Monday 31 May 2010

Flavour Compound of Last Week - Sulphate

Sulphate (SO4), or if you are American or illiterate, sulfate is common in most water supplies where it exists as a counter ion to calcium and magnesium. In beer it accentuates bitterness and at high levels makes this bitterness harsh. Yeast tends to metabolise sulphate into the malodorous hydrogen disulphide and sulphur dioxide. Why then would you want any in beer? Well, as indicated previously sulphate is required to balance the full palate sweetness conferred by chlorides.

The waters of Burton are quite high in sulphate so beers from this area have historically been dry, bitter and smell like the barman has farted in your pint glass before pulling the pint. These days all breweries adjust sulphate levels to achieve the desired flavour profile so the Burton Snatch is less prevelant than it used to be. Strangely some people still find the aroma of flatus in a beer appealing.

Sunday 30 May 2010

23 Seawater Imperial Mild

Living by the sea in a beautiful part of England is nice, don’t get me wrong. The price you pay for this is the annual influx of what the Cornish call Emmets. People who wouldn’t drive at 4mph weaving all over the because the view is pretty road at home, people who wouldn’t use a junction on an A road as lay by at home, people who wouldn’t walk down a major road with a rucksack looking scornfully at anyone using it to drive to work at home. Put them in Cornwall and their common sense and desire to survive desert them. Fortunately the Cornish folk are laid back, tolerant and welcoming. I’ve been here for 9 years and if they can put up with me they can put up with anyone.

So, seawater in a beer “Are you mad?” you ask. Although I think I have already demonstrated my insanity beyond reasonable doubt, this time there is method in my madness. The bit of beer which is not alcohol is pretty much all water. Chemically, water is two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom, H2O. The water that comes out of the tap, bottle or big bubbly thing in the office isn’t strictly water because it has salts dissolved in it. The water used to brew beer is also not just H2O because it has a precisely controlled salt composition. At least it has in decent breweries. Once the salt composition has been set brewers then call it liquor.

One of the salts important to beer flavour is chloride. Chloride levels are often raised in dark ales to give the beer a more sumptuous and slightly sour note. Sea water is very high in chloride so why not use it as the source of chloride in my Imperial Mild? Seawater also contains a number of salts not generally found in brewing liquor so my hope is that they contribute a marine feel to the beer.

If I was truly insane I would use 100% sea water for the beer. Seawater has nearly 20g of chloride per litre and for Mild I only need 0.3g per litre. The yeast would die before it could ferment the wort and even if it did the beer would taste horrendous. I also undersatnd that plans are afoot, north of the border for the world's saltiest beer and I am not one to stand in the way of barrier breaking. I am watering down my seawater to give me the chloride I need. I am also treating the seawater to remove unwanted bicarbonates which are never good news in brewing liquor. The seawater is going in before I boil the wort so anything which has dropped out of the back of a gull, seal or Pollock will be very dead before it ferments.

Malt: Mild ale malt, crystal, black and roasted barley

Hops: Fuggles, Goldings and Perle,

Yeast: Sharp’s

OG: 1065

Thursday 27 May 2010

Experimental E Tasting

Today Heston was bottled along with the bitterness festival which is Hardcore 50 Hop IPA (per)version 3.0. Everyone on the bottling team were prop forwards. This is entirely insignificant. Both have developed subtle nuiances and novel twists during their residence en caske. Heston in particular has metamorphosed from a sanguined ulgy duckling to a rich and rounded leather-clad water bird (from hell).

I have just heard that there is going to be an e-tasting of some of my experimental beers on the chat room of the Burgandian Bable Belt web site Those taking part will include luminaries such as Chirs Pollard, Jeff Evans and Des De Moor. It will be held on 3rd June at 8PM. I can’t think why for the life of me you would want to go to the chat room to torture yourself by watching other people enjoying (hopefully) beers, I’m just very pleased that it’s happening!

The beers that they are going to discuss are the Belgian-themed selection detailed below.

