Old dogs New tricks by Oliver Bainbridge

For those of you who are regulars at The Grapevine you will know we have been selling some wonderful beers from a great new brewer called Harbour Ales.  These are typical of bold young breweries changing the face of British brewing in a very exciting way.  All of their beers are fantastic tasting, fresh, hoppy and very drinkable.  We have had loads of excellent feedback and customers have come flocking back time and time again to try these beers.  We had the full range from them and for me the best was their 6% pale Ale, full flavoured without being overly hoppy while delivering a long complex taste with a great dry finish.  Fantastic!! 


Check out their website and you will see another important part of why these guys are so successful, their design and style is modern and contemporary without losing sight of the core values of brewing.  Simple and stylish this brewer will go a long way and in my books will soon be the getting major plaudits their work deserves.

This and other brewers like them have got me thinking about the parallels between the brewing industry and the wine industry.  The old world wine countries of France, Spain and Italy amongst others got a real battering when new world wine makers came into the market.   They were making great wine with a bold and robust taste, that looked modern and progressive, it was great value and importantly they understood their market and were focused on delivering what the customer wanted (rather like Harbour brewing Co).  Importantly they respected the traditions of the wine industry and kept some of the old values but also were keen to emphasise the quality of the product and the process.  Always of course with a modern twist (rather like Harbour brewing Co).  It is no coincidence that modern wines are known for their big tastes, ABV, fruitiness and full bodiedness, the same things the best craft beers are known for.

There is evidence that the old breweries and their grip on British brewing is becoming weaker just like the old world wine countries, we are seeing large British ale breweries losing market share.  When was the last time you saw Courage Best in a pub?  They are even buying up smaller breweries to somehow prove they have local appeal.   The strongest evidence of the success these smaller brewers are having is that big brewers are starting to copy them in an attempt to try to compete.  I was speaking to a rep from St Austall last year (despite hiding behind their image as a family brewer are in fact a very powerful national company) recently, who revealed that they are to start brewing craft beers as a reaction to the undercurrent of demand started by smaller brewers.  Great news although I suspect these beers will not be as special as some of the beers we have had the pleasure of trying from the smaller more personal producers.  Craft beer by the very meaning of the word is best produced by smaller companies who love and care and cherish their beer.  Beer brewed in small quantities with genuine care and attention is the meaning of "craft".  This is something the big players may never be able to do...........I hope.





17 years in and still inspired. by Oliver Bainbridge

I have been running pubs for 17 years now and I have to say that for me there has never been a better time to be in the industry.  I am still surprised by the new entrepreneurs that are joining the trade and the innovative ideas they are bringing.  This goes not only for the pubs/bars they are creating but also the beers they are brewing.  The two examples of this I am going to talk about epitomise the fact that a new way of looking at something very old and traditional can bring some amazing results as long as some key elements/values stay the same.  

While looking for a place to have a drink in Exeter I found this bar called the Beer Cellar just outside the square where the Cathedral is located.


On the outside it looked a bit crash so I peered in through the window to see what was going on, its name the "Beer Cellar" held a lot of promise and we all know pubs that look awful on the outside and are amazing on the inside so I was determined to give it a try.  It was a bit weird on the inside, chrome furniture and very small and I was just about to walk out when my eye was caught by the selection of beer.  Not only did it have 6 ales but it also had 6 craft keg beers. Which totally blew me away, on closer inspection I noticed they had a detailed list of bottled beers totalling nearly 60 different brewers.  Wow!!  The best bit was no Fosters, Guinness, Blackthorne or anything that the big branded houses would have sold.  3 years ago no-one in their right might would have opened a new pub in a town centre without selling a standard lager, bitter and the usual range of off the shelf bar supplies, this place has none of it.  The staff were knowledgable and helpful and there were a few people coming and going.  I was particularly interested in the English Craft beers, real pride in the English brewing industry, amazing beers you will not find elsewhere.  I had a half of an IPA from Pen pont brewery and a bottle of stout from Kubla brewery both excellent.  The big thing that appealed to me was that they were selling a lot of beer as off sales.  Loads of people were popping in to buy a beer to drink with their evening meal at home.  What a great idea.  I know this has been done before but when you are doing it with such niche beers it suggest this is more than just a passing phase.


