Saturday 30 January 2010

Beer and Health

As someone who takes an interest in beer, fitness and diet I thought it was a good idea to discuss the scientific knowledge about beer and the healthy lifestyle. Beer is of course a poisonous substance which makes people aggressive, unfaithful and fat. Wine on the other hand is a sophisticated lifestyle choice and is the secret behind the fact that everyone from France and Italy is beautiful and lives forever. Drinking at least 5 litres of ‘glacier’ water, imported from Iceland out of a plastic bottle per day while starving yourself is terrifically beneficial to entire body as well as the spirit, soul and chi.

All of the above is of course total w**k but could hopefully get me a column in a ladies celebrity-worship magazine. Everything is poisonous if consumed in large enough quantities. Some substances like cyanide or cigarettes are not beneficial at any exposure level but all alcoholic drinks are beneficial when consumed in moderation. With its very modest alcohol (average beer not barley wine) level and large amounts of micro nutrients beer can be argued to be the healthiest of all alcoholic drinks. Try drinking 4 pints of gin a night for the next fortnight and see how your eyes turn an attractive shade of yellow (don’t do that, it was a joke you doughnut). I don’t want to get too much into the evidence. There is a nice well-spun document from the Brewers of Europe which sets out the case for involving beer in your healthy lifestyle.

NO studies either epidemiological or clinical have demonstrated that wine is more beneficial than beer.

If you’re really keen on the science behind beer and nutrition then THE book on the subject is

A steal at 80 notes!

As with most food stuffs the product which is closest to its natural state is best for the body. You can look upon cask ale verses commodity lager as analogous to homemade wholemeal verses value sliced white.

I have to admit to drinking more than what the government defines as moderate consumption of beer. Through tasting each day I get through a couple of pints and then at the weekend I like to relax and enjoy a few beers to the point where I am engaging what is defined as binge drinking. What impact does this life of excess have on my body? I am probably one in the top 1% of the UK population in terms of fitness and have never had a sick day since I have been brewing beer (15 years). Obviously anecdotal evidence based on one person is the around level of scientific proof offered by a Jane Moore Channel 4 investigation into a potential food scare but it does serve to illustrate the fact that beer is not an evil poison.

Photographic evidence of my fitness is avialable on request.

Friday 29 January 2010

6. Chestnut Strong Porter

The yeast has just gone into the Chestnut Strong Porter. It is......

Malts: Pale, 250 crystal, chocolate, roasted and black
Hops: Northdown, Northern Brewer, Perle, Willamette and Cascade
Yeast: Belgian strong ale and Old English ale

There is also some glucose boosting the OG to 1080. I’m going to ferment it very warm (27C) to encourage some estery fruit to balance the hop, nut and roasted notes. The Bodders chestnuts (thank you philippa) will be roasted on Jamie Oliver's funeral pyre until dry before being ground and added to the beer in maturation.

The flavour panel tried the Trappist IPA and were generally positive. The alcoholic strength and magnitude of the aroma were both cause for comment. It’s a pretty brutal beer but I like to think quite pleasant brutality. A bit of light S&M for the taste buds.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Flavour Compound of the Week – Iso-alpha acids

Iso alpha acids (iso) are misunderstood little molecules. Some people think that all bitterness is iso but if you ever get to taste a solution of iso in water you’ll be very glad it’s not. Iso even at low concentrations exhibit a harsh bitterness. They remind me of the vomit I produced when I was 16 and drank a 3 litre bottle of Ruddles County on an empty stomach. The bitterness associated with high rates of copper/kettle or dry hops is much more gentle and fruity.

EBU and IBUs are the concentration of iso in milligrams per litre. Unless you are bittering your beer with pure iso, BUs are only an indication of the level of sensory bitterness. Boasting that your imperial IPA has 100 BUs is all well and good but that doesn’t mean it will taste ‘hoppy’. Making a beer just to have a very high level of anything isn’t big, clever or worthwhile. It’s like chefs trying to make a soup with the greatest concentration of salt possible. Beer is about flavour not impressive numbers and labels.

Iso are formed during boiling from alpha acids which come from hop resins. It is easy to distill and purify Iso so some brewers (the retarded ones) buy pure iso and add it to the beer as it is packaged. This saves a lot of money by preventing losses of iso during fermentation and filtration. There aren’t any beers that are worth worrying your liver with that are made in this way.

When I was at university I was immencely proud of my ability to memorise the structure of iso and their formation during the boil from alpha acids. I have forgotten all but one of these but I am a lot better at making beer now. I can live that trade off!

Tuesday 26 January 2010

This morning I have tasted the trappist IPA in bottle and the barley wine and chilli IPA in fv/cask. All are encouraging. Either the yeast or the high level of hop compounds in the IPA are causing issues with clarity, otherwise it’s a very pleasant drink (in an extremely in your face kind of way).

