Wednesday 30 March 2011

Ballast Point Calico Amber

I ended up in a Wetherpoons on Saturday and was pleased to see that their beer festival was on. Pick of the bunch was Ballast Point Calico Amber. It had the distinctive powerful citrus taste of American hops and was great on cask, which made me wonder why some people think beers like this taste best when they're kegged. I couldn't see how more carbonation and chilling would improve it myself. Oh well, each to their own.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Growing hops

I planted some hops yesterday. I thought with Spring intermittently arriving it was about time.

On reading the instructions I see they should have been planted in Winter. Oh well, hopefully they'll be fine.

The variety is Prima Donna, though the hops are sold as First Gold. I got the plants from Essentially Hops.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Experimental archaeology

As my experiments at making unhopped ale have rather surprisingly met with approval I thought it was time to taste it again myself.

This was the next surprise. It'd gone sour. Instead of the unpleasant mawkishly sweet taste I've come to expect from unhopped ales it's definitely got a touch of the lambic about it. Is this what ales tasted like? Did sourness make up for the lack of hop bitterness?

I'm sure that back in the day ales wouldn't have been stored in bottles for months until they went sour, but would they need to have been? Without access to modern cleaning and sterilisation chemicals and almost certainly without pure yeast cultures I'm sure ales would have soured very rapidly, or even started out sour.

There may have to be a re-think before I make the next one.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Barley beer

It's like wheat beer but made with barley.

My studies on fermentation have lead to to the suspicion that most of the characteristic taste of wheat beers come from the yeast not the wheat. So to investigate this I decided to make a beer with a wheat beer yeast but all barley malt. As I have no doubt that this is an entirely original idea I look forward to seeing my innovation included in next years beer style guides.

The wort for the barley beer was too hoppy really and the hop flavour came through strongly. Who'd have thought wheat beer yeast was one of the ones that are good for hop character? Underneath the hops the 'wheat beer' taste was very evident though. The beer also poured clear, confirming my suspicion that a lot of wheat beer haze is due to wheat proteins not the yeast.

I passed round a few bottles for the visiting CAMRA members on Saturday and it proved surprisingly popular. Could I be onto the next big thing in the world of beer nerdery? Black IPAs are so old hat, barley beer is where it's at!

Tuesday 15 March 2011

"Punk's not dead... just smells like it is", as someone once said to me at a Subhumans gig.

The "new" Punk IPA from Brewdog has arrived in my local Sainsbury's so I had to give it a go.

I was delighted when I first discovered Punk IPA in the early days of Brewdog. Since Safeways had become Morrisons and ready access to Goose Island IPA had ended I'd seldom seen American style IPAs so it was good to see one made by a British brewery.

Having said that, I can see why Brewdog want to change the recipe. When I got round to trying a direct comparison of Goose Island and Punk it was like seeing a competition between Picasso and an enthusiastic kid with a spray can. Compared to the complexity of Goose Island the Punk seemed a very basic beer.

Now Brewdog are more experienced I was interested to see what they'd done in their major revamp of Punk.

It pours with a strong aroma that reminded me of mint. That's a new one on me for beer so I got quite excited. The beer is hazy, which is a little off putting, and the taste...well the taste is something else. Apparently the new version is less bitter than the old but the taste was so hoppy it was almost undrinkable. It's like someone has taken a load of American hops, put them in a liquidiser and sieved the liquid into a beer bottle.

That may well be to the taste of some of my fellow beer nerds but the flavour was so strong I didn't find it pleasant. I won't be bothering to try the canned version when that appears.

Monday 14 March 2011

Organising a piss up in a brewery.

I have now been able to prove that I can, in fact, organise a piss up in a brewery. And there's really not much to it.

The local CAMRA branch came round on Saturday so I treated them to copious quantities of our regular beers and a few bottles of my experimentals for those that were interested. But more on those later.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Indian Pal Ale

Bottling my 'authentic' IPA gave me the chance to try out another idea I'd had.

Thanks to the combination of a misunderstanding and a typo we were once sent a pump clip design for an 'Indian Pal Ale'. This got me thinking. If India Pale Ales were exported from Britain to India, what might an Indian pal send back? And so a plan came together...

I made a concentrated extract of curry spices in vodka and dosed some of the IPA with 0.5, 1 and 1.5 ml of the extract on bottling.

The result was not quite what I'd expected. At the lowest dose you can't really taste the curry, but the bitterness is greatly diminished and there's a slight curry burn on swallowing. With increased doses the curry taste becomes more apparent and there's more heat when you swallow.

I'm not sure why curry spices in beer reduce the bitterness. Maybe your tongue gets overloaded. I know alcohol is meant to be good if your curry is too hot but I didn't know curry was a cure for over hopped beers.

The Indian Pal Ale is certainly different but I have to say a prefer the uncurried original.

Blame Diageo

Following on from the SIBA video beer writer Pete Brown has exhorted beer drinkers of all varieties to unite and celebrate beer in all its forms. "Old CAMRA" and "extremophiles", and just about anyone who ever says anything negative, are described as being damaging for beer at a time when a war on drink is taking place.

He goes further to say: "If you’re a minister wondering whether the industry deserves a break, you see a fragmented and ineffective lobbying body. By focusing on internal battles, we’re allowing wine and spirits on one side and teetotallers on the other to reposition beer as something not worth bothering with."

Now I'm all for drinkers solidarity but I really don't think a few beer nerds mouthing off on the internet is of interest to anyone except other beer nerds. And it's definitely not why the industry has a fragmented and ineffective lobbying body. For that I blame Diageo.

