Thursday, 30 December 2010

Chimay Blue. Enough said.

Decaf tea and my piggy PJs. Exactly whats required after a lovely evening at the Blake with my housemate, Grant. And our dog, Jack. Who had wind due to excessive egg consumption (thus reducing the loveliness).

Fortunately, The Blake, which is now our 'local' is a wonderful pub with a brilliant atmosphere and a fairly decent selection of real ales. First I had a beautiful pale, hoppy ale from the Pictish Brewing Co. - it's not on their website and can't remember the name, sorry :0(

But then....

I saw Chimay Blue. Calling to me from the chiller.

I love this beer. I'm a real ale drinker, strong to my British roots through and through. But this is the most fantastic Christmas-New-Year-Limbo drink that is possible. OK, at 9%, it is a good one to get you in a celebratory mood, but the intense flavour combination cannot be dismissed, and it deserves full attention and appreciation.

Here goes...

Beer:Chimay Blue, Trappist beer (330ml)
Colour: Black
Food Pairing: This is too complex to be paired with food - it is a sublime beer to indulge in and marvel at.

This exquisite beer has a full bodied, creamy mouth feel which instantly fills it's consumer with a feeling of comforting satiety. A beer which seems to teeter on the very verge of darkness, fills your senses with a plethora of diverse and powerful flavours.

The nose of this beautifully crafted beer is of pineapples and bananas - a strong, tropical combination which draws you instantly away from the blackness of the beer. There is also a hint of a floral note to watch out for beneath these strong and overriding esters.

The taste of Chimay blue is rich and full, of raisins and dark fruits, quickly followed by a caramel biscuit flavour. These more malty characteristics develop through the fruits, and gradually mellow through to a fading bitter finish.

The high ABV not only ensures a thoroughly pleasurable evening, but also leaves a very mild warming sensation at the back of the drinkers throat. Perfect on a chilly evening.

In fact, just perfect.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The sound of beer

'You brew with your ears, not your eyes'.

That was one of my first, and most important lessons from Iain.

All of our brewery vessels, and the connecting pipework, are made of stainless steel. Quite clearly you can't see through this. Unless you're Superman... Everything is moved between the vessels through this network of pipes which are linked and separated by valves. We use a series of stationary and a mobile pumps to do this, so you've got to remember which valves to open and which pump to use.

Effectively, we brew blind and listen for key sounds.

When you first walk into the brewhouse, its noisy. There's the sound of several pumps, the copper burner, cask washer, hammering. Oh and the radio. The sounds which the brewers should be listening for are those which signal the end of a job - like transferring a volume of liquid, but also those of things which aren't quite right, like loose pipe joints or the sound of air being pulled into a pump.

When I started, I couldn't distinguish certain sounds, but I very soon grew used to it. When you give up looking or trying to work it out, the more you can hear - It's best just to give in, even if it feels unnatural.

Anyway, just thought I'd let you know. Carry on.

Also, just watched Pearl Harbour which is a rubbish film. Fact.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Owd Rodger - A Sickly Sweet 'Marmite' Treat

It's December, Christmas, and very very cold (as clearly demonstrated in previous post!).

I wanted a lovely winter beer to warm me up and keep me calm whilst packing for the Christmas week away. I popped into Rhythm and Booze which is really good not only for its brilliant range of wines, but also a fairly decent range of bottled beers. I saw they'd got a good selection of seasonal ales and a wide range of local ones so chose a few for my evening - I instantly picked out Marston's 'Owd Rodger' which I completely adore and hadn't had for ages.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it's a perfectly indulgent winter treat, although it is very sickly sweet so a bit of a marmite job I'm afraid. You've been warned!

Here's my review, but have a try and let me know what you think.

Owd Rodger, Marstons Brewery
ABV: 7.6%, Bottled only
Colour: Dark brown-black
Food pairing: Simple. Just don't. You might be ill.

I poured it into a glass and unfortunately it has rather a lot of fizz which quickly disappears to leave no head at all. It's quite a thin feeling ale which doesn't really have a particularly robust texture, but this may be a good thing as you shall discover. The colour is virtually black, but a good clear beer despite this.

The aroma is strong and sweet, quite like a good fruit cake stuffed full of raisins and mixed spice. It's also got a good dollop of nuttiness to it.

On an initial taste, this has a light carbony tingle on the tip of the tongue and has quite a loose mouth feel. The flavour notes then power though - a plentiful helping of liquorice, caramel and burnt toffee flavours from which I'm presuming is a good selection of roasted barley, crystal, and darker malts. With all these rather sickly sweet flavours having a little party in my mouth, I think it was probably a good choice not to give this brew a thick treacly texture too!

After this little cake-like episode on the palette, I think a little bitterness would be a good idea to cut through the sweetness, however it does lack this last punch. It's a shame really, but at 7.6% you can feel a light warming sensation at the back of your throat which is quite pleasant.

After the whole bottle I was very full and my mouth was almost tingling from all the sweetness. I don't think I could have managed another, and if it was my beer I'd tweak it a wee bit, but I did enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

Last weekend, some friends and I indulged in a few pints at The Museum - no, not an actual museum. We got chatting about the weather which is usually quite dull and a sign of desperation in stagnant conversation, but with the forecast for Baltic weather, bring with it certain doom, it was actually a valid talking point.

"So does all this cold weather stop you making our beer then?"
"Well the burner for the copper doesn't really start when it's so cold, but we're getting round it by pre-heating it with hot water. Seems to be working. Other than that, and us freezing our proverbials off, it's OK."

