Friday 6 January 2012

Brewers are not rock stars

I always relish the tale told by Pete Brown about the time at the White Horse when Michael Jackson asked the then Thornbridge brewers Stefano Rossi Cossi and Martin Dickie what went through their minds when they brewed a certain beer (Jaipur I think it was, but am prepared to be corrected on that one, I wasn’t there). According to Brown, the two guys had been pretty monosyllabic up until then (some brewers can be like that), but this question from Jackson just opened them up and their passion shone through. And that’s what I often think about when I thoroughly enjoy a beer, what went through the brewer’s mind at the moment of creation? Ask the question though and you don’t always get the answer you would like: there was a gap in our portfolio between 4 and 4.5% and this fitted…we didn’t have a dark or fruit beer…we needed a celebrity endorsement. Even though some would paint them (or paint themselves) as rock stars, they are human, all too human, doing a job that they love (mostly), working in an industrial environment (even the smallest brewery is an industry) and mainly doing the same thing day after day — so is it any wonder that the answers can verge on the prosaic? I mean, when I used to write and edit TV listings years in the mid-1990s no one asked me what went through my mind when I wrote a particular TV Movie (the futility of life would have been a correct answer), while during my time writing about rock I got some stultifyingly dull answers when questioning rock stars about the meaning of life (what’s the album about? Well, I noticed that we didn’t have an album between 4 and 4.5%). On the other hand, maybe it’s the glorious beer that sparkles in the glass, as sunny and smiling as a wedding ring made from Welsh gold, or as dark and brooding as George Mallory en route to die on Everest, maybe this is what answers the question and the brewer is just the adjunct (though brewers should always be asked, brewing is a perfect meeting of art and science after all and even the most monosyllabic will come up with the odd polished word or two). All this is leading up to the fact at the moment I am drinking a ferociously robust glass of Dark Star’s Smoked Porter that has blackberry, creamy toffee and the smoke from a bonfire in the next field on the nose, before it rasps and rock’n’rolls in the mouth with notes of smoked peat, toffee apple and hedgerow jelly with a dusty, straw-like dryness at the finish. It’s a magnificent beer and I wished I had tried it before I met Dark Star’s brewer Mark Tranter (below) on a Czech beer and brewery weekend back in September (Mark meet Josef Tolar, Josef meet Mark Tranter, it was that sort of trip). Doubtlessly, based on my brief experience of his gloriously enjoyable company studded through with bone-dry humour, he would have come up with something witty and concise. Or would he?
Here’s Dark Star’s Mark with some chap


  1. In my life, and mostly thanks to the many jobs I've had, I've met people from all lines of work, from security guards and builders to top Honchos of big companies and everything in between and then some. Since I started writing about beer I've had the chance to meet many Czech brewers, from all sorts of breweries, big ones, small ones, and they all have one thing in common, they love their job. I have never met anyone who likes their job (and it is really hard work) as much as brewers do, even people who've been brewing for decades. Most of them are humble, they really appreciate when you tell them that you like the beers they make. I like that they don't feel like rock stars (not even the younger ones) yet, though that might have more to do with the Czech personality.

  2. It is Stefano Cossi, not Rossi.