Saturday 31 December 2016

Golden Pints 2016

After another year of only posting objective facts it's nice to once more an excuse to publish my own biased opinions.

  1. Best UK Cask Beer:
    Thurstons Horsell Hop. Green hop beers are fab. And I helped pick the hops.
  2. Best UK Keg Beer:
    I had one of these this year. Oh yes, though it was probably from a key keg so not really keg beer. In fact more cask in a kosher condom, as our mother church have given key kegs their approval. I didn't actually have the beer in the UK mind, but it was made in Britain: Gadd's Bretted IPA. Glorious it was.
  3. Best UK Bottled Beer:
    Sticking with the Brett. here, Old Diary Tsar Top. Sadly it's not made anymore, but on the plus side I still have stocks of it.
  4. Best UK Canned Beer:
    I seldom buy canned beer but I've been lucky enough to have some posted to me. I can't remember being blown away by any of them but I enjoyed Northern Monk Smokin' Bees Imperial Whisky Honey Smoked Porter so that.
  5. Best Overseas Draught:
    The foreign draught beers that stick out this year are lagers, which just shows how open minded and cosmopolitan I am. I was delighted to finally find some decent lager in Germany, so thanks for the Franconia recommendation from (I think) Rob, but the winner was in Prague: Únětice 12°.
  6. Best Overseas Bottled Beer:
    Orval again, still got a a bit of an obsession with this one and its bretty goodness. Drank a fair few bottles, and currently on my third go at making it myself. Which I really must blog about as I'm getting there.
  7. Best Overseas Canned Beer:
    I did have a few tinnies on my travels but I can't recall for certain what any of them were. Forst lager was probably one so that.
  8. Best collaboration brew:
    Can't think of one. And to be honest I still don't get the point.
  9. Best Overall Beer:
    Thurstons Horsell Hop
  10. Best Branding:
    Thurstons again. More excellent work from Too Much Black Coffee. I mean, just look at the Woking beer festival staff t-shirt:

  11. Best UK Brewery: Thurstons
  12. Best Overseas Brewery: Únětice
  13. Best New Brewery Opening 2016:
    I like to let breweries bed in a bit before judging them so no award here.
  14. Pub/Bar of the Year:
    The Crown, Horsell.
  15. Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016:
    Can't recall going to anywhere new this year.
  16. Beer Festival of the Year:
    I was knacked at the GBBF this year so it wasn't a vintage one for me. Instead I'm going with Carnivale Brettanomyces. I did a talk there, and I've since written two articles about it for the IBD magazine. But most importantly I drank a lot of great beer with great people.
  17. Supermarket of the Year:
    Booths again
  18. Independent Retailer of the Year:
    Cobbett's Real Ale. I've been to any specialst beer shops often this year, but I must have been to Cobbett's more than any other, and I like their teeny tiny micropub.
  19. Online Retailer of the Year:
    Not bought any beer online this year.
  20. Best Beer Book or Magazine:
    I've been reading a lot of brewing text books of late, which has rather dampened my enthusiasm for reading other books on beer. Even my beer nerdery has its limits. I look forward to seeing Brewer and Distiller International each month though, so that wins.
  21. Best Beer Blog or Website:
    Boak and Bailey have been as good as ever, but still insist on taking holidays at the same time so their regular flow is sometimes interupted. Ron Pattinson never stops though, after all obsessive is all 73 of his middle names. As well as his detail excavation of brewing records his accounts of wandering around getting pissed are also highly entertaining, so a well deserved win for Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.
  22. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer:
    Pilot Brewery have come up with some corkers, and they're from Leith, much like myself, and went to Heriot-Watt, much like myself. Writing this I realised I don't actually follow them on twitter though, and have only seen retweeted stuff, so I can't choose them. The twatty beer doodles have been good, but did skirt dangerously close to heresy at one time, so not them either. You can't take any chances with your immortal soul. No, the clear winner for me this year is @brouwervanklomp (yes, I know).
  23. Best Brewery Website/Social media:
    OK, Pilot can have this one, I really do need to follow them on twitter.
  24. Bonus category
    Brewer of the year:
    I made a nomination for the BGBW award this year, but my man didn't win. So he's winning this one: Glenn Whatman of Old Dairy Brewery. He's won both SIBA and CAMRA national awards, so is already this year's winner so by any objective reckoning.

Friday 30 December 2016

Box Steam Full Steam Ahead

Unexpectedly Box Steam Brewery sent me a bottle of their Full Steam Ahead. I'm always happy to be sent free beer, but this one was brewed to celebrate their tenth anniversary, and came in a big bottle at 10% ABV so I wasn't sure what to do with it. "Drink it" I hear you say, but when? Something like that is clearly best saved for a special occasion.

