We turned five yesterday. That’s 5 years of trailblazing craft beer, natural wines, proper cocktails and original live music to the good folks of Swinetown. 5 years of hard work and tears (especially 2020 / early 2021) but also joy and happiness. Looking back at photos of the first year, it really is a surprise to us that we made it – did we really sell some of those drinks? But, we have evolved over the years, learning fast, taking risks, being agile and flexible and developing our business to be what we want it to be. We are proud of our bar. We love it, and we also love and appreciate that you feel the same way too.
But, how to celebrate this milestone? There are of course a few givens, a few easy wins. A big party for one (Friday 26th Nov) and maybe some live music (Thursday 25th and Sunday 28th). Maybe invite the brilliant Destination Anywhere team back for one of their amazing all-vinyl DJ nights (Saturday 27th). Oh, and we have to get the Music Quiz involved too I guess (also Sunday 28th). But, was there something else we could do? Something that was new for us so would properly mark the occasion and be truly memorable?
Inspiration finally struck. I work for a brewery. It has a great little 100 litre pilot kit. Why not brew our own beer? I quickly came up with some style and flavour ideas to take to the brew team, and most importantly had a clever, witty and personal to us name for the beer. I was smug in my genius.
I initially kept this whole plan secret. I wanted to surprise the other three members of the team. I soon however realised this was a stupid idea, the beer would need to be added into pouring schedule on the bar, and it would also be fun to get the others involved. However, Covid related restrictions at the brewery sadly prevented anyone else getting their hands dirty, so it was down to just me and Mike Harrison-Wood, a brewer at WBB and one of the guys behind beery podcast “By The Mash Tun” to get this beer together.
I wanted to make a mid strength, hoppy pale ale as this is easily the bedrock of our business so I knew (providing I didn’t fluff it up) that this was something you all would be keen to drink and so we should be able to sell it through (it would be pretty embarrassing sitting on our own beer for weeks and weeks!) I toyed around with styles like NEIPA’s and West Coasts and yeast strains like Kveik, then mentioned to Mike that my favourite hop of the year was Sabro (yes, I am nerdy enough to have a favourite hop), and I wanted to include that in it. This was a hop he had also been wanting to explore, so he floated the idea of going big on it with a double dry-hop and keeping it as a single-hopped beer so its character would be fairly obvious and in your face. I took very little (i.e. none) persuading.
There was nothing revolutionary in the production we employed for the brew. The grist was predominantly pale malt and not too heavy, with us aiming for an ABV around 5% (so low enough not to take your head off, high enough to retain decent body and flavour). We kept it fairly neutral (as with the water) to let the hops be the star of the show.
There was a small hop addition during the boil but the vast majority of them went in to the tank during the fermentation period (on some West Coast Ale Yeast for added punch), initially at day 2 of fermentation as well as once fermentation had finished. This double technique not only increases hop contact time in the beer but also causes a “Biotransformation” which changes some of the fruity hop characteristics to become even fruitier, giving flavours that you’d never normally achieve with a traditional dry hop regimen.
The resulting beer is slightly hazy and has all the characteristics of a hoppy beer whilst also showcasing just what makes Sabro unique. Expect notes of tropical fruit such as coconut and pineapple, hints of lemony citrus and even some dill.
Oh, and the name? It was decided to call this brew “I Used To Get My Hair Cut Here” as that is often the first sentence uttered by any new customer when they come to the bar, even now, 5 years in to our tenure. Memories linger it appears when it comes to hairdressers! If you want to know more about the hairy history of our building, check out this blog post that explains all. (Other opening lines from new customers tend to revolve around the bar top, such as “did you do this yourselves?” and “how many coins are there?” or “what is the value of it?”)
In a bit of a postscript to all this, “I Used To Get My Hair Cut Here” has proven to be a bit of a swansong for me at West Berkshire Brewery, as not long before the actual brew day I got made redundant after 7 years employment. So, a poignant brew for me, but one that signifies a new start as I move the the most excellent Moor Beer Company in the New Year.