The Guinness and spirits multinational is in favour of seeing beer taxes rise and spirits duty frozen. The gossip I've heard is that to further this aim it's blocked the BBPA from campaigning against beer duty rises. So we're in a situation where the small brewers' organisation SIBA brings out a low budget video promoting beer made by large and small companies and calling for lower taxes, while the organisation that represents the companies making 98% of the beer brewed in Britain does very little.

Still on the plus side a least this means the budget for the video didn't stretch far enough to get a fly by of Spitfires.

Sunday 6 March 2011

McCrorie IPA

It is a truth universally acknowledged that beer styles evolve over time*. But that doesn't stop people having views on when they were at their best, particularly in the case of India Pale Ale.

Writing in the Brewer's Contact James McCrorie, the man behind the Craft Brewing Association, made clear his views on what should be in a proper IPA:

"[Extra pale malt] is the only malt to be used in brewing an authentic 'original' IPA. Any use of crystal or other coloured malts denies the description 'IPA', although the resultant brew may be quite good."

As it happens it's not unknown for me to use extra pale malt at work, which may well be equivalent to that used in early IPAs (though if you ask me it's lager malt made with posh barley).

The hopping regime is pretty straight forward too:

"Durden Park recommends 2 1/2 oz per gallon of East Kent Goldings."

And as I also happen to have East Kent Goldings at work I felt a bit of practical research was in order.

I made up a brew at 1.070 from all extra pale malt with the required amount of goldings and an attenuative yeast. I dry hopped it too for good measure.

It should have a long maturation, as James McCrorie says IPAs were often 12 months old before shipment. I have managed to leave it for a couple of months but the urge to try a bottle has proved too strong. I can resist everything except temptation.

It is unsurprisingly a very pale beer with an intense bitterness reminiscent of that modern American invention the Double IPA. It doesn't have the huge flavour of citrus or pine from American hops though, with the more restrained East Kent Goldings making the beer taste more like a bitterer version of Meantime IPA. After a few sips the bitterness becomes more bearable and it gets surprisingly drinkable.

I really mustn't though as I want to see how it changes as it ages so I'll try and keep my mitts off for a few more months before I retest.

* Except by those that don't acknowledge it of course.

Thursday 3 March 2011

The age of the micro pub

There was an interesting piece on the television tonight about the Butcher's Arms micropub, with some excellent product placement.You can watch it here.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Lumpers and splitters

A large part of my holiday reading was Ron Pattinson's excellent "Porter!", a huge collection of lightly edited posts from his blog on all types of stouts and porters, including surprisingly enough occasional pale ones.

An early article argues against the "Stalinist fantasy" of the ever growing number of rigid style guidelines from the BJCP, instead opting for the "Trotskyist" position that there's a permanent revolution of beer styles as they evolve over time.

Now I must admit he has a point, but as I've already been called a Stalinist by the other great blogging beer historian Martyn Cornell I find myself in a difficult position. Am I a Stalinist-Trotskyist or a Trotskyist-Stalinist? Is such a thing possible? Maybe, I have always thought that the differences between Stalinism and Trotskyism are greatly exaggerated. What would Nestor say? "Never trust a Bolshevik" probably.

So I'll move on to terminology I'm happier with. The good old taxonomist's terms of "lumpers and splitters". As far as beer styles go Ron would be called a lumper, as he reduces the number of British beer styles down to four: porter, mild, bitter and strong. I certainly have more sympathy with this way of thinking than the splitters of the BJCP with around 80 beer styles or the Brewers Association which now details well over 100.

I'm going to drift off topic now as far as beer blogging goes but bear with me, I think it makes sense. Working as a microbiologist I saw many changes in the names of bacteria due to advances in DNA technology. The Salmonella genus went from having over 2,000 species to just two, and an old favourite Chlamydia psittaci suffered the indignity of being re-classified as Chlamydophila psittaci. This meant we had to call a number of bacteria we'd worked with for years by new names, even though they were exactly the same organisms. To use a beer example lager yeast has had its name changed from Saccharomyces carlbergensis to Saccharomyces uvarum to Saccharomyces cerevisiae to Saccharomcyes pastorianus.

As a scientist I thought the point of classifying things was to help us, not confuse us, and I can't help but think the same when it comes to beer. So having an ever growing number of beer styles, including such delights as "American-Belgo Style Dark Ale" doesn't bring any clarity, it just adds to the confusion. Equally though excessive lumping would lead to a lack of information being conveyed, so though Ron may have only four beer styles we find in Porter! details of various sub-styles from the early all brown malt porters to the weak milk stouts to the strongest imperial stouts.

With the vast range of beer produced, and the variations over time and between countries it's clear that if beer styles are to be of any use they have to be broad categories. But really it's best to see them as adjectives not nouns, so they are ways of describing things not definitions to be adhered to.

This means some of the dafter beer styles like Black India Pale Ale do actually have a use. Clearly a black beer is not in any way a pale ale but if you order one you'll know what you're getting: something black with a strong flavour of American hops and only a slight roast grain taste. Or in my case not getting, as they're not to my taste.

I'm not entirely certain whether this makes me a lumper or a spliter, but I do know that what I want when I'm looking for a beer is to be given information that's actually of use to me.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Proud of British beer

I've just wached the new 'Proud of British beer' video. Whilst I didn't feel any vomit rise to the back of my throat, like I did when watching the 'I am a craft brewer' video, I did suffer a slight feeling of nausea so be warned.