Christmas seemed like an ideal opportunity, but as it happens we didn't get round to it then. I'd got into the spirit of excess though, so polished it off on Boxing Day. Oak Aged it said, and I suspect it picked up some bugs during ageing, there was a touch of tartness to it. But in a good way, as it helped to balance a big beer that might otherwise have been cloying. It did remind me of those other aged beers, Liefman's Goudenband and Greene King's Suffolk Strong, and despite its strength I polished it off quick enough. Here's hoping that Box Steam have other significant anniversary's coming up soon.

Saturday 24 December 2016

The Story of the Whirlpool by H Ranulph Hudston

Not coming from an engineering background at times I find myself simply in awe of engineering innovations. Brewing engineering of course, I couldn't give a monkey's about steam engines or bridges or whatnot. In particular, the elegant simplicity of whirlpools strikes me as a true marvel: cloudy wort is pumped in tangentially, trub and hop debris settle in the middle, bright wort is run off. If I had to come up with a trub separation system I'd probably think of some filtration system that would get horribly clogged in a matter of seconds.

In fact prior to the invention of whirlpools settling tanks were used with work run off by a float pipe, as H Ranulph Hudston recounts in The Story of the Whirlpool*. Which just goes to show I'm no engineer. Hudston was inspired to invent the whirlpool by none less than Albert Einstein and a cup of tea:
"He observed that when he stirred his tea, the errant leaves in his cup immediately migrated to the centre where they settled, the larger leaves being in the middle of the pile. He pondered the phenomenon, decided why the leaves overcame the centrifugal force of the swirling liquid, and produced the mathematical picture of the forces exerted and currents produced in the teacup. No practical use was made of this readily observable phenomenon, at least in the brewing industry, until the year 1960, when it was introduced by the author into Molson's Brewery, Montreal."
Trub in wort
 Wort was fed into the settling tanks over an umbrella to aerate it. When the pipe was moved to the side of the tank to avoid it Hudston noticed that the trub was more compact and there was a small clear peripheral band around the bottom of the tank. Further adjustments were made so the incoming wort went in a circular path:
"The result was a definite heaping of the trub in the centre of the tank and the formation of a distinct wide band, clear of trub, around the bottom. On the next brew, the wort was drawn from this bare area through a conveniently located outlet at the edge of the bottom. The wort ran clear for the entire brew; therefore the use of the float pipe was abandoned."
The brewery were also using a centrifuge to clarify the wort, but trials showed that more wort was produced using the whirlpool, so it took over. Hudston gave a talk on the principles and use of the Whirlpool tank at a Master Brewers Association of the Americas convention in 1960, and their use quickly spread around the world.

* The Story of the Whirlpool. H.R. Hudston. MBAA TQ vol. 6, no. (3), 1969, pp. 164-167

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The Pound pub

Something I've always wondered about the "umpteen pubs closing a week" stats is how many of them re-open? Though with most of the ones I know there's no going back The Stabbage in Woking has re-emerged as The Pound pub. Sounds rough, doesn't it?

But as with all drink related matters these things have to be investigated thoroughly so I popped in. 

The place was reasonable busy, with TV screens everywhere and a pool table. Much to my surprise they had two cask beers on, neither of which tasted of vinegar though they were lacking in condition. The cask beers weren't a pound a half either, but at £2.75 a pint were cheaper than the 'Spoons down the road.

They did have drinks going for a pound a pop though, including one branded as Friary Meux bizarrely enough. 

When I were a lad Allied Breweries branded their many local pubs as Friary Meux after the closed brewery in Guildford. Friary Meux bitter was their rather poor weaker cask ale, but the keg bitter was John Bull. And I'm sure that Friary Meux had gone before the dark lord Satan unleashed nitro-keg bitter upon the earth. So I guess that makes the Friary Meux Smooth Bitter a neo-retro brand. Weird, eh?

Friday 16 December 2016

Free will and determinism

An old school friend I hadn't seen in 20 years recently tracked me down thanks to the blog. He was back in town and wondered if I fancied a pint. There was only one answer I could give to that question.

Since we last met I've become a professional brewer and he's now a keen homebrewer and is on the committee of SOBA. Was it free will that lead us both to make beer a big part of our lives? Or was it inevitable after we'd tasted Burton?

Thursday 15 December 2016

Imperial Beer Club

I've had some more of my favourite beer come through the post: that's right, the free stuff. This lot was from Imperial Beer Club, a company dedicated to stronger beers.

When I'm down the pub I stick to cask beer of modest strength, but in the safety of my own home I'm quite partial to the stronger stuff so I was looking forward to this box.

The contents weren't quite what I was expecting though, but I'm probably just showing my age. The strong beers that generally grace my beer cupboards are Imperial Russian Stouts, Belgian Ales, and Barley Wines. The beers in the box however all had some quirk to mark them out as crafty compared to the more historic styles I usually drank. I was also surprised to see that a few of them had added lactose. I guess it's now part of the craft brewers' tool box to correct over attenuation.

