Sunday 30 December 2012

Partizan Brewing

I first met Andy Smith a couple of years ago at a BrewDog Burns night supper at the White Horse in Parson's Green. Andy was then working at North London's Redemption Brewery and I recall him telling me how his passion for food (he's a former chef) served him well as he started out as a brewer.  Since then, Redemption has built a strong reputation for producing flavourful beers at a consistently high quality. Andy credits Head Brewer Andy Moffat for developing a solid brewing process, ensuring the recipes he designed (Big Chief being a personal favourite) really sung in the glass.

Earlier this year, while discussing his next career move with Moffat, the idea of potentially going it alone was born. Andy is quick to credit his former boss with helping him to get Partizan off the ground but what really made his mind up was being offered Kernel Brewery's old 4BBL brew kit. Many a tasty brew has emerged from those tanks since Kernel started in 2009, but an expansion earlier this year meant it was surplus to requirements. As it turns out, the kit only had to move less than a mile to its new home, a converted railway arch in Bermondsey's Almond Road - a five minute walk from the tube station.

Kernel's old kit being put to good use

Eye-catching branding!
Partizan's first brew in November was a big one - a 8.6% stout. Andy explained that he got better efficiency that he was expecting, and the starting gravity was therefore higher than planned. The beer is an absolute belter and I did a double take when I read the ABV on the bottle. It drinks a couple of points less than that for me - I could drink a few of these but session them at your peril! 

The second brew was a pale ale brewed with Citra, Pacific Jade and Cascade, weighing in at 5.1%. These two beers made up the initial launch, in bottles only, as Partizan won't be kegging or casking their beers for the foreseeable future, and these are now available to buy at the brewery on Saturdays, or from a good pub or beer retailer near you. 

The third beer is another pale ale, this time using the Wakatu hop from New Zealand (formerly known as Hallertau Aroma) with Cascade, and comes in at a slightly higher ABV. These are currently awaiting labels but should be released soon. I sampled this at the brewery and the aroma is fabulous! The fourth beer, a porter, was fermenting away when I visited and should be available in a few weeks. Andy is currently planning a Saison and intends to take a very seasonal approach to what he brews, with lots of variety and experimentation. This is great news for London's thriving scene and I for one will watch and drink with interest.

The brewery is open to the public on Saturdays (drop a tweet to @PartizanBrewing to check if you're planning on visiting). You can expect a warm welcome and some great beer. Go visit!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Elusive Brewing

It's been a while since my last post on home brewing, so I thought I'd provide an update on my most recent and also upcoming adventures.

My fifth all grain brew, Imperial Stout, didn't quite follow the path I described. The base beer itself turned out well. Beyond that, I sat it on some dark roast coffee beans and some French oak chips that had been soaked in Maker's Mark Bourbon. The chips were soaked for about 5 days and the beer was sat on the coffee/oak combination for a week. The beer at that stage had a massive coffee nose that over-powered everything, although this was less present on the palate. 

The feedback I got was that it needed to be a little sweeter, so I decided to introduce cocoa to the mix. Like most things in home brewing, there are many ways to add cocoa into a brew but given where I was, my only real option was to rehydrate some dried cocoa and mix it in. Now, given this brew was for my wife, I felt compelled to use her favourite cocoa (Cadbury's) for this, although that went against the advice I got to use low fat powder to avoid head-killing oils getting into the final product. I gambled on that point and went for it, adding 100 grammes of rehydrated cocoa after transferring the beer off the coffee and oak chips. Then I left it for another week before bottling. The resultant beer is probably my best to date. I think using a starter gave me a good, clean fermentation and the coffee and cocoa combine well on the palate and on the nose to provide decent flavour with hints of oak coming through right at the end. My only error was that it seems some of the bottles have over-carbonated. This is probably due to not ensuring my priming sugar was evenly distributed. The photo above shows a pour of the final beer.

My sixth all grain brew was effectively a revisit of my third, which went a bit wrong (see previous post) and had to be ditched. American Pale Ale is a favourite style of mine and screwing this up had been playing on my mind as I was happy with the recipe and confident I could make a better fist of it with a second attempt. I tweaked it slightly and had to tweak it further on the brew day as I misplaced some Maris Otter (of course I found it 10 minutes after I no longer needed it) so subbed in some DME at the start of the boil.  Here's the final recipe (left, click to enlarge). 

