Tag Archives: Craft beer

What’s in your can?

Not often I get serious, but this is one subject that’s nagged away at the back of my mind for the last few years….

Craft cans are taking over.  More and more breweries are moving to can some or in many cases, all of their beer. The clamour is set to increase further as more and more breweries make the shift to canning in 2017. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I was to walk into Coppers at some point in the next 12 months to find more cans on the shelves than bottles.

Brief history of craft canning lines in this country, started with Camden’s, followed by Beavertown’s and then the mushroom cloud exploded.  One of the main drivers in the explosion was the numerous mobile canning businesses starting to trade in the UK after successfully ploughing a business niche in the states.

What many of you don’t know is that around the time Beavertown were ordering their canning line, I was investigating a possible mobile canning business of my own.  It was fascinating exploring the science behind the benefits of a can on the beer that we drink at home. Cans are far more resilient both externally and internally. Externally a dropped can may still retain its seal, a dropped bottle will almost certainly see beer and glass splinters all over the floor. Internally, the beer is far better protected from its worst enemy, namely light strike.

Cans have a great many benefits for beer consumers and I strongly believe in them as a dispense method.  There’s nothing more satisfying than carrying a few cans for a train journey where the equivalent bottles would double the weight of your backpack.  I had regular meetings with one of the world’s biggest can manufacturers, regularly visiting their U.K. factory and having a look around at developments etc.

But there was one point that we discussed extensively which to my mind seems to have been very much underplayed in the craft beer can explosion.

Bisphenol A

When I first started talking to those around me about canning beer they were sceptical.  The set in stone image of beer at that time was that cans made beer taste ‘tinny’. The metal imparting some kind of flavour into the beer.  But modern beer cans save that from happening by having a thin plastic lining inside to separate beer from metal.

It’s this thin plastic lining which contains Bisphenol A (BPA).

So what is BPA?

Bisphenol A is a chemical commonly used in the production of a great many plastics and resins including that which lines the cans that hold your favourite hop bomb.

Why is that an issue?

Well here’s where the waters get muddied.  There has been some research which has discovered a trend between BPA and some pretty significant ailments.  Breast Cancer UK are actively campaigning to get the routine exposure to BPA banned in the UK (http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/our-campaigns/no-more-bpa/). Their claim is that BPA acts an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical, and has been linked to breast cancer and well as prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Potentially very serious issues.

Now I know this isn’t a beer issue, but it’s an issue that has an impact on this industry but also far beyond the industry. My grievance is the scale. I was first made aware of this 5 years ago. At that stage the manufacturer’s representative was happy to openly discuss BPA in the can and was very aware of the seriousness that this could potentially be taken. This had been a hot topic of debate in the US for some time before my discussions. However, despite assurances at that time that they were working on an alternative lining, still to this day there has been no change. This was given far greater profile in the US back in those days and just stop and imagine how widespread the use of BPA products there are in use globally. The scale of the money involved in this is massive. Now it may be that there is a replacement product in development which is imminently due to hit the market, but I can’t help but be sceptical. If the industry genuinely wanted to put safety first they would have long ago. I wonder if consumer perception of BPA would hasten a replacement being developed. I suspect it might.

That’s not to say that a replacement hasn’t been developed. It has. At the beginning of 2016, Campbells soup and Del Monte both announced that they were moving away from BPA linings in their cans, with a target of being BPA free by the middle of 2017 (https://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/newsroom/press-releases/campbell-to-remove-bpa-from-packaging-by-mid-2017/)  (https://www.delmontefoods.com/brands). Is it too much to expect the entire industry to move away from BPA based products? Perhaps, but when the health of all their customers is at stake, wouldn’t you think businesses would react quicker to it? Should cost and profit be a barrier to doing your utmost to ensure the product your delivering to market is entirely safe?

