Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Dinner for One

New year, new beginnings as the saying goes. For Siren, the start of 2015 sees them coming up on their second birthday. They have quite the party planned on Saturday March 7th which will mark the release of their second anniversary brew - Maiden 2014 - the name indicating the year this batch was brewed before being aged for a year in various different barrels. Anticipation is starting to build and the release even has an artistic teaser trailer, produced by Third Lens Films. I remember writing something similar about Magic Rock a while back but to me it seems odd to think that Siren are still less than two years old. They've certainly established themselves very quickly and have expanded rapidly, turning out batch after batch of their great core lineup alongside some fantastic specials and notable collaborations with big names such as Mikkeller, Hill Farmstead and Prairie Artisinal Ales among others. As they prepare to enter their third year of operation, I'm personally excited to see where things go next for Siren.

As for my own new beginnings, I'm pleased to report that potential premises for Elusive Brewing - my own soon-to-be micro brewery - have been identified (in Farnborough, Hampshire) and I'm currently working with the local council to ensure my plans fall within the current use class before signing the lease. Anyone who has set up a brewery, no matter how large or small, will be able to relate to the length of time it has taken to get things off the ground and while that has been disappointing, that disappointment was more than offset with the success of Lord Nelson - last summer's collaboration with Weird Beard - and in 2015, I hope to build on that to produce brews of the same quality on my own kit. In the mean time, look out for more collaboration brews and also the upcoming release of American Red, the beer that won last year's National Home Brewing Awards competition. That's being brewed this coming Monday and will debut at this year's award ceremony on Saturday 31st January.

While I'm on the subject of collaboration brews, what of the title of this post!? Well that's the name of a beer I collaborated with Siren on recently, which is due to hit the pumps in the next few weeks. This will be the third beer to be released bearing the Elusive Brewing name and it came about in short order as Head Brewer Ryan spotted a gap in their brewing schedule between Christmas and New Year and got in touch to see if I fancied collaborating on something new ("let me think for a second... OH HELL YEAH!"). 

The recipe was constructed after visiting the brewery - literally about an hour later - to look at the ingredients they had to hand. The aim was to brew something around the 4% ABV mark and we'd be brewing it the very next day, New Year's Eve. Ryan noted they had a lot of Vienna malt in stock and fancied brewing something with a high percentage of the grist made up from that. Vienna malt gives a lovely toasty biscuit-like flavour and aroma when used in high quantities. The hop store was full of various American hops but it was the newly arrived German hops that caught my eye - and nose! After some discussion, we settled on a recipe - a Vienna Pale Ale with all German hops - which are known for being more subtle than their American relatives. The beer has fermented out and is being dry hopped with a lot more of those same hops. The varieties used are 'new breed' rather than traditional and are bursting with lovely fruity aromas.  The beer is being racked next week and will be available soon afterwards in cask and a very limited amount of keg. Please contact Siren if you're interested in stocking it, but be quick as there's not much to go round.

So, why the name? Well there's a prize* at stake for the first person to post a comment below with the correct guess as to its origin. The clues are above so get thinking (or googling)!

* This won't be beer, at least not this beer since none is being bottled. Must be over 18. Judge's decision is final!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Can you taste the contract?

An article published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday re-ignited an ongoing debate in Belgium about the legitimacy of contract brewing, which had previously come to a head when Brasserie de la Senne's Yvan de Baetes penned this open letter on behalf of a number of Belgian breweries. The letter raises concerns that "Belgian beer, supposedly one of the last of our national treasures, is in great danger. A number of businesses, which seem to have purely commercial interests, are placing its reputation in serious jeopardy".  It expands by highlighting the rise in "fake brewers" who "sell beers they have not themselves produced". 

The concerns of this group seem to be two fold. Firstly, contract brewing is not a legitimate form of brewing and its very existence is threatening their business and secondly, consumers are being misled about the origins of these contract brewed beers.

On the second point, I share that concern. We've seen it here in the UK too, with new 'breweries' popping up offering the market the latest and greatest thing in beer against a back drop of occasionally misleading shiny marketing. For me, transparency is key here and I would support any legislation that means the origins of these products must be displayed on the packaging and marketing material. In most cases, I don't see any intent to deceive however and savvy consumers will always ask those difficult questions when there's a suspected lack of transparency.