The Barley wine is particularly good which almost certainly means that it will go wrong in the bottle. I am bottling this and a 9%ABV version of our Winter Berry on Thursday.
The 2% Lactic beer fermented out in a day so will meet the deviant microbes in a cask tomorrow. It does taste a bit rough so hopefully infecting it with beer spoilage organisms is the best way to improve it.

I had failed to appreciate how much work 52 brews was going to be. Although enjoyable it is adding a couple of extra hours to my 70 hour week. With the arrival of Feb comes the start of my Masters dissertation on environmental management in SMEs. By June I will be wearing a catheter to save time on toilet breaks and by August will have probably run out of time to breathe.

As Steven Segal once said, "keeping busy helps silence the weeping heart."

Friday 22 January 2010

New Vessels on the Way

As the demand for my beer continues to sky rocket as well as larger door to fit my head through, I have just had to buy 4 new brewing vessels. I approved the drawings today for 2 x 38,000litre rectangular fermenters and 2 x 28,000litre conditioning tanks. This will give us another 25% capacity which will hopefully be enough for the year. The picture above is one of the fermenters I bought last year. Aside from a few fitting changes, this year’s vessels are the same. They are made in Germany as you can tell by the leather nature of the welder’s trousers.
Before you ask why they are not made in the UK. This is becuase no one in the UK wanted to make them. We did try.

5. Lactic Sloe Ale 2% ABV

I am having to change the order of brews due to a supply problem with chestnuts. When I went to get them last night Tesco didn’t have any. Instead I am doing brew number 6 as number 5. Brewing a 2% beer is as easy as brewing a 4% beer, making it not taste like pisswater is more of a challenge. I intend to get over the problem by using a much greater proportion of special malts. Special malts are designed to give sweetness, aroma and body to beers brewed with pale malts. As a result yeast can’t ferment them as readily and less alcohol is produced. Of course this will lead to more sweetness, aroma and body so I’ll need to counter that with freshness. That’s where the lactic acid producing bacteria and sloe comes in. These are going to add a sharpness to balance the sweetness of the malts.

Malt wise I am using 120 colour crystal, caramalt and amber malt. I am mashing these in liquor through a range of temperatures before boiling their extract with copious amounts of Perle and Galena hops. To get 2% ABV you need to get a drop in specific gravity of 15 degrees. With so much unfermentable material in the wort I can therefore aim for an OG of 1035 which will leave a very sweet finished beer at 1020. The first fermentation will be with a yeast called Old English Ale, chosen for its inability to ferment a wort to dryness and this will be added at a low rate of yeast cells per ml. Then I shall add a mix of Pediococcus and Lactobaccilus (lactic acid producing bacteria) which I have cultured in the lab after isolating them from a pleasantly sour beer. Once these filthy little bastards have had their way with the beer I’ll add the extract from the macerated sloes and leave to mature for a month or so in the cask.

Will the final beer be any good? In theory yes but there is so much uncharted territory in this brew that I could end up with something that will require effort to enjoy. Maybe if I give it a sexy name and cool and relevant label that will help.

Flavour Compound of the Week 4-vinyl guaiacol

Id like to apologise for being a little quiet on the blog front. I have been having a busy week having my heart ripped out and stamped on. Not pleasant but it’s a hobby I suppose.

This week I am tackling 4-ethenyl-2-methoxyphenol or 4-vinyl guaiacol. I shall call it 4-VG because I can’t be bothered to keep checking the spelling. 4-VG is known in some parts of the world as phenolic off flavour (POF) and in others as what weizenbier tastes of. 4-VG is produced from ferulic acid (derived from barley malt) using the enzyme ferulate decarboxylase. Only certain strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) have the capability to make this enzyme. 4-VG has a phenolic (TCP) or clove-like aroma. The clove-like aroma is characteristic of German weizenbier and some Belgian ales and is due to levels of 4-VG between 0.4 - 6 parts per million. 4-VG (POF) is also produced by wild yeast, so knackered beer from any part of the globe can taste a little like a weizen.

Sunday 17 January 2010

4. Chilli Double IPA

IPA, the most meaningless set of initials in brewing. Apart from that inflammatory sentence I won’t explore the etymology or history of India (Imperial) Pale Ale.

Putting chilli in an IPA seems to make sense to a degree as chilli is an important ingredient in some of India and Bradford’s most famous curries. The chilli in my Chilli Double IPA is genuine Indian chilli powder sourced from a genuine Indian grocer packed by TRS wholesale of Southhall Middlesex. I added the chilli with the late hops at a rate of half a gram per pint. Adding the chilli to the kettle was enough to make most of the brewing team cough and sneeze.

