Monday, 24 April 2017

A craft beer conundrum

There's a right lot of idealistic twaddle written about craft beer. I've been trying to get together a post about the need for a proper materialist analysis but it's been hard work so it may never appear.

Not having got my thought fully in order I was unsure what line to take on the craft beer conundrum I spied on a recent visit to Tescos. What am I to make of Adnams dry hopped lager going for 96p a can?

Is it:
  1. An abomination that Tescos are devaluing craft beer by selling it cheaply?
  2. An abomination that Adnams, a company that makes cask bitter, is devaluing craft beer by selling beer in small cans that cheaply?
  3. A bargain. 
Help bring about a better understanding of craft beer by voting in my handy poll.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A visit to Pope's Yard brewery

When I was organising trips to for the Brewery History Society this year I was keen to include Pope's Yard in Watford. It's not an old brewery, but I know they have an interest in old beers. One of the beauties of beer is that although a brewery might be long closed it is possible for its beer to live again. Or at least something close to it.

I've had a few goes at reviving old beers, and experimenting with how old beers might have been. One thing I have in common with Pope's Yard is that we've both had a go at reviving Benskin's Colne Spring Ale, though they've done a much better job of it than me.


There's a shrine to Benskins at one end of the brewery, complete with bottles of Colne Spring Ale...


... and the Journal of the Brewery History Society


The Business end of the brewery is a small German kit...


...with a smaller pilot plant for good measure:



My researches into Colne Spring Ale involved emailing a few libraries and collections which was sadly fruitless, so I based my version on an analysis Ron posted. Geoff at Pope's Yard did considerably better by physically looking through old records. Amongst some documents on brewery properties he found the Rosetta stone of Benskins: a booklet detailing how their beers were made.


As well as the historical and experimental beers Pope's Yard do make some more 'normal' ones too, which is just as well as I had a long day. All of their beers were enjoyable to drink, and I found them interesting too. A lot of the 'innovation' in breweries at the moment looks like arbitrarily throwing in a new ingredient or following the latest fad which doesn't really interest me. But at Pope's Yard you can see they're exploring where their curiosity leads them to create a fascinating range of beers.

Geoff and Ben were excellent hosts and I look forward to seeing where Geoff's recent research into ancient Sumeria via Burma takes his brewing.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Science of Beer

Last month I did my bit for British Science Week by giving a talk on malting at the Youngs brewery in London. Well, sort of the Youngs brewery as it must be ten years since it closed, but it was on that site and there was beer from the Ram brewery there.



I was particularly pleased about that last point, as though I did visit the Ram brewery once for a SIBA event I didn't manage to get any of the beer. It was good stuff too, with that nice tongue coating bitterness.



A series of speakers was lined up, which started with Steve Livens, who at one point was a microbiologist at Youngs, though he's now at the BBPA where he spends his time trying to destroy craft beer at the behest of his evil multinational overlords, amongst other things.



His talk stated by going back 10,000 years to the earliest history of beer, and took us up to the present day and the nutritional benefits of beer.

Next was Charlie the head brewer at Wimbledon brewery, who took us through the brewing process and the materials involved.


John Hatch then gave a fascinating talk about Youngs brewery...

I'll forgive him for not doing his lab coat up, we were in a bar
... which included this fascinating slide:


What do you see there? That's right Farnham bells! I thought this was exciting until on the way to the toilet I saw the actual hop pockets themselves:


Sadly two of these hop farms have gone, but the Hampton Estate is not only still growing hops, it has recently expanded production. Intriguingly though it now only uses one bell on its hop pockets.

I was on after an interval, which was perhaps for the best as it gave more people more time to pour beer down their throats before my scientific onslaught. As I'd been asked to talk at a science event I'd been pretty merciless in cramming the detail in to my talk. Steeping, kilning, germination, Maillard reactions, that sort of thing. I don't know if it's quite what the audience were after, but I felt I'd done my bit for science.

I was followed by Craig who took us through his experiences of home brewing, and the difficulties in getting it right. 


He's now adopted a feedback system based on his experiences as a computer programmer, which didn't sound a million miles from the Deming cycle.

Lastly we had a poet, who moved things back to history and his plan to recreate a Youngs brewery dinner based on an old photograph of a staff event.


Then it was time for a quick pint or two of networking before heading home.







Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Why can't I get just one kiss?

I recently gave a talk on Brettanomyces and sour beers at work, included in which was a brief overview of sour and Bretty beer styles. Explaining what gose was lead to me getting some horrified looks. Does sour and salty beer, often with added fruit, sound unappealing I wondered? So I had to get some for my colleagues to try. I went home via Dorking that night and called in at Cobbett's Real Ales to pick up a can of Magic Rock Salty Kiss, a beer I must confess I hadn't been taken with when I first tried it. As is usually the case with me the drinking though, this was purely for research purposes so whether I enjoyed it or not was irrelevant.

