Friday, 26 February 2016

Aged Porter

Having made a porter (or is it a stout?) with my diastatic brown malt I obviously wanted some Brettanomyces character too. The problems British brewers faced when they tried to go to single strain yeasts convinces me that Brett. must have been ubiquitous back in the day.
I used B.claussenii (the mildest flavoured of the Brett. strains) for secondary fermentation, as I’ve done successfully in the past. Previously I’ve found two months is sufficient for it to have done its work and the beer is then safe for bottling.
So that’s what I did this time round, and the beer conditioned fine and certainly had a very interesting flavour. I was somewhat surprised when I came back to the bottles a few months later to find that further fermentation had been carried out and the bottles had over conditioned. Never mind I thought, perhaps I’d over primed, but fortunately I have a solution that problem. So the bottles were carefully de-gassed until they were safe from fobbing. Or so I thought.
When, after another few months I opened a bottle I was shocked to find it gushing out the top and making a mess on my kitchen worktop. Rather embarassingly it happend with a bottle I'd given away too. There was clearly more going on than I thought. With diastatic brown malt, as well as less extract I got less attenuation. Instead of the 75-80% apparent attenuation I'd normally expect it was more like 66%. I had hoped that the Brett. would help increase the attenuation to something closer to that found in a normal beer but after two months not a lot had happened which is why I bottled the beer.

As the months went by though the Brett. finally got round to it and slowly began to chomp through the dextrins that normal brewing yeast can't ferment. The increased attenuation I'd hoped for finally arrived, just a little later (and messier!) than I'd expected. Those old brewers knew what they were doing when they aged porter for a year.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

New hop varieties

Every beer geeks favourite subject: new hop varieties. But to make it even more exciting I'm going to look at new hop varieties from 1955. Doing something
old and calling it new counts as innovative remember!

A hop variety bred as a Fuggle replacement
FC Thompson of Wye College gave a report* of the work of the hop breeding programme initiated by Professor Salmon. It is, as I'm sure you'll be expecting, full of fascinating facts and even has relevance to contemporary rare and sought after hops.

He points out that it can take ten years for a new variety to move from the seedling stage to commercial farm trials, so as Salmon's breeding programme started in 1906 it's hardly surprising that:
"Up to and even after the 1914-1918 war, varieties such as Bate's Brewer, Henhams, Meophams, Colgates, Prolific and Tolhurst come on to the market"
I believe most of these varieites are still in the national hop culture collection, though I know Bate's Brewer has gone. But suspect there aren't many that have been lucky enough to drink beer made with any of them.

As brewers became more critical and more defined in what they wanted these plants were eliminated from the market. As to the new varieties:
"... it is clear that for a new variety of hop to succeed it must meet some particularly need of the industry which is not already fulfilled by existing varieties."
Brewing trials were carried out at a number of large breweries and it was concluded that "many varieties showed considerable promise". However "Salmon referred to the development of a 'market resistance' to the New Varieties".

After 1930 they seemed to become more accepted and "in particular J.S. Ford and his colleagues at Messrs. William Younger's brewery, Edinburgh, became enthusiastic supporters" and new varieties began to be grown on a commercial scale. The expansion was slow though, as the Hop Marketing Board, which determined the price of hops, gave new varieties a low valuation.

It was not until 1941 that things began to change, and the war time restriction of imports may well have played a role. Further trials were carried out during the war and by 1947 there had been trials at over 70 breweries, once again with generally favourable results.

In 1944 the Association of Growers of the new Varieties of Hops was formed and demand for them was estimated at 6,000 cwt (300 metric tonnes), though only 1,500 cwt were available. The next important step was the formation of the New Varieties Committee of the Hops Marketing Board in 1948, and a new grading and valuation scheme was adopted in 1949, though at the time the prices for new varieties were not great.

By 1955 though Northern Brewer and John Ford had been upgraded to the Golding class, which really shows how Golding had stopped referring to a specific hop variety and was used as a quality (and price) indicator. There was a problem by this point that the supply of new varieties was not in balance with the demand. There was not enough production of "American substitute hops, Brewer's Gold and Bullion" or "high-resin hops of the Golding type, i.e. Northern Brewer, John Ford and, to a lesser extent Pride of Kent". Wilt-tolerant varieties, particularly OR55, were however very much over supplied .

