Friday 30 January 2015

A visit to a gastro pub

I recently found myself in a gastropub. I knew it was a gastropub as a friend had warned me that if I went there for lunch I'd need to get a kebab on the way home.

Forearmed with this knowledge I made sure that not only did I have a starter and a pudding, I got a side order of chips too.

The food did look like something out of Masterchef, and dare I say it was moist and well seasoned.

The chips came in a mug, I think it was inevitable something like that would happen, but fortunately they had enough crockery to cover the other courses. 

Doesn't it look posh?

The extra chips saved me from having to go home via the kebab house, and if you stuck to the set menu it wasn't too costly.

As to the all important beer and food pairing I saw they had Landlord on so stuck with that. It wasn't on top form, and had a slight haze, but it still went well with each of the courses. I could even be getting the hang of this beer and food pairing thing - get some beer, order some food and then drink the beer with your meal. Yes, I think I've cracked it.

They had another beer on hand pump, and there may have been other beers on the menu but I didn't look further once I'd seen the Landlord.

Even though the beer wasn't on top form I really enjoyed myself. The food was great and the staff were friendly. I could get used this eating posh thing.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

So much for Worthington's

Early last year I pondered Where's Worthington's wonders, as despite the flash new White Shield brewery and a highly respected brewer in charge their output seemed to be zero. I was soon reassured that barley wine was coming, which I hoped meant the wonders were on their way.

But since then the head brewer has left and the plant has been mothballed. I've now seen the news that by the end of June Molson Coors will decide what to do with it. Though I suppose there's still the chance they'll find some enthusiam I have to say I don't hold much hope.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Dealing with gushers

There's nothing that makes a beer look more unprofessional than having it gush all over the floor when it's opened. As a trained brewer I of course know the Standard Operating Procedure of how to deal with this. Sadly it consists of going "Aaaaaagggghhh!" whilst running towards the sink and trying to catch as much of it as I can in a glass.

Getting gushers is an unfortunate but not unknown occurrence when buying bottles from micro craft breweries. There's worse though. What if it's from an entire batch of your home brew? An altogether more calamitous situation. But fear not, disaster can be averted using this one weird trick you won't believe. Actually, you probably will, but it seems it's the done thing to included dubious phrases like that when putting stuff on websites and who am I to differ?

Basically what you need to do is release the excess pressure a bit at a time. Back when I started home brewing digital scales were not the sort of thing you found in a kitchen so excess priming sugar and the inevitable gushing that follows happened all too often. Fortunately there's always a slight pause before a gushing beer can build up a head of steam, and it's thanks to this that the situation can be saved.

Take a broad headed bottle opener and slightly ease up the crown cork until the bubbles start to build. Let them slowly rise up the neck of the bottle when they reach the stop lifting the cap. Often the bottle will re-seal, but if it doesn't you won't have a horrible mess, or even worse a big waste of beer, you'll have foam oozing out from under the cap. Now's the time to grab your bottle capper and clamp down the top. The oozing will end and peace shall come to everyone.

I added Brettanomyces to this beer and then bottled it too soon.

This process will need to be repeated numerous times as only  a small amount of carbon dioxide will be vented each time. So let the beer settle down and then do it again, a few times a day, for a few days. Eventually the bubbles will lose their ferocity and the beer will be safe to open and drink in the usual manner.

If the situation is really bad put the beer in the fridge before releasing pressure as colder beer will absorb more CO2 so will be less lively.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Greene King - Beer Genius

Greene King, Britain's largest craft brewer will be launching a new training website for their pub staff next month. It's going to be called Beer Genius and will be divided into three sections:

  • Beer Genius
  • Cellar Genius and
  • Commercial genius
Greene King own a lot of pubs so have a huge amount of staff turnover. The website will help with training staff in serving and keeping beer, as well as running pubs. There will be short videos showing how to do things, and online modular courses. The best bit though is that it will be freely available for anyone to view.

Nosing around the Greene King website to see if you could look at anything yet I saw they already have Cellar Doctor online, and after a few clicks I found their views on one particular cask conundrum:

Any casks not stillaged on day of delivery must be vigorously rolled around the cellar before being placed on the stillage. 

