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. 

Thursday 25 September 2014

How do people choose which beers they drink?

I’ve been pondering again of late. How do people decide on which beer to drink when they get to the bar? One thing I’ve noticed is that to some extent beer taste seems to be imprinted. Certainly the first time I tasted cask beer was a magical moment that had a massive influence on my future drinking habits. I’ve seen others beer nerds talk of defining moments in their drinking too.

Following on from that I’m wondering just how much is our beer choice is determined by habit, and we simply drink what we’re used to. Having discovered the joys of cask beer I very seldom feel the urge to drink anything on keg, and when I do it usually tastes too cold and fizzy. Yet when I drink wheat beers, a style of beer I’ve mainly drunk served from kegs whilst I’m abroad, I’ve happily drunk it in its cold and fizzy form, whereas the cask wheat beers I’ve tried at home usually haven’t seemed right.

I’ve also noticed some neo-kegist heretics confess to their history as keg lager drinkers. Perhaps if you're already used to cold and fizzy beer going from bland keg lager to more flavoursome ‘craft’ keg is a smaller step than going to beer served as god intended?

And I know neophilia is rampant amongst beer nerds, but people often seek out the new within their beer comfort zone. I’ll always check out all the hand pumps when I’m in a pub, others go wild for the latest ridiculous  innovative beer ingredient.

Economic determinism must come into it too, as price will influence most people’s choices, but once you’re down a pub you’re paying a premium anyway, often doubly so in ‘craft’ beer bar.

Anyway just pondering. As ever, anyone else's thoughts on the matter are welcome.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Hops in Worcester and Beer in Hereford

The other week the IBD had a trip to see the hops at Stocks Farm and Wye Valley Brewery. The day started off with a talk about the breeding programme that has seen Charles Faram selling some interesting new British hops. They're getting new hops into small scale production in as little as four years from seedling, which is impressively fast, and certainly quicker than the procedure used at Wye Hops. I suspect the less methodical approach leaves more chance of the hops being susceptible to common diseases though.

We were then shown round the hop yard. Here's Ali Capper of Stocks Farm and the British Hop Association in front of some Sovereign plants.

These were normal height hops:

And here's some whizzing along conveyor belts:

The success or failure of hop crops may be a lot more controllable than it was back in the day but there still seems a lot of variation in yield:

At Stocks Farms they've gone from growing four high alpha varieties to nine aroma varieties, which fits in with the way a lot of world hop growing is going. 

After that it was on to Wye Valley Brewery, where the Head Brewer Gareth Bateman showed us round. They've got a shiny new 80 barrel brewery and are brewing ten times a week.

I was driving so couldn't make the most of their hospitality but it's nice to hear they're doing well.

Monday 22 September 2014

Marstons on the telly

Channel Five have recently shown a three part series on national brewery and pub company Marstons. I doesn't seem to have gone down well with my fellow beer nerds, but there was no way I was missing it as my mate Phil was in the trailer.

I can see why people weren't keen, as rather than having it as a straight documentary they got a comedian to narrate which did grate a bit. There was a lot of interesting stuff though, and I have to say I enjoyed watching it.

It was nice to see Phil at work too, and even though it makes him more famous than me I'm sure my fame has risen by being a friend of his.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Making a 100% Wheat Beer - Ernst Schneider Weiss

Feeling nauseated by the official commemorations of the start of the First World War, my thoughts returned to an idea for a beer I'd had that I could name after one of the people that ended it. I'd got hold of some spelt wheat malt, an old husked variety, and I was curious if it could be used as 100% of the grist. Normal 'wheat beers' actually contain a proportion of barley malt as too much huskless wheat causes grain beds to become too compact and give poor wort run off.

I first got an inkling my plan might be flawed when I look at the spelt grains. They look suspiciously similar to normal wheat:


Bread Wheat

But I'm not the sort of person to be put off doing something simply because it looks doomed to failure from the start. So I got the mash started, having first looked up top tips on temperatures in Brewing with Wheat. I decided to include a ferulic acid rest so mashed in at a much colder temperature than normal.

It started going wrong from the start and the grains sank like stones. My calculations were rubbish too and the temperature was way out. As I needed cold liquor to make adjustments, and after the rest add more hot liquor to bring the temperature up, I ended up with a very thin mash. It also looked decidedly odd. Is that proteinaceous material floating on top?

Odd looking mash
The run off was rubbish too, and took ages. When I dug out the mash tun I could see a load of grains at the bottom, all stuck together. They tasted sweet too so the sparing was not only slow but inefficient also.

Sticky sweet grains

This of course lead to me getting less volume of wort than I'd planned. The fermentation went well though.

Vigorous fermentation
Until it conked out early, leaving a high final gravity. I cranked up the priming sugar when bottling to get the carbonation up, though the head retention is surprisingly poor. The taste is good, if perhaps too full bodied, I'd say it's probably the best wheat beer I've ever made.

Ernst Schneider Weiss
Though admittedly it doesn't have much competition and I won't be making it again.

Here end a chapter, but a chapter only, of the history of my brewing with wheat. 

