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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Brewdog Chaos Theory

Sometimes a beer is complex, complicated, chaotic even. A depth that arrives in waves, perhaps too much at first but later unravelling to reveal an intricate balance of flavour and taste. For such a beer to be fully enjoyed an attentive, considered drinker is required. Someone willing to invest the effort to pull apart those flavours, appreciating them on their own and as part of the whole.

And then you have beers like Brewdog Chaos Theory. A stand and deliver type beer. A beer with an air of self confidence. A beer comfortable in its own skin, it knows who it is and what it’s about and isn’t afraid to tell you. Put simply, Chaos Theory is a showcase for the Nelson Sauvin hop. It’s a single hopped IPA brewed to 7.1 percent ABV and has recently returned for a one off short run due to popular demand.

The aroma is distinctly Nelson Sauvin: oily, gently floral, white grapes, kiwi fruit, a slight hint of white wine and perhaps some musk. In the mouth it has a lot of sweetness up front, the hops follow through from the aroma, a bitterness powers in that’s just rammed with grapefruit pith and peel and then it leaves you with a slight dryness and a hint of crystal malts. The body is velvety and full, the alcohol lurks in the background suggesting a beer that’s bigger than its 7.1 percent.

This modern IPA style is so synonymous with American c-hops1 that their absence is the stand out factor in Chaos Theory. You keep expecting that big citrusy punch but it never arrives. Instead you get Nelson, Nelson and more Nelson; it’s almost as confusing to the palate as the first American IPA you tried. Take nothing away from Chaos Theory, it’s a great beer, tasty, incredibly drinkable and well crafted. I’m just not sure I like Nelson Sauvin that much.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brewing For Fun: An APA

I had a bit of time over the weekend and the freezer had some hops in it that weren’t getting any younger. What’s a bloke supposed to do other than get brewing? Exactly. So that’s what I did.

Something light and hoppy felt like a good idea. When doesn’t it? Marris otter pale malt, some crystal and caramalt for colour and sweetness, flaked barley for body and head retention. Simple. Bittered with amarillo and target hops to 35 bitterness units and then flavoured with loads of centennial, chinook, cascade and more amarillo. Colour? Think somewhere between deep straw and golden ray of sunshine; an original gravity of 1043 will give a final alcohol content of around 4 percent.

As it often does; the urge to experiment got the better of me, resulting in a silly hopping rate of 10g per litre. I threw some of the amarillo into the mash just to see what happened and the specialty grains weren’t included until sparging. I went with a single batch sparge and a mash time of 45 minutes hoping I could cut time off the day without impacting efficiency … I was wrong. Having completed a water profile test at home, I also adjusted my brewing liquor with carbonate reducing solution and dry liquor salts for the first time, something I hope will help preserve hop character in the finished beer.

So it’s fermenting away nicely now and should be done by the end of the week. The next decision will be whether to dry hop or not …

The picture above shows some of the spent hops. I used something like 110g in 11 litres of beer.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hardknott Infra Red

Dave Bailey (this one, not this one) is a man who swapped life as a publican to try his hand at full time professional brewing. He did so by taking a risk, investing in equipment and premises and setting up the Hardknott brewery in Cumbria. Notable achievements to date include: whisky barrel aged imperial stout Aether Blaec, 10 per cent barley wine Granite and being an all round thoroughly nice bloke.

My first taste of the Hardknott range came in the form of Infra Red, a beer described as a “hybridised red, amber ale, made with copious amounts of cascade and centennial [hop varieties]”. It pours a plum red colour with a fluffy white pillow of head on top. The aroma has something nutty or sesame about it, perhaps a spiciness that might be a result of crystal rye being used. There’s fruity hops in the background but they play second fiddle to everything else, it’s not as hop forward as the “hoppy as a bucketful of frogs” description suggests.

In the mouth it’s quite light and sprightly for its 6.5 per cent. Again I found the hops to be more reserved than expected, there's some pithy citrus there but the dominant character is a pronounced grainy quality. There’s the suggestion of sweetness up front, complemented by some caramel and burnt sugar, then a nice dry finish that lends itself to good drinkability. Being critical, I found there to be a slight tannic, almost smokey note towards the end, perhaps from the use of too much crystal malt.

