Thursday, 25 October 2012
Friday, 31 August 2012
You can read more about Cantillon here. It's a short walk from the central train station and easily reachable by Eurostar.
What do we know about the ageing of beer?
Born unsure of itself in a spiky body, all knobbly knees and disobedient limbs; angles of rough bitterness and awkward disparity. Discrete sweetness and bitterness, torn apart by an empty mid-palate, kept at bay by angrily-hot alcohol.
A middle-aged calm where there’s nothing to prove, no reason to shout and nobody to impress. Flavours integrated and harmonious, points and spikes weathered blunt to bring equality and balance.
A peak, a fall, an irreversible slide into old age. Ghostly flavours of youth, masked by the wrinkles of sherry, oxidation and dried fruits.
Or so they say.
Then I meet Dorian Gray, the oak-aged double IPA. A beer style full of volatile hop aroma and flavour, eager to be drunk young and in its prime; yet a beer clearly blessed with eternal life for the fact that, at 2 years, it still tastes vibrant and youthful and like it was kissed by the grassy, citrusy lips of dry-hop but yesterday.
Or a bottle of Rosé de Gambrinus, with its fuel tank full of residual sugar, yeast and relentless microbes. Clearly in it for the long haul; brewed for the patient among us with time and dedication enough to build a cellar of vintages. Yet at mere weeks in the bottle, it’s a revelation. Bright, bold, vibrant fruit flavours like none I’ve tasted in a beer before; backed by bright, assertive sourness that makes improvement with time seem impossible.
Beer that breaks the rules.
Bottles of Brewdog Tokyo* and Rogue XS Stout. Juggernauts, powerhouses both. Beers with enough alcohol content to fend off the years like David Beckham. Yet at 18 months, the bottles I encounter taste tired and burnt-out, already well past their best, like they’d given all they could and were heading to the 27 club.
Beers that break the rules.
What do we know about ageing beer? The consensus says that if it’s bottle-conditioned and strong, then it’s fit for the cellar. But, whilst that might be true a lot of the time, there are clearly exceptions to the rules. Beer will change with time, whether or not that’s a change for the best, well that’s something I’ll be thinking about more closely in future.
What's your approach to a beer cellar? Drink it all now, or save some for later?
Pictures from here and here.
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
The lucky winner of the Scottish Hampers competition I ran a while back is ...
Drum roll ...
Ok, ok, it's Rob Castle. Congratulations Rob, enjoy the beer!
Well done everybody else, you all managed to get the answer right ...
Posted by Mark at 23:10
Tuesday, 12 June 2012
What do Mikkeller Black, Three Floyds Dark Lord and Brewdog Black Tokyo Horizon have in common? They’re all Imperial stouts; plus a bit.
'Black' claims to be the strongest beer in Scandinavia. It’s 17.5% ABV, its fermentation is finished with Champagne yeast and it’s brewed with dark cassonade sugar. 'Black Tokyo Horizon' trails behind at only 17.2% ABV - 17.2! - it brings together the brewing minds behind Brewdog, Mikkeller and Nogne O in a three-way collaboration. And then 'Dark Lord', a beer so sought after you have to buy a ticket to be given the right to then buy a bottle. At 15% ABV you’d be forgiven for calling it an over-achiever in this company, it’s brewed with coffee beans and vanilla and it’s only sold on one day of the year.
All of these beers are in excess of what we’d now call an Imperial Stout. They feature massive amounts of alcohol and have huge residual sweetness. They have dense, thick mouthfeel and low carbonation. They’re like the ports and the sherries of the beer world, best drunk in small measures after a meal or in place of dessert. Ladies and Gentlemen .... the Ultra Stout.
So here comes the homebrew attempt. This recipe has worked well in the past, the beer tasting good but for the fact it finished very dry and the bitterness was slightly too big. So taking that recipe, I’ve decided to back off on the bittering hops and mash slightly warmer to leave a sweeter finish. I want the coffee flavour to be less pronounced and more integrated, so I’ve changed things up there too. Finally, I also want less roast flavour and more chocolate, so working with the grains I had at the time, I’ve cut down the roast barley and chocolate malt and gone with more moderately kilned grains: Munich, Crystal and some Special B.