Infact, lets just stop and consider the fact that there has been no conclusive proof of the dangers, or that it is no danger to us. How much would be invested in proper research if there was confidence in there not being an issue? Which stakeholders have the financial muscle to drive the research? If proof was available to show that there wasn’t an issue I’m sure that would have been widely broadcast by now. The flip side of that coin has me wondering why greater significance isn’t given to the potential danger of this substance. Just to be clear, the official Food Standards Agency guidance (https://www.food.gov.uk/science/bpa) is that the levels used in can linings are so low that they won’t have any effect. The European Food Standards Agency had a similar view (https://www.food.gov.uk/science/bpa/efsa-bpa-consultation#).

But I cant help thinking that if I punch a man, it hurts, doesn’t matter how hard I hit him. If I kill him then that’s a more severe case, but it doesn’t make a less severe punch acceptable. Any exposure to BPA has an impact, it may not be noticeable and it may not ultimately change the course of your life but it does have an effect. We’re at the mercy of current scientific thinking, which as we’ve seen many times before can very quickly change as more information comes to light. Maybe I’m just paranoid about this, but I can’t help feeling that this can’t be simply ignored by simply telling us that there isn’t enough bad stuff to kill you.

And to my mind there is no consideration given in that assessment, for the cumulative effect. Granted each use of BPA products when considered as a stand-alone item may make the potential levels so tiny that there wouldn’t be any significant effects, but when you consider how many products we use in our day to day life which make use of this chemical that actually the overall levels are much much higher. Again, the official guidance is that even at those combined levels it’s lower than what they say is the level at which it is harmful. But again, I’d rather not have a poke in the eye at half the strength needed to blind me… And if we accept the use of this product now, how long will it take for our unwitting exposure to creep up to dangerous levels. That’s why the consumer needs to be aware of this. That’s why the consumer needs to be able to make informed buying decisions.

This is little ol’ me, one small time blogger from a provincial town, on the edge of the craft beer market, which in turn makes up a tiny weeny small proportion of the global BPA-using products market. And yet someone has to talk about it. I was concerned about it enough to go over and over it with the can manufacturers. I fully understand that others will have more or less conviction or concern about it, but I can’t be the only one?

So while I am a huge fan of cans and the benefits that they bring to having super fresh hoppy beer in your own home, I really can’t believe that no better way has been developed to line these cans. The lack of profile given to the potential dangers that BPA can bring, leaves a worrying doubt in my mind.

This is all unsubstantiated however, the medical evidence is that BPA consumption is at ‘safe’ levels, but why would giants like Del Monte and Campbell’s be moving to BPA free cans if it had been conclusively proven to be ‘safe’? What is ‘safe’? Does it have no effect on my health? Or does it simply not have a big effect on my health?

It’s worth pointing out here that this isn’t simply a canned beer issue. BPA is also used in those little plastic seals in crown capped bottles, but obviously gives far smaller contact with the beer itself, and less exposure, less risk. The bigger point to make here is that this isn’t simply a beer issue, BPA is everywhere around us in our modern day lives.

So the equation here is that there is a potential health risk from BPA based products. There is a non-BPA alternative to line food and drink cans. And yet BPA based linings are still being used. That can’t be right. Money talks here and it stinks of profit motive over health risks.

I would love to get an overwhelming response to this post from within the canning industry telling me that the move to non-BPA products is imminent across the board.  If Ive missed the news that this is the case then I would welcome someone to tell me just that.

I imagine that most breweries are completely unaware of this issue, but each of you, ask your can suppliers about this issue. They will have information on it. I think the more you know about this issue the better!

I want to be able to enjoy a delicious canned #trainbeer without worrying about the real journey it’s taking me on!


Collaborations: Why they’re more useful than you think

OK so I don’t think we need to pretend the image of collaborating is in any way negative. However, we as consumers are all too quick to judge a collaboration in the only way we can really, but I’ll get to that.

How do collaborations come about? Usually there’s a link between two breweries, or actually these days its as likely to be a linked collective/business/society as it is a brewery, the boundaries for collaboration have long since been removed. The essence of collaboration is that new ideas are brought to the table and those ideas can come from any quarter.

