Thursday 28 March 2013

Drinking keg at the Kernel

I don't normally start drinking at 10 am, particularly when it involves dashing up to London to drink keg beer. But sometimes you have to make exceptions.

And when Stan Hieronymus asked if I'd like to meeting him for a beer whilst he's over I felt an exception was definitely in order. 

What with it being early I started on the table beer, a weak (3.2% ABV), pale and hoppy number with a distinct yeasty haze. It was served from a keykeg, though the carbonation levels seemed reasonable, but it was, like the whole building in fact, definitely on the cold side. After nursing this pint (actually 330ml so more like a half) I had the biere de table, which was a bit stronger (4.7% ABV), and made with saison yeast, something I'm rather fond of. 

I enjoyed the beers, but like me they could have done with being warmer. I didn't calculated the price per pint until after we'd left, but it was a bit of an eye opener (£4.30 and £5.16 respectively). I guess that's craft beer for you: keykegs and passion don't come cheap! It definitely has a market though. We left after a couple of beers as I was starting to fear for my extremities, but the place was really starting to get busy by then.

We battled our way though a biting wind to London Bridge station where Stan went to continue his busy cultural schedule and the lovely Lisa and I went into the nearest Fullers pub. Our bodies needed some food and warmth by then, and for the sake of my immortal soul I said a quick Ale Mary and got some ESBs in. When we'd defrosted we braved Borough Market but the Utobeer selection didn't really grab me. We had one for the road in the Market Porter and then headed home. Having got sustenance for my mind, body and soul I was really in need of nap by this point.     


Friday 22 March 2013

Going up in the world

Not content with being Head of Lids, Dave at work is also in charge of the hop garden.  He was busy today adding hooks to the wires.

I was hoping he'd do it on stilts but instead he enlisted the help our neighbouring farmer and his telehandler.

Never mind, we may be getting the wire work sorted with modern technology but we'll be getting some very traditional varieties of hops.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Stone the crows!

I've found a craft beer pub! On Saturday I met up with a couple of old friends in London for a beer or two.

First I used the opportunity to try some of my beers on draught so we called in at the Hundred Crows Rising. I was delighted to see they had the AK on so I belatedly raised a glass to the lads from the valley for the greatest footballing achievement since 1911. Very much a gastro-pub, though we were perfectly welcome just drinking beer, it had the contemporary open plan, bare floor boards and no soft furnishings design.

I was expecting more of the same when we moved on to our next stop, the nearby Islington Craft Beer Co. But much to my surprise they had carpets (except by the bar), curtains, and comfy seats. A welcome development, not just for beer lovers with chalfonts but for people who like a chat. I don't know why all the other craft beer places I've been too go for the stripped back bar look but I prefer a place with a bit of cosiness and something to absorb the noise of people talking.

They had a long line of hand pumps, there were keg taps round the corner for those lacking in moral fibre and there were bottled beer menus on each table for those with more money than sense.

After a brief loiter at the bar we settled into some seats and that was it for us moving on again. We did wander round the hand pumps a bit though, and my favourite was Siren's Undercurrent (4.5% ABV). Advertised with the world's largest pump clip it had an unusual mix of American hops and oats in a pale beer which worked surprisingly well and avoided the one dimensional nature of many beers that are hop forward in the modern style.

 It was good to be in a craft beer place that felt like a pub not a bar, and I do hope it catches on.

Friday 15 March 2013

Sod the craft keg

It's the price of craft bottled beers that gets on my tits. Over at Tandleman's there's been a discussion about the price of craft keg beer, but as barring unforeseen circumstances I'm not going to drink any of it I don't really care if it retails for a fortune due to breweries using incredibly expensive single use key kegs.

As I do get a fair few bottled beers though I do care about the price of craft bottled beers, and I don't see how some of them can justify their inflated prices.

An example is Thornbridge's version of Courage Imperial Russian Stout, a beer I was keen to try, until I saw it on sale for over £13 for a small bottle.

Thanks to Tim O'Rourke lots of breweries have made versions of this beer and prices have varied widely, most not excessive, and this is certainly the most outrageous I've seen.

OK, it's a strong beer, there's more ingredients, long maturation and it's in a specialist beer shop. But in another specialist beer shop, which also had some ultra-pricey craft beers, Harvey's Imperial Russian Stout, brewed to a traditional recipe and matured for a year, sells for £3.25.

Both beers are in brown glass bottles so there's no excuse of expensive containers. The only reason I can see for the huge price of some bottled craft beers is people milking the over enthusiasm of some beer geeks for certain brands for all it's worth.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

How does our garden grow?

Due to the return of Winter it isn't ideal gardening weather, but nevertheless a garden is taking shape at work.  And not just any garden...

