Saturday, 19 May 2012

Live Beer Blogging at EBBC12

This post was written and published 'live' (as in unedited) during the live tasting session at the European Beer Blogger's conference in Leeds.  Ten breweries presented their beers, with new one appearing every five minutes for an hour. The brewers toured round the tables and 'pitched' their beers, telling us a little bit about them as we tasted. These were:

  • Rooster's (Baby Faced Assassin)
  • Innis & Gunn (Scottish Pale Ale)
  • Marble (Earl Grey IPA)
  • Adnams (Ghost Ship)
  • Brains (Dark)
  • Camden Town
  • Otley (Oxymoron)
  • Slater's (Top Totty)
  • Leeds (Hellfire)
  • Great Heck (Stormin' Norman)

Here are my thoughts on the beers as they came into my head during the event!

Innis & Gunn (Scottish Pale Ale)

This beer is currently only available in Sweden but will be released in the UK soon. It's their interpretation of an IPA, using classic British hops and aged in Kentucky bourbon casks. It weighs in at 7% ABV. On the nose I was getting banana notes. The goldings hops are there on the finish. I've had better Innis & Gunn beers.

Leeds (Hellfire)

Perfectly described as a fiery pale bitter on the bottle. That's exactly what it is, with a lingering bitter finish and a zesty citrus flavour which is also present on the nose. Very pleasant and at 5.2% a beer you could drink a few of. Not fiery in a chilli sense but plenty of hop character.

Otley (Oxymoron)

A cask conditioned Black IPA. Very light carbonation (some knocked out by the mini-keg it was decanted into). The nose is one of grapefruit and citrus fruits with the dark malt simmering below the surface. A very pleasant smelling beer. On the palate it was very nicely balanced with roasted chocolate malt flavours married nicely to the hops. A decent example of the Black IPA style.

Brains (Dark)

A dark mild weighing in at 4.1%. Hints of liqourice on the nose underpinned by roasted notes. Clean drinking with coffee notes on the palate followed by a subtle hop bitterness. Very sessionable. I enjoyed this one and didn't expect to as I'm not usually a fan of the style.

Marble (Earl Grey IPA, collaboration with Emelisse)

A 6.8% IPA brewed with earl grey tea-leaves. A US citrus hop nose. This is a fabulous beer with subtle earl grey flavours balanced perfectly with the hop bitterness. Could never do this justice in a couple of sentences. Worth seeking out!

Rooster's (Baby Faced Assassin)

A 6.1% single-hopped IPA brewed with Citra, cask conditioned. All late kettle hops so all about hop flavour rather than bitterness. Subtle orange notes on the nose. It showcases the Citra hop very well. An very flavoursome beer full of juicy tropical fruits. Emptied my glass in about 30 seconds!

Great Heck (Stormin' Norman)

A 6.5% IPA, cask conditioned. Orange notes on the nose. A good example of the style with a rasping bitter finish.

Slater's (Top Totty)

A blonde beer with wheat malt. Filtered and carbonated. You definitely get the wheat malt on the nose but the palate is classic blonde, perhaps a little thin. Refreshing and clean drinking. Just what I needed five beers in but not one I'd seek out. No comment on the branding.

Camden Town (Unfiltered USA Hells)

A German Helles recipe brewed with US hops, at 4.6%. Bottle conditioned and nicely carbonated. Classic helles nose. You have to fish for the US C hops a bit but they are present on the nose and creep into the finish. Great stuff.

Adnams (Ghost Ship)

A 'ghostly' pale ale, dry hopped with Citra, based on Adnams' deathly pale ale - a centennial recipe. A lemony nose with a light, refreshing bitterness on the palate. Really liked this on cask last year when it was released. The bottle less so but still enjoyable.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Longdog Brewery

Continuing on my mission to visit and blog about all of my local breweries, I recently popped along to Longdog Brewery in Basingstoke to meet the brewer, Phil Robins.  Phil is an experienced home brewer who when recently presented with an opportunity to follow his dream of owning and running a commercial brewery, jumped in with both feet and hasn't looked back.

Longdog Brewery is the youngest of the North East Hants/Surrey Border breweries and produced its first brew less than a year ago, in July 2011. This was their flagship brew, Brindle Bitter, which has gone on to become a popular beer in terms of sales, with a strong local following. 

The first thing that struck me about Phil was his obvious love of what he does and indeed all things beer. He talked about his brewing equipment as one might a first offspring and was genuinely interested in my recent home brewing adventures (he also runs Basingstoke's home brew club), offering up tips and advice learned the hard way throughout his 20 odd years of garage alchemy.

One of the core values Longdog lives by, is a desire to serve the local community first and foremost. In fact, as we chatted away, it reminded me of the first time I met David and Chrissy at Crondall Brewery. Phil is actively involved in the community and to serve it through his passion for beer is a natural extension of that.

