Tuesday 31 August 2010

32. West Country White Ale

Seldom, in fact never have I sampled a brew and thought; I know what this needs, a few extra egg whites and some bean flour! That is until now. The above-mentioned food stuffs were standard ingredients in beer that was made, probably in the very village I brew in, towards the end of the 18th century. The suggestion for West Country White came from the walking encyclopaedia of beer Martyn Cornell. If you want the full story with references and everything I would recommend clicking here.

There is nothing normal about West Country White but perhaps its most crazy aspect is that it is consumed as it is still fermenting. I can only conclude that the West Country folk of the time had lazy horses and therefore were forced to propel their carts through the power of the flatus. The fart-generating potential of a fermenting mixture of beans and eggs must be of the very highest level known to man.

Another interesting twist on the recipe is that some West Country Whites were fermented spontaneously using whatever microflora was resident in the flour, air or semi-clean brewing vessels. The chances are that some of these bugs would be enteric and/or pathogenic so I can’t imagine that constipation or the wearing of pants for two days was very common in Cornwall back then. Add to this the fact that mining was a common occupation at the time and you have an image of subterranean hell second only to the downstairs toilets in a one star all-inclusive hotel in Egypt.

This brew will not only be a experiment in brewing but also a test of my constitution. Sampling this beer will be nearly on a par with Goldberger’s filth parties. Nearly but not quite!
Malt: Pale ale malt

Yeast: Old English

Spices: free range egg whites and gram flour

OG: 1045

Saturday 28 August 2010

Crombe Oud KRIEKENBIER Tasting

As a special treat to myself I am blogging about another beer from the Howe cellar.

Before Belgian beer became fashionable and long before it became unfashionable I bought a bottle of Crombe Oud Kriekenbier and put it in my cellar. My cellar was then in Hertfordshire. Since then it has accompanied me to Edinburgh, Reading and three cellars in Cornwall. The main reason I have cellared this beer for so long is that as a young beer I didn’t rate it so temptation to drink has been easy to resist. It had a rough plastic note and insufficient sourness to support the cherry notes which also seemed slightly synthetic.

According to something I have read on the internet Crombe ceased brewing in 2003. Today, in honour of the bank holiday that makes work harder and which turns where I live into Wally World I am tasting the beer. Considering it’s about 25 years old the beer is full of condition. I would estimate about 4g/litre and I’m seldom more than half a gram out. I had planned to drink this beer a couple of weeks ago so it has been upright for a month. This prep has paid off because the beer is crystal bright, brighter in fact than most cask beers which will be served in pubs this weekend.

On the nose there is none of melted plastic and synthetic cherry notes I found in the newish beer (14 years ago). Almond and rich cherry pits and a hint of blackcurrant hit your nose straight away. This is followed by a few standard esters and a full spectrum of lactic acid bacterial metabolites. What I love about beers with lactic fermentation is that the fruity-freshness of the beer is protected. In so many beers fermented by Saccharomyces the fresh fruity notes become strangled by a blanket of cloying oxidation products leaving the beer with a soil, leather, tobacco-like, cadaver juice flavour with age.

In the mouth there is a nice spasm of the parotid glands as the acids hit the tongue. This is followed by an earthy, musty bitter-sweet-sour cherry explosion. Saliva and beer mix in equal proportion as more layers of complexity are pealed away. There are more mouldy cellar notes in the middle of the palate but they are quickly scoured off by the acids. At 25 years old this beer has no right to be this fruity, sharp, tart and dry. It has all the sour pungency of a blackberry plucked fresh from the bramble. The finish is quick and clean with a hint of iron and earth but not so much that it builds. Only on the burp did I get the synthetic plastic note.

I used the sediment in the bottle to deglaze a pan of chicken livers, which with seasoning and a little butter made a superb sauce.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

31. Eau de Beer-Fortified Beer

This is my mate Special Derek or “Tasty” as he likes to me known but isn’t. Derek doesn’t own a device for removing the alcohol from beer which may or may not be otherwise referred to as a still. Stills in the UK must of course be licensed but as Derek doesn’t own a still this law does not apply to his non-still-owning situation. If I was going to make a eau de beer-fortified beer and Derek did have a still I would probably use Derek’s but I am not so I won’t.