1. Sour Blonde Ale 7% ABV (3 years old)
2. Abbey Ale 7% ABV
3. “Dark Saison” ex blog 7.8% ABV
4. Sharp's St Enodoc Double 8.5% ABV
5. Wild Red Ale 8% ABV (2 years old but not wood-aged)
6. Sharp's Honey Spice Triple 9% ABV
7. 11% Amber
8. Massive Ale
9. “Trappist IPA” ex blog 10% ABV
10. Abbey Quadracept 12%

Monday 24 May 2010

22. Ginger, Honey and Oat Strong Ale

I heard the other day that ginger beer is the next Magners. Magners of course was the next alcoholic lemonade. One of the first and most successful alcoholic lemonades was Hooper’s Hooch. I once met a bloke who worked for Bass when the brand was in development. With alcoholic lemonade as the brief they proposed a sophisticated beverage which was sweetened lemon juice fermented with Champange yeast. They even toyed with the idea of making it bottle conditioned because it was going to be cloudy anyway. He said that early flavour panels were blown away by the flavours of the dry, natural fermented lemon juice. So what did they decide on in the end? Lemonade-flavoured concentrate with water and industrial ethanol added. Very sweet, very simple, very cheap to make, very pointless.

At one point in the evolution of the market for alcopops, an accountant targeted a cost saving on the alcohol content and a switch was made to adding alcohol derived not from fermentation but from the oxidation of ethane from crude oil. I suppose if you are inclined to drink something which is fluorescent blue the prospect of 5% of it being produced at a refinery is probably not that daunting. I think that someone should draw the line somewhere.

Anyway back to the blog beer. I think that this beer is the most appealing sounding beer on the list so far (excluding offal ale of course). Oats honey and ginger are all beautiful (or for Master Chef viewers Busiful) flavours. I do make another beer with Ginger with my mate Rick from Padstow. With Chalky’s Bark I am careful with the ginger because I am using it to complement the lemon of the Brewer’s Gold hops. In this beer I can afford to be slightly less careful. Oats and honey give soul and body and in a strong beer this will be a big soul and kind of body that even Gok Wan couldn’t make look good naked. This gives me much more latitude to go for it with the ginger.

I’m using sun dried Indian ginger for this beer because it is less aromatic and more spicy (hot) than the African baking ginger. I am going to have to use some restraint with all of the ingredients because this beer is at risk of ending up like a fizzy Thai dipping sauce (maybe that’s the next Magners?). As well as rolled oats I am using golden naked oats which are nutty, juicy and just plain gawjus. On his last visit, Mr Simpson, my grain supplier informed me that they are called naked oats because they are harvested naked. I sincerely hope the famers stay clear of their combines.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale, rolled oats, golden naked oats

Hops: Brewer’s Gold, Pioneer, Simcoe

Spice: Ginger

Yeast: Old English Ale

OG: 1090

Saturday 22 May 2010

Mon coeur est plein

My fears, depression and uncharacteristic self pity about the derailment of Project Pater were unfounded. The above-pictured Monsieur Rock has graciously allowed me to reschedule my visit to the monastery.

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
Then you will be a brewer my son.
(K Price 2003)

Flavour Compound of the Week - Linalool

I woke up this morning and thought I’m not in the mood for this. The heartbreak of yesterday and the resulting bad night’s sleep, my sore calfs, crepitiating Achilles tendons and tight illiotibial band had dampened my irrepressible spirit and drive. Then I heard a voice in my head. It was Katie Price, she said “you can do it Stuart, remember tea bag”. If there is anyone that we can learn from during times of struggle it is our Katie. After the trials and tribulations of her tough life she has come through with all her dignity intact. She remains a central part of our culture and heritage and a shining example to every young girl with a dream of greatness. Teabag was of course a phrase I remember from my days in the front row of a few rugby teams. As a prop you must be a tea bag. The hotter the water, the stronger you get. A least that’s what I think she meant. It was first thing in the morning and you never know with Katie.

Linalool or systemically 3,7-dimethylocta-1,6-dien-3-ol is a terpene alcohol with a floral aroma. In beer linalool comes from the essential oil of the hop. The essential oil of hops is, as I have indicated before, a terrifically complex blend of compounds which change with time and practically define hop varieties. All of the flavour-significant components of essential oils are volatile. As a brewer you have to be very careful not to lose desirable volatiles during the brewing process. This is the rationale behind dry hopping. Adding hops at the very last moment before the beer is pressurised locks the inviting volatile aromas from the hop flower into the beer which are then released up the nose of the consumer when it is depressurised.