#twattybeerdoodle copyright @broadfordbrewer

The first point is one I think they'll have to get over. Contract brewing isn't going away. If someone comes along with a great recipe and pays a brewery to produce the beer (completely transparently) and that product ends up being better and selling more than a 'legitimate' beer, well, good luck to them. As long as they're not deceiving the consumer as to the origin, I've no issue with that. Contract brewers have issues of their own to think about, not least logistics, product margins and pricing.

It's a free market and the consumer will ultimately decide what they want to drink, hopefully when presented with a transparent, fairly packaged product. Beyond that, resting on centuries of tradition or kicking up a fuss to call the legitimacy of contract brewing into question isn't going to maintain your market share; innovation is. Whether that's innovation in the product or marketing of that product, it's up to you to protect your business against this threat.

Friday, 19 December 2014

12 Beers of Christmas

Those good folks Mark and Steve of the Beer O'Clock Show are bringing back their much celebrated, often copied but never surpassed 12 beers of Christmas for another turn this year. Christmas is a great time for drinking beer. Well, all year round is a great time for drinking beer but Christmas always feels a bit special. A chance to reflect on the year that's been and look forward to the coming new year, or perhaps just an excuse to open a special bottle you've been saving.

The concept of 12 Beers of Christmas is a simple one - open a beer every day from the 20th December to New Year's Eve and drink it. What could be simpler? If you like, you can tweet, blog, instagram or whatever the cool kids are doing these days (see the post linked about for details) but the main thing is to enjoy that beer - you've earned it! So, on to the beers. 

For whatever reason, I missed out on all the excitement of this year's Rainbow Project, an initiative that sees some of the best breweries out there come together and get creative. This year was the second running of this great idea, organised by Ryan Witter of Siren Craft Brew. The kind folks are Siren put a mixed case of theses sought after beers aside for me and I reckon it makes perfect sense to drink all seven one day after the next, to give them the full attention they deserve, so:

  • Day 1 – Saturday 20 December – Siren and De Molen (Violet): Empress Stout 8.5% - Imperial Stout
  • Day 2 – Sunday 21 December – Buxton and Omnipollo (Yellow): Yellow Belly - Peanut Butter and Biscuit Imperial Stout
  • Day 3 – Monday 22 December – Magic Rock and Evil Twin (Red): Pogonophobia - Dry Hopped Flanders Red
  • Day 4 – Tuesday 23 December – Partizan and Mikkeller (Blue): Cognac BA Quadrupel 
  • Day 5 – Christmas Eve – Beavertown and Naparbier (Orange): The Sun Also Rises - Sherry BA Saison
  • Day 6 – Christmas Day – Wild Beer and Toccalmatto (Indigo): Indigo Child - Sour
  • Day 7 – Boxing Day – Hawkshead and Lervig (Green): Green Juniper and Hemp DIPA

From here, I'm going to pick off some bottles I've been saving for a rainy day:

  • Day 8 – Saturday 27 December – AleSmith Barrel Aged Speedway Stout
  • Day 9 – Sunday 28 December – Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme
  • Day 10 – Monday 29 December – Russian River/Sierra Nevada Brux
  • Day 11 – Tuesday 30 December – Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady
  • Day 12 – New Year’s Eve – BrewDog AB:04: Cacao/Chilli Imperial Stout

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Golden Pints 2014

Golden Piiiints!
It's that time of year again and my fourth stab at summing up what has been yet another great year for beer, meaning I could lazily copy and paste the intro I used for last year's post! These get harder and harder to write each year which is a testament to the continued growth of the wonderful beer scene in the UK and beyond.  Now, down to business!

Best UK Cask Beer: Last year I gave this to Siren Craft Brew for Liquid Mistress and I see no reason to change that this year. It's an automatic order for me when I see it on the bar. Honourable mentions to Marble's Pint and Oakham's Green Devil, a pint of which rendered me temporarily speechless at the Fat Cat in Norwich this year. Also, a local nod to Basingstoke's Longdog Brewery - their Porter is racking up award after award at local festivals and is a really tasty pint on cask.

