Brewer’s blog

Brewer’s blog

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Hello Bishop Nick drinkers, I’m sorry I haven’t written a blog for a long while, but since I last had a jovial chat back in February or March, things took a turn for the worse.  Back then, Corona Virus was just a curiosity happening on the other side of the world, but international travel soon brought it to our shores.  Thankfully we remained operational during the lockdown, indeed we were very busy filling bottles, mini casks and polypins for home delivery and although the brew schedule slowed down, a good few months were spent in the cold room preparing orders for our customers.  During the Spring and Summer we also managed to fit in some limited edition brews – the blonde “Flaxen” (sold out very quickly), the fruity golden “Revelry 2020”, “Prosper” and “Respect”.  The “Prosper” was a favourite of mine – we used copious amounts of Mosaic hops (the first time I had used this variety), and despite it always being a bit risky making a single hop variety brew, it turned out well, with plenty of citrus and pine flavours.  It’s also still available in bottle, as is the “Respect” – a red ale, brewed with rye to give a dry liquorice character and hopped with the robust English Bramling Cross hop.
Moving into Autumn, things have understandably slowed down a bit.  People are back at work, pubs are trying to operate with restrictions and limited capacity and those long warm evenings in the beer garden have turned dark, cold and wet.  The slow down has given us the opportunity to prepare for Halloween and Christmas a bit earlier.  The annual brew of the porter “Witch Hunt” went without a hitch and is now available in cask, mini cask, polypins and bottles.  The bottles arrived today – Nelion and I couldn’t resist a quick sample and it’s got a big thumbs up!  Roasty, nutty, a bit of bitterness and a long dry finish and worth trying.
Who knows what Christmas will bring this year?  We have tried to prepare for all eventualities by brewing three different ales to cater for both home and pub drinking.  With the assumption that more beer will be consumed at home, we’ve decided to be a bit brave this year and have brewed a strong ale –  “Rejoice” at a fairly hefty 5.6% and full of dark fruit and nut flavours with a big bittersweet finish.  However, don’t worry if you’re looking for a slightly lighter ale, we’ve also decided to re-brew the popular hoppy golden 3.8% “Crown” this year (my favourite Bishop Nick beer I’ve brewed by the way).  Both the “Crown” and “Rejoice” are still sitting in the fermentation vessel, waiting to be racked, whilst our third brew for Christmas is still a bit of a secret – watch this space, it could be a bit special…
Brewer’s Blog

Brewer’s Blog

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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!

Brewer’s Blog – my favourite time of year!

Brewer’s Blog – my favourite time of year!

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Hello everybody, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I haven’t written a blog for ages. It’s been a little hectic over the Summer and Autumn and brewing activities have occupied every spare hour – not only did Bishop Nick have to keep up with the usual late Summer demand for sacred ale, but it also had the small matter of a large contract with Wetherspoons to distribute “Divine” nationally. As the flurry of “Brew Day Experience” visitors found out – Friday was “Divine Day” for the last 10 weeks. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves helping me brew the stuff, especially the bit where I had to crawl about on my hands and knees to gather up the spent hops (see attached photos, taken by James the brain surgeon on a visit in early September).


Anyway, I hope everyone is enjoying the “Divine” these days. We have enjoyed getting to know this beer much better ourselves and have given it a minor tweak of the recipe by adding a little more crystal malt to increase the body and nuttiness and also increased the hopping levels. Judging by it’s increase in popularity, we may have won over a few more customers.

Now it’s now December and we have the elephant in the room that comes to visit annually called the “C-word”. This year we have brewed two extra special ales for the festive period (both available in bottle) – “Prancer” at 4.5% and “Crown” at 3.8%. They are very different in character – “Prancer” is a more traditional, full-bodied deep ruby coloured ale, brewed with crystal rye malts and the English Challenger and fruity Bramling Cross hops – perfect with your main course and pudding. “Crown“, however is a lighter golden ale, hopped with the citrusy Comet and floral Cascade hop and designed to refresh you or to be drunk with your starter or just a bag of nuts, whatever takes your fancy…Bottles, minicasks, minipins and polypins will be available in our brewery shop and remember that the shop will be open Monday to Friday 9.00a,-4.30pm and we are open SATURDAYS from 10am to 1pm from this weekend through to the 21st December for all your beery gifts, including our excellent tankards.

