Tuesday 28 September 2010

Seesaw of Fate

In order to plug the gaping chasm in my self pity dam I need some good fortune to balance out the bad.


1. Tanker company failing to show leading to tank lock in the brewery

2. Tank lock exacerbated by a sick pump

3. Transfer pump drawing in air

4. Entirely unexplainable fall in yeast viability

5. Racking operator sick, another on go slow

6. Low yeast count in CT1

7. Sucrose for brew with Jean-Marie held up due to errant bacs payment

8. New season’s Saaz not available for Patersbier

9. My mate Keith (Otter Head Brewer) cancelling a much needed drinkathon next Saturday

10. New 2nd brewer who was due to start next week has gone elsewhere so another holiday cancelled and any chances of a day off before Christmas vanished like a dream

11. Head 4 on the racker still leaking despite telling Captain Chaos to sort twice


1. Very low reading on ATPase machine for sterile filtered water

2. Gift of 4 delicious-looking beers from Doug Odell ahead of his visit to the brewery on Saturday

3. Everything in the brewery tastes very good

Other News

Sadly Kelly Ryan has been deported for being far too attractive and good at brewing. A spokesman for the Immigration Authority said it was the worse case of non-British hair he had seen since Jon Bon Jovi.

Saturday 25 September 2010

DW on the Cusp

Yesterday the flavour Panel met DW it all its finished glory for the first time. They had loved the “green” version from the cask a month ago but felt that the bottle conditioned beer was a step up in class. The beer is sweeter than I had intended but the bitterness from the moderately high hopping rate and the heat of the alcohol ensure that it is balanced and never cloys. It is a very powerful drink even for 9.5% and is both fresh and satisfying. Dave Wickett himself loved the prototype saying “ Just fantastic. Very similar, but better than Deus. A truly great beer”. That’s all the praise I think anyone needs.

I have an anxious wait for the routine micro results and if that is clear, the beer will be available for sale on 4th October.

Friday 24 September 2010

35. Imperial Rauch Tripel

It’s been a busy week. On top of running the brewery on my own, this week I had the added extras of meetings with 3 malt suppliers, a risk review from our new insurer, a journalist visit, a film crew, two job interviews, getting everything ready for Jean-Marie’s visit, looking at some automation for our cask racking operation with Microdat, adjusting operations to take account of 85% more growth than expected, sorting out a microbiological problem for a small local brewer, trying to get common sense from Alfa Laval, a review with the board, getting things ready for America and covering for my Engineer, Captain Chaos who is sunning himself in grease in Greece.

This week I am creating Imperial Rauch Tripel
  • Imperial means relating to an emperor or empire 
  • Rauch is German for smoke
  • Tripel means times three in Flemish, but let’s not worry about that
I am very conscious that I have failed to accord the very important word imperial its necessary respect on my blog of late. This beer is imperial in the truest sense because it is brewed as a tribute to an emperor. Haile Selassie I was the emperor of Ethiopia and the messiah of the Rastafari. The smoke used to rauch the grains is generated in a way which is in accordance with the practices of the Rastafari and hence a befitting the Lion of Judah. The exact herb favoured by the Rastafari will not be used as a police raid would be an unwelcome addition to my current working life. Instead I will burn a close relative, readily available in breweries to make the smoke. Smoking my own malt is worryingly Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall as I have never cold-smoked grains before. Burning hops also feels a bit wrong but I will make sure that I torch an unfashionable variety. No Citra were harmed in the production of this beer.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Cannabinaceae-smoked pale and sucrose syrup

Hops: Hersbrucker, Saaz, Bobek

Yeast: Belgian abbey

Spices: Smoke

OG: 1087

Wednesday 22 September 2010

God Bless the US of A

I have just heard that at the start of November I am destined for the states. To save on beer miles and hence reduce its impact on the environment we are brewing Doom Bar in the US for the US market rather than exporting. This will also ensure that beer is as fresh as possible when it hits the market. I am travelling over to the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to oversee the first brew on 5th November then supervising subsequent brews remotely, very remotely!

Getting to this stage has been a long, involved but interesting process. Extrapolating the recipe and process to the brew kit they have at Lion has been tough and made a lot tougher by the fact that US brewers work in an entirely different set of units which all need to be converted before they make sense. Combine the conversion from American pounds, gallons, Lovibonds, Farenheit, PSI and Plato to tonnes, hectolitres, EBC, centigrade bar and SG with different utilsations and vessel types and you have a thobbing brain.

I am due to taste some prototype batches produced at Lion and then pace up and down anxiously as the first US Doom Bar is born. Lion was selected because they are a proper contract brewer with a quite a few gongs in their cabinet.