Fuggles were the predominant variety at the time, as this much quoted statistic shows:
"Of the existing hop acreage in the country 75% is taken up by the Fuggle Variety, some 20% by Goldings and Golding Varieties and the remainder by New Varieties."
The author goes on to say why the Fuggle was so predominant:
"The Fuggle in contrast to the Goldings is a relatively easy hop to grow and will flourish on almost any soil that will produce reasonable arable crops. In the writers view this has been an important factor in establishing the dominance of the Fuggle on the hop market ..."
As the hop growers will have got a higher price for growing Goldings I've long suspected that so much acreage was given over to Fuggles because they were easier to grow.

Many of the wilt-tolerant varieties from over 60 years ago have done surprisingly well. Northern Brewer continues to be grown to this day, though John Ford lost out to it as it was more susceptible to downy mildew. Pride of Kent is no longer grown but it is the mother of Pride of Ringwood. OT48, or Bramling Cross, is also still in cultivation, as is 1147. The latter was a hop produced on that auspicious year by E.A. White, the previous owner of Whitbread's hop farm at Beltring in Kent. In 1955 it was not named but was classed as a Golding Variety along with Cobbs and Tutshams, and is now known as Whitbread Golding Variety. OR 55 (Keyworth's Midseason) was grown on a large scale but was not popular with brewers so went out of production. It has however recently been revived, as has OJ47 (Keyworth's Early). Sunshine apparently had a pleasant aroma but seems to have come and gone; but Early Choice was being grown at the time and is still around, now sold as Goldings, continuing the tradition of selling as Goldings hops that aren't really.

Other seedlings were being trialled: C2, D1, D3 and J2. The last had me reaching for my copy of Burgess' "Hops" as I had a suspicion it's another one Charles Faram have revived. And sure enough Burgess describes J2 under the name of Janus. 
The paper concludes that the main focus of Wye hop breeders at the time was on producing wilt resistant varieties that were acceptable to brewers as well as being good growers hops.
"Their work would be greatly helped if brewers could define, in some measure, what they require in a hop. For example, are such factors as high preservative value and delicate aroma still considered to be as important as they were in the past? Or is the answer simply that a wilt-tolerant Fuggle type of hop is all that is required?"
Over 60 years on the wilt-tolerant Fuggle is I suspect something like the second coming, not here yet but still imminent. As to delicate aroma, I think it's fair to say that currently fashion has swung the other way.

* An Appraisal of the  New (Wye) Varieties of Hops and Their Place and Future in Brewing. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. p210-216, 1955.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The best Old Ale in Britain

CAMRA move in mysterious ways, and I've never been certain how their competitions work. I think it's something like: win at local festival → regional competition → national competition. They seem to deliberately keep it hush-hush though. I know a brewer that had got through to the final of the Champion Beer of Britain competition who was only told off the record. On the plus side unlike the host of competitions you can pay to enter CAMRA actually buy the beer off you!

Back in early December I got a text off a friend at the Pig's Ear beer festival to tell me that Old Dairy Brewery Snow Top had won the London and South competition. Though I no longer work there I keep an interest in how my babies are getting on, and I passed the news on to the current head brewer. This was the first he'd heard of it, but he must have been kept informed of developments as he let me know at the start of this month that Snow Top was in the final at the National Winter Ale Festival. He didn't actually know when the result would be announced mind, but we figured as the CBoB is announced on the trade day it would be then, so that's when he booked his accommodation for.

I was tempted to head up myself but since I've been struck down with senile lightweightism I try and avoid mid-week CPD. I then forgot when the competition was, but when I saw tweets start about the competition I think it's fair to say my interest was rekindled, and I kept an eye on them throughout the day. When the result was announced I saw Snow Top didn't place so "bollocks to that" I thought and shortly after went home.

When I looked at twitter again on my arrival I saw there was rather more to it though. It might not have placed in the top three, but it won its category. The best in the Old Ale and Strong Mild category is a lot better than nothing and I have to say I'm rather chuffed.

The beer is the second version of Snow Top we did. The first did all that fruit and spices rubbish which, lets face it, doesn't really work. So the second time round I ditched all that and just aimed for a classic Winter warmer: dark malt, No. 3 invert sugar and English hops. I think it's a much better beer for it, and I'm glad to see others agree.

The best Old Ale in Britain
Well done to Glenn at the Old Dairy for doing such a good job of making it.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Warminster maltings

I was lucky enough to visit Warminster maltings last week. There was only time for the briefest of tours but it's a fantastic looking place.

It was built in1855 by local brewer and maltster William Morgan and remodelled in 1879 by his son Frank.

This was the year before the Free Mash Tun act moved taxation from malt to beer, so to this day the windows are still fitted with Customs and Excise approved bars, put in place to stop unscrupulous maltsters chucking grain out the windows when they saw the tax man coming.

