I've been reducing hive numbers for a while now and have five active colonies on site. However, it seems my bees are not taking the hint and have been as busy as ever in the glorious spring we have enjoyed over the last few weeks. This is the first spring honey I've had in a good few years. Unlike the richer darker summer honey, the spring honey is delicately fragrant and almost green in hue. Sadly it won't be making it into the jars this year....but, we are able to sell these whole frames of honey, complete with box and stand, for £50/each. The pack contains approximately 1.50kg of honey and can be scrapped off the frame straight on to your toast!
We hope your garden is blooming. The veg patch is always a pleasure at this time of year as we are rewarded by the annual returnees that need very little effort, but give generously, such as the chives which are incredibly versatile and give the spring food dishes big bangs of flavour and colour
If you want a plant in your garden that is easy to manage, gives a big effect when in bloom and is bee friendly, then for May/June it has to be the allium.
The three new beers are now packaged and available for purchase. Firstly, two new versions of our house PIG SNOUT STOUT, one conditioned with roasted Kenya coffee beans and the other with chocolate nibs
BUSH PIG ALE is a pale ale combing English malts and African Queen hops, a hop variety unique to South Africa.
All the beers available at our usual rate of £3.00/660ml bottle. The chocolate and coffee stouts were limited 35 bottle runs, so be sure to pick up before stocks are gone.
I was asked recently "how REAL is your ale?" Well it’s a good question. For starters our brew plant is unmechanised, so everything is controlled and processed by hand. In to this we need to factor environmental conditions....brew in July and our water starting temperature is 15 degrees warmer than it is in January, so we adjust times and expectations accordingly. In terms of ingredients, we are probably closer to the German Reinheitsgebot (pure beer laws) than most commercial breweries. Whilst we adjust our water chemical balance, nothing else goes into our beer other than water, malt, hops and yeast. We have even stopped using fish based finings to clear our beer (it was clearing quite nicely with our sole use of Irish Moss), which means our beer is vegetarian friendly. Finally we use a malt bye product for bottle conditioning, not sugar, like some commercial brewers. Finally our beer undergoes no processes such as pasteurisation to improve shelf life. So how real is our beer? As real as it gets!
Picture shows the ferment krausen on our recent stout brew, which has now been split three ways to produce our house vanilla stout and our first commercial batches of chocolate nibs stout and coffee bean stout
Also as spring rolls on, look out for our new 5% BUSH PIG ALE, brewed with African Queen hops.
There are many rhythms in the gardens here at Brockdale Cottage, one of which is the blossom on our old plum tree, which is always first to show. This year the blossom is some two to three weeks ahead of its usual show. When daytime temperatures have risen to respectable levels, it has provided our bees with their first significant pollen boost of the new year.
It must have been 14 or 15 degrees in the sun today and the bee hive entrances were busy with activity, with the bees using the fair weather as a chance to house keep the hives and bring in new pollen from the snowdrops, aconites and hellebores which are blooming in the winter garden.
The frost is as important to gardeners and sun and rain and it has been nice this week to feel a crunch underfoot rather than the soggy ground of late. Caught on camera early on Tuesday morning, heavy hoar frost on the cavolo nero. The frost was particulalrly welcome for the winter garlic which needs a good spell of frost to encourage bulb splits.
Coming to the end of three amazing weeks in the Western Cape and amongst the stunning scenery, endless sunshine and amazing food, discovered a couple of real gems in the great craft brewing movement which is taking hold in South Africa. Firstly in the small town of Wilderness on the N2 between George and Knysna is a new brew shop, The Bootlegger. The owner, Clint, is passionate about beer and brewing, so started the shop, which is conveniently right next to a great pub, a few months ago. Clint managed to bag me a kilo of African Queen hops which I will put into a special Saffer brew for the spring/summer. This is a brand new hop variety, so I can claim a UK first. Whilst chatting Clint suggested we go meet "Tony" and boy were we glad he did. 15km up the road in the small town of Sedgefield is Tony's micro-brewery, Sedgefield Craft Brewery, spookily similar to mine in scale and style, except Tony has a great tap room in which to enjoy a few glasses of his ale, notably the IPA and Irish Red which Tam and I really enjoyed...I reckon the IPA is as good as it gets. So, if you are ever heading East up the N2 out of Cape Town, be sure to stop off and say hello to Clint and Tony!
