Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Bamberg – An Adventure in Brewing, Malt, Smoke and Beer


The air was heavy with the aroma of gently roasting malt as we disembarked from our train. Standing on the platform we were taken with the smell of the Weyermann maltings, its majestic brick façade towering over the beautiful Bavarian town of Bamberg.

We had travelled here to take part in a collaboration brew at the brewery attached to the 140 year old malting company. Weyermann make some highly specialist malts, many of which we use in of our XT and Animal beers. They have an amazing no-expense-spared, high tech brewery to test their malts and experiment with a wide variety of beer styles, and we had been invited here to play on it.

Bamberg must be one of the world’s top places for beer and it is well known for the local smoked Rauchbiers. As with much of Germany the locals are very loyal to their local breweries and the styles particular to the region. Generally I will always search out the local beers in my travels, but to only see local beer and no national or multinational brews at all was a revelation. The Germans see beer as a highly valued part of their culture; it’s not just a ‘drink’ and somehow inferior to wine. The brewing and serving of beer here is a respected career choice.

The old town of Bamberg is beautifully preserved, and a pleasure to wander around its old timbered houses, grand churches and cobbled streets. The locals get about on bikes on the many cycle paths and somehow they manage to ride normal looking machines without the need for lycra or carbon fibre. Most importantly however, Bamberg is blessed with nine breweries, all of which are within the old town environs. The breweries all have their own traditional bars attached, plus there are numerous pubs to tempt you, it’s actually quite hard to find a bad one. Here is a short list of some of our favourite breweries and bars:


Spezial - A traditional brewery which still smokes its own malts for the house speciality Rauchbier. We stayed here during our time in Bamberg, and it is well worth seeking out these characterful places – take a look on www.braugasthoefe.de for similar brewery guest houses across Germany.

Zum Sternla – Thanks to our hosts Weyermann, who are almost the Bamberg royal family, we had the honour of sitting at the ‘top table’; this is a bit of tradition where the landlord has his own reserved table and holds his beery court. It’s a great way to meet a wide variety of the locals and get to understand the traditions and enjoy the respect that German’s have for their beer and the well trained staff that serve it with such reverence. Sampled some very fine Weissbier (wheat beer) here, which has deep rich flavour missing in many more commercial versions.

Keesmann – Famous for its Herren-Pils and Helles, but for me it was most memorable for the huge food portions which actually defeated my companion who is not normally the loser in man vs. food. On investigating the extensive brewery behind the bar I spotted a huge machine which at first I could not identify, after enquiring I learned it was for the cleaning of beer bottles. In Germany the regional breweries use standardised bottles and they regularly collect and refill them. This was eye opening and a radically different way of thinking to our own throw-away culture.

Mahr’s Bräu – Opposite Kessmann, we really enjoyed the biergarten here and, after the night closed in, the convivial conversation on long benches in the dark wood panelled bar inside. The shared tables in the bars are very much part of the drinking culture; everyone sits together and if you arouse their interest, you will inevitably be drawn into the conversation of your neighbours. This bar also introduced us to the delights of “Ungespundet” which literally means “unbunged”. It’s a process for maturing beers with open vented vessels leading to much less gassy beer. The age old Reinheitsgebot or purity law has far reaching influence over the beers here, interestingly it also forbids the use of extraneous gas in the beer, only gas from the fermentation can be in the beer. So there is a little puzzler for you real-ale purists, is German keg-beer real-ale?

Klosterbräu – Attractive riverside brewery here for over 450 years. The oldest in Bamberg.

Schlenkerla – Probably the most famous Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla. The extensive bar with several panelled rooms and covered yards serves only one beer: it is black and it is very smoky. Served directly from wooden casks behind the bar, it’s a very special beer and special bar that encapsulates Bamberg and its deep beer traditions. If heaven forbid you want a different beer, you can buy the bottled helles, and yes that is smoky too!

I would definitely suggest a beer adventure in Bamberg with its great beers and great bars plus the added bonus that it’s actually a very attractive town. Bamberg is certainly up there in the top ten beer cities of the world.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Future of Cask and Craft Beers


XT Brewing welcomes proposals by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to widen its remit to include all quality beers, and not just cask ales.

XT Brewing head brewer Russ Taylor said CAMRA’s move fits in well with XT’s business philosophy.

“Following a very busy 2017 when we made a significant investment in new brewing equipment and a new brewery tap room, we are 100 per cent committed to increasing the production of our cask ales.

“However, we are also committed to increasing our production of all our craft beers, which are also produced in kegs, bottles and cans.

“CAMRA’s proposal to appeal to a wider range of drinkers who enjoy all quality beers – while continuing to advocate that real ale is the pinnacle of the brewers’ craft, fits in well with our thinking.