The brew day went very well but I learned that using pellet hops in the boil with my set up is not a good idea. The pellets didn't settle out properly in the cooled kettle, so I lost a lot of wort leaving the trub behind while transferring for fermentation. In any case, fermentation went well with another first for me - dried yeast! The starting gravity was a bit high (1.060), probably as I added too much DME, but I didn't liquor back. The final beer is 5.9% and has just been bottled. The Centennial dry hops and late Apollo addition have combined to give it an aroma that reminds me of those fruit salad penny chews I used to eat as a kid, and I'm happy about that!

The final update I wanted to provide was the plan for my next all grain brew. One beer I really enjoyed this year was Summer Wine's Surfing Monk, an Australian hopped Belgian blonde ale. Given I've just got my mitts on some Galaxy and Topaz and still have some Wyeast 3787 (Belgian Trappiste, High Gravity) in the fridge, I thought I'd have a go at brewing my own version. I'm thinking about splitting the batch however, and ferment ing half with my go-to yeast, Wyeast 1056 (American Ale). The draft recipe is below and I'm hoping to brew this before the turn of the year. 

One more thing before I sign off. The title of this post is the new name I've given my home brewery. I probably don't need a name for it, but hey, it's my brewery and I'll do and brew whatever takes my fancy, so there!

Saturday 8 December 2012

Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout Beef Stew

There's something about pairing beef with stout that creates flavours even greater than the sum of the parts. Bristol Beer Factory's Milk Stout is a delicious example of the style, with some lovely sweet roasted coffee and chocolate flavours. I thought I'd try it in a beef stew and well, it turned out really nice so I'm sharing the simple recipe.

Photo from BBF website
Ingredients (serves 4)

400g stewing beef
3 large carrots, cubed
1 large parsnip, cubed
1 large onion, chopped roughly
1 leek, halved and sliced
1 small swede, cubed
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 beef stock cube
1 500ml bottle of Milk Stout
2 bay leaves
Tablespoon of plain flour
Salt, pepper, cumin, and dried ground chilli to taste


Heat some oil in a large pan on a medium heat and throw in the leek, onion and garlic. Cook gently for 5 minutes then add in the carrots, parsnip and swede for a further 10 minutes, stirring frequently (the aim is soften, not brown the veg).

Remove the veg and set aside. Up the heat a bit and add more oil to the pan. Brown the beef until sealed then add the flour to soak up the oil and juices from the beef. Add the veg back in along with the tin of tomatoes, stirring as you go. Pour in the bottle of stout and fill the tomato tin with water (about 400ml) and add that in too, crumbling the stock cube in while stirring.

Finally, add a pinch of salt, a generous twist of pepper, a teaspoon of cumin, the bay leaves and chilli to taste. I used dried chilli but fresh will be fine. The aim is to just bring a little warmth rather than end up with a spicy dish, so go easy on it.

Bring gently to the boil then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook gently for 2 hours. Like most stews, if you can resist temptation, allowing it to rest overnight and re-heating the next day really allows the flavours to meld together. Serve hot with a fresh crusty roll for mopping up the juice and of course, another bottle of Bristol's finest!

Golden Pints 2012

It's that time of year when we look back before looking forward to the new one. With that in mind, below are my Golden Pint Beer Awards nominations for 2012.
Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer: Buxton Gold. Had a bit of a moment at Reading beer festival this year, which prompted an impassioned tweet. After several boring brown beers, I ordered a half of this. It sung from the glass right down to the last mouthful. Then I went back for a pint, and another, and maybe one more. Then I missed my train home.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Magic Rock Cannonball. This beer has just got better and better. The latest batch is absolutely sensational and now that they're bottling in the brewery, we'll hopefully see wider availability of the Huddersfield nectar.
Best Overseas Draught Beer: Regular twitter followers will be bored by now, but Green Flash West Coast IPA at the brewery was special.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: I've been a bit spoiled this year but the beer in question was a recent, small sample in London of Anchorage Galaxy White IPA. Wow! Where can I buy one to enjoy at home, please?
Best Overall Beer: Thornbridge Raven. See last year's post. No reason to change. I think it's special and the world beer cup judges agree, so there! Kernel Citra IPA ran it close though!
Best Pumpclip or Label: Weird Beard Shark Biscuit (collaboration between Weird Beard and London Brewing Company), designed by Daniel Vane. Both breweries are worth following this year with the former due to start commercial operations in January and the talented Daniel having recently taken over as head brewer at the latter. 