A big thank you to the good folks at 3M in Bracknell, who invited the Black Pig Brewery to the Christmas fare, held on the campus on 10th December and to everyone who bought our cracking Pig Tale Ale and Pig Snout Stout. This was the first time we had taken the beer off site since our launch in the early summer. Gerry managed to source some very dapper Edwardian gentleman’s attire and we are now anticipating a massive revival in bowler hat sales.....
With less than 50 days to go to Christmas, we are currently brewing the Christmas/New Year holiday stock. As well as our regular 660ml bottles, I can run 5Li and 10Li Poly Pins which are great for parties or large get togethers. Final brew day for these Pins will be 3rd December, so if you fancy one, let me know as soon as possible. 5Li Pigs Tale Ale Pin will be £19.50 and 10Li £36.00.
We've been brewing as much as we can over the last couple of months and for the first time now have Pig Tale Ale and Pig Snout Stout on the shelf for the first time, both still priced at £3 for a 660ml bottle. Ran a stout brew last weekend and as well as the house vanilla Pig Snout Stout, will running a couple of experimental batches using the base stout, one using chocolate nibs produced by brilliant Cape Town choclatier Cocofair and the other using Guatemalan single farm coffee beans, roasted at Africa's best coffee house, Hout Bay Coffee. As ever patience is the skill when it comes to brewing stout, so should have these two limited edition brews ready for sale just in time for Christmas/New Year drinking. Photo shows the just brewed stout hitting its OG of 1050 prior to fermentation.
We welcomed the latest piggies to Brockdale Cottage yesterday; four fabulous Welsh cross saddleback PINK pigs! Yes, they dont come any pinker than these chaps but their timing is perfect, with the apples now in fall and it looking like its going to be a bumper acorn year. Be sure to check out the chaps (all christened Mourinho!) if you are passing.
A huge Cheers! to everyone who supported the official launch of the Black Pig Brewery, Pig Tale Ale last week. Every bottle of the first batch was sold by Friday evening! Looks like plenty of brewing for us to do this autumn/winter. The next batch of Pig Tale Ale will be available in early September, with our first Pig Snout Stout, bottled today and ready for sale in late October.
The honey harvesting has started a bit late this year, thanks largely to me being diverted by brewing and the unusually inclement weather we endured at the end of July. The bees yielded the first 30kg on Sunday afternoon, which Alexander helped me spin out on Sunday evening. Sadly our old spinner departed in a puff of blue smoke and with a bit of a bang last year, but my pal Jon stepped in and lent me his even older spinner, which cranks and whirrs like and old beam engine as it goes about its business. As ever, the honey passes through a single fine mesh filter and then goes into the settling tanks before bottling. Should have the first jars on sale for £4.50/each by next week.
Its official....the Black Pig Brewery is up and running! On 10th July, Bracknell Forest Council granted a Premise License for the shipping container which houses the brewery. Combined with the Personal and Duty Licenses gained in the last few months, this means I can start to sell the beer produced here. Our first "duty paid" batch was brewed in mid June and is now conditioning in our "duty warehouse"....aka the garage!Given it takes 6-8 weeks for our styles of beer to condition, stocks will be built up over the coming months, with first sales possible end of July onwards.
Our 660ml bottles of Pig Tale Ale and Pig Snout Stout will sell at £3.00/bottle (£2.58/pint). The license covers off-sales, with hours of opening being noon-20:00 Monday-Thursday and noon-22:00 Friday to Saturday. I am also now in a position to take orders for 5Li and 10Li polypin take-aways, which are great for parties.
