A short while ago I noticed that a brewery in Belfast was looking for an assistant brewer.
I thought about it and came up with a list of pros and cons:
- I’d kill to work in the brewing industry.
- I’m a big fan of that brewery’s beer.
- I have absolutely zero experience in the industry.
- It would mean a pay cut.
- The number of day per week I’d work would nearly double.
- My childminding costs would go up with the increase in days worked.
- Belfast is twice the distance of my current commute.
- The job would require traveling away from home from more.
- Work hours were erratic and included weekends.
- Did I mention the zero experience in the industry?
So I weighed it all up and applied (see Pro No1)
Needless to say I didn’t get the job (see Con No.1)
But I enjoyed writing the application so much I thought I’d share it with you.
There was only 2 questions and as you’ll see I failed to answer then in my trademark roundabout way.
I hope you find my failures entertaining 🍻
What are your top 5 beers in the whole wide world? And why?
Tough question, I’ve found beer to be such a subjective thing that it can be hard to rank my favourite beers, it can depend on where I am, what season it is, time of day, my mood, how much time I have, if I’m eating and what I’m eating, to name but a few contributing factors. For example on a hot summers afternoon, sitting in a beer garden with friends, a crisp, lightly hopped session IPA is just the ticket. However on a cold winters night, in front of a roaring fire you’d want something very different, a strong porter maybe.
But I think you can tell a lot about someone from their choice in beer, which i assume you agree with, hence this question. So I’ll tell you about 5 beers that are very important to me, and how they were milestones in my beer education. They aren’t going to feature on many people’s top lists, and there are better beers out there, beers that I will one day get the chance to sample I’m sure.
So I’ll start at the beginning…
1) Duechars IPA from the Caledonia Brewery, Edinburgh.
I went to Edinburgh with my college for a field trip, visiting factories and local industry. We visited the Caledonia Brewery one day, it was my first time being in a brewery and the engineer in me was fascinated by the giant vessels and tanks, and the flow of the brewery, like how the grain was upon delivery sent up to the storehouse on the top floor and then fed down to the mash tubs via a shoot when needed. It was also the first time I’d seen or smelled hops, we took a pinch and rubbed it between the palms of our hands to release the aroma, the head brewer laughed and told us we’d have that smell on our hands for the rest of the day, that was no bad thing in my opinion.
We finished in the brewery taproom for a free pint of Deuchars or 8 schilling. I had a Deuchars and I’d love to say it was love at first sip but that simply wouldn’t be true, later I would grow to love it but for 18 year old me it was overwhelming, it was however like nothing I’d ever tasted before and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of beer.
2: Skull splitter from Orkney Brewery
A couple of years later and I’m back in Edinburgh studying engineering at Herriot Watt University, which as you may know is world renowned for its brewing and distilling degree course. The brewing students host a beer festival every year in the student union. This was before the idea of craft beer existed in the UK so it was all cask conditioned real ales, mostly all from Scotland. But the standout beer for me by far was the Orkney Skull splitter a very strong Scottish ale. At that time it was the strongest beer I’d ever tasted and I did so with a mixture of curiosity and a certain level of bravado. I had expected a strong taste of alcohol but it was deceptively well balanced. It was this beer that really got me into strong dark ales, which inevitably led me to Belgium.
3: Straffe Hendrik from de Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges
I was given a book by beer writer Pete Brown a few years ago called “three sheets to the wind”, in which he travels around the world and looks at beer, beer culture and people’s attitude to alcohol in general.
This book was important to me for two reasons, firstly it got me interested in writing about beer which I eventually have dabbled in myself, and secondly it introduced to me a destination I soon began to see as Mecca for beer fans, Bruges in Belgium. I vowed I would one day go there and on my 30th birthday I did.
On arrival myself and my wife went straight from the train station to de halve maan Brewery where we did the tour and then sat in the courtyard drinking Bruges Zot, poured fresh from the barrel, my wife with the blonde and myself having the bruin. These beers themselves were extremely good and probably would’ve been on this list if it wasn’t for the Straffe Hendrick I had next. It was their quadruple and at 11% it was everything I was looking for from a Belgian ale. I remember as I drank that beer in that courtyard I thought about how if I hadn’t made this trip I might never have drank this beer and wouldn’t know what I’d missed.
