Hellish data

I don’t have a strong side on this whole Camden-versus-Redwell Hells thing really. Trademarks piss me off – I’m basically a communist at heart and ownership of words/”brands” irritates me. Also, Camden “has form” for being a bully about them. But brands and brand-defence are an unavoidable part of the business world, like it or not it is the commercial reality. Camden’s actions are “understandable” – if not always in-line with craft beer chumminess. The Camden BearD incident is being remembered in the current context and is counting strongly against Camden in the court of public opinion. I’d try to put this aside and look at the current situation in isolation.

Anyway… I thought I’d assemble in one place my thoughts and observations from the day. Here it is. I tried to be neutral but have failed… both sides have displayed an element of childishness & general arseholery… or perhaps just hasty emotive decision making. (I advised myself against writing this post… but I never listen to anyone.)

Trademark filings & timelines…

I don’t know what Camden’s full history for trying to trademark ‘Hells’ is but in this specific instance and time the trademark seems to have been filed defensively. It was filed as part of the process of realising the brand was “in danger”. Would they have done it without the motivation of a Redwell-copycat? Possibly… will they actually be granted the trademark? Who knows. Gut feeling is that it seems pretty tenuous given it is so very similar to the name of the style ‘helles’ – then again there are far far sillier trademarks in force out there. Trademarks do not adhere to such logic.

I fact they filed not one but two similar claims – covering minor variations in text & graphics. In a similar vein to the Camden filing I’d guess Redwell’s trademark filing was a defensive legal move. They’ve probably spent some money on product development & branding so they’d be keen to be able to continue to use it. A problem I have is that Camden’s post implies that Redwell tried to trademark ‘Hells’ – my search of the UK trademarks site does not show this as being quite accurate:

“This week we found out that this other brewery filed two applications to trademark the name Hells on 27th August”

It looks like Redwell have filed to trademark their branding… which happens to include the word Hells. This is a bit different and blunts the impact of Camden’s argument slightly. That said… there is a certain similarity to the name of the beer, if not the presentation:

Camden Hells RedWellHells

Redwell has previously filed a trade mark for their brewery name/logo ‘REDWELL‘ and has very recently filed two more claims for ‘REDWELL IPL‘ and ‘REDWELL IPL INDIA PALE LAGER‘. They seem to have gone a bit trademark-happy. A bit odd coming from folk who published this in their defence:

“If we don’t stop the creeping rot of one trademark and copyright after the other then it never ends and just keeps creeping ever further into our lives..”

Camden on the other hand has no other trademark filings I can find – only that for ‘Hells’.

Is “Hells” a common spelling of “Helles”?

The data on the web, through the lens of Google is very much on Camden’s side in the argument over whether or not ‘Hells’ in the world of beer is a Camden brand or a synonym for ‘hells’ the style of beer. Check these Google searches:

(To try and keep my results “clean” I did these searches using Chrome’s “Incognito” mode.)

OK – but perhaps Camden just have crack-hot SEO experts. What comes up if we remove Camden?

  • “hells” “lager” -“Camden” – results are a bit junky, still some stuff about Camden, a few things that are clearly typos or spellos, a few actual beers though. US or Antipodean brews or homebrew. I’ve not closely examined all these results – but an eye-balling of the first 5 pages gives a strong impression that ‘hells’ is not common.

But hey, we’re being told that in Germany “dropping the ‘e'” isn’t uncommon. Two Germanophiles say this isn’t so.

A couple of blokes on Twitter are hardly definitive of course, however Google searches locked to ‘.de’ similarly don’t agree…

The spelling for the style of beer is very clearly either ‘hell’ or ‘helles’ and only ‘hells’ due to misunderstanding, misspelling, or jokey beer names usually not from Germany. There’s a UK one from Abbeydale in fact. The funny thing is that Germans do know how to spell German words oddly enough, it also helps that the German pronunciation for “helles” would not map onto the spelling “hells” (as far as I am aware). It’d be like saying “larger” is a common synonum for “lager”. The whole ‘hells’ != ‘helles’ thing is backed up by many beer references…

It is also worth browsing RateBeer and Untapped to get a feel for the reality that ‘hells’ as a beer name is pretty rare, rarer still as a name for a helles or lager.

