Friday, 31 December 2010

New Seasonal - Cornish Winter Stout

This write up is a bit late. Our last seasonal, Abbey Christmas was phenomenally popular and sold out before early December. This beer was then used to stem the flood of disappointment from the trade. Cornish Winter Stout is my first foray into stouts in terms of recipe writing on a commercial scale. I am very pleased with the second batch. The first batch I will not mention and you will never see. Cask stouts can be awesome but often are just awful. I remember tasting stouts at a beer cask ale competition once. After 4 beers my palate was a mess, after 8 I wanted to stop sampling and after 12 I wanted to stop breathing. I felt sorry for the brewers of the last 3 that I judged because what had gone on before had reduced my taste buds to what felt like a full ashtray covered in treacle and the best beer in the world would have tasted like sewage. A lot of the entries subscribed to the more flavour = better beer philosophy and used so much roasted barley and black malt that I find it hard to believe that there was any room for pale. Others obviously weren’t happy merely using too much special malt and threw in enough hops to keep drinkers with no bitterness perception happy for a century. The result was olfactory Armageddon. Please don't get me wrong, there are some excellent stouts out there and everyone's palate is different.

Cornish Winter Stout is packed with flavour and tastes stronger than the badged ABV but there is still the inexorable tug back to the bar of a beer brewed for drinking rather than ticking off or discussing. Malt is pale ale, 140 crystal, roasted barley and crystal rye for tartness in the midst of all these heavy sweet/roast sensations. Hop notes come from the ever-versatile Hallertauer Northern Brewer and late hopping with the American monolith Apollo. The Apollo is there not for its earth shattering bitterness but for the pungency of its oils. A less strident hop just won’t compete with noise of the malts. To add a rich tiramisu roast note I have had some (120kg) of Peruvian, Cecovasa coffee specially roasted for me by the clever people at Origin Coffee. It has been roasted beyond the level felt acceptable in coffee made for drinking directly so that it stands out against the backdrop created by the roasted barley. From the amount that has disappeared from the stock room since we took delivery I think that my brewing team feel that it still makes a very good espresso!

Cornish Winter Stout is available from now until Spring. I hope it takes your palate to roast-accented heaven rather than olfactory Armageddon.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Highlight of 2010

52. Imperial Black Golden Mild Pilsner

And so the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. No it’s not a funeral in Essex, it’s the last brew in the 52 brews in a year. The 52 brews has been a fantastic journey. You could say it’s a bit like rowing across the Atlantic; exhaustion, naked swimming, endless blue ocean, huge beards, violent storms, imminent danger, visits from friendly whales and dolphins, a camaraderie which will last a lifetime. You could but you’d be mad.

But as I approach Lands End I feel that I will be losing a friend. My pilot brewing equipment is looking tired, burned-out, heating elements litter the malt store, casualties of the war against the boundaries of brewing. My tattered hop strainer looks back at me forlornly as for one last time I ask it to brave the dark boiling depths. But at the same time there is trust in its sorrowful expression, a bond between master and servant which binds us tightly and drives us towards new horizons. (it’s all getting a bit stupid now) And so it is with heavy heart that I describe to you, my beautiful-souled blog followers, brew 52, Imperial Black Golden Mild Pilsner.

Is it possible to make a beer black without having the flavour associated with roasted or caramelised malt? The reactions which produce coloured compounds in malt also produce those which are flavour-active. Some of the compounds formed through the malting process are both coloured and flavour-active. So the answer in a sane world is no, we cannot brew a black blonde beer. Well this isn’t a sane world. This is the world of 52 brews in year, this is the world of a beer coloured with squid ink!

There are two risks in this brew. One is that the pigment in squid ink will make a blue beer rather than a black one. The other is that the brain will superimpose dark flavours on the beer despite the absence of dark beer aroma compounds. Flavour is sensed in the nose but processed by the brain. You can only taste what your brain allows you to taste. For this reason in beer flavour profiling and difference testing, opaque glasses are used to prevent the eyes overriding the palate.

