This update finds me admittedly worn, wilted, and just plain beat, but I've got plenty of worthwhile news and further movements. (Last night was the first night I caved into sleeping at a hostel. No sleep. Wrenched my back this morning. Place reeks of exhaled alcohol and cigarettes. Yum.) I'm on the last leg of the journey here in London, rounding the bend, perhaps hitting the wall and transitioning to anaerobic respiration. I've spent the last few days under the wing of Phil Lowry, the man behind BeerMerchants.com, one of the UK's most respected importers/distributors. In addition to knowing every single thing about beer, Phil also has the dream gig for a homebrewer: he gets to "home" brew on a 5bbl brewpub kit in the bustling Borough Market of downtown London at a spot called BrewWharf. Though he derives no profit from the sale of his beer at the pub (under the Saints and Sinners brand), his ingredients are paid for (as well as his meals) and he gets to bask in the glory of his ultimate homebrewing status. The other day I cleaned out the copper and helped transfer the wort to the fermenter for his latest beer, a Blind Pig clone with buckets of American hops and an aroma that gets my nostalgia glands salivating. In my spare time, when I'm not losing sleep at hostels, I've been exploring the sights and soaking in the rare English sun (it just keeps coming). Neal's Yard Dairy, right around the corner from BrewWharf, has provided me with several hunks of cheese for my nourishment needs and the market offers all sorts of luxury in food form, from meaty mushrooms to gooey brownies to giant woks of simmering seafood curries. The cheeses I've tried deserve a mention, as they've made up most of my diet here in London: there was the rounded and tangy Spenwood (hard sheep's), the curdy and pineapply Cardo (washed rind goat's), the leathery and pungent Durrus (washed rind cow's), and, of course, Stinking Bishop. I'll be back for some blues today. Oh, and I almost forgot: I didn't think I'd have the time (or, frankly, the interest) but the World Cup has sucked me in. BrewWharf has a massive screen and I've nearly had the whole thing to myself during the day. Brings me back to good old Oh-Six, biking around Ireland with Tim and Brooke, crashing the local pubs (turning several heads upon our entrance) for an hour or two of the world's greatest game.
I bused down to London after a most pleasant final week with Cat and Kelly, working for Thornbridge. Pleasant for me, I have to admit, but Kelly was in rough shape. That's what a snapped Achilles tendon will do to ya. His surgery was the day before I left, so I saw him off in the hospital with Cat (the doctors there use "Western" medicine, but I thought all he needed was a footbath in St. Petersburg). Before the bout of pick-up rugby crippled the brewing legend, we'd enjoyed some more fine days of BBQing Kiwi-style, oddly-shaped pigskin tossing, badminton thwopping, and Rock Band jamming. Cat and I created the most dee-lish lamb curry using a mixture of prepared spices and our own secret blend to create a slow-cooked leg of lamb fit for a starving king. In the brewhouse, a new arrival to the Thornbridge team eased the days of racking, cask-washing, cleaning, and brewing supervision. Nigel, the only other Englishman (well, he lived in Australia for a while) besides Matt, joined me in the learning process at the Riverside brewery. It was perfect timing - the newbie replaced the exit of the old newbie. The oldbie. On my final (working) day, I was lucky enough to witness the joy of brewing at the Hall brewery. The sun was spreading its vast warmth and the clouds were mere wisps of decorative fluff in the sky as Andrea brewed a batch of Wild Swan destined to be aged on coconut shavings. I held a bag for the sake of the camera as Andrea shoveled out spent grain.
It was a glorious last weekend, especially for one last not insignificant crumb of news. I'll be joining the ranks of the employed when I return to the States in July. After hearing from Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and Ryan Witter-Merithew of a young, energetic, ambitious brewer from up the road in Vermont, I immediately searched out his blog and found a shared appreciation for great beer and great environment. Shaun E. Hill, formerly a brewer for Nørrebro Bryghus in Copenhagen and founder of the Danish Grassroots Brewing, has hired me as an assistant at the new Hill Farmstead Brewery in North Greensboro. Winning two gold medals (SEVEN Russian Imperial Stout aged in a port barrel and Port Barrel Barleywine) and one silver (Viking Oud Bruin) with Nørrebro at the most recent World Beer Cup, Shaun aims high and will be focusing his efforts on sculpting his own vision for a brewery in elegant New England. We'll be creating beers with refined hop characters, saisons of different sorts, barrel-aged beauties, and other specialties that will not cease to impress, I'm sure. I'm way too excited, been losing a lot of crucial sleep over it, but once the initial buzz stabilizes I'll be ready to get to WORK!
Keep checking for more slices of the latest. I'll be back in Belgium with Urbain and Struise soon before finally leaving for the green fields and forests of New England in the summer, so expect at least one more newsletter and pretty pictures too...