This ‘hells’ is a not-uncommon synonym for ‘helles’ argument is bunk and should be dropped by Redwell, it won’t do them any favours.

The meat of the issue: Is Redwell’s ‘Hells’ a copy of Camden’s ‘Hells’?

I find it hard to believe there is no relationship between these two beer names. Redwell is based in Norwich – in East Anglia. They firmly place themselves in the ‘craft’ sector – so much so the they put ‘craft’ in their beer name (shudder). Camden beers, especially the Hells and Pale Ale are widely distributed throughout East Anglia. (I’ve often grumbled about this in fact… bars put on an unchanging line-up of Camden Helles & Meantime Lager and think they’ve “gone craft”.) The name ‘Hells’ in a beery context is very much associated with Camden in this region – amongst anyone who’s interested in good beer at any rate. On top of that the styles of these two beers are the same, even the ABV is the same… at this point it starts to look like a BrewDogesque publicity fishing expedition hinging on the idea that nobody likes a bully.

From the start I’d just hoped that somebody basically just couldn’t spell ‘helles’, knew shit all about beer, and had made a daft marketing decision. Currently leaning to thinking ‘not so sure’.

To me it is boiling down to:

Is it “right” to release a beer called “Hells” in the belief that “Hells” is a word that ought not _belong_ to a single company given its generic-seeming nature. Fighting your own “good fight” against “the man”…. or is it just pedantry, headline-whoring, and an act of everyday arseholery?

I kind of want to pick both sides here as I have sympathies either way… but dunno, it will be interesting to see where this goes. Gauntlets have been thrown and it is going to be lawyers at dawn.

Secondary to this: what is wrong with just spelling bloody ‘helles’ correctly people? Or ‘hell’ even? Pint of “Hell Craft Lager Beer” anyone? Personally I don’t give a toss about the ‘hells’, ‘helles’, ‘hell’ part of the name… but it could do without the “craft lager beer” bollocks. If you put “craft” in the actual name of a beer you’re doing it wrong. Leave that sort of idiocy to the marketing monkeys at Marstons and Greene King.

[Update 2014-09-14: SEE ALSO: The Brewery That Cried Hells - personally I find my own bias is swinging towards Camden in this matter. As a drinker I'm not a particularly keen fan of Camden or their beers, nor their past trademark actions, nor their origin fudging (are they still guilty of this?)... but Redwell just need to grow up a bit.]

The Session #91: My First Belgian

Chimay Grande Reserve“My First Belgian”? It would have been about 14 years ago, probably at the age of about 21, but the answer is: I’m not sure. As I was living in Sydney at the time the list of possibilities is narrowed down to: whatever the Belgian Beer Café stocked. It was possibly a Chimay – but which one I don’t recall, I do recall that Chimay Blue became my “go to” Belgian and to this day I have a soft spot for it in my beer drinking heart.

What I can definitely remember is my first *pow* blow-me-away Belgian beer experience, it was Chimay Grande Reserve – really just Chimay Blue in different packaging, which I didn’t know at the time. Beer with a cork in it. A combination of rich fruity dark beer and fantastic presentation that burnt itself into my memory. If I recall correctly I bought a bottle of this to share with a friend in celebration of that period of upheaval in life when one goes from “poor student” to “rich employee” (all is relative, in contrast to being  a student struggling to pay the rent, let alone eat, being employed is like financial nirvana).

It would have been Chimay that made me decide: one day I have to go to Belgium and explore the beer. A thing that I still haven’t really done, despite having lived in the UK for 8 years. I’ve been to Belgium once, for non-beer reasons, and did enjoy some great beer there. What struck me most was just how cheap Chimay Grande Reserve is. I think I paid about 4 euro one of these 750ml bottles of lusciousness in a supermarket at a train station. I don’t recall what that Grande Reserve cost me back in Sydney, but I’ve found a blog post that suggests it was AU$29 in 2006… but worth every dollar of that as far as I was concerned at the time.

