Wednesday 31 December 2014

Golden Pints 2014

That time of year has rolled round again so here's my Golden Pints:
  1. Best UK Cask Beer
    I don't really drink much cask beer nowadays. Only when I'm down the pub, at beer festivals or visiting breweries. A few stick in the mind from this year, which isn't bad going as I usually have trouble remembering more than a weekend ago.
    The Sharp's Atlantic before the GBBF was very good, but it's not a fair test as it was free and free beer tastes better. The other one I particularly remember was getting some draught Old Dairy Tsar Top. I've mostly had it from bottles and it was good to finally see it on hand pump so that's my winner.
  2. Best UK Keg Beer
    I've mostly been drinking keg this year. When I was at that keg only brewery for an evening that is. They did have one I liked though, the Camden Brewery unfiltered lager. I've noticed neo-keggist heretics often rave about unfiltered beers, which does lead me to believe that they are not beyond redemption, and are groping their way towards beer as god intended. Perhaps calling for an albeergenisan crusade is a little harsh and a more ecumenical approach is called for. After all, our own mother church has adopted some vague drivel about a a positive line on craft beer.
  3. Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer.
    As part of my economy drive I've drastically cut down on my beer purchases but I did get a crate of the excellent Westerham Audit Ale so a clear winner there.
  4. Best Overseas Draught
    Unfiltered lager again, this one from Únětický pivovar.
  5. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
    That would be Magnifica from  Birra Dell'Eremo.
  6. Best collaboration brew
    A category that fails to excite me. I may have had some collaboration brews but I can't remember any.
  7. Best Overall Beer
    Tsar Top. Oh yes.
  8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
    Thurstons Brewery Milk Stout. The metallic bottle label looks particularly good. The excellent designs are by Too Much Black Coffee.

  9. Best UK Brewery
    Seeing as they got overall beer it had better go to Old Dairy.
  10. Best Overseas Brewery
    And this one had better go to Birra Dell'Eremo. 
  11. Best New Brewery Opening 2014
    Can't think of one.
  12. Pub/Bar of the Year
    The Crown in Horsell.
  13. Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014
    Can't think of one.
  14. Best beer and food pairing
    I normally end up at at least one beer and food pairing event a year. Can't say it's ever made a blind bit of difference to my drinking and eating habits though, so I'll stick with beer and cheese and onion crisps.
  15. Beer Festival of the Year
    GBBF. Love it.
  16. Supermarket of the Year
    As Dumpy might put it, it's got to be Booths.
  17. Independent Retailer of the Year
    Since last year's runner up Cobbett's Real Ales have now started stocking Orval and opened a micropub in a back room they clinch the title this year.
  18. Online Retailer of the Year
    Don't think I bought any beer online this year, but this online beer seller sent me free beer so them. Unless they're scoundrels that is in which case it's nothing to do with me.
  19. Best Beer Book or Magazine
    American Sour Beers
  20. Best Beer Blog or Website
    Easily Boak and Bailey again. And I got to meet one of them this year.
  21. Best Beer App
    Fiz. Took me a while to get into it but then I was hooked.
  22. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
    The twatty beer doodles by @broadfordbrewer have been the thing on twitter that sticks out for me.
  23. Best Brewery Website/Social media
    I like what Jon puts on the Stringers brewery blog.

I also like the idea of having 'Golden Post' awards but didn't think to keep track of things thoughout the year so won't get round to it. I do have a clear winner for Best Impassioned Rant though. Everyone else seems to have gone for this excellent post on Braumeister. But it's not ranty enough for me. For a good rant I want to be able to see the bulging eyes and flecks of foam, and above all I something I can laugh at entertaining. So the best rant is going to Matt Curtis for his post that introduced John fucking Kimmich to so many people. Can't say I agreed with a word he said but the post lead to so much fun it's a well deserved winner.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire

The bible of Brettanomyces has arrived at last!

I've long been searching out information on brewing with this bug. As the person who single handedly re-introduced brewing with Brettanomyces to Britain* I know how hard this information has been to find. Standard brewing books are useless, so mostly I've been scraping up whatever I can online, with Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave by far the best source, though I should mention that the yeast book in the Brewing Elements series has three pages on brewing with Brett. 

Now Michael Tonsmeire, the man behind The Mad Fermentationist blog has written a book titled American Sour Beers which contains a wealth of information not just on Brettanomyces, but the other yeasts and bacteria found in sour beers too.

Despite the title if covers all the classic European 'sour' beer styles, and how they are produced, as well as looking in detail at how a number of American breweries make their sour beers. Each microorganism, and how they can be obtained, is discussed and both spontaneous fermentation and 100% Brettanomyces fermentation get their own chapters. Adding fruit and flavourings, ageing and blending are all covered, as well as a trouble shooting guide, and of course recipes.

As well as the author's own practical experiences, he's got a number of people to share the methods they use so there's a lot of experience to learn from in the book. Though my own interests are mainly in brewing with unusual yeasts reading the book has at least tempted me to start playing with bacteria as well. On a small scale in a separate fermenter though, as deliberately bringing bacteria that make beer go sour into your brewery is not something to be taken lightly.

