For The Love Of Darkness

For some people summertime means an end to the dark beers and a focus on the fresh hoppy pale ales that go so well with the hot weather. I must admit I could drink porter all year but experience tells me I am probably in the minority. With this in mind I had flagged the last batch of Cavedweller to be the last for some time, intending it to replace it in the lineup with another pale ale for the summer. The last batch of Cavedweller sold so well, however, that I found myself brewing it again last week, and as I took a sample from the fermenter today I remembered why I love brewing this beer. 

When you take a sample from a fermenter full of a zesty pale ale, the refreshing hop aromas can be incredible, all fruit freshness or piney beauty. Mostly its aromas like that, when I've had 5 days straight in the cave hardly seeing another person, that makes me realise why I love brewing so much. Then there are days like today. That bittersweet coffee, chocolate aroma struck me in stark contrast to the beers in the other FV's. They will sell without any problem all year long, but this beer is my beer, and whether people buy it or not during the summer I'm still going to make it. Even if I have to drink it all myself. There will be another pale beer, as well as a collaboration with an exciting new local business and a few other surprises over the following couple of months, but the Cavedweller will be staying.

Better Late Than Never

In April Caveman Brewery celebrated its first anniversary of brewing at the George and Dragon. To celebrate we intended to brew a special beer for the occasion, either a 7.0% version of our Citra or a big Imperial Red Ale. After a bit of debate we decided that actually we would probably brew both. Its now June and you may or may not have noticed that neither has actually appeared. There are a few reasons for this, one just being the lack of time I have had to develop these recipes, we have had a busy couple of months on our core range which has kept me locked in the brewery producing beer. The second reason is that we are hoping to release these beers on Keykeg and possibly also in bottles as well as cask. 

The main reason for looking at different dispense methods is to provide pubs with more options. There aren't many pubs near us in Kent that would even consider a 7% IPA in cask as they simply won't sell it quick enough to avoid significant amounts of ullage, but given the additional lifespan of a keykegged beer, and the lighter mouthfeel of the added carbonation would feel comfortable taking a key keg. Bottles are even less of a commitment given their added shelf life and smaller volumes. In May we began experimenting with bottle conditioning, filling a number of bottles from each brew with various levels of residual sugars and checking their progress over time. The idea is to achieve the correct level of carbonation for the style and seeing how this is affected over time as the yeast continue to process the more complex sugars still left over in the beer. This process should hopefully result in us having a level of carbonation that is great when you first buy the beer, but doesn't become too much over 6 months or longer. This process has resulted in me having to sample a selection of bottles on a regular basis (its a hard life) and has also led to me stashing bottles in the boiler cupboard and various other warm spots in the house and the brewery to accentuate the affect of ageing. Ideally of course we would have a lab to do this work in a much more scientific way,or better still we would filter the beer and then dose it with a strain of yeast specifically suited to the task which would only consume simple sugars and therefore not continue the carbonation process beyond a certain point. Sadly however we are still only a very small brewery so my basic testing will have to suffice for the moment, as long as it provides the results we need we should hopefully be bottling in the very near future.

And so to the beers we are developing. The 7% Citra IPA is fairly self explanatory. Big IPA, loads of Citra, whats not to like. The second beer will be called Si Te Cah and as an imperial red ale. The name is based on the Si Te Cah legend of the Paiute Indians who tell stories of a giant red headed tribe who's remains were supposedly found in Lovelock Cave, Nevada in 1911. The beer itself will be a blend of caramel sweetness and juicy hops, with a dose of dry hopping to add aroma. All being well these beers should arrive by late June/Early July. Not exactly April but better late than never I guess!


Craft Brewing and New Brewers

I have just finished reading on of Tandleman's excellent blog ( on "mainstream" craft and what really struck me about the post was not so much the idea that people like Thornbridge and Brewdog or becoming mainstream breweries, but the criticisms in the post of a lot of the new small "craft" breweries. First of all I would like to say that a lot of the observations are justified, however I would also like to point out that there a lot of craft (and more traditional cask breweries) of a similar size to these new ventures that also have the same issues but are lucky enough to experience their learning curve outside of the London Goldfish bowl. I would also like to point out that I don't think there is a small brewery around that doesn't aspire to the consistency, quality control and professionalism that Brewdog and Thornbridge exude.

I am not sure if I consider Caveman to be "craft" or not. We are definitely a cask brewery and not "craft keg" brewery as yet. To be honest i'm not even sure what craft means, although I have used it in marketing as I think people associate it with the types of hops we use and styles we brew. We did however go through a series of issues in starting the brewery and those first few months of brewing that I think parallels what Tandleman is highlighting. Having come from home brewing, training, learning all you can, living and breathing it for a long period of time nothing prepares you for the different expectations, quality requirements and polish you need to be a commercial brewer. There are things they don't tell you. Like the the yeast doesn't do what its meant to, or the copper packs up mid boil or you have a regular beer that you suddenly can't source the hops for. I brewed some beers that were effectively a work in progress, some that were not consistent enough and some that were over-conditioned. I am not proud of these beers and I am ashamed that I let some people down who were very excited about our brewery and brand.I like to think that since then I have learnt a lot about our kit and its quirks, spent a lot of money improving it and spent a lot of time improving myself and my brewing knowledge and I am now proud of what we produce. The problem at the time was the pressure we were under to start making some money by selling beer, and also I think the excitement of finally be able to, meant we couldn't spend six months brewing beer, learning the issues and correcting them behind closed doors. That doesn't stop me wishing that we had.

Fortunately for us we made a lot of our early mistakes outside of the beer soap opera that is the London brewing scene, where a legion of pubs and beer drinkers want to be the first to get that beer from the latest brewery. I think this is where the comments in Tandleman's blog need to be put into perspective a little. There are breweries like us that started, made mistakes or didn't have the best beers, (hopefully) have learnt something, improved and then start to be more visible to the larger beer world. In London there is no place to hide. Open a brewery in London in a disused Tube station 100ft below ground under cover of darkness and someone in Shoreditch or Hackney will know the moment you mash in. Give these breweries and brewers time to grow, improve their products or consistency, whatever the criticism is and some may well grow be that usurper that topples the early revolutionaries at Brewdog or Thornbridge.

New Recipes

Having had a little more time over the last few weeks we have tweak our recipes to improve on the originals. Those changed over the last few weeks include Clovis Point Brown, Prehistoric Amber and Neanderthal. The Clovis has been balanced slightly better, with a touch less malt allowing to hops to stand out a bit clearer. With the Prehistoric Amber we removed the small amount of darker malts leaving the Amber malt as the main character malt and and removing the hint of malt bitterness. The Neanderthal has has a slightly simplified malt profile which makes it smoother and more easy drinking.

We have also changed the way we dry hop our ales which should give a more consistent result than the previous approach.

We have a new beer coming out by the end of the month which will be a stout called Cavedweller. It is 5.8% is brewed with East Kent Goldings hops to provide a fairly traditional stout.