Crikey….we’ve been brewing beer in Wellingborough for a year now and celebrated in style at our 1st Birthday Bomberdrome Beer Bash on Saturday.  Lots of beer (obviously), wonderful live music (clearly) and a bicycle Wall of Death (not quite so obviously you may think!).  Lots and lots of things have changed in the intervening twelve months but one thing for me has been a huge shift.  Anyone that knew me pre-HFB will know that I was a complete Luddite-style curmudgeon about all thinks ‘social media’.  I thought that interacting with people you didn’t know, over t’interweb, must surely be the opposite of sociable and 12 months later I’m blogging about it!?  Just to make my position as of today completely clear:

“I love social media!”

Two examples of why….

1. Hippy Jon


Jon is our pet hippy and we re-homed him after we found him sniffing around the bins round the back of twitter.  In reality, of course, Jon found us through the incredible power of the internet and here’s how.  At one of our brewery OPEN DAYS a charming chap came in tried all the beers, loved them and then light-heartedly berated us for using his surname for our brewery without his permission.  Daniel Hart, no obvious relation, then tweeted about his delight at finding a decent local brewer who, by happy coincidence, shared his surname.  His tweet was picked up by his cousin “oop north”, who in turn chatted to a friend in the US, this transatlantic link then landed back in Market Harborough and a mutual friend @hippy_jon.  Jon then jumped on his magic carpet, drenched himself in patchouli, whispered some incantations and landed at the brewery with his wonderful mum.  Not satisfied with this he then, in very unhippyesque style, bullied his local bottle shop into stocking our beers and we’ve been supplying the very excellent Duncan Murray Wines ever since.  Through us Jon has now met Ron, a soon to be pro-brewer in the states, and they’ve already started swapping plans about how to build an awesome homebrew kit in Jon’s garage.  Hurrah!

2. The Ministry of Bicycles

Sarah riding the wall!

Sarah riding the wall!

When it became clear that we weren’t going to end up a horrible government ‘start-up business staticstic’ and would at the very least see our first 12 months, our minds turned to our birthday party.  We needed to make sure it was good balance between a genuine ‘thank you’, a right rollicking laugh and an opportunity to showcase what we do.  Our plans started in January just as my new found love of social media was becoming a serious long-term affair and I was ready to make a commitment.  That’s when we met the Ministry of Bicycles.  They found us through St. Giles Cheese Shop in Northampton and started following us and then I sent what has proved to be our first archtweet, “do you guys fancy popping over and brewing some beer?”.  The response was very positive to say the least so we arranged for me to visit one of their project nights at Bill’s shed.  I turned up and found the guys, mostly armed with angle grinders and disembodied bike remains, and we talked beer!  They told me about their magnum opus “The Bomberdrome”.  Inspired by a video from the states of the Whiskeydrome (viewed on YouTube of course), they conspired to make their own Bicycle Wall of Death.  What followed was a huge effort to design, fabricate and fund the project.  Financing took the form of cloud-funding, no grovelling to a bank manager, no dodgy unsecured loans with their kidneys as collateral, but a social media frenzy allowing friends, family, colleagues and contacts to buy a beam of the wall and thus the Bomberdrome was born.  This US-inspired / English-built project was the theme we used for the beer.  The Bomberdrome Beer is a 4.6% US-style Amber Ale and a fully functioning hybrid beer.  All English ingredients but using US “craft brewing” techniques and a West Coast strain of yeast.  So fast forward to our birthday party and there we are serving our social-media-engineered beer, to our world wide web enabled customers, whilst the twitterati flashed around the Bomberdrome in the yard, up on the mezzanine our Facebook-savvy house band, Seven Foot Preacher, banged out classic rock numbers whilst the mobile-device-wielding audience uploaded photographs to enter our Instagram competition…….phew!  Just to make our celebrations complete Hippy Jon came along and put into practice his most successful hash-tag yet #buythehippyapint!

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It was a blast!

