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Brew #23 : a brewing year

Brew #23 is another batch of what’s now called Mynwent Mild [1]Mynwent is Welsh for graveyard, which is Kierkegaard in Danish and after a year of brewing has become one of the core beers that have solid recipes and can be reproduced. The brew day has settled into a routine, outlined below, with comments on changes and improvements to the process since I started.

The brewery; it’s taken a bit of a hit during the year due to the amount of boiling of sticky wort that takes place. Brewing with the doors and windows open really helps.

Light the burner for Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) (08h30) I started out with Powell Brewing 50 litre kit but subsequently found a set of 100 litre vessels on eBay locally. Batch sizes have therefore gone from 25-30l, up to 60-70l on average. Going bigger comes with challenges and you can’t move 70l of liquid or mash around easily and you need to pump it. I’ll heat around 90l of water initially though I’ll need to add another 10-15l in order to have enough for both mash and sparge.

Prepare the ingredients for the mash (09h00); After trying a few suppliers, I’m now buying most of my ingredients from The Malt Miller in Swindon, with a good reliable product and delivery service. COVID-19 has seen a significant increase in demand from home brewers, who are … at home more and Malt Miller has had working restrictions. I managed to order some ingredients for the next brew the previous day at 3pm.

The main ingredients for around 60l on Mynwent Mild are:

  • 12kg of mild ale malt
  • 0.9kg of crystal malt
  • 0.3kg of chocolate malt
  • 150g of Fuggles Hops (4.3% AAU)
  • Safale US-05 yeast (2 packs)

As the target ABV for Mynwent Mild is around 3.4%, the grain bill isn’t too high; for a bitter or lager in the same volumes you’d need around 15kg of base malt for similar volumes. You need also to take into account brewhouse efficiency, ie how much of the wort you are going to lose in the process. Again something I’ve picked up during the year and more on this in the article.

Mash temperature 68 C for a mild, higher than for a bitter or lager

Mash (09h45) : For bitters, mild and ales, it’s a single step infusion mash, so getting the right strike water temperature for the volume of grain and the target mash temperature is key. Single step mashes fine for most two-row well-modified barley you can now get from suppliers and the previous year has shown that 68 C for the mild seems to be good. Strike water temperature was 82 C, quite high but I’ve found the online calculators seem to be on the low side and it’s easier to be high (and stir out the heat) than be on the low side (and need too much water in the mash). The process needed for lagers is more complex, though speaking with a few craft brewers during the year (as Bluestone and Caffle for example) the product quality does mean you can get away with single-step mashes for lager malts; will be trying it soon.

Recycling the mash, gets the grain bed to set well and is the main factor in getting a clear beer

Mashout (10h45) : I’ve heater the water up to around 85 C whilst the mash has continued and then added more water with the aim of getting the mash to near as possible 76 C for the ‘mash out’. I’ve not always done it on brews and haven’t noticed much difference when I do or don’t include it in the process.

Recycling (10h50) : Spent some time looking at this during the year and the art of vorlaufing is much discussed by all grain homebrewers it seems. It’s purpose is to set the grain bed in the mash tun and to ensure the wort that is there is clear and has as many particles as possible removed from it. I’ve used a two litre jug for this, carefully pouring it back on to the top of the grains (the mash paddle to spread it across the top, to avoid disturbing the grains). Doing this for 30 minutes is a little tedious, but well worth it in terms of results. I’ve looked a using the pump to recirculate this also but this hasn’t seen to get the wort to go clear. My thinking is there is that the suction from the pump is forcing particles through the grain bed and keeping them in circulation. I’ve a plan for the next brew of dropping the wort into a container and then pumping it from there. Going for a RIMS or HERMS system is an option, but the manual method seems to working okay for the volumes I’m currently producing.

Sparging (11h30) : My initial approach on the early brews was to manually sparge by using the same approach as for recycling and pour 76 C sparge water onto the top of the grain bed, allowing for the wort to trickle into a container below. However, I’ve now used a sparge arm and gravity feeding this from the HLT; the arm is relatively small as bought for the 50 l kit, but does the job well and it’s a less manual process. This is important as it’s easier then to regulate the time taken, which was around 30 minutes and now is more like an hour. I’m running the wort into a container, which then I add to the kettle 10l at a time, so I can start the heating the wort ready for the boil as I’m sparging; this saves some time too.

Managed to get 70 lites into the kettle with an original gravity of 1.036, which with a good fermentation (and a final gravity of 1.010) should come out at 3.4% ABV. It pays to have more sparge water than you think you need as you want to avoid running the grain bed dry as they’ll more particles and stuff in the wort (which you won’t get rid of later in the process). I did tip the mash tun to get more wort out once early on; won’t be doing that again as you’ll have a beer that never clears further than what you’d expect from canal water !.