A very enjoyable beer and a great effort considering that the Hardknott brewery is still very much in its embryonic stages. Looking forward to the bottles of Aether Blaec and Granite now.

You can buy the Hardknott beers from MyBreweryTap.com and Beermerchants.com

Monday, 16 August 2010

Kernel Brewery Export Stout & Pain au Chocolat

A wise man once said “Beer, not just a great breakfast drink”. Ignoring that advice for a moment; let’s focus on morning drinking for the sake of this week’s FABPOW.

The Kernel Brewery is quickly developing a reputation for producing great beer, and rightly so. The single-hop pale ale series that they’re churning out are almost always exceptional (special mention for the centennial, simcoe and chinook), delivering a thirst quenching burst of American hop and a big smack of delicious bitterness. Their Export Stout is based on a recipe from 1890 and weighs in at 7.8 per cent. It’s inky black with a tan head, the aroma is intensely roasty with a woody spiciness behind. In the mouth it’s full but not overly so, there’s the suggestion of sweetness at first, succumbing to a dry bitter finish. Perhaps some dark fruit and a slight floral note from the hop but definitely delicious.

A meal or snack made by hand is almost always more rewarding than something you grabbed from a shelf. I say almost, for there are some things that you’re always better off buying. Puff pastry and pain au chocolat to name but two. So go and buy the latter, in all its buttery, sweet, chocolaty glory and enjoy it with some 1890 Export Stout.

The slight sweetness in the beer is boosted by that in the pastry, the chocolate amplified, the fattiness cut by the dry bitterness, the palate lifted and cleansed. A gorgeous combination that makes you feel a bit more adult about eating pain au chocolat.

Note: Can also be enjoyed at other times of the day. Poncy snifter glass optional.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Sierra Nevada - Green Brewing

Steve Dresler of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company claims that, on average, it takes five litres of water to make one litre of beer. As an ingredient some of that water will make it into the finished beer, but much is also lost to hop and grain absorption, boil off and vessel dead space. As a resource, water is use to crash cool boiling wort, chill fermenting beer and clean equipment and packaging. Brewing is an incredibly resource hungry process when it comes to water; something that hasn’t been lost on the team at Sierra Nevada.

Steve is the head brewer at Sierra Nevada and was recently interviewed by the guys over at The Brewing Network. Whilst I’ve been a fan of Sierra Nevada beers for quite some time, I’ve been completely unaware of the work they’re doing in the field of eco-friendly brewing. Listening to him talk about the goals they have and the plans they’ve already put in place, it totally renewed my respect for the company.

Take water for example. The amount of water the brewery consumes per unit of beer has been halved over the industry average. Installing a water treatment plant on site has enabled the burden to be taken off the municipal water supply, enabling in-house reprocessing and purification of all water. This water then cleans the trucks and irrigates the hop yard, the methane by-product of the purification process being fed to the hungry burners that fire the copper. Incredible.

If it’s flat and pointing towards the sky, Sierra Nevada will put a solar panel on it, chances are they already have! Proud owners of one of the largest solar panel arrays in the United States, they’re able to generate 85 per cent of all the power they consume. True, the panels will return on investment within seven years and the government provide grants to businesses setting them up, but you can’t help but believe Dresler when he says the diving force is “doing the right thing”.

CO2 reclamation, a private health clinic for staff, supporting small hop growers, a private rail spur to cut down on traffic. I could go on and on about the things that are being done but you can already read more about them here and listen to more about them here. Sierra Nevada are able to do these things in part because of their size, clearly it wouldn’t be possible for smaller breweries to invest such money in decreasing their negative environmental impact. Equally, large organisations paying lip service to the green brigade are all too common place. It’s refreshing to see a business that genuinely cares about their product and about the impact they have on the world around them.

Monday, 9 August 2010


As a youngster I spent many happy summers in Northern Italy. My parents have always had something of a love affair with the country, more recently investing in a retirement home there, so it was always their holiday destination of choice. It was in Tuscany that I first tried calzone; confused by the concept I remember thinking of it as an Italian version of our Cornish pasty.