It must be stated at this point that the conceptual beer to which this post is referring is fictitiously made away from Sharp’s Brewery and that none of the activities involved in its fictitious production are undertaken on the premises of Sharp’s Brewery. The fact that I am an employee of Sharp’s brewery is completely coincidental to this conceptual exercise. If this beer ever existed (which it doesn’t) it would have never been near Sharp’s Brewery or Derek’s garage.

So the eau de beer-fortified beer concept would, if it existed, be a barley wine which would be fermented in the usual way and then racked into two casks. One cask is left in a cellar at 12C while the other is run through Derek’s non-existent still. The fictitious spirit would then be added to the non-existent barley wine.

The use of a still is not the only way to concentrate alcohol. You can also freeze out the water using freeze distillation, vacuum it off in vacuum distillation or push it out using reverse osmosis. When you use freeze distillation you can still call it beer for some reason. When beer is distilled with heat, the spirit that is produced tastes like cat sick-themed aftershave. Further processing (carbon filtration, cask aging etc) and further distillation can reduce the feline vomit flavour. The reason whisky is aged in a cask is to make it less offensive. I assume beer is aged in whisky casks for similar reasons (joking). I should point out that the reason I know what distilled beer tastes like is that I made some on the still at university under the supervision of a serious-looking bloke with a white coat and nasal hair and not because I know Special Derek.

If I was going to make this, (which I haven’t and won’t), I would make the wort as strong and unfermentable as possible by carrying out a double mash at high temperatures and under pitching and under oxygenating the wort. The resulting alcoholic syrup would taste like bitter caramel sauce for ice cream and make a good fictitious base for the harsness of the fictitious new make spirit from Derek’s fictitious still.

Maybe one day the lovely Fergus from Adnams will let me borrow his still so I can actually produce this beer in a non fictitious fashion?

Fictitious Tech Spec

Malt: Pale and crystal (75/25)

Hops: Fuggles, WGV

Yeast: Old English Ale

OG: 1111

ABV 47%

Monday 23 August 2010

Beer Quality Decision Tree

I found this guide on another beer blog at the weekend and was very impressed. This handy tool enables you to fully evaluate a beer without the tiresome chore of developing a palate or understanding of the beauty of the brewing process.

Click to enlarge.

Orval Part Trois

If you have missed the first two parts of this gripping saga please click here and here

We now move on to the aspects of production which make Orval unique. Orval is a hoppy beer. The hops jump out of the glass. All this fragrance comes from the dry hops. The dry hops are partially submerged in the beer at 15C for two weeks in the horizontal CTs. While we were there, two pallet-sized trolleys of soaking hop sacks drained aromatic hop juice across the tiled floor. Had Jean-Marie left us alone we would have been drinking the stuff like hounds at a kill. I questioned Jean-Marie on the microbiological impact of putting something straight out of a field into a tank of beer. He said that he had been adding fresh hops to beer for 30 years and never had micro issues. I’m still surprised. I can’t think of another commercial brand which is dry hopped and unfiltered.  

After the conditioning tanks the yeast is removed from the beer in a centrifuge. En route to bottling Orval yeast, Brettanomyces and priming sugar are added in line. All three are precisely metered into the beer to achieve 9g/litre CO2 in the bottle. By UK standards this is a very high level of carbonation. I was very surprised to learn that Orval is not filtered at any stage. It says something for the design and operation of the Orval brewery that beer can go from lauter tun to bottle with no sterile filtration or pasteurisation without the occasional infection. It may also be down the hurdles to infection presented by the design of the beer. I asked Jean-Marie if he had a spec for haze, he shook his head and replied “is not possible”. Lovers of Orval accept that it is never crystal clear. I again feel myself getting very jealous of Jean-Marie.