All the old stereotypes around what products to sell and what customers really want have been thrown out the window in this bar.   In a recession that has been really cruel to the pub industry it is great to see a bit of genuine innovation be really successful, what is more still with the values I was brought up with from the pub trade.  Knowledgable staff, selling beer they believe in, from local suppliers, with pride and passion.  This for me epitomises the pub trade I know and love not the pub trade high jacked by the big corporations.  Fantastic.


The other entrepreneur was the Kubla brewery owned and ran by Kaite Loomes.  


As you can see from the website truly something different, having tried their beer at the "Beer Cellar I decided to get in contact and get some of their beers on draft.  Kaite explained that they deliver every other week to Exeter so I promptly ordered my selection of beers and awaited delivery.  When the beer arrived I was stunned to find that not only was it Kaite delivering the beer but that it had come in her car, I was taken aback and once we had loaded the beer into my cellar we had a chat.   She explained that she had a 1 barrel brewery that is 36 gallons per brew.  When you think I ordered 27 gallons for my order it gives you an idea of how small her brewery is.  When it says on her website hand made I can quite believe it.  


The beer will be on sale this week in the Grapevine so we will be able to give Kaite our opinion then, I am sure it will be fantastic if the stout I tried is anything to go by.  Again the values of this small company are written all over the it, from the styling of the website to the uniquely small size of the business as she keeps saying "handmade beer".  A far cry from dealing with the big boys such as St Austall, Miller brands etc, who to my mind are now making factory beer, relying on brand loyalty more than taste and quality to sell their products.     



Thornbridge Brewery by Oliver Bainbridge

Every now and then I get the opportunity to buy some beer from Thornbridge brewery, this brewery is one of the most highly respected brewers in the country.  They have won literally hundreds of awards for their beers, in cask, keg and bottle.  Their beers are modern and perfectly made, their marketing is superb and I might add available while stocks last at the Grapevine this week.  Their brewing ethos is summed up by their strap line on all their merchandise "Innovation, Passion, Knowledge".  Check out their website below.


The reason for bringing this up is it got me to thinking about beer pricing and how this is impacting on the industry.  There seems to be a splitting going on in the brewing industry at the moment and it is best described like this.  We seem to have brewers like Butcombe, Exmoor ales, Cotleigh, Hunters, Otter and many many others all over the country who are producing some excellent ales.  Mainly of the traditional styles, a best bitter, a golden ale, a strong dark, an easy drinking session ale and a myriad of seasonal beers.  Still using great quality ingredients and genuine brewing excellence but on the other hand quite formulaic and all priced in exactly the same way within a few pounds of each other.  Then we have brewers like Moor, Thornbridge, Ilkley brewing and many from London like Camden Town brewery who are making beers that are so extraordinary that they are becoming as different from the traditional brewers as to be almost in a different industry.  10% porters, IPA's, Russian stouts, Dunkels and Weiss beers of all sorts to name but a few.  Beers with fruit, beers with chocolate and coffee are becoming normal now and beers with numerous hops and malt varieties sometimes 6 or 7 in a single brew.  For me one of the symbols of this is Thornbridge's "Jaipur IPA" a massive hoppy IPA of 5.9% that for me is one of the best beers being brewed.  I am not the only one who thinks this as it is one of the most awarded beers in British brewing.  As a result it comes in at a massive price one of the most expensive beers I sell and will be on the bar for £3.80 per pint, a price alien to the ale market of the flat cap and whippet!!  This brings me full circle and is the point of this article.  The last time I sold Jaipur IPA it sold out in about 2 hours.  The whole barrel gone in 2 hours at £3.80 a pint.  Put simply the real ale market has I hope finally realised that the quality of the product is the most important factor in its price and we should be proud of our great brewing industry that has enabled such a great rise to fame and artisanry.  It is about time that we can sell an amazing beer like Jaipur IPA at the same price as a "premium lager"  Great news indeed.