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Sobering statistics

There was some sobering reading in issue 157 of the Journal of the Brewery History Society. In an article entitled "Consolidating the global brewing industry, 1992 -2012" Jens Christensen gives a detailed analysis of how four companies came to control 60% of the world's beer production, with international and large national companies controlling another 35%.

It makes the big six seem quite quaint in comparison.And though a craft beer revolution is apparently sweeping the planet the statistics brought home how much it is a niche interest. On the plus side big, and even ginormous, breweries can still make good beer. But I did find it disquieting enough to ask for Napalm Death's view on the matter:

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The don't re-brand 'em like they used to

When I recently found an old GBBF programme from '96 I couldn't help but think how much the world has changed as I flicked through it. 

Many of the breweries have gone of course, for this was back in the day when breweries seemed to close more than open, and beer strength was given as Original Gravity as well as ABV.

But it was an advert for Arkells re-branded bitter that really caught my eye. In a bold stroke of marketing genius they'd gone from calling it '2B' to 'Bitter'.  I wonder how long it took the marketing department to come up with that one?

Monday 15 September 2014

The Holy Grail of Craft Ale

I was in London on Saturday for a meeting of the Brewery History Society committee. As I sat in the meeting room, plodding through the business (inculding this competition), I felt my beer spider sense tingling. There was a presence in the room. My eyes were inexorably drawn left, where I could see some bottles and cans sat on top of a cupboard.

"Hang on a minute" I thought, "they've still got caps on, they must be full". It's always best to keep track of where there's beer, you never know when you might need it. Perusing what was there, it suddenly dawned on me that the silver can looked strangely familiar. Could it be what I thought it was? I hesitantly edged over to get a better look.

And sure enough, there it was. The Holy Grail of Craft Ale: Heady Topper, brewed by John fucking Kimmich himself. Hesitantly, I reached towards it, but then I stopped. Dejected, I dropped my hand, for I knew in my heart of hearts that I was not worthy. I'd already drunk some cask beer, made by another, lesser, brewer that wasn't even American. It would be criminal to mix it with Heady Topper. And it wasn't for sale anyway.  So I settled for basking in the glory of it, thrilled to even be in the same room as such a beer, and resolved to purify my body and mind, and steer clear of Wetherspoons, so that when I do see if for sale I will know that I'm worthy enough to drink it.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Learning to love lager

Occasionally there’s an outbreak of ecumenicalism amongst my fellow beer nerds, and exhortations to appreciate beer in all its forms. “Bollocks to that” is my usual response. I prefer some types of beer to others and I don’t see why I should drink the ones I don’t like just because they also happen to be beer.

But I’ve been forced to accept this has left gaps in my beer knowledge. When I was in a beer tasting competition last year it became clear that I wasn’t that good at spotting different lager styles. So like a general re-fighting his last battle I stocked up on a selection of different lagers to taste before the competition this year.

This year's competition

I have started to get better at spotting lager styles, and though I still have a long way to go we won the competition again and my new knowledge was of some help. Though not as much as it could have been - it's hard to decide which way to jump when blind tasting. Lagers and ales I can now separate not just on the unpleasant vegetal DMS content of many lagers, but also on the general lack of aroma of lagers compared to ales, due to their low ester levels from unnaturally cold fermentation. I know Pilsners should have noticeable hop bitterness, but Helles don’t (which makes them particularly dull beers but I digress). Bocks and Dobblebocks I could have a reasonable chance at identifying as they’re like strong ales but with less aroma.

Victory again

But what about the rest? Are there any top tips on telling a Czech pilsner from a German one? What classic beers or styles do I really need to get to grips with? Come to think of it I need to work on kölsch too, any others? Anyway, suggestions welcome.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Beer Before Brewdog

A comment over at Boak and Bailey’s blog has got me pondering of late. James Watt from Brewdog trotted out their creation myth again, including this on beer before they started their brewery:

"I am also really excited about how the beer scene in the UK has changed over the last few years. It was fucking awful back in 2007. We wanted to be a catalyst for change. And we believe we have only been able to be that catalyst by doing all the crazy, high octane things that so many people took objection to at the time."

As I’d been drinking beer for many years before 2007 I cast my mind back to see if I could recall what I’d been drinking in the dark days before Brewdog. I usually have trouble remembering anything more than a weekend ago but a few dusty old brain cells seem to be still firing. 
My drinking career started back in the late 80s. Since then there’s been a lot of cask beer drunk obviously. Cask beer is not always served at its best, but when it is can be absolutely sublime, and to this day I can still honestly say that the best beer I’ve ever had was a cask beer. The cask beers were overwhelmingly below 5% ABV, with CAMRA beer festivals usually being the only places there was anything stronger.

Bottled beers were another matter though. Stronger beers like Imperial Russian Stouts and Barley Wines were out there if you could find them. I was lucky that a local brewery had a well stocked off licence with a good range of imported beers, particularly from Belgium. So Trappist beers, lambics, Flemish red and brown ales were relatively easy to get hold of. Supermarkets, as today, could be variable, but Sainsbury’s had an own label geuze back in the early 90s, and I found many American Craft Beers in Safeways (late 90s, early 2000s?). Goose Island IPA was the stand out beer, and to this day it remains a favourite. In fact when I first drank Brewdog Punk IPA (2007 or 2008) I thought, great, someone in Britain is making a beer in the style of American craft beer and I did shop around to find their beers when I could. Goose Island did wipe the floor with Punk when I compared them side by side though.