Pale Malt - 55.6%
Rolled Oats - 15.0%
Chocolate Malt (500 EBC) - 9.0%
Munich Malt - 7.5%
Carapils - 5.0%
Special B - 3.5%
Roast Barley - 2.4%
Pale Crystal - 2.0%
15g Simcoe (12.2% alpha), 13g Centennial (11.0% alpha) and 10g Amarillo (6.9% alpha) at 45 minutes from flame out. 6g Amarillo (6.9% alpha) at 35 minutes from flame out.
French press coffee made with 720ml wort and 75g Nicaraguan Tres Pueblos, and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste added at 1 minute from flame out.
Pre-boil gravity: 1.069. Mash temperature: 68c. Mash time: 60 minutes. Boil time: 105 minutes. IBUs: 75. Original gravity: 1.119.
I pitched lots of rehydrated US05 yeast after aerating the cooled wort really well. If I somehow manage to get 70% attenuation, the beer will finish around 1.035 and will be about 11% alcohol. US05 is reportedly good up to 12% ...
I want this beer to be sweet and dense, I want it to pour with a caramel head and an oil-like body. I want subtle coffee, liquorice and brown sugar, some alcohol warmth and a gentle prickle of carbonation.
Friday, 25 May 2012
I’ll tell you what I love about Brewdog - hops. The hop flavour they manage to tear from those little green cones and force into their beer.
Hopping is a funny thing. On the face of it, it’s simple. You want more hop flavour and aroma in your beer, you add more hops. Right? Simple. Add hops early in the boil to extract bitterness and late in the boil to impart flavour and aroma. Easy. So why is it then that so many breweries fail to achieve this? Why is it that so many beers have a hundredweight of hop pellet thrown at them but don’t have good hop flavour?
Despite what the derisory best bitter diehard is quick to tell you, it isn’t easy to make a good hop-forward beer. It’s easy to throw handfuls of hop into wort, but what you’ll likely end up with is a beer that tastes vegetal, bitter to the point of astringent, tannic, leafy and grassy.
Back to Brewdog. Brewdog manage to use hops in a way that captures the essence of a particular hop variety. In their Punk IPA you can clearly taste lychee and tropical fruit from the Nelson Sauvin, you can get citrus peel and pith from the Chinook’s they use too. In Hardcore IPA they won World Beer Cup Gold by capturing the intense citrus of Centennial and teaming it with the resinous, piney dankness of Simcoe and Columbus. Maybe it’s the Scottish water their beer is made with, maybe it’s the combination of the sheer amount of hops they use and how they add them. Whatever it is, Brewdog are hop masters; a mastery that shouldn’t be underplayed.
The IPA is Dead series is a master class in hopping. Four beers built on the same base recipe, each one showcasing a different hop variety. It’s a series that isn’t appreciated enough; irrespective of how well each beer works as a finished product, they’re all brilliantly crafted expressions of a single, chosen ingredient.
The second instalment in the series features a variety called Motueka from New Zealand, Australian Galaxy, a classic English variety in Challenger and a new, experimental US variety named HBC.
Challenger: Immediately English. The malt is allowed to come through in notes of gentle caramel; balanced by a woody, bracken-like, bramble hop flavour. Damp moss and earth. Alcohol warmth with a near-brandy quality to it. No citrus in sight.
HBC: Now we’re closer to regular New-World-IPA country. Rindy, zesty, limey, peach and pepper. I’d believe you if you told me this hop was closely related to Citra. Grapefruit too. The malt morphs into a candy sweetness.
Galaxy: Keeping it real, citrus style. A step further towards the American IPAs I’m used to. Lots of citrus pith and grapefruit. Piney. Resinous. Delicious.
Motueka: Hard work in the best way - something that makes you think, something that demands your attention. Lemon mousse and mint. That cool feeling after you brush your teeth - menthol. Lime and something else tropical - maybe even coconut.
A brilliant four-pack of beer. I loved the HBC for its straight-up citrus and I’d order the Motueka again purely for how interesting it is. If you see them, give them a try.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
The people over at Scottish Hampers got in touch with me and offered one of their beer boxes as a reader competition prize.
