Monday, 4 December 2017

Sardinian Brewing Adventure

Collaboration Brewing & Sardinian Beers

 Last summer at XT we brewed a Belgian Wit Beer, the ‘Animal Donkey’, with innovative and eccentric Italian Brewery BBBirra from Bosa. The beer was made with wheat and loads of potent Sardinian orange zest brought over by our brewing friend Carl Fitzpatrick.

This year I headed out to the idyllic Sardinian coastal town of Bosa to join Carl again and get our brewing heads together for round two of our international collaboration.

Carl runs his brewery and farm in the medieval town of Bosa on the banks of the river Temo in NW Sardinia. The two ventures are built on very strong environmental and sustainable principles close to Carl’s heart. The farm grows all the barley, wheat and hops for the beers, and his well provides all the brewing liquor; the yeast even comes from the local wine producers. Both ancient and contemporary varieties of grains are grown to ensure a diverse culture on the farm and remove the need for chemical assistance.  The by-products of brewing are fed to the farm animals. Unusual these days – even the used beer bottles are returned by Carl’s drinkers and refilled. The locals are so used to this now; he doesn’t even need to charge a deposit! The whole process from field to glass takes place all within walking distance of the farm.

The first beer we worked on in the four storey brewery, tucked away in the narrow, winding streets of old town Bosa, was based on an Italian speciality – “Doppio Malto”. This very high gravity beer is made with a unique double mashing process. The super strong wort is then munched away by yeast which had been cropped from actively fermenting Malvasia wine. To balance the massively chewy malt flavours, high alpha hops are added for a citrus bite.

If the beers travel further than Bosa, Carl takes them in his mobile pub – an amazing, converted German fire engine. With hand pumps, a bar and a bespoke chilled cellar; the beers are enjoyed in perfect condition while drinkers rest on old wine barrels. One day, between brews, we collected an old oak foeder from an ancient and crumbling wine cellar. The cellar tucked away in a tiny narrow street was an Aladdin’s cave of amazing old wine casks resting unused for many years, I wish I could have brought one home for a bit of whacky fermentation of my own.

As a balance to the Doppio, we turned our attention to a beverage made from the oldest strain of grain grown by man – Einkorn wheat which was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt. It’s a tough little grain and takes a lot to get it to give up its sugars for brewing. To help the process, our grist needed to be blended with some contemporary malted wheat. The flavours of this hazy, refreshing “Pharaoh’s Ale” perfectly matched the heat of the Sardinian sun.

Sardinia has a hot, Mediterranean climate and the beer culture has grown accordingly – with the locals and visitors preferring lighter and fruity beers, softer IPAs, wheat beers and lagers. The craft beer craze has swept across the whole of Italy and now even Sardinia has over two dozen local breweries.

The beer market is still dominated by Ichnusa – a classic Euro fizz lager. As with many similar brands this brewer is now a part of the giant Heineken, but a raft of small independent producers are making many inroads.
My pick of these new kids on the island include:

Marduk from Orosei on the east coast – this is one of the more commercial of the independent producers and their beers include American style IPAs, Czech Lagers and a Munich Alt Bier. But as with BBBirra they also follow a sustainability field to grain principle and have their own farm and maltings. 

Birrificio Cagliari, based in the capital, produce a very wide range of styles –and all packaged in beautiful bottles with very stylish labels. Worth it just to enjoy the Italian designer look.

Birra Lara from Tertenia on the south eastern coast is a very modern brewery creating beers using barley grown on their own farm. The owners enthusiastically support the traceability of their ingredients throughout the process.

Sambrinus from Sassari in the north is the oldest craft brewer, operating since 1999. Beers follow a more classical style of traditional brews.

Birrificio 4 Mori based in the south western town of Guspini, the brewery is housed in old mine workings and uses an excellent numbering system for their beers.

Most of the beers are available in bottles – generally I found these to be bottle conditioned, the locals expect ‘craft’ to be cloudy and preferably with lots of foam. Finding the beers on draught was a little tricky, but when you do find them, they are often ‘keg conditioned’ in key-keg or other bag type disposable systems. Many of the beers I tried were unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to enjoy a really good range look out for one of the many beer festivals around the island. These tend to be laid out in the ‘market street’ style where you can meet and talk to the brewery teams on their own stalls. 

It was a pleasure to work with Carl again this year, and get an insight into beer and brewing in Italy. Travelling for beer – what could be better?

Trappist Breweries

Pray Silence for Trappist Beer!

What is Trappist Beer and What is a Trappist Brewery?


Trappist beer is brewed by monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The order was founded at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy in the seventeenth century – they broke away from the regular Cistercians for being too soft. The Cistercians had already broken from the Benedictines as they had preferred more hard work and dedicated worship. So the Trappists like a bit of seriously hard manual labour, idle chit-chat is discouraged, silence is golden. They do however like beer.
Trappist beer is more a definition of who can brew it rather than what the beer is like. The beer must be brewed in a Trappist monastery, by monks or under their supervision and the brewing must be for the upkeep of the monastery and not for profit. There is legal protection of the designation through the International Trappist Association, and currently only 11 breweries around the world can call themselves Trappist. If you are not up to the mark on these criteria  there are ‘Abbey Beers’  - this is a more loose term for breweries with some vague link to a monastery.
There is only one Trappist monastery in England – Mt Saint Bernard in Leicestershire. They are currently working on building a brewery and hope to be the world’s 12th Trappist brewer, similarly in northern Spain, San Pedro monastery are also working towards joining the elite club.


