Monday 31 August 2015

Siren serendipity

I had a stroke of luck when I called in at Cobbet's Real Ales for a swifty to celebrate a friends birthday. Being Friday night the place as rammed, with the micropub overflowing into most of the shop. Fortunately there was space to perch ourselves on some cushions handily placed in the shop window.

I couldn't see many of the bottles from there but my eyes were drawn to one I spied with 'brett' in it's name. Hello, hello, hello I thought, that looks like one for me.

All Bretts Are Off
It was as I'd hoped a beer brewed with Brettanomyces yeast, and even better it was brewed in conjunction with Chad Yakobson from Crooked Stave. Back in 1911 2011 when I was being innovative* and brewing with Brettanomyces information on it was very thin on the ground. Chad's Brettanomyces Project was an excellent resource on this so I'd been interested in his beers since then.

Billed as an "English Bitter", with a traditional malt base and Challenger and Fuggles hops it doesn't taste anything like an English bitter. Instead it has a dungy farmyard smell, with a touch of Orval about it, with surprisingly citrus fruity flavour, though still a bit earthy.

It was certainly interesting and challenging, which some think are the sort of beers that the Great British Beer Festival should be full of. I can't help but think that beers that smell of manure are only going to be of limited appeal though.

*Apart from the fact it had been done years before.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Achouffe - the brewery with the gnomes

The last visit of the forth day of the Belgian study tour was to Achouffe brewery.
I was getting a bit jaded by this point, and let's face it the copper cathedral at Rochefort would be a hard act for any brewery to follow.

Achouffe stared with 49 litres being brewing in a kitchen in 1982. They're currently making 150,000hl a year so haven't done badly. Their gnome logo comes from a pun in the local dialect: 'la chouffe' means 'the gnome' and the brewery in in Achouffe. I didn't notice any gnomes wandering around whilst I was there. Perhaps the gnomes are invisible?

They use a lot of herbs and spices in their beers: coriander in La Chouffe, thyme and curaçao in their Winter beer. The hoppy beer Houblon, designed for the US market uses Saaz, Amarillo and Tomahawk hops. They export 70% of their production, most going to Holland. They brew 15 - 20 times a week, 100hl at a time, two tons of malt per brew. All the beers are brewed to sales strength as they don't have sterile oxygen free water to cut the strength back with.

All their beers are bottle conditioned, the bottling being carried out at a bottling plant 6km away. Achouffe was bought by Duvel Moortgat in 2006 and the bottling plant is a major investment for the group, not just Achouffe.

Though bottling lines are impressive feats of engineering they're not my favourite part of  a brewery trip. That would be the drinking, I mean seeing the brewhouse. There was a treat at this one though as they opened up the tunnel pasteuriser so we could see inside whilst it was running.

I did a lot of work on the diabolical side of brewing last year so it was nice to be able to see the devil's work as it happens.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

The Brewers Journal: a new brewing magazine

It somehow passed my by but there's a new magazine for brewers called Brewers Journal. It looks like it's been around for a couple of months. As the Brewers' Guardian seems to be moribund I guess there's a gap in the market, but whether the market is actually viable only time will tell.

Saturday 15 August 2015

CPD at the GBBF

When I tell my friends that going to beer festivals is part of my Continuing Professional Development they seem sceptical. Perhaps they think the important networking opportunities are another attraction.

When it comes to the GBBF though I can provide conclusive proof that it's CPD:

See? A lecture with powerpoint slides and everything. This years it was someone from Lallemand talking about dried yeast.

Though he was unable to shed any light on the matter of their products being mixed cultures he did give top tips on rehydrating yeast. Due to the delicate state the cells are in as they emerge from their freeze dried state it's best not to use either pure water or wort for rehydration, instead use boiled tap water or diluted wort. As I tend to use diluted wort myself I felt myself bathed in the warm glow of smugness on hearing this.

As to the networking I managed to catch up with all except one of the people I'd planned to, and bumped into enough other people that I think I ended up ahead on points.

Old Dairy's AK1911 was on so I got to explain to friends about how it came to be. If I've not bored you about it before it's all down to Ron Pattinson and Bradford City.

The Champion Beer of Britain was a bit of a disappointment this year though. As it's made with American hops to 50 units of bitterness the more craftily inclined amongst my fellow beer nerds failed to chorus their annual howls of outrage at the choice. Though I didn't see anything praising the choice either. Perhaps it's a tradition or an old charter or something with the crafties that if you can't say anything bad about CAMRA say nothing.

Monday 10 August 2015

The closed pubs of Woking

As recent years have seen the closure of a lot of pubs I thought I'd look into how many local to me have closed and what I thought of them. I've managed to find a dozen, and I'd drunk in all of them save one.

First on my list is the Goldsworth Arms. I only went here once when a band were playing. I think a friend of a friend was in the band, and I can remember they played Gordon is a moron as we had to call up our mate of that name so we could shout it down the phone at him. The pub looked grotty and I can't say I'm surprised it closed. After years of closure scaffolding has recently appeared around it so they're doing something with it, thought I doubt that it's reopening it as a pub.

