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!

Sunday 16 February 2014


In a recent post I wrote about a 'good week' in which I'd appeared on national television talking about home brewing (still feels quite surreal!) and received some recognition for a couple of beers I'd brewed - a week that would take some topping. Rather astonishingly, I think last week blew that one out of the water. Late last year, The Craft Beer Company announced a competition in which they were "searching for the UK's greatest undiscovered brewing talent". The prize was a staggering £5,000 in cash and the opportunity to have the winning recipe brewed with Dark Star Brewing. To a home brewer, this was a huge carrot to dangle and it immediately caught people's attention, myself included.

I recall having a sit down and a very long think about the strategy for approaching such a competition. There were no BJCP style guidelines to conform to which, perhaps paradoxically, made the challenge even harder as in a sense, entrants were flying blind as to what the judges would be looking for. I decided to brew and enter a diverse set of beers in the hope of striking a chord with one of them. Entries were £15 each, so I didn't want to go crazy. I settled on four beers, all of which have been blogged about here in previous posts. Those were:
  • BA Imperial Stout
  • Beetroot Sorachi Saison
  • Lord Nelson
  • American Red
The beers were duly judged in mid-January and the prize giving confirmed as being on 3rd February at Craft Beer Co Islington. The gap between judging and prize giving gave plenty of time to ponder about who and which beer might've won and I found myself flicking through the entries on the website (handily plotted on a map!) mentally trying to taste them and connect them with the brewer.

The prize giving night soon came around and the pub filled with entrants, who were all no doubt feeling as tense and nervous as I was, all daring to dream a little - could it be me!?

The prize giving kicked off with Tom Cadden and Martin Hayes giving speeches. Tom spoke very highly of the standard of entries they'd received and Martin gave some background as to why they'd launched the competition and said the idea behind the prize money was to encourage the winner to go professional. He also thanked Dark Star for getting behind the competition.  Martin then advised that so high was the standard of entries that they'd decided to give out six honourable mentions before announcing the runner up and winner. I was sat with Chris Taylor and Emma Victory (of Crema Brewery) and was delighted for them when their name was read out amongst the honourable mentions for their excellent Red Snow Rye. 

What followed remains something of a blur but the runner up was announced before Martin started talking about the winning brewer and beer - an American Red. I had a moment of complete disappointment before remembering with a start that I'd entered one! Then it hit me. Hard. It was one of those moments where you don't quite know what to do with yourself. I sat there, head in hands, trying to take it in - "and the winner is...  Andy Parker". 

Tom Cadden (right) and my big grin!
After what felt like an age (but was probably only a few seconds) I got to my feet and headed towards Martin, who was holding a large novelty cheque with my name on. Handshakes and congratulations. Photos. More handshakes and congratulations. Was this really happening? I was flabbergasted. Completely knocked for six. Then my phone started buzzing - tweets from everywhere offering congratulations. After a few minutes I went outside, composed myself, text my wife, Jane (who was abroad and gutted she couldn't be there) and phoned my parents to tell them. Having gathered my thoughts, I headed back in, sat back down at our table and grabbed my beer as I started letting things sink in a bit. Thornbridge Chiron has never tasted as good as it did right then. Many more beers were opened and shared with friends that night and it's one I'll never forget!

A huge thank you to Martin and the team at Craft for putting on a fantastic competition and awards ceremony. They are very supportive of home brewing and this competition (which will run again next year) underlined that and then some.  Thanks also to Dark Star for getting behind it. I'm very excited about brewing the American Red down there. I hope they have lots of Simcoe and Citra on hand! I haven't yet dared work out exactly what the recipe looks like at a 45BBL brew length but am pretty sure the volumes and cost of the ingredients will terrify me.

In the two weeks that have passed since that night, I've had time to think about things and the future of Elusive Brewing. More on that in a future post!

Saturday 8 February 2014

Lord Nelson

Just a quick post as I've had a few people ask about this brew. It was something I'd wanted to brew for a while and finally got round to it late last year. The recipe very much has its roots in my second all grain brew, Nelson Saison, but with an adjusted hop schedule and the addition of a wild yeast strain, Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. The selection of the latter was inspired by Mikkeller's Yeast Series beer which I found really fruity with some citrus - kind of a lemony/pineappley affair with minimal funk. I assumed that series just used the brett in a straight primary fermentation. 