I've sampled plenty of prototypes/home brew from both this year and have enjoyed it all!
Best UK Brewery: Summer Wine have gone from strength to strength this year and I think 2013 is going to be even better for them. Two of the nicest and hardest working guys in UK brewing deserve every inch of the success they've earned, and will earn.
Best Overseas Brewery: Stone, again.
Pub/Bar of the Year: Craft Beer Co, Islington. It only opened last month but is already my favourite London boozer after just a few visits. For those who've not been, think Craft Beer Co (Leather Lane) meets traditional old London pub with a modern twist, complete with individually styled rooms and an Ol' Joanna!
Beer Festival of the Year: Borefts. Wow! What took me so long to get to this festival?
Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose. Love that I can buy an array of local beer in town and, should I feel the urge, fill my basket with White Swan or Jaipur.
Independent Retailer of the Year: I only visited once (bad me) but the Beer Boutique in Putney is ace and I will return soon.
Online Retailer of the Year: Has to be Beer Merchants, in that they've had most of my hard earned this year. Also think their social media presence is fantastic.
Best Beer Book or Magazine: John Palmer's 'How to brew' has been on my bedside table all year. It's great for beginners but has so much more too.
Best Beer Blog or Website: Oh Beery Me by @SheriffMitchell has been fantastic all year. Committing to review a beer a day for a year is one thing but doing it with such passion and diversity really set this blog aside from others this year, and some clever writing kept it fresh throughout.

That said, I must also give an honorable mention to Phil Hardy's Beersay. Phil has architected some fantastic online events this year and is another person I was delighted to meet and share a few beers with. His blog has gained a lot of readers and rightly so.
Best Beer Twitterer: @broadfordbrewer (David Bishop). Has supported me loads on the home brewing front and is as genuinely nice in person as his online persona suggests. Hope to share more beer with him next year - preferably stuff he's brewed!
Best Online Brewery Presence: The one I've visited most is BrewDog's.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: This was at the beer blogger's conference back in May - Sharp's Quadrupel served with banana and cream tart. I'll let Leigh over at The Good Stuff fill in the blanks.
In 2013 I’d Most Like To: Well my 'most like to' in 2012 was to start home brewing. That's gone pretty well, so in 2013 I'd most like to brew on proper big kit!
Open Category: You Choose: Still the most pointless debate: Cask v Keg v Bottle v Can v Wheelie Bin – I don’t care as long as the brewer is happy I’m getting their product via a dispense method which does it justice. (Yes, this is the same as last year. It's still just as prevalent and pointless).

Sunday 25 November 2012


Transatlanticism n. The state of being in a long-distance relationship with another person over the Atlantic Ocean, for example, with one participant living in the United States and the other living in the United Kingdom, along with the emotions that accompany such a state, such as the desire of physical intimacy, melancholy and hope. Coined from the song of the same name by Death Cab for Cutie (source: Urban Dictionary).

I've no idea if David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) named this beer based on the above, or if perhaps the meaning was derived from the marrying together of the two styles (London Porter and US IPA) it draws from. What I do know is that the beer was brewed specifically for a competition run by Rooster's Brewery in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire for Leeds home brewersAs I've acknowledged in previous posts, David has been hugely supportive of my own first steps into home brewing, and for me is the very definition of the friendliness that underpins the UK scene. As he explains in his post about it, "the beer is a hop forward porter, meaning that in the first instance I aimed to brew a Black IPA, made it too roasty (possibly) and viola!". 

To those who've tried some of David's brews, it will come as no surprise that the beer wowed the judges and won the competition. The judges noted that "the beer screamed HOPS at you from the glass. Bursting with juicy fruit aromas amidst a touch of coffee, backed up by a big hit of roasty bitterness". David's prize was to have the beer brewed commercially in collaboration with Roosters, who made it clear on the brew day that they wanted the scaled up version to closely match the flavours and aromas of the original brew. Fast forward a few weeks, and the commercial version of this beer hit the shelves of Beer Ritz in Leeds, where a whole case was sold in about 2 hours! Now, having been lucky enough to sample a few of David's brews in the past and having enjoyed everything I'd tried from the Rooster's brewery, this was something I had to get my grubby mitts on.

I placed an order (If you're quick, you can still grab some from their mail-order site here) and waited for it to arrive. I didn't have to wait long. The service from Beer Ritz was excellent as always and the bottle arrived at my door some 19 hours after ordering - impressive!

The beer pours an opaque black colour, although if you hold it up to the light, the edges turn a transparent dark golden brown. It had a thin magnolia coloured head that subsided quickly. The initial slow pour produced no head, so I switched to a more vigorous pour towards the top of the glass.  Holding the glass up for a sniff, I first picked up the pine and citrus (especially orange) notes produced by the Centennial and Cascade dry hopping, but swirling and sniffing more I was able to pick up a roasty smoky quality beneath the hops, with a distant hint of caramel. As a huge fan of the Black IPA style, it smells delicious. 

