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

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Monsieur Rock Has Left the Building

The picture above is the sight glass on the tanker main glowing with Monsieur Rock on its way to the tanker destined for Hepworth’s Brewery in Horsham. There my colleague Mr Hepworth will filter and reseed the beer before bottling and sending it back to me to condition and sell. I have warned him that if he messes this one up he’ll have a Transit full of monks with baseball bats to deal with. All being well this should not be necessary and the beer should be ready to go before Christmas.

The sacks of Saaz after 6 weeks cuddling up to Monsieur Rock in the lagering tank

I am also temporarily breaking my chains and leaving the brewery Stuartless for the longest period of time since February 2009. On Friday I fly to the USA to brew Doom stateside. I am not due back in the brewery until next Wednesday. That is the plan of course. The weather is already showing signs that it may thwarted as was the case with the Icelandic dust cloud earlier in the year. I would like to apologise in advance to anyone inconvenienced by planning to travel on the same day as me.

Thursday 25 November 2010

44. Turbo Yeast Unspeakable Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades

November has spawned a monster

Since my first bloody encounter with the demonic fungus known as the prince of lies, the root of all evil, the master of darkness or according to the packet Turbo Yeast™, a sachet has been sitting nefariously on top of the filing cabinet with the health and safety documents in it. I have decided to unleash its diabolical power on beer 44 of the blog. This week Turbo Yeast is fermenting a super-high gravity wort. If the malt had been kilned using the heat from a satanic orgy involving virgins, goats and Bill Oddie it would no doubt be slightly more evil but Simpson’s finest has to do in this instance.

The brewing team were allowed to get dressed up for this one

If the beer attenuates sufficiently this brew will have an ABV of 22.2. Mathematicians among you will have no doubt noticed that this number (for it is a human number) is the number of the beast divided by thirty. The hops are an unholy alliance of Mittlefruth, Strisslespalt and Marynka. These were chosen not for their brewing properties but because their names sound like dogs guarding the gates of Hades.

This beer will make Turbo Yeast Abomination from hell look like a soft drink for old ladies. It should probably never be let out.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale Ale, glucose

Hops: Mittlefruh, Strisslespalt and Marynka

Yeast: Lord Satan

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Bittersweet Success

On Monday one brewer went sick and we ran out of barrels and had to stop brewing. On Tuesday two brewers went sick and one brewer spent the day doing not very much very badly and we ran out of barrels and had to stop brewing. I have rewritten my brewing plan for this week so many times that Excel is no longer asking “do you want to save the changes to Brewplan.xls?” and instead just flashes up “are you taking the piss?”. Such is life at 60% growth approaching Christmas and it’s a nice problem to have (so I am told).

On the positive side I have just been shopping and am most of the way to having bought a second boiler, two new FVs, cask handling systems and an new such and such. I also got 60 for my last assignment in this year’s Masters thesis. Abbey Christmas is going very well. The initial brew of 600 barrels had gone before the first week was up. A cask of it will be down at St Roger of Ryman’s Charity beer festival on Saturday.

Owing to my current struggle with demand and supply and my impending transatlantic brewing expedition I am having to forgo an evening with the beer writers and a jolly watching England dismantle South Africa. But I’m not bitter, I always prefer brewing beer to talking about it and the BBC3 highlights are very fine as long as you have managed to avoid the media and your in box all day.

To anyone who is going to the BGBW dinner on Thursday I hope you have a great evening and enjoy the Indian-style food with the American-style beers.

Friday 19 November 2010

43. Seaweed Wheat Wine

Live mussels were in the marked down section at Tesco on my way home from work on Wednesday. I am very partial to a bowl of mussels in beer so I remember thinking that my luck must have changed as before this my day had been a filthy nightmare of no barrels, vessels, and water due to a burst main. That was until I awoke at midnight with excoriating indigestion and delirium. I should have stuck to the safe option and gone for the tub of jellied eels. The reason for this week’s excess information about my intestinal health is a subtle link into the 43rd brew in my odyssey. We once again head seawards with the Seaweed Wheat Wine.