Linalool like our Katie is a bit common. It is found in a wide range of plants, (mints, scented herbs, laurels, cinnamon, rosewood, citrus fruits), some fungi and a range of shampoos and conditioners where its oxidation products are thought to trigger eczema.

Friday 21 May 2010

Not a Good Day

Today was a decidedly non-imperial day. Today officially started last night when the motor on the boiler fan burned out mid way through a brew. This brew is now probably inside about 1000 very contented pigs. This morning a Storeman in Droitwich overslept. I wouldn’t normally begrudge a Storeman from Droitwich a few extra hours kip every so often but the one in question was supposed to be at work early to give our boiler engineer the part he needed to fix the boiler. Our boiler engineer who should have got us up and running early this morning didn’t get to us until after lunch. As is customary in situations like this the job to change the badly-behaved part was not as straightforward as envisaged and as a result we have lost a total of three brewing slots. A fourth has been saved by the superb flexibility of my brewers who will probably not get home until tomorrow morning. I am also staying late writing this and keeping their spirits up by flogging them and shouting “work you b*****”. Tonight on account of having to help out with the brewing I am also missing the Sharp’s social event of the year, the marriage of Richard “Captain Cornwall” Coad (sales manager for Cornwall) to his first love Emma.

Losing three shifts isn’t in itself too much of a problem as all three can be recovered as extra shifts next week. The problem is it that it was next week that I had arranged to pop over to see the lovely monks at Orval. I have had to cancel that trip. If you read the Project Pater post you will know that I wasn’t really looking forward to that. The common theme of the last 6 years of my life has been that as soon as I plan to be away from the brewery for more than 6 hours, some twist of fate (volcanic dust cloud, business being sold, yeast throwing a wobbly, various bits of equipment spontaneously combusting etc, etc) will pull back on the reins which hold me there.
Looking on the bright side, the beer at today’s flavour panel is as good as I have known it, fermentations are consistent, brewhouse extracts are up, sales growth is still very strong, the sun is shining and it’s not me who’s getting married tonight!

Thursday 20 May 2010

New Seasonal - Honey Spice Gold

In 2007 I brewed a beer for fun. I half filled a small tank with some wheat and barley wort along with spices, two sacks of Bobek hops which I had drenched in honey. I expected it to come to nothing but it was probably the best beer I have ever made. It was citrus, quenching and generally wonderful. The FD’s wife’s father had produced the honey in Ireland. I’m not sure what the bees fed on but the citrus notes from the honey were key to the beer which came out. The beer went on to win its category of the International Beer Competition and get in the final of the Sainsbury’s Beer Competition.

With such success came an increase in demand and I had to get some more honey. I was disappointed to hear that the bees had died. I still fancied my chances of recreating the beer using some Cornish honey. Even though there was nothing on the Heriot-Watt brewing and distilling degree syllabus on using honey and it’s not mentioned in any of my brewing text books I thought, I’m a good brewer and I can tweak up the hops and change the fermentation temperature and all will be good. The second brew was nice, a good beer but it wasn’t as brilliant as the first. Since then I have tried to recreate the beer with several different honeys but all to no avail.

As well as a lesson in modesty a good thing to come out of this experience was an understanding of what the combination of honey and spices can bring to a beer. Since this first brew I have brewed a couple of commercial variants of Honey Spice. Last year the summer seasonal was Honey Spice Wheat which sold by the bucket load and Honey Spice Triple is a permanent fixture in our Connoisseur’s Choice range. The latest incarnation is Honey Spice Gold, this summer’s seasonal brew.

Honey is great in a golden ale because it adds sweetness. Pale beers do not have the fullness and sweetness contributed by the dark malts so can lack balance when assertively hopped. Honey helps to redress this balance and allows you to pack in more hop flavour and bitterness without making a harsh beer. For Honey Spice Gold the honey is of course locally sourced and from bees feeding on flowers in pasture.

Spice-wise the Eden Project have provided us with alecost which is a minty leaf used to flavour beers before hops along with yarrow flowers. These herbs lay a foundation of earthy depth to support the spices. Two spices are used in Honey Spice Gold. Indian red chilli powder and sun-dried Indian ginger. The ginger works well to boost the hop notes and the chilli helps break up the sweetness of the honey and adds a sparkle on the palate. The combination of the herbs and spices give terrific depth along with serious refreshment.