Boil (12h30) : A recent innovation is to start the heating the wort during the sparge and this doesn’t seem to have an adverse effect on the end result. I usually note the elapsed times for key activities during the boil and then add in actual time once the boil has started. For the Mild, the hops are added with 75 minutes to go of a 90 minute boil (ie for bittering, rather than flavouring) and as it’s a Mild, there’s not too much of a hop load (only 150g). Getting a good rolling boil seems to be good, more vigorous than not and you can see the crap coming out in the boil, with the hot break.

Bitter Hops (12h45) : I’ve tended to use whole hops, rather than pellets during the last year and surprise, surprise it’s another area of contention in home brewing. For me, they work well and the couple of times I’ve used pellets the beer hasn’t cleared as well.

Fuggles hops (150g) going into the kettle at 75 minutes (to go)

Irish Moss or Protoflac (13h45) : I’m now using Protoflac tables with 15 minutes left of boil as the kettle finings rather than Irish Moss; seems to work okay for me.

Flame Out (14h00) : I don’t whirlpool the kettle as I’ve not the kit to do it, but I do give it a stir with a mash paddle and leave it for 5 minutes or so before chilling the wort ready for the fermentor.

Yeast (14h00) : As mentioned above, whilst I started out using liquid yeasts and did the prep (with the stir plate, starters etc), I’ve subsequently reverted to dried yeasts and in particular to the Fermentis brand and have had good results with the ale, kolsch and lager varieties.

Fermentis brand yeast is a little confusing in the naming, but results are good. Check the amount of wort that a packet of yeast is suitable for, as they vary from 10 to 30 litres for each 11g. .

Whilst the packet recommendation is to just apply the yeast directly to the wort in the fermentor, I’m now hydrating it for 30 minutes before pitching, after seeing it recommended in John Palmer’s How To Brew (which although detailed in places is about the best book for the newer home brewer).

Yeast hydration prior to pitching

I started out with liquid years (Wyeast) and though there were a couple of misses, it worked out okay. However I did some brews with a couple of different dried yeast options and have settled on the Fermentis range of yeasts for now. Now, you don’t get the wide selection that you do with with liquid yeasts so the flavours from the product won’t be quite as varied either. Chatting with a couple of Pembrokeshire brewers, they are also using dried yeasts, partly because of costs but also because they don’t have facilities of managing yeast (ie a lab and reusing it). This is something that I might look at again, as it would be another aspect of brewing to understand. Yeast is complex and pretty interesting, so plenty of reading needed.

Chilling (14h05) : One of the big challenges is getting boiling wort (about 60 litres of it) down to fermentation temperature (about 18 C for ale) as quickly as possible, ideally in under 30 minutes. The original Powell kit came with a suitably sized plate heat exchanger. It’s a good bit of kit and with the right cold tap flow, it can easily do the job. For lager wort, you need to get the temperature lower and this is possible with more water flow and a bucket of ice, with my best result getting down to 15 C.

Chilling the wort, with the pump getting the beer into the fridge mounted fermentor.

I use gravity and the tap to control the cold water flow and all the hot water coming out after exchange is used to fill the HLT and other vessels for cleaning up afterwards, which cuts down on the energy consumption considerably. The chilled wort goes into a 25 l bucket and then I use the pump again to get this into the fermentor.

Fermentation : I started brewing with buckets for fermentors but quickly went and bought a conical fermenator, the FastFerment. It gave good results and wasn’t cheap but the valve wasn’t great and I got sent a replacement after the original one broke. I then acquired a stainless 30l Brewtech one, before going back to PTFE and an 80 litre one from Poland, which is great quality. The resale on the smaller fermentors was good, so didn’t lose too much money on the change and as with anything good quality kit will retain its value. The 80 litre size means you lose more of the wort at the bottom of the vessel but you don’t want it anyway, as there’s more trub given the volume.

80 litre fermentor fits nicely into the fridge

I’ve housed all the fermentors in a fridge for temperature control and used an STC 1000 for this; they are cheap and it’s relatively easy to set up a brew fridge. There is a more sophisticated BrewPi system and I’ve the components to make one somewhere, but the STC 1000 approach has worked really well and there lots of guides on how to do it out there. My fridge cost £20 and you don’t really want a freezer.

STC 1000 temperature controller; easy to use and set up. It provides power to the fridge when cooling and heat to a small greenhouse heater to warm it up.

Keeping the fermentation constant and predictable seems to have a big impact in quality and flavour for the beer and the beer fridge really makes this easy. For complex beer processes, such as lagers, the controller makes stages like the diacetyl rest important.

Aerating the Chilled Wort : One of the initial problems I had was with a couple of failed fermentations which could have been a lack of oxygen in the wort, a common issue with boiled liquids. I had a spare bottle of O2 (from the oxypropane kit in the garage) so along with an aquarium aeration stone, I’m adding a small amount (30 seconds or so) prior to pitching the hydrated yeast. Touch wood, not had a failed fermentation for quite a while.