It’s been a great year for the roses and also the garlic. We switched from our traditional British and Southern European varieties this year to some Eastern European exotica, such as Mikulov, Red Duke, Topinky and Cesnecka and the trial has been a great success, with big succulent bulbs harvested over the weekend. The vampires are sure to give Brockdale Cottage a miss as the nights draw in!
For those of you that have joined us at the supper club recently, this is how your veg begins its day. An early morning forage through the veg beds to pick the freshest cavol nero and chard leaves, pac choy and a huge Romana lettuce for the fresh rolls.
If anyone knows someone with the e-mail email@example.com perhaps you could let Tam or Mark have an alternate contact detail, as we are keen to get hold of them. Thanks
There has been quite a bit of bee news in the national press recently, mostly concerning swarms, and the fear that modern beekeepers are to blame for not looking after their colonies and allowing swarms to terrorise us all! In my view there is only a small truth in this. Yes, the beekeeping hobby requires a significant commitment, underpinned by a good understanding of bee behaviour. However, the bee swarm instinct is essential to their procreation and sometimes even the most determined and skilled of beekeepers can do nothing to prevent a swarm disappearing over their hedge. To modest ability beekeepers like me, it is a matter of constant amusement that the bees, almost without fail, outfox my swarm management methods.
Cue the picture on the right of a swarm from one of my colonies resting on one of our apple trees after emerging from one of my hives on Wednesday afternoon...three days after I’d carried out an inspection!. Swarms tend to merge during the late morning/early afternoon and will normally settle quite quickly on an adjacent structure, although sometimes the ground, whilst the queen rests and the scout bees go off and find a suitable new home. The queen, either the old hive queen for a first swarm, or a new queen for a secondary swarm, will be sitting in the middle of the cluster and the bees will generally be mild mannered as they have a new home on their mind. If you see a swarm in the Bracknell area, please feel free to give me a call and I will happily collect.
This swarm, which had a new queen I'd clearly missed in my inspection, is now safely housed in a hive and, fingers crossed, should develop into a honey collecting colony this year....as the old beekeepers saying goes "a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon"
We've not been brewing as much as we did last year, but, I'm proud to say all the ale and stout we have brewed, has been tip top and enjoyed by all who have had the chance to share a beer or two with us. With the home brewery equipment now complete, my brew pal Gerry thought it about time we at least looked the part, so purchased a couple of splendid German fabricated brewing overalls. Now fortunately, another Berkshire brewery has already established the "two cocks" brand, but we'd welcome any suggestions as to what this pair of likely lads might be labelled as.
The Boys are Back in Town - we've cetainly missed the presence of the pigs over the winter (although not the accompanying mud) and were pleased to pick up five cracking young lads from Fernyhill Farm, just down the road in Hawthorn Hill. The boys are cross Saddleback/Welsh, although all display the classic saddleback marking of black body and white stripe. If you are passing, be sure to stop by and say oink!
I hope the spring has been as kind to your veg patch as it has ours. With Cavolo, chard, shallots, asparagus, coriander, chervil and even Romana lettuce already on the table, the unusually fine weather has also given the pac choy a real boost, particularly the purple leaved variety which has flourished in the late spring/early summer warmth
Well it’s been a while since any updates here at Brockdale Cottage. Its early February; the pig pens lie silent, the vegetable beds and greenhouse are dormant, save the odd garlic and rhubarb bud pricking through the winter mulch. The fruit trees remain reluctant to show new life and the field is stubbornly soggy underfoot. However, all it took was a burst of spring sunshine today for the bees to burst impatiently from their winter clusters and start foraging for pollen on the aconites. Roll on spring.
