Tag Archive for: Brewing

Standing your round goes back to ancient times. Beer was big in Ancient Mesopotamia. Who would have thought it? Witness the clay tablet above, dating back to 3,000 BC. Unearthed in what is now modern Iraq, it is in the custody of the British Museum. The cuneiform script details the allocation of a brew as payment to workers. Almost in the realm of Indiana Jones, this intoxicating breath of ale’s ancestry.

This August’s Historic Brewing Conference in Manchester delves no further back than 2,000 years later – when the Iron Age transformed Europe and our shores. There’s still  a lot to get through. Among a distinguished line-up of beer historians from across the globe will be Johnny Horn, co-founder of Scottish sour specialists Vault City, currently brewing at his new Holy Goat project in Dundee. His previous academic speciality was the archaeology of Iron Age Britain and he has published papers on drinking vessels of the period. So expect his talk on Beer and Brewing in Pre-historic Britain to be one of the highlights of the two day conference (August 5 and 6).

The venue is the new incarnation of Fairfield Social Club, appropriately in one of the city’s most historic districts, between the River Irk and Angel Meadow. And handily close to Blackjack Brewery. The creators of this unique event, exploring both the technical and social aspects of beer’s history, are Keith Sowerby, one of the North’s most informed beer enthusiasts, and Steve Dunkley, formerly of Beer Nouveau, specialists in reviving old styles.

Keith tells me: “The project is six years in the making and was gaining traction when the Pandemic struck. We had aimed to hold the conference in the old Fairfield Social Club railway arch, so there is some irony in our finding that their new set-up meets our needs so well.

“We have noted events which have touched on historic brewing before, especially in the States, but none aiming to systematically address the breadth of both the technical and social aspects of brewing ales, beers and other cereal based beverages, linking in forum and individual discussion over a few beers to our modern experience. We are guaranteeing that this will not be a dry event.”

Keith and Steve have lined up a sparkling array of speakers, including MC Emma Inch, a writer and home brew champion whose most recent podcast, Same Again?, explores the complex relationships between beer, pubs and mental health; four times Beer Writer of the Year and social historian Pete Brown; Jane Peyton, beer educator and Britain’s first beer sommelier of the year; and Mancunian ‘exile’ John Keeling, legendary head brewer at Fuller’s for decades.

From Norway comes farmhouse beer styles expert Lars Marius Garshol; from Minneapolis Doug Hoverson, chronicler of mid-West brewing; and from Toronto Gary Gillman, whose blog explores the technical aspects of brewing history. My wild card across the two days is the presentation from Irish historian Dr Christina Wade on Going to Hell in a Beer Barrel: Alewives, Demons, and the History that Connects them. 

If all this sounds a mite lecture room, fear not. This is a beer-led event. So much fun to be had. Alongside the papers there will be ample windows for socialising and networking. A special conference bar will be well stocked with recreations of historic and heritage beer styles. Expect some collaborations with local breweries (to be announced). And if one of the talks does tackle Prohibition we can’t see that having any tangible effect on intake.

  • Tickets are on sale now, priced at £70, giving access to both days, Monday, August 5 and Tuesday, August 6. Quite a bargain.  Buy them here.

Such a joy when two of my favourite food and drink passions consummate a relationship and the twin offspring are equally appealing. That’s what happened when Balance Brewing and Blending met Polyspore to create a brace of tremendous mushroom beers, available to buy now.

I tasted both Freckled Chestnut and Lion’s Mane from the bottle at the collab’s launch in the upstairs bar of Manchester’s Port Street Beer House. Both sets of business partners were present the christening – Will Harris and James Horrocks of mixed culture, barrel fermentation specialists Balance and Polyspore specialist mushroom growers Mike Fothergill and Dylan Pybus.

I’ve profiled both groundbreaking operations in recent months, visiting their respective bases in North Western Street near Piccadilly Railway Station and in the Radium Wrks Altrincham (Balance are currently moving to Sheffield Street nearer the station). Read those respective backstories here and here.

The collab beers, named after specific mushroom types, were scheduled for release at IndyManBeerCon at the start of October but weren’t quite ready Will and James (ex-brewers at Track and Squawk respectively) are nothing if not particular. The presence of Wild Beer Co at the festival, where I tasted their wasp nest yeast beer, reminded me that the Somerset-based brewery had once brewed a mushroom beer of their own called Breakfast of Champigons. It was a one-off. Down to, I suspect, a reluctance of even the most avid funkheads to grasp the fungi flavour in a glass.

Still there was a rapturous reception across the Pond for repeated batches of Texas farmhouse brewers Jester KIng’s Snörkel – a saison brewed with alderwood smoked sea salt and oyster mushrooms.

All very exotic but how do the new Balance brews stand up? They started off life in a single barrel, filled in December 2021. According to James: “This barrel was chosen as a base due to its nicely balanced acidity, fruity funk and clarity of flavour. The beer was split between two tanks, one had Lion’s Mane mushrooms added and the other had Freckled Chestnut mushrooms. The beer married with the mushrooms for just over a week before being bottled and laid down to condition.

“The wonderful mushrooms grown by Polyspore have imparted their own distinct character while letting the beer shine too. Lion’s Mane shows some really nice citrus character with vanilla and gentle umami whilst Freckled Chestnut has more earthy tones and nuttiness with a beautiful savoury element.”

Spot on. The brewers prefer the more up-front funk of the Lion’s Mane; I marginally prefer the Freckled Chestnut’s more brooding charms, which will open out surely with a year or two’s bottle ageing. Visit Balance’s website and both limited edition beers, priced at £18, appear to have sold out but, as with previous releases, you may be able to seek them out at specialist bottle shops. 

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)is often cited as a myco adaptogen –  a class of fungi credited with medicinal merits across the centuries, especially by the Chinese. Hence it features in an IPA, part of a recently launched vegan and gluten free beer range called Fungtn. At 0.5per cent it is ‘guaranteed’ to keep you ‘hangover-free’. 

Personally, I’d rather take my chances and drink deep of the strikingly pure and complex 6.5 per cent Balance embodiment.