Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Spreadsheet Ninja side of Brewing: Hop Contracts and Ninjaing the Ninja

So onto the 2nd installment of this little blog series. I even have a logo now!

Hop contracts are by and large a very good thing.  

A hop contract is a piece of paper that you sign that commits you to taking a certain volume of hops over the course of the year. There are a number of hop merchants that you can contract with and we frequently use Charles Faram as they tend to have the best range of available hops. It is vital for most breweries to guarantee the supply of interesting American/New Zealand/Australian hops that are so prevalent in current beer. It is also very useful if you contract at least 500kg for the year... At that point Faram's will store the hops for you allowing you to draw down from the contract without having to either store the hops yourself or pay for all the contracted hops upfront. To put this into perspective, our hop contract for this coming year is in excess of £40,000 and is over two tonnes of hops, not something we have the money or space to deal with all at once.

However, the availability of hops is always a hot and stressful topic at the brewery. Andy Parker sums up some of my thoughts nicely in his blog here. We in the UK only get the stuff that is left when the growing US craft scene has had its fill of the best of them.

Back before we started the brewery we knew that some hops would be very difficult to get hold of. Certain hops like Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin are hoovered up in such large quantities by the bigger, more established breweries that they are almost impossible to get hold of unless you have a record of using them. If you are a start up you can't have such a record so you are left feeling that there is no way in. It took a lot of begging and buttering up the guys at Faram’s to get the small amount of Sorachi we did manage to get in the first year. We still can't get hold of any Nelson for love nor money.

Even when you have a contract, this is no guarantee of supply.  Hops are regularly shorted (a situation where the hop merchant gets only a percentage of their order and they pass this shortfall onto the brewers). Even when the hops arrive into the country can be a bit of an issue. Currently we are being told that there are no Simcoe pellets available, even though we have them on contract, that they have not arrived as yet. Not arrived! Hell, they were harvested 9 or 10 months ago... how long does the boat take to get across the Atlantic?

The biggest bugbear this year is the availability of Citra. Citra is our biggest usage hop accounting for about 25% of all the hops us we have on contract and the instrumental hop in Mariana Trench, our best selling beer, and Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja. Unfortunately it is a very popular hop with other breweries so the demand is large. This year for some reason, perhaps there was a lower yield on the citra crop, or one of the big US brewers decided they wanted a lot more but Charles Faram received only 70% of their expected ration. As such, they passed this shortfall onto the brewers so we only got 70% of the citra we were expecting. 

So how does a ninja deal with this kind of bump in the road? 

Be Prepared: 
As you may expect we were sensible enough to order more Citra than we needed, particularly the pellets we use for dry hopping. This got us through the start of the year.

Be Flexible: 
Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja in concept was a single hop Citra but as soon as we were shorted we changed to Magnum for bittering, which also allowed us to keep the price down slightly.

All was going well until we started to ramp up our production of Mariana Trench. We keep running out of Mariana so had to brew it more regularly - twice as often as planned in fact. A quick spreadsheet later and we realised that we had *just*  enough Citra to brew Mariana at this accelerated level for the rest of the year, so where did this leave this Ninja's dearest beer...

Plan B:
We had to make a sacrifice, we had to ninja the Ninja. We had to come up with the “Variations on a Ninja” series.

So what are the Variations on a Ninja series?

First up is MAC Spreadsheet Ninja, almost ready to release, perhaps a play on the Apple Mac where this Ninja first encountered spreadsheets. It uses Mosaic, Amarillo and Centennial and is less tropical than the Faceless version but its crisp hoppiness put a very big smile on my face.

The second variation is Traditional Spreadsheet Ninja, this is lagering away in the fermenter at the moment. It uses the Saaz hop, which you all will of course know is traditional in Czech Pilsners. Even if our brewery water treatment brews more German style pilsners, it is currently tasting great from the fermenter, so expect to see it in a month or so.

