Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Fullers yeast a bit feeble

As I worked as a microbiologist for many years I do feel slightly embarassed when I have to buy some dried yeast for homebrewing. So I've been trying to sort out for myself some brewing yeasts taken from bottle conditioned beers where I know the primary strain is used for bottling too. 

First up was Hop Back from a bottle of Summer Lightning. I've used this before and it grew well on the agar plate. My latest brew was made using this culture, and the fermentation went fine. Tasting notes will be posted when I start drinking it. 

Next I cultured the sediment from bottles of Fullers 1845 and Sierra Nevada pale ale. The Fullers yeast has been depressingly feeble though. 

You can just about make out two small yeast colonies, as well as a fungal contaminant and a bacterial contaminant at the top.

As I had to incubate the plate for so long some contaminants have started growing. With a bit of experience it's pretty easy to identify what's growing on your agar plate from the shape of the colonies without having to look at anything under the microscope. In this case though, as I had so little growth, I popped into the lab for confirmation.

Fullers yeast at x 1000 magnification

If you don't have a microscope set up with a camera you can take pictures by carefully holding a digital camera above the eye piece. The picture above was done on my mobile phone and you can just about see the yeast cells.

Here the bacterial contaminant - large rods of a Bacillus sp.

As I'm happy that even from the poor growth I have got some brewing yeast I've sub-cultured it on to an agar slope and I'll used it to brew with soon.

Quite why there were so few viable yeast cells in the bottle of 1845 I'm not sure.

Sierra Nevada yeast culture

The Sierra Nevada culture pictured above was actually set up a few days after the Fullers one and shows much better growth. Perhaps the 100 day maturation process that Fullers proudly declare on the bottle means the yeast is more knackered.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

CAMRA and homebrewing

Since CAMRA have re-launched 'Beer' as a quarterly magazine they've had a small article each issue on homebrewing. Unfortunately they're badly done by someone who obviously doesn't know much about homebrewing. 

The first of the article was for some bizarre reason about how to make some murky brew out of rye bread. Not quite sure what this has to do with real ale but I thought maybe it was meant to be something to get people started easily, with little need to buy kit or ingredients. 

Next came the more obvious starting point of how to make beer from kits. Most home brewers start this way, myself included, and it is pretty simple. I though the short length of the article was a bit of a shame though, as there were a lot more useful things that could have been said. 

The third article, getting round to full mash all grain brewing, really got on my tits though. The same short amount of words was given to explaining this more complicated process and the author just wasn't up to the job. The method he briefly describes for mashing involves adding an immersion heater to the mash and leaving it overnight.

This is the method that CJJ Berry described in the Amateur Winemakers homebrewing book produced over 40 years ago when homebrewing was legalised in the UK. It's over long, over complicated and leads to poor tasting beer. In CAMRA's own homebrewing guide, first published in 1990, Graham Wheeler writes: "Under no circumstances should you resort to the practice of overnight mashing as advocated by some members of the homebrewing fraternity". The fact is, mixing your grains with hot water and leaving them in an insulated mash tun for 90 minutes will give good conversion of the starch to sugar, with no need for heating and in a lot less time. 

The article continued in a similarly clueless fashion. No mention was made of how to separate the wort from the grains, or from the hops for that matter. Vague instructions were given, like "boil for about and hour" and "add a third of a packet of hops", with no mention of size of the packet or the variety of hops. It was not well received at Jim's Beer Kit homebrewing forums but to be fair to the author himself did post there, and I hoped he'd learned something. 

Sadly my hope was misplaced. The latest article includes similarly awful brewing instructions. This time he does actually specify the size of hop packet to use in the recipe but otherwise it's just dire. I'd be surprised if anyone actually brews this way, even the bloke who wrote it.

CAMRA have dabbled off and on in having home brewing articles and books over the years. They've just produced a new edition of the excellent Brew Your Own British Real Ale At Home (though as most homebrew will have extraneous CO2 added it won't count as real ale by CAMRA's definition). They've also intermittently had homebrewing articles in their paper. But these latest articles are some of the worst I've seen on homebrewing, and could be made so much better very easily - by getting someone who knows what they talking about to write them for example. 