It’s been a great voyage so far on the good ship ‘XT’ – seven years ago we were just setting sail as a new virgin brewery in a beer world where there were only a few hundred like us. Now there are five times more breweries in a very crowded sea. However – we are still going at full steam ahead, with strong growth every year since the outset.

There have been some significant changes in the world of beer – it has made seismic shifts from dull mass marketing or nerdy, “Fred in a Shed” brews to the glamorous new epoch of ‘Craft Beer’. Back when we started our branding was quite unusual, turning away from the traditional look or silly names, we went clean, slick and straightforward with a cutting edge numbering and colour coded look.

The terminology of ‘Craft Beer’ is something of an enigma in England. The Americans, who arguably coined the term, view the beer and brewing world: vertically in terms of volume by producer; whereas over here, we do things differently, and view it horizontally in terms of dispense method. This does rather make twisting an American view point over our beer world a bit tricky.

So is cask beer ‘craft’ or not? –Yes probably, but I don’t think it really matters. At XT we make beer for cask, keg, can or bottle and we ‘craft’ all of them with the same love and care. The most significant format for us is, by far, Cask. Cask beer makes up most of our production and we have invested heavily over the years in our facility and equipment to make more of it and make it better. The cask range under the core XT or experimental Animal brand has been growing and we have striven to keep evolving and developing.

Our R 'n' D programme has been bringing some wondrous beery delights including the 12 month Imperial Stout, aged in a variety of seasoned oak vats; the ever changing Animal cask range and its impetuous little cousin the Baby Animal series of nano-brewed one-offs. The Eisbar Craft Lager has been rolled out to our pioneering pubs. One of the most recent developments has been our newest beer of 2018: the HopCat IPA; it is bang on trend as a hyper hoppy but lower ABV session beer.

The design world of beer has now caught up with our branding but we will keep moving ahead of the pack and continue to do our own thing. To further show our faith in the future of cask beer – we have brought our cask beer branding up to date with a modern new look. The next generation branding will be launched in March 2018 and gives all our beers a cohesive family look while keeping to our core branding principles.

We see the future of XT firmly in the cask market, working with our existing pub partners and also reaching out to other operators who are looking for an innovative brewery to develop new markets for beer with us.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Sardinian Brewing Adventure



Collaboration Brewing & Sardinian Beers

 Last summer at XT we brewed a Belgian Wit Beer, the ‘Animal Donkey’, with innovative and eccentric Italian Brewery BBBirra from Bosa. The beer was made with wheat and loads of potent Sardinian orange zest brought over by our brewing friend Carl Fitzpatrick.

This year I headed out to the idyllic Sardinian coastal town of Bosa to join Carl again and get our brewing heads together for round two of our international collaboration.

Carl runs his brewery and farm in the medieval town of Bosa on the banks of the river Temo in NW Sardinia. The two ventures are built on very strong environmental and sustainable principles close to Carl’s heart. The farm grows all the barley, wheat and hops for the beers, and his well provides all the brewing liquor; the yeast even comes from the local wine producers. Both ancient and contemporary varieties of grains are grown to ensure a diverse culture on the farm and remove the need for chemical assistance.  The by-products of brewing are fed to the farm animals. Unusual these days – even the used beer bottles are returned by Carl’s drinkers and refilled. The locals are so used to this now; he doesn’t even need to charge a deposit! The whole process from field to glass takes place all within walking distance of the farm.

The first beer we worked on in the four storey brewery, tucked away in the narrow, winding streets of old town Bosa, was based on an Italian speciality – “Doppio Malto”. This very high gravity beer is made with a unique double mashing process. The super strong wort is then munched away by yeast which had been cropped from actively fermenting Malvasia wine. To balance the massively chewy malt flavours, high alpha hops are added for a citrus bite.

If the beers travel further than Bosa, Carl takes them in his mobile pub – an amazing, converted German fire engine. With hand pumps, a bar and a bespoke chilled cellar; the beers are enjoyed in perfect condition while drinkers rest on old wine barrels. One day, between brews, we collected an old oak foeder from an ancient and crumbling wine cellar. The cellar tucked away in a tiny narrow street was an Aladdin’s cave of amazing old wine casks resting unused for many years, I wish I could have brought one home for a bit of whacky fermentation of my own.

As a balance to the Doppio, we turned our attention to a beverage made from the oldest strain of grain grown by man – Einkorn wheat which was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt. It’s a tough little grain and takes a lot to get it to give up its sugars for brewing. To help the process, our grist needed to be blended with some contemporary malted wheat. The flavours of this hazy, refreshing “Pharaoh’s Ale” perfectly matched the heat of the Sardinian sun.

Sardinia has a hot, Mediterranean climate and the beer culture has grown accordingly – with the locals and visitors preferring lighter and fruity beers, softer IPAs, wheat beers and lagers. The craft beer craze has swept across the whole of Italy and now even Sardinia has over two dozen local breweries.

