Monday 15 June 2009

Being self sufficient in beer

Last week I went totally self sufficient in beer. Every drop I drank was made by my own fair hands and though I say it myself they were pretty damn good.

For my weekday drinking I had on draught my Tribute tribute, a pale hoppy beer with a deliciously rich body from the 15% Munich malt in the grist. I may have been a bit heavy handed with the hops in this one compared to the St Austell beer that inspired it but I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

And at the weekend I went on a climbing trip to Langdale so I took a selection of bottles. Arriving at my mountaineering club's hut at about 10pm on Friday I had wanted something strong to help me unwind fast. I started on my American IPA, which has the strength and the bitterness I wanted but is a bit lacking in the aroma I would have liked. More dry hopping next time. Then it was on to my double IPA, which certainly did the job that was intended but is the only real disappointment in my currently selection. There's a slight cheesy taste to it which I'm sure came from old oxidised hops. To get some of the hop varieties I wanted for this brew I had to use mail order and as I'm so used to using vacuum packed hops from my local home brew shop I didn't bother to check them before use. Oh well, I've learned a lesson there.

Then on Saturday after getting down from the crag at seven, I started on a bottle of my Tribute tribute, I don't think it was quite as good as the draught as the carbonation seemed a little low. For adding condition I've recently switched from adding the vague half a teaspoon of sugar to adding a measured about of sugar syrup to bottles and I may have had the dose a little low. Then went on to my porter which really was very good. I don't drink dark beer that often but I could easily drink more of this.

A bottle of my premium bitter followed. I'm still tinkering with the recipe for this and it's perhaps gone a little darker than I want in this version. Also due to playing around with parti-gyling it came out stronger than I'd planned, though that's not entirely a bad thing.

Next I moved on to my Chai beer. I once heard the eminent malting expert and prison visitor Geoff Palmer give a talk where he railed against 'Buckie', the Scottish alkies favourite, because as well as the alcohol it contains caffeine which means you feel less drunk and so drink more. As I was starting to flag by this point the Chai beer containing a shot of caffeine to go with my alcohol was just what I needed.

Suitably revived I had a pause in my drinking until it was time for my night cap stout. Strong and dark and luscious I could easily drink lots of this except I find strong dark beers lack drinkability. Not a problem at this stage of the evening though as I think I'd had quite enough and there was more climbing to be done the next day.

So, all week I'd managed to keep myself supplied with a range of quality beers, 6 out of 7of them as good as anything I could buy. It was fun having enough supplies that I could drink only my own beer, though with the huge range of quality beers and pubs out there I'm not going to stick to only my own stuff for long. And it's maybe not the sort of thing I should be encouraging thought, as I hope to return to professional brewing!

The climbing for the weekend went well to but if you're only here for the beer stop reading at this point.

The weather on Saturday was slightly wet so we set off for a hike to Pavey Ark with the plan of doing some scrambling. We started on Crescent Climb, a route which is on the borderline between scrambling and roped climbing. Perhaps we should have scrambled the first pitch as it was 47m long and we had a 45m rope! It was an easy climb at this stage and some alpine style simultaneous climbing got us both safely to the belay. The next pitch was a traverse which looked a bit more intimidating, particularly as a lamb cartwheeled down the crag to its death across the route of our climb. A sheep landing on your head could well impair your ability to stay on the rock face so we were glad of the safety of a rope. We got across OK without any ovine bombardment and the rest of the climb was straight forward. At this point I hoped to continue to the summit on the excellent (and easy) scramble Jack's Rake.

Unfortunately for me my climbing partner, Bonnie, had enjoyed Crescent Climb so much she wanted to continue up another classic traditional climb Gwynne's Chimney. To me seeing the words 'classic, 'traditional' and 'chimney' all in the same sentence spells bloody awkward. And so it proved to be. This was a grade harder than Crescent Climb so we had definitely moved out of scrambling into roped climbing territory. Unfortunately for me I couldn't move out of my walking boots and into my climbing shoes as I didn't have them with me. I had the first lead and sure enough struggling up a narrow chimney in my walking boots with a ruck sack on my back was a real struggle. Much to my delight we also had only a handful of nuts and a few slings for protection. My relief on reaching the belay was to be short lived though as I was immediately assailed by the stench of ammonia. Looking around I could see the niche I'd moved into was covering in sheep shit, piss and wool. I think a sheep must have been trapped there for a long time. I was too as I had to belay up Bonnie, and then belay her as she climbed the next pitch. The rest of the climb was easy with no sheep related problems.

On Sunday the weather was much better so we went to Raven's Crag, Walthwaite for a quick climb before going home. We chose Walthwaite Gully (VS 4b, 4c for those that know their climbing grades). The top pitch had an excellent looking flake to climb which I'd seen on a previous visit so I'd been keen to do this one for a while. The first, and supposedly easier pitch stumped Bonnie shortly after leaving the ground so she backed off and I had a go. It took a lot of figuring out but eventually I realised the only thing holding me back was my reluctance to leave the security of the ground. You can't really be a climber if you don't want to leave the ground so after briefly considering if it was time for me to give up climbing, a not uncommon occurrence for me mid-climb, I went for it. I managed to lose some skin in the battle upwards but reached the belay ledge soon after. The top, apparently technically harder, pitch went quite easily and the climbing was every bit as good as I'd hoped. It just shows that climbing grades can be quite subjective. But one thing I've always found holds true is that beer tastes better after a hard day's climbing.


  1. It seems that I myself have been becoming sufficient in beer also. After maturation my wedding ale trial batch turned out to be a pritty decant pale ale. My best extra stout has the right grainy textures but i would say alittle over attenuated, and my IPA has proven to be alittle too bitter for some but with good tangy citruce notes. Which reminds me Ed I must save you one of my Vintage 2008 barley wines.

  2. Nice one Rob, I'll have to bring some beers up to your stag do.