Monday, 27 April 2009

Beer and food matching

As I've said before I'm not too taken with the whole beer and food matching thing. But there's a great combination I had on Sunday that amazingly will go with any beer:

Just drink vast quantities of beer the night before then fry up some lardy goodness for breakfast. There are many variations on this theme but the picture above is the selection I had after Farnham beerex: bacon, sausage, hash browns, egg and tomato. I still felt a little bit rough after scoffing this lot but at least I felt ready to face the world.  

Farnham Beerex

Saturday night was Farnham Beer Exhibition. It's my favourite beer festival. It's held at the old maltings, a venue that actually has some atmosphere.

There was a slight hitch at the start as I'd forgotten the poxing tickets and had to run back home for them before we got the train. I certainly earned my first pint. 

Over 80 beers were on offer, and a selection of scrumpy ciders for those who really wanted to dissolve some brain cells. No foreign beer bar though, so some of my friends who normally seek solace there were stuck with cask beer. 

I started off on Dark Star's Chestnut Ale, which was sadly a bit disappointing. I'm a fan of this brewery but the beer was brown and sweet and that's about it. 

Twickenham Fine Ales didn't let me down though, and both their Naked Ladies and Pale Beauty (a wheat beer) went down a treat. Good, hoppy beers I'd happily drink anytime. 

I was pleased to find Abbey Ales Bell Ringer on offer I'd heard good things about the brewery. It's an amber coloured beer nicely balanced with citrusy hops.

Several more beers followed, the exact details of which are now a little vague. A few had the whiff of wet dog about them, even beers that we've previously found to be great, like York Guzzler and Dr Hexter's Healer. Not sure what causes this, but off putting though it is it doesn't affect the taste. 

Beer of the festival for me was Oakham's Bishop's Farewell. I drink their JHB whenever I can find it so I couldn't resist trying something stronger from them. It's a cracking pale beer with the unmistakable taste of cascade hops. The lovely Lisa spotted this in an instant, which lead to her being accused of being a beer geek. An unfair accusation I think, I mean it's not like she's got a beer blog or anything.

At Farnham beer has to be paid for in tokens. An irritating system that can lead to even more over consumption than normal as you run round pissed at the end of the festival trying to use up the last of your tokens before they turn into worthless pieces of paper at 11 o'clock. This time I'd judged it about right, getting through a tenners worth and only needing to scrounge a couple off a mate to pay for my last half. Until Jimmy came running up with a fat wad of tokens and saying there was an emergency at 20 to 11 that is. It seems he'd lost track of the time and just bought another tenners worth. As no one wanted to see them go to waste we all trooped down to the bar and got guzzling. I managed a couple of Naylor's porter before the surplus token crisis was resolved. Nice beer it was too, but I don't think the final guzzling did me any good for the next day.

So I decided to have a day off the beer on Sunday, even though I was staying up to watch the boxing. Well done to Carl Froch, though he did cut it a bit fine.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Drunk as a skunk?

Not on this shite you won't be

Recently I got round to something I've been meaning to do some time and had a proper controlled experiment on the effects of light strike. Light strike is when the action of light on hop compounds in beer causes an unpleasant taste to develop.

But that's not nearly nerdy enough so I'll go on about it in more detail:

The isomerised-alpha acids (iso-humulones) from hops, which are responsible for most of the bitterness in beer, are very sensitive to the effects of light, particularly the 350-500 nm wavelength range. The light causes  a side chain on the isomerised alpha acid molecule to be cleaved, forming a highly reactive radical. The radical can then react with sulphur containing compounds to form 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol or MBT. This has an extremely unpleasant taste, and a flavour threshold as low as one ng/l. It is also the same chemical made by skunks, hence the American term 'skunked' for light struck beer. 

That makes it clearer doesn't it?

The wavelengths of light that causes this reaction are able to penetrate clear and green glass bottles but are absorbed by brown glass. So be wary of beer not in brown bottles. The effects can be avoided by using hop compounds that are resistant to the effects of light strike: reduced isomerised hop extracts. But wouldn't you rather have beer made with whole hops not a chemical extract? I know I would. 

Anyway, back to the experiment.