This is the beer book of the year for me and it's a must read for anyone interested in mixed fermentations.

* One thing I've learnt from craft beer is it's best to make grandiose claims first and worry about the facts later.

Friday 26 December 2014

Christmas failure

As it's the season of excess consumption I had plenty of beers in stock for Christmas day. Yet despite starting before lunch and going on till gone ten my tally for the day has fallen short of a gallon, which as we all know is the mark of a man.

I make my score eight 500ml bottles and one 330ml bottle, a grand total of 4330ml. This sadly fails to make a gallon, which is 4544ml. I did ask the committee if two glasses of mulled wine could be taken into consideration, but consumption of inferior fruit based beverages was dismissed out of hand.

I am a lightweight and a wuss and a disgrace to beer blogging. I hope that one day I can be forgiven this temporary lapse. In mitigation I did at least keep a bit of string and an egg to hand throughout the day.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Koelsch in casks

One article in particular caught my eye when perusing the brewing related abstracts this month. "Problem-Free Casks" it was called. Not perhaps hugely interesting, except when you see it's from the German magazine Brauwelt. 

The article is about the flexible keg and cask washing machinery a koelsch brewery in Cologne uses for cleaning its "diverse range of draught containers, including 20, 30 and 50 litre polyurethane-coated metal kegs, 30 and 50 litre conventional kegs, 5 litre traditional wooden casks (called "Pittermaennchen" in the Cologne dialect) and 10, 15, 20 and 30 litre polyurethane-coated metal casks (of a design based on that of the wooden ones)". 

There's no doubt here a clear and correct distinction is being made kegs and casks. I have noticed that cask beer has spread to barbarian lands, but from the reports I've seen from The States it seems your chances of finding a cask beer without weird shit added to it are about the same as finding a British brewed unflavoured gose or traditionally hopped saison.

Serving koelsch from casks on the other hand sounds extremely close to beer as god intended. Surely the similarity is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of real ale. And I have to say my impressions of keg and bottled koelsch have been that it's decidedly dull and crying out to be served on cask. I'm not sure if the German cask beer has a proper secondary fermentation in the container from which its served, but surely CAMRA could send a few missionaries over to teach the vital last step if  needed?

Friday 19 December 2014

The Best Beer Bargain Ever!

Mail order beer club 52 Beers seem to have been sending out samples to beer bloggers recently and fortunately that included me. "Would you like some free beer?" they said. "Why yes, that sounds and excellent idea" I replied, and soon enough a box had landed on my door step.

The beers are clearly selected with the craftophile in mind, and some of the breweries I'd not even heard of. I was delighted to see that a can was included so I got to drink craft beer from a can without having to fork out excessive amounts of my hard earned money for it.

Four Pure Session IPA was the can in question. It was, as you might expect, thin, bitter, unbalanced hop juice but none the worse for it. I'm quite partial to an occasional bit of unbalanced hop juice.

The Hop Studio Blonde was similar, though not from a can so scored less craft points. Had a strange vegetable flavour to go with the hops too.

Tiny Rebel Cwtch was good too: very piney, not too bitter, got the body but still can't taste any maltiness over the hops. Had a bit of a harsh after taste.

Septem Thursday's had a good hop aroma and I could actually taste some malt, which was nice, but it could actually have done with a bit more bitterness.

Some of the beers did show brewing faults but as I'd never heard of the breweries before I suspect they're new so I'll spare their blushes for now.

My favourite of the bunch was something unusual that actually interested me rather than made me roll my eyes. It was Triporteur from Heaven, a Belgian beer made by people that bake their own malt. As I've been doing a bit of home malt roasting myself. The brewery is a bakery as well and they bake/roast various different types of malt themselves. The beer had high carbonation, a strong floral aroma, clean taste, not belgian spice or phenolics. It was very good. 

So now to the Best Beer Bargain Ever:

The good people at have given me a unique code that allows a £10 discount on your first box - just go to and type in EDWRAY10 when you order. Good eh? But even better than that for each order using that code I get a fiver! Oh yes, you get cheaper beer and I get hard cash - you won't get a better deal this side of libertarian communism!

Thursday 11 December 2014

Today I committed murder

The day I most dreaded has arrived. Today I committed murder. I knew in my current job it was likely to happen sooner or later and finally that awful moment arrived. We cold bloodedly took a poor innocent beer, subjected it to torture, and snuffed out its life.

First we forced it through something resembling a medieval torture device:

Well, a plate and frame filter anyway

Then we subjected it to the gravest of indignities: we added extraneous CO2:

The beer strapped to the next torture device
See how it struggled to escape:

But there was to be no escape here.

After artificial carbonation we then bottled the beer...

 ...and put it in the death chamber, I mean pasteuriser:

Once it was shut inside the moment that sealed the fate of the beer, and I fear my immortal soul, arrived.

I started the pasteuriser.