Malt was pale ale malt with a little crystal for sweetness to balance the brutality of the insanly high hopping rate. Hops used were Northdown, Hallertau Northern Brewer, Perle, Challenger and Tomahawk. At a sensible rate of hop utilisation I expect the E(I)BUs to be somewhere in the region of 100. The OG is 1085 so I expect an ABV of about 9%. I’m fermenting it warm in a closed fermenter under a slight top pressure. That should ensure none of the hoppiness is lost to the atmosphere.

Yeast wise I am using the Sharp’s strain which in wonderfully attenuatative and gives a nice dryness to strong ales.

I'm hoping that the heat of chilli will boost the already intense hop flavour even more, making for a mindblowing olfactory experience. We shall see. . . . . .

Friday 15 January 2010

Flavour Compound of the Week – Ethanol

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is what chemists call alcohol. Ethanol is formed when yeast ferments sugars. As you can see at an atomic scale, ethanol looks like a chubby balloon dog pissing against the wall.
Ethanol is perfect for illustrating the three key factors in flavour compound detection. Our ability to smell a smell in beer is mainly dependent on three things: the substance’s concentration, its volatility and its flavour threshold. Despite being plentiful in beer (around 40,000 parts per million in a 4% ABV beer) ethanol is not easily detected until the beer gets above 5%. Methyl mercaptan (rotten cabbage flavour) on the other hand is easily detected at 0.00002 parts per million. The reason for this is that methyl mercaptan is much more volatile and has a far lower flavour threshold. The flavour threshold is the concentration of the smelly compound in the beer at which the average nose can detect it. It is likely that we will have evolved to be able to detect certain smells rather than others because they are poisonous and should be avoided. Hence alcohol can't be quite as bad for you as the Daily Mail suggests. Volatility refers to the ease at which an aroma compound escapes the beer and flies up your nose. Highly volatile substances fly off very easily, less volatile substances need to be shaken or swirled out of the drink.
Anyway, the best way to describe the aroma of ethanol is to say that it smells like vodka. On the palate alcohol has a warming effect. You can literally feel the strength of the drink in the mouth and the nose.

Thursday 14 January 2010

The Abomination has Abominated

The activity of the Turbo YeastTM has fallen back to a few small bubbles. The gravity is a lot less than zero (none of our hydrometers will read it) and there is no discernable sweetness in the taste. It smells more like a hopped citrus cider than a beer. I’ve left the fermenter in a cold room for a couple of days to remove the turbo yeast then I’m going to rack it into a barrel and a few bottles to mature for a week or so. The ESB Barley Wine is slowing up at the 8.5% ABV level so that should also be racked into a cask before the weekend is out.

The kind and generous people of Simpson’s Malt have sent me down some special malts (see above) to go into the next few brews. When they roast the grains they often have a few kilos left over so from now on they are sending this to me for my 52 brews. As well as being kind and generous they also make awesome malts. I’ve brewed with malt from all the UK maltsters and some continental ones and Simpsons cannot be beaten on quality and consistency. I'm not just saying that becuase they sent me that stuff honest!

I shall be brewing the chilli double IPA at the weekend. I have a huge great bag of very hot-looking ground chlli which I'm going to ad to the boil. If you used this much in a curry you would need a family pack of spearmint-flavoured moist toilet tissue ready in the bathroom! I’ll update the blog when that’s in the FV.

Monday 11 January 2010

3. Turbo Yeast Abomination (from hell)

The abomination has begun! The Abomination is not a beer it’s more akin to a hop liqueur. To 40 litres of liquor I have added 15kg of glucose and boiled it with 3 kilos of Bobek for long enough to get at the oils but not isomerise too much of the alpha acid. I went for Bobek because it has very low bitterness and lots of aroma. To this hopped syrup I have added the Turbo Yeast™. The Turbo Yeast™ should, if it does what it says on the tin, ferment out the glucose completely to give a 23%ABV hop-scented alcohol solution.

I have called it an abomination because I would expect that the Turbo Yeast™ will have been selected for its ability to make ethanol rather than pleasant flavour compounds. It is usually used by people who enjoy alcohol as a lifestyle choice to make fruit-flavoured chemotherapy for their livers. I therefore suspect that taste will not be too much of a consideration. I have a few options for remediation if it does turn out to be abominable.

Thursday 7 January 2010

2. Barley Wine with ESB yeast

Look at my exciting flask! The foamy stuff is the ESB yeast which has come from an unnamed Chiswick Brewery via the USA in a little foil pouch. Tomorrow the billion or so yeast cells from the foil pack would have been rampantly asexual to the point where there should be a few trillion in my flask ready for the full 60 litre fermentation. To add a competitive twist I am combining the ESB yeast with their formerly Wandsworth-based competitor’s yeast which we have on stock in the brewery.