There’s the logistics to consider. For example if two breweries collaborate on a beer, who owns that beer? Who sells it? Well in many cases we’re talking about one beer having been produced. Produced from one brew day. That means that whilst staff from both breweries were present when that was produced, once brewed the beer ferments in the vessels of whoever’s premises it was brewed on ie one of the collaborators. So that brewery usually takes responsibility for the beer and effectively owns the beer. I’m sure there are a myriad of little trade negotiations within that sphere but generally that’s how it works.

Why do breweries collaborate?

One of the most significant things is that bringing of new ideas. Every brewery has its own identity and its own characters driving it forward. Those personalities put in the mix together will bounce ideas off each other and trade experiences with all aspects of brewing. The aim is to try and gain knowledge from each other and further their own knowledge through speaking and working alongside someone from a different background.

All good so far.

But the one thing consumers expect is an end product. We are all guilty of judging the validity of two breweries collaborating squarely on the quality of the one batch of beer that they produce. Granted we as consumers judge everything about a brewery on the quality of the beer that they produce, but there’s an extra element here which I often feel gets lost with the punters.

It’s that learning element. One brewer may see another brewer doing something slightly different to the way they do it. That could lead to a conversation where knowledge is pooled and which enriches the experiences of both parties. The brewer who learned that something may well take that bit of knowledge and start applying it to future brews. So that collab could actually influence a great many beers beyond the beer that was brewed on the day. And yet we judge it on the one beer that was produced. I’ve heard so many people talking about collaborations being abit underwhelming. And I think quite rightly we judge each beer on its own merits, but I feel that sometimes we project that onto the validity of the collaborative process.

Many times we expect collabs to push boundaries and naturally when boundaries of pushed, some stray over the cliff and don’t ultimately work as well as expected. The consumer deems it a failure and writes the whole thing off, not realising that the next time they have something from either of those breweries, the beer could well be benefitting from the experiences they shared in collaborating.

I guess the most significant thing I can point to in that respect is the reaction to the rainbow project. If you talk to the UK breweries who have been involved in that they’d tell you they learned a hell of a lot from collaborating with the other brewers. And the value of that process is far greater to them in the long run than the public reaction to the one off special beers that they produced. I would say that given the significance of the breweries who have been involved in that project, the whole UK scene has probably had a fair smattering of influence from the experiences gained within that project.

That’s why breweries collaborate. That’s why we should embrace the efforts. Granted we don’t always have to be positive about the immediate results, but don’t be too quick to judge its validity based on just one beer.

Manchester, hype, hype, hype. Manchester, hype, hype, hype.

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. The pinnacle of the current scene. Never before have such a blend of ingredients come together to create this! I’m sooo excited, everyone’s full of excitement, we’ve all been talking about this day for weeks, months, ok not quite years but it’s felt like it! Ever since the schedule was drawn up and the media made known what elements were going in the mix, there have been many many folk salivating at the prospect of what’s to come. Well it’s finally here, the big reveal, the grand launch, time for kick off!!!!

Yeah so today’s Manchester Derby is quoted as the most expensive game of football ever assembled. Sky sports have been whipping up a storm for weeks. Guardiola v Mourinho, Imbrahimavic v Guardiola, Manchester city v Manchester United, there is no game with greater sub-text and more narrative than this one. The fact that it’ll probably be a tentative cagey affair that’ll end 0-0 doesn’t matter in the build up.

That’s hype. That’s where a commercial enterprise is taking a product to the masses and building it up to be near nirvana in an effort to sell and attract customers.

In contrast, in a small corner of Manchester tucked away from it all is Cloudwater. Now I have heard a few interviews recently with Paul Jones and in each and every case he’s asked about hype. I can really sense that the term is becoming a real frustration to him.

It’s become such a dirty word in the modern beer scene. But actually, in contrast to the way others promote their products I think beer is the least hyped industry out there!

I had originally wanted to get to the crux of what constitutes hype. Which elements are perceived to be hype and which elements are perceived to be negative traits. But actually, who cares.

My wife said to me that for her where hype is a negative is when the product doesn’t live up to expectation. Oversell and under-deliver. Isn’t that the same in every walk of life. Craft beer isn’t heavily promoted by individual breweries. It’s far more organic than that. And if I’m honest as a consumer I would say Cloudwater are the least likely brewery to under-deliver.