One day I will go to Belgium just for the beer – and Scourmont Abbey, the home of Chimay, is still right at the top of my go-to destinations.

Craft Keg?

Does the term “craft keg” get on your nerves? It sure gets on mine… it seems to have surfaced out of corners of the industry where they’d not know “craft beer” if it leapt out of the bottle and smacked them on their suit-trousered backsides.

"frozen belly-wash" - CAMRA What's Brewing August 2013

“frozen belly-wash” – CAMRA What’s Brewing August 2013

What’s more we now have a large number of publicans who’ve latched onto this to the extent that “craft beer” is, to them, defined as “non-mainstream keg beer”. Reasons for this are manifold. Certain larger distributors and breweries are now pushing “craft” strongly – but under that moniker putting forward nowt but a small selection of national/international beer brands that are in keg format only (i.e. Camden, Meantime, Sierra Nevada, etc). It is these salespeople who’re doing most of the “informing” across the wider industry at the moment – in my area at any rate. To back this up certain high-profile breweries have tried to jump on the bandwagon producing their own “craft” ranges – and we see things like Greene King Nobel Lager and Charles Wells / Dogfish Head DNA in keg pushed as their “craft offering”…. Then there is a very noisily vocal CAMRA minority – grasping for something to fight against they’ve targeted “craft” as clearly being the enemy – as being “fizzy bellywash”. There is also BrewDog, undoubtedly the UK’s most successful “craft brand” – who used the craft rhetoric back when they did mainly cask beers but have been a keg-only brewer for some time now so people looking to them see the “craft brewery” => “keg beer” link.

Finally there is us… those of us who fell in love with the craft beer ethos years ago. In a hipsteresque-fashion we jumped on the bandwagon before it was cool… for the fun ride… only to have let the wagon be taken away from us. We can’t see who’s driving it now but we know they’ve taken several wrong turns and sometimes we just wish they’d pull over so we could get off.

We’ve failed to protect the simple ethos that “craft beer” is all “good beer”, we’ve let our own terminology run away from us.

Can we rescue it? I’m not optimistic. Then again we do have loads of regional level breweries whacking “craft” on their cask pumpclips… maybe they’ll “save” it for us.

I currently find myself in the position of selling what I consider to be craft beer to pubs. I do avoid using the phrase myself, but inevitably when I talk to a new pub it will come up. Most people in the industry have heard the phrase “craft beer” by now and my experience is that for most of them it is about packaging more than it is about beer. I have convinced a few otherwise – but they come around reluctantly, as business owners the idea that craft beer is “non mainstream keg beer” fits a neat product niche and that is hard to shake. I come along and say that the cask beer is also craft and they look at me like I don’t know what I’m talking about… some flat out disagree, and say they’ve been told what “craft beer” is by so-and-so (big distributor or big brewer) and thus clearly I am wrong. I think it is that “neat product niche” versus “vague idea that some beer is good and some isn’t” that is the downfall here… the former requires no real further thought, the latter requires a whole lot more mental overhead on the part of the publican & drinker. (Any psychologists handy? There are probably psych papers on this sort of thing.)

I will continue to fight my corner on this matter… and I’ve decided to use the phrase “craft beer” more often in fact, making it clear that all the beer I sell is craft beer. No matter what container it is in. With and without my CAMRA hat on…

Beer and Food Pairing Philosophy

This is in response to: Seeing The Lizards: Food (where I can’t comment directly as the only account I have that would work is Google and I don’t like using it).

Food and Beer

Food and Beer

It is important for us beer-foodies to recognise that beer and food pairing isn’t for everyone – and I believe all those I know are not so blinkered as to think otherwise. Whilst I’d love it if everyone would try something once to give it a go… some folk are happy to stay within their comfort zone and it isn’t right to pester them about it or label them “wrong”. Labelling them “philistines” is something I hope would only happen in jest – albeit sometimes people do take it all far too seriously. Regular reality checks are good to keep us passionate folk grounded.