This was no venial sin, like using a cask breather. Murdering beer is a mortal sin. I doomed several crates of beer to an unreal zombeer existence. Surely now hell awaits me.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Orval yeast laughs in my face

After much dithering I finally got round to doing a brew inspired by Orval. As I twist I used a saison yeast for the primary fermentation to try and add a subtle twist to the flavour.

It was not to be though. The Orval yeast just laughed in my face and trampled all over the saison flavour, and the hops for that matter. I just got lots of Orval yeast flavour, which while not entirely unpleasant was not what I was after as I prefer fresh Orval where it adds to the other flavours, not overwhelms them.

Fortunately I had some McCrorie IPA I could blend it with, so I got out my big glass and mixed away. It worked very well: lots of English hops with a more restrained Orval flavour was great. The only trouble was drinking a litre a time of beer over 6% ABV was a tad excessive. Oh well, sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

More Fuggles in Farnham

Hogsback brewery have now added Fuggles to the hops they grow, planting 1200 cuttings in the hop ground opposite the brewery. 

Prior to the Hogsback starting to grow their own hops Fuggles were the last hop grown in Surrey, at the last surviving hop farm in Puttenham. Though Fuggles were once overwhelming the main hop grown in England their susceptibility to verticillium wilt means they've now become something of a rarity.

Goldings have fared slightly better, though a lot of what's now sold as Goldings is the wilt resistant hybrid variety Early Choice. The Fuggles will be joining the Cascade and Farnham Whitebine hops that were planted back in May.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Brewing an all Brettanomyces beer

Having been doing a lot of home brewing of late I finally got round to making a beer using only Brettanomyces yeast. When I was using Brett commercially for secondary fermentation I'd tried a few times sticking wort in a fermenting bucket and adding some Brett but the results had been undrinkably sour.

As more information on brewing with this yeast has come out I've seen that it only makes beer sour in the presence of oxygen. So this time I fermented it in a plastic demijohn with an airlock.

The fermentation was slow to start but once it got going was fairly respectable.

Brettanomcyes claussenii (Dekkera anomala) fermenting away

The beer attenuated fine, which just shows what Brettanomyces can do if it's not out competed by  Saccharomyces,, the more usual brewing yeast.

As to the beer it wasn't sour but it was really, really spicy. Or 'yeast forward' as some of my fellow beer geeks might say. Certainly any other flavours were overpowered. It was interesting, but to be honest too much for me and it didn't rate highly on the drinkability scale. I don't think all Brett beers are for me.

Saturday 29 November 2014

How to make malt

I've been doing some more malting at work recently. This is the process in which starchy barley grains are partially germinated so that when used for brewing the starch can be broken down to fermentable sugars. It's very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very interesting (sorry about that, you'll need to have been on twitter to get it).

The first stage is screening. I like this bit:


This separates the wheat from the chaff, or barley in this case. Though the grains have been mostly separated out there are still some bits of straw you want to get rid of, and a series of sieves and a blower do the job.

A barley grain

After that the barley's ready for steeping.The grains will have been dried for storage and they need to be rehydrated before they will start to germinate. At work we have cylindrical steeping and germination vessels. 

Here's a look inside:

The vessels tilt up for loading, and down for unloading:

Adding the grains

When loaded the barley sits on the sieve plate at the base of the vessel. The barley will then be completely immersed in water, following a carefully controlled programme of steeping alternating with air rests. Having air rests during the steeping of barley came directly from research carried out here. Well maybe not exactly here, but this workplace. It's now universally used as it makes malting much faster and more efficient.

Steeping alternated with air rests means yeast and bacteria on the grain are washed away, as well as phenols from the husk, oxygen can get to the grain so it can respire, CO2 is removed, and so is ethanol produced by the grain during anaerobic respiration. Yes, that last one disturbed me too. What a waste. Air will be blown through the grain bed and fans remove the CO2.

Getting the correct steeping schedule can have a huge effect on how well the grains germinate. Here's a picture of the same barley sample that's had different steeping schedules:

Example schedules may be water 8 hours/air 16 hours/water 24 hours or water 6 hours/air 10 hours/water 6 hours/air 6 hours/ water 6 hours. Tests for germinative capacitiy (and similar tests for germinative energy and water sensitivity) can help determine the best steeping schedule to use.

Here's a grain that has just chitted i.e. the rootlet is just showing

After approximately two days the steeping will be completed and grain moisture 42-46%. The germination stage starts now, and the plant hormone gibberellic acid can be sprayed on at this point. This is where our cylindrical vessels come into play as they will periodically rotate quite rapidly to break up the grains rootlets and stop them forming a big tangled mat.

Here's the rotating:

And here's some tangled grains all stuck together:

Most big malting plants have vessels with rakes or screws running through them to break up grain tangles. And it can also be done by a bloke with a rake, as most pictures of floor maltings show, though I have heard they have something like a lawn mower they can move through the grain bed too which must be a lot less effort.

