How ‘Crafty’ are you?

The Age Old Debate – What is ‘Craft’?

This is undoubtedly the most talked about subject in the beer world.

I first got disgruntled with the word ‘craft’ when working for a very successful (and forward thinking) regional brewer. The context goes a little something like this…. I was doing a tasting evening for a new beer we had just launched in one of London’s most renowned beer bars when I asked a prospective punter if he would like to try my beer… “no thanks, I only drink craft beers” was the retort, with a snigger, whilst looking at his mates for approval. Not to be discouraged I replied – “Interesting, whats your definition of craft? Something generic and simple like how big the brewery is? Whether tastes different every time you try it? Whether or not it uses a blend of wild animal droppings for bitterness on the palate? Or maybe if its because its a style of beer you have never tasted before, brewed by a brewery you have never heard of, in an industrial estate you didn’t know existed?”

I should probably say now – I can’t necessarily quantify what Craft is. Unlike our friends across the pond that define the word simply by a brewery’s volume, I am not sure it’s as simple as that on the grounds that a US brewery that brews 10 times the volume of some of our oldest and largest regional breweries is classed as ‘craft’ in the US.

Surely its just about the beer quality? Whether brewing on a home kit or a 300HL kit – if the beer is brewed with passion by people who drink their own product and have a sense of pride in what they are doing… are they not craft?

This leads us on to how do you make good beer? This is where I think we can start drawing lines between ‘companies’ that are brewing beer to keep shareholders happy and ‘people’ that are brewing beer to keep themselves and consumers happy. There is without a doubt, a direct correlation between the malt and hop bill that goes in to each brew and the quality of the beer. Simply put – sub grade malt and cheap hops or hop substitutes, in low quantities – will produce crap beer.

I should probably add that I appreciate economies of scale have a big part to play in the UK brewing scene. Global, National and Regional brewers are buying malt and hops in considerably larger quantities and quite often on ‘futures’ to ensure a supply at a good price. The smaller brewer simply doesn’t have the cash flow or the rate of sale of their end product to buy in such bulk or to be able to demand what they need from the growers. These factors hugely affect recipe design and availability. Does a craft brewery brew the same beers all year round with the same rotating seasonal beers knowing they have no issue with sourcing ingredients? I don’t think this military process is agreeable with craft…

One thing that virtually all breweries have in common is that they are a business. Which means they need to make money. However, if a beer is designed purely with the cost of ingredients, production, packaging, Duty to be paid and ultimately – profit to the brewery and/or shareholders in mind, is it craft?

I end on this thought – regardless of the size or age of the brewery, if beer is brewed by robotic men and women who are shackled by bean counters in Finance departments with their abacuses as opposed to independent brewers using their passion, knowledge, and instinct then I would suggest that the end product is not something that would qualify as craft. Don’t let pre-conceptions of a brewery cloud your judgement on what craft is. Trust your nose and tastebuds…. if it smells and tastes stunning… its probably craft.
Dom Metcalfe is our Sales Director. He has worked for the largest soft drinks company in the world, the most easterly brewer in the UK and the brewer of the single most celebrated beer in the UK. You can probably work out which companies they are. Answers on a postcard.

Herbilicious Polytunnel

Sticking to our bee-friendly principles, our vegetables are organically and bio-dynamically grown by our crack team of horticulturists, which is led by Scotson Reeve.

Here are just some of the things our polytunnel is teeming with at the moment:-

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Courgette
  • Rocket
  • Lettuce

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Runner beans, garlic, broad beans, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers will all be ready to pick in the next couple of weeks. Perfectly timed to be ready for the opening of the Black Isle bar in Inverness. All the vegetables, salads and herbs used in the bar will be grown here on our organic farm!

 

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As the days are getting warmer (we hope), we’re all looking forward to spending more time out in the garden. Why not give your plot a bee-friendly boost? Borage, nasturtium, shiznanthus, (aka. Butterfly Flower) are great pollinators for bees and offer long lasting colour.

 

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Dogs on Tap

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We sent in a photo of wee Angus with a bottle of Scotch Ale to the Dogs on Tap Instagram account.

Now he is Instafamous!

Dogs on Tap launched in 2014 by Bethany (a graduate of William Paterson University) and Carter (a Border Collie mix). Their aim is to provide entertainment and information to the dog owning, craft beer lover.

And there are obviously lots of us as they already have over 29.1k followers!

‘Craft beer and dogs were made to be photographed together’

Check them out:

https://www.instagram.com/dogsontap/

http://www.dogsontap.com/

What The Beer Giants Can Learn From Micro-Breweries

The news that Camra is canvassing its 177,000 members on which direction the pressure group should head in, now that it has achieved its original aim, is a huge sign of the times. Once upon a time, only six companies produced a massive 80 per cent of the UK’s beer – and that’s why Camra had to be set up. Achieving its aim of promoting choice for consumers and pushing the need for high-quality, traditional brewing techniques, it now needs a new reason for being. The country has 1,500 certified breweries producing 11,000 different brands of beer.