Storage and Delivery : From home brewing years ago, I remembered one of the main challenges (and tiresome parts) was bottling, both cleaning and getting beer into the bottles. Initially I decided to use gas for storage in Cornelius (corny) kegs, 19 litre vessels used for coke and soft drinks in pubs. These have been great and with gas and a suitable pump for delivery, the beer will be drinkable for quite a while (3 months plus if it lasts that long). I’ve also invested in a beer engine and a couple of pins (4.5 gallon casks) which are good for parties and larger gatherings (not that this is happening for a while). Refurbished corny kegs can be found for £50-65 and the taps, lines and other dispensing items are all available. Getting non-rental CO2 is possible via Adams Gas and the main distributor for South Wales just happens to be just outside Fishguard, so relatively handy for me (when travelling).

Corny kegs in the fridge. Good for storing lager as cool as possible, for 2-3 months minimum.

I also took the plunge and bought a Cannular canning machine, which though not cheap is 50% of some of the other devices aimed at home brewers. Once set up (which takes some tuning with the different chucks) it works well and is a great way of distributing beer to friends and family[2]Especially during the Covid19 lockdown, as you send cans relatively cheaply using Hermes, will let you know if they make it. Whilst doing the mild brew, managed to find time to can some of the previous Bertand’s Bitter brew. With the labels, it works out at about 18p a can, so whilst not cheap it makes the product portable; requires less cleaning and no worries in getting the bottles back.

Ready for canning; beer is already under gas from he keg, so makes filling relatively easy

Cleaning : You’ll read in all the books that cleaning is essential and you find if you don’t clean vessels, the brewing area and all around thoroughly you’ll end up with problems. I’ve learnt the hard way, especially with the mold in the lean-to area where I brew and ensuring good ventilation is essential. I’ve a range of chemicals for cleaning and santising and it takes a good hour to clear up once the wort is safely in the fermentor.

Top Tips: some thoughts on the best bits I’ve learnt through the last 12 months.

  1. Brewing diary : I record each of the brews in the diary including timings, ingredients and measurements. I used to record gravities, starch content and temperatures to some level of detail, but now that’s only for new recipes and I’ll take the OG going into the kettle to see if I’ve got the measurements right, but for the mild, 12kg base malt + 1.2kg colour/flavour malts gets 70l into the kettle at around 1.036 OG.
  2. Brew Day Timing : From start (lighting the HTL) to finish (last bit of cleaning) a brew day will take 7-8 hours and whilst there are times (during the mash and the boil) where you can do other things, it tends to need attention all the way through. Automation can shorten the recirculation and sparge times, but being patient and methodical pays off, as does experience.
  3. Practice. The first brew was a bit chaotic (though Karl came to help) and ended up with a fermentation that didn’t want to happen, so Brew #1 wasn’t great. However, only one other failure since then and whilst some of the beer hasn’t been great, from brew #15 onwards it’s been relatively successful (even if I say so myself)
  4. Understanding What’s Happening. Getting into the books and articles on brewing have really helped me understand what’s happening even with basic brews, especially why things are done certain ways. Diacetyl rests for example, when fermenting lagers make all the difference to remove the butterscotch flavours, which are okay in ales, but not in lagers. I’m now doing the same for the bitter, to get a fresher cleaner taste.
  5. Good kit. There was an upfront investment on the brewing for the Powell brewing kit (much less for its second hand big brother) but this has really paid off 23 brews later. Items like the heat exchanger make the job really easier and whilst I could go further with a HERMS system, this will be something to think about further down the road.
Beer on tap, getting the right beer with food is good, though mild with chicken tagine is an interesting combination

The End Product. This makes it all worthwhile. To start with you’ll drink anything you brew (well you’ve got to haven’t you) but as the quality of your brews increase, so do your own expectations. Luckily the standard has got better, with the cask-conditioned mild produced for Christmas 2019 possibly the peak brew (right time, right place).

Finished product (early pour from the previous bitter brew), clarity improves in the keg after 2-3 days.
Bertrand’s bitter in fine form on a dank February afternoon
Canning as it’s benefits, Dan Evans at the Telford Off Road Show, February 2020.

References   [ + ]

1. Mynwent is Welsh for graveyard, which is Kierkegaard in Danish
2. Especially during the Covid19 lockdown, as you send cans relatively cheaply using Hermes, will let you know if they make it
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Nudge nudge, wink wink

For those of you from a certain era will remember this line from a certain Monty Python sketch.  There is possibly a link between that and this blog post but I’ll let you decide!  With the current COVID-19 situation, using nudge theory could be good to ensure people act in way which which is beneficial to themselves and others.