A thin pizza base, folded in half, spots scorched black on the outside. No sign of a basil leaf or a tomato anywhere, the calzone we’d devour were always stuffed with simplicity; mozzarella cheese and strips of thick-cut ham.

Nowadays you find them everywhere, but I still like to make them from time to time. Seasoned flour, olive oil, dried yeast and water make a dough which I knead for ten minutes. I’d quote measurements but it’s always a case of doing it by eye, if you start with half a kilo of flour you should end up with one calzone. Once that dough has had a chance to prove, knock it back, roll it into a circle about three millimetres thick and spoon your filling onto one side. Brush the circumference with a little water, fold to make a crescent shape and pleat the edges that meet.

Have your oven preheated as hot as it will go. Bake at that temperature for ten minutes and then lower the heat to gas mark six, continue baking until you get a hollow sound when you tap the bread and it looks golden brown on top.

I always accompany this with a cold, crisp lager or pilsner. Spritzy and bitter enough to cut fatty cheese, light enough to prevent the food from becoming overpowered. Try Brewdog 77 Lager or Meantime Pilsner (both available in English supermarkets).

Ingredients: 500g bread flour, salt, black pepper, 7g dried yeast, 1 tbsp olive oil. For the filling go with what takes your fancy: mozzarella and ham, tomato and mozzarella, four cheese, salami, anchovies etc.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Great British Beer Festival 2010

The Great British Beer Festival is a difficult beast, she both giveth and she taketh away.

I awoke on Thursday morning feeling like I’d been run over by a bus. The ghost of a beer drinker, sapped of life, eyes itchy and heavy, achy legs and pounding head. Consecutive days at that festival take their toll, and not solely down to the effect of alcohol either. Standing up all day, walking what seems like miles around beer aisles and a diet consisting almost exclusively of pork; your body will reach a point where it just says NO MORE!

She’ll chew you up and spit you out, even if you are well prepared.

But walking through those doors, into that cavernous room, a rejuvenation takes place like no other. Beer from around the globe, beer you’ve never encountered and might not ever see again, bottles you’ve lusted over for months, hidden gems waiting to be unearthed. It’s everything great about beer under one roof, waiting to be explored, sampled, shared and talked about.

The air hangs thick with enthusiasm for great beer; the most effective remedy for even the sorest of heads, capable of reviving that flame you hold for craft beer from the merest of embers.

You find yourself moving from one beer related conversation to another. Chats with professionals about the way they brew and the beers they make, dissecting flavours over shared thirds and making sure everybody hears about a great beer when you find one. At one point I sat sharing a beer flavoured with Cuban cigars, one made by Italian Gypsies and one that tasted like smoked paprika, the only relevant topic being the food we’d most like to pair with each.

Outside those four walls time passes as normal, but you’re completely oblivious to it. When it finally becomes time to return, you’ll not only leave with your back aching and your head spinning, but with a stronger desire than ever to go out, drink, learn about and share great beer.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Brew Wharf Homebrew Competition 2010

Last week, in this Guardian Word of Mouth article, Mark Dredge announced the winner of the Brew Wharf Homebrew Competition 2010. With a sense of pride, excitement and more than a little surprise; I discovered that one of the beers I’d entered came out on top.

The competition had been running for the last few months and invited homebrewers of all skill and experience levels to submit a beer. Style guidelines were thrown out the window, brewing processes only restricted to those that can be easily recreated in a commercial brewery and ABV limited to a maximum of 6.5 per cent.

I originally brewed my beer based on a recipe available at Barley Bottom. A bit underwhelmed by the result, I modified things to: increase the OG [Original Gravity] and raise the hopping rates.

The result, I hope, lies somewhere between a best bitter and an ESB. With a nice, round bitterness, a subtle dark malt character and a pronounced hop aroma and flavour.

The competition prize was the chance to brew the winning beer on the commercial system at the Brew Wharf. That means 800 litres of my beer will be brewed and then consumed by the general public; an opportunity that I think any homebrewer would jump at. Very, very exciting indeed! I’m looking forward to it immensely, I’ll post the beer recipe in full soon and I’ll be sure to write a blog or two about the day.