Monday 30 November 2009

Ethiopian food and Bati beer

I ate in an Ethiopian restaurant on Saturday. A friend of mine is moving to Ethiopia soon to do volunteer work and wanted to know what the food is like.

Ethiopian cuisine seems to be based on curries served on injera, a type of bread that looks like a crêpe crossed with a crumpet. You tear off a strip of the bread, scoop up some sauce in it, and stuff it in your gob. It was about ten by the time we finally got to eat and I was so hungry this cutlery free way of eating put my fingers at real risk. Fortunately I managed to keep it together enough to just eat the restaurant food, and very good it was too.

For refreshment we first had Bati beer from the Kombolcha brewery in Ethiopia, mentioned in the beer book I'm currently reading. Described in the book as "crisp and refreshing" I found it quite malty for a lager and a pleasant drop. St George beer from the same brewery was more bog standard lager of the thin and sweetcorn flavoured variety.

We tried tej after after that, the Ethiopian version of mead. It was brought to the table in a unlabelled wine bottle and, staying with the wine style, I was poured a small amount to taste first. It was cloudy with a definite lactic taste amongst the honey but never having had tej before I've no idea if it's meant to taste like this or not. Being well brought up I truthfully said to the waitress "that's the best tej I've ever tasted", leaving off the fact it was also the worst tej I'd ever tasted, and it was glasses all round. Most of my mates weren't too taken with it but I found it went down well enough. That practice drinking lambic beers paid off I guess.

The Ethiopians also have a big thing about serving coffee ceremonially, and thought it was far too late for me to be doing that sort of thing some of my friends indulged. This involved having a pan of what I can only assume were roasted coffee beans wafted round the table (though to me it smelt of burnt toast) before coffee pots accompanied by burning frankincense were brought out and put on the table. It was certainly memorable but I might be suggesting people miss out on the coffee in future, incense smoke in my eyes isn't really my thing.

Sunday 29 November 2009

King Charles I, Kings Cross

I was up in the big smoke yesterday to have a meal with a friend. We arrived a little early so needed to find a pub for a pre-meal beer. The lovely Lisa had researched some pubs in the area but none were very convenient so we decided to us psychogeography to find somewhere to drink. We soon came across Northdown street. I had recently used northdown hops for the first time in my last brew so there was clearly a case of synchronicity at work here.

Sure enough we found a pub at the end of the street we'd both heard of but had somehow failed to included in our research notes: the King Charles I

It's an excellent cosy little pub with quirky character and more importantly, Brodies beers on draught. I hadn't managed to find anything from this recently launched London brewery before so was delighted to see them. The lovely Lisa started with the English Best (3.9% ABV) and I had the Amarilla (4.2%). The best was a great session bitter, that reminded me of Timothy Taylor's Landlord though it was darker. The Amarilla was, as I suspected, a golden ale flavoured with citrussy amarillo hops. We liked them so much we stayed for another and had the delicious Red at 4.3% ABV, dark in colour but with refreshing hops. All were great beers and I'll certainly be seeking out this brewery's beers again.

Thursday 26 November 2009

The World's Strongest Beer... 1988.

Amongst the beers tucked away at the back of one of my many beer cupboards I have a bottle of Roger and Out from the Frog and Parrot brewpub. The label on the back of it proudly boast of it being the world's strongest beer.

No alcohol content is listed, just the Original Gravity of 1.125. No champagne yeast or freeze distillation was used, it was just a very strong beer. 

It tasted foul too. I wonder if the years have improved it...

No minimum alcohol price in Scotland

Minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland is to be blocked but more daft ideas are still in the pipeline.
New fees for retailers are proposed, which no doubt big supermarkets will welcome as small shops have to stop selling alcohol, and raising the drinking age to 21 is also being considered, which I'm sure will reduce responsible drinking in pubs and increase irresponsible drinking in parks.

The BBC news item is here.

Monday 23 November 2009

Shot for collaborating

Well, I should be for my poor efforts at doing a collaborative brew

Whilst on young Rob's stag do we discussed the possibility of doing a joint brew. It seems the in thing for brewers do be doing at the moment. It also seems to be taken as an opportunity so show how zany and cutting edge you are, so naturally my thoughts turned to doing something like a black IPA or a pale, hoppy mild. Fortunately I must have sobered up at some point and thought bollocks to that and we decided to do an IPA. After a discussion about the recipe we decided on doing this:

In the mash tun.