Nudging in the way we initially think about it is about a physical act between one person and another.  Somebody attractive walks into a bar, you may nudge your friend.   A couple start having an argument in a restaurant, you may nudge your friend along with a raised eyebrow and perhaps a pricked up ear.  These are conscious actions as a reaction to a specific situation where you would like to make somebody aware of said situation. Do you expect a response? Maybe you do but your initial purpose is to just make them aware of something happening.  Imagine the first scenario above of somebody attractive walking in to a bar.  You nudge your friend but the reaction isn’t as you expected as it turns out that person is their friend, work colleague or (worst case scenario) their sister/brother. If you weren’t aware of this then should you feel guilty for not getting the reaction you expected? The nudge was meant in good faith with no apparent expectations and you may never know the unknown back story. 

This is a benevolent nudge with no apparent motive apart from just bringing something to somebodies attention then you just move on from there.  You could say it’s a stateless nudge – you don’t anticipate a major change in somebodies state or behaviour due to the nudge. If they change their thinking then all is good.  If not then all is still good. 

How about if you do want to create a change in somebodies behaviour, thinking or direction? A physical nudge could be a little too obvious and may seem like you are pushing them down a specific way of thinking or acting and will meet with some kind of cognitive dissonance.  If a person isn’t naturally inclined to act in a specific way because it could be against their internal thought processes, they could react with defiance, obstinance and perhaps anger.  This doesn’t help you, them or the overall situation.

This is where nudge theory comes in to play. The  name concept of ‘Nudge theory’ was presented in the by 2008 book, ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness’ and is based around how people make decisions based on which choices are available to them at that specific time and place.  The time and the place of the nudge is very important here as decisions can vary hugely between the amalgamation or delta between the two. A very simple example is where you try to nudge somebody to put their coat on as you want to head home. In winter this could be a simple nudge by putting on your own coat and subtlety saying ‘Brrrrr – it’s cold outside’. This won’t work as well in summer so you will need a nudge more relative to the situation such as your coat fell on the floor so you’ll put it on so nobody stands on it.  This is a bit of a trite example but you get the idea.  Make the nudge fit the situation. 

This is very different to some techniques which try to ingrain new ways of thinking in people though obvious education and enforcement of ideas.  This is more akin to negative social influencing or brainwashing which involves changing a persons thoughts again their will.  This idea of using underhand and coercive methods to alter people’s thoughts or perceptions is not what we’re talking about here.

A nudge is more subtle and for the benefit of the person and, sometimes, for the benefit of others without detriment or benefit to the individual. 

Another good example is used in hotel bathrooms.  You are provided with nice clean and fresh towels and there is normally a piece of folded card on top of the stack of towels.  As it’s on top of the towels, you are naturally going to read this before moving or using the towels (nudge #1).  The card will read something similar to “We are helping to create a more sustainable environment by not changing your towels every day.  This saves the use of detergent and other chemical which can harm the environment.  We are so proud to be able to say that 90% of our customers agree and only request fresh towels every other day”.   There are two nudges here: the first mentions harming the environment which tend to make people read on and the second is that 90% of other customers didn’t ask for fresh towels everyday.  This makes you think “I don’t want to be in the 10% of people who who actively harming the environment!”.  

Another nudge is used in some gents toilets.  Without wanting to alienate 50% of the population who may not be too knowledgable on gents toilets, this nudge plays on slightly childish and/or competitive nature of us men. It’s very simple … put an icon of a fly at the bottom of the urinal. What’s the first thing a man will try to do? Yes, you’ve got it – try to pee on the fly.  This ensures that there is limited ‘overshooting’ of the urinal and keeps toilet floors slightly cleaner.

I hope you found the above interesting but you could now be asking yourself what this has to do with COVID-19.  Have a think about the things we are trying to change in peoples usual way of life then think of possible nudges to get people to alter their behaviour.

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Too dogmatic ? Us ?

Draft, but haven’t have time to finish it, so comments welcome

Introduction

It was a conversation with an ex-Red Hat colleague that got me thinking. We were discussing the company where he was working now and why, after a long career at Red Hat he felt he was now in a better place to understand and help customers. He put that down to now being more pragmatic to customer challenges, rather than dogmatic.

It got me thing and writing. Warning, there is some philosophical discussion and more ‘isms’ coming up below.

We have a understanding of what being pragmatic is ? Just get it done and don’t worry too much about the details, philosophical debate or the bigger picture. Pragmatism is a relatively new philosophical movement and is one that really looks at the actual measurable success of an action (or series of actions). It looks across a number of ideas, theories and methods and choses the one that is in practical terms, the best fit. It doesn’t consider the theoretical, touchy-feely or less tangible aspects to the matter in hand. You’d therefore say it’s the perfect approach for the keyboard warriers and the technologists.

Dogmatism is usually seen as the offical principles, methods and apparatus of a religion and is most commonly associated with the Catholic church. However, dogmatic people in work or a personal setting can be characterised by those who want to follow the rules and process of doing something. People who read the manual and then stick to the process, even if there’s a quicker, better way of doing something could be described as dogmatic.