The beer market is still dominated by Ichnusa – a classic Euro fizz lager. As with many similar brands this brewer is now a part of the giant Heineken, but a raft of small independent producers are making many inroads.
My pick of these new kids on the island include:

Marduk from Orosei on the east coast – this is one of the more commercial of the independent producers and their beers include American style IPAs, Czech Lagers and a Munich Alt Bier. But as with BBBirra they also follow a sustainability field to grain principle and have their own farm and maltings. 

Birrificio Cagliari, based in the capital, produce a very wide range of styles –and all packaged in beautiful bottles with very stylish labels. Worth it just to enjoy the Italian designer look.

Birra Lara from Tertenia on the south eastern coast is a very modern brewery creating beers using barley grown on their own farm. The owners enthusiastically support the traceability of their ingredients throughout the process.

Sambrinus from Sassari in the north is the oldest craft brewer, operating since 1999. Beers follow a more classical style of traditional brews.

Birrificio 4 Mori based in the south western town of Guspini, the brewery is housed in old mine workings and uses an excellent numbering system for their beers.

Most of the beers are available in bottles – generally I found these to be bottle conditioned, the locals expect ‘craft’ to be cloudy and preferably with lots of foam. Finding the beers on draught was a little tricky, but when you do find them, they are often ‘keg conditioned’ in key-keg or other bag type disposable systems. Many of the beers I tried were unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to enjoy a really good range look out for one of the many beer festivals around the island. These tend to be laid out in the ‘market street’ style where you can meet and talk to the brewery teams on their own stalls. 

It was a pleasure to work with Carl again this year, and get an insight into beer and brewing in Italy. Travelling for beer – what could be better?






Trappist Breweries



Pray Silence for Trappist Beer!

What is Trappist Beer and What is a Trappist Brewery?

 MONKS

Trappist beer is brewed by monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The order was founded at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy in the seventeenth century – they broke away from the regular Cistercians for being too soft. The Cistercians had already broken from the Benedictines as they had preferred more hard work and dedicated worship. So the Trappists like a bit of seriously hard manual labour, idle chit-chat is discouraged, silence is golden. They do however like beer.
Trappist beer is more a definition of who can brew it rather than what the beer is like. The beer must be brewed in a Trappist monastery, by monks or under their supervision and the brewing must be for the upkeep of the monastery and not for profit. There is legal protection of the designation through the International Trappist Association, and currently only 11 breweries around the world can call themselves Trappist. If you are not up to the mark on these criteria  there are ‘Abbey Beers’  - this is a more loose term for breweries with some vague link to a monastery.
There is only one Trappist monastery in England – Mt Saint Bernard in Leicestershire. They are currently working on building a brewery and hope to be the world’s 12th Trappist brewer, similarly in northern Spain, San Pedro monastery are also working towards joining the elite club.

BEERS

Although not strictly a definition of beer style, the beers produced by the breweries have similar characteristics. The emphasis is towards estery, fruity flavours from the unique yeast strains. Using warm, top fermentation, the beers are high strength, low on hop impact and utilise specialist malts and candi sugars to give warm, spicy flavours of great complexity. The beers are mainly packaged as bottle conditioned – which combined with their higher ABV and malt characteristics are excellent for long term keeping. Indeed many of the beers improve their complexity with months or years of aging in a cool dark place.
The beer categories have evolved over time and their original meanings have wandered a little – but roughly speaking:
Patersbier – these are ‘table beers’ generally only available in the monastery for the monks, low strength – quaffing beers
Enkel: the ‘single standard beer’ – from which the scale grows…
Dubbel:  twice the raw materials of the single. Strong, dark and low bitterness, heavy and fruity flavours 6–7 %
Tripel: more ingredients again – Stronger and golden, 7-11%
Quadrupel:  Strongest, dark and vinous sipping beers, 8-12%

Where numbers are used, these represent ‘Belgian Beer Degrees’ – not a university qualification, but an old school take on Original Gravity – the measure of the density of the beer before fermentation. So roughly a Belgian BD 6 = English OG 1060, it gives an idea on the final ABV and the weightiness of the beer.

DRINKING

When you come to enjoy your Trappist beer glassware is all important, both for the theatre and to enhance the aromas and flavours. Use a goblet chalice style glass – the breweries have their own specific styles, but collecting them all does take up a lot of cupboard space.
The bottled beers will have sediment – its personal choice if you wish to drink that, so pour carefully after allowing the sediment to settle.
Now consider that the finest wines are bonkers expensive – but the finest beers in the world are within the budget of everyone!

