Time for a brown ale revival?

10 April, 2009

Q With all the excitement surrounding microbreweries just now, I'm surprised to see so little interest in brown ale as a beer style. Why has it become so unfashionable?

A The best known brown ale, Newcastle Brown, defines the brown ale category for most people - in much the same way as Guinness has come to define stout. Yet it did not invent the category: Newcastle Brown appeared in 1927, 25 years after Mann s Brown Ale first launched in London. The new invention was essentially, according to beer historian Martyn Cornell, a version of dark mild ale in a bottle

and was proclaimed "the sweetest beer in London".

That sweetness

can be off-putting for some beer lovers, who often prize hop bitterness above malty and caramel flavours. Traditionally, southern brown ales have been more obviously sweet than their nuttier northern counterparts.

Brown ale has caught on among some American microbrewers, such as Brooklyn and Pete's, which have added new dimensions to the style. English brown ales are made by Samuel Smith, Double Maxim, Harveys and Manns (these days produced by Thomas Hardy at Burtonwood). Newcastle Brown is now brewed under licence by the Federation Brewery in Gateshead.

Q I want to develop my corporate and wholesale business, and plan to make one member of my team solely responsible for this new enterprise. I would like to pay him on a commission-only basis. What's the best way to structure this?

A Commission is a useful way of incentivising staff, but you both need to think carefully about what sort of business is realistically achievable in the current climate

and what sort of percentage your employee should be entitled to.

If this person already works for you, you can't switch to a commission system unless he agrees to a new contract which explains the payment arrangements. And you need to be careful that you're at least paying the minimum wage: the most sensible way to proceed is to pay commission on top of any sales that bring the employee up to the legal minimum.

Another option is to work with a self-employed person. That way you don't have to pay even the minimum wage if there are no sales, but you obviously have less control and if the contractor is successful he may well decide to cut you out of the equation and go it alone.

Mould on wine bottles - what does it mean?

Q I have been alerted to a

mould problem, which affects

the bottle necks of a consignment

of Rioja I have acquired. It occurs

just under the capsule and cannot

be seen until the wine is prepared

for opening. Is this a problem

and what should I tell


A This kind of mould is not uncommon and is usually perfectly harmless - it perhaps even indicates that the wine has been stored in good, humid conditions. As long as it does not travel down the length of the cork, the wine should be fine .

Explain to customers that the mould is natural and nothing to worry about .

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

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