Morgan family member E S Beaven seems to have been the E S Salmon of barley, as he bred the variety Plumage-Archer, which was a dominant variety in Britain until the 1950s. After Beaven's death Guinness bought the maltings, and when they wanted to close it in 1994 the head maltster Chris Garratt took it over, and the head brewer at Guinness's Park Royal brewery helped the new venture by giving them a contract for malt.The need for more funding lead to grain merchant Robin Appel taking over in 2001 and he has continued to invest in the company to this day.

There are several malting floors, where the germination takes place, on two levels.

Floor malting is very labour intensive, and before the grain even gets to the floor it has to be shovelled from the steep tank by to an auger by hand.

Don't know how much effort the kiling involves, but I suspect it's still considerably more than in a modern pneumatic maltings.

As we only had time to rush round I didn't take any notes so I really need to go back for a more leisurely visit. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

SA malt

What is this SA malt?

South African? No

Strasserite? No

Strong or Stock Ale? Could be!

To answer this vexing question I turned once more to the JIB archive, searched for "stock ale malt", and sure enough I got a hit*. There's not a huge amount on it but this table of cost of malt per pound of extract is clear on the name:

Cost per lb. of extract.
English pale ale malt
English stock ale malt
English mild ale malt

So it's clear 'SA malt' stands for 'stock ale malt'. But that's not the end of the story. Oh no! I also did a search for 'strong ale malt', and that also got a hit**.

In describing some of his research Morris says:

"An English strong ale malt was taken, and a normal cold-water extract (100 grams malt to 250 c.c. water) made from it by digestion for three hours with constant stirring."

His work was still incomplete but he does shed some light on the nature of the malt:

"Now, before passing to the other constituents of beer, as shown by this method of analysis, a few words may be said on the practical value of the determination of these low type maltodextrins. It is very evident from what I have said that this constituent is fermentable without very great difficulty, and in this fairly ready fermentability lies a great danger. On the one hand, we require sufficient of this constituent in running and semi-stock ales to give an early after-fermentation, whilst, on the other hand, we have to guard against an excess, which would result in "fretting." In the summer, the highest permissible amount in beers of the above mentioned classes is 5 per cent, of the total wort-solids, and even this amount is liable, when combined with other influences, to give trouble. During the winter, the percentage may rise above 5 per cent, without trouble resulting, but even then it is not desirable to greatly exceed this amount. In stock ales it will usually be found that the percentage falls considerably below this standard, but this is of little importance since, before the beer is required to be sent out other influences, promoting secondary fermentation, come into play."

Speaking of unfermentable material he adds:

"That it was a product of the malting process was shown by the fact that it varied with different classes of malt and in the beers produced from them: badly modified and low-dried malts yielding comparatively little of it, well-modified and high-dried malts giving considerably above the average. Thus, in a Pilsener lager beer only 2.3 per cent, was found, whilst in a Burton strong ale this residue amounted to over 8 per cent, of the total wort-solids."

So SA malt was called both 'strong ale malt' and 'stock ale malt'. I suspect it was almost universally known by the initials, so no one was really certain what they stood for. The malt was less ecomomical to use than mild ale malt, but more economical than English pale ale malt. And it led to beers with a low degree of fermentability.

* The Analytical Control of Certain Brewing Materials. Baker, J.L. and Hulton, H.F. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1907.

**  The Analysis of Beer, with some Remarks on the Unfermentable Reducing Residue. Morris, G.M. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 1894.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Another reinheitsgebot loophole

Not being a German brewer I'm not entirely certain what their 'beer purity law', the reinheitsgebot, is. Though it's usually given as 'only water, barley, hops and yeast can be used to make beer' it's considerably more complicated than that. Other grains, and some reason sugar, are allowed in top fermented beers for example.

I fact I do have suspicions that a lot of German brewing practice is designed to drive a cart horse over the spirit of the law whilst staying exactly within the letter of it.  An article in a recent Brauwelt highlights the various possibilities that exist for variety whilst staying within the law. An interesting one I hadn't heard of has been translated as follows:
"reviving historic beer styles which were customarily brewed in certain parts of Germany before the Purity Law came into force in those areas and for which the legal status of traditional speciality beers, exempted from the obligation to comply with the Purity Law by a provision of the current German brewing industry regulating legislation, can therefore be claimed" 
It seems there are exemptions for historic local specialities. So surely it's time for German brewers to study some of Ron's works.