I also think it is important to be open about the fine details of pairings being, for the most part, subjective. The fine details of flavour are subjective and context sensitive as it is. However, the oft referred-to cut/complement/contrast rules do work – like many blunt instruments. Hammers for nails, screwdrivers for screws. The work of the pairer (sommelier perhaps) is to try and ensure a good, and ideally fun, experience. Some things will not work. In a person-to-person context is is also important to account for the diner – working within their tastes where needed, helping to explore their boundaries where desired.

Served with Harvistoun Ola Dubh 16For my own part I was a “foodie” (a term I particularly dislike) for a looooong time before becoming a beer geek. I’ve probably been a “beer geek” for less than five years. In contrast, well over a decade ago in 80s/90s Australia I grew up in a restaurant surrounded by gourmet variety, my father a trained chef of the traditional school and my mother with a modern creative flair for food – all bases covered. In this sense I don’t regard my views on beer+food as coming out of some odd beer-vs-wine-inferiority-complex… they come out of being a food lover who discovered the flexibility and power of beer in the food context who wishes to spread the joy of the discovery.

But at the end of the day it is about turning the necessary sustenance of life into entertainment. Like TV programme genres the entertainment value won’t be the same for all. I accept that, just as I accept “craft beer” isn’t for everyone, and “gourmet dining” isn’t for everyone – the combination of the two certainly isn’t.

(The combination of some basic pizza and Thornbridge Jaipur sounds like a great one to me … the bright hoppy freshness of the Jaipur cutting through the oily richness of warm cheese, uplifting the whole pizza eating experience, cleansing the pallet and providing a fresh lemony contrast – especially to a “meat lovers”, for example. So there… M.Lawrenson, beer+food pairing genius. :-p)

[I should add it is very flattering to appear in the same sentence as Melissa Cole... I merely blog a little about food+beer, whilst Melissa does food+beer on a regular basis. I'm hoping to do it a bit too in the future, I can only look up to Melissa as an example of how it is done.]

Followup: Cask Ale Fallacies

Well, there has certainly been some interesting discussion out of the “Three Cask Ale Fallacies” post. On the back of some of this discussion some updates have been made to that post (all clearly labelled as such). It is time to post a follow-up I think, rather than muddy the waters by adding more updates to my own post.

Background

There is some discussion worth reading on the Boak & Bailey post.

Clarification

I just want to take a moment to state clearly what I am NOT claiming, and never claimed:

  1. Most importantly: I am NOT claiming that Ed is serving duff beer. I think his process is sound but I challenged some of the methods and justifications. I thought I was very clear in my post that a) I expect Ed serves fantastic beer, and b) I think Ed is the sort of cellar person we need in more pubs.
  2. I am NOT claiming that there is a one-true-way to keep cask ale. This would just be totally bonkers. I just seek to examine the reasons behind certain thinking and practices.
  3. I am NOT claiming that I am an expert on the subject. However, I do consider myself an informed commentator… who is seeking to extend and clarify his own knowledge on the subject.
  4. I am NOT claiming that the general public ought to be aware of any of the technicalities. This is a discussion for people who keep beer or are deeply interested in it. Albeit if I hear “the general public” peddling bullcrap as fact I will sometimes challenge them on it. This most often involves “I’m a CAMRA member” types who’re are proselytizing or trying to “educate”. It happens on the oxygen front predominantly. I suspect I find myself on the receiving end of such education more often than older folk purely because I spend too much time around beer and I’m under the age of 50 (I’m 34, for what that’s worth) and I’m a foreigner (Australian). So it is assumed that I need a proper education in “English beer”. This is usually hilarious… but anyway, I digress.

The conversations coming out of my original post ranged far and wide with all kinds of wild tangents of discussion and heated argument taking place. Even “CAMRA bashing” became the topic at one point. I’m sticking purely to my original points in this post.

1. Oxygen (O2) – needed in secondary/conditioning?

I see my job as the cellarman is to use what the brewer has given me (namely yeast + sugars), add some oxygen, and let rip.

There’s all many of biochemical reasons why oxygen is important – one of the most is allowed aerobic respiration to occur which re-metabolises compounds like diacetyl (produced during anaerobic).