Cotleigh Brewery by Oliver Bainbridge

One of my Christmas presents this year was a trip to Cotleigh brewery with some friends which we duly did last weekend.  I must say that I have never been a big fan of Cotleigh's beers and often found them a bit disinteresting but went along eyes wide open nonetheless.  We arrived at the brewery and were welcomed by one of Steve's (the owner) staff who put us in a reception room while the other guests joined us.  We were immediately given a beer which is always a good sign.  Steve then proceeded to show us round the brewery and although his delivery was a bit bumpy he showed a great knowledge of brewing and the industry and very quickly had us all hanging off his every word.  The big brewing vessels always impress me loads of chrome, pumps and valves plus the idea of brewing 10000 pints at each brew great stuff!!


One of the main points of interest though was a discussion had with Steve about finings.  One of the guests asked Steve if his beer was suitable for vegetarians, he explained that although he believes that the "Isinglass" (used for clearing the beer) which is made from fish swim bladders is in the sediment at the bottom of the barrel.  He couldn't guarantee with any certainty that there were no traces of it in beer thus rendering it not suitable for vegetarians.  It is worth noting it is also used to clear wine and spirits too.  I then asked if he believed that Isinglass affected the taste of the beer to which surprisingly he couldn't answer as he hadn't tried his beer unfined!!  We then discussed the work of Justin at The Moor Beer company and his belief that beer should be drunk hazy and free from the effects of Isinglass.  I completely agree that the need for Isinglass is now redundant, throughout brewing history it has never been used in fact it only came into use during the 60's and 70's.  This was a marketing ploy to try to improve the quality of beer with a "great beer is clear beer" rationale.  

New modern brewers are now using Isinglass less and less in their brews and as a result are producing some amazing hazy beers.  Removing the shackles created by clear beer means these brewers are focusing purely on the taste with some amazing results.  We are delighted to announce that we will be featuring Moor Beer brews in the Grapevine this and next week so please pop in and try this amazing beer.  You can get more information on Justin and his ethos at the website below.


To finish this article I would like to mention that my favourite beer brewed by Cotleigh is their 25 anniversary ale.  It is golden light well hopped and very clean.   A good quaffing beer with a great nose and a strong bitter finish.  Really good.


First thoughts from the beer blog! by Oliver Bainbridge

Welcome to my Beer Blog! On here I will be giving information on the beers being sold in the Grapevine, pubs I have been to and beers drunk as well as my opinion on new beers as they come on the market.  At the Grapevine this week we will be enjoying some Yeovil Ales. http://yeovilales.com.  Some of their beers will be well know to you such as Star Gazer and other less well known such as Stout Hearted, all though from my experience are well made and classic of their style.  On the bar at the moment we have a great beer from Hunters brewery called Man Flu unlike a lot of beers with catchy names this one really delivers on flavour.  Beer drinkers will enjoy its malty warmth and true to Hunters brews it has a light hoppy finish, a very smooth for a beer that is 5.5%abv.

This week I had the pleasure of going to Bristol for a few beers and it didn't disappoint.  Starting on Kings st, now the home of the cities craft beer pubs we ambled into the Naval Volunteer.  An old pub that has not benefitted from numerous re-firbs it has had thrown at it, although the latest incarnation is the least offensive.  With a huge variety of English craft beers from such brewers as Beer'd, Williams, Red church to name only few.  I settled on a bottle of Port Brews "Mongo".  This was a massive hoppy brew with high fruity notes of apricot and flowers, this beer is both complex and yet very quaffable.  At £10.95 per bottle the price makes the pulse race a little but it was fantastic and well worth a try if you can find it.  Next was off to the Seven Stars over the Bristol bridge of Victoria St.  A great little pub full of some great real ale, winning the CAMRA pub of the year several times over the last few years.  I had a pint of Severn Sins from Severn Vale Brewery and my brother had an Old Slug from RCH brewery all served perfectly and these great beers were the perfect antidote to the big hoppy beer drunk previously.  Next stop was the Cornubia, tucked away in the industrial area behind the fire station on Victoria Rd it is a real gem and although the beer offer was a bit limited but it was a very warm and friendly pub.   

If you wish to ask any question about beers or topics on the Blog please contact me via my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Grapevine-Exmouth/185678634787523.