I’m sure there are many breweries who do under-deliver but they ultimately won’t survive as commercial enterprises.

So for me, it’s hype schmype….. Don’t let that word become an albatross.

Beavertown at the Bottle Shop

So, “Competition time!” was the headline.

I was sat scrolling through Facebook with Dionne the other night when I spotted a post by ‘Cheers’ magazine (the excellent magazine covering events and happenings in the local beer community, well worth a read and you can usually pick it up for free in many of the better pubs in the city). They were running a competition to win 2 tickets for the 7 course Beavertown dinner at the Bottle Shop Newcastle. All you had to do was email the name of the brewery who featured on the front cover of this month’s magazine. Naturally I already knew the answer, but for those that didn’t (and there’s a handy hint here), Cheers always have the front cover of the latest magazine as their profile picture…. So I quickly emailed them with my answer: Tyne Bank Brewery and crossed my fingers. Dionne spotted what I was doing and wanted to have a go herself, so I told her what she had to do and she sent a similar email. Lo and behold, less than 24 hrs later Dionne rang me to tell me that she’d won and luckily enough she wanted me to go with her! Hurrah!


So baby sitter eventually arranged we set off for the Bottle Shop keen to get stuck into the menu dishes. Dionne and I have always shared a love of good food. We could really bore folk around us with our discussions of each and every element of any interesting dishes we are having. So it was brilliant for us both to be able to go along (yes and bore those around us with our thoughts on the food and the beer…), but actually in a scenario like this, where the tables are laid out in long rows with benches either side it almost encourages people to talk to each other. Some folk hate that but personally I love it. Always good to meet new people especially when the topic of conversation is good food and good beer!

Dionne asked me, as we were in the taxi to the venue, how much Beavertown would be involved. I said that I suspected the Bottle Shop would simply have a load of Beavertown beers on, but no one from the brewery itself would be involved. How wrong I was. There were two representatives from Beavertown present, one from the marketing/sales side of things, the other was one of the brewing team. Both got in the talking and introducing the beers and gave us a run down of the breweries history etc, very informative, very passionate about what they do, was great to see. And at the end they stuck around to talk to us all and thank us for coming along, it was an absolute pleasure!

So here’s the low down on the 7 courses and their accompanying beers.


1st Course: Honey glazed chicken wings, ham hock Terrine, mango & watercress – Gamma Ray 5.4%
Beautiful start to the dinner, and by this point I was famished…. The dish was hearty and incredibly flavoursome. Chicken was at its best, juicy and tender meat with bones removed, that lovely honey glazed edges where the flavour intensifies. Ham hock terrine was thick and packed with salty ham flavours which the Gamma Ray cut through beautifully. The mango obviously complimented the juicy flavours in the Amarillo hops of the beer. Gamma is a stella pale ale and this dish worked a treat with it.


2nd Course: Soused mackerel, poached pear, celery root, gooseberry, gem and walnut – Pearvert Phantom 4.8%
Another triumph. The Pear Phantom is a sour beer taken to the comfortable edges of sour, so refreshingly accessible. The Pear was a pronounced flavour in the beer but with the gooseberry it zinged at your tastebuds and felt crisp. The mackerel was rich and oily, but with the complimenting fruit the overall effect was cleansing. The walnut provided a meaty quality to the dish, rounding the flavour combos off perfectly.