Doom Bar is going to be marketed in the US by Eurobevs.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Beer and Seafood with Rick Stein and Yours Humbly

Next Saturday is the first phase in my quest to educate gastronomes in the wonders of dining with beer. I am joining Team Rick Stein at Rick’s seafood bar in Falmouth where diners will enjoy beer and food along with explanation of how the dishes and beer are prepared along with how and why they complement each other. On the menu is

Mussels in Black Bean and Ginger with Chalky’s Bite


Mackerel Recheado with Chalky’s Bark


Lemon Posset with Honey Spice Triple


There are two sittings, one at 7:30 and one at 8:30 and the price is £15 per diner. I think it is largely sold out but there are some tickets still available. For those of you reading the blog who aren’t familiar with my beers, here’s what I have written about them in the past.

Chalky’s Bite 6.8% ABV
Chalky’s Bite was developed by Sharp's Head Brewer, Stuart Howe in association with Rick Stein. Rick wanted a beer that was the perfect partner for sea food. He also wanted it to be made from locally-sourced ingredients and be of the very finest quality.

After several months of development work Chalky’s Bite was born. Chalky’s is brewed from Cornish Maris Otter malt, Saaz and Bobek hops and pure Cornish water. It is then matured at 0oC for 2 months on fresh hops before being spiced with ground wild fennel seeds and bottled with a charge of fresh Belgian yeast. Bottles are then warm and cold conditioned for 2 months before sale. The 6.8% beer is fresh complex and sophisticated, the perfect partner to well cooked seafood.

Rick wanted a beer that would work well with seafood to sell in his restaurant and shops. I worked with Rick and his team to develop the beer. Rick was keen to use wild fennel seeds to underline the link to Cornwall and seafood. I was keen to avoid the gimmick aspect of using a novel, (aside perhaps from its use in a spice blend by Brasserie a Vapeur in Belgium), ingredient such as fennel by keeping its contribution in context with the flavour profile derived from the classic grains, hops and yeast. Fennel seeds are fairly robust in terms of their flavour contribution so the stage of addition and concentration are critical to avoiding the Pastis/Pernod sickliness which can be imparted and still deriving a significant contribution. Some of the early trial batches were so strongly aniseed they were undrinkable!

The nuts and bolts of the beer are as follows;

• The beer enjoys a slow and painstaking 5 month production process (two weeks warm fermentation, two weeks cellar temp, 2 months lagering, 2 months warm and cold bottle conditioning)
• It is brewed with pure Cornish water, floor malted Cornish Maris Otter and malted wheat with whole Hallertau Brewers Gold, Styrian Goldings and Northdown hops
• Fresh whole hops (Styrians) are added during the extensive lagering (cold conditioning) stage to impart vivid hoppy/citrus notes to work like a crisp white wine with seafood
• The beer is fermented three times with two separate strains of yeast; a Cornish yeast in warm and cold fermentation for a good full ester-fruit aroma and a Belgian yeast added to the bottle for a good spicy component in the finish and to yield some more carbonation from the residual sugars
• Wild fennel seeds are added at the end of lagering just before packaging to lock in the sweeter notes of the herb and avoid the intense liquorish/aniseed end of its flavour
• The over sweetness typical of some strong ales is prevented by the full attenuation of malt sugars through the use of a unique ‘dynamic’ fermentation carried out as the beer is circulated between two vessels during its two-week primary fermentation period
• After bottling, the beer enjoyed 6 weeks in the warmth of the Cornish summer followed by a month of cold storage in our cellars

Chalky’s Bite has won the world’s best herb and spice beer in the World Beer Awards for the last 3 years in a row and also won the Quality Drinks Awards.

Chalky’s Bark 4.5% ABV
Rick was so pleased with Bite, its success in competitions and the marketplace that he challenged me to create a sequel of parallel quality. As with Bite the design brief for the beer was a great taste, novel ingredients and to be excellent as a food partner. Rick has always been a fan of ginger beers so we opted for ginger as the novel ingredient. To contrast Bark with Bite we also selected a lower ABV (4.5%). I was keen for Bark to be a beer with ginger rather than a ginger beer. I wanted the malt hops and yeast to make as much of a contribution to the flavour as the spice. I used a hop with a lemony aroma (Brewer’s Gold) to complement the contribution of the ginger. The beer is bottle conditioned with the same yeast as Bite which helps boost the spicy notes in the aroma.

