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METRIC, MANCHESTER & MODERN BEER Or how you learned to love the old and the newPosted: 2018-12-19 By Marble Beers
Here at Marble Beers, we’ve been thinking hard about our progress over the last 21 years (Yes, the 20th party was a year ago!) and our achievements throughout 2018. The past year has seen us push to get more of our classic core beers into cans, we’ve expanded our range to include even more barrel aging, our Hop Forward series, sour experimentations and more collaborations than you could shake a Nordic yeast stick at.
Throughout this, we’ve strived to respect our history and tradition, but bring our ranges in line with what today’s drinker expects from a modern brewery. Brewing beers we like to, being aware of our traditions, but pushing forward with knowledge, technology, and passion.
With this in mind, our classic core range of beers; Pint, Manchester Bitter, Lagonda, Earl Grey IPA, and our seasonal regulars; Barleywine & Decadence have all gone into cans. This move has been for a number of reasons, primarily because for small pack, cans are best (when done well) for keeping the beer as fresh as it possibly can, for longer. As well
as this, we’re regularly asked for our beer in more and more far-flung locations, where getting cask or keg beer is prohibitively expensive for the buyer, with this in mind we’re as keen as the next brewery to get our great beer out to as many beer lovers as possible, so its been an obvious choice to move small pack production to canning.
“Firstly, as previously mentioned cans physically weigh less than bottles per volume of beer held. This makes sense for us when exporting, as well as delivering locally. It has less impact on overall weight, so we can ship more for less cost to everyone
When canning, we monitor continually through our packaging runs to ensure low TIPO (Total in Package Oxygen) levels. We usually start with DO (Dissolved Oxygen) levels in the tank of 8ppb to 15ppb with an average pick up of 25-30ppb. We stop packaging and destroy any cans that fall over 80ppb.*
As brewing team we enjoy cans, we have occasionally received minor criticism for putting beers that are 7% and above in 500ml cans, and although we can see the argument that this is too much for some people, we see these beers as something you share or enjoy one or two responsibly, not take on a 6 pack in an hour. As we are all big handed in the brewing team, 500ml cans just feel comfortable to us.
We will still bottle beers we feel should be in bottle and can what we want to can. Like most things at Marble Towers we push for experimentation and trial and error, enjoying when it works, not shying away when it doesn’t, and always learning.” – Joe, Head of Production, Marble
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this level of planning & forward thinking. You may remember we had to change the name of our iconic ‘Pint’ to a variety of names when it went into a can, finally settling on ‘Metric’, due to someone reporting us to trading standards (because it wasn’t “a pint”). Fortunately, we’re an amiable bunch here at Marble, and a potentially harmful kickback against progress was turned into a positive experience, whereby we could have some fun coming up with new names, let our designer Jan Barker have a riot with variant labels and gave us a good indication that even when you try your best to do what’s best for customers, there’s a singular one that isn’t always ready for change!
The irony of the opposition to our long-standing core beers going into a can, or even keg for that matter, is that beers like Pint and Manchester Bitter were originally developed as experiments to expand and freshen up our range by the brew team at the time.
We collared Dom Driscoll, Production Manager for Thornbridge Brewery, Semi-pro farmer, Shop manager for the committee at Wingerworth village allotments (Derbyshire), and former brewer at Marble, for a few words. He had this to say about Pint:
“Pint is a beer very close to my heart: it was brewed as part of public beer tastings to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the brewery.
It was essentially to be a replacement for Gould Street Bitter (GSB), our 3.8%, 100% organic NZ Cascade, yellow session beer. It was around the time that we’d complained so much about being stuck with just organic hops, that Jan had just given us the go-ahead to use non-organic, so it was to be a vehicle for hop experimentation really. James [Campbell] and I came up with a basic recipe which involved US Liberty and some different NZ hops (which used to be really good, like as pungent as Mosaic/Citra etc but in a tropical, fresh way). The basic premise was yellow, very hoppy, solid bitterness and dry, so it had that moreishness we were looking for. Just low colour lager malt, a bit of wheat, massive aroma hop charge, T90s in the FV as a warm hop and then every cask was dry hopped. EVERY SINGLE ONE was at that time, a right pain in the arse (apart from Chocolate, but it totally worked.)
The hops were tweaked quite quickly, but they were NZ heavy. We could never brew enough of it because it was so hoppy for the time, people bloody loved it. Only after about a year, when the hop bill had been completely altered, did we decide we needed a new name for it and I think Jan suggested ‘Pint’. Because none of us could think of anything else and because we were completely oblivious to why marketing or branding was important in those days.”