This point hasn’t really been discussed much. I stand by my statement that any requirement for O2 to help/start “secondary” & “conditioning” is a myth.

I don’t know where the diacetyl item comes from… the material linked to in the comments appears to me to claim the opposite. (Find the “OXIDATION” section, it does explain that plenty of oxygen is needed in the wort to ensure a healthy fermentation with little diacetyl production.)

I take it by the lack of discussion on the topic that there isn’t any real technical challenge or counterexample.

With respect to Ed’s cellaring process I don’t think O2 plays any role in the quality of the beer coming out at the tap. When a cask is vented it’ll be ejecting CO2 which will mostly keep air/O2 away from the beer. If the cask is sealed with a nylon peg when it is not active then this ensures O2 continues to stay out of the picture. It won’t be until the beer is served that air/O2 is drawn into the cask as per usual with cask ale. (Where we hit a whole different kettle of fish with respect to the desirability of oxidation to “soften” beer.)

3. “Secondary” (cask conditioning) – does not occur at the brewery?

you say “do any brewers send out beer that isn’t in condition these days though?” Every single one does.

Ever drunk cask beer straight after it’s been racked and tapped? There is no condition in it whatsoever.

There has been a little discussion on this topic but not a lot. I’m standing by my position that _most_ cask beer leaves the brewery with suitable “condition” (sufficient vols CO2) to serve. (Meaning only that there is sufficient CO2, not that the beer is ready to serve… this will depend the beer and maturation required to achieve peak/desired flavour.)

There has been some lighthearted challenge on the use of the term “secondary”. A bit nitpicky perhaps… we all know that it is just a continuation of fermentation, right? And it is common practice to use the term to refer to that phase of fermentation used to achieve sufficient CO2 is in the beer. This “secondary” fermentation might take place in bottle, cask, or tank – and it doesn’t magically cease when the beer leaves the brewery. (Ignoring sterile filtered and/or pasteurised beer of course.)

As for the original point – I fully accept that sometimes beer does leave the brewery without sufficient carbonation. I said as much in my post. There is a variety of reasons for this – the yeast might just be a bit lethargic, possibly due to cold weather, or the brewery might not have given it enough time… and in this latter case I believe it is normal for a brewery to give a warning. It is also not unusual for a pub to reject a beer that does not arrive with a reasonable CO2 level. This has been my personal experience on this subject.

I have asked a few brewers about this in the last week and the uniform answer has been that they don’t let the beer out of the brewery until sufficient time has been given for the beer to reach a desirable carbonation level. (It is an amusing co-incidence that one brewer who I don’t believe was aware of this discussion warned me: you can have this beer but we’ve only just racked it so it will need a week.) The most useful bit of information on the topic I’ve found is a blog post from Jon of Stringers Brewery: Gas, and Hot Air – this discusses tank versus cask conditioning at the brewery, the relevant part of his post is the bit where cask leaves the brewery at 1.4 vols CO2 to be ready for venting at the pub at 1.5 vols CO2 (and will be finally be served below this after being vented).

Why is Ed’s experience of this at odds to the reality? It may be due to venting immediately after shaking the cask… this will cause a violent exit of CO2 from solution. So if you immediately sample the beer from this cask it probably is seemingly flat. However as Ed explains he then gives his beer plenty of time to generate some more CO2 to recover its condition.

My experience of cask ale is that is usually arrives from the brewery well carbonated. It is left on stillage for at least half a day and then vented carefully to try and retain CO2 in solution. Retaining CO2 is ideal for beer festivals, the context in which my own experience lies. I don’t have the experience of a pro cellarman, but I have vented at least 1000 casks in this way across a very wide variety of breweries and beers.

I cannot say whether one or the other method results in better beer. One could ponder that Ed’s violent “whoosh” of CO2 release carries away undesirables – sulphur compounds perhaps that give “green” beer its “Burton Snatch”/struck-match aroma? On the flip-side this could perhaps cause the beer to give up volatile hop aromas that brewers try so hard to keep inside the beer. One for some experimentation perhaps.