I want this beer to be as dry and “blonde” as possible so I am using pilsner malt, a very thin temperature programmed mash with plenty of sugar. To this I am adding loads of citrus hops to lift and sharpen the flavour.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pilsner, sucrose

Hops: Cascade, Brewer’s Gold

Yeast: US Pilsner

Spices: Squid ink

OG: 1058

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

51. Imperial Noma Beer

This picture poses more questions than it answers
Foraging is great if you own a Danish restaurant. You get your team of foragers to pop down the local forest, pick a couple of kilos of grass and weeds and then arrange them tastefully on a plate. Idiots then come to your restaurant and pay you hundreds of pounds to go home hungry. Bigger idiots them come along and give you awards for excellence in cooking. Thank god that craft beer has not yet descended to this level of emperor’s new clothes.

If you are brewer in Cornwall and it’s December the proposition of foraging is a less attractive one. According to a very informative web site my trip into the wilds of North Cornwall should have yielded the delights of exciting herbs like sea beet, hairy bittercress, three cornered leak and moist mangina (I made the last one up). Even with this helpful guide I struggled. That was until my foraging expedition lead me to a clearing in the forest where, like a mirage, a range of potential brewing ingredients sat on a well-lit shelf under a sign saying fruit and veg.

The security guard didn’t seem to fully appreciate the concept of foraging for free food and after a short discussion I foraged via the self service till.

This brew would maybe be best undertaken in the summer when herbs are growing rather than rotting.

Tech spec

Malt: Low colour ale and crystal rye

Hops: Citra, Nelson Sauvin

Yeast: Unnamed Northern English brewery

Spices: Lime zest, pepper and tarragon

OG: 1081

Friday, 24 December 2010

50.Imperial Sage and Onion Saison

When I was in my late teens I went round my then girlfriend’s house for Christmas dinner. Her family lived in the better part of town, only ever shopped at Waitrose and had a hostess trolley for use at their evening soirees. My family were proudly working class and had never been to a soiree. I remember thinking that I was in for a taste sensation having a posh Christmas dinner. I was even permitted to forgo the rotten grape juice in favour of a selection of Belgian and British strong ales.

The homemade, slow-cooked, hand-reared, free-range organic squash and cream soup with herb croutons starter was good although my mum’s prawn cocktail urinated on it from a great height. I learned that one does not pronounce the s in croutons. The main course looked impressive with a huge, fresh rare-breed turkey and all the trimmings. All the trimmings is a singularly stupid phrase. Surely the trimmings are the crap you throw away? On my plate next to the slices of turkey breast, where the stuffing should have been, was a grey-brown lump of something. I politely enquired as to the identity of the grey-brown stuff and was told that it was homemade fig, walnut and honey stuffing from a recipe by Delia “sausage fingers” Smith. It was according to sausage fingers far superior to Paxo and kept the bird beautifully moist. I tasted some of the superior stuffing was horrified to discover that it tasted like something you would leave out for the birds in the depths of winter. I did not consider this stuff to be superior to anything apart from maybe leaving the guts in the turkey when roasting it. That day I learned something, well two things actually. One was that people’s taste is subject to influence beyond that of the biochemistry of the olfactory system and the other is calling your bird’s mum’s stuffing “rough” is not a viable social tactic.

Every year you see celebrity chef’s attempting to justify their existence by either telling you what you should already know about cooking Christmas dinner or subverting and bastardising classic combinations like turkey and sage and onion stuffing. I think, although you may not agree, that most of the time, the little extras and new twists just detract from a classic meal.

“All this from a bloke who makes beer out of pig’s insides!” I hear you say. It’s a good point and one with which I agree. Beer is best left as good quality water, malt, hops and yeast brought together by skilled processing to make a well-balanced, fresh and moreish drink. Playing around and pushing boundaries is fun but for me the art of brewing is subtlety, consistency and balance and what real brewers should excel at.

This brings me on nicely to today’s unsubtle and outlandish brew. Sage and onion saison is a saision spiced in the kettle with sage and dehydrated onion. For a complete explanation of what a saison is see Here or buy a book written by Zak Avery or Adrian Tierney-Jones.