The germination stage starts next. During steeping the embryo will produce gibberellic acid, and as I've said it can also be sprayed on to help things along their way. The gibberellic acid is transported through the aleurone*, a thin layer of cell surrounding the grain, which produces or activates enzymes which will being the modification of the grain. These include amylases, proteases and β-glucanases. These enzymes are necessary for converting the starch in the grain to fermentable sugars. Though we don't want any more than is necessary at this stage as over modification means the grain will use for growth sugars the yeast could ferment.

Here's a grain after rootlets have grown

The modification breaks down the structure of the cells surrounding the starch granules in the grain and provides the enzymes that will be used during brewing. β-glucans (and pentosans) are polymers that can cause serious problems during the brewing process if their levels are too high. They increase wort viscosity making making it difficult to separate the liquid from the grains at the end of mashing, and can lead to hazes forming in beer. Protein needs to be broken down to make the starch granules it surrounds accessible to the amylases, and to provide raw materials the yeast will use during its own growth.

Germination is allowed to continue for around four days. Rootlet growth is vigorous but a bit erratic. The growth of the acrospire, which would become the shoot, is of more interest to maltsters. Unlike the rootlets which go the easy (proximal) way out of the grain it goes the long way round from the embryo and works its way inside the husk aiming for the far (distal). When it's about 75-80% of the way there germination as gone as far as we want it to.

Here are some grains at the end of germination:

This is moist green malt, and it tastes a bit like bean sprouts at this stage. Which perhaps explains why bizarre as it now sounds beans were once used for brewing. It is possible to brew using green malt, and I've heard of a grain whisky distillery that does this. It has a very short shelf life though, as it will keep growing wasting all that valuable sugar that could be turned to alcohol, and will rapidly go mouldy.

Usually this is prevented by the next stage, kilning. This is when the grains are heated to halt germination at the optimum stage of enzyme production and grain modification, and dry the grains to the moisture content at which they can safely be stored without going mouldy. The degree of kilning will also to a large extent determine which type of malt is made and will have a big effect on the flavour of the beer.

Malt kiln

At first the grains will 'free dried' by heating gently with an air temperature of 50-60°C (though the grains themselves will be at a much lower temperature than this) and the air will be vented away. This will continue for around 12 hours, when the moisture content will be about 24%. The free drying stage will have removed the surface moisture, and that in the outer layers of the grain. We now move on to forced drying, where moisture will diffuse from deeper in the grain to the surface for removal and the grain will start to shrink. This would slow the rate of water removal so the temperature will be increased slightly to 70-75°C and the fan speed reduced. The grains will not get as much evaporative cooling as they did during free drying, and their temperature will start to rise. After perhaps 10 hours the moisture will be down to 10-12%.

Malt in the kiln

Now the curing stage begins, as the most difficult to remove water, that which is bound to large molecules inside the grain, such as the starch, is removed. To achieve this the temperature is increased again, and the air is substantially recirculated. Curing will generally continue for three hours or so until the moisture content is below 5%.

Temperature and humidity probes

As well as reducing the moisture content of the malt kilning also drives off unwanted volatiles, particularly sulphur compounds, and adds colour and flavour due to Mailard reactions between sugars and amino acids. The higher the final kiln temperature the more of this will occur. A lager malt might have a final kilning temperature of 80°C, whereas for a pale ale malt it might be 100°C.

This is a major reason why you get the reek of brimstone during lager fermentations (a sure sign it's the devil's work), and the unpleasant vegetable taste of dimethyl sulphide and watery yellow colour of many lagers. To which we can contrast the pleasant malty flavours and rich golden colour that will be found in an ale made with a pale malt grist.

After kilning the malt will be cooled rapidly but we're not finished yet. Oh no. The rootlets need to be removed, or as we say in the trade the malt needs to be deculmed. We have a machine for that too:

Here's the rootlets or culms:

They're high in protein and not good for beer so are best used as animal feed.

When the malt has been deculmed it's still not over, as freshly kilned or 'fiery malt' is not good for brewing and need to be stored for around a month before use.

Then it's over, the production of 'white malts', the ture enzymic malts (lager, pale, vienna, mild, munich) that can be used as 100% of the grist has come to an end and I can bring this #beerylongread to an end. Crystal or caramel malts, along with the various types of roasted malts are another, though closely related, story so you'll have to wait for the #beerylongreadappendix for that.

*I follow the true path of Palmer, not the false trail of Briggs.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Meeting up with old friends

I got to the Old Ale Festival at the White Horse on Saturday and met up with a couple of old friends: one was a mate from Heriot-Watt and the other was the Imperial Russian Stout from the Old Dairy Brewery.

It's very rare that the stout gets let out on cask and even rarer that I've got to drink it. I have to say it was superb, so the team at the brewery have done a great job. The new branding was looking good too:

This is the Old Ale, the IRS hasn't been re-branded yet
Even beer this strong couldn't keep the chill out though. We were sitting in the back room that didn't have much in the way of heating. Which was good news for the beers stillaged there but not good for us as the cold crept into our bones. So we went into the main bar and squeezed on to a table next to a bloke in a Hawkwind T-shirt. This of course lead to fascinating conversation about such diverse subjects as Bob Calvert, Space Ritual, and the state of Daevid Allen's health. The strength of the beer was starting to tell though, so after what may have been as little as three pints (I don't know, I wasn't keeping track but my mate was) it was time to stagger off whilst I still could.