If you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I’ll be wrestling with that elephant, so have a good C-word and I’ll see you all when the dust has settled.

Brewer’s Blog – Alex on Brimstone

Brewer’s Blog – Alex on Brimstone

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Hello Bishop Nick drinkers, Alex here again after a long delay since my last blog – things have been a bit busy between Easter and Summer and I’ve struggled to find the time to write something witty or informative.

We’ve had a very successful Revelry Day and the special edition brew seems to have gone down well.  The Revelry Day beer gives me a few nightmares as it’s such an important day – dreaming of 800 people walking around looking like they’ve been sucking on lemons after a pint woke me up once or twice at 3am.  We have a good stock of bottles in our shops – it’s a golden summer ale with plenty of the fruity American “C” hops: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Comet, backed up by a rich maltiness.

With Revelry behind us, the Chelmsford Beer Festival is the focus of our attention this week.  I know a few attendees have asked about my whereabouts.  The answer is “in the brewery”.  Unfortunately making beer doesn’t stop for beer festivals!  To make up for my absence I’ve done my best to brew a nice beer to be launched at the festival called “Brimstone”.  I’m always happiest when I get the chance to brew a beer I think I’ll enjoy drinking myself.  I know that sounds a bit selfish, but it seems to have saved me from any major mishaps during my career (a peat smoked beer called “Goldfinger” in 2002 is the only exception!).

Too many breweries are trying to reinvent the wheel at the moment by raiding the kitchen cabinet and producing something wacky, simply in the quest to have a USP to make them stand out from all the other breweries.  Experimentation is fine, but not when it comes at the expense of drinkability.  A balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness is key for all good drinks, but what works well for a soft drink may not work so well in a beer.  The modern trend seems to be strongish blonde ales with a huge, almost bubble gum fruity hop aroma, but with little evidence of malty goodness.

For “Brimstone”, in view of it’s lower strength (3.9%), I decided to add plenty of crystal, caramalt and Vienna malt to give it a good biscuity, malt body to balance the fruity citrus flavours and bitterness of the Simcoe and Crystal hops.  Hopefully it’s balanced, drinkable and moreish – I’ll let you be the judge of that (bottles will be available from next week) – if it’s not, do let me know and I’ll try harder next time…

EAST STREET is back

EAST STREET is back

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Brewing an untried, untested beer is always fraught with risk, but I’m happy to report that the Belgian style wheat beer “Haze” turned out better than expected.  Keith and Trevor (my loyal assistants in the brewery) were initially slightly sceptical, especially after seeing samples from the fermentation vessel with orange bits floating in it.  However, a few weeks later they were hovering around the brewery sample minipin like wasps around a jam jar and they gave the “Haze” a big thumbs up.  I hope our customers who’ve tried it have enjoyed it too.  We still have some available in firkins and we have plenty of bottles in the brewery shop.  I suspect that it’s a style of beer that will mature nicely in bottle, so grab some whilst you can!

With the arrival of Spring and longer, warmer days, we have brewed our annual Easter favourite “East Street“.  It’s not one of my recipes, but I won’t hold that against it, it’s a damn fine beer – extra pale Maris Otter barley gives it a clean, biscuity crispness and copious amounts of Cascade, Crystal and Aurora hops pack a refreshing, aromatic aroma and finish.  For an extra zing we add further Crystal hops after the fermentation has finished.  We brewed it early last week on a Brew Day Experience with a very enthusiastic home-brewer called Peter helping out.  It was a real pleasure hosting the day for him.  Although he had a knowledge of brewing already, he asked plenty of questions and it was very satisfying having someone in the brewery who shared a passion for good beer.  I don’t think the passion quite extended to digging the hops out of the copper at the end of the day, especially after he saw the volume that went in at the start of the boil!

