Friday 19 December 2014

12 Beers of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 11 December 2014

Golden Pints 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent Retailer of the YearThe Bottle Shop, Bermondsey

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

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

Best Beer Blog or Website: I've really enjoyed reading Justin Mason's Get Beer, Drink Beer blog this again year but I'm going to give the nod to Boak and Bailey 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.

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.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Imperial Dry Hopped Porter - A brew for Ant Hayes

I never met Ant Hayes. However, having spent a couple of hours reading some of his work and learning what others thought of him, learned from him and how they remember him, I'm pretty sure we'd have got along just fine. I'd probably have annoyed him with all my questions but from what I've read, he wouldn't have tired of answering them, especially if they were on his favourite subject - English Brown Ales. Ant was a South African who moved to London with his family in 2005, bringing with him his passion for home brewing and going on to become one of the founding members of London Amateur Brewers. He was well known in home brewing circles world wide, having facilitated the first BJCP judging exams to be held outside of the United States (in South Africa) and the first exams in the UK. He also had work published in Zymurgy, including this fantastic article on Burton Ales, co-written with Martyn Cornell.

Ant was so passionate about English ale styles that, when visiting the US to attend the American Home Brewers Conference in 2009, he flew examples of English Brown Ales over in order to demonstrate his view that the BJCP guidelines did not reflect their true character. Those who knew him use words such as intelligent, sharing, sharp and sincere to describe him and it seems he certainly made an impression on those he met at that conference.

As he writes here, Ant named his brewery HayesenBrau, after his Dad's favourite beer Kronenbrau 1308. You can see some photos of his setup here.

Very sadly, Ant took his own life on May 2nd 2011, leaving a wife and two children. An AHA forum post by his friend Jeff Renner (In Memorium, Ant Hayes, 1970-2011) announced this to a shocked home brewing community. Reading that thread tells you a lot about the man and the love and respect people had for him.

London Amateur Brewers remembers Ant with an annual club competition, the HayesenBrau Award. This year, it was decided that the challenge would be to brew a beer (any style) that uses all of the following ingredients in any quantity - Pale malt (any British variety), Crystal and Chocolate malts, Target and Challenger hops and any British ale yeast. It seems only fitting to brew an English style, so I settled on a Porter.

The aim was to make a big "Imperial Porter" and the above grist delivers a predicted OG of 1.082 (which was the actual OG). Danstar Nottingham is known for its high attenuation, which should put the finished beer somewhere around 9% ABV. I look forward to raising a glass to you, Ant.

Update: The beer fermented down to 1.018, so is 8.5% ABV. It has a nice roasty flavour and aroma to it and hides the alcohol pretty well. I changed the dry hop to Challenger as I didn't have any Target T90. 

Thursday 6 March 2014

Brodie's Bright Future

While compiling my Golden Pints for last year, Best UK Brewery was a category that had me thinking long and hard. I eventually plumped for Brodie's because I'd drunk plenty of their beer in 2013 and couldn't remember a bad pint. In fact, I could remember lots of good ones and a few great ones. The thing is, it can be pretty hard to find their beer unless you venture to one of their two London pubs or to those of their longer established customers (such as Brighton's Evening Star) because with Brodie's, supply has always out-stripped demand. 

Source: King William IV website
If you've ever visited the King William IV in Leyton and ventured out the back to the brewery, you'd probably think it's no coincidence that co-founder James Brodie is a huge fan of Doctor Who as he basically plies his trade in the brewery equivalent of a Tardis. The small outbuilding offers no clue as to what lurks within and every bit of space is used to the fullest. Lack of space certainly hasn't held them back though and they've managed to turn out plenty of fantastic beer, if nowhere near enough to satisfy the high demand. Recent news that they plan to expand into a larger space came as no surprise and it seems 2014, their 6th year of operating, may be the year Brodie's comes of age.

