Stand up comedy was once hailed as the new (indy) music. By the same logic, meet the brewer events must therefore be both the new music and the new stand up. Ok, maybe not the new music, but surely craft beer with its cohort of lauded brewers old and new is at least the new black.
What is she on about? I had the good fortune to attend an event at The Bottle Shop, Margate earlier this year which was billed as a vertical tasting but was essentially a meet the brewer. The star turn, John Keeling (pictured left) outgoing Head Brewer at Fuller’s Brewery.
So popular was it that an extra table and chairs had to be set up at the last minute to fit everyone in. A packed room of punters, with a small cohort of local brewers among them, listened, laughed and tasted along with a man who clearly has a talent for public speaking as well as brewing.
For me, one of the main measures of a brewer’s skill as a speaker is how they explain the brewing process and the role of beer’s four key ingredients. What stayed with me from John’s explanation is the role of chemistry versus biology in brewing and how the biological aspects are essentially unpredictable – particularly when it comes to yeast. He went on to compare brewing with making cornflakes, which he said was like riding a bike. You turn the handle bars to steer and you know where you’re going. Brewing on the other hand was more like riding a horse. You know in theory what certain commands will get the horse to do but a living creature might not do what you want.
Some brewers explain in a dry, factual way. You might remember what they say but you won’t remember how they said it, but I can safely say I’ve not heard another brewer describe the process as akin to horse riding.
Next it’s about the stories they can tell and how they weave them through their talk. Then the clincher: can they make the audience laugh. John Keeling succeeded on all fronts. This was good news for all of us attending the event but there’s also something that beer and pub industry could learn from it – namely making the most of brewers who can entertain to enthuse and educate, which could surely help revive sales in the on trade – where beer is not just battling against off trade competition but seemingly losing out big time to gin.
Do you know a brewer who’s a great speaker and would have no trouble entertaining a room full of punters so they go away enthused about beer in such a way that they can’t stop talking about it? Your mission – and please accept it – is to encourage them to do some/more meet the brewer events, especially in ‘the average pub’ so the golden age of beer we are enjoying can become more widespread.
The tasting was a sold out event at The Bottle Shop in Margate, with tickets priced at around £20 per head. We sampled a selection of limited edition, high ABV brews including barrel aged beers from the Brewer’s Reserve range and the annually released Vintage Ales, some of which have price tags of £100 or more. These are the kind of beers you tuck away in your cellar as the flavours develop and alter over time.
The tasting had originally been scheduled for February, but was cancelled because of bad weather. Winter is the best time for sipping these strong, complex beers. (By ‘complex’ I mean the impact of ingredients, ageing and flavours from the vessels some are aged in come together to create multi-faceted beers, that make you want to talk about what you are drinking). That said, it’s probably not too late to buy one as a gift for Father’s Day...
The most interesting of the night, from a beer sommelier’s perspective, was the most recent Vintage Ale (2016) which is hopped with Nelson Sauvin (a variety from New Zealand). Its aroma was like a gooseberry fool. This followed through to the taste making for a fresh, zingy beer which seemed very modern for a vintage ale. It will be interesting to see what this beer tastes like in a couple of years and if anything of the hop character remains. Or you could buy some now and enjoy it as the sun sinks on a summer’s evening.
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