At time's I've had my doubts if it's worth the trek to  White Horse for the Old Ale Festival, but after this I'll definitely be aiming to get to next year's.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Fermentability and mash temperature

When I wanted to make some low alcohol beers by producing a low fermentability wort a colleague dug out a paper for me relating mash temperature to fermentability. Though there are other factors at work as well I found it a great help.

Here's the figures:

Temperature °C and apparent attenuation %
65°C 82%
70°C 70%
75°C 50%
80°C 30%

For those that don't know what I'm talking about when you mix malted barley with hot water (the mash) enzymes from the malt break starch down to fermentable sugars. The higher the temperature the quicker the enzymes themselves break down and the less fermentable sugar is produced. 

Saturday 22 November 2014

Immanentizing the Eschaton

It was the beer that finally immanentized the Eschaton. Thanks to some fellow workers from Woking beer festival I’d finally got my mits on a can of Heady Topper, a beer made by John fucking Kimmich himself.
After a week spent on a mountain top retreat, drinking nothing but water and mediating on the structure of iso-humulones I felt ready to drink this elixir. I'd saved the can for my birthday and invited people round to take part in this joyous occasion. Wanting to get the beer to the right temperature I went to get it out of the fridge and got the shock of my life. It was gone. 

You can imagine the panic I felt. It was like losing a winning lottery ticket, only worse. Had I been burgled by a jealous beer geek? Had one of my friends nabbed it and necked it without me noticing? In fact it was nothing of the sort, my lupulophobic brother had simply moved it to make space for a bottle of an inferior fruit based beverage.
Panic over I let the can warm a little until it was cold but not ice cold whilst getting in a quick final meditate to try and calm my nerves about whether I was worthy not. Then at last the moment arrived. As the great man himself instructs I drank directly from the can and that moment I learnt that everything they said about the beer was true. I would even say I felt angels dancing on my tongue, except my fellow beer nerds would only start arguing about how many angels can fit on a tongue. 

I turned to the friend I was with to describe the wonder I had just drunk and was shocked to see him some way below me. I had actually started levitating! His startled face was squinting at me and I realised I had also started glowing with divine light. I lowered him the can for a sip and soon he was floating beside me, a look of ecstasy upon his now luminous face. 
We wafted from the kitchen to the living room where the can was passed round. "This tastes like grapefruit" said my brother*. "It's beer" said my sister in law. But whatever their tastes the power of the beer was unstoppable and before long we were all bobbing around the ceiling. "Turn the lights off" I said. Seeing as we were now all glowing with divine light I didn't see any reason to waste electricity. How I wondered could this state of bliss be improved? It was after that I made a mistake I know I will regret for the rest of my days."I could do with another pint" I thought. After all one can doesn't go very far between ten people. 

So I wafted back into the kitchen and helped myself to some home brew. All it took was one sip, and I came crashing down to earth. And my divine light went out. From the thumps and groans in the living room, not to mention the sudden darkness, I could tell I'd wrecked it for everyone else too.
"Someone turn a bleedin' light on" I heard someone shout. I flicked a light switch to see a heap of my family and friends glowering at me. "Anyone want a home brew?" I said hopefully, but I knew nothing could make up for the mistake I'd made. Without a word they untangled themselves and left. Abandoned, I spent the rest of the evening knocking back the pints, but the beer tasted like ashes in my mouth. I've been to paradise but I've never been to...Actually I'll stop there, there are depths to which even I won't sink.

*This bit's actually true

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Brewing yeast website

Leeds University have an excellent website about brewing yeast, containing a wealth of information. Check it out:

Saturday 15 November 2014

Judging the Champion Beer of Britain

After the excitement of last Friday night I was back the next morning to judge a regional heat of the Champion Beer of Britain competition. I was very interested in seeing how it happens, and it meant free beer, so what's not to like?

Six of us were assembled, on a small stage in the main hall of Woking beer festival. Empty glasses labelled with a letter, bottles of water and cream crackers were laid out on the table. All very professional looking. The were six beers to judge and they were brought to us in turn in a random order. Each was judged out of ten for appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste, though the points for taste were doubled to give and overall score out of 50.

The blurb on the scoresheet has information about different areas of the tongue detecting different tastes which has been disproven, and more disturbingly research carried out at my current workplace has shown people score beer the same whether they swallow it or spit it out. I hope this revolting part of wine culture does not move into the world of beer.

When the tasting was done the scores from each judge were added up to give the total for each beer. In a dramatic* turn of events the top two tied so we were brought fresh samples of each to score again. This time there was a clear cut unanimous winner, though surprisingly four of the tasters had given higher scores to the runner-up beer first. The winner was Palmers Tally Ho!, I'll be watching out to see how it does in the national competition.

*Not really

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Which Side Are You On?