Seaweed is not as strange an ingredient as you might imagine, oh no. Almost every commercial beer in the UK has seaweed in it. The finings used to encourage the formation of trub in the copper (kettle) are made from the red seaweed Chondrus crispus and are known as carageenan. Carageenan is a polysaccharide which has a wide range of uses from making ice cream creamier to use as a “personal lubricant” (this is my new favourite euphemism). I have been out to Port Quinn which seems to be the seaweed capital of North Cornwall to harvest my seaweeds I have a few different varieties only one of which I have been able to identify, bladderwrack or Fucus vesiculosus.

Seaweed is one of those foodstuffs which is either in and out of fashion as a superfood (or a health food as they used to be known until that phrase was rendered meaningless by misuse). It may or may not have properties which will make you a superfit, superfertile, energy machine who will never get cancer depending on what version of the truth the media is currently peddling. I have absolutely no doubt that this beer will make you younger, fitter and irresistible to the opposite sex.

The seaweed will hopefully give some marine freshness to my very strong wheat wine. I am using 70% malted wheat in the grist to give tartness. This brew is more or less all uncharted for me so all that remains to be seen is if the surprise will be pleasant or unpleasant.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Malted wheat, Pale Ale and sucrose

Hops: Magnum, Perle

Spices: Seaweed

OG: 1111

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Massive Ale dans la Poney Debonaire

I have just waved goodbye to a cask of 1 year old Massive Ale blended with an unnamed beer which was conditioned with a highly attenuatative wild yeast which I can’t afford to have completely identified (probably Saccharomyces diastitcus). The Massive is (in my blinkered opinion) good in bottle because of the high CO2 level which helps break up the thickness of its 10% ABV body. At cask CO2 levels it is too syrupy on its own so I have blended in some of the superattenuated beer to give a bit of cut to the Massive Ale’s thrust. The Massive is destined for the Old Ale Festival at White Horse, Parsons Green where it will rub shoulders with beers from some excellent breweries and Brewdog.

There may be a slight haze on the beer because the mystery wild yeast may not fine effectively. I wish I was lucky enough to be going to the event but I remain under Alfa Laval house arrest.

Finally whoever Telly Savalas is thank you and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

Monday 15 November 2010

Fish Giblets

As you sit enjoying your sparklingly clear pint of brewer’s brilliance you probably don’t think about the processes which have taken place in the cask to make it that way or why sometimes it’s far from brilliant. When the cask is delivered its contents look like something between cloudy beer and potage de jour. Either way you wouldn’t feel warm inside paying your hard-earned for it. The magic which transformed this turbid chaos into the beautiful order of crystal beer is electrostatic interaction.

Being aficionados of cask ale you will of course know of Isinglass and its origins in the belly of a tropical catfish. If like me you carry her picture in your wallet, you will also know that our beloved Saccharomyces cerevisiae resembles a tiny balloon. The active part of isinglass is a long stringy collagen protein covered with an electrostatic charge. The collagen molecule of isinglass is not quite dense enough to interest Lesley Ash so is easily dissolved in beer and floats around covered in (mostly) positive charges. The yeast balloons which are (mostly) covered in negative charges are drawn to the irresistible allure of the isinglass proteins’ positive charges. Like estranged lovers at the arrivals gate at Heathrow, the yeast and isinglass collide and embrace. These collisions and bonds occur millions of times to build up flocs (lumps) containing millions of yeast cells stuck to isinglass proteins. Watching the action of finings in a glass is quite impressive (if you’re easily impressed). Within minutes you can see the cloudy beer change to a clear beer with big lumps in it. After about an hour the big lumps are sediment and the beer above is as bright as a button. So why is my pint occasionally hazy you ask?