Now to the hops; My blog 50 hop IPA has given me experience of using hops I have never used before and the opportunity to choose some favourites for this beer. In Honey Spice I have used Sharp’s exclusive Tryal hop from Slovenia along with US superstars, Centennial, Sorachi Ace and Chinook. Honey Spice is a very hoppy beer!

The malt in Honey Spice is pale ale malt along with some exclusive Simpsons low colour caramalt. The low colour caramalt is used to give body and some sweetness without adding colour or toffee/caramel flavours. Mr Simpson was kind enough to send me some low colour caramalt straight for the lab to use in a trial and I was so impressed that I bought the whole batch!

I have only tried the beer from conditioning tank at this stage but I am pleased and impressed in equal measure with what is coming out of the sample tap.

Taste Summary
Appearance: Light, golden and crystal clear
Aroma: Ginger, grapefruit, lime with gentle honey
Taste: Burst of bittersweet fruit, sumptuous malt lifted by sparkle of chilli and ginger
Finish: Incredibly long and dry with warming spice and bitter grapefruit

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Here you go - It's the Next Imperial 22

Team hi and thank you for your customarily excellent suggestions. I have boiled them down and added to them with a few of my own. Without further ado or for that matter any level of ado (isn’t ado a stupid word?), here is the next 22. I hope you are as excited by them as me! Still not sure what will constitute Pong but I’m sure all will become clear.

1. Sea Water Imperial Mild

2. Kerry Katona’s Deep Frozen Black Forest Ale

3. Barley Tikka Vindaloo

4. Fungal Strong Ale (mushrooms, fungi and yeast)

5. World Cup 4:4:2 Ale (quadruple mash, quadruple boil, double fermentation)

6. Peppermint Imperial Stout

7. Snakebite and Black (pressed Cornish apples fermented with ale wort then used to macerate blackberries)

8. Umami Bomb

9. Westcountry White Ale

10. Jasmine and Lapsang blonde

11. Beer Fortified with Eau de Beer (beer fermented then half distilled and distillate added back to beer)

12. Stock Aerated Ale

13. Savoury Ale

14. Imperial Rauch Tripel

15. Yank Strong Golden

16. Pong

17. Pastis Ale

18. Peated Ale (100% Peat Malt)

19. Wormwood Hallucinogenic Bitter

20. Seaweed Wheat Wine

21. The world’s Stupidest Beer (a barrel of beer which will be subject to a range of irrelevant processes which will be claimed to somehow change how it tastes)

22. Balsamic Barley Wine vinegar (aerated and inoculated with acetic acid bacteria then oak aged with grape skins)

Monday 17 May 2010

More Suggestions Please

The gravity on the barley wine is dropping nicely and the neutral spirit has turned a bright yellow as the colour and aroma has been leached from the gorse flowers so all is on course for success. Judging the point at which to drain off the flowers is going to be critical. If the maceration is too long and the spirit could just taste like grass. Too short and the important flavours will be left in the flowers. I’m tempted to repeat the experiment with hops and see what I am able to extract from them.

It only seems like yesterday that I first asked for suggestions for the 52 brews but I am already at the end of my first 22. Judging by the hits the blog is receiving it looks like the idea has captured people's imagination. I have also noted that another brewery have asked for online suggestions for beers to brew (sincerest form of flattery). So as I ride my crest of self congratulation, can ask you beautiful, clever and talented people for some more suggestions?

None that involve ice or lemon wedges though, pl-lease!

Saturday 15 May 2010

Flavour Compound of the Week - Ethanoic Acid

If you’re really posh you will pay £20 for your ethanoic acid in wine bottles from a bloke called Tarquinii wearing an apron and drizzle it on your salad. If you are common you’ll shake it on your chips. Ethanoic acid is otherwise known as acetic acid and is what makes vinegar, vinegar. You no doubt will be able to see from this week’s 3D space station at the top that ethanoic acid is ethanol (alcohol) with an added oxygen atom. So if you oxidise (add oxygen to) alcohol you get ethanoic acid. This reaction happens naturally in air but is very slow. Certain bacteria and wild yeast have enzymes which speed up this process. Ethanoic acid will always be present in beer because it exists in equilibrium with ethanol. In fresh beer the concentration will be well below its flavour threshold. It is thought however to contribute to the crispness of beer to a degree by making it more acidic.

