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.