Friday 26 May 2017

Pseudo-craft sub-brands

Adnams aren't hiding anything
with their sub-brand
My last post on the mysterious world of British craft beer got an interesting comment from "qq" on traditional brewers bringing out crafty sub-brands:
"I use "pseudo-craft" for any traditional cask brewer that uses radically different branding for its hoppy stuff."
I do like to see such clearly defined positions, it makes life so much easier. But sadly it's not a position I can adopt myself. I've heard myself how a seven year old brewery had to launch a sub-brand if it wanted to get into the craft market as they were too well known as a cask ale brewery. And it seems they're not the only one.

In times of increasing competition it's easy to see why breweries are looking for new avenues to get their beer to market. And lets not forget the craft premium where a smaller container size can be used to increase the value of your beer by 50%. There appears to be a similar thing going on with craft keg vs. cask beer pricing too.

Irritating though it is I can even see why some breweries take the step of hiding who they are when they launch a sub-brand. Craft beer geeks seem to have a lot more contempt for mainstream cask ales than they do mainstream lagers. Drinking Bud, or now Bud Light, seems to be something to proudly tweet about, but Greene King IPA only ever gets derided.

So established ale breweries are in a bit of a no-win situation. If they don't innovate they're doomed to decline, and if they do they're denounced. Is it any wonder that for new brands, aimed at new markets, they adopt new branding?

Monday 22 May 2017

Dealing with beer haze part two

Though some brewers are now actively encouraging beer hazes, to the extent of doing daft things like adding flour, most beer is still served bright. Following on from this article I wrote for the SIBA journal here's part two.

Dealing with beer haze part two

Having looked at non-microbiological hazes in part one of this article I will now look at hazes caused by microbes and how to avoid them.

Microbiological hazes can be caused by an excess of brewers’ yeast remaining in suspension or a bacterial and/or wild yeast infection. To prevent your own yeast causing problems the first step is to ensure that it is in a healthy state and the correct amount is pitched into the wort. For a beer with a gravity of 1.040 around 10 million viable cells per ml of wort will be required. You will need a microscope to do a yeast count and methylene blue stain to determine viability. Inexpensive microscopes are now widely available and with only a little practice they become easy to use and should become part of your routine. If weighing yeast slurry you will be looking for around 2lbs/bbl or 450g/hl. Yeast counts should also be carried out on beer before packaging. For cask beer it is recommended that the yeast count at racking is 0.5 to 2 million cells/ml.

Good flocculation will get the yeast out of suspension and there are a few things you can do to help it on its way. Calcium is needed for yeast to flocculate so get your liquor treatment right. Auxiliary finings and isinglass finings will both greatly help beer to clarify. Auxiliary finings are negatively charged and using them before adding isinglass, for example in the fermenter, will help the isinglass work well. Isinglass finings have a positive charge and will attract the negatively charged yeast cells and help them settle out. Both these types of finings will need to be used at an optimised dose as under or over fining will give poor results. Your finings provider should be able to help you with finings optimisation if you are unfamiliar with the procedure.

Microbiological hazes can also be caused by infection of bacteria and/or wild yeast. A microscope can be of use in detecting infection, but only if the organisms are present in sufficiently high numbers and further lab-based tests may be required for certainty and to confirm identification.

Using selective culture media grown under specific conditions (aerobically or anaerobically) allows the numbers of organisms present to be determined and identification is easier when looking at the shape of the colonies. Culturing for microorganisms will not give an immediate result as they will take days to grow, but can be very useful both when trouble shooting and as part of a quality assurance programme.

A table of which organisms to look for in different samples is shown below:

Sample type
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeast
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeast
Green Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Bright Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Filtered Packaged Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Cask Conditioned Beer
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeasts

As can be seen there are many stages at which micro problems can occur and avoiding them requires an integrated approach. Brewery design should minimise chances of cross contamination e.g. keeping malt dust away from fermentation areas. Pipework should avoid dead legs to prevent material that will support microbial growth accumulating and to ensure that cleaning cycles are effective. Plant integrity should be checked regularly and any leaks or perished seals are warning signs of potential problems.

Checks can be made for microbial contamination that give an immediate result. ATP bioluminescence detects a compound found in all living cells and is an excellent marker for microbial organisms. Swabs can be used to check that surfaces have been cleaned effectively and last rinse water at the end of a cleaning cycle can be monitored.

If infection is found in packaged beer then corrective action can only be used to prevent it reoccurring in future brews. But if bacterial infection is found in one if the most common sites, pitching yeast, then acid washing can be used to remedy the situation almost immediately.

Acid washing will significantly reduce bacterial numbers without greatly affecting the health of the brewing yeast if carried out correctly. The yeast must be at a cold temperature before acid washing and it must be kept cold during the process. Slowly add acid (typically 75% food grade phosphoric diluted 1 in 10) to the yeast slurry whilst mixing well until the pH has dropped to between 2 and 2.2. Leave for one hour, stirring regularly, and then pitch immediately. Unfortunately if the pitching yeast is contaminated with wild yeast acid washing won’t help and fresh yeast will need to be obtained.

Regular monitoring of process samples as part of a quality assurance programme is the best way of preventing microbiological hazes in your beer and finding out if there are any particular problem areas in your brewery.

Saturday 13 May 2017

Magical drinking

Avowed materialist and rationalist that I am I still think that there is something magical about cask beer. As I brewer and scientist I once explained at great length to a wine drinking friend of mine how beer gets its flavour. I went through malt types and grist composition, mashing conditions and fermentability, hop varieties and hop additions, yeast strains and fermentation temperatures, but when it got to cask conditioning I faltered. There's something it can bring to beer that I could only describe as magic. This got short shrift from my friend who'd patiently sat through me droning on about enzymes, IBUs and EBCs and Maillard reactions. But magic was the best word I could come up with.

It only happens occasionally, but it's never happened with anything I've drunk from a bottle, can or keg. The moment when angels descend from heaven to dance on your tongue and exalt the most high is the preserve of cask. It can strike in unexpected places, and with the most innocuous looking of beers. The best pint I ever drank was a national brand in a basic pub on a dull Friday night. And much to my surprise I once passed on the stronger beers in the sample room at Harvey's Brewery to spend an hour drinking only the 3% ABV mild because the good lord had seen fit to send his angels down from heaven and into the mild cask. I wonder if CAMRA theologians have discussed how many angels can fit though a shive hole?

The fact I have to invoke magic to explain the wonders of cask beer does trouble me slightly so I have pondered how exactly they occur. The lack of filtration and pasteurisation must play a part, and along with the lower carbonation and higher temperature compared to inferior serving methods the flavour of the beer is maximised. But why is it that only occasionally the beer goes from being good to truly sublime? And is there anything else that brewers and publicans can do to make it happen more often? As ever, more research is needed. 

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Tightwads the lot of you

Well, most of you are tightwads anyway. Rather than focus on the harm to craft that Tescos and/or Adnams are doing by flogging off small cans of beer cheap over 80% of you just see a bargain. Though as Mudgie points out what must be around half price the Adnams beer is the equivalent of £1.44 for a 500ml bottle so exactly sale of the century. And for those that were wondering it seems it was being discontinued.

There'll be more on this later
As to the beer, it was fine. It had that unpleasant vegetal note you get in lager, but as that's generally expected I'm not complaining. I foolishly drank it after an American IPA though so any subtleties, and most of the dry hopping were lost on me.