Pale malt: 96.5%
Crystal malt: 2.5%
Amber malt: 1%

(Note: all percentages refer to extracts not by weight)

Target OG: 1064

In copper.

Boil for 1 ½ hours with the following additions.

Northdown 90min (for 40 IBU)
Northdown 15min (for 3-5 IBU)
Challenger 3min (for 1-2 IBU) + copper finings
Fuggles 0 min added after wort had cooled for 30 min

Rob had the first go and didn't quite hit target gravity but otherwise seems to have done OK.

I propagated some EdsLab Chiswick yeast last week as it's similar to the one Rob used. Brewing  started on Sunday morning and fell at the first hurdle. I rummaged around my grain store and saw I didn't have any crystal malt. "Oh, bugger" I thought. I'd forgotten I'd used up all my crystal malt stocks doing my Christmas beer. I had some British cara malt so I used that instead but felt bad about introducing another variable to the collaboration so soon.

The rest of the brew day went fine until I check the original gravity of the wort. It was way over. I'd aimed to go a bit high so I could liquor back to the gravity Rob had achieved but not this high. I used to be very stable in the extract efficiency I'd get out of my home brew set up but since having a university brewing education, working as a brewer and of course discovering Jims beer kit I've been making some changes. I'm getting higher efficiency now, and making better beer, but the change in efficiency means I misjudged the amount of grain I needed. 

When I was diluting the wort down to get to the target gravity I had to bring in a second fermenter to hold all the wort. At this point I realised I may be diluting the sugars to the amount I want but I'm also diluting the hops past the point I want. Once again, I found myself going "Oh, bugger". 

I'm disappointed that I didn't do as well as I'd hoped at matching Rob's brew. Simon will be doing his version soon and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. I suppose I can take some consolation in the fact I have gallons of IPA fermenting away, and it will still be interesting to see how it compares to my friends efforts. 

Saturday 21 November 2009

World's Best Beers by Ben McFarland

The lovely Lisa bought me this book recently. It's subtitled 1000 unmissable brews from Portland to Prague so I think seasoned beer nerds will know very well the type of book it is. I'm trying to read it from start to finish but I keep flicking forward to check out some of the beers he's included from around the world. It looks like a good selection and I'm sure it will give me some new ideas for beers to seek out.

The author has won Beer Writer of the Year twice, which is slightly embarrassingly for a beer nerd like me as I've never heard of the bloke before! If I'd won Beer Writer of the Year I'd be slightly embarrassed about parts of this book though. In the opening chapters the author displays a surprising lack of beer nerdiness technical and historical knowledge:

  • The opening line in the history section saying that beer is the oldest fermented drink in the world is straight out of wikipedia and clearly nonsense. The malting and mashing process required to get fermentable sugars from grains is a lot more involved than simply getting juice from a fruit. Recently another beer blogger comprehensively demolished the idea that beer could have been the first alcoholic drink. 

  • The box on International Bitterness Units (IBUs) says: "An IBU rating is a complex calculation that takes weight of hops, alpha acids, wort and alcohol strength into account". In fact IBUs are simply the amount of isomerised alpha acids present in the beer expressed in milligrams per litre i.e. 1mg/l of isomerise alpha acid = 1IBU. How many IBUs you'll get in a beer is complicated by factors like the weight of hops, their alpha acid percentage, the strength of the wort and the length of the boil but how the IBUs are calculated is not at all complicated.

  • In the section on mashing he says: "For less potent beers the mash is often sparged (sprayed with water) to achieve the right level of sugar content". It would be more accurate to say for just about every beer the mash is sparged.

  • In the yeast section lager yeast is called Saccharomyces carlsbergensis despite the fact it has been renamed several times in recent years and is currently called Saccharomyces pastorianus.
I could go on, in fact I probably will. There's nothing like using the internet to point out other peoples mistakes!