The discussion, was Red Hat’s near-to-religious belief in open source was in fact a constraint in helping customers achieve success as it would ignore technology and processes that didn’t adhere to its own dogma (ie the rules and environment of open source). As such it might overlook or ignore a proprietary piece of software over-and-above a lesser open source alternative, just because the latter was open source. Initial I thought this a valid point, despite my own open source centric career over the last 25 years.

However, on further reflection, it occurred to me that all software companies are dogmatic, in that they believe their products, the ones which make them money are the best for the customer. It’s the nature of the industry.

There was one point he mentioned that was interesting; the company he now works for is open core, so it’s business model looks to use proprietary components as the means for revenue generation. It’s therefore a better model than a pure open source one. It’s a model that’s come under criticism from open source purists but it’s one that is relatively widely adopted. For an end user customer, I didn’t think this was more pragmatic, nor did it provide any greater benefit.

This conversation left me with two further areas of thought,

  1. With digital transformation at the forefront for so many organisations isn’t pragmatic approach really better
  2. Is Red Hat so closely wedded to open source that doesn’t have the best interest of the customer at heart ?

In thinking and writing this article, it raised a third area of thought. The discussion on this is also below, with a general conclusion to finish.

Pragmatism isn’t enough

For IT analysts, business consultants and those working solely on advise and guidance, then this pragmatic approach would seemingly make more sense. They are free from the constraints on selling software they produce (more on this below), so potentially they can pragmatic and potentially agnostic in providing the best solution to the customer. The term agnostic widely used, incorrectly to define independence and a focus of needs rather than a specific solution based on the technology trying to be sold. Infact, the analyst or architect should be described as an omnist, someone who believes in all technology equally and knows how it should be used in a specific solution.

Since the acquisition of Red Hat by IBM [1]https://www.redhat.com/en/about/press-releases/ibm-closes-landmark-acquisition-red-hat-34-billion-defines-open-hybrid-cloud-future, I’ve spent plenty of time working with my new colleagues. A recent presentation from someone within services part of IBM got me thinking further; he stated that as part of an advisory service on cloud computing, his organisation would be independent and put the customer requirements first and foremost, with no bias towards IBM or Red Hat products or technology.. Unsurprisingly, this provoked some charged responses from the internal audience of 100 or more technologists. The revenue came purely selling consulting time and not software products. In my own career in Red Hat Consulting, only a couple of occasions have we been approached by customers for “independent” advisory work; usually it’s for advise on what technology Red Hat and open source can provide. Given that a lot of the consulting companies are not ‘digitally native’ then this made a lot of sense.

Primarily the role I and my colleagues have played is based on that of syncretism whereby different approaches, technologies and methods are combined to provide the best advice and potentially the best solution to the customer [2]This is a fascinating area of work, much debated and one suggested reader is https://www.crcpress.com/Syncretism-in-Religion-A-Reader/Leopold-Jensen/p/book/9781904768654. However, you need an open and inclusive mind to do this type of work, which also can be a challenge given the confirmation bias we all have.

Digital transformation and how IT and computing now should work means that the combination of people, process and technology is complex and that Occam’s Razor can rarely be applied successfully. Solutions are complex, though not impossible to solve. For digital transformation, understanding the wider business, the capabilities of the organisation being worked with and having sight of the long term goal (and path toward it) are all key aspects. Getting an understanding of the business is key [3]Reading The Phoenix Project is a good way of understanding this https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phoenix-Project-DevOps-Helping-Business-ebook/dp/B00AZRBLHO

Being pragmatic will result in quick wins for customers and their technology providers, however focusing on one aspect (usually the technology) will mean the chance of long term success are not so certain.

Doing the Right Thing

As mentioned above, all technology companies and their employees believe their software is the best for the customer and for the problems that customer needs to solve. The digital transformation agenda over the last 5-7 years has shown that these problems are becoming harder to solve and importantly cannot be resolved solely through the use of technology.

Red Hat’s is the most successful open source company. By having this higher doctrine around open source beyond that of the company goals (usually financial), it can be argued is in fact less dogmatic than many proprietary vendors as it has both community and enterprise versions of software available to its customers. The former (free, as in beer) versions are the communities and the projects that are the heart and soul of open source, whilst enterprise versions are the downstream, paid for versions that are used commercially with the security, support and management that’s needed. Whilst the sales teams in Red Hat aren’t always happy about the community versions of the software product, their existence is essential for making the software what it is. For many developers paid for by Red Hat, it is solely the community software that is their focus and whilst this drives downstream commercial revenue (and pays their salaries) they are not incentivised by this.

Back to The Present Age

So to the third point, that’s come up whilst I’ve been thinking and preparing this article. A couple of years ago I wrote a short, Kierkegaard influenced article of The Present Age, discussing the impact of the calm after the battle. For Red Hat, it can be argued that its fight for success and understanding of open source took place from 1994 through to around 2015 and the rise of the hyperscale cloud providers and widespread understanding of open source.