Having heard all about light strike and the horrors of MBT but never having been sprayed by the anal glands of a skunk I wasn't sure exactly what the taste was. But for a man of my scientific ability an easy solution was at hand. I took some of the last of my homebrewed American style hoppy IPA, put it in a clear glass and left it in the sun for an hour. Being a scientist I also poured out a small control sample which I put in a cardboard box. 

The light had a huge and obvious effect on the beer. It had developed an unpleasant rubbery stench and the taste was far worse. It reminded me of the tang found in cheap French lager from green bottles but much stronger. It was almost undrinkable, and I'm one who hates beer going to waste. The control beer on the other hand was not at its best from having been sat in a cardboard box but I had no problem getting it down. So if you don't like beer that tastes like its comes from the anal glands of a skunk keep your beer safe from light. 

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Succumbing to 'Spoons

I popped into my local Wetherspoons for lunch today. I succumbed to the temptation of their international real ale festival.

A lot of serious beer drinkers have a very low opinion of Wetherspoons. My mate Jim who likes to spend his time ticking off pubs in the Good Beer Guide (and is a Surrey compleatist) flatly refuses to go in any 'Spoons, even if they are in the good book. His argument is that there's no point seeking out 'Spoons as you know what you're getting every time.

This blogger
is also firmly in the no camp, which has lead to much discussion amongst internet beer nerds. Another blogger has a more open policy, taking each pub as they come, 'Spoons included.

My position falls somewhere in between, but with a definite bias towards mainly avoiding 'Spoons. As Jim said you know what you're getting each time, and it's just not going to have a good pub atmosphere. But I'm not going to go as far as saying I'll never set foot in one - I may be a beer nerd but I'm also a piss artist and I don't want to limit my drinking options.

And after meeting a friend for lunch today the exciting beer range swung it for me and 'Spoons it was. The place did have all the ambiance of a work canteen but as we were meeting for lunch that wasn't too much of a problem.

My mate Loui had a 'gourmet' burger and chips with a pint for just over six quid. As it's not uncommon to be charged three pounds a pint now this was definitely a bargain. The food was good too, which was a big improvement on last time I ate there. Best of all she decided to drink tap water so let me have the beer!

I chose Sinebrychoff Porter (6.2%), brewed by a Finnish brewer at Marstons. It was lovely with strong liquorish and coffee flavours, oily mouthfeel and a good whack of alcohol. Slipped down far too easily for lunchtime drinking though!

I was also please to see the had a few beer on from the excellent Twickenham Fine Ales, if they're on as regulars I might start getting tempted to return more regularly myself.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The New Inn, Send

On Sunday me and the Lovely Lisa popped in to the New Inn in Send. This has been a regular in the Good Beer Guide but we'd never managed to get there before. It was a nice sunny day though and the pub's by the canal side so it seemed like to good time to check it out. 

There were five beer on but not a very exciting selection. The only beer that was a bit out of the ordinary was Welton's Nationalistic Drivel(3.8%). OK, the beer wasn't really called that, but it had on the hand made pub clip loads of nationalist drivel trying to cash in on St Georges day. I know Guinness do well out of St Patricks day but that gets on my tits as well and attempts to do similar for St Georges day should be nipped in the bud before they take hold. Needless to say I didn't have a pint but the Lovely Lisa tried it. It was pale with a wet doggy smell and a slight hint of rubber in the taste so I don't think I missed out.  I settled for a pint of pride which was OK but nothing special. 

The pub was in a good location, it's nice being by the canal on a sunny day, but had a bit of a functional look and not much character. So we went home after one and I spent the rest of the afternoon sat in the sun in the garden drinking home brew until it was time to put the roast on. 

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Beer for the non-beer drinker

My brother Dave suffers from an unfortunate and embarrassing condition. He doesn't like beer. As a compassionate man I have taken it upon myself to try and find some way of bringing joy into his otherwise dull and meaningless life. 

As he's a big fan of coffee I first tried him on Meantime coffee beer. This did show some initial success but then he managed to detect hop bitterness so it was rejected.
Williams brothers Alba, an old fashioned ale flavoured with pine, worked a treat though and got the thumbs up. It's a shame it's not more widely available as it's a classic brew. I find the pine flavour makes for a really refreshing drink, despite its strength.