The Orval bottling line was as exciting as any bottling line can be. The distinctive skittle-shaped bottle apparently has a similar tendency to fall over and cause issues. I would argue that this is a small price to pay for such a timeless icon of beer and brewing. They have forgotten when the single paper label was last redesigned. I assume the Orval marketing budget is slightly smaller than the average UK brewer. It is in the bottle that the magic of the Brettanomyces occurs. Jean Marie describes the action of the Brettanomyces as very slow. The vast majority of bottle fermentation is carried out by the Orval yeast with the Brettanomyces contributing its characteristic aroma. Jean-Marie prefers his Orval young where the role played by the Brettanomyces is less pronounced. I tend to agree. To me the Brettanomyces slowly eats away at the hop flavour and fresh appeal of the beer with time. This is not a popular view amongst beer fashionistas. The night before I was presented with a shot glass of the sediment from a 2 year old bottle of Orval in Brussels when I ordered an old and young bottle to make a comparison. I can’t say the shot glass of microbial sludge thrilled my taste buds at all, but then the theatre of service is always lost on me. Even more contoversially Jean-Marie said that he felt Orval would not improve beyond three- four years. Yeast autolysis and “madeiraisation” of the beer renders the beer to him unappealing. What does he know? He’s just the bloke what makes it. I suppose it’s up to you how you drink your Orval. You can drink it fresh as a daisy, after 12 years in the cellar or as a shandy, warm out of a colostomy bag, no one is wrong.

While at the monastery we drank it out of the keg.

Even more to follow!

Friday 20 August 2010

30. Jasmine and Lapsang Blonde

Summer in Cornwall is in full swing. The roads are like car parks, the queue for our Shop starts in Weston-Super-Mare and the rain is streaming down the brewery windows.

My love for Lapsang has lasted nearly two decades. I have 3 litres of the stuff every day. There is a big pot on my desk right now. Lapsang is like ‘normal’ black tea but the leaves are dried in pine smoke. The result is a rich, sweet, smoky tea which is hugely superior to all other soft drinks. I think the reason I enjoy so much is that it takes me back to the fun I had setting fire to various things as a child arsonist. I have only used lapsang once before in a really horrible experimental Christmas brew I did back in 2003 where it gave a kind of tarry note. I hope for more success this time.

Jasmine tea is black tea which has been mixed with jasmine flowers until it absorbs the essential oil of the jasmine. I need to borrow these essential oils back off of the tea to give the beer the sweet floral notes typical of the flowers. Interestingly enough the essential oils of Jasmine share a couple of compounds with those of hops (indole and linalool). I am adding both teas in the cask before bottling to ensure I don’t get tea-derived astringency.

As I write this I am starting to doubt the reasoning behind combining the smell of smoke and fresh flowers in a beer. Who wants a beer which reminds them of a cremation? I will however, persevere in the name of experimentation and brewing-boundary pushing. Not as clever as buying lots of American hops and putting them in a tank of beer but still worthwhile.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale (Pearl), Golden Naked Oats

Hops: Amarillo, Galena

Yeast: Sharp’s

Spices: Lapsang Souchong and Jasmine teas

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Thursday 19 August 2010

New Seasonal - Rood Herfst

Autumn is my favourite season. The madness of summer brewing can be recovered from, the temperature drops so I can stop worrying about my beer sweating in unchilled cellars, this year’s harvest of malt and hops are ready for evaluation and the beaches and roads around the brewery are once again all mine. In the brewery, Autumn started last Tuesday when Kelvin mashed Autumn Red.

It’s the second year that we have brewed Autumn Red, it proved very popular last year. I have no doubt that someone in America has got a full description of exactly what a red ale should be and that he lives with his mum and worries local parents when he sits in the park. Autumn Red is a red ale because it is red in colour and is an Ale. Please don’t judge it according to any preconceptions.

Autumn Red is the love child of one Zak Avery and I and was conceived this time last year. This year’s recipe stays true to the principles of last year’s with a few minor changes made to maintain flavour integrity. She is hopped with Northern Brewer, Bobek and Galena. Malt colour and flavour comes from golden naked oats, roasted barley, rye crystal and aromatic malt.