Malt: Pilsner

Hops: Strisslespalt, Saaz

Yeast: Dupont yeast

OG: 1068

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas from the Naked Brewer

There is a serious message behind this image. The man in the picture (me) drinks beer moderately on a daily basis and occasionally immoderately and yet is fitter than 98% of the population (based on scientific tests involving women in white coats with clipboards). This means that as Christmas approaches you need not fear the consequences of beer related indulgence. Just avoid the pies, puddings and anything promoted by Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

49. Imperial Dirty Bloody Mary

I recently read an excellent post on another blog about the Cheeky Vimto. Drinks like this are enough to make you want give up brewing (almost but not really). I mean why bother going to university, working years of unsocial shifts, long hours, sampling beers from far and wide, understanding flavour and how to affect it and all the trials that you must face to become a proper brewer, when you can buy a nice shirt and an androgynous hairstyle and serve blue stuff, made of crude oil and beet starch, in a jug full of ice to halfwits? It’s a bit like a chef who buys in readymeals and cooks them at your table in a musical microwave before juggling with the plastic tubs, setting them down in front of you and sticking a sparkler in the top.

The Cheeky Vimto gives serious mixologists who spend thousands on their costumes a bad name. Why the tirade about cocktails? Because today’s 52 brew beer is based on a cocktail. When I was in the states I went out for a meal with the other brewers and the marketing company. The guy from the marketing company had a Virgin Bloody Mary which is a Bloody Mary without the vodka. The ever so subtle Australians call it a Bloody Virgin.

There is apparently some debate about the first mixologist to make the Bloody Mary. This is unsurprising as it is just a mixture of drinks which other people have made and the idea of pouring them into a glass together is hardly a work of genius. My Dirty Bloody Mary is a strong ale mashed with carrot and sweet potato with the malt grist. Tomato puree is then added in the boil to turn the beer blood red. I am hoping that the boil removes most of the tomato flavour leaving just the acidity to balance what should be a very sweet beer. The sweet potato and carrot should only contribute fermentable sugars so will not add to the flavour.

Malt: Pale ale

Hops: Chinook, Mount Hood, Cascade

Yeast: American Ale

Spices: Sweet potato, carrot and tomato

OG: 1087

Friday, 17 December 2010

48. Imperial Hoisin Beer

The 52 brews has seemingly captured people’s imagination. Today I have spoken to a lady from BBC World Service in Brazil, a man from the Brewer’s Guardian and received an e-mail from the Tripe Academy (yes there is Tripe Academy) asking me if I would consider brewing a tripe and onion beer to help raise the profile of tripe in the UK. The prospect of becoming the face of tripe in the UK fills me with the kind of excitement normally associated with an X factor contestant. I have also heard that Mr Blumenthal who Heston’s Offal Ale is not really a tribute to (honest) is interested in tasting his namesake and some is wending its way to him. It all illustrates the power of the media or really the power of Mark Dredge!

Interestingly hoisin translates as seafood even though the sauce is not derived from or associated with fish or fish dishes. For me the crispy duck course is the highlight of any Chinese meal and failing to control myself when faced with a big plate of duck has ruined many a main course and led to arguments about which fat b4stard has eaten all the pancakes. Hoisin is the crispy duck sauce which with the julienne salad balances the full and fatty duck so perfectly. This is beginning to sound like a food blog.

Commercial hoisin is bean-derived starch, sugar, vinegar, chilli and a few other spices. My hoisin beer will be designed to have the features of hoisin, namely sweetness, sharpness, fullness and juiciness. The sharpness will be contributed by the maceration in sour kea plums which I have just found in the brewery freezer. They were left in there after they were too sour for a seasonal beer a couple of years ago. Everything else will be from malts, hops and spices.

Thick sweetness will be conferred by a high rate of low colour cara and crystal malts along with a hot and thick mash. Spices will come from chilli and Chinese five spice and juiciness from late hopping with Aurora. I am hoping that the beer will good for sipping with a meal rather than dunking pancakes into.

Tech spec:

Malt: Low colour cara, pale ale, 80 crystal

Hops: Perle and Aurora

Yeast: Belgian Strong

Spices: Kea plums, chili, Chinese 5 spice

OG: 1081

Monsieur Rock est Arrivé

Monsieur Rock is back in Rock and in my opinion is sublime. It’s one of those beers which it almost physically hurts to stop drinking. The flavour panel were silenced by their first encounter with the finished article. Usually a new beer is greeted with unabridged discussion and more often than not, disagreement about its attributes. With Monsieur Rock there was just silence and knowing glances.

Although the ABV is 5.2% it tastes like a soft drink. I am fairly sure that the battery terminal-level bitterness brigade will judge it to be wishy washy. If you think this might be the case for you, I would suggest that you buy a pot of isoalpha acid from a home brew shop to sip alongside it.

