Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

Wow, that was a bump. New Year celebrations over, a day off for the public holiday, and straight back to work.

After a lot of uncertainty in December, I’ve been keen to get stuck in to something valuable, and I’m not breaking any confidentiality by saying that my focus right now is on refreshing the collateral behind Node4’s Public Cloud offerings. I need to work across the business – my Office of the CTO (OCTO) role is about strategy, innovation and offering development – but the work also needs to include specialist sales colleagues, our marketing teams, and of course the experts that actually deliver the engagements.

So that’s the day job. Alongside that, I’ve been:

  • Avoiding stating any grand new year resolutions. I’ll only break them. It was literally hours before I broke my goal of not posting on Twitter/X this year. Though I did step away from a 453-day streak on Duolingo to focus my spare time on other, hopefully less gamified, pursuits:
  • Doing far too little exercise. A recurring health condition is impacting my ability to walk, run, cycle and to get back to Caveman Conditioning. It’s getting a bit better but it may be another week before I can have my new year fitness kick-start.
  • Eating badly. Logging everything in the Zoe app is helping me to see what I should avoid (spoiler: I need to eat more plants and less sweet stuff) but my willpower is still shockingly bad. I was also alarmed to see Prof. Tim Spector launching what appeared to be an ultra-processed food (UPF) product. More on that after I’ve got to M&S and actually seen the ingredients list for the Zoe Gut Shot, but others are telling me it’s not a UPF.
  • Redesigning the disaster recovery strategy for my photos. I learned the hard way several years ago that RAID is not a backup, and nothing exists unless it’s in three places. For me that’s the original, a copy on my Synology NAS, and copy in the cloud. My cloud (Azure) backups were in a proprietary format from the Synology Hyper Backup program, so I’ve started to synchronise the native files by following a very useful article from Charbel Nemnom, MVP. Unfortunately the timestamps get re-written on synchronisation, but the metadata is still inside the files and these are the disaster copies – hopefully I’ll never need to rely on them.
  • Watching the third season of Slow Horses. No spoilers please. I still have 4 episodes to watch… but it’s great TV.
  • Watching Mr Bates vs. The Post Office. The more I learn about the Post Office Scandal, the more I’m genuinely shocked. I worked for Fujitsu (and, previously, ICL) for just over 15 years. I was nothing to do with Horizon, and knew nothing of the scandal, but it’s really made me think about the values of the company where I spent around half my career to date.
  • Spreading some of my late Father-in-law’s ashes by his tree in the Olney Community Orchard.
  • Meeting up with old friends from my “youth”, as one returns to England from his home in California, for a Christmas visit.

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg scissors or the blister-pack?

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

  • A return to Team MK Youth Cycle Coaching. Our local cyclo-cross league is finished for the 2023/4 season so we’re switching back to road cycling as we move into the new year.
  • Some home IT projects (more on them next week).
  • General adulting and administration.

Next week, I’ll be continuing the work I mentioned at the head of this post, but also joining an online Group Coaching session from Professor John Amaechi OBE. I have no idea what to expect but I’m a huge fan of his wise commentary. I’m also listening to The Promises of Giants on Audible. (I was reading on Kindle, but switched to the audiobook.)

This week in photos

Featured image: Author’s own
(this week’s flooding of the River Great Ouse at Olney)

Hopping Mad in Olney

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Top Notch Hop NotchThis is a technology blog but, every now and again, I find a way to weave in something different and, if I were a betting man, I’d say that more than a few of my readers like the occasional beer…

I’m a relatively recent convert to the world of real ale. Maybe it’s a maturity thing but I used to drink lager in my teens and early 20s, moving on to Guinness for most of my 30s but, more recently I’ve  switched to what my Dad would have called proper beer. But, unlike Dad, my preference is less for mass-brewed stuff (although I am partial to a St Austell Tribute or few) – instead I like to try a local ale when I’m out and about.

That’s why the opportunity to visit my local micro-brewery (Hopping Mad, brewing just around the corner in Olney) was not to be missed. The evening was organised by the Newport Pagnell and Olney Lions Club and, although I have nothing to do with the Lions, I was a guest for a fish and chip supper washed down with free-flowing ale – quite possibly the ultimate  “p***-up in a brewery”…

David explains allHopping Mad Brewers Limited was established in July 2010 by (entrepreneur and beer enthusiast) Matthew Hargreaves and (experienced business operations manager) David Wright. After searching for a suitable location in the Northampton, Milton Keynes, and Bedford area, they settled on Olney, which has been a great base for the company – situated close to the boundaries of three counties and, whilst the town itself is small (with a population of around 6000), the surrounding area has a population of close on one million people.