Last night I tried out on him a couple of brews I got from Booths when I was in the lake district. First up was another historic ale from the Williams brothers, Fraoch, the heather ale. I find this sweet and delicately flavoured. Sensitive soul that he is my brother managed to detect some bitterness but it still got the thumbs up. I know Sweet gale, or as it is less appetisingly known Bog myrtle, is used in making Fraoch. This used to be one of the bittering agents used in old fashioned unhopped ales so it's probably that he's noticing. I'd love to try making an unhopped ale but I'm not sure where I could get bog myrtle from. Would I need to wander round picking it next time I'm in the Scottish countryside? And which part of the plant do you use?

Next drink I tried was Crabbies alcoholic ginger beer. I was hoping this would be a beer with ginger added, like Dalesides Morocco Ale. In fact it was just a ginger beer with added alcohol.  It went down well with Dave but I can't count this as a success as I'm sure it's never been near a barley grain. I might as well have brought him an alcopop. It did open up another possibility though as my Chai beer has a strong ginger taste amongst the spiciness. I'll bring a bottle round next time. 

I find it frustrating that alcoholic beverages don't have to list their ingredients. It would be much easier to find out how unusual tasting drinks are made if they did. On the Williams brothers website no mention of hops is made but for all I know they could be included. No hops does fit in with the symptoms by brother displays of not liking hop bitterness (or Humulophobia to give it its Latin name) though.

I'm currently having a go at making an unhopped bragot flavoured with honey and spices inspired by Radical Brewing. It will be interesting to see how this goes down with Dave, and if anyone else has ideas for beer that might help him overcome his terrible affliction suggestions are more than welcome.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Britain - a nation of boozers?

Alcohol consumption in Britain actully quite modest shocker! The latest issue of Brewer and Distiller International reports that out of 20 countries surveyed Britain came in 14th place for alcohol consumption, well behind France and Germany. That won't make good newspaper headlines though will it?

Personally I'd like to see us move up the league table. Still, on the plus side, even if our overall alcohol consumption is less than impressive, SIBA continue to report rising beer sales.

And over the pond craft beer sales in the US have now reached 4% of the total market so lets hope we see more interesting beers being exported to Britain.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Harveys Brewery video

On the Guardian's website there's a video of Miles Jenner, the head brewer of Harveys, taking you through the brewing process.When you go on a brewery tour of Harveys it's usually him that takes you round. It's a lovely Victorian tower brewery, and Miles Jenner is clearly very proud of it and the excellent beers they make. I'd recommend the tour to all my fellow beer nerds. 

Watch the video here.

Ale in Langdale

The rest of the beer consumption me and the lovely Lisa did over Easter was in and around Langdale. We usually stock up on beers from the excellent range at Booths and spend the evenings drinking in a mountaineering club hut. The pubs in Langdale are always busy and charge tourist prices so I don't feel bad depriving them of business, and we called in at several pubs anyway: the Stickle Barn (the drinking barn might be more appropriate), the Britannia (nice but always busy) and the Wainwright Inn (nice pub but lacking in cosiness). All had a good range of beers on with Coniston breweries 'Britannia special edition' a 4.3% ABV beer in 'the Landlord style' being the most outstanding.

The evenings though were spent in front of the hut fire. Despite the wide range available in Booths I think good old Fullers ESB was the one that went down the best.

Here's the lovely Lisa toasting crumpets to go with her pint - another amazing food and beer pairing!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Advertising Standards Authority

The Advertising Standards Authority have pulled a Wells and Young's advert for Courage Worst.  Apparently the 'Take Courage' advert implying that half a can of the piss poor beer will give you the confidence to tell your girlfriend her bum looks big is just not on.

They have got a point though, as surely you'd have to be seriously pissed to say something that stupid to your girlfriend and half a can of Courage wouldn't do it. 

I have got a bit of a soft spot for the ASA as I made a successful complaint against InBev for the ridiculous claim that Leffe was "crafted in exactly the same way for 750 years".
It was dead easy to make the complaint as you just need to fill in an online form. InBev did have to pull the advert, but it just re-appeared saying this time "brewed with 800 years of tradition". Not sure where the other 50 years came from, or if anyone apart from me noticed, but it was fun seeing it happen. 