Although not strictly a definition of beer style, the beers produced by the breweries have similar characteristics. The emphasis is towards estery, fruity flavours from the unique yeast strains. Using warm, top fermentation, the beers are high strength, low on hop impact and utilise specialist malts and candi sugars to give warm, spicy flavours of great complexity. The beers are mainly packaged as bottle conditioned – which combined with their higher ABV and malt characteristics are excellent for long term keeping. Indeed many of the beers improve their complexity with months or years of aging in a cool dark place.
The beer categories have evolved over time and their original meanings have wandered a little – but roughly speaking:
Patersbier – these are ‘table beers’ generally only available in the monastery for the monks, low strength – quaffing beers
Enkel: the ‘single standard beer’ – from which the scale grows…
Dubbel:  twice the raw materials of the single. Strong, dark and low bitterness, heavy and fruity flavours 6–7 %
Tripel: more ingredients again – Stronger and golden, 7-11%
Quadrupel:  Strongest, dark and vinous sipping beers, 8-12%

Where numbers are used, these represent ‘Belgian Beer Degrees’ – not a university qualification, but an old school take on Original Gravity – the measure of the density of the beer before fermentation. So roughly a Belgian BD 6 = English OG 1060, it gives an idea on the final ABV and the weightiness of the beer.


When you come to enjoy your Trappist beer glassware is all important, both for the theatre and to enhance the aromas and flavours. Use a goblet chalice style glass – the breweries have their own specific styles, but collecting them all does take up a lot of cupboard space.
The bottled beers will have sediment – its personal choice if you wish to drink that, so pour carefully after allowing the sediment to settle.
Now consider that the finest wines are bonkers expensive – but the finest beers in the world are within the budget of everyone!


Rochefort - 

Belgian, 1595, 18,000 Hl/Yr
6 = Red Cap, brown ale, 7.5%
8 = Green Cap, brown ale, 9.2%
10 = Blue Cap, Dark Ale, 11.3%

Westmalle – 

Belgian, 1836, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Dubel = Dark Red Ale, 7%
Tripel = Golden Ale, 9.5%
Extra = Only available at the monastery, 5%

Westvleteren – 

Belgian, 1838, 5,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Green Cap, 5.8%
8 = Blue Cap, Amber red ale 8%
12 = Yellow Cap, Legendary! 10.2%

Chimay – 

Belgian, 1863, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Red = Dubel, 7%
Blue = Dark Ale, 9%
Tripel = Golden 8%
Gold = Golden 4.8%

Orval – 

Belgian, 1931, 71,000 Hl/Yr

Orval = Brett Pale Ale, 6.2%
Petite Orval = Monks only special, 3.5%

Achel – 

Belgian, 1998, 5,000 Hl/Yr

7˚ Blond = Only available at the abbey, Golden 7%
7˚Bruin = Only available at the abbey, Brown Ale 7%
8˚ Blond = Golden 8%
8˚ Bruin = Brown Ale 8%
Extra Blond = Special 9.5%
Extra Bruin = Special 9.%

La Trappe – 

Dutch, 1884, 145,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Golden yellow 6.5%
Dubbel = Dark brown ale 7%
Isis’or = Jubilee ale, amber 7.5%
Tripel = Golden blonde 8%
Quadrupel = Heavy, amber special 10%
Witte Trappist = hazy wheat beer, 5.5%
Bockbier = Chestnut bock beer 7%
Puur = organic blonde ale 4.7%

Stift Engelszell – 

Austria, 2012, 2,000 Hl/Yr

Benno = Golden Red 7%
Gregorius = Dark Ale 9.7%
Nivard = Golden 5.5%

Spencer – 

 USA, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist Ale = Pale 6.5%
Holiday Ale = Dark 9%
Monks Reserve = Black 10.2%
Imperial Stout = Dark 8.7%
IPA = Golden 7.2%
Feierabendbire = Golden 4.7%
Lager = Pale Golden 7.5%

Zundert – 

Dutch, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist = Brown Ale 8%

Tre Fontane – 

Italian, 2014, 2000 Hl/Yr

Tripel = Blonde 8.5%


Monday, 19 October 2015

British Breweries wearing the Poppy with Pride

Three of Britain’s most innovative breweries have joined forces with the Royal British Legion to support the Poppy Appeal this year. XT Brewing of Buckinghamshire, Raw Brewery of Chesterfield and the Big Hand Brewery of Wrexham are collaborating on a very special beer during the month of Armistice. Each brewery is making the ‘Lest We Forget’ ale locally and following the same recipe then contributing a cut of their takings to the Poppy Appeal.