After a long summer layoff (so drinking the stuff, not making it), the home brewery was fired up again on Tuesday and we tried our hand at our first stout. Brewed with a wonderful mix of dark malts and even porridge oats, the smell downwind during the boil was fantastic. The target original and final gravities should give a stout of around 4.8 - 5%...so a fair bit punchier than my normal session ale. A bit of vanilla will be added to the conditioning process just to give it a smoother finish. I tried a new yeast with the stout and as can be seen it definitely works! Should be ready for drinking just in time for that first winter steak and ale pie with hearty winter veg
The NGS open day at the gardens here on Sunday was a huge success, thanks largely to the wonderful group of volunteers, comprising Amanda, David and Christina in the cafe, Lucy on the plant stand, Gus, Kevin and Julian who kept the traffic moving and ensured cars were safely parked and Chris. Mike and Seb on the gate taking entry monies. Of course a big thank you to everyone who came as a visitor, many from far and wide. We all enjoyed meeting and talking with you and apprerciate your support which saw just over £2,600 raised for the NGS charities. Visitor numbers were around 450, with 45Litres of tea consumed and barely a cake left at the end!
Our first harvest of summer honey is now available @ £4.25 for a 340g/12oz jar....pure Warfield gold!
Pure, golden warfield honey undergoing its only treatment, a fine mesh filter, just to remove bits of wax and the odd bee wing!
As is tradition here at Brockdale Cottage, Alexander takes command of the first honey spin of the season. Our trusty old honey spinner has four speeds, 1. very slow, 2. slow, 3. take off go around power 4. afterburner. Loaded with 10 frames of honey, alex starts on the slow speed, just to get his confidence up, before skipping quickly to TOGA power and then afterburner, which has us both hanging on to the spinner for dear life so as to prevent it escaping from the garage. After four minutes of space travel, Alexander finally cuts the power and we open the lid to enjoy the sight of warm, golden honey wallowing in the bottom of the tank ready for filtering off into the settling containers. With a bit of luck we should have the first pots for sale early next week.
It looks like the honey gods have again been kind to us again. The bees have been visible all over the gardens in the last couple of weeks and a haul through the hives on the eveing of the 14th July yielded a respectable 20 frames of honey grossing in at 30kg. The remaining supers on the hives are filling up very nicely so I anticipate a very good crop as we move through summer.
What an amazing summer and I hope your veg is prospering as well as ours. Its always good to try something new and our experiment with padron peppers this year has been very successful...perfect as tapas with a cold Pigs Tail Ale!
The May wet weather caused a bit of havoc with the bees with new queens unable to mate resulting in three or four promising new colonies failing to expand. Nature as always catches up and the fine June weather has put the colonies back on track with six now bringing in the honey and another couple looking like they will be up to strength for the main honey flow in July. Note the meadow strip in front of the hives which encourages the bees to gain a bit of altitude when exiting the hives
Have been brewing every few weeks or so since the start of the new year and the long hoped for consistency has been well and truly achieved with each batch now being consistent in colour, flavour and feel. The summer heat led to a couple of bottles being trialed out the fridge and probably much against the ale purist tradition, it tastes pretty good chilled. Have also introduced an underback into the brewing process. The underback is a bit of traditional brewing kit that eases the mash to kettle process. In our case it was formed using a stock pot liberated from the kitchen and adapted by my metal basher!
Here is the latest rendition of the proposed Black Pig Kitchen thanks to Alexander and the wonders of Minecraft PE....we think our architects might be under a bit of pressure to beat this!
This time last year I posted a similar picture showing a worker bee collecting pollen from the garden crocus. It pretty much turned out to be the last sighting of the bees until the horribly cold March-May period had passed. Well, it seems that all the hives have made it through the rather damp but mild winter and as can be seen, the worker girls are again out re-filling the now run down winter food stocks with fresh pollen....pollen that will be used to kick start the queens back into laying. It’s still too early for me to delve back into the hives as I do not want to disturb the propolis that the bees will have used to winter proof their hives; just in case we get another prolonged cold snap. But observing the bee activity at the hive entrances and around the garden is a good sign that the beekeeping year has re-started.