The better beer writers, perhaps not surprisingly, seem to have backgrounds in journalism and I would assume this is the case with Ben McFarland. When they start talking about technical stuff though they should really check their facts with someone who knows what they're talking about before publishing.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Wednesday 18 November 2009

That was fun while it lasted

My local Sainsbury's seem to have realised that they're making a mistake selling Fuller's Vintage at £1.99 a bottle. It's gone up to £3.29, and it isn't included in their current '4 for 3' offer.

So it's a good job I got my favourite brother in law five bottles last week :-)

Sunday 15 November 2009

Woking beer festival

Woking beer festival rolled round again this weekend. It's the only beer festival I can walk to, being about 20 minutes from my house. Well, on the way there it took 20 minutes, it seemed to only take five to get back. Such is the power of beer.

The festival is held in the local leisure centre, so it's a bit lacking in atmosphere until the third pint kicks in.

Beer of the night for me was Acorn's Barnsley Bitter.  I'd read about this beer on another beer blog and wanted to try it for myself. Despite it's modest strength (3.8% ABV) it's an excellent beer packed full of flavour. Session beers really are something British brewers do best. And speaking of session beers, I'd have been better off sticking to them all night I felt a bit poorly this morning. The lovely Lisa had to call upon the power of pork to save me, praise the lard!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Breweries on the beeb!

A couple of breweries have briefly featured on the BBC recently:

You get a brief glimpse of Wayland's brewery on Escape to the Country, as the owners are looking to move to Dorset. It's a property show so apart from eyeing up out-buildings and garages and going 'you might fit a brewery in there' there's not much else of interest for the beer nerd. I was probably more interested than most as Wayland's is quite close to me and I had a brief email exchange with Scott (the owner) to see if I could come over and do some work experience when I was studying at Heriot-Watt. Nothing came of it though so Wayland's missed out on the chance to gain the coveted status of righteous brewery.

There was slightly more to see on Countryfile, for starters it had quite a lot on 'the pub is the hub' showcasing the excellent Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket, Britain's first co-operatively owned pub.

Also they had one of the presenters taking the barely from his farm to Warminster floor maltings and then he went on to Hook Norton brewery. When I was working as a brewer I once spent a day at Hook Norton learning about how they do their lab work. I met the bloke introduced on Countryfile as the head brewer, James Clarke, though what they didn't mention that he is the Hooky heir. They were very nice people at Hook Norton so I had no hesitation in including them on the list of righteous breweries.

Monday 9 November 2009

Well, well, well

You heard it here first.

No sooner have I posted “I’m also getting a bit tired of James Watt’s attention seeking but that probably won’t change in a hurry " than James Watt's latest wheeze upsets the blogosphere.

A lot of my fellow beer bloggers do seem to be genuinely very pissed off. Can't say I'm surprised, as the deliberately courting controversy was wearing a bit thin and the Portman group aren't really the best target. If the Portman group's voluntary regulation was done away with then it would only be replaced with compulsory state regulation which I'm sure would be a lot harder on brewers like Brewdog.

Saturday 7 November 2009

CAMRA and Brewdog

I see from my fellow beer bloggers that James Watt from Brewdog has put the boot into CAMRA again. He said: “I blame CAMRA for single-handedly holding back innovation in British brewing”. He has said similar before, when he charmingly added the following regarding CAMRA members: "We've got better things to do with our time than worry about whether 200 fat idiots are drinking our beer or not."

He also likes to slag off session beers “Pretty much all the small UK brewers make the same boring 4% ales with the same boring hops and then package them in a folksy, old-fashioned manner”.  But then as he lives in a run down shithole in Scotland that no doubt has no decent pubs it’s hardly surprising a night in the pub on cask ales isn’t his thing.

Now, as a dedicated beer nerd I know that James Watt is prone to sweeping statements that provoke debate but in the cold light of day don’t really add up. But having said that his latest pronouncement does give me an excuse to go on again about my particular bugbear with CAMRA: their line on bottled beer.

