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A beer I brewed with grave misgivings

Added: Wednesday, August 5th 2015

dave bailey

Firstly, many thanks to Roger for inviting me to submit this comment piece to his website. Roger, of course, is a long-standing and well-respected beer writer. I knew his name long before I was ever involved in writing about beer myself. Long before Roger even knew I existed. So, it’s something of an honour to feature on his site.

It would perhaps be no surprise for the reader to know that Roger and I don’t agree on many subjects. Craft beer versus Real Ale would be the epitome. Views on the silliness or otherwise of black IPA or whether or not it is worth fighting for beer brands that have long since past their best before date. And then there might be politics, but I’ll come back to that. Despite our differences, and in our modern democratic society it is often easy to forget how fortunate we are to be able to air differences without fear of repression, Roger is one of the most genuine blokes I know. This makes it all the easier to respect his opinions and admire his convictions.

It may surprise the reader, although it does not surprise me, to find that we have common ground in one thing. Probably not complete agreement on the subject, but at least in an area that is important to me. It moves into an area of politics that I think transcends over-simplified left-right issues. Indeed, discussing such issues as a brewer and business owner goes against much advice I have been given, but then I’m known to often ignore advice. You are not supposed to mix politics and beer, yeah right; no one ever does that, do they?

So, my story; we recently decided to brew a wheat beer, based on our tasting of a Japanese beer as it happens. The beer was made with orange juice. Scott came up with the idea that we should call it Nuclear Sunset. His take was that we live on a coastline that receives some taxpayer’s money for economic development under an umbrella called “Energy Coast” -- I won’t bore you, just Google it if you are really interested. We also get some fairly stunning sunsets over the Irish Sea. Initially I thought about increased orangeness in a sunset after an atomic explosion, or perhaps seeing an end to all things nuclear as public opinion has turned largely against nuclear technology.

I started thinking about the back-story I was to attach to the beer. It’s what I do, with literally tens of thousands of beer brands now in the country, a pitch to the drinker is essential.

In Googling, I found that 6 August 6was the anniversary of Hiroshima. Not just any odd number, but the 70th. Not really a great surprise, you know, 1945-2015 doesn’t need my degree level maths to compute.

“Oh bugger” or possibly something a little stronger, might have been my initial thoughts. You see, this set in motion a great unstoppable train of thoughts. One of those great big freight trains laden with carriages each filled with heavy concepts of a density greater than the heaviest isotopes.

Having worked in the nuclear industry, having been though painful ridicule of our area by media, typified by Not The Nine O’Clock News spoof of the Ready Brek advert, and the continued jokes about Cumbrian sheep having two heads, I am sensitive to any critique of nuclear.

Conversely, my training in radiological safety, and the necessary details given to me through my career, continues to create empathy for the massive suffering the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki created. Of the minimum estimate of 129,000 deaths attributed to these attacks, some would have been fortunate to have been vaporised instantly. More might have died quickly, with no pain, as their nerve endings would have been cauterised in microseconds. Many, many more died a long and protracted death from the combined effects of severe radiation exposure, infection, malnutrition and physical injury. It is well documented that invading American forces subsequently only monitored survivors’ progress, and did nothing to treat those still alive, but in dire need of help.

So, dear reader, I hope you are now seeing something of the personal dichotomy I arrive at. Hardknott has tended to name its beers with some form of scientific theme. I like to have a reason for the names. It might not always be apparent what the reason is, sometimes only having meaning to me, but trust me, it is there. Launching a beer with the name Nuclear Sunset, just before the anniversary of these horrific attacks on Japan could not be swept under the carpet. The meaning had to be there, and it could not be hidden from view.

I contacted Roger, along with a few other beer writers, with this story. Roger was the first to reply saying “It so happens I'm reading a book about Oppenheimer building the first A-bomb at Los Alamos in New Mexico”. We had a small conversation by email and Roger pointed out that I should concentrate on the plight of the victims.

Recognising the suffering of the victims of these attacks and even trying to imagine their plight is something that I have done ever since I first heard about how these devices worked. Probably back when my physics teacher first explained fission and the incredible radiation and heat burst generated by what is actually and immensely difficult technical achievement. Questioning the rational behind a nuclear deterrent is something I personally think the global superpowers really should do. But living in West Cumbria, where the economy is dependant upon two large employers, both with significant nuclear technology at the heart of their businesses, it is perhaps risking too much to make this rather altruistic stance. To mark the occasion, with a beer, of the 70th anniversary of what was the most destructive attack by a single warhead on any single city might well prove to be the most risky thing I’ve ever done.

Still further, I am actually a firm supporter of nuclear technology as one of a plethora of solutions to our increasing energy needs. Energy consumption globally increased by 39% between 1990 and 2008. Population increased by 27% in the same time. Even if developed countries make concerted efforts to decrease energy consumption and move to renewable energy, we still see global trends continuing upwards. I doubt that green energy will be the panacea some would like it to be. I believe in a balanced energy policy that encompasses everything; we can’t stop burning oil tomorrow, renewable energy should be deployed, but is not without problems and nuclear does have the ability to provide a solution if we can do it safely.

When I think of the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and think of the continuing global conflict, I wonder if we can keep the world safe by a few nuclear powers preventing the rest of the world from gaining a bomb. Even then, can we prevent some derailed regime gaining the knowledge to obtain such ability? The knowledge is out there, and much of it is on the internet, despite me being prevented by law telling you much of what I do know.

I also think of the industry that gave me my leg-up, and continues to provide economic vibrancy to the town I live in. Flanked on one side by Sellafield, much in a decommissioning stage at this time. On the other side BAE making nuclear submarines to help our national deterrent. The people in our area are constantly worried that either nuclear power will be phased out altogether, or we’ll ditch nuclear subs, or both. If that were to happen our area would see economic decimation not seen since coalmines were closed in the 80s.

What I can be sure of is that very little will change very quickly. Governments, armed forces, entrenched global strategy all takes time to move. But that is no reason to forget the suffering that the Second World War brought, not only to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but everyone involved in such carnage. And yet still it occurs in various troubled parts of the world, showing that the nuclear deterrent certainly has not stopped human suffering due to conflict.

nuclear sunset