Saturday 28 November 2009

New strongest beer in the world

Brewdog of the United States of Scotland have claimed the world’s strongest beer with Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32% ABV.

This is very cool and great.

They have brewed a beer to 10% and then frozen and removed the water in it to concentrate the alcohol.

This is novel and radical.

I am planning my assault on the title of worlds strongest beer with an ingenious system for increasing the ABV. I’m going to heat the beer to 77.8oC until the alcohol evaporates. Then I’m going to catch the extra strong beer by cooling the vapour down. Just like freeze distillation it’s a new and totally legitimate way of brewing the world's strongest beer. I am considering maturing my extra strong beer in an oak cask for around 8 years. Haven't thought of a name for it yet. Any suggestions?

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Of the 329 days so far this year there have only been 10 days where I haven’t been in the brewery. While I love my brewery, being there for most of the day every day does lose its lustre after a while. In a week’s time not only am I going to have 3 whole days not at the brewery but these days are going to be in Belgium. I shall be enjoying good company, good food and most importantly great beer. So that I don't suffer complete brewery cold turkey I intend to spend some of my time in Belgium in breweries. On my tentative itinerary are Cantillon, Regenboog and Struise. Firmly on my itinerary are ‘t Brugs Beertje, Bier Circus and Den Dijver.

With impeccable timing my 2nd Brewer has come to work with a stinking cold. Despite eating almost all the Echinacea available in the UK and getting through a whole bottle of First Defence© per day I am now waiting for a cold to develop and rip my heart out.

Christmas Excitement

I’m getting excited about the flavour panel Christmas tasting. Every year I do a tutored tasting for the panel of a few of my favourite beers. I explain the technical aspects of how the beer is made and how this shapes how the beer tastes. This year I have added an extra twist to the tasting by choosing pairs of beers with similar characteristics/ABV from Belgium and USA.

The idea is not really to decide which brewing nation is the greatest but to illustrate the differences in attitude between the two. I’m sure however that panelists' preferences will come out on the night! The primary reason for the tasting of course is to educate the palate of the tasters. I have only ordered enough beer for tasting on day. Most of the bottles have already arrived at the brewery so I am trying desperately to resist the temptation to sample a few before event.

The beers are as follows, some are a fairer comparison than others:

Abbye de Rocs Blanche de Honelles Vs Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Orval Vs Goose Island Pere Jaques
Dupont Avec les Bon Voeux Vs Odell St Lupulin
Morgaat Maredsous Tripel Vs Flying Dog Kerberos Triple
Struise Pannepot Vs Stone Double Bastard
Bush 12 Vs Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

I’ll update the blog with the findings of the tasting after the event. If I can remember that is.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

9000 and Counting

This morning’s brew was the 9000th since the brewery was set up and the 5946th since I was installed as Head Brewer. I have just calculated that we’ve made 122 million pints since the brewery was set up. 108 million of those made while I have been Head Brewer. By the end of today they’ll be 86,400 more in the bag. But always in brewing it’s the next brew that counts!

Friday 13 November 2009

Kazakhstan Grand IMperial Porter

It is the St Austell Brewery Celtic Beer Festival in a couple of weeks and I have been asked to donate a two beers. Roger (Ryman) gets to brew about 20 different exciting and different beers for the festival so I wanted to do something a bit special. At this almost-festive time of year, special translates as strong. Imperial Stouts are a style I have never had a go at before so this was the ideal opportunity. Imperial stout, also known as Russian Imperial Stout is a strong dark beer in the style that was brewed in 1796 by Thrale's brewery in London for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia as Thrale's Entire Porter. The beer is black and rich but the sweetness is cut through by the high alcohol concentration making it a wonderfully balanced drink. Modern US takes on the style have a very high hop content which adds another dimension to the flavour.

I wasn’t sure if my first attempt was going to be suitable for the court of Catherine II so another member of the former USSR seemed appropriate.

The beer has an ABV is 11% resulting from an original gravity of 1105. Two grades of crystal malt, black malt and chocolate malt provide the sweet roasted body. Glucose added steadily throughout fermentation gives the burn to break though this fullness. Hallertauer Northern Brewer, Perle, Brewer’s Gold, Northdown and Challenger hops provide 80EBUs of bitterness and resinous notes to the aroma.

I’m going to bottle a few cases as well. If you’re very lucky you may get to taste some.

I trust you like the pumpclip.

The Other Beer

I have been happily married to Sharp’s beers for over 7 years now. I feel as lucky today to be with them as I did when we first got together. This is the perfect marriage but there is one small matter which I prefer to keep from them.

