Monday, 26 May 2014

West Coast IPA Revisited

I've been meaning to revisit my first ever all grain brew for a while, to see if what I'd learned since would result in a more accomplished end product. That first attempt did turn out quite well, but for me, lacked the aroma I was looking for. Aroma is something I've worked hard on in recent brews, trying to figure out the right process, temperatures and quantities required to impart as much hop aroma as possible. The second anniversary of that first ever brew seemed like a good excuse to finally have another go at it. The recipe was adjusted in several ways, some unintentional (still learning!):

  • Base malt used was Golden Promise rather than Maris Otter
  • 10 minute hop addition was Centennial instead of Cascade
  • OG was lower (a mistake on my part when weighing the grains)
  • Post boil hops were used, with wort recirculated at 80C through a Blichmann Hop Rocket
  • Dry hops were pellets at a higher quantity 
  • In terms of process, dry hops were added to primary towards the end of fermentation and allowed to sit at 19C for two days (ambient room temperature) before the beer was cooled (outside in the garage) 

The full recipe can be found below. The OG was 1.064. An FV sample taken yesterday was very encouraging and the beer will be packaged in the next couple of days. Time will tell if it turns out better than my first attempt!

Update: I entered this beer into the London and South East Craft Brewing Competition, the one in which the original brew took bronze in category two years ago. It did well and scooped silver in category this time around. The Crystal gave it a nice amber hue, much like Green Flash's version. The Citra and Cascade dry hop worked really well and there's lots of hop flavour too. The sweetness from the Crystal malt plays very well with the 100+ IBUs of bitterness. All in all, a good result.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Mash Hopping

Hops can be added at several stages during the brewing process - in the mash tun, in the kettle pre-boil (first wort hopping), during the boil, at flameout, steeping post flameout (or recirculating through a hop back) and during secondary fermentation (dry hopping). Of course, you can also add more at dispense via a randall or hop rocket. The first of these, mash hopping, is something I'd only heard of recently and it got me thinking about the science behind it. 

The mash usually occurs at somewhere between 63 and 70 degrees celcius, depending on the style and the amount of fermentables the brewer wishes to extract. Sparging usually occurs at a slightly higher temperature, say around 74 to 78 degrees celcius. All of these are below the temperature isomerization occurs, that being around 80 degrees celcius. So mash hopping will add little to no bitterness but could potentially add flavour and aroma - in a way a replacement for steeping or dry hopping in that the effects are similar.

A twitter thread on this subject yielded mixed reviews as to the benefits of mash hopping. Some, like me, seemed cynical whereas others thought it was beneficial. I suppose the only real way of determining the benefits would be to run a side-by-side test, perhaps brewing the same beer twice with and without mash hopping. In an article published in BYO magazine, author Chris Colby did just that, with positive results.

Are any commercial breweries out there mash hopping? Have any home brewers tried it and to what effect? I'd welcome any feedback on the subject and might just give it a try next time I'm brewing a beer where maximum hop flavour and aroma is called for.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Some thoughts on getting started with home brewing

Stuff to think about:

  • Basic equipment to get you going - at least a stock pot for heating/boiling and fermentation bucket. Most home brew shops sell starter kits
  • Gaining an understanding of the process. Maybe ask another home brewer if you can watch them or check out youtube and other online resources
  • Pitching plenty of healthy yeast at a temperature it's happy with. Happy yeast really is the most important ingredient in brewing
  • Sanitation throughout your brewing process - really important!
  • Recipes - check out sites such as BYO and BeerSmith
  • Handling post fermentation - read up on oxidation and don't do any of those things
  • Packaging - be it bottles, pressure barrels or mini-kegs, plan in advance what you're going to do once the beer is ready to drink. 