As time moves on, people with direct experience from this part of the companies history diminishes as people move on to new challenges, so understanding and belief changes. Lots of new hires to Red Hat come because the success of Red Hat after careers in other technology companies (some successful, some not). They add significantly to the shared knowledge and experience within the company. One of the other aspects to this growth and change has been their interpretation and understand of open source and Red Hat culture. Open Leadership principles, combined with transparency are recognised and admired, making it a desirable place to work and it’s no about it’s something that has driven it’s success.

From my own experience, this open culture and leadership has sometimes been interpreted by new joiners as the ability to continue work in the way they were working at previous companies (this is in part why they were hired), as much as it is embracing the dogma of open source. The cultural change when coming into Red Hat sometimes does result in an incorrect fit as the organisation can be robust and challenging, which is unfortunately interpreted as hostile. This one of the pitfalls of a meritocracy.

The other effect is the growth of gnosticism, where the beliefs and understanding of the individual have taken a greater importance than that of corporate or open source dogma. In most cases this might

References   [ + ]

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A Decent Pint ?

Sometimes it’s not too hard to find crap beer. It’s a real disappointment when you do, especially when it’s a local pub with a good atmosphere and good conversation. After yesterdays visit, I’m aware that any future visits will involve a game of Russian roulette in selecting a suitable brew to drink.

Last nights selection was 3 cask beers

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Real beer

This blog was prompted by a bit of Facebook marketing from Seedrs, a funding site, offering the chance to invest in a craft brewer. What made it interesting was that the brewer is Watneys. Well not really a brewer as such.

The once mighty Watneys, Combe & Reid, once part of the FT30 in the 1930s ended up being acquired by Grand Metropolitan Hotels in the 1970’s, but its notoriety amongst beer drinkers of a certain age is for being one of the first in the UK to produce keg beer. It’s not that keg beer can’t be bad, with Watneys Red Barrel being pasteurised and filtered allowing it to be exported and have a long shelf life, hence its appearance on holiday destinations in Spain.

Watneys Red Barrel, synonymous with 1970’s crap beer

Watneys and its Red Barrel became all that is evil in the eyes of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), although like First World War generals there are some revisionist historians trying to set the record straight. It wasn’t just Red Barrel, but other brands like Double Diamond and Tankard that CAMRA had a real target to aim for. The blog mentioned (which is by Boak and Bailey) makes you feel that CAMRA’s view in the 1970’s when it was founded was too evangelical and wasn’t too tolerant. The Big 6 Brewers demise in the 1990’s as the return to real ale gained force has been documented (including in this excellent paper) and there’s no doubt in 2019 that drinkers have far more choice than ever before with the beer they drink.

So what was the problem with Watney’s ? :

  • according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), it was kegged, therefore not ‘real’ ale
  • it was sweet (and got sweeter when given a makeover at the beginning of the 70’s as Red) and gassy
  • they got rid of the bitterness and made it more of a mild, just as mild was going out of fashion.

So come 2019 we’ve come a long way and have a lot of beer choice, with ‘craft’ beers (in gassy can or keg form) competing with craft beers. This new brewers of the 21st century (BrewDog, Tiny Rebel and others) aren’t small concerns, but are having a dramatic impact on the way the beer is drunk in pubs and to some extent you’ll see as much craft beer being drunk as you will lager in some places.

This is the first blog (hopefully of a few) as I get my head around the state of brewing and beer in the UK, from a standing start. My own exploration of brewing is beginning to open my eyes to the wider challenges and opportunities of brewing, marketing and potentially selling your own beer. It’s amazing stuff.

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It wasn’t there

N3 becomes A509

Took a trip north from Dublin after work yesterday, along the M3 and then N3 up to Belturbet, a small town in Co. Cavan that I’d last been through back in the 1980’s. It used to be a long journey, bouncing your way up the N3 through Navan and Cavan, after usually getting lost when leaving Dublin.

After completing my mission just outside the town (more below), I headed the short distance north on the N3 as it crosses the border on the way to Enniskillen, no signs and apart from the road markings you wouldn’t know you’ve left the Republic and entered Northern Ireland. My memories from getting to Blacklion, also in Co. Cavan involved the N87 and some minor roads, primarily to avoid the then pretty brutal British Army border post at Swalinbar. So why didn’t we go straight up the A509 to Enniskillen and then across to Blacklion, via Belcoo ? Well, it’s because the road was shut in 1972 after the Loyalists had tried to blow up the bridge a few times and then only reopened in 1999.

Cavan and Fermangh border

For many people in the UK currently listening to the ongoing Brexit debate, the discussions on the Irish backstop and hard borders in Ireland may seem irrelevant as geography means that it really has got nothing to do with them. However driving in the area, let alone living, shows how significant it will be for the people of the area and why there needs to be some form of agreement when the UK leaves the EU.