The collaboration between these breweries and the RBL with the Lest-We-Forget is inspirational and shows how forward thinking local producers can work together to help those who helped us in the defence of freedom. The members of the collaboration are all very proud to be working together and hope to extend the project further in 2016 to include more innovative craft breweries from around the country.

Back in 2013 the Royal British Legion Marlow branch and XT Brewery, created a unique charity beer to raise both awareness and much needed funds for the Royal British Legion (RBL) Poppy Appeal. Brewed for the month of Armistice the beer was a great success and contributed over £3000 to the Legion in its first year.

The beer aptly named ‘Lest We Forget’ at 4.2% is a red malty beer brewed with aromatic English malts and balanced with hops from around the Commonwealth including Galaxy from Australia, Admiral from England and Pacific Gem from New Zealand.

Encouraged by the success of the first year,  XT and The RBL worked together again in 2014 and released the beer once more to mark the month of Armistice and raise funds for the appeal. The beer spread its wings and was shipped further afield using the combined resources of other local brewers to help distribute the Lest into even more pubs and clubs.

Now into its third year two more breweries have joined the collaboration. The Raw Brewery and the Big Hand Brewery have thrown their considerable brewing experience behind the project. They are making the Lest for their local pubs and RBL clubs and raising even more funds for the Poppy Appeal.

Lest We Forget - three words renown across the world in remembrance of those who fought, and those who died fighting for freedom. It means that we will never forget! We honour the period of remembrance by wearing poppies, a flower that bloomed throughout the fields of battle grounds in France and Belgium during World War One. The poem, ‘Flanders Field’, written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae after witnessing his friend and fellow soldier struck down in the midst of battle in the First World War.  The poem inspired Moina Michael to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance in 1918 and was adopted by the US Legion in 1920 and the British Legion in 1921      

The Royal British Legion, founded in 1921, is the UK’s leading Service charity. They provide practical care advice and support to serving members of the Armed Forces, veterans of all ages and their families. The Royal British Legion boasts some 360,000 members, they are not only a campaigning organisation challenging those in authority, with a fund-raising organisation reliant on a huge network of volunteers, but the RBL are the nation’s custodian of the Remembrance

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Cervesa Mallorca! – The Growth of Craft Beer in Spain

Mallorca may not bring to mind artisanal beers savoured in moderate volumes – but the influences of quality beer creeps further and further each year and this beautiful Mediterranean island is now home to several innovative micro-breweries.

No holiday would be complete without spending a little time researching my favourite local malt beverage and trying to meet up with any local brewers. Tucked away in historic towns across the island there are now seven local producers making a seriously wide range of beers. Finding them however did prove a little tricky.

I started my beer travels at a wonderful bar in the capital: Palma. Having become used to the bars selling only one ‘cervesa’, which quite often wasn’t even branded, seeing a long line of taps in the Cook & Beer brewpub was a very welcome sight. English, Belgian and a wide selection of local beers were available and all delivered up by a very enthusiastic barman-brewer who took time to talk us through all of the local breweries and recommended bars.

In the same neighbourhood as Cook & Beer is the Tramuntana Brewery and bar, named for the beautiful mountain range that runs along the northern coast and a nearby bottle shop: Del Món both well worth searching out. Forastera brewery has some funky looking beers and they are located further south towards the airport.

Heading east from Palma to Algaida, Cervesa des Pla make a very interesting soured honey-wheat beer called Xeixa. Finding the beers can prove difficult, but one of the more widely available in supermarkets is Cas Cerveser Galilea based in the mountain area of Puigpunyent. Sullerica from Soller on the western coast make a wonderful black ale brewed with cacao. The smallest brewery is Talaiotika from Porreres started by a winemaker and chef.

Beer Lovers Brewery from Alcúdia have developed a great local following and produced some wonderful English and American influenced beers and taken more to hoppier styles than some of the other local beers. They have a patio bar and hold regular beer and food matching events.

All the breweries produce an astonishing range of styles – they realise they are never going to compete for the ‘session’ lager market – the prices of ‘Euro-Fizz’ are just so low that you wonder how the cost even covers the tax and delivery. They need to persuade buyers to spend potentially ten times more for their product; so the market looks for fuller flavoured beers. Styles range from pale wheat beers all through to some very convincing dark porters and chewy stouts.

The bottled beers are all bottle-conditioned and filled at the breweries. The draught beers are on keg – but they are ‘keg conditioned’ that is to say the kegs are filled with ‘live’ beer, unfiltered and the beers then gradually develop their own ‘fizz’ so no extra gas is added.

The bottles and the draught beers are all generally pretty hazy and quite lively which seems to be the mark of a ‘craft beer’. I have noticed on the Continent and North America beer lovers have developed the idea that good beer is defined on appearance:

Clear Beer = Filtered = Industrial = Bad!

Hazy Beer = Unfiltered = Craft = Good!

Versus the way the English notion that the method of dispense determines the quality:

Keg Beer = Industrial = Bad!

Real Ale = Craft = Good!

Where really it’s simpler than that:

Good Beer = Good!

Bad Beer = Bad!