Category Archives: Revolutions Brewing Co

>Brewing Cuckoo (pt 2)

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Dann Paquette and his wife Martha are the creative force behind Pretty Things – a cuckoo brewing pair who refer to PT as a ‘Project.’ Inspired as much by Yorkshire (where Martha hails from) as their USA homeland, Dan certainly feels that – for the time being, anyway – there’s only one way they can brew; Cuckoo. ‘One great thing about this sort of brewing is that you can fold shop up neatly and move on with your life if you want to. There are no tanks to sell, no debt. Not that we’d want to! But that is a thought we’ve had at the back of our heads throughout this business – we can fail and walk away not having lost anything. That allows us to be out on a limb like we are.’
Dann’s clearly passionate about Pretty Things’ interesting, rustic beers but tempers that passion with solid, almost-obvious clarity. ‘I’d much rather have my own brewery. But we started this business for $9,000. You can’t build a brewery on any scale for that.’ When I asked whether he would recommend it as a choice, the reply was firm: ‘No. I would recommend the traditional route which allows you to be completely in control. At the end of the day we’re guests in someone else’s brewery and only have limited influence on how that brewery works. A brewer’s nature is to want to be in control.’
Despite that, PT seems very much a ‘family’ operation; albeit one without a permanent home. ‘Martha and I brew and oversee fermentation. We also have all of our own relationships and purchase raw materials. Lastly, we draw all of our labels ourselves. The host brewery lets us use their brewhouse and they package the beer for us.’ Cuckoo Brewing seems just as hard a task as regular brewing; but some still seek out the Cuckoo way regardless of the toil.

 

Mikeller’s Mikkel Borg Biergso has been cuckooing since 2007 – in fact, it would be hard to imagine Mikeller doing things any other way; Cuckooing is very much Mikkeller’s trademark. Mikkel says the secret of his success is simply hard work. ‘It’s a lot of logistics. I work A LOT and I work with good people. But it’s hard sometimes to make everyone happy.’ So, I asked, why not get a permanent home?’ It’s not as much fun.’ Mikkel replied. He refers to his trade as ‘Gypsy’ – a term which I actually prefer; simply due to the implied romance of it. Implied or not, the romantic view clearly dissipates once it becomes clear how difficult it is to keep a lid on the operation. Despite it’s hardships – and bear in mind the size of Mikeller’s operation – Cuckoo Brewing is still the only way to go for Mikkell, and behind those experimental gems we’ve come to expect form Mikkeller sits sheer hard work and a level-headed resolve to make sure all the ends meet, the planets align and the Beer ends up in your glass. ‘I like the freedom. With the loads of work my life is very different than my brewing. I really have to stay focused to work it all out.’
So what does the future hold for our brewers? For Steel City – more brewing, and perhaps a departure from the style that’s made them infamous. ‘We want to try some more styles; we’re looking at an Alt and a Kolsch in the summer, and maybe a Weissbeer in the Autumn. Although we’re known for our pale hoppy beers, our stouts actually get better feedback than our pales! We’re building up a solid base of repeat customers, and we’re looking at palletised deliveries to London in a couple of months. We’ve also bought some keykegs to export our beer to Italy and eventually USA. Our mini-kit (basically a 10-gal boiler and fermenter) means we can brew single firkins, so we can brew more extreme styles without worrying about selling a whole brewlength – so far we’ve done an 8% imperial stout, and are currently brewing a series of single-hop IPAs.’ In fact, a Black IPA brewed in collaboration with Otley should be being brewed as you read this.

As for Revolutions, their 2011 should hopefully see a permanent home; and along with that expansion in beers, distribution and a (if you ask me) a growing reputation. Ditto for Pretty Things; although they will remain Cuckoo for the time being. ‘We’re trying to keep up with demand and keep it fun at the same time. Lots of great seasonals are coming back like Fluffy White Rabbits, Babayaga and American Darling. We’ve also got a really interesting historical beer in our “Once Upon A Time” series coming out in May.’
Steel City, Mikkeller, Pretty Things and Revolutions are planning ahead, there’s no slow-down here despite not brewing in the traditional way. Perhaps therein lies the beauty of this way of working: whether Full-Time brewer, Cuckoo Brewer, or even Homebrewer – that buzz, that tingle of pride as someone enjoys your beer, is the true spirit of brewing.
Pretty Things Picture courtesy of Carolyn Fong. Dann & Martha will be pouring thier beer at The Cornshed in Sexhow on July 8th & 9th. Keep an eye on their website for details.

>Brewing Cuckoo (Pt 1)

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Cuck-oo: A grayish European bird (Cuculus canorus) that has a characteristic two-note call and lays its eggs in the nests of birds of other species.