I'll be doing some more nosing next month as I look forward to seeing the new site.

Friday 9 January 2015

Class war on the hop front

Having been to a few hop farms I must confess I've always thought that hop picking looks like a shit job. I could be wrong though, I do know a brewer that takes a holiday every year to go and pick hops. Still, one thing I am certain of is that it was definitely worse when hops were picked by hand. Reading about what East Enders put up with when they went to the hop farms of Kent shows things must have been really tough back home if they though it was an improvement.

When George Orwell did his brief stint as a hop picker in 1931 things were better than they'd been in previous decades but conditions were still harsh:

"When one starts work the farm gives one a printed copy of rules, which are designed to reduce a picker more or less to a slave. According to these rules the farmer can sack a picker without notice and on any pretext whatever, and pay him off at eight bushels a shilling instead of six – i.e. confiscate a quarter of his earnings. If a picker leaves his job before the picking is finished, his earnings are docked the same amount. You cannot draw what you have earned and then clear off, because the farm will never pay you more than two thirds of your earnings in advance, and so are in your debt till the last day.The binmen (i.e. foremen of gangs) get wages instead of being paid on the piecework system, and these wages cease if there is a strike, so naturally they will raise Heaven and earth to prevent one."

The Encircling Hop by Margaret Lawrence includes the list of rules sent to hop pickers coming to the Whitbread owned Beltring farm, one of which is about striking:

"After the tally has been set, and not dissented from, anyone going on strike, or leaving work during a strike, or leaving work before it is finished, will be paid off at one penny per basket"

The fear of strikes and the measures taken to prevent them suggest that they did occur and I finally found an account of one in a book a mate got me for my birthday.

The Hop Bin is an interesting collection of articles covering the history of hop picking in Kent and Sussex. Included is the reminiscences of someone who manged a hop farm in Faversham, which mentions a stirke, and well, well, the workers won it:

"Now I worked for a family company that had been hop growers for about five hundred years. My governor's father was a major, and his father was a 'Sir'. Now they do say that the old grandfather had a problem about what they were going to pay the pickers. The pickers had a strike. And the grandfather went up the hop garden and said 'Don't stop but I'm not going to pay you any more.' Now that night they reckon the pickers went up to the big house and they collared the old chap and they put a rope under his arms and they dropped him in the well and held him just above the water. And they said 'If you don't give us any more money on these hops we'll drop you down into the water'; and he said he wouldn't so they dropped him in the water. When they pulled him out the second time he said he'd give them the extra money. So they evidently got round their little problem by that method."

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Lautering and sparging temperature

I'm sure that like myself many of you have spent  time wondering about sparge temperatures. How exactly was 78°C decided upon? What happens if you go higher? And come to think of it why do some people sparge slightly lower?

As I could only remember something vague about extracting things you don't want it was time to turn to the text books. And fortunately for us these points have clearly been pondered for some time as Wolfgang Kunze has an excellent explanation in Technology Brewing and malting:

"The lautering temperature is very important. As the temperature increases the viscosity of the liquid decreases. This means that the lautering would be fastest at 100°C. Although undissolved residual starch is in every case washed out of the spent grains during sparging (continuation of mashing), late saccharification by α-amylase can only occur provided it has not been inactivated by temperatures above 78°C. Lautering at 100°C consequently always results in “blue mashes” (iodine test)."

And then there's a handy which reinforces the important point:

Because α-amylase is destroyed at 80°C it is necessary to keep below this temperature during lautering.

So there you have it, even when you get to sparging you still need some α-amylase activity to prevent starchy wort.

Monday 5 January 2015

Gone for a Burton

Though in recent years I've very rarely seen Ind Coope Burton Ale the knowledge that it was still being produced has been a comfort to me on the long, cold and lonely Winter nights.

But no more:

A truly great beer has been killed off. Time for some wailing and gnashing of teeth I think. I'll pass on the rending of garments though, it's a bit chilly for that.