In the ebb and flow of production and demand, November is always a quiet month – even in a normal year! It may be a nadir for pubs and drinkers but for us in the brewhouse it is the time set aside for brewing the beer we sell direct to the public at Christmas. We continue as if nothing at all is happening in the World out there!
As I write this, the Old Spot Prize Strong Ale is nearly at the end of its primary fermentation and barreling up is imminent. The Christmas beers are put into brewer’s barrels. At 36 gallons and a quarter of a ton a pop, these babies take a little handling.
There was a time when serious ‘wet’ pubs used to take beer in Barrels (or 36’s as we tend to call them) and it was a rite of passage to rack one on the stillage on your own – and just in case you want to know, it’s all about technique rather than sheer brute force….oh, and a little luck for good measure (or at least that was the case when I did it).
For many years at the brewery we only did 40 pint polypins for the Christmas take home trade but now we’ve broadened the options by introducing 5 litre cans and 10 litre boxes.
Christmas week here is always crazy as demand turns into a feeding frenzy and sometimes we can feel a little frazzled. We are artisan brewers which is a wonderful euphemism for doing everything by hand!
I’ve mentioned before that I am always learning and Christmas week has been known to throw its own curved balls, baubles straight from the Christmas tree of the unexpected. One year in the mid noughties there was a period of days when the temperature did not rise above zero night or day. We came in on a Monday morning only to find that all the beer in the 36’s had frozen. Panic! What should we do? Chip it out and sell it as iced lollies? A left-field solution but hardly practical. We fired up the steam cleaner, thawed out the 36’s and transferred the lot into 18 gallon kilderkins and dispensed from the cellar rather than our unheated, freezing ‘grotto’ outside in the yard. And did it work? Much to my relief yes it did. Frozen beer is a physical change, when it thawed out it tasted just as good.
Relieved or what? I’ll tell you what though, when we closed Christmas Eve lunchtime I was glad to get to the pub for a relaxing pint, and just to embrace the Season at last. Boy, did we deserve it …but I’m not sure what will be happening this year.