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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on a small scale allows shorter runs of products and therefore less risk that the “May Day Weekend Bramble Ale” will go out of date (in terms of reference) before it is sold.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.

Brewery Boys 19W

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

Monsoon Porter

Recently the Black Isle Brewery has come together with the award winning Artisan Roast Coffee to produce a sensational storm in a beer cask now hitting the Stockbridge Tap, in Edinburgh, and other selected outlets in the city.

This huge dark front of caffeine and malt has been produced by a collision of Black Isle Porter, brewed with organic chocolate malt, mixed up with a heavy downpour of Artisan Roast Monsoon Malabar coffee beans, from Southern India.

These beans have been laid out to dry on racks after the monsoon rains and during this process the wet monsoon winds circulate around the crops turning the green coffee beans a rich golden yellow colour and absorbing the rich earthy, spicy flavours.

Black Isle Monsoon Porter 4.2% is a roasted, toasted, lip-smacker of rich bitter chocolate, cinnamon, espresso and cracked pepper – the perfect antidote for any rainy season.

A severe whether warning was issued this morning – whether, or not, to drop everything right now and head to the pub to avoid being marooned without it!

Monsoon Porter

Belladrum Christmas Hamper Giveaway!

Belladrum Christmas Hamper

Belladrum Christmas Hamper

The hamper includes:

A selection of beers from Black Isle Brewery!

2 x New Three Day Tickets to Belladrum 2015

1 x Hamper and goodies from Simpsons Garden Centre

£50 vouchers from our friends at Ironworks Venue and XpoNorth (formerly GoNORTH Festival)

Toyota Rav-4 for the weekend and a golfing brolly from Macrae & Dick

For your chance to win head over to Belladrum’s Facebook / Twitter and like and share to win this years Belladrum Christmas Hamper! Click the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/belladrum/photos/a.158951377510621.41107.129841583754934/785532411519178/?type=1

https://twitter.com/BelladrumFest/status/545152985773641728

Good luck! (Entries close midday on Monday 22nd December to ensure Highland delivery for Christmas!)

Rudi Rye’ds Again!

This year’s Christmas cracker, Rudi’s Red Rye, comes in the form of a 6.8% Rye Ale brewed with Organic Rye malt, Organic ginger, cinnamon, and orange peel. “A rich, warming red ale, packed with aromas of candied peel and fruit.”

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Beer Pairing for Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we here at the Black Isle Brewery have decided to provide you with some beer pairings for your Thanksgiving feast!

Light meat like turkey should definitely be paired with either a Black Isle Blonde or a Yellow Hammer. These two beers are lighter, crisper and will compliment the meat. With their mild undertones of hops and malt they make a nice accompaniment for your main meal. The Yellowhammer is a refreshing beer with a flinty grapefruit aroma and has more body than the Blonde. That said, the Blonde on the other hand has a light biscuity taste that will refresh your palate and is the perfect beer to sip while having a hearty meal. Either of these beers will match up well with your turkey dinner.

For pudding, which is traditionally pumpkin pie we recommend you pick up a bottle of Scotch Ale or Red Kite. These two are more malt based and have a lingering sweetness, which compliments the tasty piecrust. The Scotch Ale has a rich spice finish with a full-bodied taste. You will get hints of candied peel and fruitcake with this beer. The Red Kite with its delicious balance of malt, citrus and berry fruit will also go very well with pumpkin pie. Actually these last two are so good they could serve as a dessert all on their own.

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Taste Hunters: Les Explorateurs du Goût have Arrived on the Black Isle

Taste Hunters is a french adventure programme, hosted by two exploratory chefs Benjamin Darnaud & Jérome Bigot. This pair travel around the world to discover the real taste of food. They delight in seeking out and discovering “food rebels” as they call them. So it’s no wonder that they ended up at Scotland’s only organic brewery.

Doing a bit of filming outside the brewery.

Doing a bit of filming outside the brewery.

Making glorious food on one of our Agas

Making glorious food on one of our Agas


Jérome was shown around the brewery by our own rebel in-chief David Gladwin. After his tour of the brewery and farm, Jérome treated us to a fantastic lunch made with only organic produce from the farm! The only outside product that was used was the organic Brie.
French cuisine with Scottish organic produce

French cuisine with Scottish organic produce


On the menu was lamb’s kidneys, garlic and Scotch ale glaze, Sutherland kale, nasturtium flowers and Tuscan kale. To follow there were oatcakes, connage, russet apples and apple cake.

Naturally it was all washed down with Smoked Porter, Scotch Ale and Oak Aged Barley Wine.

We cannot wait to see the programme when it is ready to be broadcast on French TV. If you’d like to see it hop on over to Taste Hunters’ websites, where you can get a flavour of what Benjamin & Jérome are doing. Don’t worry it’s subtitled.

http://tastehunters.tumblr.com/

Save the Planet, Drink Organic 🙂

Black Isle Blonde on TV!

One of our Black Isle Blonde beers made a guest appearance on last night’s episode of Come Dine with Me.

Scottish contestant, Jenna, used Black Isle Blonde to make her ‘Perfect Perthshire Steak & Ale Pie.’

The key ingredient :)

The key ingredient 🙂

Although the label was obscured you could easily see the distinctive Organic Blonde label of the BIB.

Vorsprung durch Technik Indeed!!

Recently the Black Isle Brewery received a very special shipment of 4 Rolec tanks from Germany with a 10,000 litre brew capacity per tank, which means we can keep all of you better supplied with our yummy beer ☺ What makes these tanks so special is that they are uni tanks, which can ferment and condition at the same time.

We just love this kind of multi-tasking!

Rolec Tank

Rolec Tank 2

Save the Planet, Drink Organic