If they sucked, I would’ve said no, but the hamper genuinely includes some good beer! Brewdog Trashy Blonde, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil and Ola Dubh 12 Year Old.
I’m always blown away by the fact that people spend their precious time reading the things I write. Free beer for one of you sounds like a good idea to me.
For a chance to win, all you have to do is send me an email at beerbirrabier[at]gmail[dot]com with an answer to the following question:
Beer is typically made with just four ingredients. Malt, Water, Yeast and what else?
The competition will close at 1pm on Wednesday 30th May and the only condition is that you have to live in mainland UK to win.
Fingers crossed ...
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
Ten days ago I brewed a double IPA. The first runnings came in at 1.067, they were bolstered with some simple sugar and then hopped generously with Centennial and Simcoe. The second runnings gave me four litres of sweet wort at 1.025.
The recipe looked something like this: 77% Pale Malt, 9% Munich, 5% Carapils, 4% Pale Crystal, 5% sugar. An original gravity of 1.073 and 75 IBUs from 8.9 grams per litre of Centennial and Simcoe.
Batch 003 of my sour beer career therefore becomes a 1.025 wort fermented with a half pint donation from batch 002.
The Cantillon-dreg-weisse-yeast-mix from batch 002 ripped through the bulk of those 25 gravity points in about 3 days. Since then I’ve been allowing the Brett and bacteria to clean up what’s left whilst I grow up a lacto starter from some fresh wort and a handful of grain (in exactly the same way as here).
I’d planned to flavour batch 002 with apricots but I’ve changed my mind. I found some awesome raspberries at the market over the weekend and I’m now planning to eventually use those instead. So batch 003 takes the apricots and the big lacto-kick. I’m hoping that by adding a large, actively fermenting bacteria culture alongside easily fermentable sugar, I’ll suppress the weisse yeast and get some decent lactic acid production.
I’ve chosen to use dried apricots because fresh aren’t in season. I’ll puree these down, loosened with a little boiling water, before heating to pasteurise. The puree will then be cooled and pitched straight into the beer alongside the lacto starter.
Who knows how long it will take? I’m sure the beer will let me know when it’s ready.
My sour beer lineup now looks something like this:
(From left to right):
Batch 001: Rhubarb Sour. Primary fermentation with an ale yeast, soured with a lacto starter and dregs from Cantillon and Boon. Aged on rhubarb. Approximately one year in glass.
Batch 002: Sour Oat Weisse. Primary fermentation with a German weisse yeast, soured with dregs from Cantillon.
Batch 003: Apricot Berliner Weisse. Primary fermentation with a pitch of beer from batch 002, further soured with a lacto starter. Aged on apricots.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
How many homebrewers daydream about turning professional? Most of them, I'd bet. In fact I bet the only ones that don't, are those that've already started the journey toward a brewing career.
So here's an opportunity for you to daydream for a bit. If you opened a brewery tomorrow, what would you brew? A beer range that'll keep you interested, but that'll also pay the bills. Something you'd happily quality assess during the day, then sink a couple of in the evening.
For me, it would be a small but varied core range:
Gateway Pilsner. Filtered lightly. 4% alcohol. Available in bottles and kegs only. This would be the brewery staple, a beer that doesn't leave the front door unless its perfect. It would have a bready, toasty malt backbone with a floral, grassy aroma of noble hop. It would be a beer that the macro-drinker can easily switch too, but not put down.
Pale Ale. A session beer for the cask drinker. 3.8% alcohol. Available in cask only. Munich and cara malts for toffee and caramel sweetness without the acrid, tannic harshness of too much crystal malt. Zesty, citrusy American hops. Served through a sparkler for extra body ... if the drinker so wishes.
New Zealand IPA. A hybrid for hop-heads. 6.8% alcohol. Available in keg and bottle. Think grain bill and hopping schedule of an IPA from the West Coast of America, but with hops from New Zealand. Biscuity, caramel malts underneath a tropical fruit bowl of mango, passion fruit and lychee. A citrus-free zone.