The home brew has enjoyed a flying start to the year. With the pre-Christmas brew 6 proving nothing short of shocking (a yeast problem of my own doing), a couple of weeks in the South African sun allowed me to reflect on brews 1-6 and set some new targets. Out of the recipe went a good chunk of the Cascade hops, the trendy American style yeasts and the rotation of malt sources. In came Tuckers Marris Otter Pale Malt from the West Country (worth a Google) and a couple of traditional British style yeasts. Whilst the US Cascade hops have stayed, they are now balanced to give bitterness and flavour closer to British rather than US style pale/light beer...less has proven to be more. Early feedback from the beer test pilots is that we now have a couple of very drinkable session beers, which I will now try and brew consistently in the coming months.
We thought we would share a glimpse of the work in progress on the Black Pig Kitchen. Working with our architects, inside out architecture ltd, we intend to form the building using ten steel shipping containers, with the outside clad in timber to compliment the woodland environment. Set in a woodland glade, we hope the building will provide a unique indoor and outdoor cafe/dining environment and become a great facility within the Warfield community. We are hoping to be in a position to submit a planning application in the spring and will hold a public exhibition in advance of this to formally gauge local feedback. Watch this space for further news.
We will be opening our gardens here at Brockdale Cottage, on Sunday 27th July 2014, as part of the National Garden Scheme. The gates will be open from 11am to 3pm, with refreshments and plant sales available. Funds raised on the day are donated to the NGS supported charities which include MacMillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care. As this is our first year we have been told to expect a lot of interest. Accordingly, we are looking for volunteers who can help us get through the day in managing parking, taking entry monies, helping in the kitchen or just being around to help and direct visitors. If you can offer some time on this day, please let Tam or Mark know. Of course there will be a cracking post open day BBQ as an incentive!
The home brew seemed to be ticking along nicely and this weekend we excitedly cracked open the MKIII ale, brewed at the start of October. Expecting the usual crisp bitterness, heady hop aromas and subtle sweetness that has emerged from the first brews, I was brought down to earth with a bump as all we could taste was soap and saccharin...really not very pleasant and certainly more Ford Sierra than Sierra Nevada. The post mortem has revealed a couple of possible mistakes which I will take note of as I move on to the MKV brew. The MKIV, currently in the fermentor, seems to be on track....in that it at least tastes like beer!
The tomatoes have finished and the runner canes have been dismantled, but the serrano chillis are now being harvested and adding a nice bit of winter warmth to some of the supper club dishes
The first home brew was drawn off the keg last night and 4 litres later the 1st beer tasting committee comprising Tam, my pal Jeff and me decided it was pretty good stuff!! So if you are passing, make time to pop in for a taster.
Bottled yesterday, here is the MKI prototype Warfield Amber Ale, a 4% ale brewed with pale, crystal and munich malts and a big bang of cascade hops. Should be ready for sipping in two to three weeks, so if you are popping by, make sure you have time to share a home brew!
Well the big first home brew day went reasonably well and it looks like we've ended up with some brown, malty, hoppy smelling liquid! Currently in the fermentor, I will monitor the gravity progress over the next few days as the yeast turns all the extract sugars into alcohol...current readings suggest a 3.8 to 4% brew, which I'd be happy with. As ever Alex turned his hand to a new trade and is now head of measuring (seen here batching the malt) and chief refractometer reader. I'm happy with my role as head of tasting!
With our spring pigs now fattening up nicely, a chance call to our local Saddleback breeder ended with me picking up these four fabulous pigs today. The 8 week old boys have settled in nicely and already benefitting from the kind gifts of windfall apples from friends and neighbours. In line with our traditional naming policy, the boys have all been christened Fellaini. I'm always amused by the number of Man U supporters who don't quite get why a lad born in Liverpool would name his pigs after Man U players!