The discussion about the re-launched Let There Be Beer campaign has now reached the point that I actually know why people are against it. Still don't agree with them mind.

Amongst the mass of incoherent ranting a comment from Dave Bailey has brought some clarity to the matter. He aligns himself with discerning drinkers, so feels more in common with wine drinkers than drinkers of mass produced beer. I myself feel no affinity with any inferior fruit based beverage, and the best pint I ever had came from a national brewer. I'd rather see someone drinking pretty much any beer rather than wine.

There seems to be clear division between whether we should be promoting beer as a premium product or beer for mass consumption. I find one of the beauties of banging on about beer is that in the broader scheme of things it's pretty much irrelevant, but having said that if we're not aiming to make decent beer available to all at a reasonable price then it's not my revolution.

So beer geeks, the line has been drawn: Which Side Are You On?

Come all you beer drinkers
Good news to you I'll tell

Of how the good old Campaign
Has come in here to dwell

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a drinker
He's now in the Rising Sun
He'll be with you fellow drinkers
Until the battle's won

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

They say with beer drinkers

There are no neutrals there
You'll either be a CAMRA man
Or a mug for 'craft' hot air

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Oh drinkers can you stand it?
Shit, how much for a can?
Will you be a craft wanker
Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Don't fork out for keg beer
Don't listen to their lies
Poor folks can drink good beer
and still have cash for pies

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Sunday 9 November 2014

The other side of the bar

Having enjoyed many CAMRA beer festivals over the years I decided it was about time I did a bit to help out, so I volunteered to work a shift at my local festival. What with work being work, and Friday traffic also doing its usual stuff I was running a bit late so ended up driving there. Despite the obvious drawback to this it worked out rather well in the end, but more on that later...

On arrival you get given a sponsored T shirt and a voucher for a burger. There was a brief team talk about what we needed to do, and we were told the very reasonable rate at which we could buy beer ourselves. Had I not been driving it would have been a cheap way to get pissed, though I don't suppose it would have helped my adding up, and there wasn't much time for drinking anyway.

The first punters started pouring in at 6pm, and some of them were certainly very dedicated as I'm sure some had googly eyes by seven. Most of the bar work I've done has been at festivals like Reading or Glastonbury, and though the bar did get busy at times it was a walk in the park compared to them. The customers all seemed good natured, and even the disappointment of time being called didn't upset those who'd not had the wit about them to get a beer in at last orders. I've only even seen one person being bounced from a CAMRA festival, though I did hear an ex-boss of mine managed to get herself booted out of Woking one year. She was one of the most unpleasant people I've ever met though so I dare say she was asking for it.

Once the punters have all gone there's time for staff to get some more beers in but I was heading home. I gave a couple of fellow workers a lift back, which lead to what I believe could well be the high point of my life. In the general chit-chat I mentioned I was off to the States next year, and hoped I could find the John fucking Kimmich beer. "I've got some of that in the cupboard, you can have a can" piped up one of my passengers. "It was alright" the other chipped in. You could have knocked me down with a feather at this point. Except as I was driving I was sitting down. Could the holy grail of craft ale really be within my grasp soon? As it happens, it could:

It's my birthday next weekend so I'm saving it for then, which also gives me time to go on a spiritual retreat and purify my body, mind and soul so I'm in a fit state for the momentous tasting.

Monday 3 November 2014

It's not about the craft

Well I didn't think my fellow beer nerds would like the re-launched Let There Be Beer campaign, but I must admit the level of vitriol has taken me by surprise. Still, the twitter rants did let me know the advert was out.I thought it was alright, not massively exciting, but not appallingly crap either:

Others have dismissed it as an abject failure though, and suggested the millions behind the campaign would be better spent promoting beer by funding new pubs or breweries. I'm no marketing expert so I wouldn't know, but as the companies providing the money already have thousands of pubs and hundreds of breweries I don't think that would make much difference.

As the advert itself is quite inoffensive, in the main the outrage seems to be based on the perception that global industrial brewers are trying to leech off the current excitement about quality beer. I think this view is  mistaken. As far as I can see the main aim of the campaign is to get people to drink beer instead of wine, and they are trying to be genuinely inclusive of all types of beer in the campaign.

The fact the main focus is on pairing beer with food looks like a definite attempt to move into the territory currently occupied by wine, and apparently their pairing suggestions will include beers from all breweries great and small. Of course I could be a dupe of multinational corporations, but I have to say I'm quite pleased to see a generic campaign to promote beer.

Saturday 1 November 2014

The truth about Nottingham Ale Yeast

My first investigations into what exactly Lallemand's Nottigham Ale Yeast is have been completed and the results are surprising.

First I rehydrated some yeast and plated it out on WLN agar. In the main the colonies where very white, though a few colonies with a green tinge were in there too. The white colonies looked very much like lager yeast, so it appeared the man from Surebrew was right. I was after better evidence than just the look of the colonies though, so I separated out the different strains as best I could and incubated them at 37 degrees C. Lager yeast is unable to grow at this temperature so if the white coloured strain didn't grow the results would be confirmed.