Initially known as Amazing Ales (a play on words around the hymn Amazing Grace, the most famous of the Olney Hymns), the Hopping Mad name seemed a much better fit as it describes how they are “mad passionate” about beers – and the strapline of “brewing just around the bend” is a nice touch too.  After signing the lease to take on the unit where the brewery is sited on Yardley Road, they prepared the site with additional drainage, decoration, etc. and began to source some equipment.

(Near) unlimited samplingHopping Mad is a “15-barrel brewery” – a term derived from the capacity to brew 15 brewers’ barrels of beer at once (more volume than a 5 barrel setup for a similar amount of effort). It’s no co-incidence that there is a lot of equipment on the second-hand market from brewers moving up to a 30 barrel setup and the core of Hopping Mad’s equipment was obtained from Yates Brewery in Cumbria (who were moving to a larger installation). Additional fermenting vessels were purchased elsewhere and work started on brewing the beer in mid-2010.

Matthew and David were determined to “get it right first time” as people will try local produce once but there is no second chance if it’s not up to scratch, so they took advice from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), local publicans (including Reg Pearson at the Robin Hood in Clifton Reynes) and others (including Graeme Baxter at Yates’).  They’ve been well supported by local free houses (unfortunately tied houses are generally unable to select the ales they might like, except perhaps for special events) as well as retailing directly to consumers (with 5 and 10 litre draught casks, 72 pint casks and, soon, 500ml bottles) although the emphasis is very much on getting people into pubs to drink beer and direct retail is primarily aimed at brand-building.  Whilst Hopping Mad beers can be found across the country, the vision is one of a well-known brand within a 40-mile radius of Olney.

Cask aleI won’t try to explain the process of brewing (I took a lot of notes, but I’m sure they are incomplete – the British Brewing Association has a description of the brewing process too) but each brew produces 15 brewers barrels (60 firkins/540 gallons/4320 pints). At present, the brewery produces two or three brews a week but is hoping to increase that to four by the end of 2012, with five as an eventual target.

A micro-brewery is defined as one that produces less than 500,000 litres a year and this micro-brewery status reduces the amount of duty to be paid by 50%. As a bonded warehouse, Hopping Mad pays duty at the point of sale and, with five staff, the brewery’s major costs are split are split between ingredients (including the use of premium Maris Otter barley), labour and duty.

At the moment, Hopping Mad have five ales in production:
Pump clips

  • Brainstorm (4.3% ABV) is a traditional best bitter and was the first Hopping Mad beer, often taken by pubs as a guest ale.
  • Fruitcase (4.5% ABV) came next, as a fruity golden ale.
  • Hop Notch (3.6% ABV) is Hopping Mad’s session beer – malty and tasty and even though it’s relatively weak, it tastes like a stronger beer [I can testify to this… I’m sure that mostly drinking Hop Notch was one reason I didn’t suffer a hangover the day after my brewery visit].
  • Balmy Days (3.9% ABV) was originally a summer ale but some pubs have taken it as a permanent line (it works well with curries, etc.).
  • Amazing Grace (4.4% ABV) is aimed at festivals, brewed less frequently (perhaps once a month).

There’s a sixth beer on the website too: Hoppiness (3.7% ABV) is another fine English Ale, with a hoppy taste (as the name suggests).

I asked the best way to keep the beer (for example, the 5 litre draught casks that I buy from time to time) and, after the initial guffaws from around the room about keeping beer (rather than drinking) it, Reg from the Robin Hood suggested to keep it at around 10-12 degrees (otherwise it’s too cold to taste, but not too warm either). Matthew and David explained that, whilst beer does have a “best before” date it is essentially a stable product and the “best before” date is exactly that – a date before which to enjoy the beer as intended (i.e. it’s about consistency) as any contact between the yeast and oxygen will cause secondary brewing that may affect the taste.

After having got off to a great start over the last 18 months, Hopping Mad are not standing still. I was fortunate enough to taste a not-quite-finished dark ale called Black Jack and there are plans for an American-style pale ale of around ABV 5% in the summer, as well as a winter warmer towards the end of the year [I’m looking forward to that one!].  As for the future, whilst there was talk of a longer term vision to malting in-house (a return to local, sustainable, business), Matthew and David’s immediate goals are about improving their beers, pushing the reputation of the brand and continuing the quality. Amen to that!

You can learn more about Hopping Mad including details of shops and pubs that stock the beers at HoppingMad.com.* Hopping Mad is also on Facebook, and recently featured on Anglia News.


*not .co.uk – the domain squatters there were too greedy!

[markwilson.it has no affiliation with Hopping Mad, but I do like to support local businesses, and they do produce some very fine ales!]

[Updated 22 February 2012: thanks to Bill Beton for pointing out the correct spelling for Maris Otter barley]
[Updated 23 February 2012: New links to Hopping Mad’s Facebook pages, and Anglia News package]