The bacteria which are associated with ethanoic acid production in beer are grouped together and called acetic acid bacteria. Two common examples are Acetomonas and Acetobacter. The latter is discriminated from the former by motility through the use of peritricous flagellation (I tried that once but didn’t like it). The most important thing about acetic acid bacteria in terms of brewing is that they are obligate aerobes which means they cannot grow in the absence of oxygen. Yeast use up all the oxygen in beer at the first stage of fermentation so unless you have the misfortune to buy beer from a pub where they serve you beer from casks which have been left open for 7 days, you are unlikely to find them problematic.

Ethanoic has a sour smell and sour sharp taste. The characteristic sourness of Lambics is principally due to a combination of ethanoic and lactic acids although a number of other organic acids are involved.

Thursday 13 May 2010

21. Gorse Barley Wine

When whins [gorse] are out of bloom, Kissing's out of fashion. (1846 M. A. Denham Proverbs relating to Seasons)

Picture the scene. It’s the first flush of spring and I am walking the cliff path from Trevone to Padstow. After an austere winter, the feeling of the hot sun on my skin is like a mother’s caress to a fevered head. A light breeze is wafting fresh from the dark blue Atlantic ocean to my left. To my right is the beauteous rolling landscape of God’s own Cornwall. In front is the beautiful rear of my beautiful female companion. Surely a day cannot be more perfect? But wait, what is that enticing aroma? Light yet heady, intense yet subtle, earthy yet fragrant, my heart is ablaze. The aroma in question was the flowers of the banks of gorse which bordered the cliff path. I fell in love with the stuff that day.

It is impossible to accurately describe the aroma of gorse. To say it smells like coconut is to describe Beethoven’s 9th as a nice tune. Since that day I have been trying to use gorse in my beer to get at least a sense of that wonderful aroma, but like satisfaction and true happiness, my goal has evaded me. This time I am trying a new tack. I am brewing a barley wine without gorse. At the same time I am macerating gorse flowers in neutral spirit at 60% ABV, (don’t ask me where I got it from) to extract the essential oils. I will then fortify the barley wine with the gorse flower infusion.

I have picked a very good time to do this brew because the cliff tops are on fire with gorse flowers at the moment. The only downside to gorse is that it has more pricks than an Estate Agents conference, so picking the flowers is a painful task. My barley wine will be designed to be quite sweet so as to provide some body once the spirit is added. I’m keeping the hopping light, using less oily, less expressive hops so that the gorse can shine.

Will it work? Probably not, but it won’t stop me trying.

Tech Spec

Malt: Pale ale, 140 crystal, amber and cara

Hops: Fuggles, Goldings, Saaz and Mittlefruh

Yeast: Sharp’s

OG: 1095

PG: 1025 (before fortification)

Tuesday 11 May 2010

52 Brews Roadshow Update

The Hof is down to a gravity of 1005 so will be close enough to 1000 when I have cut it (watered it down). I have a team of elite bottlers at my disposal so tomorrow will see the bottling of Chechen GIP, Hopfen, 50 Hop IPA version 1, Gruit Ale, and Citrus Tripel. I had a sneak preview taste of them all yesterday. All taste very good apart from the Gruit which tastes like Chicken Oxo mixed with maple syrup. The battle of the yeast has now turned into a 9 gallon cage fight as the warring factions are locked in a cask for a month. 8 yeast enter only one can leave!

To update you on the Tasting Beers Live 52 brew ‘Masterclass’, I now have a confirmed slot of 3:30PM 18th June only. This should give anyone coming along the chance to browse the other beers on offer in order to set their palate up.

There will be 24 free places available for the Masterclass and you will get a good-sized sample of each beer in a glass with plenty of head space.

Along with some of Sharp’s main brands, the line up will definitely feature
  • Chechen Grand Imperial Stout 
  • 50 Hop IPA 
  • Citrus Tripel 
  • Trappist IPA 
  • Shelfish Stout
  • And the star of the show Heston’s Offal Ale
I will be around before and after the event for social, intellectual and physical interaction.