Stuff to not worry about until later:

  • Constructing recipes from scratch 
  • Fancy equipment - you can make great beer with a very basic set up and it's a great way to learn the process. Fancy equipment doesn't make you a better brewer, it just makes you poorer
  • Fine-grained temperature control - plenty of yeasts are happy at typical ambient room temperatures, so start with those (see US-05, S-04, Nottingham etc.)
  • Brewing the perfect beer. It's a learning process and with every brew you'll learn and improve. Don't be put off if your first IPA isn't as close to Pliny the Elder as you'd hoped

Home brewing really is an exciting and rewarding hobby. The main thing is to enjoy it and have fun!

Feel free to add any additional thoughts below. What helped you get started? Any tips to share?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Rule Britannia

This is a post I've been wanting to write for a while but it took a night that included a hat-trick of damned fine British brewed, American influenced IPAs to tip me over the edge. Those beers were Summer Wine's Diablo, Thornbridge's Jaipur and Magic Rock's Un-human Cannonball. All three were pin bright, clean, flavourful and, well, bloody good. More importantly all three were exceptionally fresh, at between 7 and 12 days in the bottle. In my advanced state of 'consciousness', I tweeted that "it's time to stop coveting hoppy beers from the US. By the time they get here, they're already worse than we can make on these shores". That was as best as I could make that point in 140 characters or less, and I'd like to elaborate on it, hence this post.

I've been fortunate enough to have lived and worked in California in the past and get to visit fairly regularly. Over many trips, I've been lucky enough to drink the very best IPAs the west coast has to offer, in most cases right where they are made, at tap houses, from conditioning tanks, where ever but in all cases fresh - and fresh is this style's friend. The atlantic ocean however, isn't. Sure, if you're visiting the US, or a kind friend is, by all means grab some bottles of whatever you fancy and fly them back. They are fantastic beers, one and all, especially when they're fresh. The west coast has refined and perfected this style and there are many truly wonderful examples to choose from. The very best of those examples, in my opinion (and for what it's worth, my opinion would place Stone's Enjoy By, Russian River's Blind Pig and Alpine's Pure Hoppiness and Nelson at the top of that list) will sadly probably never be exported so you'll either need to go there, or bring them to you somehow.

Larger breweries such as Stone and Green Flash (and those who know me well will know how highly I rate GF's West Coast IPA) do make enough to export and their beers do show up here pretty often now. However, even with slick logistics, they're probably going to be 3 months old at least by the time they hit your local bar or bottle shop. At that point, they may still be very good but stick another month or two on and they'll really be on the decline. I don't want to put you off trying these beers if you haven't, but if you do, buy a fresh bottle of a top-class UK interpretation of the style and compare the two. Fresh is most certainly best when it comes to this style and there are plenty of great examples of it on these shores now.

Big, bold, dark beers on the other hand do generally travel well, which brings me to my second point. The average American brewer would likely trade half their hop store to have easy access to the vast array of world class malts their European counterparts do. I'm pretty sure that where we're shipping container on container of hops from the USA, there are an equal number of containers full of European malts going the other way. Why is it then, that most of what are regarded as the world's best imperial stouts are made in the USA? Do malts travel better than hops perhaps, meaning that they've as much chance of getting the best out of them that we in Europe do?

Maybe we've wasted so much energy trying to perfect a style already perfected on the west coast that we've taken our eye off the good old imperial stout?  I'll now happily rave about UK interpretations of west coast IPA to drinkers on the west coast, but if they were to ask me to name a big, bold, dark UK beer that's as good as Parabola or Speedway, I'd struggle. Sure, there are some good examples of these styles on these shores but nothing, in my opinion, that gets near those two. Maybe it's time we did something about that. In a future post I'll possibly rant about Belgian styles but until then, thanks for reading. As always, comments are very welcome, especially if you disagree with me on any points raised here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Imperial Dry Hopped Porter - A brew for Ant Hayes

I never met Ant Hayes. However, having spent a couple of hours reading some of his work and learning what others thought of him, learned from him and how they remember him, I'm pretty sure we'd have got along just fine. I'd probably have annoyed him with all my questions but from what I've read, he wouldn't have tired of answering them, especially if they were on his favourite subject - English Brown Ales. Ant was a South African who moved to London with his family in 2005, bringing with him his passion for home brewing and going on to become one of the founding members of London Amateur Brewers. He was well known in home brewing circles world wide, having facilitated the first BJCP judging exams to be held outside of the United States (in South Africa) and the first exams in the UK. He also had work published in Zymurgy, including this fantastic article on Burton Ales, co-written with Martyn Cornell.

