This'll get your motor running

What does a former Ford worker turned brewer call his latest beer? Old Engine Oil, of course.
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

A mid-life career switch from autos to ales hasn't affected Ken Brooker's success as a brewer. Next week he'll discover if his most famous brew, Bitter and Twisted, will become Champion Beer of Scotland for the second year running. At the same time, the latest beer from the former Ford worker turned award-winning professional is available nationally in Tesco stores.

A mid-life career switch from autos to ales hasn't affected Ken Brooker's success as a brewer. Next week he'll discover if his most famous brew, Bitter and Twisted, will become Champion Beer of Scotland for the second year running. At the same time, the latest beer from the former Ford worker turned award-winning professional is available nationally in Tesco stores.

Building wooden design prototypes for new cars is not the usual apprenticeship for making beer, but it may explain why Brooker calls this new beer from his Harviestoun brewery, Old Engine Oil.

If the name doesn't sound appealing, the taste of it is. The beer won a blindfold tasting to become Tesco's featured winter brew. "Old Engine Oil" describes the beer's near-black colour, viscosity and lubricity, reckons Brooker. His 6 per cent brew is silky smooth, with a rummy aroma, a coffeeish palate, and a hint of the darkest chocolate. An after-dinner beer as much as a winter warmer or bedtime brew.

The enticing lubricant is made from pale malt, "masses of roasted barley" and oats. Brooker experimented with variations using chocolate powder and smoked malt, but eventually decided against those ingredients.

Such a rich, malty, beer is something of a departure for him. His personal style leans more towards the flowery dryness of hops.

Even Old Engine Oil is well-hopped, with the sweetish variety Galena, from Washington State, as well as the more usual Worcester Goldings (which can have an aniseedy flavour) and Kent Goldings (which I find suitably oily). While Old Engine Oil's name was inspired by Brooker's former life in the motor industry, the recipe originates from a bible for home beer-makers. Brooker took up the hobby when he was living half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, at a time when good beer was hard to find north of the border.

His boss was a home-brewer who made a delicious beer in a similar vein to Old Engine Oil. Brooker followed suit using a book published in the Seventies by home-brewer Dave Line, who has long since gone to the great brewhouse in the sky. The recipes, though, are immortal and one was the inspiration for Old Engine Oil.

As his 40th birthday approached, Brooker decided to leave Ford but stay in Scotland. Here, though Essex-born, he'd settled. He dabbled in running a restaurant (more like a chip shop and tea-room, actually) and a bakery, before acknowledging his true vocation.

His brewery, on a farm in Dollar, is called Harviestoun, after the nearby estate. The brewhouse is in a former byre, where dances were once held. "Stone walls 20 inches thick, slate roof ... it just looked right," he recalls.

As new brewhouse equipment was out of his reach, he originally improvised his own system, helped by his engineering skills. It worked well enough: a few years later, he needed a bigger brewhouse. A brewery in Aberdeen, with equipment he'd coveted when he first started but couldn't afford, had failed. Brooker bought the equipment at a knockdown price. Ten years later he's still delighted with his bargain.

This is the second time it has helped him produce a winning beer in a Tesco competition. His previous success was with a seasonal beer for spring, though it is still in the shops. It is an assertively flowery, creamy, minty, brew called Liberation (4.7 per cent) from the hop variety Liberty, grown in Washington State.

But his best-known ale is Bitter and Twisted (3.8 per cent on draught; 4.2 in the bottle), so named because Brooker reckons it is bitter with a twist. It has a golden colour, on the pale side for a bitter; a substantial proportion of wheat (for crispness and a good head) in addition to the usual barley malt; and "masses of hops". These include some varieties that are unusual in an English ale, notably the German and New Zealand versions of the Hersbrucker variety. But I reckon the Styrian Goldings, from Slovenia, do most to impart the "sweet lemon" aroma in this refreshing brew. Bitter and Twisted is the current Champion Beer of Scotland, and has again been nominated as a finalist in the competition for 2000/2001. The judging takes place next week, at Scotland's Great Grampian Beer Festival, in Aberdeen.

As proof of the success of Ken Brooker's career switch, a dozen or so award certificates decorate the walls of the Harviestoun brewery office. But perhaps the proudest are three gold awards conferred by the Campaign for Real Ale for a brew named after the Scottish peak Schiehallion. This brew (at 4.8 per cent) is regarded as a lager. Why would the advocates of ale give an award to a lager?

Perhaps they were seduced by the perfumy aroma, or the clean dryness of palate, or the delicate but long finish. Or was it just the shock of finding in Britain a lager that tasted of malt and hops?

The Great Grampian Beer Festival runs from Thursday 2 November to Saturday 4 November, at the McClymont Halls, 43 Holburn St, Aberdeen www.abdncamra. freeserve.co.uk

Comments