The interaction between finings and yeast relies on the correct conditions to work. The three most important conditions are:

1. Correct concentration of yeast

2. Correct concentration of isinglass

3. Correct pH

The first condition is hardest for the brewer to achieve. Bigger brewers use a centrifuge to remove the most of yeast before adding back the correct amount of yeast to condition the beer and fine effectively (in the case of one brewery, immobilised in calcium alginate gel beads). For smaller breweries the yeast in the cask is what is left over from fermentation in the brewery and the brewer must play a waiting game for the concentration to drop to the correct level before filling the cask. If you allow too much yeast into the cask there are too many suitors for the alluring Ms Isinglass and some of the yeast remains floating around as haze in the beer, probably feeling sorry for itself like a fat kid at the school disco. If there is not enough yeast, the sediment is too light to fully settle and chunks of it can be drawn out of the cask into your glass as haze or ‘floaters’. The same is true for too much isinglass.

pH is important because pH affects the charges on the isinglass and the yeast. pH is the concentration of positive H+ ions. If there are too many or too few of these, the allure of the isinglass or the randiness of the yeast will be reduced and your beer will be dull and murky.

The condition of the yeast is also important. Yeast cells change according to where they are and how they feel. When they are tired, emotional and facing starvation they tend to want to cuddle up to other yeast cells to increase their chances of survival. To do this they pepper the outside of their cells with charges in order to attract other yeast. If the brewer has left a load of sugar or other nutrients in the beer the yeast will be disinclined to leave the dining table and stick to other yeast or the isinglass. If the yeast is sick or dead it may also not have the capacity to be fined.

Another source of haze is of course an infection in the beer. If this is the case, you should be able to tell as the flavour of the beer would range from unusual to wrestler’s armpit.

Friday 12 November 2010

42. Wormwood Hallucinogenic Bitter

I was sat in my office today and I realised that I what I thought was a Staples economy office chair was in fact the spleen of a lime green elephant called Keith. I was surprised at how comfortable Keith’s spleen was and marvelled that I could rotate through 360 degrees on it. In the floor where I usually leave my gym kit there was a Vogon being licked by an exclamation mark with an afro. I could see a phone ringing in Baltimore which struck me as odd because it was ringing in orange rather than red. Did all this happen or was just a side effect of the wort from my Wormwood Hallucinogenic Bitter? Is any of this real or are we just a reality TV show for a higher intelligence?

Two botanicals are being used in my hallucinogenic bitter are Wormwood and Salvia. Both of these herbs have a long history of use as a means to escape reality. The psychoactive agent in wormwood is thujone which is a gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor and 5-HT3 antagonist giving drifts in consciousness and at high levels causes spasms. The active compound in Salvia is salvinorin A which is a kappa opioid agonist which provides a range of psychedelic effects like vivid memories, merging object and overlapping realities.

To paraphrase a sample on Knock Out by Nosferatu from the neoclassic Assault on Precinct 13 "It's the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria"

The question is, is this responsible?

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale malt, 140 crystal

Hops: Challenger

Yeast: Sharps

Spices: Wormwood and Salvina

OG: 1050

I’ve got to go now Keith wants his spleen back. Ik wil hakke!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

New Seasonal - Abbey Christmas

Every week I learn that l was wrong last week when I thought that I couldn’t get any more exhausted or stressed.

Our last seasonal, Autumn Red sold out nearly a month before the end of the season so the festive offering is nearly just in time. Let me first distance myself from the name. It is a Christmas beer and it is fermented with a Belgian abbey yeast but that is where the justification for Sharp’s first foray into punland ends. I suppose that like your grandmother's brussel sprout enduced flatulence, it's fun and it's festive.

The beer is a generously hopped dark mahogany ale. I have tried avoid brewing a flattish, watered-down abbey dubbel by compensating for the lack of alcohol with extra body, extra hops and the interesting contribution of yarrow and camomile. Malt is pale ale with loads of roasted barley and even more high-colour crystal. These malts give huge roast and caramel on the nose but principally in the mouth. Hops are Northern Brewer, Bobek and Galena. The oily American hop works really well with the Belgian yeast to give bubblegum esters slipping seamlessly into piney hops. The herbs give an extra depth of flavour without jumping out and saying look at me!

I wasn’t sure how the abbey yeast would work in a cask ale but flavour wise it is blinding! My brewing team like it so much they have been asking me if we can change to it for all our brands. I’m not sure how it will fine, I find that out tomorrow when I check the CT sample.