Cuckoo Brewing has always interested me; there’s something about the cuckoo way, throwing such minor shackles such as, well – not having your own kit – aside and brewing just for the hell of it. It’s like Beat poetry; without form, practised by free spirits and producing one-off, off-centre beers. Or is it? My own view seems overly romantic. After all, Brewing is hard work – and once you throw in the business side of things, you’ve got a company like any other. So I decided to ask around and see what made people brew the Cuckoo way.

Andy Helm and Mark Seaman of Revolutions Brewing Company weren’t planning on Cuckooing. Their hand was forced due to simple economic spanners being thrown into their works; put simply, their kit took longer than expected to be available. Regardless, the pair decided to forge ahead. ‘The concept of cuckoo-brewing was unknown to us until circumstances led us to look for a way we could put our ideas into action and get our product to market as early as possible.’, says Andy. ‘We made the decision to set up a micro-brewery in August 2010. We quickly decided to buy a new (rather than second hand) brew plant and our initial discussions with the brewing consultant revealed a 7 month lead time for fabrication and installation. Once we knew we wouldn’t have our plant until June-11 we saw an opportunity to turn this potential setback into an opportunity to test our ideas, expand our knowledge and hopefully earn some revenue.’

Using another brewery as a testing board seems like an excellent idea. Luckily, other brewers in the area seem to agree, and were happy to let Revolutions hijack their gear for a little while to get their hands dirty. ‘We eventually found Richard Billington, one of the co-owners of The Brass Monkey Brewery in Sowerby Bridge. Richard was very accommodating and encouraged us to try a couple of brews in November to tap into the Christmas market. Our original intention had been to start in January. He even allowed us to use some spare casks which meant that we didn’t have to purchase our own for a few months.’

For me, this is a perfect example of the willingness to help that seems to pervade the independent brewing industry as a whole. Is it a surprise that the concept of Cuckoo exists in Brewing, but isn’t prevalent in many other industries? Is it too romantic to say that The Beer is King, and even helping others make unique, new brews and get established brings reward other than financial? Maybe.

Andy outlines their basic arrangement. ‘For us it’s a great way to make our beer and get it out to market without having the overheads of rent and rates. We pay our share of water and electricity as well as all the cleaning chemicals so the cost per brew is a reasonably good reflection of the marginal brew costs we will face under our own steam. As we make a little profit on each of the brews we can reinvest in new casks and things we will need for our own brewery. Over a period of 6-7 months of cuckooing we can reduce by about 10-15% the total amount we need to put into the business to buy the plant, cask washers etc. and fit out the unit.We are brewing fortnightly at Brass Monkey. This fits in with their current spare brewing capacity and is about as much as we could do without hitting issues of storage space for casks. We have 100 of our own casks which, if we manage them tightly, are just about enough for a fortnightly brew length of 25-26 casks. Cuckooing does have its natural limits unless your host has ample storage space for casks. We are lucky that Brass Monkey is in a large old mill. Other hosts might not have the space.’

The simple logistics of it all has also been a barrier, as Andy outlines, for Gaz Prescott and Dave Szwejkowski of Steel City Brewing. Steel City was born out of Dave and Gaz simply wanting to brew beer how they like it – Pale and super-hoppy. It’s a niche that has worked well for them, and the majority of people who drink their refreshing wares are pretty impressed. In fact, Ben McFarland recently deemed them worthy of inclusion in the ‘Breweries to watch in 2011’ alongside such forward-thinking outfits as Thornbridge, Kernel, Marble and Gadd’s. ‘When we started out 18 months ago, it really was a case of doing it to simply brew the beer we like, because no other bugger would do it!’ Dave and Gaz state proudly. ‘Since then there’s been a real growth in our sort of beer – not that we’re taking the credit – from the likes of Brewdog, Summer Wine and Mallinsons along with some more established names such as Pictish. However, we only brew once a month, so there’s no way we could cover the cost of our own premises and kit’.

However, it took a little moving around before our intrepid hop-heads could find a permanent home. ‘After 2 test brews at The Brew Company, we’ve set up long term at Little Ale Cart. This worked out well, as LAC could offer us weekend brewing which The Brew Company couldn’t do due to increasing demand for their beer. The first couple of times at LAC, Gee (Resident brewer) was on hand to help and show how things work – but now we just get on with it. We find Cuckoo is a lot less hassle in the main. No maintenance issues; we pay one monthly brewery hire fee which includes kit, electricity, gas, peripherals (finings, cleaning fluids, etc). The only downside is that obviously we don’t have exclusive access; but that’s only been an issue once, when we couldn’t brew because ‘our’ fermenter was in use. Our current arrangement works well – Little Ale Cart brew during the week, we go in on a Saturday’.