Without straying too far into politics, the border has been since 1997 simply a line on the map, with free movement and very little violence. I really have great memories of my times in Fermangh, Leitrim and Cavan in the 1980’s, though the bombing at the Enniskillen fishing festival in 1984 happened just before one of those visits (remember parking in the car park). It would be a tragedy for this to be lost, with closed roads, border check points and restrictions on movement.

And my trip to Belturbet was because I’d stumbled across a property for sale just outside the town and fancied a look. Well worth the trip and the house was unlocked and open so had a short tour. It’s an interesting area in the lake district, though relocation may not be an immediate option.

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Seeing the trees for the wood

In her excellent biography of Soren Kierkegaard, Clare Carlisle uses the notion of a train journey to describe Kierkegaard’s life and work, with him alternatively sitting forward and rearward facing. The view you get of the passing landscapes of fields, towns, people and places are very different and the philosophy of the viewer are in turn also altered.

Imagine two people sitting opposite each other in the railway compartment looking out of the window, which looks out on the world of opportunities they have between them. The innovative, motivated but inexperienced person faces forward, excited and not overwhelmed by whats ahead, has recently been asked to work with the more experienced, steady and more successful person sitting opposite him. The experienced person has built large projects, developed one of the largest companies in the world and has a trusted brand that’s a household name. He sees large farms, forests and cities as his usual business and is successful on repeating on what his company has done in the past. The more inexperienced, forward facing persons see’s new opportunities coming ahead through the window and looks at specific trees, parts of roads and houses and sees how they can be improved quickly by his smaller, but more innovative business.

The challenges these two people face on their joint endeavour go beyond some of the practicalities of sharing office space, working together in a coordinated way and understanding each others language, because there is also a very different philosophy in the way they work. Combining both their views from the window will form the basis of success. Smaller projects, that the experienced person may have missed, will form the basis on gaining ground on new technology, which in turn will shape the larger, more traditional projects which are the mainstay of the bigger company. Injecting energy and enthusiasm into this joint venture will need to be coupled with the experience and structure that’s needed for success.

For the individuals, the approach and structure of the way they work is also very different, but both loyal and supportive of these traditions and expectations on what they do and why. However, it’s not only their view from the window is different, looking forward or looking back, the what they see in terms of opportunity and possible success. It will be these that will determine how much they enjoy working together going forward.

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The End is Nigh?

As with many events that you think are going to come in and change your life, on the eve of them actually happening they turn out to be more of be more a Welsh drizzle than the forecast hurricane.

So as I mixed another Old Fashioned on a Sunday night last autumn, the news that IBM was going to acquire Red Hat for $34bn, it was like the apocalypse had been announced. A bit of shock. However, on the eve of this happening it’s all a bit of non event for me. I won’t be a millionaire and the day to day will be a gradual change.

However, the acquisition of Red Hat by the computing industry has been happening from within over a number of years. It has grown rapidly on the back of Linux revenues from its unique open source subscription model and this expansion has transformed it more than IBM will.

Whether it be the people (from larger industry players), processes needed to run these companies or competitive pressures to be like it’s competitors, Red Hat has already acquired the trappings of yet another US tech company. Whilst the promotion and awaress of the culture continues to be something that is pushed, as I’ve written before, if it’s not lived then it’s not learnt or fully understood.

So by weird circumstance, it might be that the arrival of Big Blue invigorates the old Red Hat, with the return of the who-dares-wins mentality and an open approach, where we are all in this together.

There are for sure people at IBM who want to be Red Hat more than they want to be IBM and thats going to be useful. IBM are offloading lots of unwanted legacy software lines out the backdoor to HCL (like Domino), whilst welcoming Red Hat in the front door and it’s going to be better being at the front of house rather than the back.

So, my own feeling is less one of fear-and-loathing in South Bank, more one interest and intrigue of how this is going to pan out, as IBM goes looking for gold in the hills of hybrid cloud.

True, my position is relatively comfortable in that my Red Hat dependency was fixed through a philosophical rehab a few years ago. I might need the money to some extent, but I don’t need the dogma. I am a true believer in the wider religion of open source and this has been my vocation, but this doesn’t need the church of Shadowman anymore (which is why the logo change was a relative non event to me.

Red Hat has been a great place to work for over 18 years and will continue to be better than a lot of other IT companies. It will change and will hopefully influence IBM themselves as they carve out a new way forward. The next few months and years will be interesting and of course, enjoyable.

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The Promo Box #2

The adventures of the box of promotional records continues and after the initial excitement of the Tubby Hayes research, thought I’d better go through and catalogue the whole box of records.

For photos of most the promo disks : https://photos.app.goo.gl/eAejHCDuN5Hj39eu6

With records on Tempo, London, RCA, Decca, Vogue and others, there is quite a mix of artists and styles, though they are all jazz, though its various guises, from dixieland to bop. Some of the titles are more interesting than others, with Jimmy Deuchar, Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and Big Bill Broonzy.