After a warm open fermentation the beer is then matured in tank with toasted oak chips before cask racking. The oak chips come from Crocadon sawmill in St Mellion courtesy of the Eden Project Green Team. Autumn Red will be hitting the pumps from the start of September.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

St Enodoc @ The Viper

My gastrointestinal issues have subsided so food and sleep have become my friends again, the toilet will have cope without our hourly catch ups. A quick post to say that a couple of one-off beers have just left Ch√Ęteau Sharp’s en route to Essex for the beer festival at The Viper, The Common, Ingatestone CM4 0PT. This is not be confused with The Viper the Dutch DJ, whose finest work must be Project Hardcore (2003). Despite my pleas he has flatly refused to sell my beer.

The two beers are different and unusual and will certainly be unique at the beer festival. St Enodoc Blonde is a blend with a 6 month old strong golden with a fresh prototype dry ale with ginger. St Enodoc Amber is a blend of “XV” a commemorative brew from November last year which failed to reach the intended 15% ABV and a 3 year old honey ale. These beers are idiosyncratic, challenging and 6% ABV. If only CAMRA beer festivals would ask me for beers like these......

Sunday 15 August 2010

29. Umami Bomb

Please feel sorry for me today. I have what is medically termed as the screaming ab dabs. I'm sure you don't want to know the details but suffice it say there are teeth marks in the toilet roll holder this morning which weren't there last night.

I heard someone saying that they had ordered some umami on line. I have also read that chefs are adding umami to food to make it more appealing. That’s like saying that earache is down to 50p per kilo in Tesco or cold is now available in four packs. Umami is a sensation on the palate. It is associated with the effects of the amino acid glutamine (glutamate) or ribonucleotides such as inosinate and guanylate on receptors on the tongue. Umami isn’t a flavour as it doesn’t have an aroma. Umami is a Japanese word meaning savoury and pleasant. Savouriness and beer seem a bit incongruous. Beer is a bittersweet drink so to add a savoury taste to it could lead to it being what is technically referred to a bit crap.

We shall see.

Tech Spec:

Malt: pale ale, crystal roasted and roasted wheat

Hops: Galena and Magnum

Yeast: Old English

Spices: Shitake mushrooms, unsalted soy and Glutamic acid

Wednesday 11 August 2010

D.W. update

Rather later than originally billed DW will be born this week. The grist is simply Pale Ale malt and glucose. Kettle hops will be Northern Brewer and Perle with Brewer’s Gold and Willamette in the hop back. The beer will fermented with Sharp’s yeast from an OG of 1085 before being conditioned on dry Amarillo for a few weeks. The target ABV will be 9.5%.

I am hoping that it will be available bottle conditioned at the start of October.

Monday 9 August 2010

Me and My Celebrity Pals

Anyone in the design industry will no doubt appreciate the groundbreaking techniques used in the picture above.

I was in pub the other month and someone asked me who my favourite celebrity chef was. That kind of question is socially legitimate today but would have indicated insanity 10 years ago. In a similar way, ten years ago chefs would not have conceived of inviting the local brewer along to a food festival to talk about beer and food matching. I am very fortunate to have two fantastic “celebrity” chefs cooking sublime food within walking distance of my brewhouse (and a few others within a taxi ride). I am also very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to perforate their eardrums about beer and food.

The two celebrity chefs to whom I have just referred are the above-pictured Nathan Outlaw and Rick Stein. I am doing a beer and food evening with Rick in Falmouth on 25th September and with Nathan down the road in Rock on 5th October. My approach to events like this is to let the flavours do the talking and show enthusiasm while letting diners discover the beauty of beer and food for themselves. We all know that well-matched beers enhance the dining experience as well if not better than wine. Some people are closed-minded and will never accept anything other than wine and food. If you spend your time verbally bludgeoning this lot into accepting the concept, you risk alienating those willing to embrace it.

I do think the beer world should try to get away from the “try something new and different” beer and food approach and just talk about compatible flavours. As soon as you emphasise beer and food being unusual partners you enter into a short term gimmick.

Also for every step forward beer takes with a well thought out beer and gastronomy event, it takes 10 back when someone recommends serving a pint of commodity pilsner or session bitter with food in a misguided attempt to sell more beer.