Since 2007 American pale ale style beers have become a lot easier to find, as have beers of higher strength and Brewdog undoubtedly played a part in this. A lot more beer styles that previously I only found as imports now seem to be brewed domestically, and if that’s your thing there are now premium niche products served on keg which I can’t remember seeing before. Not that I pay much attention to keg fonts though so they could have been out there before.

So before 2007 I had drunk a wide range of beers of excellent quality, from a wide range of styles and strengths. Perhaps if I was young, inexperienced, and from a crap hole in the middle of nowhere my experiences would have been different.
I’d be interested to hear any thoughts from other drinkers that weren't in short trousers in the dark days before Brewdog.

Friday 5 September 2014

Drinking a real 1000 IBU beer

I've read a few times about beers with 1000 International Bitterness Units, though I don't think any of the claims have stood up to analysis. The highest level I know of is a beer with 323 IBU from the Pitstop brewery.

I believe the level of isomerised alpha acids you can get to dissolve is around 100mg/L making it very difficult to get above 100 IBU. But it seems if, like the man from Pitstop, you add hop extract you can get the level higher. Which is something my thoughts turned to when I got my hands on a solution of 30% isomerised alpha acid.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
A simple calculation of how much I needed to add to beer to get to an iso-alpha acid concentration of 1g/L was all I needed to do to get to 1000 IBU.So that's what I did. I won't name the poor innocent beer I violated this way, but its IBU level will have been no more than 30 before I added the extract. Once I was happy it was well mixed it was time for a drink.

I took a careful sip and I must admit I can't really describe the taste as awesome. I can describe it as shockingly revolting though. This was just concentrated bitterness, no other flavours or aromas just pure, unmitigated bitterness. The only thing it reminded me of was the intensity of awfulness in my mouth when I first tried to eat lime pickle, though I dare say that was mild and flavoursome in comparison.

Still, I'd made up the drink so I had to try again. The second sip was still extremely bitter, though my obviously overloaded taste buds reacted with less horror this time . So I had a swig, which tasted much the same. There was still some of the beer left but I didn't see the point in drinking any more. I'd drunk the 1000 IBU beer, and it had tasted pretty much as you'd expect. So I chucked the rest and to try and rinse my mouth of the iso-alpha acids I had a half of the unadulterated beer. After what I'd been drinking before I'd expected it to taste of nothing, but in fact as it mingled with the iso-alpha acids in my mouth it tasted really bitter, but at a more bearable level.

I went to bed after that and you'll be pleased to hear my tongue didn't dissolve in the night. I don't think I'll be doing this one again though.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Script for a Jester's Beer

 So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts

But enough of that, I know you're only here for the beer. I've been doing more homebrewing of late and one I made was a pale ale with craft beer levels of new English hops in it - Endeavour for bittering and lots of Jester for late and dry hopping.

I was interested to see if English hops really could compare with the assertive flavours so characteristic of craft beer. The flavour wasn't quite what I was expecting. It was certainly very fruity, with perhaps a bit of citrus, but it reminded me of plums more than anything else. It didn't really taste like American hops, the flavour being more like what I got with the Australian hop Galaxy. Interesting though, and definitely a success for English hop breeders.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Brewing with Burton water

I recently found further information explaining the mysteries of mashing. I had again become perplexed by why water from Burton-upon-Trent is ideal for brewing pale ales, and was looking for answers.

I understood why the high gypsum (calcium sulphate) content is good, as the calcium reacts with phosphates and polypeptides in the mash to liberate hydrogen ions and lower the pH. But what about the high carbonate content of Burton water? Carbonate has a buffering effect which will oppose the action of the calcium, and keep the pH too high, which can lead to poor extract and haze formation.

Delving deeper into this dilema I reached for Lloyd Hind's Brewing Science and Practice, as I'd left my copy of Cyrus Uprum's Brewing Compendium at home. Lloyd Hind is the best source I've found on Burton water as he details mineral content of water from several different Burton water sources. I though the answer may lie in comparing the different analyses. Maybe only some wells were good for brewing pale ales with, and they had water with lower carbonate content?

It turned out the solution was simpler. Lloyd Hind says of Burton water: "Waters of this character appear to be unsurpassed for pale ales and are used without treatment of any sort, ... 

... other than boiling for half an hour or an hour previous to reducing to mashing temperature."

So the famous Burton brewing water was not used untreated! Boiling water may be the simplest of liquor treatments*, but a liquor treatment it is. Boiling hard water causes calcium carbonate to precipitate out of solution, which is how scale forms on a kettle. So it is Burton water, with the carbonate reduced, that is unsurpassed for pale ales.

*Actually in practice adding some acid is a lot bleedin' easier but you do need get the water analysed and calculate how much acid is needed to get rid of the carbonate.