In terms of initial mouth feel, there was very little carbonation to speak of. If you hold the beer on your tongue, you get a subtle fizz that soon subsides. There's plenty of body to underpin the flavours, which start out with hints of roasted coffee before subsiding into a lovely fruity hop bitterness. The orange I picked up in the aroma carried through to the middle of the beer. I can see why this is described as a hop-forward Porter. It certainly had plenty of dark roasty flavour to support the description, but this is first and foremost a hoppy beer and the finish has the perfect amount of hop bitterness for me.

All told, I think this is a very good beer (it certainly disappeared quickly, despite being a large 750ml bottle!) but I feel more carbonation would make it a great beer. It's possible that the lack of carbonation may have been specific to this bottle. The good news is I ordered two, so watch this space!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Adnams - Social Media and Sole Star

Adnams is a brewery with a lot of history. However they are a brewery that has also shown a desire to move with the times, be that through the beer they're brewing, their branding, or how they engage with their customers. They produce a range of traditional ales, interspersed with some interesting, modern twists and the occasional special release. Since being acquired by the Adnams family in 1872, they've remained independent and focused on retaining their links to their Southwold, Suffolk home, although their beers are available nationwide these days.

Over the past few years, I've enjoyed a good number of their beers, with the delicious Ghost Ship on cask (first sampled in a Wetherspoons in a West London business park of all places) being a particular favourite. Fittingly, it's a recipe based on one from Adnams' archives with Citra and other American hops providing a modern twist. This was originally a seasonal beer intended to available in the Summer months. However, the response of the drinking public saw it become a permanent fixture and made available in both bottle and more recently canned form. 

Its permanent launch in May of this year was marked with an innovative social media campaign, #showmetheghostship, which had a huge online response. Adnams worked with Spring Agency (case study here) to come up with the content, which climaxed in a ghost ship being projected onto the side of the brewery at a special launch event. Adnams (@Adnams) gained over 1000 twitter followers during the campaign, which can be seen in the graph below:

@adnams twitter follower over time,  graph courtesy of wildfire
Adnams, in my view, have a fantastic online and social media presence and are one of the most engaging of the breweries I follow across all platforms. As an example, a couple of years ago, a friend mentioned in a tweet that he was looking forward to visiting the brewery on his birthday. Their marketing team saw this tweet and made him feel special on the day, sending him away with a few beers to celebrate. That kind of engagement is priceless in terms of driving loyalty and he still talks and tweets about them. Sarah Howe (@sl_howe), who tweets for Adnams, attended the European Beer Blogger's Conference this year (coincidentally, also in May) to present the newly launched Ghost Ship as part of the speed tasting session and it was interesting talking to her about the importance they attach to how they engage with customers on social platforms.

Anyway, on to the beer in hand! With increasingly high beer duty being a hot topic at the moment, the recent halving in duty for beers below 2.8% ABV has provided a rare break in the storm. The fact it was offset by a huge increase in duty for high strength beers is not lost on me, but the cut, most likely made to favour supermarkets and other mass producers, has provided an incentive for brewers to innovate in arguably the most technically challenging of categories - flavourful low strength beer. With no significant malt base to underpin them, low strength beers can be watery and can also struggle to maintain mouthfeel, head and any lasting flavour on the palate. A guardian blog post discussed some of the products released in light of this drop in duty, and it doesn't make good reading. 

Adnams' effort, Sole Star, is described in their tasting notes as a 'full-flavoured and great tasting pale amber beer, with a light floral/citrus aroma, gentle caramel notes and a good level of bitterness'. It comes in at 2.7%, so qualifies for the lower duty rate, enabling Adnams to sell it online at a very reasonable £10.99 for 8 bottles.

So, what did I think of it? The beer pours a very clear amber/copper colour with a small white head. The floral/citra aroma is certainly there amongst some caramel notes from the malts, which also carries through to the initial flavour. It has a nice bitterness, which is well balanced and not overpowering, but it fades fairly fast, which is to be expected given the thin body. Here's a wordle word cloud pulling together the collective view of those who've reviewed the beer on ratebeer:

The bottle I sampled was decent enough, and my glass emptied quickly and left me wanting another, but in all honesty this is not probably a beer I'd drink lots of. If you go up another percentage point, you'll pay more for the pleasure given the standard rate of duty, but can enjoy much more flavour in beers such as Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Redemption's Trinity and Kernel's Table Beer in what I'd still consider the sessionable 3.x% ABV bracket. I applaud Adnams and other breweries who've released products in the lower duty bracket but hope and pray that the government increases the lower duty threshold an extra ABV percentage point (or even half a point!) in future. Flavourful beer within this lower duty rate category remains something of a holy grail.

Thanks to Adnams for sending the bottle through for sampling.