What do you think?

Friday 6 August 2010

27 and 28 Peppermint Imperial Stout and Snakebite and Black

In the words of Mc Alee and Evil Activities

"So, Y'all called it played out huh
It's gone it's over
Well, guess what
It's not it’s still here
And bigger than ever

You underestimated the hardest creation in music history
Look at it now, look at you now, stressed up cause your kids got fed up, messing their head up
You know who they went to see? 160BPM, the DJ the MC."

52 Brews is back and it’s bigger than ever. Well it’s about the same size that it always was but at least it’s back. Current time pressures, namely record 7500 firkin record breaking sales weeks and new plant to bed in, have meant a slight shift in the order. So this week I have empirically brewed Peppermint Imperial Stout with mint from my own garden along with imperial malt, imperial hops and imperial yeast. It should taste imperious. To pick up the slack from black July I have also brewed Snakebite and Black with some Cornish Orchards apple juice, pale ale malt, Amarillo hops and crushed blackcurrants. Sorry about the brevity of this post but time waits for no man.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Flavour Compound of a Week - Humulene

This week we enter the shady world of drugs. Drugs are bad mm-kay. When I was a kid drugs weren’t too much of a problem although mum used to warn me about going round dozy Taylor’s house coz he was a druggie. Drugs didn’t really become en vogue round my way until I was in my teens. The most damaging drug then and now is alcohol. She didn’t warn me about the effects of drinking one of fat Terry’s cans of Special Brews. Maybe that’s why I like strong beer today. Damn you mother (not really mum) and damn you fat Terry!

Fat Terry is probably dead by now. We used to watch him stumbling along to the offie and stumbling back home with slightly more spring in his step with a carrier full of cans as we played on our BMXs in the park at 10 in the morning. But then again so is dozy Taylor. The damaged, weak, reckless and stupid will always find a way to destroy themselves. Laws, taxes and adverts will never change that.

So why are drugs this week’s hot topic (HOT TOPIC!!)? This week’s flavour compound is humulene. Humulene or systemically 2,6,6,9-tetramethyl-1,4-8-cycloundecatriene is monocyclic sesquiterpene which is the characteristic aroma of hops and of Cannabis (Pot, Weed, Draw, Grass, Ganja, Skunk, Hash, Bhang, Reefe, Herb, Boom, Blubbers and Bud). Humulene (or in beer the hydrolysis product of its oxidation product) is the only element of the essential oil of hops which is actually described as hoppy and tends to be at proportionally high levels in the essential oils of noble hops. You can now feel less guilty about describing a beer as “hoppy” as long as it smells of humulene that is.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Orval Part Deux

The Picture above is Francois De Harenne Orval’s Commercial Director and very nice man in the new brewhouse taken by someone else (thanks mate!)

After complimenting me on my superbly composed French e-mails and me owning up to them having been translated, Jean-Marie impishly asked what it was that I wanted to do. I suggested that a brewery tour might be a nice idea. Jean Marie reminded me of my granddads, he had the quickness of wit and slight stature of my mum’s father and the calm pragmatism of from my dad’s side.

Warning: bewildering technical details are about to be bounded around willy-nilly.
I expected the Orval brewery to be a professional one but the last thing I expected to see was a wet mill and a GEA centrifugal wort separator. Everything in the plant room below the brewhouse shone with modern efficiency and €signs. You could see that location of everything had been planned down to the millimetre. Panels of green LEDs and process mimics seemed to be at every step along out path up to the brewhouse. The newest brewhouse (third since the Abbey has been brewing) was installed at the same time as mine. You could have paid for my brewhouse with the money it must have cost to kit out that plant room. Jean-Marie told us how they used to use 100% iso extract to add bitterness in the kettle but now needed to add some pellets to give something for the trub to cling to when running through the centrifuge.

I wouldn’t normally divulge technical info on other brewer’s beers but I think with Orval it’s different. You can try to brew your own but it will never be Orval.

