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.


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.