Porter. A dark beer for everyday drinking; inspired by London. 5.5% alcohol. Available in cask, keg and bottle. Sweet up front with a firm bitterness to finish. This beer would be made with chocolate and brown malts, not roasted grains - producing a flavour profile of chocolate, coffee, heavily toasted brown bread and nuttiness. NOT an alternative to Guinness.
Imperial Stout. Available year-round; only to be drunk on special occasions. 10% alcohol. Available in bottle only. A beer to be sipped and enjoyed slowly. Big chewy, malty sweetness carried by a thick, oily mouthfeel. Notes of espresso, cocoa, liquorice and bitter chocolate. Enough sweetness remains in the finishes to balance out a bold, dry, aggressive hop bitterness.
And then on top of that core range, I'd mess about and have fun. I'd do a version of the Imperial Stout with coffee beans and I'd release it in wax-topped bottles once a year - just like Dark Lord and Kate the Great. I'd funk stuff up with wild yeast and bacteria, ageing it in wine barrels and in casks that once contained spirits. I'd use fruit and spices and I'd try to do stuff that nobody else has done. I'd collaborate with fellow brewers and the brewery would always been open to amateurs.
What would you do ...
Picture from here.
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
I've been brewing like mad lately. I think my fermentation chamber has been constantly full since the middle of January. I brewed a hoppy American Pale Ale that's just about ready to sample, and then a Hefeweizen that's currently souring at the hands of Cantillon dregs.
Next up is a Hefeweizen, done two ways, with soft fruits in common. Half the batch will be dry-hopped into oblivion with Amarillo hops, the aim being to pull out some nice apricot and peachy flavour to sit against the spicy, clovey quality of the yeast. The second half will be flavoured with a combination of mango and passion fruit.
The yeast is the real motivation behind this batch. I harvested loads from the Lactic Weisse and it seemed a shame to waste it. The grist consists of a Maris Otter base, some munich for malty complexity and then oats (because, again, I didn't have any wheat to hand). The base wort was hopped to 10 IBU's with an addition of Amarillo at 60 minutes and then with a small addition at flame out.
Three days into primary fermentation, I added a puree of passion fruit and mango. The passion fruit was passed through a sieve and then blended with the mango and a little boiling water to loosen. The whole mix was then passed back through a sieve before being heated to 70c in an attempt to pasteurise. The aroma that's currently escaping the fermenter is an irresistible amalgamation of tropical fruit salad and spicy, phenolic yeast.
Looking forward to sample these two in a couple of weeks time.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
I like the idea of having lots of different wild homebrew aging in the cellar. Just hanging out down there, slowly maturing and developing. Not in bottles as finished beer, but in bulk. Ageing on different fruits and in different woods, ageing at the hands of different yeast and bacteria.
Trouble is - what with me not living in the 18th century - I don’t actually have a cellar. Nor do I have any wooden barrels to age beer in. What I do have though is a TESCO, a TESCO that’s started selling glass Demijohns. A TESCO, and a hallway with a bit of spare surface space. Sorted.
About ten months ago I made this. I then soured it further with a lacto culture and left it to do its thing. Rhubarb ‘Lambic’ therefore becomes batch 001 in my Hallway-de-Sour. Batch 002 is equally fun.
Batch 002 is 55% pale malt, 23% pilsner malt and 22% oats. It’s fermented with a German weissbier yeast, it’s bittered with hops to 10 bittering units and it has an original gravity of 1.057. It’s currently sitting in primary where it will stay for around 10 days. The plan is to then rack to glass and pitch a lacto culture and some dregs from assorted bottles of Cantillon. Once we’ve hit 1.000 and picked up some funk, I’ll pitch loads of lovely apricots and leave for further ageing.
My thought process is that the clove and banana phenolics produced by the weissbier yeast strain will work well with apricot. Tartness alongside that could be fantastic. I used oats instead of wheat because that’s all I had.
Batch 003 will also be fun ...
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
I often hear people say: "anyone can throw a load of hops into a beer, it's balance that requires skill". Whilst I'm inclined to agree, I also think that achieving a bright, clean, pronounced hop flavour in a pale beer is far from easy. I know, I've tried and failed many times.