I split the can between six of us, and no sooner had a started pouring than people were asking "is it meant to be cloudy?". "Yes, it's craft beer" I replied. But was that a touch of snark creeping into my voice? I do find the thought of  ahistorical historical beers slightly grating. And I've a sneaking suspicion that a beer called Salty Kiss is a prime candidate for public shaming on Pump Clip Parade. So I summoned up my best scientific objectivity and resolved to act in an unbiased and professional manner. I was somewhat lost for words when the next question was "is it meant to have floaters?". Haze can be perfectly acceptable in some styles of beer, wheat beers included*. Floaters though? Noticeable dark bits bobbing round in the beer? Surely that has to be considered a fault. So I just muttered again "yes, it's craft beer" and pressed on.


The reaction to the tasting wasn't great, and despite the small amount of beer I'd put in each glass three weren't finished.  



But on the other hand, three were. One of my colleagues said he could see if being a refreshing beer on a hot day, though thought the salty after taste detracted from this slightly. As for myself, I actually noticed a lot less salt than last time, and emptied my glass quite easily. I really need to try it on a hot day next, maybe I'll get why people like it then.







*Though I'm not sure if is Salty Kiss is a wheat beer, it wasn't listed on the ingredients but was listed as an allergen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Coming to an understanding with Orval yeast

The trouble with brewing with the Orval Brettanomyces is that it's a complete beast. The first time I tried brewing with it it pulled on it's hobnail boots and trampled over all the other flavours I'd tried to get in the beer. It seems to me to brew successfully with it you need to limit its growth as much as possible or the beer will become unbalanced.

I reviewed the information I'd got when I visited the brewery and this is very much what they do there:
  • Mash at 60°C so there's maximum fermentability for the primary fermentation with Saccharomyces. 
  • Include a large proportion of 100% fermentable sugar for the primary fermentation.
  • When bottling the beer pitch 99% Saccharomyces and 1% Brettanomcyes for the secondary fermentation.
Apparent attenuation is over 90% before the Brett. is added, though it does get to 100% after the secondary fermentation.

Armed with this knowledge my latest attempt at making an Orval like beer had a long and low temperature mash, with a very small Brett. addition on bottling...and it worked! I got a crisp tasting beer with a touch of funk and no nitrogenation. I'm rather pleased with this one.



Monday, 6 March 2017

More on malt

As promised the excellent Joe Hertrich has returned to the Master Brewers' Association of the Americas podcast to talk some more about malt. This time it's about the bits missing from his last talks: flavour and aroma.

Unlike colour flavour and aroma cannot be defined by a number but are defined by kilning technique. Though steeping and germination are fairly uniform throughout the industry there is a lot of variation in kilning. It is the most energy intensive process in malting due to the electric fans and fossil fuel heat.

Unless you have a dialogue with your maltster they will focus on meeting the specs on moisture, colour and not destroying DP (Diastatic Power).

Colour, flavour and enzymes are liked. Flavour compound development is parallel to colour development and enzyme destruction. For example, distillers malt has very low colour and very high enzyme content. Pale malt has more flavour but less enzymes. Very little flavour or colour is created below 60°C (the temperature distillers malts are kilned at). If the same green malt split and kilned to make distillers malt and pale malt the distillers malt will have 220 DP and the pale malt 140.

Enzyme conversion creating Maillard reaction precursors happens around mash temperatures (63-68°). Simple enzymes will have been created already in well modified malts and simple sugars will be created in the kiln at these temperatures. Amines and sugars are the Maillard precursors. This conversion phase can be controlled to emphasise it or de-emphasise it.

Green and grassy flavours are eliminated in the kiln at around 80-85°C. Lipoxygenase is also eliminated at 85°C (so why use null lox barley?).

At high temperatures and low moistures Maillard reactions create melanoidins. Light melanoidins are biscuity and toasty, dark melanoidins are more like coffee and black chocolate, with toffee flavours in the middle. Caramelisation does not happen in the kiln, only in the roaster.

Withering is the free drying of surface moisture of green malt. It is carried out with high air flow and low temperature and the moisture content goes from around 45% to 12%. High humidity air will come off the kiln. At the break point when the free moisture has been drive off curing starts and the bound moisture is removed with high temperature air which will leave the kiln at low moisture content. The moisture content will from from 12% to around 4%. Each of these phases uses half the kilning energy.

Lager malt is designed for adjunct brewers. It as minimal flavour and is made with very rapid air flow but minimal temperature so minimal Maillard reaction precursors are formed and minimal melanoidins created. It is cured at 80-85°C  just on the borderline of driving out the green and grassy flavours. It will have low colour, high DP (140) and lipoxygenase will still be active.