4: Belfast Ale from Whitewater Brewery Castlewellan
Strange one to include on the list I admit, for whilst it’s a very nice, easily drunk ale, it’s not one you’d expect to change anyone’s life but it definitely had an impact on mine.
A few years ago I’d moved back to Northern Ireland and I’d found my beer choices quite restricted. I was still in love with all things Belgian but apart from a few of the more macro brands there was very little available without shopping online.
I was in Tesco doing the weekly shop when I did my usual scan of the beer shelf hoping to see something new. And on that day, I did, a whole range of ales from Whitewater brewery and it was clear from the labelling that they were from Northern Ireland. I bought one of each and spent the next few days sampling them. They were all very good but I’d had similar styles of equal quality many times before, the big thing for me was that it was made right here in Northern Ireland and that made all the difference. Overnight my outlook changed and while I still enjoyed beers from all around the world I had now began actively seeking out beers brewed locally. Which led me to what I’m currently doing.
5: Henrietta Hen from Hillstown Brewery Randelstown
I’d been writing beer reviews for years, originally just for my own reference in an old notebook with the bottles label stuck to a page and tasting notes written alongside it. From that I progressed to writing reviews online on beer websites. Eventually I was convinced to start my own blog, which I set up a few months ago. I started off with some standard beer reviews and then started to add more pieces of beer culture, from people you meet at beer festivals to what beer goes with what glassware.
I then started touring round local breweries and chatting to the brewers in an attempt to let people know more about the people who brew their beer.
I was invited down to Hillstown Brewery recently and did the usual, tour, interview and tasting session. As I was leaving I was given one of each of their range which I spent the next couple of weeks trying.
There were two IPAs, Squealing Pig which they describe as a simple introductory IPA and Henrietta Hen, their West Coast style, intense heavily hopped IPA.
I drank the Pig first and it was very good, a real session IPA. I was worried about the Hen as I wasn’t generally a big fan of these over hopped IPAs, still being more a fan of the darker end of the beer spectrum. It was hazy and smelled intense and tasted extremely bitter but I drank some more, really concentrating on the different flavours and I had one of the most eye opening beer experience I’ve had in recent years.
Since then I’ve been trying more of that style of which there is a plethora to choose from.
If you were stuck on a desert island forever, what would be the one beer you brought with you? And why?
I like this, it’s like desert island discs but for beer fans.
Now I’m thinking is it just one beer? Because that would be torture to decide when to crack it open. Or a lifetime supply of that beer? In which case you’d have to be sure it’s something you wouldn’t get bored of.
I’m assuming the island is hot and sunny, so straight away I’m thinking a good quality Czech Pilsner. But then I’m like, but it’s a dessert island I’ve got no refrigeration! And a warm pilsner isn’t pleasant.
So now we’re talking something that doesn’t have to be too cold, I could use the sea to chill it slightly but these are warm tropical waters so it’s only going to do so much.
Regardless of whether it’s one bottle or a lifetime supply sized crate, I’ll need it to last a long time. So that’ll mean high alcohol content and a high IBU as the hops will also help preserve the beer.
Long term beer storage is best in cool dark places, which will be hard to find on this island. So I’ll have to make the tough call of ruling out bottled beer, opting instead for cans or kegs. This will drastically reduce the damage done by the sunlight.
Flavour wise, I’d want to avoid anything sickly sweet, unpleasant in those conditions.
Something crisp and clean but still complex enough to keep me interested over the years.
I need a canned/kegged beer, with a high ABV%, high IBUs, clean but complex, and it has to be a beer I really like…
With all that in mind I’d go for possibly the unusual choice of a barleywine. In particular I’d bring kegs of Old Guardian from Stone Brewing.
It’s brewed with Warrior, Cascade and Chinook hops and then dry hopped with Pekko hops.
It has an Abv% of 11 and IBUs of 75.
Not only will this beer taste great on day 1 but its flavour will develop over time so that I will never be bored drinking it.
So what you think Hallions? Should I have got the job or not?