That's not how it worked out though, as two days later I found both strains had grown well at 37, though for some reason they'd both developed more colour.

So I've found no evidence that there is lager yeast present. Nottingham Ale Yeast is indeed ale yeast, though it does appear to be a mixed culture. My investigations continue.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

A pilgrimage to Burton

I finally got to spend a day in Burton-upon-Trent last week. I'd only briefly been to Britain's brewing capital before so it was nice to have time to wander round. The big British breweries may have been bought up by multi-nationals, and sign you see mostly now says Molson-Coors, but they still make a lot of beer in Burton.

There are two large breweries in this picture that between them make around six million barrels of beer a year.

As British beer barrels are bigger than US ones that's even large enough combined output to disqualify them from the American Brewers Association craft brewery definition if the share ownership hadn't done it already.

I think one was the Bass brewery at one point:

...and this one was Ind Coope, where the wonderful Burton Ale used to flow from:

I'd already been to the museum so I didn't bother this time, but I was still impressed by the row of Burton unions you can see outside it as you walk past. When I was in the museum I studied the union cask they had inside closely and briefly understood how the damn things work. I'd didn't stick though and I'm sure I'd barely turned away before the knowledge faded.

Having a chance to go for a drink in the evening I called in at the Coopers Tavern, an excellent pub that's at least a couple of hundred years old. It's now owned by Joules, and I'd been keen to try their beer ever since they were revived as James Joule, the brewer and scientist, is a bit of a hero of mine.

The beer was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. I'm afraid I'd had an excellent pint of Landlord with my lunch at the Rose and Crown in Zouch and my minor obsession with it had kicked in again.

The had quite range of beer but I couldn't stop as I wanted to get on to the Burton Bridge Inn.
Again the beer was good but it was no Landord.

Notice the unsightly Northern head
Perhaps if I'd found Ind Cooper Burton Ale, which like Landlord has the distinct flavour of Styrian golding hops, I'd've been able to favour a local brew. But then again, maybe not, as it's made in Manchester now.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Let There Be Beer! take 2

I recently went to a talk about the Let There Be Beer campaign. It's being re-launched soon, so we were given the low down on what they've done so far, the lessons learnt, and a taster of what's coming next.

In this country it was founded in June 2013, though I was surprise to hear that it's been run in other countries previously. It's funded by five global brewers: Heineken, Carlsberg, ABInBev, Molson Coors and SAB Miller, so I guess they have their eyes on the big picture.

The campaign is planned to last three years and has a number of aims:
  • Creating awareness and excitement about beer
  • Galvanising and uniting the industry
  • Reminding customers of their love of beer
  • Encourage new and lapsed customers to re-appraise and think about beer
  • Get consumers to try new beers and new beer occasions
  • Ultimately enhance the reputation of beer and grow the category
Though it's undoubtedly a good time for quality beer overall beer consumption is in decline. Not having telly the original campaign passed me by almost entirely, except for beer geeks whinging about it on twitter. The guy giving the talk did admit that mistakes were made, and things like suggesting Fosters should be paired with scallops lacked credibility. He also said they'd focused too much on brands produced by the funding companies, something they've since corrected, and the website certainly bears this out.

He continued saying that beer is seen as refreshing, relaxing and sociable, but has a problem in that it's perceived as being a low quality drink that lacks diversity and versatility.

A new campaign is to be launched on October 29th, and there are millions of pounds behind it so it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Apparently no brands will be mentioned in the next TV ad, but 14 styles of beer will. I suspect my fellow beer nerds will still put the boot in on twitter, but at least I'll know it out so I can look it up on youtube.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Another dent in the can

There's another tasty titbit on the can question in this month's Brewer and Distiller International:

"The quality-limiting step of the can packaging operation is the seamer, which is still of an insufficiently hygenic design to embrace sterile filling."

Which does lead me to wonder what shelf life they put on non-pasteurised craft cans. If I can ever force myself to fork out for one I must remember to look at the best before date.

The article also had a passage that got me pondering how I'd managed to live through a beer revolution that's affected my own drinking habits without really paying much attention:

" the early 1990s the futures of bottled beer was in some doubt, until the sudden advent of alcopops and front-of-shelf premium lagers. Before this watershed the march of can products appeared irresistible."

Now that's not to say that over the years I've taken to drinking alcopops. Or premium lagers for that matter. But premium bottled ales keep my cupboards full. And the garage. And there's a few in the airing cupboard come to think of it. Decent bottled beers are always something I've sought out, but their steady rise hasn't had the sudden impact of the arrival of golden ales, or beers that taste of grapefruit, did. It has appreared more slowly, like the road starting to go gently down hill when cycling it's just got easier to find decent bottled beer. Much like cask beer slowly changed from being something you had to seek out to something you'd be surprised about if it wasn't there.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Gog standard beer

I seem to be falling ever further behind my fellow beer nerds in chasing the latest in fashionable beers. In a recent beer geek poll I found I'd only drunk four of the top ten pale ales in Britain. The only non-CAMRA beer festival I got to has rants against keg beer in the programme. And I've never bought a craft beer can, not even in 'Spoons.