For me, that’s one of the key points about Cuckoo Brewing that Dave makes; the arrangement works well. You don’t even have to suffer too much when the inevitable occupational hazard occurs. When I asked Dave whether he thought all this hassle was worth it, he replied ‘Of course, there’s times you just feel like giving up and going home – last month we had about 20% of our brew wasted because for some reason they were popping their shives, and that wiped out the profit for the brew. At the same time we managed to break an expensive hydrometer, so there’s more money down the drain. But that can also happen with your own kit, it’s not exclusive to cuckoo brewing – and when it’s your livelihood it’s even more frustrating! But, 95% of the time, it’s fun. We don’t brew often enough for it to become ‘just a job’, a chore, and there’s a real satisfaction to seeing your beer on the bar, seeing people enjoy it, seeing people actively seeking it out’.

Dave’s brewing partner, Gaz Prescott, also points out that the freedom – at this level – to brew what you want is liberating. ‘Our beer is never what you’d call “market friendly” and, I think, is some of the most extreme in the UK but in a good way! It’s not really our mission to make undrinkable beer – and definitely not stupid beer for a cliquey few. But we do want to explore the mish-mash of UK and foreign cultures by mixing it up a bit and seeing what comes out.’ He also reinforces the point made earlier about having people on hand to help out and, if needs be, pinch ingredients from. ‘One good thing is that there’s always someone else we can ring for advice, help or to borrow something like a kilo of roast barley or some hops! Other brewers can do this with neighbouring brewers but we can do it with the two other in-house teams!’

In the next part, we’ll get another side of the Story from some Cuckoos from across the Pond. You can catch Revolutions Brewing Co at The Hop in Leeds on Sunday night (27th). A Meet the Brewer event will run from 14.00-17.00 and will be followed by music from Sarandon and others.

>The Week in Beer: Heretics and Dogmen, Yarrow and Vinyl

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There’s been some really interesting beers knocking around in Leeds this week. Whilst in The Adelphi for lunch last Monday I spotted a bright orange pumpclip advertising North Peak Brewing Co’s Vicious American Wheat IPA. Wheat? IPA, you say? Count me in. It turned out to be terrifically hopped, all the usual pine-led and grapefruit accented hop bitterness that you’d expect from an IPA, and was in good condition. The addition of wheat however, smoothed things out and rescued the beer from being too astringent, adding sweetness and a bit of body. A good beer – not sure if I could drink a lot of of, but one for hopheads to seek out, for sure. And any pumpclip with a ‘Dogman’ on it gets my vote. Did anyone else catch this?
Next up, I was pleased to see Sharp’s Abbey Christmas Ale (4.6%abv) on. I wasn’t expecting a great deal from it given my usual aversion to ‘Christmas’ beers, but this really was a great pint. Tonnes of caramel and spicy, peppery notes on the nose, the beer has a really big, rounded, fruity body – like a lighter, tasty dark mild on steroids. It’s brewed with an Abbey yeast, which does add a little more wild fruitiness to the already moreish proceedings. Easy to drink, and as moreish as Mince Pie, this is one Christmas ale that really is worth trying. It’s got Yarrow in it, too, but I couldn’t even begin to describe what this even tastes like, so it passed me by completely. A great beer. You can read what frame of mind Stuart Howe was in when he brewed it here. On a personal note, it’s nice to see Sharp’s beers on offer in Leeds.

Moving back to my more usual haunt for lunch today (and by lunch, I mean Beers), Foley’s, I finally got my mitts on Revolution Brewing Co’s 45 Porter (4.5%abv). Raisins and biscuity malt dominate the nose as opposed to the smokiness that I, for some reason, was expecting. The beer is light, and has a great balance of creaminess and gentle, dry bitterness on the sip. There’s a slight hint of milk chocolate as the sip finishes, and overall it’s a very easy-drinking, moreish Porter. An auspicious start for the new boys on the block at Revolutions. See below for an interview with the lads.

And lastly, but by no means least, comes SummerWine’s latest foray into beers to make you sit up and take notice, Heretic Black IPA (7.2%abv). Those used to SummerWine’s style and the P6 IPA project will immediately recognise the hallmarks; a big, rolling hop attack both on the nose and the sip, although Heretic’s hoppiness is only gently fruity and more on the herbal side than a grapefruit bomb. The addition of darker malts does lend a little more sweetness to the body to keep things balanced. I know that one of the aims of the beer was to seem like a regular IPA if you closed your eyes – and I think that James and Andy succeed in this. There is none of the smokiness or chocolate notes that you’d expect from darker malts, and in return you get…well, a great IPA that just happens to be black.