The changes to the hop schedule were designed to dial the bitterness right down and add plenty of that amazing Nelson Sauvin flavour and aroma which was amped up with a large dry hop. The yeast was pitched as a blend and after a slow start at room temperature, fermentation was run up to 28C for a week which was enough to get the job done. The resulting beer is really fruity. The yeast has given it a nice depth and it all comes together really well in the glass - certainly less outright hoppiness than the original but with a lot more aroma. Given the yeast used, I like to refer to it as a Farmhouse IPA or Pale. It's definitely not an outright Saison. Here's the recipe:

The name comes from my holiday song of last year - Royals by Lorde (a kiwi artist). You can treat your ears to it on YouTube.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Imperial Spiced Black Saison

"BLECH - it's horrible! Why would anyone do this?!" 

It may not have quite gone like that but this was very much the sentiment when I tried my first few Black Saisons. I just didn't get them and thought the roasted notes from the dark malts did nothing for the lovely Saison yeast esters, often tasting like burnt rubber and other nasty things you wouldn't want a beer to taste like. My love of Saison as a style is well documented on this blog and I've certainly drunk my way through many of them. Black Saison seemed initially a stretch too far for my palate and it took a very special beer to finally tune in. That beer was Dieu Du Ciel's ISSEKI NICHO, described as a 'hybrid between an Imperial Stout and a Belgian Saison'. 

Having sampled and failed to get my head around offerings from Green Flash/St Feuillien (Friendship Brew), Magic Rock/To Ol (The Juggler) Marble/James Kemp (Emancipation) and others, which as you'd expect from such brewers were perfectly brewed beers, I didn't hold out much hope of ever enjoying one. However, as my wife Jane sat there grinning at her glass having ordered a 1/3rd on keg at Brewdog Shepherd's Bush I couldn't help but pinch a sample (it's good to share and she's great at picking out corking beers!). I didn't know what style it was from the name and as I sniffed, swirled and sipped, something just fell into place. Was it a stout? It was definitely 'Belgian'? What are those spices in there? It was a beer to think about, certainly. It's fair to say I absolutely loved it and on the next round ordered a glass to myself (no need to share this one of course!) and mentally tried to deconstruct what was in the glass. "It's like a herby black Belgian Imperial Stout", I declared. A quick google later and HORROR - "It's a Black Saison and I hate Black Saisons. They're JUST WRONG!". It's fair to say that was something of a u-turn moment. I now wish I could go back and re-try those other brews I'd so hastily written off on first sample.

In terms of an approach to brewing one, I suppose the obvious thing to do would be to take the tried and trusted Black IPA route where you use a pale grist then add Carafa III or similar during sparge in order to add colour without adding too much roasted flavour. However, it was obvious that ISSEKI NICHO was not brewed this way so if I was to brew something inspired by it at home, I'd have to mash dark. Very dark in fact. And what about those spices? Picking them out this particular brew was beyond my palate but I was sure I could get something like star anise and perhaps some black pepper. What else might work? Cardomom? Too much? That good man and rather talented home brewer Andrew Hobbs suggested Black Cardomom. I'd never come across this before but Andrew kindly brought some along for me when we met up recently and wow, it's pungent and quite different to regular Cardomom - really smokey with some almost deep heat qualities. Brewing with this was going to be very interesting and require good judgement if I was to avoid brewing something spectacularly bad! The final recipe ended up looking like this:

It's a very dark grist and I selected both regular and roasted Rye malts to really bring some of that wonderful spicy bite Rye can impart. Beyond that, Dark Wheat and Chocolate were selected as I'd used them in big stouts before to some success. Magnum for bittering and Sorachi Ace for an added flavour twist (two brews in a row - woah!) and finally a trio of deep dark spices - Star Anise, the Black Cardomom and some pepper. The yeast choice to me was the easiest part of the recipe, especially now I have a heating plate to play with and can get my FV up near 30 degrees, to hopefully avoid the 1.030 stall that the DuPont yeast is known for at ale fermenting temperatures. 

As I write, the beer is fermenting away and the yeast is tearing through wort which started out at 1.084. If it heads down near 1.008 as I hope it will, this'll be a beastly 10% ABV, black as night balls out Imperial Black Saison. If it's half the beer ISSEKI NICHO is, I'll be one very happy brewer!