3rd Course: King scallop, blood orange cured collar bacon, kale, lemon thyme jus – St Clements Phantom 4.8%
Kale’s a funny thing, I imagine there are those who hate it, but in this context it was delicious. For me kale is that smooth texture that set the back drop for the delicious buttery scallop and that awesome cured bacon. The bacon was full of flavour but not salty in the slightest. Again, the phantom was there to cut through the buttery scallop flavour and the oranges and lemons worked a treat with the cured bacon.



image4th Course: Soy braised featherblade of beef, sirloin steak, stout onions, truffle mash, asparagus, baby carrots – Mr Hyde 13.7%
Before we even got the tickets for the evening, this was the dish I was most looking forward to. I’m a huge fan of imperial stouts and a huge fan of beef. Now as it was explained to us, they brewed a fairly pale malt wort and then mixed it with a dark sweet wort brewed separately in the original 600l kit from Dukes (which is now their pilot kit). The result was an incredibly high gravity wort that the yeast was applied to. I bet those enzymes thought all their Christmases had come at once! Clearly at 13.7% this is a big ferment for a beer, but the thick texture and the sweetness come from a high level of unfermented sugars that are left in the resulting beer. Delicious! But Usually such a bold sweet beer would be paired with a desert, some kind of chocolate or coffee flavoured affair. But here they went to build up the flavours of the dish. The sirloin married beautifully with the stout onions, which I would guess were sautéed. The featherblade of beef was just delicious though, rich and bold and never overpowered by the stout. It was an absolute delight, every inch the match I was hoping for.


5th Course: Palate cleanser – Negroni cocktail with a Bloody Ell mixer
After supping such a big beer, we were given this course as a palate cleanser, to reset our tastebuds back from the bold. The Negroni cocktail is very dry, very boozy, in contrast Bloody Ell is crisp light and refreshing but with the straw right to the bottom of the glass you effectively got the cocktail first and the Bloody Ell to wash it down, exactly as the compare told us.



6th Course: Twice baked cheshire cheese soufflé, pecan and radish salad, sesame seeds – 8 Ball 6.2%
8 Ball is a firm favourite of mine. Just in so much that its always been a very different style of IPA from what was the norm when I first had it. There’s a spicy edge to it from the rye which means its not so reliant on simply juicy hops, but that spicy edge is married to southern hemisphere hops which compliment it perfectly. So that spicy edge worked really well with the not overly strong cheese in the soufflé.

image7th Course: Dark chocolate & porter fondant, peanut and banana chip granola, banana ice cream – Smog rocket 5.4%
The fondant deserts here were set in a sea of dark chocolate sauce which was awesome. Very rich and actually that worked best with the accompanying beer. Smog rocket has always had a sticky edge in my mind and it felt like drinking treacle in beer form alongside this dish. The fondant pudding was rich but light, the ice cream was incredibly creamy but the peanut and banana granola just provided a lovely crunch to the occasion.


This was the first time I’ve eaten at The Bottle Shop but I was genuinely taken aback by the quality of the food served. This isn’t just fancy pub grub, its carefully thought out cuisine with talent and flair well beyond what you’d expect. The Bottle Shop is always worth a look. They get some of the country’s best beers in and have a regularly changing line up. For me it feels alittle bit out the way tucked away in a very nice square at the far end of town to where I work, hence why I rarely get over there. However, evenings like this will always be a draw for me now. This was absolutely brilliant.

Dionne is still very much discovering beer and I think this was great for her to try new styles. She loves sour beers so the two phantoms were just about perfect beers in her mind. But what I was interested to see was what she made of the 13.7% scotch aged imperial stout, a very different kettle of fish! However, she loved it. The match to the food helped a lot but I think she will develop more a more of an interest in a broader range of beers. So much so she’s now considering joining me at Indyman this year which would be brilliant!

For me the star of the show was that Mr Hyde scotch aged imperial stout, in its own right it’s a tremendous quality beer. Texture is pure luxury, flavours are smoothly melted together and it just oozes class. Similarly the dish it was served with had tremendous depth to the flavours, rich and delightful. It was an utterly delicious pairing.


Beavertown are a great brewery, one I always keep an eye out for. So I was keen to speak to the brewer and ask more about the Tempest project, their barrel aging program. He gave me a few different ideas of whats to come in the near future and I have to say I’m very excited by what I heard. I suspect these will become highly sought after beers in 2016. But you’ll all have to form an orderly cue behind me!

The Bottle Shop seem to regularly organise these dinners with different breweries, so if you’re undecided about going let me tell you, you simply must go.

Many thanks to Cheers magazine for the tickets. We couldn’t have enjoyed it more!