Saturday 24 March 2018

A visit to gin lane

Yesterday had a rare departure from Beer Street and Visited Gin LaneSipsmith gin mind, so posh stuff, though it must be said it didn't look posh from the outside.

There's plenty of gleaming copper inside though. Copper is important in distillation as it removes sulphur character.

Gin distillers generally buy in alcohol at 96% ABV and re-distil it with botanicals give it flavour. Which has always sounded like cheating to me but it was interesting to hear that the base spirit does give some character to the gin. A Sipsmith they use a wheat based spirit which gives some vanilla flavour, grape bases ones are more fruity and molasses give spice.

The base spirit is diluted to 40-60% ABV before distillation with the botanicals. Sipsmith are at the high end starting the distillation at 60% ABV.

The rectifier for the vodka they make
They use ten botanicals. Juniper legally has to be the predominant flavour in gin and it also adds pine and resin notes. Coriander is the next most important and gives citrus, lemon/lemon grass flavour to the gin and Angelica root is the third most important giving a dry floral flavour like parma violets without the sugar. Orris root is said to act as a fixative for flavours and is high in polyphenols. Liquorice adds sweetness and cassia gives aniseed. Cinnamon comes over quite subtlety after distillation, almond adds mouthfeel and lemon peel is, well, lemon.

Almond not on display in case anyone is allergic to nuts

They boil at 80°C and the vapour passes through narrow pipes in the neck of the still into the helmet at the top where it expands which promotes reflux.

The light vapour that escapes the still goes over the swan neck and is condensed. Despite starting with a 96% pure spirit base the heads are still high in methanol and acetone so are no used. The heart is used for the gin and will come off the still over five hours. The tails have poor character and are not used either. They are high in isopropanol but most of the poor character is due to vegetable (parsnip) character and fatty acids from the botanicals. 

At Sipsmith the heads are approximately 5% of the distillation, heart 80% and tails 15%. Some distilleries will re-distil the first part of the tails but they send all the heads and tails away. The cuts can be decided on ABV (heart 80-70% ABV), volume, flavour (nose), bubble size in still (it changes during the distillation) and temperature of vapour (83-87°C). 

They cut the heart with de-mineralised water to 41.6% ABV to make their "one shot" London dry gin.  

There are also concentrated gins made with 20-30 times as much botanicals which will be cut with alcohol and water to make the gin, distilled gins where some of the botanicals are distilled separately and compounded gins where the base spirit is simply flavoured without distillation.

We had a taste to three different cuts from the heart of the distillation and they were noticeably different. Hydrophobic compounds will to some extent go over the still earlier than their boiling point would suggest, sweetness and glycerine come over more in the third hour.

If peppercorns are used as a botanical the flavour comes over really late so  they don't work well with fruit which comes over early.  

It was an interesting visit, and the first time I've drunk gin in a long while.

It still tastes better with tonic in it though.

Monday 19 March 2018

Finally a decent advent calendar

Back when I were a lad we had an advent calendar. We used the same one each year, it was made of layers of card with numbered doors on the front about the size of postage stamps. When the right day arrived the door would be opened to reveal a picture. It was not massively thrilling, but Christmas drawing closer was so I suppose it added to the excitement in a small way. After Christmas the doors would be folded back and it would be put away for next year.

Nowadays you can get advent calendars with toys, chocolate and booze behind the doors. Not the sort of thing I'd actually spend any money on but when I was offered a free beery one there could only be one answer.

As I usually do I enjoyed drinking the free beer. Particularly as since I finally found some German beer I really enjoyed I've been keen to learn more about the fourth ranked Great Beer Nation. This selection provided a great overview of German, and quite possibly Austrian, beers: pale lagers, dark lagers, wheat beers, bocks, dopplebocks and even a pale ale. Though as I don't know a much about German beer I can't really rate how respected the breweries are. Except for Salvator which I was very pleased to see as I'd even considered buying some shortly before the box arrived.

There's also a ludicrously thin beer glass that you won't be able to wash up unless you have a dishwasher but more importantly the Germans seem to be big on re-using bottles. So they're all thick bottles with easily removable labels are a welcome addition to my homebrew stock. And one of the bottles even came with a Santa hat:

Admittedly it's not quite as exciting as a pump clip with a flashing LED but it still amused me, cheers Kalea!

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Greene King's Heritage Beers

I can't think when I've last put as much effort into finding beer as I did with Greene King's heritage beers. Three bleedin' trips it took me before I found them and even then it was only because I saw on twitter they had been reduced to clear that I wandered away from the beer section and found them in another display.

Still, on the plus side they were reduced to £1.87, which seemed very reasonable, particularly as the strong one is 6.5% ABV. It was in fact the pints bottles that caused my, and Tesco's, difficulties. They're made to a historic bottle design and so of thicker glass. The cardboard trays the bottles come in couldn't cope with the weight so the bottles were insecure. Tesco's response was to try and shift them as quickly as possible by giving them a massive display and a cut price.

Two beers "inspired" by records from the 1800s have been produced in the heritage range, both made using pale malt made from Chevallier barley. Chevallier is a land race barley that once the most popular variety in Britain. The Suffolk Pale Ale at 5% ABV also uses land race hops: Saaz and Strisselspalt. The stronger beer went a little off piste as one of the hops used (Bramling Cross) comes from Wye College breeding programme that started in the 20th century.

I didn't get upset by this though, as unlike some brewers that wander they didn't claim to be following a specific recipe, and I was keen to try beers made with Chevallier. The beers taste great too, the historic inspiration certainly made them crank the hops up from what's normally found in Greene King beers. More beers are planned for the heritage range and I look forward to seeing what comes next.