I do feel so extremely lucky to have worked with Jean-Marie. I have made a great beer, learned a great deal and made friends with one of the world’s greatest brewers. Thank you Mr Lowry.

I hope I am not raising expectations excessively.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

47. Imperial Dampfrauchbier

52 brews is riding on the crest of an international media wave. Thanks to Mark Dredge, my new best friend and godfather to my future children, the 52 brews story has been featured on a Dutch blog and Radio 2 with more exposure in the pipeline. On Tuesday next week the Oz and Hugh programme on which I give a masterclass in Cornish pasties and taste Heston, Jellyfish red and the Cardamon Wheat will be shown on the Beeb. Needless to say my blog is getting more hits than a Cardiff housewife after Wales lose to England in the 6 nations.

It’s a bit of a shame that the final flourish of the 52 brews has to combine two brews in a single week. There is always a concern that I won’t be able to give them my full attention. But as (distastefully insert suicide bomber’s name here) would say, it’s better to go with a bang rather than a whimper. It’s not such a bad time to do it really. People always assume that breweries are insanely busy at this time of year due to brewing the beer for Christmas. In actual fact at the moment we are brewing for the rather less than busy January. That said at our prevailing growth rate and with bottle stocks to recoup after a focus on cask, no weeks are that far from insanity.

I apologise in advance for the boring uncle Brian joke in the next sentence (and the previous reference to domestic violence after rugby matches). When I first saw the name damp-frau-chbier in the suggestions an image of wet German ladies sprang to mind. That says more about my mind than my understanding of German and its beer styles. Dampfbier direct translation is steam beer. A more accurate description of the beer is a weissbier without any weiss. The steam reference comes from the German view that 21C is a dangerously warm fermentation temperature. The rauch bit is obviously the smoked malt. To add an interesting twist, instead of the German weissebier yeast this beer will be fermented by the beautifully fruity Belgian wit yeast. Interesting?

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale malt, smoked malt

Hops: Saaz and Styrian Goldings

Yeast: Belgian Wit

OG: 1070

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Imperial Climax

Many thanks for the suggestions. The temptation to create roadkill porter was agonising to resist. Who knows what will happen if I encounter an appetising flat pheasant or eviscerated badger on the way in, in the next few days.

So here we have the flourish leading to the climax of my brewing journey from the sublime to the imperial.

47. Imperial Dampfrauchbier (Smoked malt wort fermented with wit yeast)

48. Imperial Hoisin Dessert Ale (Imperial Barley wine used to macerate plums with chef’s special spice blend)

49. Imperial Dirty Bloody Mary (Imperial Tomato, sweet potato and carrot ale)

50. Imperial Sage and Onion Saison (dry Belgian style ale with sage and onion added to the boil)

51. Imperial Noma Beer (Imperial red ale with novel ingredients foraged from within half mile of brewery)

52. Imperial Black Golden Mild Pilsner (An imperial black beer without any discernable roast character)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Flavour Panel Christmas Tasting - Around the World in 12 Beers

Another year, another flavour panel Xmas tasting. This year Ann, Jax, Phillipa, Clive, John, Les, Ian et al. sampled their around the world as illustrated below.

In a just for fun rating game the panellists marked the beers out of 10. The mark represents the panellists' preference alone and does not take into account trueness to style or factor in ABV etc. Although the flavour panel are all screened and trained tasters they are not afficionados of modern craft brews. The recurring theme was that amount of hop bitterness in some of the beers made them unpleasant to drink. As one of the panel said of 5 AM saint "It's like Hawaii on the nose and Chernobyl on the palate!" The results are illustrated on the tasteful graph.

Friday, 10 December 2010

46. Rye Stout - More Suggestions Please

The 52 brews project is a little behind so I am going to have to double up on brews for the sprint to the end of 2010. I am also out of brews so can I please request that you provide me with some more outlandish suggestions. Remember, there are no stupid suggestions.