I made over 20 prototypes batches of Bark over 8 months before Rick and I were able to reach a consensus on the definitive brew. The development process has been an enjoyable and enlightening journey for both of us. The British Guild of Beer Writers were treated to a prototype of the beer when they visited in Jan 2009 the beer was judged to be a little over spiced by some. The final recipe features a much smaller proportion of ginger.

Honey Spice Triple 9.5% ABV
Honey Spice Triple is a fusion beer. A blend of UK and Belgian techniques gives a fuller more bitter version of the classic Belgian Triple. British malt and hops are fermented with Belgian sugar by a Belgian Trappist yeast. The beer is made annually in small quantities and generally sells out within a couple of months. There is however always a stock in my cellar! Tasting notes for this year’s vintage are as follows.

Rich honey and fruit notes blend with bubblegum and ripe esters on the nose. HST is a big mouthful of flavour with full barley fruits and assertive citrus hops. The finish is warmly alcoholic and surprisingly dry. This is a dangerously drinkable beer! Excellent for white meats or citrus desserts. 

I can’t emphasise enough how lucky I feel to be asked to do this by Rick. I think it says something about how beer is perceived these days that the best chefs in the UK are organising beer and food nights. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye and a glass to your lips. On that note the sample room is a-calling!

Thursday 16 September 2010

34. Savoury Ale

I was asked what is happening with all the blog brews today. At present because I have less time than is safe to have each day so the blog brews are simply piling up in casks in the cellar at the brewery awaiting bottling or fining. When I get a pair of minutes to rub together I will remedy this situation. My mainstream beers were also called boringly-consistent. That's the highest form of praise you can give to any commercial brewer so bless you, you beautiful person.

So to this week's 52 brews brew. I bet when you read savoury you thought, here we go, Howe’s at it again, what is it this time? Is he going to try to drown a pheasant in a cask of beer or ferment a brew inside a pig on a life support machine? While these are both sensible ideas, the savoury to which savoury in the title savoury ale refers, is the savoury relating to winter and summer savouries Satureja hortensis Satureja montana and not the savoury epitomised by the Ginster’s Badger Tikka SliceTM. Never has the word savoury been used so numerously in a sentence.

Winter and summer savouries are herbs which have a similar aroma to rosemary and thyme. Garfunkel left them out of the popular song because they didn’t scan, the curly haired fool! Herbs can, if used sparingly add a kind of “back tickle” to beer flavour which enhances the notes from the hops and the sweetness of the malt. That’s what I am attempting to achieve on this brew, whether on this scale sparingly is ever an option remains to be seen.

Tech spec:

Malt: Pale Ale, 140 crystal

Hops: Galena, Brewer’s Gold

Yeast: Sharp’s

Spices: Summer and Winter Savoury
OG: 1080

Monday 13 September 2010

Orval Part Cinq

My expectations of Orval were for the most part blown to pieces. Tasting this wild, assertive beer paints in the mind pictures of basic technologies and broad brush brewing techniques. In reality just about everything at Orval was the cutting edge of the cutting edge, most especially the lab. Beers from Belgium’s second biggest brewer were on the floor of the lab awaiting analysis because the brewery in question didn’t have equipment up to the standard of Orval. A UK brewer making the same volume of beer would have a tenth of the equipment.

Jean-Marie was justly proud of his brewery and lab and accepted my overstated jealousy, admiration and offer to take over the Orval reins come his retirement in a couple of years with patience and humility. Humour was never far away during my visit and when Jean-Marie agreed to come over to Cornwall to collaborate on a brew I assumed that he was winding me up. After checking several times more than was sensible, I finally accepted that I was actually going to be doing a collaborative brew with the man in charge at Orval! I reckon if I had checked again he would have thrown me out.

With the summer out of the way Jean-Marie and I are getting down to the finer points of the brew design. My rationale for the visit to Orval was to learn about the beer and the brewery and to come away armed with the knowledge to enable me to make a Patersbier. What has come out of our discussions is a beer which features some unusual combinations and is a long way from where I thought we would be before the visit. I assumed that the beer would be an ale with a red -brown colour and a lot of hop. What we now plan to make is a traditional ale wort, albeit with the addition of a good measure of sucrose, which will be fermented cold by a lager yeast in an ale fermenter. The beer will then be moved to a maturation vessel and after a diacetyl rest, lagered on dry Saaz hops for as long as my patience holds up. The 4.5% ABV beer is then to be bottle conditioned to a high CO2 level. The inclusion of Brettanomyces in bottle is yet to be decided on. Ever heard of a beer like this before?

So a date of the 4th October is set for the royal visit and the brew. The finished beer should be available before Christmas. I will of course update my blog as things develop.

