Tuesday 30 November 2010

Monsieur Rock Has Left the Building

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

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

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

Thursday 25 November 2010

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

November has spawned a monster

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

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

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

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

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale Ale, glucose

Hops: Mittlefruh, Strisslespalt and Marynka

Yeast: Lord Satan

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Bittersweet Success

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

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

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

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

Friday 19 November 2010

43. Seaweed Wheat Wine

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

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

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

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

Tech Spec:

Malt: Malted wheat, Pale Ale and sucrose

Hops: Magnum, Perle

Spices: Seaweed

OG: 1111

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Massive Ale dans la Poney Debonaire

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

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

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

Monday 15 November 2010

Fish Giblets

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

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

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

1. Correct concentration of yeast

2. Correct concentration of isinglass

3. Correct pH

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

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

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

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

Friday 12 November 2010

42. Wormwood Hallucinogenic Bitter

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

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

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

The question is, is this responsible?

Tech Spec:

Malt: Pale ale malt, 140 crystal

Hops: Challenger

Yeast: Sharps

Spices: Wormwood and Salvina

OG: 1050

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

Wednesday 10 November 2010

New Seasonal - Abbey Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 8 November 2010

Kelly Ryan

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

It must have been cold there in my shadow,

to never have sunlight on your face.

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

You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,

while you were the one with all the strength.

A beautiful face without a name for so long.

A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,

and everything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,

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

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

I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

You're everything I wish I could be.

I could fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?

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

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

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.

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

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

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

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

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,

so high I almost touch the sky.

Thank you, thank you,

thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

Thursday 4 November 2010

41. World's Stupidest Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Advice from a professional brewer

4. Something I have read in a scientific paper

5. Advice from a professional brewer who makes good beer

6. Personal brewing experience

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

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

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