demand for dark beers, and simple ones at that. Don’t throw in jazzy tropical fruit hops or 20 exotic continental malts to the recipe, just make them roasty, robust and easy to drink. Therefore, to fulfil our resolution, we’ve brewed our stout called “Devout”. At 4.5%, it’s not an exotic, blow your head off “craft” beer interpretation, but one that takes the slight crystal malt sweetness and easy drinking nature of a mild, and combines that with the assertive roast barley and chocolate malts of a stout. To further enhance the drinking experience, we’ve added plenty of malted oats to give those dark chocolate and espresso flavours a creaminess in the finish and to round off the bitter edges associated with a stout. Our first batch sold out really quickly in cask but we are brewing it again this Friday to meet with demand. “Devout” has been bottled too. People seem to like it – the phones are busy! Let us know if you do or don’t, and if you don’t, we’ll resolve to make it better. One resolution I’ll never make though is to play rugby!

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