As well as Pint, Dom went on to spill the beans on another stalwart of the Marble canon, Manchester Bitter; loosely based on the old Boddingtons recipe, it was originally the then Marble brew team respecting a grand, traditional, local style, but very much reinterpreting it with their own particular take. Dom recalls:
So the rumours were true, Manchester was based on something like the Boddies recipe. I don’t think anyone saw a recipe for it as historical recipes weren’t a thing then. Manchester was already being brewed when I got there, but the hops changed quite a lot, gradually and over time. When I arrived in 2005, the hop bill was organic Tettnanger and Hersbrucker. It had a rasping bitterness, was very florally hoppy and, like Pint, was super dry. Proper Boddies, pre-1970s Whitbread takeover, was notoriously pale, bitter and dry so it was these characteristics that James had gone for.
It was also the sort of beer we both liked. We were really limited with the hops at the time but it was gloriously dry and bitter and had a real drink-ability. The hops have evolved over the years as they’re a very seasonable product and some years better than others, what we always wanted was a beer that was hoppier, more luxurious than the local family brewers bitters, but that struck a balance for both the beer enthusiasts as well as the Posties that came in the Arch – the idea was that it was a beer that you could drink a lot of.
The thing that makes the [Marble] beers special is the yeast – using a wet, proper British yeast strain is so important for these sorts of beers and Marble had/has a really good yeast (It’s a version of the Gales strain, which Fullers still have and use for making Gales beers) that is very tolerant of temperature fluctuations and very fruity. It’s this fruitiness when combined with the hops, that makes Marble beer so special…you can’t beat a pint of Marble cask beer.”
Since Dom’s time with us, we’ve continued to cultivate and blended that very original strain with a couple of other strains, to produce the truly unique Marble wet yeast we use today in each and every brew we produce, whether it’s destined for can, keg or cask.
Cask beer is something we are still very passionate about creating to a high standard, and despite recent proclamations that cask is “dying” or that it’s suddenly “back”, in truth its never really gone away for Marble. Joe explains;
“It’s truly an honour to continue to produce high-quality cask beer that respects tradition, yet also work with a team that isn’t averse to experimentation with new styles. It’s refreshing that we get to work with beer whether it’s a traditional style, something new, or the many different ways of presenting a beer, whether it be cask, keg, bottle or can. As long as it’s good, and we’re passionate about it, we’ll try it.”
This keenness to forge a new path from the beginning, and right through to the current day with Joe & the team, has seen us experiment with a variety of new ideas of what we can do with beer. Now we’re choosing to focus in on certain attributes, and begin to experiment around those. The following is a choice selection of Joe’s stand out beers of 2018 based on the spirit of experimentation;
Petite; our 2.8% small IPA, was an exercise in producing a beer that was both refreshing and moreish but that also, despite its very low ABV, would pack masses of hop character in the flavour and aroma. We, in this one beer, wanted to embody the huge hoppy hits that you would get from much bigger dry hopped beers, but for the drinker to be able to keep coming back for more, without the debilitating effects of gulping imperial sized beers.
Sunshine Radler; Our orange Radler, whose popularity from customers meant we virtually sold out of the initial brew within the first week of it going on sale, with people clamouring for more of it (that lovely hot weather probably helped a bit too). The aim, to make a low ABV blended beer that was enjoyable to drink, but more importantly cementing the stability of the beer, given that we were using real fruit juices in the mix (supplied by Manchester’s very own Steep Soda, who we went on to brew Grape Soda with).
Agua De Jamaica; this hibiscus spiced Berliner Weiss was brewed in collaboration with our good friends at Slim Pickens Cider & Mead Brewery. The initial idea was to try and replicate the authentic Mexican hibiscus tea soft drink. The challenge was to transpose that into a beer, that was not only faithful to the style of drink but made sense as a beer in its own right.
North South; another of our smaller IPAs, with this beer we were looking to showcase the influence of modern American styles of IPAs, with big aromas, low bitterness and mellow hop characteristics, but put our own spin on it. As well as this, we were determined for it to work as a beer in whatever packaging format we put it out in. Initially, it was available in keg and can, but after a lot of valuable customer feedback, the next batch was also put into cask. We took on board what our drinkers were saying and how they wanted to see the beer presented.
How our range of beers sits together is incredibly important to us at Marble. We understand we now have a 21-year-old heritage, and loyal set of fans to respect. As well as this we have to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace, to grab the attention of a diverse set of well informed, opinionated, knowledgeable new customers who simultaneously desire stability, consistency but also regularly want to try new things.
With that in mind, our aim throughout 2018 was simple; do what we have always done, brew beer to a consistently exacting standard, and never be afraid to try something new. Whether that’s putting our core classics into a can, trying a cutting-edge style, or simply listening to impressions of our new beers from the seasoned experience of our regulars at The Marble Arch (the font of all knowledge, we’re certain they’d say).
The plan for 2019 is going to be slightly more complicated, but more on that soon…
* For more information on TIPO/DO, please check out this interesting link: