A Year of Beer 2009 #24 - Sharp's Autumn Red & Chalky's Bark
Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Sharp's Autumn Red & Chalky's Bark
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Sharp's Autumn Red & Chalky's Bark
When I was working as a musician (no really, I did), I used to say to other studio bods that if you gave any given number of people exactly the same instrument, they would all make a different sort of music with it. So it is with brewing.
It's not really about having the biggest or cleanest or newest brewing kit, it's something to do with the mindset of the brewer. I've done a fair bit of visiting breweries lately, and the physical condition of a brewery is no indicator of the quality of the final beer. Stuart Howe, head brewer at Sharp's near Rock in Cornwall, is a brewer with a particular set of ideas - you can read them here - and under his guidance, Sharps is getting bigger and bigger.
What you might not know about Stuart is that he brews a really great range of strong beers, vaguely Belgian influenced, but also barley wines. Of course, you can't buy the damn things, unless you go to the brewery, or order them online. And like a secret society, you need to know what the best beers are called and when they are available, as they don't make it to the website. You need to phone up and ask for them by name. The first rule about Sharps' secret beer range is that you don't talk about Sharps' secret beer
Whatever Stuart does, it's shot through with the same combination of passion and precision., whether making a honey spiced triple, or a pale golden session ale. The first brew of Autumn Red clearly a bit of a departure for Sharp's. While mashing in, the splendidly named Kelvin Proudfoot-Smith commented that it smelled more like a bakery than a brewery, and as the beer was passed through the hop back, Stuart had a good sniff and said that he'd never made a beer before that smelled like that. As I'd had a hand in the recipe, I was naturally concerned by these comments, but of course, nothing happens by chance at Sharps.
The video speaks for itself here - Sharps beers are clean, bright, fresh beers with a lot of drinkability. They are beers for the mass market, but that doesn't mean they are dumbed-down or made cheaply. Sharps are big already, and are on their way to being massive. Coincidentally, Massive Ale is the barley wine that should be Sharps flagship brew, but current production constraints mean that it's for connoisseurs and cognoscenti only. Get with it.