>A Chat With Revolutions Brewing Co.

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It’s not often that concept – rather than the beer – hooks me into a new brewery, but when I landed on the Revolutions Brewing Co site via Twitter a few weeks ago, I found myself reading every page on there.. I liked Mark and Andy’s attitude so much that I contacted them for a quick chat. Plus, anyone who listens to Interpol, The Smiths, Decemberists and The National when brewing automatically becomes ‘my kind of people’.
Leigh: How did you guys meet? Andy: We met in 2008 at a business seminar. It was quickly obvious we had a number of shared interests, particularly cricket, beer and music. We have managed to combine two of these in our brewery theme. The requirement to get up early on brew days is currently hampering our efforts to stay up late and listen to the Ashes coverage! I worked for 15 years as a transport planning consultant latterly concentrating on demand forecasting work for train companies. It was varied and interesting work but there comes a time when spreadsheets and macro-economic models no longer quite generate the passion. I’ve travelled quite a bit over the years and seeking out local brews and learning the local word for beer is top of my list of travelling tips.
Mark: Formerly I worked as a Quality Systems Consultant, most notably in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where I was an advisor to their Government. Contrary to common opinion, alcohol is widely available, but 14 years of getting by on draught Heineken / Amstel and cans of Boddingtons / Tetley’s made the all too rare trips to pubs on holidays in Britain a great treat!

How did you get into Brewing?
Mark: Since my return to the UK in 2008, I’ve been more a consumer of beer than a brewer. I have a little experience of kit brewing and recently full mash brewing, but fortunately Andrew has long been a keen home brewer. Andrew: I’ve been home-brewing for over 20 years and for the past 4-5 years full mash brewing in what has become known as the Headingley nano-brewery. I went on the Brewlab introduction to brewing course in 2007 and the idea for the micro-brewery took shape there – it just took 3 years for the theme to come together!

So what, or who, inspires you to brew?
Mark: We are inspired to brew by the prospect of providing pleasure to beer drinkers. There really is nothing more to it than that. Andrew: Whilst totally agreeing with Mark’s comment, I’d add that for me the idea of bringing in ideas from other countries – beer styles and ingredients – is quite inspiring. I feel that there is far too little coverage given to beer choice and style in the quality press and I will feel very satisfied if we can do our bit to broaden the appeal of craft beer/real ale in the UK.
Tell us about your beers, then…Our beers are inspired by and make reference to music through the ages, with our core “Original” beers being named 33, 45 and 78. Primarily however, our beers will be inspired by post punk and new wave music. We feel there are parallels between this music and modern craft brewing – both have changed the landscape of their respective fields. We hope to contribute in a small way to continuing this. We’re particularly keen to have dark beers available regularly as it is a style we both enjoy and we believe there is ample scope for interesting experimentation.
Beer Geek time – What’s your ‘Desert Island’ Beer? Mark: Having lived on a desert island for 14 years, I can honestly say I always looked forward to a Timothy Taylor’s Landlord on my return to the UK for a holiday. Now having returned permanently, it is rare that I pass on a Thornbridge Jaipur or an Acorn Gorlovka if they’re on the bar. The beer that sticks in my mind as the best I’ve tasted in 2010 would be My Antonia by Birra del Borgo / Dogfish Head. It’s rather rare though, so to take a whole cask of it to my desert island might be construed as rather selfish. Andrew: The first beer I can remember drinking outside the UK and falling in love with was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It will always be a favourite. Here in the UK, I too think Acorn Gorlovka is pretty special and in the past few months as Mark and I have been engaged in some serious ‘research’, Dark Star Hophead and Grainstore Rutland Panther have both registered strongly with me.
How are things going so far then? Good feedback?
It’s being launched this week. We live in hope! What we can say is that the trial brews we’ve done at home have gone down very well with friends so we’re optimistic that we’ll get a similar reaction when our commercial brews hit the pumps.
Where can we get our hands on your wares in the next few months?
This week we are launching at The Shoulder of Mutton, Castleford. Also available in York, Huddersfield, Wakefield, elsewhere in Castleford and around Halifax. Once the winter relents we expect to have it in Leeds, Sheffield, Pontefract and Doncaster before Christmas.
Revolutions Brewing Co Launch event is on Thursday evening (9th Dec) at The Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford from 7.30pm though their beers will be on for most of the day. Music will come courtesy of harpist Fiona-Katie Roberts from 8.30pm. Do check out thier website and blog for the full lowdown on thier range and the ethos behind them.
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