This week’s beer will be a rye stout where the only special malt is crystal rye. Crystal malt for the uninitiated is malt which is modified to greater extent than normal malt and then kilned at high moisture levels. This process is designed to produce as high as concentration of flavour and colour as possible by creating conditions which favour the Maillard reaction or non enzymic browning. For more information of malt modification please read my bit on malt which will be published in the next BEER magazine. Rye gives a red colour and sharp rye bread tartness to beer. This beer should be tarter than a bright orange single mother called Chelsea from Basildon.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale, rye crystal

Hops: Glacier, Pilgrim

Yeast: Belgian Strong Ale

OG: 1086

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Brewed in the USA

I’m sat in the departure lounge of Newark Airport. It’s 7PM here but way past bedtime back home. I am looking forward excitedly to the prospect of an 8 hour flight followed by a 4 hour sub zero drive back followed by 4 hours of work in the brewery tomorrow. The purpose of my trip as you may know was to make Doom Bar in the US and it's mission accomplished although not quite on the scale I would have liked.

I have also had the displeasure of driving the best part of the way into New York thanks a Sat Nav which couldn’t pronounce the word route (rout) and was seconds from being thrown into the Hudson River or stuck up the car hire rep’s “tail pipe”. Over the 3 days I have been in the US I’ve met brewers from 3 breweries and sampled about 40 different beers. It is good to see that it isn’t only British brewers who suffer from flavour faults and hazy beers. 30 out of the 40 beers I tried had hazes which would have been out of spec in most breweries. The low points for flavour were:
  • An under-carbonated, oxidised spiced “lager” which tasted like mouthwash
  • A pilsner which tasted only of diacetyl
  • A golden ale which was so badly oxidised that it tasted like it had been filtered through chip paper
  • A tripel which tasted of autolysed yeast
  • A Flemish-style red ale which had so much diacetyl on it that it made me feel sick
  • A boiled cauliflower-flavoured lite beer
Two of the beers I tried were probably the worst I can remember. One was indescribably woeful. I name no names as it may have been a problem with the kegs but I suspect not. I was drinking with Johannes the Brewmaster from Eibauer in Germany who was even more fastidious about acceptable flavours and he couldn’t find a drink that he could finish. The bar staff thought with good cause that we were insane.

I did try a few good ones as well. Harpoon IPA, Six Point Otis and Jack & Ken’s Ale were very good indeed.

An exciting aspect of the trip is that I have been asked by the US marketing company to brew 50 Hop IPA in the US for the American market. Organising delivery of 50 different hop varieties to a brewery the other side of the Atlantic may present a challenge.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

45. Balsamic Barley Wine Vinegar

The world of vinegar is a bit like that of alcoholic drinks. You have a malt based option which is dirt cheap and associated with the lowest of convenience foods and you have wine vinegar which comes in posh bottles and costs from twice as much to two hundred times as much. Even cider vinegar seems to have greater culinary cache than the humble malt-based product. At the top of the tree you have balsamic vinegar which is the best because;

1. It’s not British

2. It’s made of grapes

3. It’s aged in a barrel

I’m going to start a revolution, right here right now. Ladies and gentlemen I am the first craft, malt vinegar maker. Within a year I foresee a website called and vinegar geeks, or Acetoheads as they prefer to be known, will debate the best volatile acidity level, trueness to style and world's best producer of craft malt vinegar. Vinegar bloggers will debate the definition of craft vinegar and vow to drizzle their mixed salad leaves with nothing else. A video will be produced with a stream of attractive and quirky people saying "I drizzle craft vinegar" to a soundtrack of a power ballad. 

Two Acetoheads throwing signs to a rival tribe

Just after I had written the last passage I thought I’d double check that there wasn’t already a burgeoning craft malt vinegar industry. I googled “craft malt vinegar” and found that some of the US brewers are in fact years ahead of me. With reddened face I ask that you to ignore my claims of boundary breaking. I suspect that Scotland’s largest independent brewery were similarly red-faced when they realised that their claimed “radical reinvention” of brewing and beer imagery had already been done by several US brewers a few years before they finished their Highers.

My craft malt vinegar will differ from traditional malt vinegar in that it will be hopped and fermented like a beer before oxygenation and acidification with Acetobacter and aging with oak, grape skins and dry hops. I can’t find any evidence of dry hopping in the other craft malt vinegar brewer’s products so mine will automatically be superior. The production of vinegar is a pretty fascinating process when you look into the science but only if you are already interested in science. As with beer the craft approach is much sexier and easier on the little grey cells.

I expect this one to be ready in about 2015.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale, crystal

Hops: Goldings, Saaz

Yeast: Sharp’s

OG: 1080

Spices: Grape skins and bacteria