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Black Bull, Coniston

On Saturday me and the lovely Lisa went to the Old Man of Coniston. That's a hill not the some old codger by the way. The last time I'd been near there was to climb the classic route 'Eliminate A' on Dow crag. It was a glorious sunny day but I spent it all in the shade working my way up a rock face. This may strike some as being slightly odd. Cracking route though, and it was Keswick beer festival that evening so a good day all round. 

This time it was lovely and sunny again but we had more modest ambitions: maybe a bit of scrambling and then a trip to the Black Bull. We didn't manage to get the scrambling in but we certainly earned our beer out on the hill and didn't miss out on the pub trip. 

The Black Bull is the home of Coniston Brewery, where the award winning Coniston Blue Bird was originally brewed. This won the Champion Beer of Britain in 1998. Due to demand production of the bottled version was contracted out. Despite this the blurb on the bottle label about what temperature and glass to use has always said: "best drunk in the Black Bull in Coniston". 

Having had a few pints it Bluebird in my time both on draught and from the bottle I was interested in testing this claim. Sadly the claim didn't really stand up. The pint was clear and with no obvious faults, apart from the big Northern head, but it didn't taste anything special, and I've certainly had better pints of Bluebird before. I was tempted to try Old Man ale next as we'd just been up there, but I decided to give the Bluebird another go, this time without the sparkler.

Despite Northerners having some misplaced pride in their thick Northern heads I've never had any bother getting bar staff to take off the evil invention and serve a pint as it should be. The beer was much better without having air forced into it and was flavoursome throughout the pint, without the depressing blandness that using sparklers gives to beer. So there you have it: 

Coniston Bluebird -  best drunk without a load of air forced into it.

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Watermill Inn in Ings

Me and the lovely Lisa went to the Lake District for Easter. Our first stop on leaving the motorway was to call in at the Watermill Inn in Ings. This is a big pub with a real emphasis on beer which has it's own seven barrel brewery too. 

Here's a picture of the brewery from a window in one of the bars.

Their own beers have a dog theme to their name so we tried 'Isle of Dogs' (4.5%) a pale and hoppy one and Bit'er Ruff (4.1%) which was a bit darker and a bit less hoppy but otherwise pretty similar. As is often the case I found myself preferring the stronger one. 

The Watermill were having a beer festival over the bank holiday weekend but it was too far from where we were staying to get to without having to drive which would defeat the object really. Never mind, we managed to find plenty of beers elsewhere. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Back to brewing

I spent the day making beer at a commercial brewery on Monday. I met up with a friend from Heriot-Watt who now works there and helped him make a strong mild. Both the friend and the brewery are a little publicity shy so I won't be naming any names or showing any pictures. 

Here's some stunt wort standing in for the actual wort

The brewery was less than a tenth of the size of the one I used to work at but the processes were similar.  The details were different though and being a beer nerd I was very interested to see these, which I will now go on about at inordinate length:

Mashing in
They hadn't quite got a grist case sorted out from which they could mix in the grains with the mashing liquor, so the set up was more like my home brewing than when I brewed professionally. The mash tun was filled with hot liquor and the grains tipped in whilst stirring with a paddle. They had quite a high liqour to grist ratio so stirring wasn't as hard as it could have been. Still, I'm sure they'll be pleased when they get their latest building project is finished. The grist itself was quite complex, being made up of six or seven different grains. 

This was much more involved than I was used to. Instead of only pouring back the first three jugs of sweet wort they connected up a pump for a full 15 minutes of recirculation. Personally I'm very much in favour of having clear wort, though I did wonder if the recirculation time could be cut down.

The boil
Their current copper is gas fired whereas I was used to was steam heated. This did cause a slight problem when one of us managed to kick the gas supply lever and turn the burner off. Fortunately the interlude was only brief so no harm done. I have seen it claimed that direct fired coppers cause slight caramelisation of the wort but it didn't seem to be the case here.