Increasing hop additions and delaying until the end of the boil hasn't made any real difference. I closely control fermentation temperature, use a clean, neutral strain and get beers without any yeast character; so it's not that the hop flavour is being masked.
The next variable is water. London water is hard. Almost as hard as understanding water chemistry for brewing. In simple terms, water contains minerals, the amount of these minerals in the water will depend on geographical location. London water is hard because it has lots of minerals in it. Two of the ions in these minerals are Chloride and Sulphate. I want to change the balance of ions such that there's a lot more Sulphate than there is Chloride. For reasons I won't go into*, a skew towards sulphate will accentuate hops, whereas the reverse will favour malt. To achieve this, I will add Calcium Sulphate (Gypsum) to my mash and Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salt) to my boil. Done.
When it comes to hop additions, large and late is the name of the game. Standard.
Here's my recipe:
Grain: Pale malt (61.6%) and pilsner malt (23.1%) for the base, carapils (7.7%) and flaked barley (3.8%) for body, pale crystal (3.8%) for some sweetness and complexity.
Hops: Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo (all pellets). 3g addition of each variety at 10, 7, 5, 3 and 1 minute from flame out.
Other: Batch size 7 litres, original gravity 1.059, mash temperature 68c.
I missed the original gravity by a point and got 1.058; happy with that. I did lose A LOT of wort to hop material though, only ended up with around 4 litres. Instead of throwing away the dirty wort, I racked it into a second vessel and pitched some yeast. What's the worst that could happen?
I've named this one 'Almost Tasty', on account of the inspiration I took from Mike McDole's 'Tasty APA' recipe.
* mainly because I don't understand them.
Thursday, 26 January 2012
If you want to learn about beer, you’d do much worse than to start homebrewing. What better way to understand the ingredients and processes integral to beer, than to get hands-on with them? I’m always reminded of this when I drink beers like Brewdog’s Blitz!. Beers of super-low strength that aim to deliver the same flavour hit as their heavyweight rivals.
Attempting to brew one of my own made me appreciate just how difficult it is. 5 IBUs either side of target and you’ve missed by 25 percent, a final gravity that’s 5 points too low and you’ve screwed up your ABV and dried out your beer. It’s a balancing act where everything sits on a knife edge, the slightest mistake will stand out like a sore thumb and there’s nowhere to hide.
Step up Brewdog Blitz!, a modest 2.8 percenter that’s clearly inspired by recent legislative change to halve duty on beer brewed between 1.2 and 2.8 percent ABV. Described as a West Coast hop bomb, it’s brewed with a grist of only caramalt and is probably best described as a US amber ale.
There’s lots of caramelly, malty, sticky toffee aroma that follows through into the taste. I’m thinking sweets with too much sugar in them, Flumps and candy floss. Sitting atop that is a load of American hops. Not in a traditional citrus and pine West Coast IPA sort of a way though; more a reserved, jammy, tutti frutti ice cream, candied peel sort of a way. The body is thin and watery, but whatever, what were you expecting for 2.8 percent!?
5am Saint Junior.
Consider me a fan. This is the beer that Nanny State should’ve been. Beers of this strength might not deliver the depth of flavour and character of those that are stronger, but what they do offer is a decent alternative for those that want something weak but worthwhile.
I tried Blitz! when the Camden bar opened and I loved it. Here, in the bottle, it’s great too. This should be on at all times in Brewdog bars, I would drink a lot of it and I can see other people doing the same. Top marks.
Thursday, 19 January 2012
I received a letter from an old friend. It felt like something I should post:
I’m hoping you can help me. I’m worried my parents don’t love me anymore.
It started when they sent me away to boarding school at Meantime. Lost in a foreign land of cockney accents and jellied eels, they promised I’d be made here for the export market only, but people are drinking me in the UK and they’re asking questions. They say I’m slowly losing my punk spirit, becoming more Meantime by the day! My noble hop character and biscuity malt base seem to be vanishing, replaced by indifferent aromatics and a cut-green-apple flavour so similar to London Lager that it’s difficult to defend myself.
Things move so quickly at home and Christmas was as busy as ever. The new bar was opened in Camden and everything went to plan. Everything, except my invite to the party. They were all there, the parents, my brothers - Punk IPA and Hardcore, the cousins - Paradox and Tokyo*, even friends of the family - the foreign imports. Not me though, no space for me on the draught lineup. Overlooked again.