Around six months ago, Jonny Bright (formerly of BrewDog) joined the brewing team and I had a chance to catch up with him for a chat at a tap takeover at The Rake. Jonny explained that they wanted to put an event on to mark something of a milestone as they've spent the last few months polishing and refining their recipes, ironing out some issues with their over-worked brew kit and laying the foundations for this year's planned expansion. In a way, a bit of a pause for breath to take stock and enjoy the progress they've made before ploughing head on into what promises to be a very busy year for them. Jonny went on to explain that they've been pretty pleased with the refinements they've made to the beers themselves and are starting to think ahead to plan their migration to brewing them on a much larger scale in the new brew house. 

Brodie's has always been known for being prolific, both in terms of volume (especially considering they operate on such small kit - which in the past has meant some epically long brew days) and overall variety. Brewing on smaller kit allows for much more flexibility of course with less risk if a brew or two doesn't quite turn out as planned. They've taken plenty of risks in the past (Sake IPA anyone?) with some spectacular successes as a result, which really helped put them on the map. Brewing at a 20BBL length is an altogether different proposition however and it seems the Brodie's team are ready to face that migration head-on.

Jonny is especially proud of the quality of the cask ale they're putting out of late and the condition of the beers on the bar that night was testament to that. Brodie's has always casked their ales with keg coming a bit later. They've not been able to bottle much recently but hope to step that up again once they have more space available. 

Their appetite for the wild and wacky has certainly not subsided and the Chinook Bacon IPA on the bar (keg) underlined the continued desire to experiment with different flavour combinations. I enjoyed a half of that as we chatted and it was really good - the aroma definitely offering a clue as to the source of the name! That particular brew marked the first day's work of Angelo Scarnera (formerly of Brew Wharf), the latest addition to the Brodie's brewing team. Angelo brings great pedigree and experience to the fold and already knows his way around the existing brew kit, so I'm sure he'll feel right at home. 

So, what of the rest of the beers on offer? In addition to the Chinook Bacon IPA, I sampled the Dalston Black IPA, Awesomestow IPA, Hoxton Special IPA and London Sour Blackcurrant - the latter being the only one I'd not sampled before. All were bang on form with the Dalston Black and Blackcurrant Sour being my picks of the evening. If you're lucky enough to spot them on your travels given the short supply, get stuck in. I'm sure on sampling you'll be pleased that 2014 should be the year there will hopefully be much more of their fabulous beers to go round.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Nelson Simcoe Motueka IPA

Seems I forgot to blog about this brew, so here's a catch up post. This was the first outing for my new 100L gas-powered brewery and very much an opportunity to 'dial it in' and see how numbers stacked up compared to my more familiar 25L set up, which consists of a cool box mash tun and electric combo HLT/kettle.  The new rig was purchased from Powell Brewing and for the money I was pretty impressed with the build quality. The set up cost around £700 and included three 100L vessels (HLT, mash tun and kettle) plus a plate chiller and wort pump. Here's a photo of the build - and my old kit...

I've built it like this so I can gravity feed from the HLT (left) to the mash tun (middle) and also so the mash tun is lifted off the floor for easy mashing and emptying. There is no 'hands off' sparging solution in place yet but I figured a hose and slow movement across the grains would suffice for now. The pump is used for pumping from the mash tun to the kettle, then onwards through the plate chiller to the fermenters. I've yet to invest in a large fermenter (or two!) so for now will be splitting wort across multiple 25 litre buckets. I had a hand getting things set up both from my Dad and oldest, ugliest friend Sean (*waves*). Sean wanted to try his hand at brewing so I recruited him as an able assistant for the maiden brew day!

In order to calibrate against my old kit, the plan was simply to re-brew something I'd brewed there and compare the numbers, so I settled on revisiting the Nelson & Simcoe IPA, first brewed last summer. After adjusting up, the recipe looked like this:

The brew itself when pretty smoothly until it came to transferring to the fermenters, at which point something very strange happened. We lost about 5-6 litres somewhere. It just vanished between the kettle and FV#2! The first thing I'll be doing to figure this out is to calibrate the kettle from a jug or something with a known capacity to see if the sight glass on it is marked up accurately. Other than that, efficiency was pretty much the same as my old kit and the only other concern was the temperature loss in the mash tun. I may clad it some more but partly put it down to it only being half full on what was a pretty cold day outside.