Friday 10 September 2010

33. Stock Aerated Ale

Professor GG Stewart has helped fashion the brewing knowledge and attitudes of an entire generation of qualified brewers. Once said in a lecture he said “oxygen is death for beer”. He may have spent all of his adult life in search of knowledge about yeast and beer and been very successful in the brewing industry but Professor Stewart’s words would soon emphatically refuted by those who dedicate their lives to tasting different beers. Beers which the beer experts at Ratebeer have proclaimed to be the best in the world are made with no oxygen control and in the case of Striuse beers, pronounced oxidised flavours. Barrel-aged beers flavours are substantially derived from the action of oxygen and these are also widely revered amongst these connoisseurs. To Professor Stewart these beers are the undead, murderous brain-eating zombies from beyond the unholy grave.

Mainstream brewing has for centuries striven for clean, fresh, subtle and fruity tastes which appeal to humans on the basis that we have evolved to enjoy them because they offer sound nutritious sustenance. Humans shy away from old, bitter, sour and harsh flavours because they indicate that a substance will be dangerous to consume. Mainstream and for the most part, micro breweries are commercial organisations which need the money from customers to survive. In business it is safer to appeal to Mr Average than to Mr Enthusiast.
There are of course some innovators who have found an untapped market or breweries which have indulgent backers that can survive on the edge but the market for niche brands is by its very nature small and becoming increasingly crowded.

Beer, like love has different meanings to different people. To Professor Stewart it’s a cool crisp glass of high gravity brewed, post fermentation bittered Labbat’s Ice, to Mr B Geek it’s a 20,000IBU Imperial 45centigrade barrel-aged Indian Stout which is sliced rather than poured. Everyone else’s concepts are found somewhere on the continuum between the two. The painful truth is that the distribution of these meanings is log-normal and skewed towards Professor Stewart’s. There are two theories about why Mr Average and everyone he knows enjoy a clean tasting beer. One is a global conspiracy from those who shape the market, brainwashing people and prohibiting their access to extremely flavoursome beers. The other is that people are lazy and prefer simple, easy-to-enjoy things like McDonalds and Cola.

Maybe as we evolve we will desire to challenge our tastebuds rather than appease them and this distribution will shift across in the opposite direction. Or Maybe CAMRA and Ratebeer et al. will rise up in an unrelenting terror campaign against the capitalist fat cats, who for centuries have enslaved humanity’s tastes to their global fizz and free the world of this curse. Until then I will still enjoy both well made commercial and idiosyncratic beers while appreciating the science and art which goes into each. In my opinion beer’s not sick and anyone who claims to want to cure it needs a good going over. Anyone disagree?

This week’s beer is a celebration of the twisted relationship between beer and oxygen. Stock Aerated Ale goes further than just letting oxygen into the beer. With this beer it will be forced in warm through a sintered stone to produce vast dissolved oxygen levels and the kind of premature aging that would put Olay shares at the top of the FTSE and NASDAC. Care of course will be taken to not oxidise all of the alcohol to ethanoic acid. This beer is rotting flesh - walking death – a waking nightmare or an inspired oxygen-aged classic. It depends on where you are on the evolutionary ladder that leads from ape to geek. Sorry Professor Stewart.

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale, peated and crystal rye

Hops: Apollo, Summit and Magnum

Yeast: Sharp’s

Spices: Oxygen


Thursday 9 September 2010

Porthilly Beef and Oyster Pie prepared with and accompanied by Seafood Stout

I have just received a picture from Nathan Outlaw’s people of one of the courses from our beer and food night. When I started messing around with the 52 brews I didn’t expect one to be on a menu created by a Michelin starred chef!

Behold Porthilly Beef and Oyster Pie prepared with and accompanied by Seafood Stout.

The event is about a month away now and I really can’t wait!

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Orval Part Quatre

After nearly an hour of walking and impassioned discourse in a suit to which I am unaccustomed our arrival in the sample room seemed like the end of a pilgrimage. The keg in keg Orval was just like a big metal bottle. All the same fermentation processes occurred just in a keg.

As the beer was poured the room was filled with the smell of Orval. ATJ has Jean-Marie pinned to the wall with a barrage of questions. The KGB’s loss is the beer world’s gain. I was really pleased to have ATJ there at that point because I was struggling to take it all in. I am also informed that I can come across as bit ‘brooding and menacing’ when I am quiet. Adrian was doing a good job of lightening the mood. It became obvious from speaking to Jean-Marie that with the privilege of brewing a world classic comes the responsibility to stay faithful to its identity and also to provide a sympathetic ear to those who love the product even when they veer from the rational, a case of noblesse oblige.