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My background is in the wine industry in a variety of selling, buying and marketing roles and, while I love wine, the bureaucratic approach to winemaking and nomenclature used to drive me nuts.  The stupidity of governing bodies throughout Europe forcing some of their most talented and innovative winemakers to label their best wines as simple ‘table wine‘ as they didn’t fit into a rigid legislative pigoen hole, never ceased to amaze and amuse those of us started out in wine in the ’90’s.  Some of Italy’s most expensive wines, the “super-Tuscans” were labelled as “vino da tavola” because they used unauthorised grape varieties or illegal production methods that meant that they could never be called Chianti.   However, evolution is a destructive and reformative force and in the end the innovators and the traditionalists have for the most part kissed and made up.  New denominations have been created and many of the innovative techniques: the use of new oak barrels; blending with more international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon; and moves to simpler, more democratic, labelling have been embraced around the globe and most notably as a consequence of the entry of New World wines.  So that’s all good….kinda….sort of…isn’t it….!?

Now the nub of this post, India Pale Ale.  This is a collection of words which should be close to the heart of any right-thinking, and beer-drinking, British person.  India Pale Ale is the very story of industrialisation and the British Empire.  There is plenty that is not glorious in the development of both but India Pale Ale should be celebrated in the same breath as grandest Scotch malt whisky, the most elegant Cognac, the best old vintage port and, yes, the finest traditional wines of Europe.   And yet it isn’t.  Most pub goers are familiar with the acronym ‘IPA’, some know what the initials stand for but less, it would appear, seem to care.  That the best-selling cask beer in Britain is packaged as IPA should be an affront to British sensibilities as it simply cannot be India Pale Ale any more than a Sangiovese / Viognier blend can be Chianti.  The best-selling cask beer in Britain is an ‘ordinary bitter’ using language before ordinary meant bad of course (cf ‘satisfactory’ is now as good as a fail in an Ofsted report – when did this skull-crushing aspiration happen to us?).  It’s perfectly OK, not bad, unremarkable and mediocre, none of which should be words used to describe India Pale Ale.  At it’s inception, IPA was brewed strong and heavily hopped to preserve the beer on it’s long sea journey to the edge of Empire, from London and, most famously, Burton upon Trent to India.  It was a beer brewed to refresh and revive Brits abroad and give them a taste of Blighty whilst they sat in 40 degree heat and 90% humidity.  Britain did a lot wrong in India, and elsewhere in the Empire, but introducing the rest of the world to pale, golden, refreshing beers wasn’t too bad I don’t think.

Now I’m not advocating the introduction of legislation to give protection to the term…at least I don’t think I am?  But surely we must venerate this drink that is the progenitor of many of the world’s beer styles from being debased as a 3.6% ordinary bitter?  The “craft brewing” scene (this term will no doubt feature in a future rant-based post – if anybody has any idea what it means please tell me!?) has done much to revive the style and generate interest, beer writers and bloggers do speak of it in hushed, respectful tones but at the same time they come up with Black IPA….How can something be both black and pale?  Of course, it can’t.  A good homebrewing friend of mine brewed a fantastic dark beer brimming over with citrus-laden US hops which was quite delicious but calling it Black IPA did make me wince a little, like nails down a blackboard….that said please can I have some more Andy?

Our IPA, 6.2% abv and crammed with all British malt and hops

Our IPA, 6.2% abv and crammed with all British malt and hops

India Pale Ale should be strong, 6-8% abv, made from British pale malted barley, heavily hopped with traditional British varieties and given extended cask ageing before bottling – there, I said it!.  Our own 1833 IPA is a very determined beer and one that we are learning, yes learning, how to handle.  Brewing it is relatively straightforward, a lot of ingredients not much water, but handling it post-fermentation has been a roller coaster.  It certainly benefits from long ageing, 3-6 months in cask to allow the hop flavours to mellow, the malt character to integrate and then an abundance of secondary aromas to develop.  Bottles needs to be coaxed rather than filled and at first it complains bitterly about it’s new constrained surroundings.  Given another month to relax into it’s new smart new pack it springs back to life full of flavour and intrigue.  If this rambling and confused rant has peaked your interest, then please buy Pete Brown’s excellent book, Hops & Glory, which explores the history, rise and eventual fall of one of the world’s defining drinks styles.