Ant was so passionate about English ale styles that, when visiting the US to attend the American Home Brewers Conference in 2009, he flew examples of English Brown Ales over in order to demonstrate his view that the BJCP guidelines did not reflect their true character. Those who knew him use words such as intelligent, sharing, sharp and sincere to describe him and it seems he certainly made an impression on those he met at that conference.

As he writes here, Ant named his brewery HayesenBrau, after his Dad's favourite beer Kronenbrau 1308. You can see some photos of his setup here.

Very sadly, Ant took his own life on May 2nd 2011, leaving a wife and two children. An AHA forum post by his friend Jeff Renner (In Memorium, Ant Hayes, 1970-2011) announced this to a shocked home brewing community. Reading that thread tells you a lot about the man and the love and respect people had for him.

London Amateur Brewers remembers Ant with an annual club competition, the HayesenBrau Award. This year, it was decided that the challenge would be to brew a beer (any style) that uses all of the following ingredients in any quantity - Pale malt (any British variety), Crystal and Chocolate malts, Target and Challenger hops and any British ale yeast. It seems only fitting to brew an English style, so I settled on a Porter.

The aim was to make a big "Imperial Porter" and the above grist delivers a predicted OG of 1.082 (which was the actual OG). Danstar Nottingham is known for its high attenuation, which should put the finished beer somewhere around 9% ABV. I look forward to raising a glass to you, Ant.

Update: The beer fermented down to 1.018, so is 8.5% ABV. It has a nice roasty flavour and aroma to it and hides the alcohol pretty well. I changed the dry hop to Challenger as I didn't have any Target T90. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Brodie's Bright Future

While compiling my Golden Pints for last year, Best UK Brewery was a category that had me thinking long and hard. I eventually plumped for Brodie's because I'd drunk plenty of their beer in 2013 and couldn't remember a bad pint. In fact, I could remember lots of good ones and a few great ones. The thing is, it can be pretty hard to find their beer unless you venture to one of their two London pubs or to those of their longer established customers (such as Brighton's Evening Star) because with Brodie's, supply has always out-stripped demand. 

Source: King William IV website
If you've ever visited the King William IV in Leyton and ventured out the back to the brewery, you'd probably think it's no coincidence that co-founder James Brodie is a huge fan of Doctor Who as he basically plies his trade in the brewery equivalent of a Tardis. The small outbuilding offers no clue as to what lurks within and every bit of space is used to the fullest. Lack of space certainly hasn't held them back though and they've managed to turn out plenty of fantastic beer, if nowhere near enough to satisfy the high demand. Recent news that they plan to expand into a larger space came as no surprise and it seems 2014, their 6th year of operating, may be the year Brodie's comes of age.

Around six months ago, Jonny Bright (formerly of BrewDog) joined the brewing team and I had a chance to catch up with him for a chat at a tap takeover at The Rake. Jonny explained that they wanted to put an event on to mark something of a milestone as they've spent the last few months polishing and refining their recipes, ironing out some issues with their over-worked brew kit and laying the foundations for this year's planned expansion. In a way, a bit of a pause for breath to take stock and enjoy the progress they've made before ploughing head on into what promises to be a very busy year for them. Jonny went on to explain that they've been pretty pleased with the refinements they've made to the beers themselves and are starting to think ahead to plan their migration to brewing them on a much larger scale in the new brew house. 

Brodie's has always been known for being prolific, both in terms of volume (especially considering they operate on such small kit - which in the past has meant some epically long brew days) and overall variety. Brewing on smaller kit allows for much more flexibility of course with less risk if a brew or two doesn't quite turn out as planned. They've taken plenty of risks in the past (Sake IPA anyone?) with some spectacular successes as a result, which really helped put them on the map. Brewing at a 20BBL length is an altogether different proposition however and it seems the Brodie's team are ready to face that migration head-on.