It's not the best base malt for all malt craft brewers, who should look to other malts.

English pale ale malt is the strongest base malt, better than US pale or German pilsner. Kilned with rapid air flow and low temperature until the break point and then cured at a higher temperature than US pale, 90-105°C at the end when moisture very low. This give twice the colour of US pale at 7.1 EBC. It's not unusual to have UK pale malt at less than 3% moisture. DP is 90 or 100 with no lipoxygenase. The real value is in the flavour notes though: no raw grain flavours whatsoever.

Light melanoidins formed by the little Maillard reactions there were, giving a toasty biscuity flavour. Much cleaner and with all the green grassy and weak aroma eliminated. German pilsner malt lets you produce a German flavour: grainy and high in DMS. In the US for English type pale malts you want "high dried".

If you want flavour there's also Vienna malt. In the withering process there is also a little re-circulation as temperature increases so more heat goes to a high moisture grain and some enzyme conversion occurs and a higher amount of Maillard reactions occur. Kilning is at 90-96°C. Raw grain flavours are eliminated by now you get more of the darker, sweeter, melanoidins which a lot of people think of as malty flavour

The light Munich types start with significant recirculation and hold when still above 25% moisture to get ezymic conversion before the moisture is gone and significant Maillard reactions occur. When heated to 100-105°C you get malty and sweet aromatics due to Maillard reaction products. If you're after flavour you will have to accept higher colour and lower DP, but Munich malt will still have enough enzymes for starch conversion.

"Lower colour expectations are the enemy of malt flavour". Maltsters looking for low colour will first have to seek low protein barley and make less modified malt so the amount of simple amines is reduced. But this reduces overall malt functionality and extract. Then there be low temperature, high flow klinings with minimum cure temperature to avoid melanoidin formation, but this risks green grassy notes. It makes no sense to use very pale malts with darker speciality malts.

Roasting is carried out in very small batches compared to white malts, also for a short time (2.5-3) hours. Malt is put in a drum and heat applied. This can be done without drying, which you can't do in a kiln. You can apply heat to low moisture grain but most roasters are loaded with green malt directly from germination at around 45% moisture. You can put it up to mashing temperature and do mini-mashing in the roaster. Temperatures can go up to 175-260°C, depending on the depth of the flavour and colour required. Caramelisation of sugars will occur, and all enzymes are destroyed.

If barley variety makes a difference to malt flavour it is very small. Differences in malting processes make much greater difference, both between different malting plants and the different processing and kilning that different barley varieties may need to make malt of the same specification. So though flavour differences do exist they are due to the malting and not barley genetics.


Friday, 24 February 2017

Brighton networking and CPD

I met up with some old colleagues from the Old Dairy Brewery for a day of networking and CPD recently. We met at the Evening Star, and despite the large selection it had to be the fairly weak Hophead for me. It was going to be a long day.


After a couple there it was time to move on to the Craft Beer Co., where I had a rare foray into keg, despite cask beer being available. There was one beer with a ludicrously minimalist plaque that amused me. We did ask the barman what it was called, and it was neutron star or something, the design implying something small and dense.




The ABV was pretty dense too so I went small with a third which I didn't actually finish. It was far too cold when I first got it, and when it warmed up it tasted too much like chocolate for me. Never mind, I was here for research not to enjoy myself, and someone else did finish it. Don't worry, no beer was left unfinished during this research trip. The burgers at Craft Beer Co. were good though.


I found a flaw in the beer mat design too
The it was on to The Beer Dispensary. I was delighted to see the reigning Champion Beer of Britain on draught. It's made by Chris Bingham, another ex-colleague of mine (from another brewery which was a decidedly less pleasant place to work at).





Then it was back to the Evening Star for the group photo...




... and some of Gadd's glorious IPA.


Definitely the beer of the day for me, so the CPD went well too.
a

Monday, 20 February 2017

It's only going to get worse

I don't often buy bottled or canned beer nowadays but whenever I'm in the Lake District I have to peruse the excellent selection in Booths. The one in Keswick has been rearranged since my last visit and there's now a section labelled "traditional ale" where all the 500ml bottles can be found.


The 750ml bottles and 330ml bottles and cans are in a separate, unlabelled section. I guess they haven't got the "craft" sign printed yet. The division is as clueless as you would expect from a supermarket, it doesn't matter what the beer style is, if it's in 500ml bottles it's "traditional".

Traditional beer from Adnams

"Craft" beer from Adnams


The two sections also gave me an excellent opportunity to investigate beer pricing in the wake of Thornbridgegate and I'm afraid the news is not good. The Adnams beer in 500ml bottles sold for £4 a litre, in 330mls £5.80 a litre. The best though was from Roosters:



The 500ml bottles and the 330ml cans are the same price, so you can get exactly the same beer at £3.50 or £5.30 a litre depending on your container preference.