After just over a week in the fermenting vessel, the “East Street” was racked into firkins last week and is now available.  The bottles will be on sale in two weeks time.  I’m off on holiday next week, so Nelion will be taking the reigns whilst I’m away.  Meanwhile we have a brew of “Heresy” to do tomorrow, and the very popular American Pale Ale “Martyr” will be brewed next week and hopefully be available in firkins in a fortnight.  Bye for now, got to go and skim some yeast…

Brewer’s Blog

Brewer’s Blog

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Things haven’t quite gone according to plan this morning.  Normally we brew Ridley’s Rite on a Tuesday, but for the first time in Bishop Nick history, one or more of our hot liquor tank heaters expired overnight which meant the hot liquor wasn’t hot enough.  We’re not ones for cutting corners with our beers, so the brew has been postponed until tomorrow.  Every cloud has a silver lining as it gives me time to catch up on some neglected jobs, like writing a blog.

Today was also meant to be a “Brew Day Experience” for a lovely chap called Peter, but alas, that had to be postponed too.  These “Brew Day Experience” seem to be very popular and I’ve enjoyed entertaining (I hope) enthusiastic guests.  Some have home-brewing experience, many don’t – they just want to know how bags of malt and hops become pints of bitter.  A question I always ask is “do you mind if your pint of beer has a haze?”  Everyone always says yes – they want a crystal clear pint.  During the brewing process I then demonstrate the great lengths brewers have to go to to ensure every pint that is served in the pub is completely clear.  Low nitrogen barley, boiling, seaweed, silicate auxiliary finings and the swim bladder of a fish (isinglass) are all required to remove protein and yeast.  Some breweries go further and use filtration for bottling, canning and kegging.  Unfortunately finings and filtration also remove flavour, which is why brewers outside the UK often don’t bother trying – their drinkers are perfectly happy with hazy beer.  Protein and yeast give the beer a haze, but in moderate amounts they don’t affect the flavour of beer negatively and the all important flavour is not stripped out by the use of finings.  “Drink with your mouth, not your eyes” is always my policy, if it tastes good, drink it, if it tastes bad, return it.  However, the majority of drinkers still crave for a pint of crystal clear beer, so all of our beers are sold that way – apart from our latest one-off special appropriately named “Haze”.

“Haze” is our attempt at a Belgian wheat beer – and it’s the first time I’ve brewed one.  After a bit of homework we fleshed out a recipe that included extra pale malted barley, wheat malt, malted oats, coriander, orange peel and Mandarina Bavaria hops, but no finings.  The first hurdle was trying to avoid a set mash due to the large proportion of huskless wheat in the mash tun (husks aid run-off and natural filtration), but by taking things slowly during run-off and sparging we succeeded.  The next challenge was to add the right amount of coriander to the boiling wort – we are only looking for hints of spice, not so much that all the wheat and hop flavours are swamped.  The third leap of faith was adding the orange peel to the fermenting vessel – we didn’t want Kia-Ora and a blocked up outlet, but we needed to add enough to impart a pleasing, marmalade zestiness to the finished beer.  The final hurdle, as with any brew, was the fermentation.

Well I’m happy to report that everything worked out very well.  I racked the “Haze” yesterday and gave the beer a thorough tasting and a big thumbs up.  It’s a good hazy, entirely natural, vegan friendly wheat beer, with an initial coriander aroma, followed by a nutty, bready wheat taste, with orange zest and citrus hops following in the aftertaste.  It’s a refreshing pint, easy going, but flavoursome – even more flavoursome than normal thanks to all that haze.  It will also be available in bottles soon too – unfiltered and packed with flavour.  Look out for it.  Bye for now….