Irish moss was added in the last 15 minutes, rather than protafloc tablets, to aid hot break formation and prevent hazes. I was slightly surprised at this as I find adding protofloc tablets to the wort one of life's small pleasures. They don't sell protfloc tablets at my local homebrew shop so I've been having to make do with Irish moss but I'd expected commercial brewers to have protfloc as standard. 

Late hops
This brewery took such care with their end of boil hops that they waited until the wort had had twenty minutes off the heat before adding them. This will help ensure that hop aroma loss due to volatile oils evaporating is minimised.  

The hop back
This brewery had one. The one I worked at didn't. Didn't make much difference, thought some breweries add aroma hops to the hop back. I heard from my mate he'd been to one 16-20 barrel brewery that only adds one kilogram of hops to the copper but adds ten to the hop back.  

The Fermentation Vessels
This brewery had closed FVs, which I hadn't worked with since Heriot-Watt. Obviously this meant the yeast couldn't be skimmed but it was a bottom fermenting strain anyway. It has been said open fermenters give better flavoured beers but I know of some cracking beers that come from breweries with closed fermenters I'm not convinced. The risk of infection to the beer must also be greatly reduced but not having the FVs open to the atmosphere.

The Conditioning Tanks
The beer here was conditioned under slight pressure. Not sure why this was, I should have asked really. Does this mean I'm failing as a beer nerd?

I didn't see any racking or bottling but my friend made it clear that both were very labour intensive so maybe I had a lucky escape. The head brewer was very particular in ensuring that everything was done to perfection and this did make for a long brewing day. 

Sunday, 5 April 2009 head

Oh dear I think I over did it last night. Me and the lovely Lisa went to Horsell to research the local pubs and managed to find one we like at a dangerously late stage of the evening. Having tried the Wheatsheaf (too much loud 80s music) and the Red Lion (really a restaurant selling beer) we decided to give the Crown a go for one last pint. This proved our undoing as we really liked it here and they certainly kept their beer well. The Hawkshead Lakeland gold was delicious so we couldn't stop at one. I wish we had though because we're both in pain today and the tea and pain killers haven't managed to shift it. It's not easy being a beer nerd.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Is CAMRA starting to crack on CO2?

Another interesting titbit has in What's Brewing has caught my eye. Amongst the motions for debate being put before the next AGM is this one from the Wessex region:

"This conference agrees that the ban on beers served from casks with cask breathers being listed in the Good Beer Guide is removed."

Is this the first crack in CAMRA's absolute opposition to any form of added CO2?

I remember when the debate about cask breathers was first raging within CAMRA and the arguments against were clearly bollocks. I'm sure some people were damanding the cellars of pubs in the Good Beer Guide should be inspected to ensure no cask breathers were present because you couldn't tell by tasting the beer. I thought if the beer tastes the same then what's the problem? Though I must admit I did have a sneaking respect for the level of fundamentalist mentalism being displayed I don't suppose it did much for CAMRA's image.

Whether this motion is passed remains to be seen but it's one to watch out for.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Free beer from Fullers

Who says CAMRA's no good?
As a member of a CAMRA complimentary club I just got sent a voucher for a free pint in a Fullers pub. Now if only I can find somewhere that's got their excellent IPA on ...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

And the lord said: "let there be beer"?

There's an odd snippet in the latest What's Brewing. Apparently three business men, who are all members of the Christian International Ministries, are planning to revive the Coors Visitors Center/Bass Museum as a national museum of brewing. A quick google revealed the Christian International Ministries to be exactly what it sounds like: an organisation of evangelical bible bashers.

So why on earth do these men what to run a brewing museum? Perhaps it's to put their side on some obscure theological debates. Did Jesus really turn water into barley wine?  Did he rise from the dead because it was he was gasping for a pint? Maybe the museum will promote creationism by saying beer was invented by God in 4004 BC?

Actually that last one won't work as some beers are clearly the work of the devil.

I've decided to help them in their endeavour by re-wording the ten commandments to reflect the importance of beer. Thou shalt not avoid thy round and honour the sabbath day by going to your local should help the beleaguered pub trade. I also think the parables could do with some updating so I'll be working on that too: Rejoyce, for I have found the black sheep (brewery).

From now on I shall also be offering a thought for the day, so remember it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Bud drinker to enter the kingdom of God!