BREWERIES

Rochefort - 


Belgian, 1595, 18,000 Hl/Yr
6 = Red Cap, brown ale, 7.5%
8 = Green Cap, brown ale, 9.2%
10 = Blue Cap, Dark Ale, 11.3%

Westmalle – 


Belgian, 1836, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Dubel = Dark Red Ale, 7%
Tripel = Golden Ale, 9.5%
Extra = Only available at the monastery, 5%

Westvleteren – 


Belgian, 1838, 5,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Green Cap, 5.8%
8 = Blue Cap, Amber red ale 8%
12 = Yellow Cap, Legendary! 10.2%

Chimay – 

Belgian, 1863, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Red = Dubel, 7%
Blue = Dark Ale, 9%
Tripel = Golden 8%
Gold = Golden 4.8%

Orval – 

Belgian, 1931, 71,000 Hl/Yr

Orval = Brett Pale Ale, 6.2%
Petite Orval = Monks only special, 3.5%

Achel – 

Belgian, 1998, 5,000 Hl/Yr

7˚ Blond = Only available at the abbey, Golden 7%
7˚Bruin = Only available at the abbey, Brown Ale 7%
8˚ Blond = Golden 8%
8˚ Bruin = Brown Ale 8%
Extra Blond = Special 9.5%
Extra Bruin = Special 9.%

La Trappe – 

Dutch, 1884, 145,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Golden yellow 6.5%
Dubbel = Dark brown ale 7%
Isis’or = Jubilee ale, amber 7.5%
Tripel = Golden blonde 8%
Quadrupel = Heavy, amber special 10%
Witte Trappist = hazy wheat beer, 5.5%
Bockbier = Chestnut bock beer 7%
Puur = organic blonde ale 4.7%
 

Stift Engelszell – 

Austria, 2012, 2,000 Hl/Yr

Benno = Golden Red 7%
Gregorius = Dark Ale 9.7%
Nivard = Golden 5.5%

Spencer – 

 USA, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist Ale = Pale 6.5%
Holiday Ale = Dark 9%
Monks Reserve = Black 10.2%
Imperial Stout = Dark 8.7%
IPA = Golden 7.2%
Feierabendbire = Golden 4.7%
Lager = Pale Golden 7.5%

Zundert – 

Dutch, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist = Brown Ale 8%

Tre Fontane – 

Italian, 2014, 2000 Hl/Yr

Tripel = Blonde 8.5%

 



Monday, 19 October 2015

British Breweries wearing the Poppy with Pride


Three of Britain’s most innovative breweries have joined forces with the Royal British Legion to support the Poppy Appeal this year. XT Brewing of Buckinghamshire, Raw Brewery of Chesterfield and the Big Hand Brewery of Wrexham are collaborating on a very special beer during the month of Armistice. Each brewery is making the ‘Lest We Forget’ ale locally and following the same recipe then contributing a cut of their takings to the Poppy Appeal.

The collaboration between these breweries and the RBL with the Lest-We-Forget is inspirational and shows how forward thinking local producers can work together to help those who helped us in the defence of freedom. The members of the collaboration are all very proud to be working together and hope to extend the project further in 2016 to include more innovative craft breweries from around the country.

Back in 2013 the Royal British Legion Marlow branch and XT Brewery, created a unique charity beer to raise both awareness and much needed funds for the Royal British Legion (RBL) Poppy Appeal. Brewed for the month of Armistice the beer was a great success and contributed over £3000 to the Legion in its first year.

The beer aptly named ‘Lest We Forget’ at 4.2% is a red malty beer brewed with aromatic English malts and balanced with hops from around the Commonwealth including Galaxy from Australia, Admiral from England and Pacific Gem from New Zealand.

Encouraged by the success of the first year,  XT and The RBL worked together again in 2014 and released the beer once more to mark the month of Armistice and raise funds for the appeal. The beer spread its wings and was shipped further afield using the combined resources of other local brewers to help distribute the Lest into even more pubs and clubs.

Now into its third year two more breweries have joined the collaboration. The Raw Brewery and the Big Hand Brewery have thrown their considerable brewing experience behind the project. They are making the Lest for their local pubs and RBL clubs and raising even more funds for the Poppy Appeal.

Lest We Forget - three words renown across the world in remembrance of those who fought, and those who died fighting for freedom. It means that we will never forget! We honour the period of remembrance by wearing poppies, a flower that bloomed throughout the fields of battle grounds in France and Belgium during World War One. The poem, ‘Flanders Field’, written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae after witnessing his friend and fellow soldier struck down in the midst of battle in the First World War.  The poem inspired Moina Michael to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1918 and was adopted by the US Legion in 1920 and the British Legion in 1921      

The Royal British Legion, founded in 1921, is the UK’s leading Service charity. They provide practical care advice and support to serving members of the Armed Forces, veterans of all ages and their families. The Royal British Legion boasts some 360,000 members, they are not only a campaigning organisation challenging those in authority, with a fund-raising organisation reliant on a huge network of volunteers, but the RBL are the nation’s custodian of the Remembrance