We have other ideas, Experimental Spreadsheet Ninja using Experimental 431 as the hop and Faceless Wordprocessor Ninja with Aurora, Bobec, Celia and Dana hops. Whether these get brewed, this ninja can't really say.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Defacer - the 200th brew

All the way back in February 2013 we brewed our very first beer, Single hop Chinook. This beer became Boring Brown Beer our Imperial Best Bitter which is brewed once a year at around the same time, but I digress. It took us a full 17 months to get to our 100th brew. For this we decided to take one of our original core beers, and go big. We went with one of the original home brew recipes, Black Perle, back from when Weird Beard was just a twinkle in the eye. Double Perle was a huge success, and is now brewed around 3 times a year, with a small amount each time going into barrels.

It then took just under 11 months until our 200th brew was upon us, and this time we thought of something different.

It has been well documented that we at the brewery love Sorachi Ace, that most divisive of hops. It may have started with beers like Fade to Black (Black IPA with Sorachi, Citra and Summit) and Saison 14 (Saison with Sorachi and Pacific Gem) that Gregg brewed as a home brewer, or it may have been the night that Bryan and Gregg met for the first time in the Euston Tap, where the Sorachi Ace version of IPA is Dead was the beer of the evening. Who cares which came first, either way we used Sorachi at every given opportunity, so where did you think we were going to go with this.

Our 200th brew is inspired by a kind of unofficial beer range we have, that started out life as batch 8 of our Little Things That Kill. This was a low ABV beer hopped generously with Sorachi Ace, Summit and Apollo. The beer quickly got the nick name of Sorachi Face Punch because of the huge Sorachi Ace hit you got from it. We decided to use this hopping on a slightly tweaked version of our Holy Hoppin' Hell, a double IPA, which went by the name of Sorachi Face Plant, and again another brew of ours went down a storm. So for brew 200 we thought we would push ourselves as brewers and go bigger than we have ever before. Taking this hop profile a step further and brewing a triple IPA.

Naming this beer proved to be a bit of a challenge, almost as divisive as Sorachi Ace is as a hop. To some, there was a natural progression from Sorachi Face Punch, to Sorachi Face Plant to Sorachi Skull F*ck, but for better or worse this deemed unwise. We then bashed through a number of other names, such as Sorachi Face Explossion and Sorachi Face Hugger (which our Friends at Mad Hatter beat us to). But we came up with the equally good name of Defacer, which continues one of our other favourite things, music and name beers after songs. It also kind of follows the series name, as the sorachi is ripping your face off this time. And it has of course lead to some fantastic branding and a little twist to the workings of Lup'in, our ever changing skull.

The final beer is packaged today and specially bottled into 660ml bombers. Expect to see it in a few weeks after it has conditioned. Please do drink as fresh as you can, there are so much of our favourite hops in this beer, we wouldn't want you to waste them by sitting on a bottle. It weighs in at 11.1% so beware or it really will rip your face off!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Spreadsheet Ninja Side of Brewing: Introduction: The Birth of the Spreadsheet Ninja

This is the first in what I hope is a series of blogs giving some insight into the business side of running a brewery.

When Bryan and  I started the brewery in 2013 neither of us were able to devote 100% of our time to the project. I was still running a photography business and Bryan still worked full time at the BBC. At the start we were both involved with every aspect of the brewery operation, brewing, packaging, sales, purchasing, marketing and social media, logistics and delivery and accounts. We were men with many many hats and when we were small this was not a problem. I could deal with sales e-mails in the middle of a brew day, or put together orders in the downtime on packaging days.

As we grew, things became a bit more difficult to juggle all the balls - even when we went fulltime at the brewery. Bryan automatically gravitated towards the brewing side and I to the business side. This led to some tensions as neither Bryan nor I appreciated how much time the other half of the business was taking. At one point Bryan called me a faceless accountant during one of our discussions.  It was time to get some more staff....

So this was the birth of the Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja, Faceless Accountant is the worst superhero name ever but change accountant for spreadsheet ninja and you have the basis for a beer and now a blog series.