Update on home brewing exploits

After the relative success of my first two adventures in all grain brewing, I've really caught the bug. The idea of making tasty beer at home at a reasonable cost is one thing, but having my eyes opened to the infinite possibilities accessible through four simple ingredients is a different thing altogether. Brewing has, of course, been around for thousands of years and yet styles continue to evolve with commercial brewers always willing to push boundaries in search of The Next Big Thing.

As a home brewer, I started out brewing stuff in styles I like drinking. AG#1 was a shameless clone of Green Flash's excellent West Coast IPA. I like to think of it as a sincere form of flattery of what I consider to be absolutely the best IPA coming out of San Diego. Best drunk fresh, of course, but more on that later. The support I received before, during and after that first brew really pushed me on to brew more. The brew itself wasn't great. It was decent, and I'm still drinking it, but I know I can do better. Like most things in life, there's always room to improve. That brew taught me that dry hopping doesn't just involve sprinkling hops on top of a fermenter and hoping for the best - you need to get the little bleeders actually suspended in the beer for good results and that's not as easy as it sounds.

The second brew, Nelson Saison, was my contribution to SupSaison, a celebration of the style hosted by top beer blogger Phil Hardy. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. The wonderful Nelson Sauvin hop turned out to be a good bedfellow for Wyeast's 3711 French Saison strain, their aromas and flavours sitting together very nicely in the glass. I drunk about half of it and gave the other half away and people seemed to like it, which was very rewarding for me. I can understand why some brewers read their reviews on ratebeer and similar sites, especially if that's their only window for feedback, but in my view you can't beat face to face (or tweet to tweet) personal feedback to learn how to improve and know what people really think. I've certainly learned the most from talking to other home brewers and commercial brewers, and they're a very supportive bunch.

The first two brews were pretty big (8% and 7% ABV respectively) so for my third, I wanted to try something a bit more sensible. Here's the recipe:

The brew day was a bit of a disaster. Actually there were two brew days. The first involved me flooding my kitchen and the second saw the hose attaching the false bottom of my mash tun to the tap fall off during the mash (twice). I fell out of love with the brew from the outset and, convinced it was spoiled, left it far too long in secondary fermentation. My second lesson in dry hopping is that you can't leave a beer on hops for weeks on end. It'll end up smelling like vegetables. In a miracle of brewing science, the beer itself isn't too bad. Yes, it smells a bit odd (that may settle down) but tastes pretty nice. A lovely pale colour, decent body and rasping but not overwhelming bitterness. I will revisit this recipe and try not to mess it up next time!

My fourth brew was a revisit of Nelson Saison but with a pomegranate twist. I had intended to brew a beetroot Saison, but couldn't get the juice I wanted to go along with the veg itself. Instead, I opted to brew something similar to my first Saison but use pure fruit juice to hopefully add some flavour and colour to the beer. The recipe was similar to the first attempt but I substituted Maris Otter for the Pilsner malt and used Nelson in flower rather than pellet form (can't find the latter for love nor money!) and toned the bitterness down a bit. As I write, that's in secondary fermentation which saw me add some more Nelson Sauvin hops for aroma and another bottle of POM brand juice, which handily is chock full of sugar.

My fifth and most recent brew was an Imperial Stout. This is my wife's favourite style and I wanted to brew something for her to enjoy. Here's the recipe:

I'm planning to split the batch and age some on French Oak chips soaked in Maker's Mark bourbon and some on Coffee beans with Vanilla pods. This brew was the first where I'd used a yeast starter, following the excellent instructions David Broadford Brewer Bishop wrote up here after a talk at the Leeds home brew club from the ever helpful Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge Brewery. The brew day was my smoothest yet but I did lose some gravity points from running off too quickly, so the beer started off at 1.085. Two days in the fermentation is going great guns (pic to the right) so I'm hoping to be able to transfer it this coming weekend, which will also see me bottling the Pomegranate Nelson Saison (it's all go!). 

When I wrote last December (as part of my Golden Pints submission) that the beery thing I'd most like to do in 2012 was to start home brewing, I had no idea how fun and rewarding I'd find it. I've met new people, learned an awful lot about the art and craft of making beer and most importantly, found a new passion to get my teeth in to. This Sunday (November 11th) I'm entering my first home brew competition, organised by London Amateur Brewers, having entered my West Coast IPA and Nelson Saison in their respective categories. I'm really looking forward to getting some judges feedback as well as spending the afternoon chatting to fellow home brewers and I'm sure sampling some wonderful beer. Home brewing is on the rise in the UK and I, for one, am happy to be involved in the vibrant, supportive and sharing community that underpins it.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Weird Beard Brew Co - New Prototypes & Shark Biscuit

I recently caught up with Gregg and Bryan from Weird Beard Brew Co (<- check out their shiny new website) and other than a chance to have a good natter about what they'd been up to since their meet the brewer at The Rake, they kindly provided some new prototypes brews for me to sample.