The brewhouse had the feel of an otherworldly office to it. It was dimly lit and the ceiling was peppered with tiny LEDs to resemble the night sky, modern illuminated stained glass covered back wall. There was no evidence that beer was made there other than the copper clad vessel tops. If god had wandered through and peered into the glass mandoors I wouldn’t have been surprised. The old copper brewhouse stood cheek by jowl with the new equipment. The 1950s copperwork was much prettier than that from this century which looked a bit false as it sat over the stainless vessels. They were a bit like a mock Tudor house, nice but fundamentally inauthentic. What was beautiful was the engineering involved and the precision with which it could make wort. This equipment would love to make 90 tonnes of an anonymous pilsner per day but in the hands of Jean-Marie it is making a 50,000 bottles of a world classic. The whole brewery was controlled from Jean Marie’s desktop. PGs, pHs, IBU, temperatures, times flow rates, you name it, it was monitored and adjusted automatically in line.

Pale ale malt came from the UK and France and special malt from Belgium, I’m not sure where the sucrose and Iso came from. Orval owes a lot to sucrose. Without it the intense dryness which makes it so easy to drink and so difficult to stop drinking would be diminished. Also I suspect that there is a risk that the Brettanomyces would be over fed in the bottle with plenty of residuals in place.

Orval is the first brewery that I have ever heard of which only uses its yeast once. I felt a bit sorry for the Orval yeast. It’s grown up from a slope in the lab until big, strong and bold, ferments one batch of Orval and then it’s Au revior. Most brewers give the yeast a month or so before ditching it. Orval yeast gets a 5 day blaze of glory before the green mile to the pig farm. Jean-Marie delighted in my surprise at his yeast regime, proudly proclaiming that Orval is fermented with generation zero! He greeted the comment that it is widely written that Orval yeast is a complex 5-strain blend with amusement and a little frustration. As I learned more details of how things happen at Orval much of what I had read about the place was proven to be inaccurate or just plain bollocks. He must get tired of people correcting him on his own methods.

After fermentation the beer is then whisked away through the centrifugal separator into the conditioning tank where it meets a real hop for the first time. The Strisselspalt hops were stored in fresh packs in a surgically clean fridge. East Kent and Styrian Goldings may or may not have been used in the past. I didn’t want to keep arguing with Jean-Marie about how he makes beer. They are then put into specially-made sacks before a big Belgian with a moustache kicks ten bails of merd out of them ready for the CT.

Bored yet? Another instalment will follow whether you like it or not.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Ade Redgrove CBOB

Ade Redgrove has just won CBOB! Ade is the nicest bloke in the universe. Above is a pic of him in the tun room I took when we used to work together at Braskpear. Harvest Pale is splendid beer and Castle Rock should now have no problem filling their new brewhouse up to capacity.

I would only be marginally more pleased if I had won it myself.

Well done Ade!

Monday 2 August 2010

Oz and Hugh - Thoroughly Nice Blokes

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a farmhouse garden sampling some of the blog beers with Oz Clarke and Hugh Dennis in front of a filmcrew and by the end of filming, about half of Falmouth. For me the shoot didn’t start all that well as it started to look like I had been invited on to talk about my love for the Cornish pasty. My knowledge of the pasty is flimsy at best and I seldom eat them through choice. I hope they cut the pasty bit or at least my comments on this sacred dish because I fear my house will get torched by the Kernow Liberation Front if they don't.

I was very happy with how the beer tasting went. Oz seemed to genuinely rate the beers and Hugh, a self-confessed beersoceptic seemed to appreciate them in concept at least. Hugh did go on to say that he preferred Chalky’s Bark and Doom to any of the blog creations. Oz seemed to be enjoying the Jellyfish Red until he heard that it was made from jellyfish.

Aside from the drizzle, the whole process was an enjoyable and interesting one. I am not sure how I came across on tele but I got through without swearing or fighting so that’s always a good start. I hope they dub over my sniggering in the background as Oz repeatedly used the word cock. The programme with or without sniggering will air early next year.

Finally, to those of you going to the GBBF. Please have a pint for me and congratulate Thornbridge or St Austell on getting the CBOB on my behalf.