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 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!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Hogs Back - Collaboration Tawny Ale

It's been over two years since I posted about Hogs Back Brewery, located in Tongham, Surrey - just a few miles down the road from where I live. As I wrote in that post, their Traditional English Ale (T.E.A.) is a beer I've drunk pints and pints of down the years and is a definite local favourite. However, recently they've been diversifying from their traditional core and seasonal brews and the addition of Hogstar (a 'New English Lager') and Hazy Hog (an unfiltered cider) to their range underlines that - and both have been selling very well.  Like many breweries, they're struggling to keep up with demand and have been adding capacity as fast as they can, as Roger Protz detailed in a recent post. That post also covered the brewery's latest addition - a 2.5 acre hop garden!

The success they've been enjoying through diversification is one they're keen to explore further and there are some interesting sounding brews in the pipeline. Their Montezuma's Chocolate Lager (a version of Hogstar that incorporates some of Montezuma's fantastic chocolate) just scooped a gold medal in this year's International Beer Challenge

A discussion with Regional Sales Manager, Dominic Ronane, planted the seed for something every home brewer has probably thought about at some point - a chance to collaborate with their local brewery on a new beer! This was not a chance I was going to pass up and a meeting with Miles Chesterman (Head Brewer) soon followed, where we discussed a number of different ideas. After exchanging many emails, we settled on brewing something Amber/Tawny in colour that uses Cascade (which features in Hogstar) and US Centennial hops to create an ale that was full bodied at 5% ABV, with fruity characteristics from both the hops and Hogs Back's house English Ale yeast strain, playing against a malt backbone that also contributes some sweetness to counter the bitterness in the finish. 

The beer is called Collaboration - Tawny Ale - a one-off that's only available at the Great British Beer Festival (bar B11). There are 10 casks of it and when it's gone it's gone, so get in early. If you're there today (Tuesday), please say hello!

The Hogs Back team will be there throughout the festival and are showcasing five beers on their bar, including another new one - British Endeavour.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

London Beer City MTB

In case you haven't heard, London Beer City is a week-long, city-wide festival that will celebrate everything London has to offer beer-wise. The schedule is quite astonishing and a great reflection on just how far the beer scene in London has evolved in recent years.

As part of this festival, I'll be donning my Elusive Brewing cap and joining the lovely folk of Weird Beard Brew Co at Bermondsey's Bottle Shop. Details of the event are here and the mouth-watering list of beers that Weird Beard will be bringing are listed here. I'll be bringing some samples along too including a keg of American Red - it's first outing since this happened - and a bonkers Imperial Spiced Black Saison.

Perhaps this is an opportune moment to give a general update on Elusive Brewing. The beer mentioned in the blog post above is one that I've written about before. The collaboration with Weird Beard took this same recipe (minus the brett bruxellensis) and scaled it up to a full 10BBL brew length. This required an awful lot of Nelson Sauvin. Weird Beard managed to secure some leaf hops but the T90 pellets were proving hard to come by. A chance meeting with Brewdog's Head Brewer Stewart Bowman at CBC proved to be fortuitous - they had a small amount spare from the 2013 harvest and very kindly sold this on to me, perhaps underlining their recent announcement that they'll be supporting fledgling breweries through their new development fund. Bowman, thanks, and you'll be receiving some bottles in the post soon!

We launched Lord Nelson at the fantastic Birmingham Beer Bash where it was very well received. The folks at Weird Beard kindly let me use Elusive Brewing branding for bottles and keg clips and the creative force that is Ceri Jones duly delivered some fantastic artwork:

The inspiration behind the Elusive branding is 8-bit video games - a nod towards a misspent youth, mostly. The colours and 'character' image will change with each beer but the bold, blocky personality will remain consistent throughout each release.

Photo Credit: Luke Kulchstein
So, what of brewing plans generally? Well, at the moment I'm working full time in a pretty demanding job and struggling to find time to move things forward at any pace, but I'm actively looking for premises and have completed planning in terms of capital expenditure (a lot!) and business forecasting. The plan is to build while working full time, which is going to be tough, then seeing how things go commercially before deciding whether to take the plunge full time. Since I started this whole crazy idea, lead times on new kit have gone out from ~3 to ~6 months, which is perhaps an indication of the explosion that UK brewing is going through at the moment. 

When I do get finally get there, I do hope I'm not too late to the game! In the mean time, I'm continuing to hone my skills, seeking out collaborations and brewing at home to build up a portfolio of recipes.

Lord Nelson is now available to trade in 30L key kegs and a limited quantity of 330ml bottles. Contact Weird Beard for pricing.

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.