It's a hop garden! Poles and wires have gone up but we haven't planted any hills yet, we're still plotting what plants to get. Dave at work has various plants to get us started, and I've got a list from Peter Darby of Wye Hops Ltd of the plant's they have available, which I think it's fair to say was a cause of some excitement. Despite my best efforts at being hop bore there were some I hadn't even heard of! We're going to have fun with this.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

The missing percentage

In a roundabout way the book I'm currently reading on Belgian beer reminded me of a  conversation I had at the Great British Beer Festival. 

Belgian beers are (or were, the book looks a bit old) legally divided into four categories of strength: up to 4° Plato , 4-9.5° , 11-13.5°  and 15.5° +. As there are gaps between some of the categories Belgian brewers aren't allowed to make beers of certain strengths. To illustrate the horror of this I'll translate some of it into the more sensible British system of original gravity: one of the gaps is the highly important 1.038 to 1.044 range.

I've a feeling I've read about similar daft systems, also with gaps, in other countries (maybe Germany?).

I'm not aware of Britain ever having restrictions like that, but when I started drinking taxation laws meant no brewer would make anything under 1.030, as that was the lowest level tax would be charged at. You could if you wanted to make something weaker, but I don't think anyone did as you'd be charged tax as if it was 1.030.

Though we still don't have any restrictions on the strengths of beer we can make there is, once again, a de facto restriction due to tax laws. Which gets me back to my drunken conversation in the Summer.

Merrily wending my way through the crowd I bumped into someone I know from Fullers, and the chat soon turned to what was coming next in the Past Masters series. The bloke said it was a Burton Ale and he thought it was 7.6% ABV. "Oh no it isn't" I said, "no one makes beer at 7.6% anymore". And do you know what? I was right, it turned out to be 7.3.

With High Strength Beer Duty meaning beers over 7.5% ABV pay an extra tax there now seems to be a gap between 7.5 and 8.5 where there aren't any beers. The heavy hand of the state is denying us the full range of drinking pleasures.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Going down the slippery slope

I'm in the process of planning a new brewhouse. Yesterday I had people round from the company that's going to build it and the company that's going to install it. Being stuck in an old farm building it's going to be a squeeze fitting everything in so I'm happy to let them play around with the various calculations of vessels sizes and shapes. They've got programmes that do it for you which takes out a lot of the tedium.

But I'm not happy to just accept what they come up with without giving it close scrutiny. Though I haven't got the diagrams yet it was mentioned that the grist case (malt hopper) might be a bit undersized. This would be a right pain as it would mean instead of a single person putting a brew on two will be required, as someone will have to chuck more malt into the grist case as the level goes down. They also said the slope on it will be 60°. This sounds a bit steep to me, and it will cut down the grist case volume, so I've been looking into what angle of slide malted barley has. If I can get away with a less steep slope I can fit in more malt. 

So I've been asking on the internet and looking through text books and old lecture notes. When I was a brewing student one of our first bits of homework was designing a brewery and I know the angle of slide and angle of repose of malt came into it when calculating the size of malt silos.

Eventually in a lecture slide I tracked down what I was after, so for those of you troubled by the vexing question of will my malt slide here's a table taken from Malts and Malting by D E Briggs:

Recommended Min. Slope Angles For Chutes And Hoppers.

Undried, unscreened barley 35°
Dressed, dried barley 33°
Fully steeped barley 45°
Green malt (germinated barley) 45-50°
Malt in culm 40°
Dressed malt 30°
Malt culms (rootlets) 50°
Malt and barley dust and light screenings 60°

The angle of repose of malt is 26° from horizontal and the bulk density is 510-550kg/m3.

It does seem that the plans for my grist case are unnecessarily steep and if it comes in under sized it can be adjusted to give it more volume.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

The Lost Beers & Breweries of Britain by Brian Glover

As I must have got it for Christmas I'm kicking myself I didn't get round to reading The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain for weeks because it's excellent.

It's a collection of essays based on late, lamented beers, some of which have since been revived. A few I've heard of, and one I've even brewed a revival of myself, but many were totally new to me. Fifty beers are detailed, with perhaps the most unusual being Mercers Meat Stout, a beer made using meat extract caramel and sold under the slogan "When in doubt, take meat stout"!

The fact that old beers can be brought back to life, unlike the demolished breweries that made them, stopped the dolefulness I often feel when looking at brewery history from setting in. And for those that haven't come back to life there's a suggestion of similar brews available today.

Over 200 pictures are included, mostly showing the painfully bad way beer has been advertised in the past, though I thought the art deco advert for Barclay Perkin's lagers was rather stylish.


The entry for each beer ends with a bit of related trivia under the heading "Odd but true", my favourite of which was that when Garibaldi visited Britain in 1864 he insisted on going to the Barclay Perkins brewery to thank the workers for this incident.