The aim will be to work through the records and work out exactly what they are. I did start with the pair of 10″ Tubby Hayes promo’s and they are indeed very interesting (and possibly the most interesting) given they each are the same tracks as the 1955 7″ EPs issued on Tempo.

The common theme here is likely to be Decca, who acquired both the Vogue and Tempo labels in the mid 50’s and why this set of promos might be together as they are.

Tempo EXA 27; the extended play 7″ EP from the Tubby Hayes Quartet. The 10″ promo is the same tracks but different and wonder if this (or was planned to be) a Decca release.

This collection of promo’s, which might be of some value, actually will provide some fascinating research opportunities and some great puzzles to solve. The first pass was the checking the matrix and label numbers on discogs to see if they appear.

One of the gaps from the 1st pass research was the 10″ disc from The Knocky Parker Trio, H-BU 1044, which isn’t listed on Discogs, though it turns out it has been sold on eBay and as a result appears on popsike ( https://www.popsike.com/Knocky-Parker-Trio-London-RAGTIME-Jazz-London-56-Microgroove-10-Vinyl-EX/310878589076.html )

The Knocky Parker Trio : London Records H-BU 1044

The front cover photo retrieved from popsike / ebay shows the track listing (though this might not be the order on the vinyl).

  • Naked Dance
  • Wolverine Blues
  • Original Rags
  • Memphis Blues
  • Sidewalk Blues
  • Limehouse Blues
  • Barrelhouse Blues
  • Smokey Mokes

With no track listing on the label, will need to play the disc and work out which half of the record I have. Whilst more popular at the time, the traditional jazz hasn’t stood the test of time in the same way that the more modern and avant garde jazz sounds have.

However, the current popularity doesn’t really stop it being interesting. Knocky Parker for example not only was a great ragtime piano player, but

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The Promo Box : Part #1

As with most things, the best things in life are, if not free, mostly unexpected. Cheryl had spied a couple of records of interested in a shop and we arranged to go back for a trawl through after having a look round a nearby property.

Chatting the owner of shop / flat, noticed his his interesting record collection and had a look through a box of what looked like promo records, all of which were Jazz and seemingly late-1950’s. All were 10″ or 12″ 33 1/3rd format and marked of the sleeves and the labels, with artists ranging from Ronnie Scott, Count Basie, Big Bill Broonzy and others. These are single side promos, with a pressing on just one side.

However, what caught my eye and caught me shelling out some cash for the box (and it was 3 figures not a fiver) was an unassuming 10″ pair of disk with Tubby Hayes written on one label and the brown paper bag, along with two matrix numbers.

The two Tubby Hayes single-side promos. 10″ 33.3 rpm

VMG 187-2B

VMG 188-2B

Matrix Numbers from the 10″ Tubby Hayes promo records

A bit of research and VMG / VMGT is the matrix numbers from Vogue / Contempary Vogue, which was a French jazz-focused record label (that came from the Swing label), that was acquired by Decca around 1955. Nice as relevant as Decca is 90 years old, with a renewed interest in the label.

A search through Discogs didn’t seem to highlight any specific Tubby Hayes release on Decca or Vogue. It could be these are a compilation but as far as I could see, nothing had been released by him on 10″. Modern Jazz labels like Esquire used the 10″ format in the UK, mimicking the style of US labels like Blue Note and Prestige.

So, what’s on the discs and time to play them, with Shazam at hand to see if it picked up what the tracks are there and if it is really Tubby Hayes. Shazam came good and identified the following tracks:

VMG 187-2B1Opus de Funk
2(not recognised)
3Peace Pipe
4There’ll Never Be Another You
VMG 188-2B1Straight Life
2Imagination
3Evil Eyes
4Dance of the Aerophragytes

Some further rooting around on Discogs discovered that these had been release as two 7″ EPs on Tempo in 1955, as the Tubby Hayes Quartet : The Swinging Giant Vol 1 and Tubby Hayes Quartet : The Swinging Giant Vol 2 and Tubby Hayes Quartet : The Swinging Giant Vol 2. VMG 187-2B is Vol 2, with VMG 188-2B is Vol 2, with the 2nd track “There’s No You”.

The tracks were recorded on 29th July 1955 at the Decca Studios in West Hampstead. 20-year Tubby Hayes (tenor sax), along with the rhythm section of his band, Harry South (piano), Pete Blannin (bass) and Bill Eyden (drums). The two 10″ promo style disks might have been a later planned release on Decca / Vogue but it doesn’t seem like they made the light of day based on the research so far.

The good news is there are plenty of other interesting artists in the box, with some trad jazz as well. A lot of the promo records have unbroken seals so I’ll just focus on playing the opened ones for now.

Oh, by the way, the Tubby Hayes records sound great !