The beer (see how I have managed to avoid using the name) will be on sale from 15th November. I hope you manage to track some down.

Monday 8 November 2010

Kelly Ryan

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

It must have been cold there in my shadow,

to never have sunlight on your face.

You were content to let me shine, that's your way.

You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,

while you were the one with all the strength.

A beautiful face without a name for so long.

A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,

and everything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,

but I've got it all here in my heart.

I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.

I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

You're everything I wish I could be.

I could fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?

You're everything, everything I wish I could be.

Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.

You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.

Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,

so high I almost touch the sky.

Thank you, thank you,

thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

Thursday 4 November 2010

41. World's Stupidest Beer

My fantastically large workload of late coupled with a deadline for my thesis means that this week I am conceptually brewing my blog beer this week.

I like to think that I know quite a bit about beer. I don’t know all that the human race knows about beer and the human race probably doesn’t know the majority of what there is to discover about the wondrous liquid. Most people don’t know very much about beer, or care to for that matter. A tiny amount of people know a lot about beer and a few people live in the twilight world of knowing a bit but not realising that this is not enough to make you an expert. We all know one. She/he will speak passionately about beer and shout you down with their “knowledge” which is supported by what they have read in an article by someone who has never brewed and who thinks that Bobek is the new name for Styrians. They will reel off flavour compounds which they don’t properly understand while condescending to advise professional brewers where they have gone wrong after tasting their beer once.

I once did a tour for a group of (let’s call them) beer enthusiasts. One of them, an overweight, balding man in a leather waistcoat (wastecoat) interrupted me to tell me that he knew a great deal more about beer than me and that I was talking rubbish. The gentleman in question had apparently learned all he needed to know to make this statement down a cellar with a rubber mallet. I’m not sure if after what happened next, he re-evaluated his views on his beer knowledge but he did learn that the human voice could backcomb hair and that his running speed is greatly improved when a size 11 boot is applied to his arse. I of course jest (or do I?). For these people brewing is science fiction. Drop in a few words from science and you can revel in your fantasy of being an authority on something without having to put in the years of work required to understand it.

When I make decisions about beer I treat information according to the following hierarchy

1. Something I have read which was written by a non brewer

2. Something I have read which was written by a home brewer

3. Advice from a professional brewer

4. Something I have read in a scientific paper

5. Advice from a professional brewer who makes good beer

6. Personal brewing experience

Only levels 4,5 and 6 are used for important decisions. WSB shall achieve greatness through brewing science fiction, gimmickry, bullshit and smarm. WSB will have the following exciting ingredients and attributes of production. None of which according to level 6 of my hierarchy make it a better beer.

• Organic floor-malted Marris Otter malt grown on hop compost by a American farmer
• Norwegian glacier water drawn from an ancient well deep under the brewery
• American calcium sulphate
• 12 stage decoction mash for well modified malt
• Organic green hops added to the mash
• Boiled for 12 hours with a green hop cone being added every 11 seconds
• Fermentation in slate square over a temperature ark of 60o by a yeast isolated from a bottle of Bass kings Ale
• Conditioning at 50oC and 30bar pressure for a week
• I need a miracle by Cascada played through a Marshall 4x12 next to the conditioning tank on a loop
• 2 weeks in a wooden cask previously used to mature calvados, going back and forth on the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry
• Fined with isinglass from catfish fed exclusively on Citra hop pellets
• Bottled into glass made from the windows from the old Hoegaarden brewhouse
• Added to a glass full of organic green hops when served

I’m still not sure it’s the world’s stupidest beer.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Monsieur Rock

A small update on the progress of my collaboration brew with Jean-Marie Rock. The beer is in CT16 with the dry hops enjoying a relaxing break from the world at just above 0C and 1bar. When it is finished it will be called Monsieur Rock (thank you Adrian). The Orval flavour panel were as impressed as mine with the beer and Monsieur Rock was positively glowing in his praise. The beer has been run through the superbly well-equipped Orval lab and the results are as follows.
I wish every day of the year came with an extra hour.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Your weary wife - walking away

Your nephew, it's true

He still thinks the world of you

And I have to dry my eyes

Oh ...