Also appearing that afternoon will be chef/brewer/celebrity/writer/author/TV star/restaurateur/friend of Neil Morrissey, The Richard Fox, a very significant hero of mine.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Kings Ale Tasting

This is not a beer review blog. There are already enough excellent exponents of this format on the information super highway (you don’t hear that phrase anymore do you). But I am going to break this rule in celebration of my progress on Project Pater. I have been down into my cellar via the BDSM dungeon and cannabis factory and have brought up a bottle of Bass Kings Ale.

I purchased a case of Bass corkers from Davis Remmel the lab manager at Brakspear who had inherited them from his father. Davis was a laid back chap and not really into his beer so when I offered him a ton for the case he nearly ripped my hand off. They have been in my care for 9 years and during this time have been cared for as if they were my children. As they have spent the entire time in the dark at a steady 12C it is fortunate that I am not a father!

The more I think about a beer which is 108 years old the more awesome the prospect of tasting it becomes. This beer is older than my great grandmother and everyone who brewed and bottled it is dead. Many probably died in some foreign field defending us all . Brewers today can add exciting and rare things to beer, they can mature it in old barrels, they can claim that they are driving a wedge of insurrection through the staid culture of brewing with their radical brewing recombinations but they cannot make it 108 years old.

The capsule had kept the cork in good nick and it came out in one piece. As soon as the cork was disgorged the room was filled with the aroma of rum, spice, Christmas pudding and concentrated dust. I must admit to being sceptical about aged beer. I had a few very expensive aged beers in Belgium all of which just tasted of old knackered beer. Leather, tobacco, ash, Marmite, dirty, cloying and frankly awful. I was beginning to think that beer, like fruit is lovely because it’s ripe. Try to preserve it or age it and it will only go one way, down. Today Kings Ale changed this.

It was almost bright and had about 1.2vols of CO2 (the kind of level you would find in a good cask ale). The aroma was complex beyond description. Won’t stop me trying! Port-like, brandy-like, perfumed, sappy on the nose. Rich, tannic, dark and acetic in the mouth. I wouldn’t like to drink more than 250ml of Kings Ale but every single ml is a journey and an epiphany. I loved every second of the whole experience. My eyes are considerably damper than they were when I started.

I’ve still got a couple of Kings, a Radcliffe and 3 Princes in the cellar which I am looking forward to much more now.

To the men of Burton 1902 I hold my glass aloft and with tears in my eyes and pride in my heart. I salute you for beating the path which I ply today.

Flavour Compound of the Week - Lower mercaptans

This week the flavour compound of the week is taking a turn down dark and filthy alley to be confronted by the twisted mutant dog that is the lower mercapatan or thiol. Lower mercaptans smell horrendous, horrific and disgusting. I was in a chemistry lab when a student accidentally made some in a fume cupboard and even under extraction the stench was staggering and resulted in widespread emesis. The definition next to lower mercaptan in my copy Malting and Brewing Science by Briggs et al. is simply “stench”. Mercaptans are otherwise described as drains and putrefaction. They are produced during the decomposition of sulphur-containing amino acids or pepetides. Humans abhor of mercaptans because they are poisonous to us. According to the Guinness Book of Records 2000, ethyl mercaptan (ethanthiol) is the smelliest substance known to man. The concentration of mercaptans in beer is never much more than a trace but this is sufficient to give a rank note to the beer but not to poison you. Mercaptans in beer are evidence of infection with bacteria or a serious metabolic problem with a yeast! I have detected it in a few cask ales in my time, only fleetingly but long enough to put me off drinking the stuff.

Friday 7 May 2010

Project Pater

Those of you who follow my blog will have picked up on my secret project, Project Pater. For my autumn seasonal I have set out to brew a Cornish interpretation of a Trappist patersbier. Of course those of you not conversant with the world of brewing monks will not know what a patersbier is. Most Trappist beers are by UK cask standards very strong, ranging from 6 to 12% ABV. Now, however pleasant to drink these big and beautiful ales are they are a little too strong to constitute liquid bread for the monks to graze on at meal times. Lashed up monks scrapping and tripping over their habits is a comedic image but a long way from reality. For their own consumption the monks produce a weaker beer which is known in Flemish as a patersbier.

