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Cask Ales, Wooden Legs and Gout

The Sunday morning after the Great American Beer Festival usually involves a long trip from the hotel to the airport in an altered state of being. Mostly the effects of drinking for 5 days in a row rear their ugly head and then there’s the lack of sleep part too. It can make for an ugly ride. This year certainly was no different in that I got very little sleep on Saturday night and we drank quite heavily. Normally this wouldn’t be too bad except that instead of flying back to San Diego to start the detox program, I hopped on a flight headed to Chicago where I met up with Maureen before jetting across to London to do some brewing.

Over the summer, I was contacted by Ian Jefferey’s of Naked Brands in the UK and asked if I would like to participate in the JD Wetherspoon’s Cask Ale Festival. The Wetherspoon’s group owns over 700 pubs in the UK and twice a year offers a promotion in their pubs whereby they tap 50 different cask ales and their patrons vote on their favorites. As part of the fest, the Wetherspoon Group works with 4 UK breweries to produce a recipe from a visiting brewer. Typically this includes an Asian brewer, another from Down Under and a continental brewmaster. Each year, there is also an American Brewer. In the past, they have hosted the guys from Stone, Matt from Firestone and our good friend Tonya Cornett from Bend Brewing visited twice this year as well.

The trip to England found me brewing at Sheperd Neame Brewery- The oldest brewery in the UK founded in 1698. Maureen and I landed in London at 6 AM on Monday morning. Ian met us and we checked into a hotel near the airport to get a spot of rest before heading down to Faversham where I was to brew. The drive to Faversham was uneventful and we checked into the Sun Inn which is located above a pub (how freaking cool is that?) Ian joined Maureen and I for a pint before we walked over to the brewery to meet up with David and Stewart.

That night after Maureen retired upstairs, David (the head brewer) and myself hunkered down and tipped more than a few pints of Master Brew before David thought it wise to procure some Champagne as well. I think I did my part as pint after pint went down. I think he met his match. A few days later, I heard from another brewer that I must have a wooden leg and in no way shape or form was he going to drink with me! It’s not a wooden leg but a West Coast liver. Tuesday had me visiting the brewery and we also went out to the hop fields nearby to see some Kentish Hops. Sheperd Neame is also now responsible for a plot of land that has over 120 varieties of hops on it. Some are experimental and not even used for brewing!

Wednesday, we actually got around to making a batch of beer. I selected a recipe from my Solana Beach days known as Grumpy’s Pale Ale. It’s an Extra Pale Ale recipe featuring no crystal malt and uses a boatload of Phoenix and Amarillo Hops. Stewart had never used Amarillo hops before so this was an interesting recipe for sure. The beer was earmarked to be 5.0% ABV with a crisp and dry finish. I was given the opportunity to send our proprietary yeast over and was excited about this beer.

At 6:10 AM, we mashed in the first of 300 bbls worth of wort. It was amazing to watch them fill the solid oak mash tuns with the grist. It took about 10 minutes for each vessel. We also mash hopped this batch of beer with Bramling Cross hops which was a first for them as well. Stewart really enjoyed this part of the process as he picked the hops himself! The beers went through their system with very little difficulty and 300 bbls was produced with nary a headache. The next day, I went back to visit Stewart and asked if it would be possible to taste the beer. We were scheduled to return to London that afternoon so in theory it would be the only opportunity to taste the beer we brewed.

Stewart was amazed at the flavors of the beer. The hops really started to shine even though the wort was still so sweet. He had this look on his face that screamed “Amarillo hops are my new favorite thing in the whole wide world!” The beer fermented completely the way I had hoped and on Monday, I got the lab results for the beer showing just over 5.0% ABV and 39 IBU’s which is a bit higher than targeted but I’m certainly not going to complain about that. There seems to be a real buzz coming from Sheperd Neame about this batch. I’m excited about that as well.

On Thursday, we checked into London and made our way to Cross Key’s which is a Wetherspoon Pub for a photo shoot and meet and greet with the other brewers. It was a nice relaxing afternoon with a wide array of Cask Ales sampled. Friday came and this was Maureen and my only really day to ourselves away from Brewing. So we did what any parents would do, we went Christmas shopping for Sydney.

We were on a mission to find a store called Early Learning Center as Maureen had a catalog with some great toys in it. So we jumped the underground and headed out to Picadilly. We finally found what we were looking for in Hammersmith. It took numerous stops but it all worked out for us. The one bummer was that we had to purchase a duffle bag enabling us to bring home our haul for Sydney. Once we got all the toy shopping done, we then played tourists for a bit and did the 10 Downing Street part of London.

Post touristy stuff, we jumped off the underground in the theater district and found a pub that was serving Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Bitter. I’d been jonesing for a pint of this since we got to London and I was happy to find it in a great pub. We slumbered well from all the walking that day before heading to the airport on Saturday to fly home. It was a great trip back to the states. The only pisser of the trip back was that my gout flared up. It’s my birthday today. I have gout. Makes me feel old. Oh well. The UK was great. The brewing went well and I made some cool new friends. I even managed to start the Christmas shopping for Sydney in October. Who knew?

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