Wednesday 27 October 2010

40. Peated Ale

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. I adored a lamb once, the farmer promised not to tell anyone if I gave him a score. The lamb in question was not as important as the one in Van Eyck’s altarpiece and wasn’t leaking from its breast but she was still captivating in her ovine beauty. What has the picture and my bestial quip got to do with this week’s brew you ask? Nothing. Nor has my irritation with people who start every other sentence with “do you know what”. They are just ripples in the millpond of my sanity.

This week we embrace phenolics in a way never done before in a beer (until Martyn Cornell leaves a comment informing me that someone made this beer before). It is the phenolics in peat which gives the peaty notes to peaty whisky. Whisky producers specify their peated malts in terms of their phenolic content. Phenolics have a tarry, medicinal aroma. Peated malt is produced by drying germinating barley in peat smoke. Peated malt is not especially dark so the beer will be amber in colour. I expect it to be like liquid coal-tar soap and pretty undrinkable. I shall be doing all I can to prevent this but I suspect that I will urinating in the wind.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Peated Malt

Hops: Apollo

Yeast: German Weisse

OG: 1080

Friday 22 October 2010

Sharp's Own - Supreme Champion Beer of Cornwall

I have just heard that my beer (well my version of Bill Sharp and David Smith’s original recipe) Sharp’s Own has won the Janet Skinner cup and is hence proclaimed the Supreme Champion Beer of Cornwall. Everyone in the brewing team is justly very proud of themselves and each other. It makes the hours of toil and abuse from the Head Brewer almost worthwhile. A man from our marketing team said that we are now not only the biggest Cornish Brewery we are officially the best. As a brewer I wouldn’t go that far but I’m thinking of investing in a rugby shirt with SW1 on the back!

Sharp’s Own is 4.4% ABV and difficult to categorise but is probably closest to a brown best bitter. Personally I shall be celebrating by working all weekend in the brewery with maybe a bottle of something strong and monastic on Saturday evening.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

Wednesday 20 October 2010

39. Pastis Ale

I’ve never understood the logic or indeed the point of shots. To me the shot seems to be idiots being manipulated by marketing executives into damaging their liver as they seek the social validation which can only be gained by feeling part of a tribe of other idiots. It is alcohol at its most narcotic and furthest-removed from a vehicle for taste and nourishment. A food analogue of a shot is a cube of warm lard which could be popped in the mouth and swallowed causing mild gagging and a dangerous elevation of blood cholesterol. The last time I did a shot was to prove that I wasn’t a wuss at a staff Christmas party. The drink was a Sambuca, the Italian anis flavoured spirit. I remember thinking as the saliva welled up and my oesophagus went into spasm, that it would have been much more enjoyable over ice or as a long drink with chilled water. This just shows what a pathetic shell of a human being I am. Most of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and a few in Latin America have their own version of anis-flavoured liquor/liqueur. Pastis is the French version.

The taste of aniseed is available from an almost surprising range of plants and is due to the slightly fascinating compound anethol (trans-1-methoxy-4-(prop-1-enyl)benzene). Being fascinated by anethol is nearly as pathetic failing to “get” shots. Anethol is largely responsible for the distinctive flavors of anise, fennel, anise myrtle, liquorice and star anise. It is 13 times sweeter than sugar so probably gained popularity as a spice for spirits because it takes the edge off of the ethanol. Anethol is also responsible for the ouzo effect or spontaneous microemulsion, where clear fluids turn cloudy when combined.

The anethol in my Pastis Ale will come from star anise and fennel which will be added to the kettle at the end of the boil. I use fennel fruit in Chalky’s Bite and deliberately keep its contribution low. In the Pastis Ale anethol from the fennel will be the child that wins all the games at the party. When it’s brewed it can either be sampled in an oversized wine glass or downed in one in a style bar while shouting woohoo and punching the air until everyone in the room has looked at you.

Tech spec:

Malt: Lager malt, wheat malt, golden naked oats

Hops: Nugget, Bobek

Yeast: Belgian Wit

Spices: Fennel fruit, star anise