Post-fermentation and allowing for other losses I ended up with way less than 48 litres of beer but what there is tastes and smells good, so I'm declaring this brew a success. I also had my first encounter with acetaldehyde, at least during my home brewing exploits, which was really noticeable while transferring to secondary. The US-05 cleaned that up though, thankfully. The final mishap came when batch priming the beer for bottling - the battery on my scales had died (note to self: stock a spare!) so I had to guesstimate the weight of the sugar. Seem to have just about got away with that one. It's a touch under-carbonated for my liking but passable for the style.

Friday 21 February 2014

Five to watch in 2014

Just some random Friday night ramblings after a couple of beers, and an uncharacteristically short post. Here are five newish small breweries who I think will do well this year and some thoughts as to why. Other breweries are available and will also do well of course!

  • Burning Sky: Tranter, big oak thingies and brett. The UK's answer to Crooked Stave? Maybe. And that's before you sample their core line up.
  • Cromarty: Provided my beery moment of last year and definitely on the up. Craig is unassuming and humble but effortlessly talented. Jealous? Me? *secretly rages inside*
  • Siren: The secret is in the barrels and they've got fucking loads of them. The biggest thing in Finchampstead since, erm, that roundabout on the way to Wokingham. You know, the one before the level crossing.
  • Weird Beard: My loyalty to Gregg, Bryan and Dan is well documented but I love those guys for a reason - they make damn good beer and aren't afraid to stick their hairy faces in places when it comes to experimentation.
  • Northern Monk: A bold call given they're just getting started with their build out but that boy Dickson can brew and it sounds like Russ is assembling quite the team up in that there north. Beer wise, David Bishop has left them in great shape I'm sure.

I'm also burning a wee candle for Three Friends Brewing, Brew By Numbers and Landlocked. Finally I asked the beery hive mind of twitter and gave them a whole ten minutes to respond. That there hive mind offered up: Trillium (Boston), Magic Rock, Tempest, Bad Seed, Drygate, Pilot Beer UK and *blushes* Elusive Brewing.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Blood Orange Red Wine Oaked Sour

The drive down California's State Route 1 (SR1) is surely one of the world's most beautiful, with its amazing views of the pacific ocean and dramatic landscapes. It's a drive I've had the pleasure of doing four times now and will never tire of it. Last October we returned to what I consider my second home, San Francisco (having lived in the area for a couple of years in the late 90s) to spend some time revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones. Of course, the itinerary was planned to take in several brewery visits as we ambled our way down towards San Diego. We drove north to Russian River, east to Chico (home of Sierra Nevada) before heading south to pick up SR1 in Monterey Bay. I could (and should!) write many blog posts about this adventure but I'll save that for another day.

When doing this drive, there's always the dilemma of where to stop in order to avoid staying in Los Angeles. This time we'd decided on having a short day's driving after staying overnight near Firestone Walker's incredible tap room, in order to spend the day and evening in Morro Bay before tackling the long drive to take us south of LA into Orange County (The Bruery!).  This relaxing day was most welcome and we spent the afternoon on the beach, taking photos of the beautiful views and lapping up the ocean breeze and late summer sunshine. As the sun set, I took the took the above photo, which captured one of the moments of the holiday as we stood there basking in the complete serenity that surrounded us. By this time we'd worked up quite a thirst, so walked into the nearest bar right there on the seafront. That was a place called The Libertine Pub, a small cosy bar which has a larger dining area to the rear. We pulled up a seat at the bar to be confronted with a wall of taps. These taps were pouring some of the finest beers we'd enjoy on our holiday and given I know my readers would want to know exactly what those beers were, as luck would have it I captured that moment too!...