The beer from keg was beautiful, slightly cleaner than the bottled Orval but with all of its refreshing appeal. The first glass was almost breathed in, such was my thirst and longing for it. I made sure the second beer was consumed at a more respectful pace but that did take most of my will power for the day. Orval is apparently one of those beers you either get or you don’t. I have to admit to not having been overly enamoured with the beer when I first tried it. The Trappist beers span a variety of attributes but if you are familiar with Chimay et al. there is an expectation of a full richness. By contrast Orval is uncompromisingly dry and refreshing. This coupled with the care home carpet notes conferred by Brettanomyces and 6 months in a warm beer shop left me wondering if something had gone horribly wrong with my bottle. Taking some time to understand Orval rewards the drinker with a truly unique beer experience, a beer which marries the seemingly conflicting facets of complexity and refreshment more completely than any other. What perhaps people don’t get is that beer has more dimensions than can be created by a 30 year old spirit cask or a trendy hop variety. This is of course just my opinion. My palate is not as sophisticated as some, it often fails to appreciate the complexities and subtleties of beer with a load of strongly-flavoured hops in it.

So why Brettanomyces? Jean-Marie points to a wild yeast infection in the pitching yeast back in the early years of the brewery. The drinkers became accustomed to the wild yeast flavour and when it was discovered and removed the beer was just not the same. The search was then on for the wild strain which conferred the Orval character. The strain was isolated and from thenceforth added to the bottle. Most people assume that all Brettanomyces produce the same flavours and carry out the same metabolic activities but there is as much variation in this yeast as the Saccharomyces that us mortal brewers use. It was therefore vital to find the right contaminating organism to make Orval, Orval again.

More to follow.....

Sunday 5 September 2010

Flavour Compound of Last Week - Butyric Acid

Death Vomit, they gave us some classics. I wonder what happened to them after X Factor?

This week sees an unwelcome return of Flavour Compound of the Week. We are looking through the figurative taste microscope at butyric acid (1-Propanecarboxylic acid). Butyric acid smells of vomit. It is also a component aroma in flatus, parmesan cheese and the French. Butyric acid is one of those flavours that seem to be studied in beer and brewing because it is easy to detect rather than becuase it is common place in beer. There are quite a few compounds which you very seldom get in beer but you encounter in flavour screening. When a brewer leaves university s/he has an armoury of knowledge about flavour compounds and their biosynthetic pathways to help troubleshoot beer. Call me a cynic but I can’t imagine that many will ever have to use their knowledge of the production of butyric acid by bacteria from the species Clostridium in sugar syrups. I have been drinking beer for about 20 years now (most of it legally) and I have never smelt sick on a beer. I have smelt beer on sick a few times but never the other way around.

Anyone out there had a sick flavoured beer recently?

Saturday 4 September 2010

West Country White Tasting

The West Country White (WCW) is 80% of the way through fermentation so it’s prime for the enjoyment of sampling. Unfortunately for my flavour panel, this has coincided with their arrival at the brewery for the Friday tasting. They are going join me in my WCW filth party! The WCW is more of milky beige than white. Very similar to tea that old ladies drink, where full fat milk constitutes 80% of the volume. It is still fairly actively fermenting so the contents of the glass are in a state of flux with an ever-increasing yellowish head. Lumps of coagulated egg white and gram flour move up and down in the column of liquid like plastic snow in a precious thing.

Here we see philippa engrossed in the intriguing aroma emanating from the WCW

The smell is not at all inviting, there is a sour note as well as an uncooked flour aroma (Harry Monk). It’s not very ale-like at all. One of the panellists is already refusing to drink any. “euorfff it smells like off homebrew!” Some of the panel are entertaining the idea that this could be a worthwhile drink but this idea is quickly rejected on first taste. The beer is thick, paste-like and saccharine bitter. The whole palate is wrong. WCW is a soup with no soupiness and a horrible unclean taste, a horribly-flawed beer. “Why would this have ever been made?” one panellist asks. Good question, so much for the good old days! That said, the lead time of only 3 days from mash to mouth is 2 days quicker than that of Stella and her cohorts so maybe AB-Inbred, SHAT-Miller and Hoerenken will have a West Country White in their portfolios before too long? By way of an apology I allowed the panel to sample some DW from the trial cask. They seemed to approve, so much so that this morning the cask is empty.

It is now 12 hours since the flavour panel departed and I am yet to receive any reports of unusual gastrointestinal performance. There’s still time! I have a table booked at the curry house tonight on the basis that if I’m going down, I’m going down in style!