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.