There are 7 Trappist breweries in the Low Countries but one in particular is renowned for its Patersbier. The monastery in question is of Orval (meaning valley of gold) and their small beer is called Petite Orval. At 3.2% if it was sold in the UK it would be termed a session beer. I am not sure that monks ever partake in le session. I have been trying since I have been obsessed with beer (19 years) to get into a Trappist brewery. I nearly wrote in to Jim’ll Fix it in 1992. I didn’t hold out much hope of any joy this time but went about asking every industry figure who had a connection with Belgium if they are able to help. Filip Geerts, Chris Pollard (podge), Kelly Ryan and Phil “The daddy” Lowry have all been incredibly helpful and I found out yesterday that I am in! In a couple of weeks I will be meeting Brewmaster Jean-Marie Rock in the Orval brewery at the Monastery. If there was such a thing as an excitementometer I would have broken every one within a two hundred mile radius!

The beer that I am aiming to brew will not be an attempt to brew Petite Orval on my brew kit. It is to be a recreation of the soul of Petite Orval in the guise of a stylish well-brewed Cornish Ale. If you will a tribute to what Petite Orval stands for, using some of the techniques used to make it. The visit to the monastery will give me a brewer’s insight into the soul of Petite Orval. A few of you will no doubt know that Jean Marie did a collaborative brew of an Imperial Pilsner with a Belgian brewer in the US earlier this year. The concept of my beer is entirely different to this although I will be inviting Monsieur Rock back to Rock to oversee the first brew. If he is unable or not inclined to come to Cornwall he will be receiving a cask of the beer for his approval.

Travelling with me to Orval will be a man with a camera to record for posterity the most excited Head Brewer in history. I will be updating the blog with details of the trip and the resulting brew as things develop.

Your letter was only the start of it
One letter and now you’re a part of it
Now you've done it Jim has fixed it for you
And you and you

There must be something that you always wanted
The one thing that you always wanted
Now you've done it Jim has fixed it for you
And you and you

Bup bah bah
Bup bup bup bup bah
Jim’ll fix it for you
And you and you oo oo

Thursday 6 May 2010

20. Hofmeister

When I was 18 or 19 I discovered Fullers ESB. While all my mates were complementing their outfits with bottles of Mexican urine with slices of lime shoved down the neck I was revelling in the bitter sweet kaleidoscope of flavour. What’s more mine was a whole satisfying pint not a 330ml rejection of manhood. Despite being twice the size of everyone else, the result of drinking twice as much as everyone else did have an inevitable impact on my state of consciousness. One such evening I decided to stay at my mate Geoff’s house to save a very long unsteady walk home. Geoff’s old man was a very discerning gentleman. Bottles of Chateau l’extorsion filled his garage and he would only ever shop at Waitrose. I was asked if I fancy a beer and as I was no longer responsible for getting home safe I naturally said yes. I was presented with some of Geoff’s father’s private reserve of Hofmeister Lager Beer. After 3 cans of thin, gassy, metallic ordure I was more sober than when I had arrived home. I should at this point state that strength has no bearing whatsoever on quality.

7 years later I once again ran into the Hof. I was in planning at the Foster’s factory on the M4 and we were discussing some out of spec Foster’s Ice. The conclusion of the discussion was that the beer was beyond repair and to send the beer to CCT16 otherwise known as the Hofmeister tank. At this point in time the glory days for Hofmeister were over and it was being ‘brewed’ by pumping all the ***k ups into a tank and adding de-aerated liquor (water with the oxygen removed) to bring the ABV down. I was only at the Foster’s factory for 4 months but in that time beer was only ever sent to CCT16, it was never packaged. Ironically the main brands only spent 3 days in ‘lagering’ while the Hofmeister was getting months and months of extended cold storage. A year or so later I read that George the Bear was hanging up his Trilby. I wonder if CCT16 was ever packaged.

So in honour of this classic and much-missed brand I am resurrecting it for the 52 brews. Believe it or not this beer is going to be the most technically difficult to pull off on a small scale. I have to admit to never having brewed Hofmeister so I am using my experience of standard commodity lager brewing techniques to make an educated approximation.