CAMRA basically define real ale as beer which has not had the yeast removed from it, so can still undergo secondary fermentation in the container it is dispensed from. This means cask beers in pubs and bottle conditioned beers. I’m quite happy with CAMRA’s promotion of cask beer. If I’m in a pub that’s what I want to drink. Cask is the best way of serving the modest in strength beers I normally drink when I’m out for an evening. You get the best flavour from the beer that way, and keg beers of similar strength seem at best bland in comparison.

When they extend the line on ‘must contain yeast’ to bottled beers thought I think it starts to break. Bottled beers, with or without yeast, have a higher level of carbonation than cask beer so the difference between real ale and keg is much less noticeable.

When CAMRA were formed there were only five bottle conditioned beers produced in Britain , so it was fairly minor issue. The premium bottled beers market has grown greatly since then and now there are hundreds of bottle conditioned beers. I’ve had some great bottle conditioned beers, but I’ve also had some great bottled beers that don’t have any yeast in. And I’ve had a lot of god awful bottle conditioned beers from microbreweries that may well have contained yeast but also contained huge amounts of bacteria.

Brewdog mostly produce bottled beers, and though they’re not all to my taste some are excellent. They are however filtered and CAMRA’s line on bottled beers is that unless they have yeast in the bottle they are not real ale so are pretty much ignored. If they’re made in Britain that is. If they’re made overseas CAMRA ignore this and say that as they have different brewing traditions it’s perfectly OK for beers to be devoid of yeast. So for example CAMRA have been prominent in defending the Czech beer Budweiser Budvar which is certainly filtered and in all probability pasteurised too.

You can start to see why Brewdog may feel hard done by by CAMRA at this point. They’re mostly ignored except when their beer is in cask, which to be honest doesn’t show it at its best. The American microbreweries who Brewdog draw their inspiration from (or blatantly copy depending on how you want to put it) have also been pretty much ignored by CAMRA.

CAMRA does seems slow to change, which is perhaps why to many younger beer nerds that don’t remember the dark days of keg they now seem part of the establishment to rail against.

I do think CAMRA need to reassess how they look at bottled beers, as the simplistic ‘does it contain yeast’ just doesn’t work as well as it does for draught beers, and as foreign brewers are exempt from this it doesn’t make sense anyway.

I’m also getting a bit tired of James Watt’s attention seeking but that probably won’t change in a hurry either.


Wednesday 4 November 2009

Wandsworth common halloween beer festival

That looks suitably gothic for Halloween doesn't it?

On Saturday night I went to the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. Patriotism is of course the last refuge of the scoundrel. Fortunately for us the scoundrels had seen fit to fill their refuge with casks of beer.

They has their first beer festival here back in March which was all good fun but a lot of the beers were in short supply. This time there were good stocks, though sadly no Sarah Hughes, despite the claim on the website they'd have three barrels of it.

I started on a Purity brewing's UBU as I've enjoyed it from the bottle I couldn't pass up the chance to try it on cask and very nice it was too.

Then I worked through some of the offering from brewery's I like, such as Hop Back, Dark Star, Twickenham and Timothy Taylor. The lovely Lisa was a bit under the weather so we didn't stay too long. This gave me an excuse to wander into the stronger end of things, after I'd had a suitable warm up of course. Some of my fellow beer bloggers seem to drink whatever takes their fancy, either down the pub or at home, but I tend to stay at less than 5% ABV when I'm out and about, saving the strong ones for when I'm at home.

This is beer of the less than 5%ABV variety

I had a feeling that Ballard's Wassail was in 300 beers to try before you die and it looked like some stronger stuff was called for so that went down next. You could taste it was strong (6% ABV) but not overpoweringly so. Then for what was the last of the night I had a Orkney Skull Splitter (8.5% ABV). This went down surprisingly easily, which perhaps shows that it was not just time for the lovely Lisa to be heading home.

The crowd at the festival was surprisingly young and mixed, and hardly a beard or beer gut to be seen. Though it wasn't a CAMRA festival it certainly followed the same format:

Perhaps cask beer really is becoming more fashionable.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Poncey gastro-pub goes bust

The Morrisey-Fox pub has gone bust, despite having a TV series about it to help it get started. Morrisey and Fox did come across as arrogant plonkers who managed to piss off a lot of the locals so it's hardly surprising. The beers are still being produced, but who by remains a mystery.