The wort will be mashed tomorrow. Pale ale malt, roast barley, crystal and glucose (to counter excessive fullness) to an OG of 1090 very, very generously hopped with Northdown, Fuggles and Challenger. All boringly classic Barley Wine ingredients, sorry. Sometimes you have to stay faithful to what works. A warm fermentation will necessitate wrapping the fermenter in towels and leaving it next to the hot liquor tank in the brewhouse.

The Turbo Yeast™ for my next brew waits menacingly at the post office, biding its time before it carries out its abomination. There was a snow flurry on Tuesday in Bodmin so we have no post until Monday while the entire staff of the Cornish post office gawp at the light dusting of white stuff on the ground. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t sleet or snow again this week or brew 3 may have to change.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Flavour Compound of the Week - Ethyl Ethanoate

I’m trying to alternate between nice and nasty with my beer flavours so this week I am discussing ethyl ethanoate (ethyl acetate to those of you not of a systemic persuasion). Ethyl ethanoate is an ester which you will all no doubt remember from GCSE chemistry as the product of a condensation reaction between an acid and an alcohol. In this case ethanol and ethanoic acid (‘alcohol’ and acetic acid). There are potentially almost 4000 esters in beer. All esters have a fruity flavour. Ethyl ethanoate is used in nail varnish remover so most people associate its aroma with this or nail varnish. Rotten (blue mould on oranges normally reeks of the stuff) or overripe fruit have high levels of ethyl ethanoate.

Ethyl ethanoate is for the most part, produced (biosynthesised) by yeast during fermentation but some is formed from the reaction of the acid and alcohol in the fermenting beer. Two strains of wild yeast are particularly proficient at forming ethyl ethanoate leading to very high levels in Lambics.

Personally I love esters. I think fruit notes on beer are the most appealing of all flavour notes. That said ethyl ethanoate is by no means my favourite.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

First 21 Brews

Thank you kindly for the suggestions! I have come up with a list of the first 21 brews I am going for. You should see some of your suggestions in there. Due to the size of the fermenting equipment all the beers have to be either strong or already (deliberately) infected with spoilage organisms. You will therefore notice that very few of the beers are to be less than 7% ABV. Also the lowest temp I can use in maturation is 8oC so lagers are out of the question until I can get my hands on an old freezer. I am making an exception for Hoffmeister. The Trappist IPA is doing very nicely and is down to target gravity. The aroma coming off the fermenter is enough to put a bulge in anyone’s habit.

I have 29 left to come up with so please continue to suggest away.

1. 10% Trappist IPA
2. Barley Wine with ESB yeast
3. 22% ABV Turbo Yeast™ abomination (from hell)
4. Chilli Double IPA
5. Chestnut strong porter
6. Sloe lactic ale
7. Dark Saison
8. 2% ABV sour red
9. Cardamom wheat Beer
10. Hopfen Weisse
11. Hop-free gruit wheat with yarrow, turmeric, bay and lemon balm
12. 7-peel citrus tripel
13. Dangerously unbalanced session IPA
14. Shellfish stout (oyster, cockles and musssels)
15. Heston’s offal strong ale (chicken liver, kidneys and lamb heart)
16. 25 grain Chechnyan imperial stout
17. 50 hop triple IPA
18. Battle of the yeasts (1080 wort pitched with 7 yeast types to see which will contribute most)
19. Hoffmeister (resurrecting the classic lager)
20. Gorse Barley wine
21. Ginger, Honey and oat Strong Ale

Sunday 3 January 2010

52 Beers in a year

Today I am embarking on a journey of experimentation. Alongside the 10-14 brews of the various Sharp’s beers, I am brewing a beer every week for a year on a smaller scale (60litre). I will be using around 50 varieties of hops 40 varieties of malt, the whole spice aisle at my local supermarket, 20 or so different sugar sources, many fruits, 30 or so types of yeast, a few different bacteria and every conceivable form of process variation (time, temperature etc). Despite my technical excellence and all-round greatness I expect a proportion of what comes out to be shite. That’s all part of the fun. None of the beers are going to be average! If the batches are good they are going to be bottled or sent to beer festivals as ‘specials’. The best few will become full time Sharp's brands (marketing department permitting).

My first brew is a 10% ABV pale ale, brewed with a Belgian Abbey yeast and 10grammes of late and dry hops (Bobek and Brewer’s Gold) per pint. It smells fantastic in the fermentation vessel. This beer is imaginatively titled 1 (pronounced waurn). I will update my blog every week on the progress of the beers. If anyone has any suggestions for a beer that I could make, please leave a suggestion in comments.