Best UK Keg Beer: Magic Rock Cannonball. Relentless consistency and an aroma that makes me want to crawl into the glass - it's always a moment of joy when I scan pump clips on walking into a bar and see that little green badge. Drink it by the pint and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Honourable mentions to Brewdog Dead Pony and Rooster's Baby Faced Assassin.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Summer Wine Mauna Kea - a beer that wowed drinkers up and down the country before finally taking centre stage at IMBC, where it promptly ran out in a matter of hours. Cleverly brewed with a metric fuck-tonne (well, 100Kg) of tropical fruits, it was a real thirst quencher and the bottles were fantastic. Honourable mention to Fourpure IPA (can) which is a great fridge-filler and remains a steal at £10/6 at the brewery if you can get there.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Pretty tough to choose from the many I've had this year - a return to the west coast providing plenty of sampling opportunities. Green Flash's Green Bullet was a delight at the brewery tap but I'm going to go for Alpine Nelson. It's a beer that just ticks all my boxes and a pint is never enough. 

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: A quirky choice perhaps but Elysian's Punkuccino proved that pumpkin beers can be world class too. Breakside IPA also provided a wow moment this year.

Best Collaboration Brew: This was my easiest pick and it goes to Green Flash / Cigar City for their Candela Rye Barleywine. Amidst an almost overwhelming sea of world class beer at Copenhagen Beer Celebration, this stood out as my beer of the festival. I went back for another, then another, then I told Chuck Silva I loved him and he filled my thimble sized glass right to the top. Then the keg kicked, but no matter because by then I was invincible... and quite drunk.

Best Overall Beer: Buxton Far Skyline. The Berliner style sours remained popular this year and while most breweries took the traditional route of adding various fruits, Siren (Calypso) and Buxton both went with dry hopping to add a little something different. Far Skyline is an absolute delight both on the nose and with its crisp, dry finish. Honourable mention to Burning Sky Monolith and Weird Beard Something Something Darkside.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelWeird Beard continue to nail this time after time. Their branding is so clever that it can look fresh on every new beer. The labels for their new Smoke, Fire and Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja releases are perhaps the best yet.

Best UK Brewery: Buxton. I thought long and hard about this but they're a brewery who, under the guidance of head brewer Colin Stronge, have managed to retain high quality in their core range through a large expansion project this year while turning out some exceptional special releases. I could equally have given this to Siren Craft Brew for pretty much the same reasons. I'm expecting even bigger things from these two in 2015. I'd also like to mention Thornbridge for their consistency and some great specials this year too. I never hesitate to order their beers - you know you'll be getting quality down to the last drop.

Best Overseas Brewery: I'm going with Boneyard here. They were a real standout for me at CBC and are also a standout in their Bend, OR home which is positively awash with fantastic breweries. Honourable mentions to Alpine and Stone.

Best New Brewery Opening 2014: Runaway Brewery, Manchester. Talk about hitting the ground running. Definitely one to watch in 2015. I'm also ridiculously excited about Cloudwater opening soon. Manchester is where it's all going to be at next year. I'd also like to mention Northern Monk here. Are they new? I'm not sure where cuckoo brewing fits in to this category as that would mean they aren't new. Their physical brewery is certainly new, so they're staying in!

Pub/Bar of the YearBrewDog Shepherds Bush. I've sent a few drunken tweets pouring praise on the staff and the manager, Dean Pugh, but they thoroughly deserve it. It's my favourite place to drink in London. Honourable mention to Red Willow Macclesfield

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014Beavertown's Tap Room is pretty sweet, as is Mother Kelly's.

Beer Festival of the Year: The Independent Manchester Beer Convention. Again. It's the benchmark for me. Honourable mention to Birmingham Beer Bash which returned bigger and better this year. On a local level, Woking was fun again this year.

Supermarket of the YearWaitrose - still doing a great job of supporting local breweries while listing some top brews on a national level, not to mention the great home brew competition they ran with Thornbridge this year.

Independent Retailer of the YearThe Bottle Shop, Bermondsey

Online Retailer of the Year: According to my bank statements it was (for the second year running) BrewDog but I must also give a mention to Beermerchants with whom I've spent a fair whack too - mostly on Cantillon bottles!

Best Beer Book or MagazineBoak and Bailey's Brew Britannia book is a fantastic read about the resurgence of British beer and I was delighted to see them scoop the BGBW award - richly deserved. Honourable mention to Mark Dredge - his second book skillfully explores the subject of Beer and Food in his own fast-paced enthusiastic style.

Best Beer Blog or Website: I've really enjoyed reading Justin Mason's Get Beer, Drink Beer blog this again year but I'm going to give the nod to Boak and Bailey http://boakandbailey.com/. Also, a big shout out to the Port 66 site which is becoming a go-to resource for home brewers.

Best Beer AppTwitter!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: David Broadford Brewer Bishop for his brilliant #TwattyBeerDoodles.