Quite how I've fallen so far behind, despite my dedicated beer nerdery, has been a cause for some reflection. My love of cask beer, and antipathy to keg must explain a lot. As does the Guinness FES test, as I seldom feel the urge to pay specialist beer shop prices for strong stouts when I can pay supermarket prices.

But I was still left wondering why I was lagging with the pale ales. Then I realised I had another benchmark beer: Goose Island IPA. Whenever I feel the need for an American hop hit I have an excellent beer easily available in local supermarkets. In fact there's several, and I probably buy more beer of that ilk from Oakham or Thornbridge. So pricer options for beers of similar style have little appeal.

I've now realised my buying habits generally entail needing to know if the beer is significantly better than Gog standard (Guinness or goose) before I'll fork out significantly more than supermarket prices..

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Gluten free beer

We've had a few projects about gluten free beer at work so I was interested when the IBD magazine had an article on it. It was written by someone from a company that makes a protease normally used to prevent beer from forming chill hazes. By happy coincidence the enzyme breaks down the immunoreactive epitopes in gluten, so it also makes beer safe for coelics.

The author included a list of gluten free beers available in various countries, and listed the grains they're made from.

I noticed a couple of the British ones were made from sorghum which piqued my interest, I've wondered what it tastes like for some time. So when I was next at Utobeer I ignored all the beers I might actually like and picked up a bottle of St Peter's Gulten free lager. It's not easy being a beer nerd.

The lager is slightly oddly made with Amarillo hops, but not a huge amount, and has an unpleasantly harsh tang to the aftertaste. I suspect it's made with sorghum malt extract which could explain the tang. Having paid Borough Market prices for the bottle I made sure I finished it, but it didn't taste great so I won't be getting any more.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Are dried yeasts what they claim to be?

I went to a SIBA meeting on Wednesday and a bloke from Surebrew gave a brief but interesting talk. For starters it was amazing to see a question and answer session on Brettanomyces, when barely over a year ago one of my beers was wrongfully disqualified from the specialist beer section of a SIBA competition because no-one knew what Brettanomyces was.

But it was when he was asked about dried yeasts that it got really interesting. He said Safale 04 is Whitbread B, something I'd previously seen Graham Wheeler (PBUH) say over at Jim's; US 05 is apparently composed of several strains, and Nottingham Ale yeast is in fact a mix containing 70% lager yeast. I'm quite astonished by this last point, and it also seems to me that it should be relatively easy to investigate if it's correct. If I remember rightly lager yeast can ferment melibiose whereas ale yeast cannot, and ale yeast is able to grown at 42 degrees C whereas lager yeast cannot. I'll have to check the details, and see what we've got a work, but this is one I'd really like to look into...

Friday 3 October 2014

Oxygen uptake with bottle caps.

Canned beer has become fashionable amongst some of my fellow beer nerds, and lack of oxygen uptake in the container causing staling has been one of the attractions. This prompted Rob Lovatt from Thornbridge brewery to point out to that oxygen pick up after packaging is only part of the story and small scale canning lines have a real potential to introduce oxygen during filling.

This did still leave me wondering how much oxygen can get into bottled beer. So I asked the engineer who sits next to me and he said very little unless the capping goes wrong. But it would still be nice to have a figure. And then, as if by magic, an article by Peter Heumüller and Graham Jennings in Brewing and Beverage Industry International had exactly that:

"Oxygen permeation rates are detectable, although the metal of the crown cork and the glass bottle are perfect barriers. A detailed measurement showed values of typically 0.001cm3 / cap / day."

So there you have it. 

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Is Kronenbourg 1664 now awesome?

Not generally being keen on either lager or keg beer I don't think I've ever drunk Kronenbourg 1664. But seeing as Mark Dredge is now promoting it does this mean it is, in fact, awesome?

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Towards a Fresh Revolution

On Saturday I went to Canterbury to sample the Kent green hop beers. There was a fine selection on offer, and most were very good. Using undried hops means the amount of aromatic oils is higher and the beers can have a fresh 'zingy' taste. My overall favourite of the day was Wantsum Brewery's Bullion. It's good to see Bullion being grown in Britain, let's hope more are planted.

The green hop beer tent was there as part of the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival, so there was plenty to eat and drink, as well as bands and morris dancers.

I managed to meet up with lots of friends, old and new, and managed to pace myself pretty well throughout the day.

Yes, it is a rather appropriate flautist
Though I did have to pause and have a coffee mid-afternoon.

Los Amigos de Lúpulo
Which was just as well as we went on to the Foundry brew pub afterwards for more important and informative discussions.

Monday 29 September 2014

The new Old Dairy Brewery

I had a busman's holiday on Friday, visiting the Old Dairy Brewery at their new site in Tenterden. The new kit looks great and the brewers are certainly being kept very busy.

Fortunately I avoided most of the hard work, though I did lend a hand once or twice, and then it was off for a beer or two with some of the guys and chewing the fat about brewing.