More on the beers shortly. First of all it was great to hear that they've finally got premises sorted, kit ordered and are days away from finalising their lease as summarised on their blog here. That means they should be brewing before the end of the year which is great news for the thriving London brewing scene. 

Gregg and Bryan have had something of a frustrating time getting things off the ground, having been let down on two previous premises. Back in April, the target was to be brewing from around about now. Given these set backs, that hasn't been possible but they've both working hard on prototypes brews and one of these (Sadako Imperial Stout) scooped a bronze medal at the UK National Homebrew Competition with the oaked version of the same receiving an honorable mention.

A shortage of the 'new world' hops used in some of their original recipes has provided a huge challenge, with some of their intended core range of beers having to be tweaked or replaced with other brews until they can secure the ingredients they desire. The allocation of hops is a source of frustration for many UK craft breweries. With priority being given to established customers, new breweries face a real challenge when working with importers to purchase hops and are often fighting for scraps - a few kilos here or there - or missing out altogether. 

Consistency will be key to their success of course, so securing a regular supply of the ingredients used in their core range is vital. This brings me nicely to the first prototype beer. This was a re-brew of the Sunshine Saison I'd sampled at The Rake. Reading my notes back then ("a nose dominated by the French Saison yeast with a hint of lemon and peppery spice") and comparing with the beer in my glass provided a bit of a flash back to that very wet April afternoon, and not just because the weather was the same. A good sign on the consistency front.

The other two beers were new to me. The first, Holy Hoppin' Hell, is a US style double IPA, weighing in at a hefty 9.3% ABV. The beer poured a deep amber red with an off-white pillowy head. The nose was delicious with oodles of orange, mango, grapefruit being followed by hints of caramel - classic of the style. These aromas were backed up by the taste with some pineapple and bitter grapefruit pith thrown in to the mix. The finish was long and bitter with a nice boozy warmth coming in at the end. 

The second is called Black Perle Stout. This is a milk stout aged on coffee beans, brewed using only the Perle hop and coming in at 4.5% ABV.  This poured jet black with a great looking honeycomb bubble head. The nose was dominated by black coffee. The coffee was the first flavour I got too followed by a pleasant sweetness which provided balance against the bitter finish. This was a solid brew and one that I suspect would really sing when cask conditioned. With the ABV being session friendly, I could see myself downing a few of these.

Weird Beard recently brewed their first commercial beer. This was a collaboration with London Brewing, a microbrewery based at the The Bull in Highgate, and another amateur brewer Daniel Vane, who brews under the pseudonym The Dukes Brewery. The guys blogged about their brew day here (<- check out the sparge arm 'modification'). Dan also provided the art work (below) which looks great. The beer, a 7.4% Aussie-hopped IPA named Shark Biscuit, which rather fittingly is Aussie slang for newbie surfers, launches on Tuesday 9th October at The Bull from 7pm. If you're in town, why not head along. I reckon the beer will pair nicely with The Bull's excellent spicy buffalo wings and intend to test this theory by having my fill of both.  All in the interests of entertaining you, dear readers!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Sophie's Rustic Ale

Photo from google reviews, copyright unknown
Last week I was invited along to the launch of Sophie's Rustic Ale at The Bricklayer's Arms in Putney. This was my first visit to this award-winning pub, tucked away down a side street close to Putney Bridge. On walking in, my first impressions were of a cosy, traditional country pub that had somehow got lost on its way to the countryside and settled on this quiet residential street in South West London. Maybe it was enroute to Berkshire but couldn't escape the clutches of the M4 elevated section. In any case, its horse-shoe bar covered in hand-pulls with a smattering of keg lines was a welcome oasis after skipping past the wine bars and chain pubs on Putney High St. The pub positions itself as "London's Permanent Beer Festival", a free house which takes pride in offering customers an array of choice and beers they might otherwise not find elsewhere. For example, later this month they are hosting a Kent Beer Festival, which offers Londoners a chance to try the beers brewed as part of the Kent Green Hop festival, where Kent's brewers turn their skills to brewing a beer made with freshly picked hops, harvested from the county's local farms.