Oakham brewery is still flying the flag for lovers of hop juice in 500ml bottles.


But how long will it continue to do so when it could crank the price up 50% simply by putting its beer in smaller containers?











Friday, 17 February 2017

A visit to Meantime brewery

After the excitement of the Wimbledon brewery it was Meantime next.

Here's some cylindroconical fermenters:

 And there's a close up of the conical bit:

Our genial host:


The sink was ten grand apparently, though it is rather snazzy. 


Ready for hop additions:


The Aber perfect pitch which uses capacitance to count viable yeast cells.


Some indoor fermenters:


 With a pressure relief valve and anti-collapse valve:


I know one of these people:


 Then a trainee showed us something he'd been working on...


...which was really rather good, if a little young.


The re-revived Thomas Hardy Ale has been going for three years now and still not a drop sold. I dare say it won't be too long before some finally finds its way to the shops, and I look forward to having some more.

Then it was time for some more thorough research.


Having enjoyed the visit I was in an ecumenical mood and thought it was time to try the tank lager. Though I have absolutely no idea how serving beer in larger containers is supposed to make it fresher the lager was fine. A bit grainy, but it might be how it's meant to be, and it was better than the tank  ale.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A visit to Wimbledon brewery

I visted Wimbledon brewery last week. It's a 30bbl plant built by Olympus Automation.


These are the same people that built the Old Dairy Brewery's 30bbl plant, though it has a few improvements.

Like a mash tun that mostly empties itself.


And a spreader in the copper.


 

We were being shown round by Derek Prentice, who was keen for us to try the beers. Which seemed like an excellent idea to me.


They do them in cask, keg, bottle and can and I tried them all. All were bright, and no prizes for guessing which I preferred.

After that it was back to the Goose Island place to enjoy some more of their hospitality before I headed home.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

CAMRA Kremlinology

The workings of our mother church can be impenetrable at times. So I was pleased to be invited to a BGBW do to hear from the CAMRA revitalisation committee.

I didn't make it to my local revitalisation meeting, I was planning to go but a friend arranged a visit to the Dorking tunnels on the same day and I couldn't miss that.

They're dead good, go to a depth of 20m too.

I hadn't read the Revitalisation report either, what with there being things to do and only so many hours in the day. I've stopped questioning our church's teachings anyway. Back in the early days of this blog I used to whinge on about the bits that were bollocks but the Tandleman himself, the defender of the faith, put me straight. "CAMRA is about cask beer, all the rest is commentary" he said. Or something like that. And with those words the demon whispering on my shoulder was banished for good. Cask beer is indeed god's work, and it should have an organisation to defend it.

Michael Hardman
So, unprepared, I was looking forward to hearing about what had been going on. After being introduced CAMRA founder Michael Hardman reported on the 18 months of the Revitalisation project. The first six months were spent discussing what to do, the next six months travelling round the country to 50 regional meetings, and then six months arguing about it! He said he'd met some of the most enthusiastic beer drinkers in the country, and some of the greatest dinosaurs.

That last point interested me, as I suspect I count as a CAMRA dinosaur myself. Certainly given the choice I will order cask beer over keg probably greater than 999 times out of a 1000. I wonder if there's a term for crafties that never drink cask? Oh yes, heathens.

Hardman stated the conclusions in the report are that CAMRA should keep its name and build on a strong brand with a vision of seeing quality real ale and thriving pubs. It is not a manifesto for the status quo though, as if CAMRA is to survive in the long term it needs significant change. It needs to shift it's focus from a technical definition to a focus on quality, and build knowledge and understanding.

He continued that CAMRA sees real ale as the pinnacle of the brewers art, but not all quality beer is real ale. I thought there was some clever wording here, as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but we'll see how it pans out.

He finished saying the campaign must move to improve quality of beer, cider and perry in commercial settings. CAMRA should fight the anti-alcohol lobby. CAMRA's views haven't really changed since it started and with 185,000 members there was some compromise, but the recommendation sent to the national executive was the collective view of the committee.

There were some interesting points in the discussion. It was mentioned there were also three online surveys, and over a 1000 people took part in the surveys who weren't CAMRA members. Meetings also took place with SIBA, the BBPA, politicians and publicans. But for all the questions raised there seemed very few answers though. This could be because the national executive seem to have had kittens when they saw the project's recommendations. OK, that wasn't exactly how it was put but CAMRA Kremlinologists can draw conclusions from the fact that the current national executive decided to delay any decisions until 2018, and three of the Revitalisation committee have decided to stand for election to the national executive. Hearing this moved me to made a rare break from my strict abstentionist position and cast my votes. It will be interesting to see how things develop.