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.

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.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Five to watch in 2014

Just some random Friday night ramblings after a couple of beers, and an uncharacteristically short post. Here are five newish small breweries who I think will do well this year and some thoughts as to why. Other breweries are available and will also do well of course!

  • Burning Sky: Tranter, big oak thingies and brett. The UK's answer to Crooked Stave? Maybe. And that's before you sample their core line up.
  • Cromarty: Provided my beery moment of last year and definitely on the up. Craig is unassuming and humble but effortlessly talented. Jealous? Me? *secretly rages inside*
  • Siren: The secret is in the barrels and they've got fucking loads of them. The biggest thing in Finchampstead since, erm, that roundabout on the way to Wokingham. You know, the one before the level crossing.
  • Weird Beard: My loyalty to Gregg, Bryan and Dan is well documented but I love those guys for a reason - they make damn good beer and aren't afraid to stick their hairy faces in places when it comes to experimentation.
  • Northern Monk: A bold call given they're just getting started with their build out but that boy Dickson can brew and it sounds like Russ is assembling quite the team up in that there north. Beer wise, David Bishop has left them in great shape I'm sure.

I'm also burning a wee candle for Three Friends Brewing, Brew By Numbers and Landlocked. Finally I asked the beery hive mind of twitter and gave them a whole ten minutes to respond. That there hive mind offered up: Trillium (Boston), Magic Rock, Tempest, Bad Seed, Drygate, Pilot Beer UK and *blushes* Elusive Brewing.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Blood Orange Red Wine Oaked Sour

The drive down California's State Route 1 (SR1) is surely one of the world's most beautiful, with its amazing views of the pacific ocean and dramatic landscapes. It's a drive I've had the pleasure of doing four times now and will never tire of it. Last October we returned to what I consider my second home, San Francisco (having lived in the area for a couple of years in the late 90s) to spend some time revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones. Of course, the itinerary was planned to take in several brewery visits as we ambled our way down towards San Diego. We drove north to Russian River, east to Chico (home of Sierra Nevada) before heading south to pick up SR1 in Monterey Bay. I could (and should!) write many blog posts about this adventure but I'll save that for another day.

When doing this drive, there's always the dilemma of where to stop in order to avoid staying in Los Angeles. This time we'd decided on having a short day's driving after staying overnight near Firestone Walker's incredible tap room, in order to spend the day and evening in Morro Bay before tackling the long drive to take us south of LA into Orange County (The Bruery!).  This relaxing day was most welcome and we spent the afternoon on the beach, taking photos of the beautiful views and lapping up the ocean breeze and late summer sunshine. As the sun set, I took the took the above photo, which captured one of the moments of the holiday as we stood there basking in the complete serenity that surrounded us. By this time we'd worked up quite a thirst, so walked into the nearest bar right there on the seafront. That was a place called The Libertine Pub, a small cosy bar which has a larger dining area to the rear. We pulled up a seat at the bar to be confronted with a wall of taps. These taps were pouring some of the finest beers we'd enjoy on our holiday and given I know my readers would want to know exactly what those beers were, as luck would have it I captured that moment too!...

Now I'm sure you'll agree with me that if every pub you happened to stumble into after a long hard day doing very little had a list like this, you'd be pretty happy. We settled in for the evening and sampled a good number of the above, chatting to the locals we were sitting with, as you do. As it got towards the end of the evening, my eyes drifted towards tap 11 on the board - Ruby Slipper. I asked the bartender about it given the name. "Oh yeah, we brew some stuff here. That's a beer made with blood oranges that we fermented with wild yeast in a red wine barrel" she said, thankfully failing to notice me dribbling a little bit as the music of what she was saying serenaded my ears. "YES PLEASE, THAT ONE!" was my response. 

Given the brewery names I've mentioned above, you can rest assured that we consumed some of the world's finest beers on this particular adventure and yet this beer, made right here in the basement of this unassuming pub, turned out to be one of the absolute best I've ever had, let alone on that holiday. It was simply sensational. Not massively sour but plenty of funk and fruitiness from the brett. The blood oranges were hard to miss both on the palate and the aroma and the oak provided a delicate finish that was polished off with smooth red wine notes and hints of vanilla. I think I had three glasses but it could've been more. You may have read my previous post where I wrote about the things that inspire me to brew. Well in this case, it was simple - I wanted to drink more of this beer!

In constructing the below recipe, the first thing on my mind was not to create something that was massively sour. I figured a straight primary fermentation with brett followed by a bit of ageing in the bottle might get me somewhere near. I wanted to throw a LOT of orange flavour in so zested ten blood oranges and added that late in the boil followed by an additional steep post flameout. The juice from the oranges was added before pitching and as I write, the beer is fermenting aggressively at 28 centigrade and smelling very nice. Once primary is done I'll sit the beer on American oak that has been soaked for a few days in a fruity Merlot. I plan to taste the beer a week in and see how the oak is taking hold.

The OG was 1.045 and I'm expecting the yeast to dry it out, perhaps getting down into low 1.00x territory which'll mean this beer is heading towards 6% ABV.

One final note on Libertine. Having 'liked' them on Facebook after my visit I was delighted by a recent post that suggested brewing operations are going great guns (Parabola barrels - whoah!). If this beer is anything to go by, that's great news for the already healthy beer scene in Southern California and a situation I'll be monitoring closely, albeit, sadly, from afar.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Lebkuchen Stout

Sometimes I get a desire to brew something having had a commercial beer that I simply loved or enjoyed certain aspects of. Other times it's just through a desire to use a certain ingredient or brew a particular style. However, this beer was inspired by a tweet I read, posted by fellow beer geek and notorious London craft aficionado, Dina. I feel compelled to paste that tweet in its full glory, so here it is:

(blogger won't let me use twitter's embed code - gah!)

To save you googling if you've not come across the name, Lebkuchen is a traditional German delicacy, something akin to gingerbread but apparently with some regional variation in the recipe. It can contain honey, spices, nuts and other ingredients but ginger is always used. The origins of this traditional Christmas treat can be traced back to ancient times, which in my head seemed to align nicely with beer. I thought this was a great idea for a brew and started to piece together a recipe, based upon a sweet milk stout. After a bit of fiddling around and reading Lebkuchen recipes, I settled on the below:

Recipe is based on 24L pre-boil

The recipe aims to produce a sweet (but not overly so) milk stout, with lots of ginger flavour and aroma. The ginger was steeped for an additional 30 minutes before cooling the wort. The spices being added to secondary fermentation will be infused into the Amaretto with the intention of dosing the beer pre-bottling to achieve a subtle but noticeable flavour. Additional lactose may be used to sweeten the beer up before packaging but I'm hoping 250g will be enough to keep the FG up in the high teens or low twenties. The OG was 1.060, meaning the finished beer should be around 5-5.5% ABV.

So, Dina, I'll fucking make you one and thanks for the inspired idea!