Art Brew Hip Hop (Green Bullet)
Sophie's Rustic Ale is the result of a collaboration between Dorset's Art Brew and beer writer, journalist and recently qualified beer sommelier Sophie Atherton. Sophie worked with Art Brew's Becky Whinnerah to devise the recipe after they'd decided to brew a beer inspired by the Belgian Saison style. Their challenge was to bring the influence of Dorset's farming history into their interpretation of this traditional Belgian farmhouse style. 

Sophie's research led her to learning that marigolds were grown in the area in Victorian times.  After discussing this with Becky and conducting a few tests to see what flavours they would bring to the mix, the two agreed to incorporate dried marigold flowers into the brew, looking especially to bring the distinctive aroma to the fore. The marigolds were added to a recipe which also includes Maris Otter barley, East Kent Goldings and Challenger hops and Saison yeast (actually a blend of yeasts, as explained on the night). 

Two versions of the beer were presented, fined and unfined. I tried the fined version first. It felt odd being presented with a perfectly clear Saison. The fined version had a sweet floral nose. The taste presented a very dry beer with fruity notes being followed by a hop bitterness and hints of green apples. The dryness was in tune with the Saison style but I couldn't pick out the distinctive fruity and spicy flavours the yeast typically brings to a traditional Saison. The unfined beer for me was much better. The flavour profile I'd associate with a Saison was thrown into the mix with the dryness and floral notes being retained - very enjoyable.

This was the first time I'd tried cask conditioned Saison, in fact the only draught dispense I'd had before was Saison Dupont in keg. Without the fizz of carbonation to lift it, the dryness of both was prominent, which was going to make our challenge for the evening - matching the beer with food - an interesting test for my palate. To that end, our hosts had provided a delicious array of bread and cheese from the South West to sample alongside the beer, curious to hear our views on which best sat alongside the flavours in our glasses.

A delightful spread of West Country treats

The impressive spread above included the following foody delights:

The focaccia recipe had been designed by one of River Cottage's chefs specifically to match the flavours in the beer. It was perfectly presented, topped with marigolds and green tomatoes. This was a real treat and provided a great accompaniment to the cheese. As I set about tasting the cheeses alongside the beer, it struck me that this was a delightful way to spend an evening, talking all things beer with like minded folk and comparing notes on what provided the best match. 

After dutifully working my way through sampling everything on offer (well, I do aim to be thorough!) along with a few more halves of the unfined beer, I felt the best match for Sophie's Rustic Ale was the Jalapeno Jack from Hawkridge. As the chilli heat from the peppers started to warm the palate, washing a swig of the ale around the mouth presented a completely different beer and really accentuated the spicy, fruity notes brought by the yeast, lifting the dryness away beautifully. It has to be said the Blue Vinney also worked really well for me too, although I may be biased there as I'm a huge fan of that particular cheese.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, hosted impeccably by Sophie and Becky and John from Art Brew, with the Bricklayer's Arms providing the perfect venue. Sophie's Rustic Ale will be available in London and in Reading, Berkshire in the coming weeks. I'm not sure where specifically but if you'd like to try it, drop Sophie (@SophWrites) a tweet to find out where to go.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Adventures in all-grain brewing #2

It had been a while since my first brewing adventure (a huge IPA) and I was keen to have a go at a different style. The first brew was reasonably successful to the point I was brave enough to hand some bottles out to fellow home brewers, with positive and encouraging feedback being received along with some great advice on how to overcome some of the problems I'd encountered while brewing it (with special thanks to David Bishop @broadfordbrewer).  I also seized the opportunity more recently to get some under the nose of Evin at Kernel, who provided some stellar advice on yeast pitch volumes and first wort hopping when tackling the double IPA style.

Armed with the experience of my first all-grain brew and a bag full of New Zealand hops from our recent trip, I fired up BeerTools Pro and set about piecing together a recipe, having researched some previous home brew recipes for inspiration. This was to be my contribution to the Saisonathon Phil Hardy (@filrd) over at the excellent Beersay blog had been scheming. 

The plan was to produce a single hop Saison using only Nelson Sauvin hops. I felt the dryness typical of the Saison style would sit nicely alongside the gooseberry and fruity white wine notes that this fabulous hop brings to the mix and aimed to get plenty of them into the kettle, with a focus on late additions for flavour and aroma rather than early bitterness additions.  After some tinkering, I settled on the below:

Nelson Saison Recipe

The malt bill is, I think, fairly typical of a Saison with the bulk coming from Pilsner malt. The hop schedule saw only half an ounce hit the kettle within the first 40 minutes, with a further ounce and a half being added before the final dump of three quarters of an ounce at flame out. I let this last addition sit for a while (having stirred up a whirlpool) to give it plenty of exposure to the wort before cooling it down to pitching temperature and transferring to the FV. The recipe calculator suggests it'll be 50 IBUs, which is outside the style guidelines but not insanely bitter.