I feel like they just want me out of the way. They hide me in an Equity for Punks blanket, my bottle label says nothing about me anymore, nothing about the way I taste or the ingredients that make me, just generic blurb about shares and international importers. Why me!?
So what do you think? Am I overreacting?
I’m just worried. I used to be their pride and joy. I used to be a statement. You could compare me to mass-produced lager and I’d stand head and shoulders above, encapsulating the Brewdog ethic and mission statement in every mouthful. Now I just feel neglected, like I’m no longer part of the family; I don’t feel like I’m the type of beer that Brewdog should be associated with.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Thursday, 5 January 2012
Well I knew I was indecisive, but this took ages! Here are my Golden Pint winners for 2011.
Best UK Draught Beer
To pack so much flavour into a beer so small; Redemption Trinity really is a triumph. Camden Town managed to change my mind on a whole style with their Gentleman’s Wit. Brewdog took a beer that’d become one dimensional and too bitter, and they turned it into an IPA that rivals anything from the US. The winner however, is a beer that had me coming back time and again, a beer that takes the Nelson Sauvin hop and makes it dance on a pedestal. Thornbridge Kipling.
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I had some cracking bottles of Oakham Citra last year. There’s one brewery synonymous with bottled beer though, and that’s The Kernel. Their Imperial Brown Stout was fantastic, but even better was batch 2 of the Coffee IPA.
Best Overseas Draught Beer
Unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell was there at one of the best beer-related nights of 2011 - the European Beer Bloggers Conference. It was there when I finished a magical trip around the brewery cellars in Pilsen, and it was there when I drank one of the most ridiculous-but-delicious pints of the year. Inimitable, beautiful, delicious.
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
A runner up and a winner linked by age. I drank Great Divide Wood Aged Double IPA on Christmas day and it forced me to think about the ageing and storage of beer in a completely new way. I drank Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus at the brewery recently and the bottling was so fresh that it felt like I was drinking framboise for the first time all over again. The Cantillon takes it.
Best Overall Beer
Unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. Simply put, if you love beer and you’ve only tried the standard version, you owe yourself a trip to Pilsen.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Whenever Johanna Basford works with Brewdog, the result rocks. The bottle label for Sunk Punk (above, from here) was a true work of art. I also think Badger are worth a mention for the overhaul they gave their bottles, and for the way they consistently display flavour profile and food matching information on their labelling.
Best UK Brewery
For picking up where they left off in 2010, The Kernel. For seizing 2011 and making it their own, Magic Rock. For most exciting me about 2012, Camden Town.
Best Overseas Brewery
Mikkeller rarely put a foot wrong, and when you consider the number of variables brought about by brewing in so many borrowed breweries, the opportunity for a cock-up is huge. Testament indeed to the sheer brewing skill and expertise of Mr Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. In truth, however, this is the easiest category to pick a winner for. The Cantillon brewery is one-of-a-kind. I could happily spend every Saturday morning there, watching American tourists recoil at their first taste of lambic and drinking some of the best beer in the entire world.
Pub/Bar of the Year
Moeder Lambic Fontainas has an awesome draft beer lineup and the kind of service that every barman should aspire to. Barcade in Brooklyn is the best beer bar I’ve ever been to. Ever.
Beer Festival of the Year
For its location, beer list, and for the amount of Gadds’ beer involved ... Planet Thanet. The London Brewers Alliance Showcase was great again too.
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bottle Shop in Canterbury. Customer service to rival Moeder Lambic.
Online Retailer of the Year
For quality of service and product range, it has to be My Brewery Tap.
Best Beer Blog or Website
MrDrinkNeat. Video beer reviews the way (I think) they should be done – informative, well edited and succinct. Pencil & Spoon goes without saying.
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Brooklyn East India Pale Ale and pulled pork at Fette Sau. (To be completely honest though, the bourbon we had was even better).
In 2012 I’d Most Like To ...
Write more outside of the blog, visit the US again, see Paula Radcliffe win the Olympic marathon.