The Goldsworth Arms
Moving on there's a load of flats where The Cotteridge Hotel used to be. I drank here a few times, both when it was the Cotteridge and when it was later the Litten Tree. It seemed a perfectly fine place to drink in, though I did get barred once. Not my fault of course, it was all due to my girlfriend of the time being keen on a dried flower display but that's another story.

The Cotteridge
Moving on to Old Woking we have more flats where the Queen's Head used to be. I drank here a lot in my youth. It was owned by Courage then, though Moorlands later took it over. It was a two bar pub with a large garden. I hadn't been there in years when it closed but a mate nearby was annoyed as he would still drink in it, unlike another pub nearby.

The Queen's Head, Kingfield
Further down the road was the White Hart, I suspect it was a bit too far out to have got much passing trade. I only ever drank here once and it looked like an old style two bar boozer. I only had a pint but it was pleasant enough. Currently surrounded by scaffolding prior to be turned into housing.

The White Hart
The only pub on my list I didn't go to was The College Arms, another one that's been knocked down and replaced with flats. It's close to the mosque so a lot of muslims live nearby. This may not have helped its chances of survival, as the muslim sky wizard is famous for his antipathy to alcohol. Though as Woking has Britain's oldest mosque having a lot of muslims nearby is hardly a new development. 

The College Arms, Maybury
Back in the town centre was the Rat and Parrot. I had the misfortune of going to this shit hole twice. A large keg only establishment full of kiddies it was apparently shut down due to under age drinking. I once heard a colleague say she'd seen a couple shagging whilst they were sat at one of the tables. Classy, eh?

The Rat and Parrot
Opposite the station there's a nightclub called The Bed. I went to it a few times when it was called something else, though at the moment what the name was escapes me. I only ever went when pissed so maybe that's why the names gone. You certainly wouldn't want to have gone there sober though.

It was for a while an American style brew pub. I never went to it then as the beer was served from tanks under pressure and I had no time for such filth. If you think I'm a dogmatic follower of the CAMRA party line now you should have seen me in my youth!

The Bed
Back out to Westfield what was once The Cricketers is now a Chinese restaurant. I drank in this pub a lot when I was younger. It used to put on crappy local bands, though given the size of the egos some of the band members had you'd have thought they were playing Wembley stadium. It was a Courage pub so Directors was the drink of choice as I was never keen on Best.

The Cricketers
Going out to Bisley the Fox Inn is now more housing. I only drank here once and sat in the garden so can't recall anything else about the place, though it always looked a bit tatty when I drove past.

The Fox Inn, Bisley
Handily placed for Brookwood station was The Brookwood. I went here twice, the first time when I had long hair and it was a squaddies pub. The hostile comments started as soon as I got to the bar so some very rapid drinking was soon followed by a hasty exit. Many years later I ended up here whilst on a very boozy family walk with another ex. We must have been pretty far gone and the beer must have been crap as we all ended up having a Baileys. It looks like it's offices now.

The Brookwood, Brookwood
Back at the top of Wych Hill there's The Star. I only went here once to check it out after it had been refurbished. Sadly refurbished meant no carpets or anything else that might deaden the sound making it too damn noisy. I never returned and now it looks like I never will.

The Star

Lastly there's place that was much more bar than pub, another of those horrible keg only, bare floorboard buildings that are best avoided by discerning drinkers. It traded under a number of names, but was called Mojos when it finally lost it's mojo and closed for good.

It's not all been closures though, I can remember when the Wetherspoons was a Woolworths and two other pubs have opened in the town centre and are still running. Still a big net loss, and though some were awful others were perfectly decent pubs.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Beer à la mode

The French may have a penchant for crapping in holes in the ground but they are not totally uncivilised, as I was reminded when I heard Léo Ferré being played as the background music in a climbing gear shop. And although France is not renowned as a great beer country their malt based beverages are not entirely without merit.

My holiday to Chamonix was an altogether more sober affair than my trip to Belgium, but then it was a climbing trip rather than a study tour of breweries.

I don't think I had more than three pints worth in a night, as a stinking hangover would really not have been welcome when precariously clinging to a rock face.

Still, Chamonix has it's own brewpub so I had to call in:

 The brewing kit is behind the bar and five beers were available.

I went for the IPA, which to my surprise was more like a British golden ale than an American IPA. Too bleedin' yeasty mind, so once again I was bemoaning the lack of finings.

In the main I got beer from supermarkets though as it's a lot cheaper that way. The Mont Blanc brewery did a good drop, and bières de garde were widely available.

Belgian beers were also there to tempt me, and amongst the wide range of Leffe beers (there's bleedin' thousands of them now) there was one variant that made me curious enough to crack and buy it.

I went for the Cascade not the Whitbread Golding Variety version and it was quite pleasant. Dryer than normal, with the hop and yeast flavours in balance and not a mention of craft anywhere on the packaging.