The brewery itself is located on an industrial estate, beneath a snooker club. The snooker club may be Longdog's nearest customer but is certainly not the easiest delivery, involving lugging casks up a fire escape! The unit they are in is quite large with lots of open space providing room for future expansion. The photo below shows the rear of the unit. Not shown is an office to the left and the loading bay to the front.

The equipment was purpose built by a local supplier. The two vessels on the right hand side are fermenting vessels, which feature a double-skin sandwiching copper tubing used to regulate temperature. To the rear are storage rooms, including a cold store. The photo below shows the four vessels on the left hand side which, back to front, are the cold liquor tank, hot liquor tank, mash tun and kettle. The kit features some nice 'green' touches such as recycling hot water from the chiller unit back into the HLT.

Further over to the right is the bottling area, although Phil was quick to point out that as yet, he hasn't distributed these very far.

We spent some time talking about the logistical challenges of starting a brewery. Beyond the brewing equipment, inventory management of the 200 casks purchased from their initial capital investment is proving to be a difficult and time-consuming task and Longdog are having to supplement their own casks using a rental service. Longdog's own casks have turned up as far afield as Birmingham, which is a source of frustration and of course additional cost to repatriate them. It struck me that this must be a challenge for every start-up brewery and got me wondering if the various cask watch schemes should prioritise their efforts on their smaller customers rather than the big boys. Phil tracks his inventory closely and manages delivery and collection personally, which mostly works well with his local customer base but will no doubt become more difficult as the operation expands.

The brewery recently obtained a premises license and will soon be selling to the public directly. The intention is to sell bright beer in polypins and smaller containers. Longdog trialled this for the Christmas rush and the response from the local community was good, which Phil was encouraged by and hopes will provide a steady revenue stream as well as helping to get his brews 'out there' to aid sales in pubs.

The beers themselves are based on scaled up recipes finely tuned throughout Phil's home brewing career. Longdog's Lamplight Porter, based on a very traditional 19th century recipe, has been getting a lot of attention of late, having recently won best of category at Reading Beer Festival and featuring among the best overall beers. Their original production plan was to brew this only during the colder months but demand has changed that - a nice problem to have to deal with.

While I was there, Phil offered me a taste of Golden Poacher, their 3.9% golden ale, described as a 'the perfect thirst quencher' and another popular brew. This had a lovely rasping bitter finish, provided by the Green Bullet hops which also give it a fresh cut grass and citrus fruit aroma - very sessionable.

In terms of future plans, the aim is to continue to create polished examples of good British styles and provide them to the local market. Phil noted that he'd also like to revisit the branding in future. The Longdog name is one he used to use for his home brew creations, inspired by his beloved canine friend. When starting the brewery, they needed a name and it 'kind of stuck'. The pump clips were created by Phil, in the traditional British style. Personally I think the overall branding works well.

Longdog's first year has certainly been a good one and I'd like to wish them every success in the coming years. They're certainly a very welcome addition to the local brewing scene and it's great to see a local home brewer taking the plunge into commercial brewing.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

And the winner is... BrewDog

Ah, BrewDog. In the eyes of some, the darling of the UK craft beer scene and in the eyes of others, the kings of shameless self promotion and controversy. They need little encouragement to shout about their cause, so when they got wind of drinks industry behemoth Diageo intervening so they didn't win an award, their PR agency (Manifest) were engaged to stir up a storm, and it proved to be the eye of a perfect storm of activity on twitter. 

This post isn't about the story itself. You can read BrewDog's take on that here. I'm not aware of any response from Diageo but will link to that here too if one becomes available (UPDATE: Diageo have issued an official statement. Pete Brown also commented on it here). This post is about the reach of the hashtag that surrounded that storm, #andthewinnerisnot. 

In previous posts, I've looked at the twitter activity driven by a night of imperial stouts (#impoff) and the online launch of Durham Brewery's White Stout (#whitestout).

Perhaps it was the David versus Goliath nature of it or perhaps it was a slow news day, the facts however are that the hashtag became the fourth highest trend on twitter within an hour and for a short while was the number one trend (paid-for promoted trends aside) in the UK.

4th 'most trending' globally at 14:45

Given the sheer volume of tweets the two events covered previously drove, I was fascinated to see just how many tweets a global trend takes, over what period and the type of activity needed to achieve this. The below analysis was completed using a combination of the archivist, excel and tweetreach and covers the period between the first tweet at 13:37 and 14:55 (UK time) on Wednesday 9th May 2012. First of all, let's look at the number of tweets per minute during that period:

So it took some time for the volume to ramp up but activity peaked at 14:52 at 52 tweets per minute, or just about one a second. A total of 1200 tweets containing the hashtag were sent in this period. Interestingly, by then the tweets covered a wide range of subjects (see below) so the hashtag had become diluted from the original intent. Perhaps this is the general, re-useable nature of it providing a road in for the One Direction and Bieber crowd.