And as a final thought, just so you don’t think that wine is now all democracy and equality and breaking down boundaries, I’ve just read an article by a well-known MW about winemakers playing Mozart to their vines.

Pass me the Elgar!

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It seems very apt to be writing this post on St. George’s Day which must be the very epitome of Englishness.  Millions of people quietly celebrating a mythical saint who certainly wasn’t English, if he was anything of Greek descent and raised in Asia Minor, and all the while grumbling that it’s not as good a ‘do’ and St. Patrick’s Day earlier in the year.  We English don’t like to ‘go on’ about things but rather take slightly smug comfort that we don’t need all the fuss and nonsense of, say, the New York St. Patrick’s Day parties.  This slightly smug, but ultimately self-defeating attitude, is fine when it comes to celebrating the life of a possible person from a long time ago but can have serious consequences when applied to the here and now!

England, like the rest of the UK, has some challenge at the moment and, quite rightly, a lot of people have probably got better things to worry about than hops!  I should have better things to worry about than hops but as a brewer I can’t think what they should be.  The growth in the number of brewers over the last few years has been incredible and our business was one of over a hundred new breweries last year.  The choice for the beer drinker has never been wider in living memory and the range of beer styles available in both the on and off trade is quite rightly making the wine industry weep.  Beer is cool, beer is fun, beer doesn’t take itself so seriously and yet beer offers the drinker all the variety of flavour and style that the grape can.  So far, so good.

Just one fly in an otherwise impeccable ointment.  The British hop industry faces enormous challenges.  Here’s a great stat – in 1912 over 70,000 acres of Britain was cultivated for the production of hops, by 2012 this had slipped to around 2,500 acres.  The reason for this near collapse is, in essence, two-fold – we’re drinking less beer and, the nemesis of British industries througout the 20th century, cheap imports.  As beer drinking in the UK changed from traditional English beers to quasi-lagers, the requirement for high quality, traditional hop varieties fell and then consumption overall begins to fall.  It is thought by many in the hop growing industry that it will cease to be commercially viable to grow hops in the UK if the acreage falls to around 2,000 acres and at current trends that isn’t far away.  But surely, with the rebirth of interest in British brewing the future should be secure.  You’d think so but tastes change and, just like in the wine world in the 1990’s, the New World is seen as the source for vibrant new flavours and styles in the form of hop varieties such as Cascade, Nelson Sauvin, Amarillo.  New brewers are competing to secure tiny allocations of ever rarer and newer hops varieties in the pursuit of their USP!  But here’s a thought, as with wine so with beer, tastes will mature.  The flashy, oak-laden alcoholic tinctures of the 1990’s have for the large part been replaced by new wines from Chile, Australia, New Zealand and even California that assert their sense of place, ‘terroir’ is the French term, and are trying to better replicate more classic styles that have stood the test of time in the face of fashion.  Our business only produces beers made with British hops,  both traditional and new varieites, as a small contribution to a heritage industry that we should be proud of.  Using UK hops we can produce every conceivable style of beer from around the world but we do steer clear of the faddish, extreme styles.  For example our India Pale Ale weighs in at a respectable 1063 OG, 6.6% abv and, we hope, delivers on flavour and that most important element BALANCE.

Cascade hops growing at Townend Farm, Herefordshire Aug 2012

Cascade hops growing at Townend Farm, Herefordshire Aug 2012

So in the interests of balance, I would urge you to seek the refined, delicate and even elegant aromas of British hops and look out for the new logo from the British Hop Association in order to buy in confidence that not only are you slaking your thirst but supporting British farmers – guilt-free beer!


Happy St. George’s Day “cheers”.

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The 1833 Brewery

The 1833 Brewery

This is our new blog about all things beery and just for starters here’s a piccie of our brewery. The 1833 Brewery is housed in a fine late Georgian industrial building which was part of the development that brought municipal street lights to the town, The Wellingborough Gas Light Company established in, of course, 1833.

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