Now I'm sure you'll agree with me that if every pub you happened to stumble into after a long hard day doing very little had a list like this, you'd be pretty happy. We settled in for the evening and sampled a good number of the above, chatting to the locals we were sitting with, as you do. As it got towards the end of the evening, my eyes drifted towards tap 11 on the board - Ruby Slipper. I asked the bartender about it given the name. "Oh yeah, we brew some stuff here. That's a beer made with blood oranges that we fermented with wild yeast in a red wine barrel" she said, thankfully failing to notice me dribbling a little bit as the music of what she was saying serenaded my ears. "YES PLEASE, THAT ONE!" was my response. 

Given the brewery names I've mentioned above, you can rest assured that we consumed some of the world's finest beers on this particular adventure and yet this beer, made right here in the basement of this unassuming pub, turned out to be one of the absolute best I've ever had, let alone on that holiday. It was simply sensational. Not massively sour but plenty of funk and fruitiness from the brett. The blood oranges were hard to miss both on the palate and the aroma and the oak provided a delicate finish that was polished off with smooth red wine notes and hints of vanilla. I think I had three glasses but it could've been more. You may have read my previous post where I wrote about the things that inspire me to brew. Well in this case, it was simple - I wanted to drink more of this beer!

In constructing the below recipe, the first thing on my mind was not to create something that was massively sour. I figured a straight primary fermentation with brett followed by a bit of ageing in the bottle might get me somewhere near. I wanted to throw a LOT of orange flavour in so zested ten blood oranges and added that late in the boil followed by an additional steep post flameout. The juice from the oranges was added before pitching and as I write, the beer is fermenting aggressively at 28 centigrade and smelling very nice. Once primary is done I'll sit the beer on American oak that has been soaked for a few days in a fruity Merlot. I plan to taste the beer a week in and see how the oak is taking hold.

The OG was 1.045 and I'm expecting the yeast to dry it out, perhaps getting down into low 1.00x territory which'll mean this beer is heading towards 6% ABV.

One final note on Libertine. Having 'liked' them on Facebook after my visit I was delighted by a recent post that suggested brewing operations are going great guns (Parabola barrels - whoah!). If this beer is anything to go by, that's great news for the already healthy beer scene in Southern California and a situation I'll be monitoring closely, albeit, sadly, from afar.

Monday 17 February 2014

Lebkuchen Stout

Sometimes I get a desire to brew something having had a commercial beer that I simply loved or enjoyed certain aspects of. Other times it's just through a desire to use a certain ingredient or brew a particular style. However, this beer was inspired by a tweet I read, posted by fellow beer geek and notorious London craft aficionado, Dina. I feel compelled to paste that tweet in its full glory, so here it is:

(blogger won't let me use twitter's embed code - gah!)

To save you googling if you've not come across the name, Lebkuchen is a traditional German delicacy, something akin to gingerbread but apparently with some regional variation in the recipe. It can contain honey, spices, nuts and other ingredients but ginger is always used. The origins of this traditional Christmas treat can be traced back to ancient times, which in my head seemed to align nicely with beer. I thought this was a great idea for a brew and started to piece together a recipe, based upon a sweet milk stout. After a bit of fiddling around and reading Lebkuchen recipes, I settled on the below:

Recipe is based on 24L pre-boil

The recipe aims to produce a sweet (but not overly so) milk stout, with lots of ginger flavour and aroma. The ginger was steeped for an additional 30 minutes before cooling the wort. The spices being added to secondary fermentation will be infused into the Amaretto with the intention of dosing the beer pre-bottling to achieve a subtle but noticeable flavour. Additional lactose may be used to sweeten the beer up before packaging but I'm hoping 250g will be enough to keep the FG up in the high teens or low twenties. The OG was 1.060, meaning the finished beer should be around 5-5.5% ABV.

So, Dina, I'll fucking make you one and thanks for the inspired idea!