There did seem to be a gap in the beer range on sale, as unlike the bog standard lagers none of the more flavoursome beers were below 6.5% ABV.  As I was in France I just had to adapt my habits to their ways. Well, as far as the beer went anyway. My toiletry habits stayed thoroughly British.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

A visit to Rochefort brewery

I can't say I've drunk a lot of Rochefort beers over the years. A slight twinge of embarrassment from my first trip to Belgium might be why. Not being used to the ways of these continentals I started drinking in an almost deserted bar at 7pm. When I stumbled to the now crowded bar for my last beer at the usual (to me anyway) time of 11pm and ordered a Rochefort 10 I can remember a disdainful local looking round and saying simply 'English'.

I don't suppose my drinking habits have changed that much since then, but I have realised that in most countries the drinking starts and finishes later so I at least have more chance of reaching a respectable hour before I get tired and emotional.

So having no expectations about the next visit on our trip I was absolutely blown away by what a beautiful brewery Rochefort is.

The gleaming copper vessels are actually still used.

There was no mash filter in the building next door here.

And the copper vessels weren't shells hiding stainless steel ones.

The brewhouse dates from 1962 and the recipes have remained essentially unchanged since then. The monastery was founded in 1230 and probably brewed, but the earliest brewing record is from 1595. The French revolution saw the end of the monastery though, and monks didn't return until 1890. There are various historical things in the cellar but it's not all old fashioned.

Here's a centrifuge:

...and cylindroconical fermenters: a paraflow and bottling line. I really should have got this written up sooner.

The numbers on the beers refer to an old Belgian system for measuring gravity, which was almost as sensible as degrees sacch. Rochefort 6 has a gravity of 1.060, 8 is 1.080 and 10 is 1.100. The 8 is made from pale malt, wheat starch, white and brown sugar, with Aramis and Styrian golding hops. Aramis is one of Peter Darby's hop varieties so comes from considerably later than 1962, though were told it was replacing Hallertau. The grist provides about three quarters of the extract and the sugars the rest. The hops are pelletised and caramel is used for colour.

Nine brews a week are carried out over four days. A 90 minute boil gives only 4% evaporation to the 100 hl brew length, for which 1500kg of grain are used. The mash is long at 2 hours and 20 minutes, starting at 63°C and rising to 74°C. The beer spends a week in the fermenter at 22°C and then is cooled to 15°C for two days and centrifuged. Conditioning takes three weeks in flat bottomed tanks. A degree plato's worth of invert sugar is added along with yeast for bottling, Rochefort 8 getting 3 million cells per ml and 10 4-5 million. CO2 rises from 2g/l to 7 due to the bottle conditioning.

Unlike at Orval, I did actually manage to spot one of the monks here. There are 13 of them.

I don't know how much beer the monks get through but it must be a perk of the job, and after this visit I know I'll be drinking more Rochefort. many bottles are left?

Sunday 2 August 2015

Don't fear the Namur: Bocq Brewery

The fourth day of the Belgian study tour started with a trip to Bocq brewery. Another name that didn't ring a bell but I had had of one of their beers, Blanche de Namur. Sadly I didn't remember liking it.

They do quite a few more, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Their yeast makes a lot of 4VG but not a lot of esters. Water comes from two wells but is treated by reverse osmosis and then has calcium added back. They use a lot of two row barley but six row for the wheat beer, though it has a low soluble nitrogen ratio. Unmalted wheat is of course also used in the wheat beer. The hops are  mainly Saaz and Saphir, though hopping rates are fairly modest: the highest is 25-27 IBU and the wheat beer is 11. Some beers have spices added which include orange peel, coriander, liquorish and ginger.

As seems to the common in Belgium the brewery is a mixture of ancient and modern, though part of the old brewery (the mash kettle) is still in use.

They brew four times a day, four days a week, using four tonnes of malt.

They have a 90 minute mash, starting at 62°C and rising to 72°C. The wheat beer only has a short boil to keep the natural haze, other beers are boiled for 60-90 minutes to get 6% evaporation.

They ferment at 23°C but still need a diacetyl rest at times and have conditioning tanks.

The yeast goes for 25 generations but they can have problems with it as the amount of sugar used can cause carbon catabolite repression. Try saying that after a few glasses of Triple! Zinc and oxygen are added to the wort to help the yeast, though the pitching rate is relatively low at 5 million cells per ml.

After fermentation the wheat beer is chilled to only 15°C to help keep the haze and is unfiltered. The other beers are chilled to 2-3°C and filtered. The bottle conditioned beers start at 2 -2.5g/L CO2 with a target of 7.5.

The fruit beers get a whopping 250 PU which sounds very high to me, but as it must have a low hopping rate and high sugar content I guess they're playing it safe.

As to the all important tasting, I'm happy to report that I enjoyed the beers very much, though I did steer clear of the fruit beers as they sounded suspiciously like they were at the alcopop end of things.