I started with Pressure Drop's Syd Strong Cascadian Dark Rye Ale, which was perhaps not my best idea as I'm not fond of mixing dark malts and American hops. Sure enough, there was an unpleasant mix of roasted malt and citrus flavours, but the citrus soon faded leaving something drinkable enough.

Tempest had a Brave New World IPA certainly has the bitter, American hop flavour I was expecting. A bit sweet though.

By The Horns Bastard Brag Black IPA again had a harsh roast flavour over a thin body.  Do people really like this sort of thing? Probably. The harshness does mellow but I didn't really get much hops. This beer style is just not for me.

Their Hercules Hold Strong Scotch Ale was more up my street. I was barrel aged, which no doubt is where the slight sourness came from. There was quite a thick body to it, help by the addition of lactose. It was kind of like a chewy Goudenband, so not much like a Scotch Ale if you ask me, but a nice drop all the same.

Tempest's Mexicake Imperial stout had had various flavourings added to it. It was a good full bodied stout but the added vanilla was overdone a tad and the slight hint of chilli was discordant to me, it would be better off without it.

From Siren there was Blacklight Banana Imperial Stout. It was brewed as part of the Rainbow Project, which causes a minor flutter amongst beer geeks online every year but is not something I've ever paid much attention to. The beer represented the colour violet because bananas are violet under UV or something. Anyway, it was slightly smoky, full bodied imperial stout. I didn't really notice much banana thought, but I can't say that concerned me.

Mad Hatter's Return to Madness Imperial IPA. Was as brisk as a volcano on pouring. It was surprisingly dark, with a very fruity smell, thought I didn't get much phenolic flavour as I would have expected due to them using a Belgian yeast. It was way too sweet too, which makes me wonder if it fermented out properly. The claimed ABV is 11% but I wonder if it really got there.

Mad Hatter Schwartzwalder Kirschetorte was named after the German for Black Forest Gateau. It had lots of ingredients, including lactose, thought it was a  bit thinner than I expected, and I didn't get the cherries at all. It tasted like a good stout though, and was nicely balanced.

Siren's Pompelmocello IPA also had added with lactose, which I must admit was a surprise in an IPA. Particularly as the body was very thin, thought its sharp taste might have accentuated that. I wonder how thinner it would have been without the lactose? It was big on the citrus taste but i prefer things with more body.

To confirm I was getting the full craft experience there was also a small can from Northern Monk: Smokin' Bees Imperial Whisky Honey Smoked Porter. It was a big boozy beer. I didn't get any honey, but then that's a delicate flavour and this beer was full on. It was slightly smoky but it worked well and I enjoyed this one. 

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Mercer's Meat Stout

Some details of the intriguing Mercer's Meat Stout are mentioned in the latest issue of the Brewery History Society newsletter:
"The Whitbread archive contained an analysis of the Meat Stout. The brew of 80 barrels at 1056°OG contained: one hundred weight and 92 pounds of meat extract, caramel from Boakes, Roberts & Co of London, along with five malts, flaked maize and other sugars. A further 45lbs of extract was added to the fermentation stage"
For those looking to introduce bovril into their brewing I make that 7g/l in the copper and 1.5g/l in the FV, which for a five gallon (23L) batch is nearly 200g (seven ounces) in total.

Sunday 11 December 2016

One foot in Gravesend

For me culture is normally something found in a Petri dish. Though I don't do much microbiology nowadays I occasionally dust off a loop, and I still look back fondly on the time I spent with bacteria. The excitement of finding Salmonella, or acid-fast cells on a slide. The wondrous heamolysis of beta-haemolyic Strepotocci or the many charms of Pseudomonas. The melted wax colony morphology and seagull shape of Campylobacter. The mucoid capsule of a good Klebsiella. I could go on. Delights one and all. But where was I? Oh yes, Gravesend.

Thanks to some friends I occasionally get a dose of high culture and find out that I am not a complete philistine. So it was that I visited Gravesend to see an art exhibition on a lightship. Dead good it was too, Weird mind, but good.

Visiting a new town also provides some prime ticking opportunities, and Gravesend was no exception. Close to a closed pub is The Compass micropub, occupying a site formerly used as a estate agency. I think that makes it a points victory for the forces of righteousness.

Though it's not a micro as some pubs I've been in, it doesn't take many people to fill it up, though there is another room out the back. The beers included Gadd's Dogbolter, a beer I once made myself very ill on when I was a student. Some people may consider of 5.6% ABV or more sessionable but I'm not one of them.

The next pub The Three Daws where I drank mild, but this was no session beer either at 4.9% ABV. It was delicious though, so it's a shame I can't remember who brewed it. Cracking pub too.

We called in at 'Spoons for some food, and had a maudlin drunk latch onto us. Occupational hazard of going to the pub I guess. The poor bloke had suffered tragedy in his life and obviously felt the need to talk about it.

A tactical withdrawal saw us back at The Compass where we got the back room to ourselves. I had a great time visiting Gravesend, catching up with old friends and going to great pubs really does have a lot to recommend it.