Caveman at Truman's

As usual, this year I wasn't really thinking about Christmas at the beginning of November. This is a problem when you are a brewer and should be planning your Christmas brews but I still haven't managed to get into the habit and all my seasonal beers seem to arrive late because I'm running around like an idiot keeping up with everything else. This year I was lucky and the nice people at Truman's gave me a nudge. Would I be interested in brewing a collaboration beer with them at their shiny Hackney Wick brewery? Obviously it took a while for me to make my mind up, after all I usually only work below ground and I get worried the sky may fall on my head if I'm out for too long. 


Having finally agreed to brave the outside world I met up with Truman's Head Brewer Ben Ott to discuss what we were going to brew. Ben gave me a tour of the brewery on our way to select the malt and hops for our beer, which we had decided was going to be a red ale at a fairly quaffable 4.8%. This was to be the first collaboration I have done that wasn't brewed at our brewery. Having done most of my brewing on our little 4BBL kit cobbled together from old Grundy tanks (like so many breweries of our size) the Truman's kit is pretty impressive. A 40BBL brew kit on a full run, or half size brews into a 20BBL FV and all shiny and new. I can see why Ben enjoys brewing there. 

The brew day itself started sensibly early and I got a nice sunrise view of the Olympic Stadium as I walked along the tow path from the station to the brewery. Its odd to get to a brewery and find people already working away before I get there, but I was the third or fourth person to arrive and casks were already being cleaned ready for racking beer and Ben was already checking temperatures and filling out the fundamentals on the days brewing log (which I was impressed to discover even has a box for your mood on the day). Ben and I quickly got on with getting the malt into the grain hopper, adding the water treatments, mashing in and generally doing a lot of chatting. 

I have a rule in my brewery that when you are brewing answering the phone isn't allowed, as a phone conversation can easily distract you from what you are doing and all of sudden you have missed temperatures, not taken readings or missed a hop addition etc. In future I may also have a rule involving chatting. We all talked pretty much all day (possibly just to live up to the "chatty" entry on the mood section of the brew log) and a couple of times had to take a brisk walk across the brewery floor to turn something off or on. Other than a brisk walk (which is unusual for me as you can pretty much reach anything you need in my brewery with a slight stretch of your arm) the brew day went really smoothly and I am a particular fan of a mash tun you don't have to dig out with a shovel. 

The biggest thing I took away from the day is how good it is to work with people who are so knowledgable and enthusiastic about what they do. Ben and the rest of the team really know their stuff, and having four different suggestion of how to achieve the same result is a refreshing change from bouncing my brewing ideas off the wall in the brewery, or questioning the radio. Despite Truman's producing more and more beer the little experimental kit in the corner of Truman's brewery doesn't seem to have time to cool down in between batches. I tasted a few really interesting beers whilst I was brewing which I think will be too unusual to make it onto the big kit, but are definitely worthy of an appearance here and there at festivals or maybe at Truman's brewery tap. Its a real sign of how they really love what they do and how keen they are to continue learning new things.

The beer we made, Christmas Cave, will be available in the next couple of weeks, although we are already taking pre- orders. It is a 4.8% Red Ale using a wide variety of malts and a selection of UK and US hops to give a smooth, full mouthfeel, deep caramel maltiness and a rounded hop flavour with notes of orange rind, dark fruits and hopefully coconut. The "hopefully" is down to Ben and I using an experimental US hop which reportedly has a coconut edge to its fruity profile. For me it was there slightly in the aroma, but very subtly, so I hope it comes through in the finished beer.

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.