Jonny is especially proud of the quality of the cask ale they're putting out of late and the condition of the beers on the bar that night was testament to that. Brodie's has always casked their ales with keg coming a bit later. They've not been able to bottle much recently but hope to step that up again once they have more space available. 

Their appetite for the wild and wacky has certainly not subsided and the Chinook Bacon IPA on the bar (keg) underlined the continued desire to experiment with different flavour combinations. I enjoyed a half of that as we chatted and it was really good - the aroma definitely offering a clue as to the source of the name! That particular brew marked the first day's work of Angelo Scarnera (formerly of Brew Wharf), the latest addition to the Brodie's brewing team. Angelo brings great pedigree and experience to the fold and already knows his way around the existing brew kit, so I'm sure he'll feel right at home. 

So, what of the rest of the beers on offer? In addition to the Chinook Bacon IPA, I sampled the Dalston Black IPA, Awesomestow IPA, Hoxton Special IPA and London Sour Blackcurrant - the latter being the only one I'd not sampled before. All were bang on form with the Dalston Black and Blackcurrant Sour being my picks of the evening. If you're lucky enough to spot them on your travels given the short supply, get stuck in. I'm sure on sampling you'll be pleased that 2014 should be the year there will hopefully be much more of their fabulous beers to go round.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Nelson Simcoe Motueka IPA

Seems I forgot to blog about this brew, so here's a catch up post. This was the first outing for my new 100L gas-powered brewery and very much an opportunity to 'dial it in' and see how numbers stacked up compared to my more familiar 25L set up, which consists of a cool box mash tun and electric combo HLT/kettle.  The new rig was purchased from Powell Brewing and for the money I was pretty impressed with the build quality. The set up cost around £700 and included three 100L vessels (HLT, mash tun and kettle) plus a plate chiller and wort pump. Here's a photo of the build - and my old kit...

I've built it like this so I can gravity feed from the HLT (left) to the mash tun (middle) and also so the mash tun is lifted off the floor for easy mashing and emptying. There is no 'hands off' sparging solution in place yet but I figured a hose and slow movement across the grains would suffice for now. The pump is used for pumping from the mash tun to the kettle, then onwards through the plate chiller to the fermenters. I've yet to invest in a large fermenter (or two!) so for now will be splitting wort across multiple 25 litre buckets. I had a hand getting things set up both from my Dad and oldest, ugliest friend Sean (*waves*). Sean wanted to try his hand at brewing so I recruited him as an able assistant for the maiden brew day!

In order to calibrate against my old kit, the plan was simply to re-brew something I'd brewed there and compare the numbers, so I settled on revisiting the Nelson & Simcoe IPA, first brewed last summer. After adjusting up, the recipe looked like this:

The brew itself when pretty smoothly until it came to transferring to the fermenters, at which point something very strange happened. We lost about 5-6 litres somewhere. It just vanished between the kettle and FV#2! The first thing I'll be doing to figure this out is to calibrate the kettle from a jug or something with a known capacity to see if the sight glass on it is marked up accurately. Other than that, efficiency was pretty much the same as my old kit and the only other concern was the temperature loss in the mash tun. I may clad it some more but partly put it down to it only being half full on what was a pretty cold day outside.

Post-fermentation and allowing for other losses I ended up with way less than 48 litres of beer but what there is tastes and smells good, so I'm declaring this brew a success. I also had my first encounter with acetaldehyde, at least during my home brewing exploits, which was really noticeable while transferring to secondary. The US-05 cleaned that up though, thankfully. The final mishap came when batch priming the beer for bottling - the battery on my scales had died (note to self: stock a spare!) so I had to guesstimate the weight of the sugar. Seem to have just about got away with that one. It's a touch under-carbonated for my liking but passable for the style.