Tweetreach pulled in 1079 tweets from 899 unique contributors. The below graphic also shows the makeup of these (tweets, re-tweets and @replies):

So what was the reach like? Mind blowing compared to the previous analysis.  The numbers of 'impressions' (users who saw tweets, and how many) is shown below:

The reach of this hashtag was phenomenal in such a short space of time. This is an early analysis and I suspect the number at time of posting has extended beyond half a million accounts:

Here's a word cloud showing the most commonly used words used in those tweets:

BrewDog may not have won an award but Diageo ironically gave them much more than that through their actions. The chance to trend globally on twitter and no doubt some favourable press coverage to follow means the winner here is most certainly BrewDog.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Adventures in all-grain brewing #1

Back in December of last year, while considering who to nominate for the Golden Pint awards, I decided that the beery thing I'd most like to start doing in 2012 was to start home brewing. I had dabbled with kits in the past, with some success, but wanted to have a go at all-grain brewing working only with raw ingredients to see if I could create something that passes as drinkable (well, there would always be time to improve and perfect later!). 

I already had some equipment from working with kits but did need to get my hands on a decent sized pot and a mash tun. Fortunately I live just up the road from the fantastic Home Brew Shop in Aldershot who stock a good range of both. After mulling over the options, I went for a 33L pot (ample room to make 5 gallon batches without filling it to the brim) and one of their home made mash tuns, which is a converted cool box with false bottom filter and a 1/2" tap added. Some photos are included below.

So, with kit secured, the next decision was figuring out what I should brew. As a lover of the West Coast IPA style, this was an easy decision. Although not the simplest (or cheapest!) place to start given the multiple US hop additions and large malt bill, I figured it better to throw myself in at the deep end rather than take an easier option. A bit of googling found a recipe for a clone of one of my favourite beers - Green Flash West Coast IPA. After a download of the very handy Beer Tools Pro (thanks Rob from Hopzine for the tip), some tweaking based on the ingredients I could get, and a couple calculations around water volumes and temperatures, I had my recipe (note, dry hop schedule not shown):

A last minute re-read of John J. Palmers excellent musings on all-grain brewing and brew day was go! The first job was of course to clean and sterilise everything. Once that was done I put the stove on and started warming the water while weighing out my grains. As soon as the water hit the right temperature I added to the mash, stirred it in and measured the temperature, aiming for 66 degrees centigrade once mashed in. By a stroke of luck (or good calculation formulas - isn't the internet great) I hit this on the nose...

I left the grains to soak for an hour before taking the first runnings. This involved taking a sample then recycling until the grain bed settled and the wort ran clear. Once this was running clear, I ran it off into my fermenting bucket while heating my sparge water...

The run off took about an hour or so. I batch sparged and collected about 6 gallons of wort in total. While that was running off, I weighed out my first hop addition. Simcoe is a wonderful smelling hop and I might've spent some time with my face in the bag throughout the day...

The wort was transferred to the pot and brought to the boil and the hop schedule followed to the letter until the final addition 1 minute before flame out...

It was then time to chill the wort down as quickly as I could. This involved cycling water and ice through a large garden bucket until the wort had cooled down to about 30 degrees centigrade....

I then transferred it to the fermentation bucket (leaving as much trub behind as I could), took a gravity reading (1.078 - not bad) and cooled it further until it hit 22 degrees.  This took about an hour in total, most of which was the last 5 degrees (see lessons learned below).  I was finally ready to pitch my yeast. The Wyeast smack bag (smacked before starting the brew) was looking in great shape by this point so I poured it in and created an air-lock with a syphon tube and some cleaning solution. Below shows the fermentation on day 4, still bubbling away:

Dry hops will be added once fermentation is done and the beer is syphoned for secondary fermentation. Looking back, I learned a lot of things during my first all-grain brew day. Below are just a few...

  • A 90 minute boil leads to more loss than a 60 minute boil (don't laugh now!) so my overall yield was lower than I'd hoped
  • I need to cover my mash tun during the mash to help control temperature loss. I lost about 5 degrees in an hour
  • Plastic hose expands as it warms (stop it!) so relying on push-fit to secure it leads to leaks. I need to clamp the hose on to the mash tun (more wort lost through drippage)
  • I could get away with cooling the wort further before transferring it. It didn't lose that much temperature during the transfer so I had to wait ages to pitch the yeast
  • Home brewers are a great bunch and I received lots of tweets offering support and advice!

All told it was an interesting experience and I'm looking forward to trying the resulting beer. If it's drinkable, even better! All-grain brew number 2 is already being planned.