It is likely that Hof was brewed from about 60% low colour malt, and 40% maize grits. The maize grits were there to save money and dilute flavour and have to be cooked before use to gelatinise the starch granules. The low colour malt would have been very poor quality so would require temperature-programmed mashing to degrade gums and proteins. This means heating the mash while mixing through about 20oC with one of the temperature increases provided by mixing in the boiling maize porridge. Because the proportion of malt was so low there would not be enough natural malt enzymes to free up the starch and break it down into sugars. Bacterial and fungal enzymes were therefore required. Doing all this on a 60litre scale will be a pain the 4rse. The wort produced will need to be around 1080.

The Hof would then have been boiled for an hour with some liquid iso alpha acids and maybe some cheap pellets added for aroma at the end. This should be easy enough to achieve. The wort would then have been fermented warm with a hybridised yeast in a cylindroconiocal vessel to ferment out in 2-3 days. I haven’t got a 60 litre cylidroconical and will have to use a lager type yeast at 20C

In its hay day the green beer would have been centrifuged down to a low level of yeast cells before cold conditioning 0C for a couple of days. In a pipe on its way to the filter the beer would have been diluted with de-aerated liquor from 8%ABV down to 3.2% and the CO2 level, colour and bitterness would be adjusted to spec using CO2, ammonia caramel and iso alpha acids. I am not going to filter my beer but I will be diluting it and adding bitterness and colour. My beer will be bottle conditioned rather than kegged or canned but I am going to heat the beer up to 45C for about 10 minutes in a sealed container to mimic the effects of pasteurisation.

I hope that this beer is going to be as complex and sophisticated as the original Hofmeister.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Dark Saison Review

Adrian Tierney-Jones has written a typically excellent piece on the 52 Brew number 7 the Dark Saison here

I would try to accurately describe how great Adrian is but such words are yet to be devised. Adrian's hope that this beer (or one conceptually similar) will become part of the main Sharp's portfolio will be realised with my soon to be announced autumn cask seasonal.       

Tuesday 4 May 2010

The Apprentice

The battle of the yeasts has been raging fiercely over the bank holiday weekend. The brewhouse floor is littered with the casualties of what has been a brutal encounter. The aroma of the beer is very fruity but then it always is at this stage. No one characteristic seems to be predominating. One more day should see the FV go into cooling. I won’t know which yeast has prevailed until I get a sneak preview when I cask rack it on Friday.

Monday saw the arrival of my apprentice for three weeks. Ed Wickett is the son of GBBF supreme champion and micro brewing legend Dave Wickett of Kelham Island brewery in Sheffield. I can only assume that Dave has sent him down here to put him off being a brewer. Either that or Dave wants him to learn how to be a calm, level-headed boss like me when he takes over the reins at the Island. Ed is a thoroughly good bloke and will spend this week searching the brewery for a bucket of steam, a glass hammer and popping out to Jewson’s to ask for a long weight.

Finally and most excitingly the top secret Project Pater is now looking very promising and could be realised very soon. This is mainly due to the god in human guise that is Phil Lowry. Hopefully all will be revealed soon.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Flavour Compound of Last Week - Ethyl hexanoate

I have tried to alternate between flavour compounds which are regarded by (most) brewers as acceptable and those considered to be off flavours. Such is the world of brewing that I am scraping the bottom of the barrel for good flavours and still have list as long as your arm of bad ones. I suppose if you are trying to make a drink appealing to people, the first place to start is the control of flavours likely to disgust. There’s little point spending money on the best perfume if you’ve got a face like a sack of chisels.

This week we are looking at the ester Ethyl hexanoate. Ethyl hexanoate is an apple-flavoured ester. I say apple flavour but it smells more like those sweets which are supposed to taste like apple but just taste like apple-flavoured sweets. Although it does smell more like apples than Magners Cider. I have often wondered which is smallest in magnitude, the number of Irish apples in a bottle or brain cells in the head of the person who believes Magners is made naturally and from Irish apples. Maybe the marketers are trying to obliquely infer that there is just something quintessentially Irish about paying £4 to drink 500ml of pink, fermented glucose with 500 grammes of frozen mains water? (no offence to my Celtic cousins intended)

More digression. Ethyl hexanoate seldom contributes much to the aroma of most beers because its typical concentration is not much greater than its flavour threshold. It is more likely to be an instrument in the aroma orchestra. As with some of the other esters, ethyl hexanoate is an insect pheromone. The accursed fruit fly Drosophila is among the insects which get the horn when in the presence of the ester. I hate them. I hate them so very, very much.