Well, here she is! After many months of dreaming, planning and scouring the globe for a suitable bit of brewing kit, I finally collected my 170Li pilot brewery, now christened the "Mirfield Masher" from the Yorkshire village of Mirfield in mid-August and she was connected to the grid last week, which means we can now get on with the home brewing! Hand built by Mark Ruston of Pureweld Ltd, the pilot brewery is a scaled down version of a commercial brewery and comprises three main elements. Firstly, a 170Li Hot Liquor Tank, where the water, or liquor as brewers term it, is heated and chemically balanced for brewing...low alkalinity and good calcium levels. Secondly, the Mash Tun with a rotating sparge arm; a vessel where the said liquor is added to the brewer’s malt. This process extracts the required sugars for later fermentation. Finally the Kettle, where the now sugary gold/brown water, known as wort, is boiled and hops added for flavour and bittering. The first 50Li brew is planned this weekend and will take about a month before the first turn of the keg releases, what we hope, will be our MK1 prototype Warfield Amber Ale, with a target ABV of 4%. Testing committee members welcome! A very big thankyou to everyone who has helped me get the container fitted out and finished, with particular thanks to good pals Kenny, Gerry, Tom and Graeme, Ronald, Electrosafe, our superb electricians, Fernbank Flooring and of course Pureweld Ltd
A busy few days, de-capping, spinning, filtering and bottling means we have the first Brockdale Cottage 2013 honey ready for sale. It's a lovely dark gold, almost chestnut colour, with a very floral and full taste. Our 340g/12oz jars are £4.25/each.
We're in the honey! The long honey lead-in has finally ended and I got stuck into the hives last night to liberate the first honey. After battle was done the final score was Bees - 7 stings, Mark - 50kg of honey....so probably a draw! The extraction process is made so much easier when the weather is warmer as the honey is less viscous and therefore flies out of the combs in the spinner. Once the honey is out of the comb, we pass it through one filter, to remove odd bits of wax and the occasional bee, and then its held in a settling tank for 48hrs to allow the air bubbles to rise to the surface. Accordingly, we should have honey in the jars by the 1st of August. As per tradition, Alex always fires up the first spin of the season, as can be seen on the photo.....
OK, where is the honey!? Good question! But don't worry. The cold spring certainly set the bees back; indeed this is the first time since i've been keeping bees that I have not taken off June or early July honey. However, this fine spell of weather has allowed the bees to finally get in their stride and I anticipate honey in the jars in early August
The endless winter mud has finally dried up enough for us to return pigs to the piggery. I picked up four lovely 8 week old Saddlebacks from a breader near Aldershot on Saturday. Sisters from a litter of 12, they have settled in well and are munching their way through the now bountiful greens emerging from the veg garden.
The veg plot has burst into life over the last few weeks and you will be able to enjoy the wonderful cavolo nero, chard, spinach, pac choi, rhubarb, salad and many types of herb, all freshly picked, at the spring and summer supper club
An update on the bees. Following that brief spring day back in mid-Feb, we've all of course been shivering since, including the poor girls still stuck in their hives. The good news is that the colonies are still very much alive. On top of the good hive food stocks which my Feb inspection revealed, i've been feeding them a top up mixture of old honey stocks, liquid sugar syrup and solid sugar blocks, which means that they should, at least, not starve. The main concern for us beekeepers is the effect the cold weather has on the queens laying pattern. The bees will only be able to keep a certain part of the hive up to the required temperature which means that eggs laid by the queen or developing brood run the risk of being killed off, which reduces the number of foraging bees for when spring finally arrives.
It was good to see the bees out and about during the brief sunny spell in the second week of February gathering valuable pollen stores; always a good sign that the queens are getting back in production. The cold snap of the last few days has rather put the brakes on their activity, so here's hoping for a return of the spring sunshine in the coming days
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