The craft ale revolution has brought a lot of great knowledge to the table, yet there is still a massive hold on the average drinker’s palate by the national and multinational brewers. Their history, scale of production, marketing budgets and brand recognition means they are still the go-to drink for your average pub frequenter. But as the knowledge of different micro and craft brews continues to grow amongst millennials – the big brewers could benefit from learning a thing or two from the smaller breweries.

 

Freedom to Experiment

One thing which attracts many beer lovers to craft and micro ales is the wide range of flavours and types. The micro-brewers increasingly need to offer something unique and special in order to be taken on by drinkers.

This is something that the larger breweries don’t need to do as they can rely on effective marketing campaigns – be it lifestyle advertising or big branding exercises with glasses, posters, competitions, and the like.

Daring to head back to the drawing board and take a chance with a new line or flavour might be something to try. Possibly in the form of collaborations.

 

Seasonal Products As Opposed To Seasonal Advertising

Likewise, seasonal products are a very attractive aspect of micro-brewery output. Production on a small scale allows shorter runs of products and therefore less risk that the “May Day Weekend Bramble Ale” will go out of date (in terms of reference) before it is sold.

The big brewers promote their product with seasonal advertising and packaging come Christmas, summer and things like the World Cup; but the drink itself rarely changes, if ever.

Even if it’s a loss leader when doing it on such a grand scale, could this be a way the big brewers could crib from the techniques of the smaller players?

 

Creative Branding

Okay, I know, it’s superficial and a bit shallow, but it’s always nice when your beer can make you smile before you’ve even tasted it because the label looks great. Even if it’s just a witty name or some creative artwork; this is something that the big, well-established breweries ignore.

Come on, show a bit of character. You might enjoy it as much as us.

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Beavertown; an example of engaging and creative branding.

 

Natural Ingredients

Now, I want to make sure we don’t have to be contacting our solicitor here, so let’s be clear; I’m not suggesting for a second that the big breweries use anything unnatural in their product.

But what they don’t do it push the angle of naturally sourced, organic, environmentally friendly processes. A lot of micro and craft drinkers love that their beer producer is interested in these things; why don’t the big boys do the same?

 

Friendly and Personal

I know this isn’t exclusive to the beer industry, but it’s easy for a large company to quickly become faceless and impersonal. That’s fine when you want a product or service which doesn’t rely on human interaction – we don’t want the brakes on our car to be made by somebody who’s happy to have a laugh and a joke on their packaging, for example.

But, when it comes to enjoying a drink, it would be nice to know you’re getting it from a group of like minded people in a brewery rather than some faceless logo owned by a multi-national conglomerate.

 

Cult Followings

And that is partly why lots of micro-breweries develop such a cult following. They are relatable. You’re a part of something when you drink it. You’re supporting individual people’s livelihoods when you stumble across it in a pub out of town and feel obliged to sample a pint out of loyalty.

There’s no better way to instil longevity in your customer base – and who wouldn’t want that?

 

Valuing Taste Alongside Profit

This is probably a case of going back to your roots. The big beers we all know and love didn’t suddenly start being sold all around the world overnight. They were all micro-breweries at one point in their life.

When the investors arrive and open up a bigger market and all the benefits that come with it; often the travel, required shelf life and favoured tastes of different markets mean the taste has to change.

But it’s probably tricky for the big brewers to place taste alongside profit in importance when you have directors and investors, who are business owners first and beer drinkers second, calling the shots.

 

All of this isn’t to say that the big breweries need a major reform – far from it. They are clearly doing most things right in order to be where they are today. And hats off to them. This is just a few of the things that we think they could learn from the amazing micro-brewers, who do just as a fantastic job.

 

This blog was written by Don Valley Engineering who manufacture and supply malting equipment and systems.

 

 

 

Migrator IPA 7.9% – a word from our Head Brewer

In my interview, I asked if I could brew a seasonal and after much negotiation I was challenged with brewing a big bold IPA in the American style. I started a recipe formulation and calculation process, incidentally trying out some really good beer from British and American breweries, tracing the recipes and writing what I liked and didn’t like about each.

I took a very successful recipe I had formulated for my previous brewery, which was more of an English IPA, 6% and all cask, and I played with that. I changed pretty much everything but kept the malt backbone of that recipe.

Once I came up with a prototype recipe, I did some experiments dry hopping 5 litres of Blonde to see if my combinations of flavours worked. The next challenge was sourcing the ingredients.

I was adamant at first to use dextrose to dry the beer out, like Pliny the Elder, and give it a cleaner flavour but I couldn’t source it organically. I also came to feel that it went against my German trained roots to add essentially refined sugars to a beer and it wasn’t quite fitting with the Back Isle ideology, so back to the drawing board…

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In the end, I decided to use a long mash at low temperature to encourage higher fermentability and therefore that flavour I was searching for.