Best Brewery Website/Social mediaBrewdog again. Adding Rich Taylor to the team means they'll probably win it next year too.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Siren Haunted Dream paired with Emma Victory's soon to be world famous chocolate brownies.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Wet hopped, green hopped, fresh hopped, harvest - call it what you like, there's something quite exciting about brewing with hops that have just been plucked from their bines having grown through the summer. The majority of hops are rushed from bine to kiln as quickly as possible, in order to preserve their precious aroma and flavour laden oils before they start to deteriorate. Some are packaged as dried leaf and others are crushed and pelletised. The hops are then vacuum packed in light resistant packaging and kept cool to retain their freshness. Here in the UK, hop harvesting season is typically mid to late September but of course knowing when to harvest is crucial and the farmer will be checking the crop constantly as harvest time approaches, in order to catch the hops as they reach peak condition.

Cascade ready to harvest
Several varieties of hops can be grown quite readily in the UK and are often found growing wild. At work, we recently volunteered to help out with some groundskeeping at a local church and community centre. One of the tasks I undertook was to cull some wild hop bines that were taking over a wire fence, having intertwined themselves along a good five metres of it.  For a home brewer, chopping and bagging up those bines for composting was torture! Had I known that I'd have access to so many lovely hops, I would've lined a brew up that very evening. I did contemplate heading back over to see if any had grown outside of the church's boundary but as it turns out, a chance to brew with wet hops would present itself on twitter.

Baron Orm, beer rater extraordinaire over on his blog, had a bumper crop of Cascade looking for a willing brewer who would be prepared to send him some of the resultant beer for sampling. My services were duly offered and arrangements made for posting the hops down post-harvest. Ideally, wet hops should be brewed with as soon as possible but I'd spoken to other home brewers who'd kept them cold/frozen for a while and still got good results. The hops were posted soon after harvesting and arrived at my door within a couple of days, still cold in ziplock bags and were immediately dispatched to the freezer while I planned a recipe and waited for brew day to roll around.

The Baron looking very happy with his bumper crop
The first thing I read about brewing with wet hops was that, by weight, you need to use around six times the quantity you would of the equivalent dried or pelletised hop because the moisture still locked inside makes the cones heavier. UK cascade hops usually come in at around 6% alpha acid. Of course, I had no way of knowing the amount of alpha acid these hops contained so just assumed they'd be around that. When constructing my recipe, I divided the alpha acid by 6 to take that into account. I wanted to brew a pale ale that would allow the hops to shine, so constructed a very simple recipe:


The malt bill is mostly Maris Otter with a small percentage of carapils and crystal malts for body and a touch of colour and sweetness. I used dried Cascade for bittering then added the wet hops late on - as many as I could squeeze into the kettle. The resultant wort certainly had plenty of aroma so I'm hopeful that I managed to impart plenty of hop character from the Baron's garden harvest. The yeast is a new one to me but one I've read imparts a nice fruity character to add a little something to the finished beer, which has a predicted 4.8% ABV and 32 IBUs.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Bourbon Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Pie Imperial Stout

I probably won't post too many more recipes but this one was fun to make and I found it interesting in terms of incorporating lots of different flavours into the finished beer. Pumpkin beers for me can be hit and miss. I've tried a few US examples and liked some but not others. They're sometimes a bit too sweet for the underlying style, focusing more on what people make with pumpkin flavouring (sweets, pies etc.) than its naturally earthy, slightly sweet characteristics.

When thinking about what to make with it, I did get sucked in to the pumpkin pie idea, mostly because I think cinnamon is quite complementary. Vanilla is another flavour that works well, which got me thinking about Bourbon. In trying to mash this all together, I started searching for pie recipes and came across this one, which looks most appealing!

So how to marry these flavours to a beer style? I do like a good biscuit base, so was drawn towards a darker style but it would need to be robust to support the Bourbon. After a bit of pondering, I settled on using my Imperial Stout recipe as a base but switching out dark sugar for molasses and adding a touch of lactose to keep the final gravity a few points higher for sweetness. Here's what the beer recipe looked like:

Belgian Pale was used as I'd had it for a while
The only oddity used on brew day was the pumpkin. My local supermarket hadn't yet started to stock the real thing. However, we do have an American candy store nearby and they carry the tinned stuff, so I decided to use that instead, boiling it for the final 10 minutes.  The OG was 1.089 and while a couple of packs of Wyeast 1056 set about working their magic, I started to think about the other flavours I wanted to impart and how best to do that without ending up with something with too much of one flavour and not enough of another.