The choice of French Saison yeast over the Belgian Dupont strain was driven purely by the temperatures at which it does its work, which perfectly matches that of my fermentation (ahem, dining) room. 

Brew day went fairly smoothly. The OG was slightly lower than the target at 1.058. The yeast got to work quickly but after a week it was sat at 1.020, without much airlock action going on, so I transferred it to a glass carboy to give it a bit more head space and wrapped it in a blanket to encourage it along. This seemed to do the trick and I'm now patiently waiting for this slow-burning yeast to finish off and hopefully take it down to 1.006 or so, which'll put it in the 6% ABV ball park. I was really pleased with the most recent sample I took. The aroma and taste was encouraging and I'm hopeful this'll be ready and tasting good by the time Saisonathon rolls around on Saturday 15th September.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

A visit to Moa Brewing Company

I could write a few paragraphs on the story of how this Marlborough, New Zealand based brewery came to be, but I feel they've captured it perfectly on their packaging (see photo, click to enlarge).

The "Proudly brewed in New Zealand" tag-line is something they back up solidly through their actions. More on that later.

What their own back story doesn't tell you is that Josh is the son of Allan Scott, a renowned wine maker in this, one of the world's top wine making regions. He grew up in the area and has been around wine all his life. Their respective businesses are barely a few hundred yards apart and I must admit to having genuinely laughed out loud on being greeted by the below sign. I can imagine it creating some banter between Father and Son when it first appeared. 

Fittingly, the Moa Brewing Company's premises are nestled snugly between several neighbouring vineyards and the narrow driveway leading up to them takes you between two fields tightly packed with perfectly straight rows of vines. A site featuring prominently in the surrounding area which, as you'd expect given the pedigree, contains many fantastic wineries. 

In a future post, I'll talk about the booming hop farms which are now competing for this nutrient rich, fertile land across the top of the South Island (home to Nelson, Motueka and Riwaka). Of course, that means Moa has access to some fantastic locally grown hops and their beers feature them in abundance.

The brewery and tasting room building itself looks small from the road but extends to the rear. The sign outside on the left of the door reads "Brewed using traditional, costly, inefficient and labour intensive techniques" - something I'm sure most craft breweries can relate to.

The brewery (to the rear) and tasting room
We arrived just after opening (11am) on a Saturday morning in June, to be greeted by a cheerful, if camera shy host. Her passion for the beers on the bar was infectious as she poured and talked us through a tasting. Moa has a core 'estate' range produced in volume and a number of 'reserve' beers, brewed seasonally in smaller batches. Details and tasting notes can be found on their website.

The bar inside the cosy tasting room, complete with roaring fire
On the bar for sampling were Pale Ale, Methode, Noir, Original, Imperial Stout and  Weka Apple Cider. The Pale Ale, which uses both US Cascade and Nelson Sauvin hops, was a standout for me being fresh as a daisy, whereas Jane adored the Imperial Stout aged in Oak Pinot Noir barrels.  Takeaway bottles are keenly priced and we took the opportunity to stuff our campervan's fridge full.

As we tasted, our host explained that a lot of their passing trade are wine tasters, on self-guided or organised tours of Marlborough region. Her favourite moments behind the tasting taps are those where she manages to open a wine drinker's eyes to the world of craft beer. Each one chalked up as a victory for Moa and what it stands for. Of course, with Moa's heritage I'm sure they're happy to see both wine and beer thriving in New Zealand but given where they're based, it must be fun to change perceptions.  

The brewery is fully self contained and I was allowed to sneak out the back for a few minutes to snap some photos of the kit. There is a small viewing window within the tasting room but as they've expanded outside the building, you can't see too much from there.

HLT, mash tun and kettle. Perhaps the kit they started on?
Shiny new kit outside including all-weather fermenters
Bottling line, apparently as temperamental as bottling lines the world over
After visiting the brewery, I sought them out on twitter (@moabeer, worth a follow) and later learned that they were partners/sponsors of Kiwi House, a 'haven for friends, family and proud supporters of the New Zealand Olympic Team' during the London 2012 games, based near King's Cross. They celebrated every medal won by NZ athletes with aplomb, with golds being toasted with $1 beers back home.  While those inside the park were supping bland rubbish thanks to multi-national brewing giants securing exclusive rights to sell beer at the games, vistors to Kiwi House were enjoying craft beer supplied by a brewery obviously proud to be kiwi.

Kiwi House got through so much Moa that it had to appeal for folks flying in from New Zealand during the latter stages of games to bring more with them (a reward was offered)! I'll drink to that!