Malts used in making Migrator:

  • Extra pale
  • Munich
  • Low colour crystal

With hops I wanted to emulate the gung-ho hopping regimes of the American breweries but those hopping rates with organic hops, which are hard to come by, were near impossible. Also, in the Black Isle we don’t want to just waste such a beautiful ingredient by chucking heaps and heaps in. So together with my team and lots of textbook reading and consulting and seeing what other breweries were doing we looked at ways of creating that same hop flavour and hit with less hops, added in a much more efficient manner.

We finally decided on:

  • Simcoe
  • Cascade
  • Chinook

And a hint of Nelson Sauvin and Citra in the dry hop.Brewery Boys 20W

Next on the list was water, our water is very good for the beers we brew so it just need slight tweaking with salts to make the hop flavours sing.

As for the last but most important ingredient, yeast, we decided to try something new. At Black Isle we have our own special culture, a house strain, which gives Blonde its lovely estery notes and Red Kite its rich malt backbone, but for a hoppy IPA we decided to go with a classic west coast American yeast famous for its clean flavours and ability to showcase hops.

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All in all, the recipe formulation took about 2-3 months and involved endless chats/tastings about what we were aiming to create. On the brew-day the team was really excited to brew something new so we all started at 6am. It went beautifully with everything going to plan, which is a first in new recipes for me…

Once she was put to bed we tested every day to assess the fermentation and flavour formation. The beer had come out good but didn’t have the quite the right blend of hops flavours I was looking for. We were going to dry hop but a series of quick recalculations was needed to work out how to put it back into balance which meant all those little experiments with blonde helped immensely. We gave it a full month to cold mature, to mellow out all these flavours. Now it’s in keg and bottle it’s really a beer I can say I’m proud of (though I’m not saying I won’t tweak around a little if I get to brew it again… I am a brewer after all).

The finished product is a bold hitting cacophony of sweet grapefruit lychee flavour with a strong piney undertone and a pinch of tropical fruit with enough malt to hold those flavours in balance. 7.9% so it’s a good 1/3rd of a pint job.

Name wise, this is literally the hardest part of brewing. Many suggestions were aired, with Bullfinch to tie in with Goldfinch looking likely but I felt that we should link it with our other special strong beer, Hibernator. To showcase the links with our amazing Scottish malts, organic hops from New Zealand and the Yakima Valley, Washington, we finally decided on the name Migrator.
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I have this image in my head of the artwork being a silhouette of the farm with a ‘v’ of geese flying overhead, which when we brewed it was all the sky was full of! But I have no idea what they are actually going to do yet. I have worked for a few breweries now and made a good proportion of the core recipes for their brands but I can honestly say that this is the one I’m happiest with. Hopefully the sales team knock it out the park so I can brew it again!

Soon to be available in the brewery shop and online. We will also have it on draft when we open our brewery bar in June!

Douglas Williams

Head Brewer at Black Isle Brewing Co Ltd

Black Isle Bar at The Great Estate Festival (Edinburgh Fringe 2016)

16-21 August 2016 – Vogrie Country Park
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We are very happy to announce that we are going to be the beer supplier for The Great Estate Festival 2016.

This unique festival boasts a line-up of eclectic music, comedy, dance and theatre acts.

Held on the beautiful grounds of Vogrie Country Park, it is only a short ride to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

With a regular daytime shuttle service transporting you into the city centre, this makes The Great Estate the ideal spot to experience the full Edinburgh Fringe.

And to top it all off, all of their proceeds are donated to charity!

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Try our latest beer – Goldfinch Gluten Free

 

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Spring has sprung

The grass is ris

I wonder where them birdies is.

The little birds is on the wing

Ain’t that absurd

The little wings is on the bird!

Which brings us seasonally onto our newest beer Goldfinch 3.5% session I.P.A. launched this spring in Waitrose in Scotland and on draft across all Fuller Thomson bars.
Bursting with citrusy zing, this light, refreshingly hopped session IPA comes with the added bonus of being certified Gluten Free – good for you, good for the environment too and particularly good for your mate with the dodgy tum!
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Follow us on Twitter @BlackIsleBeer to be the first to find out the latest bars and venues selling Goldfinch and our other beers.

The Little Cawdor Bag Company

Have you seen these lovely highland gems in our brewery shop ? Made by The Little Cawdor Bag Company, these are handmade using our own customised Black Isle tweed. Find out more here. We have small and large duffel bags, tea cosies, scarves, cushion covers, and more. Looking for some authentic Scottish gifts homemade in the Highlands? Or just fancy treating yourself? Come up and have a browse or make a visit to their online shop! We might be getting some new stock in soon too…watch this space!

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