I keep a mistress.

There is a beer which I fell in love with as a teenager which has stayed as fresh and beautiful to this day, despite huge growth as a brand. A beer which excites, soothes and makes even the worst event tolerable. Even All Bar One on Leicester Square with tedious company can be a haven of pleasure when clutching a glass of this beer. What beer is it that keeps me running back for more? It is quite appropriately the Duvel (Flemish for devil).

While many of the great Belgian beers have been neutered by expansions in production (Chimay, Hoegaarden, Westmalle to name a few) the Duvel has stayed beautifully consistent. No other beer that I am aware of marries consistency and with complexity and character while defining a whole style of beer. A beer so accessible to the ‘average drinker’ that it was available on Eurostar, a serious highlight of trans-channel train travel.

This story of my happy love triangle does unfortunately have a sad twist. The Wicked witches of Eurostar have stepped in and tried stop me being able to drink the Duvel en route to Brussels. For commercial reasons they have replaced my beautiful Belgian with the two chav slappers, Stella from Magor and Kroney from Reading.

All love stories have a happy ending. This one is no exception. I have found a secret compartment in my hand luggage which will accommodate bottles of Duvel. When I leave for Belgium in a couple of weeks I will be taking my faithful Duvel with me and there is nothing that the wicked witches of Eurostar can do about it.

Apart from refusing to let me travel that is.

Sunday 1 November 2009

I love my flavour panel

Every Friday at 2 PM the Sharp’s flavour panel convenes.

During my career I have been privileged enough to be on a broad range of taste panels. Most have consisted of the Brewers and anyone else who wants to have a free beer, standing in a sample room clutching pints of beer to top of their beer guts, saying things like “yes, uh huh and oh I agree” in response to the Head Brewer’s comments while edging ever closer to the back of his trousers. In the biggest brewery (factory) I worked at it was like all other aspects of working life; tense, political and competitive. The panel was designed to detect ‘off flavours’. As what we were tasting were PPLs (premium packaged lagers) any form of taste could be considered to be an off flavour. Hop, fruit or malt notes would not be welcome to the target consumer who had only purchased the bottle to go with his/her outfit. The winner of the flavour panel game was quickest to spout a list of chemicals like dimethylsulphide, 2,2,4 trimethyl furanone, vicinal diketone, trans-2-nonenal, 2-[2-[bis(carboxymethyl)amino]ethyl-(carboxymethyl)amino]ethanoic acid *(1)......... Win enough games and you would get a gold-edged high vis jacket and a key to the executive washroom.

Early flavour panels at Sharp’s were made up of Sales Team Members, the Head Brewer and the Accountant. After a couple of weeks of adhering to good practice the panels evolved into the opportunity to gossip and to wind up the Head Brewer to the point where the veins on his neck touched his pint glass.

In 2004 this changed when we sought the guidance of flavour evaluation specialist the excellent Dr Debbie Parker and a volunteer panel was recruited, screened and trained. People on brewery tours always greet the concept of taking part in a flavour panel with mirth and assume that I am inundated with volunteer alcoholics who turn up and down several pints of each batch before going to sleep on the malt sacks. In truth flavour panel selection is very sober affair with unsuccessful applicants not only finding out they can’t join the panel but also that there is something wrong with their sense of smell and taste. Taste isn’t like sight where something is either visible or not. Taste is very complicated and involves thresholds and flavour receptor specificities (sorry). Most humans assume that they can taste everything that everyone else can but most human tasting capabilities are either average or below.

So why do I love my flavour panel? I love them because they turn up every week, because they are honest, because they have excellent taste buds, because after 5 years of tasting the beer they know it like the back of their hands but mostly because they have the character and integrity to disagree with me when they need to!

The panel is made up of a 50/50 mix of ladies and men with ages ranging from late 20s to 50s all of whom have tasting and flavour articulating capabilities well above average (none of them as good as the Head Brewer!). Tasting is carried out and recorded independently before opinion is discussed and consensus reached. I say consensus but often this means agreement to disagree. Although the panelists all have an excellent palate there is variation in how each palate perceives the flavour of the same beer. The results of the panel are reconciled with the details of the brew and used to guide and refine how we make beer. Normally this is about maintaining the status quo but when new season’s hops and malt are introduced they are used to attain consistency in the context of change.

I’m sure that like me everyone reading this who enjoys a pint or two of Sharp’s beer now loves Philippa, Lynn, Jax, Debbie, John, Cliff, Steve, Les, Rod, Ian, Tris and Alan too.

*(1)chemists will have spotted my hilarious EDTA joke.