To get the cinnamon and nutmeg in cleanly without adding them to the beer itself, I took the option of infusing them into the Bourbon. My (now almost empty) bottle of Maker's Mark was drained of 100ml of the good stuff, into which I added two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and two grated nutmegs. This was left for 10 days, with regular shakes to maximise the infusion. The Bourbon turned a lovely deep red colour! For the vanilla flavour, I opted for a bottle of Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract bought from the supermarket. 

The beer finished at 1.024, making it 8.6%ABV. With my infused Bourbon and bottle of vanilla in hand, I played about a bit with ratios before settling on 50ml of both into the final beer. The beer was then batch primed for 1.9 volumes of CO2 and packaged in 330ml bottles. Now to bake that pie!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Cloning Magic Hat Number 9

Previous attempts I've had at cloning commercial recipes include Green Flash West Coast IPA (original recipe) and Dieu Du Ciel's Isseki Nicho, both beers I'd been able to sample enough to have a stab at from scratch. The former was pretty close in my view with the latter being slightly wide of the mark, but still resulting in a decent beer overall.

A friend of mine asked me to brew a beer for his wedding day. Initially this was going to be a Belgian blonde, something along the lines of Leffe Blonde, which on the face of it would have been pretty straightforward apart from reaching the same levels of 'perfume' from the spices perhaps. However, things took a twist when he changed his mind and decided that Magic Hat's #9 was to be the beer of choice. My friend visits the US frequently with his job and both he and his fiancée love this beer. I believe their plan is to have their guests drink this while en-route to the reception after the ceremony, so perhaps the lower ABV was a wise choice!

One problem - I'd never tasted it, at least not that I could recall. I turned to the internet, first reading about the beer on Magic Hat's website:
"An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue & ask more than it answers. Brewed clandestinely & given a name whose meaning is never revealed. Why #9®? Why indeed."
Hmm, well that's nice and fluffy. Clandestine and mysterious are not clone-brew friendly words at all. However, their site does contain some useful information too, including the malts, hops, yeast, SRM, IBUs and OG. I do appreciate it when breweries share this level of information about their beers. While most consumers might not find it interesting, as a home brewer I'm all ears!

So there was something to work from as a base - good. Next I sent some tweets and was pointed towards a "Can You Brew It" episode. If you haven't already come across this podcast it's well worth a listen. The specific episode on #9 is here. The intro for the show describes this as "a tricky apricot flavoured ale that's perfect for the summer, but difficult to get the fruit character just right". Well, challenge accepted! The next thing was to finalise a recipe. I decided to basically just go with the recipe that CYBI came up with as others had reported it being pretty close to the original, as long as you get the all important apricot aspect right in the finished beer. After a bit of tinkering for quantities and switching things around a bit, I settled on this:


The base beer is, on the face of it, very simple. The choice of Fuller's yeast was an interesting one, as to me this is a fruity estery kind of yeast and I imagined the beer to be clean to let the apricot shine. I put my faith blindly in the CYBI recipe and jumped in but did decide to run the yeast towards the bottom of the range in order to keep a lid on the esters it produces - just a hunch I had really.

Everyone loves a montage!
So in terms of numbers, I had 30 IBU, 21 EBC, OG 1.058 and an FG of 1.017 giving me 5.3% ABV. While that was fermenting, I had a think about the apricot. The brewer in me wanted to use real fruit but the main issue there was getting the flavour right. By now I had a bottle en-route, courtesy of the groom, so would have a chance to dose flavouring in while tasting the real thing side-by-side. In the end, I settled on using a natural flavouring which I got from Foodie Flavours


Packaging day arrived and I poured out 1/3rd pint of #9 along side the same quantity of my beer taken from the FV. The first thing that pleased me was the colour was pretty much there. Tasting #9 was interesting - definite English Ale characteristics, a low bitterness and a very subtle apricot flavour in the finish, which also carried over to the aroma. I started to drip the flavouring in to my beer and only needed two drops before I was pretty close in terms of flavour and aroma - actually very pleasingly close, success! So next was just a case of doing some sums and working out how much to add to my final quantity, followed by a marathon bottling session (123 bottles). These will now be left to condition for 7-10 days before being labelled with a fantastic custom design that another friend of the happy couple conceived. 

Best of luck for your big day, Damian and Vanessa. Hope you enjoy the beer!