2. Yeast rousing (shaking/rocking casks) – is essential for good beer?

This item has been rearranged to be last as it is the “myth” I’m least convinced about. When doing my training I was instructed by a good brewer to *not* agitate casks unnecessarily. I took it as being a strict rule, coming from an experienced chap with a Heriot Watt masters degree. However I’m now thinking this was a “lies for children” sort of instruction… a rule of thumb that hides a hell of a lot more “under the bonnet”.

Where I now stand on this is: know your beer.

The factor that is most important here seems to be finings performance. A complicated subject in which there are several variables to consider (brewery fining practice, chain of supply, yeast properties, beer properties, temperature… at the least). This is why “know your beer” is the rule here.

The main item of interest seems to be performance of finings across “drops”. The feedback seems to go something like: On the first “drop” after the finings have been added to the cask the trub layer will be relatively loose. On the second drop a little tighter. On the third and maybe fourth drops the tightest. After which the finings will start to get “tired” and be less effective. This is the collected anecdotal evidence from several brewers and does not represent a set of hard rules, but seems to be a generally accepted pattern.

If you buy your beer from a brewery that fines their beer when they rack it it would have dropped once after racking. Then a second time after transit to your cellar. Then the third time after you agitate it before putting on stillage. (Unless it has been shaken about additionally along the way!)

If you buy your beer from a distributor then there is probably at least one extra step along the way, likely more! As a new distributor myself I am now ultra-aware of this and will be careful not to move casks unnecessarily in the future.

Obviously there is a vast array of possibilities here. I hear some breweries add finings only when the cask leaves the brewery – so if receiving direct from the brewery it is only on its 1st drop when it hits your cellar. Based on the ideas discussed so far there would seem to be a definite benefit to thorough agitation before putting this cask on stillage.

So, what’s the worst that can happen if you agitate? Due to chain of supply it’ll have been through 6 or more drops and simply won’t clear. (Ever? Or will it just be very slow?)

So, what’s the worse that can happen if you don’t agitate? It’ll be on its 1st or 2nd drop and may not form as tight & small a trub layer as it could – thus you have a higher ullage and you get a lower return on your cask of beer.

There are people who swear by doing it either way… I think perhaps a few more have stated that they do rouse than those who have stated that they don’t. However I’ve not had time to try and find and count all the responses.

Another question is: if a cask has been sat on its end for 24+ hours and you move that cask from that position to being sat on a traditional stillage, what happens to the trub layer and how does it settle without the additional agitation? It was specifically this situation in which I was originally instructed that there was no need to go shaking the cask unnecessary. However that is in opposition to this statement:

I’ve done some searching on the topic but haven’t found anything particularly enlightening. I did find a treasure-trove of interesting beer information along the way however: onlinelibrary.wiley.com – in this I found papers on some experimentation with finings performance: Improving the Effectiveness of Isinglass Finings for Beer Clarification by Optimisation of the Mixing Process. Part 1: Laboratory Scale Experiments (Also: Part 2: Pilot Scale, Part 3: Full Size). But whilst these papers are interesting the context is not right in the context of this discussion.

Ed Wray did a little digging to see if he could come up with any data on the topic and came up with: So no definitive answer yet. I suspect it’s one of those questions to which the answer is “it depends”.

Ed Razzall has used his connections to do a little experiment for us all. He’s going to get two glass fronted casks of Ghost Ship from Adnams and treat them both exactly the same way aside from the vigorous agitation pre-stillaging. This is exactly the sort of thing I love… experimental evidence! I’m looking forward to finding out the results. It will not give us a definitive answer to the “do” or “don’t” agitate question… but it will give us a useful and interesting datapoint.

Inconclusion

As is often the case more questions are raised than answered. I still stand by my original statements with respect to “myths” 1 (oxygen) and 3 (condition). In the case of myth 2 (rousing) we seem to have hit a clash of two differing schools of thought neither of which has any hard evidence to back itself up or shoot down the other side. Whilst the true answer may be “it depends” – I’d like to know why? Because that’s just the sort of person I am.

But I do accept there may be no clear (haha) answer to some of these questions…