Oh, how wrong could I be.

  • I broke the most important hydrometer - about £55 to replace and essential to work out when to cool the beer.
  • The Internet wouldn't work.

  • -5°C outside.
  • The pipes from one cooling unit to a fermenters and the cold liquor (water) tank froze. This killed the cooling unit. Or did the cooling unit die first? Either way, the beer was not going to be cooled.
  • The compressor which works the cask washer also died. We couldn't clean any casks so couldn't fill a big order.
  • The roller shutter door on the warehouse was frozen shut so we couldn't get the casks for the aforementioned order anyway.
  • The van battery was flat. After a few hours and a new battery what beer we had in stock was sent out, late.
  • The brewers were very very cold and not very happy.
  • Probably about -3°C
  • The cooling unit is possibly working a bit better after shoving a load of glycol in it (this shouldn't freeze), as the fermenter temperature seemed to be dropping albeit slowly.
  • I transferred the beer from the a-bit-colder fermenter into the conditioning tanks, but a pipe was frozen, causing more havoc.
  • We bought a new compressor yesterday and got the cask washer going, but over night the new one froze. Hired a massive, loud, indestructible one to do the job and put it in the conditioning room which was warmer.
  • Matt had to work in this room and was not a happy bunny.
  • We couldn't really clean the casks properly as labels and dirt were frozen to the outside, and beer was frozen inside.
  • Ed got a nose bleed.
I regret saying it was OK. It is most definitely not OK.

It can only get better right?

I'm off for a well deserved beer.

Or three.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

One of Lifes Little Ironies

I am a brewer
I have hayfever
I am allergic to hops
The irony

I shall reflect on this in a positive light, channeling my energy into an informative post about hops.

Beer is made from four natural ingredients; water, barley, hops and yeast. Hops plants grow as winding bines, creeping up a vertical string runner up to 8 meters high. The important part for brewers is the hop cone, which is the complex female flower part of the plant, packed full of oils and resin.

Hops were originally included in beer alongside a number of other natural bittering herbs and spices, but when it was seen that beer made with these hops was less prone to spoilage, they became more commonly used. To find out more about preservative characteristics and a weenie bit more interesting history, have a snoop at my IPA post: History and Science But Not Much General Knowledge.

Brewers use hops in up to three different stages when making tradition British ales. This is so we can get the most from these lovely green cones and give the beer a number of different characteristics.

1: Bittering hops - early copper addition. This stage releases all the α-acids which give bitterness to the beer and have a preservative property. We boil the wort with hops in the copper for just over an hour to caramelise sugars, extract the α-acids, and reduce down the liquid. It's important to work out how bitter you'd like your brew to be, and calculate what weight of which hops to use to achieve this. The hops used in the boil are usually high-alpha hops to achieve this efficiently.

2: Aroma hops - late copper addition. This is a bit ronseal. Hops are also heavily laced with gorgeous smelling oils - between 0.5% and 3% to be precise. If you've got a beer in your hand now, give it a swish in the glass... now stick your nose in the top, inhale, and soak up the lovely smells. There are so many hops with different oils, we can achieve thousands of combinations to balance our other beer characteristics. To leech the most out of the aroma hops, we add them after the boil has finished and just mix them through the wort - boiling would destroy the delicate chemicals and add more bitterness to the beer.

3: Dry-hopping - hopping the cask. Some of the hop oils are so volatile that they're lost even during late addition to the copper (the wort will still be above 70°C) so hops can be added to the cask of beer at about 10°C. On a practical note, a pain in the neck to do it and to clean out the cask when it comes back!

Pale Rider is Kelham Island's flagship beer. It's a light, sweet, straw coloured ale which is brewed using North American 'Willamette' hops to give punchy floral and citrus flavours, and well balanced with a subtle bitterness. Our Best Bitter uses English Fuggles and Goldings which are more earthy in aroma, matching a darker beer much better, and contributing more to the bitterness.

So hops are wonderful, except for irritating your brewer while she hand-crafts your next pint through sniffles and blurry vision.

I suffer for my profession, but then the product is rather rewarding.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Monster Mash

He did the mash
He did the monster mash
He did the mash...

Well actually a brewer does the 'mash' most days. The degree to which it's a monster depends on many a thing.

Mashing in is the first stage in the brewing process. It's where we blend the ready mixed malted barley and other grains (now called grist) and hot water (we call it liquor) to make a porridgey mixture. This steamy 'mash' is a sweet, satisfying smell close to heaven, particularly on a snowy -6 °C day in Sheffield. When we mash the grist with hot liquor, it has to be at the correct temperature for all the sugars to be released from the grain. This is the basic food for yeast, alcohol being the product of the sugar fermentation. Soaking the grains in hot liquor also releases proteins which make a lot of the beer flavour. After the mash has stood for a little while, we start to run off the liquor with everything dissolved in it - this is called wort, which is turned into our lovely beer.

For the geeks amongst you, the temperature must be 62 - 65°C to activate the right amylase enzyme. This enzyme breaks down the starch stored in the malted barley into fermentable sugar substrates for the yeast. Ideally we need lots of the disaccharide maltose which is produced from the amylase enzymes breaking down amylose. This maltose is fermented by yeast to produce Carbon dioxide and ethanol:

Maltose + Nitrogen (amino acids) + O2 + vitamins and inorganic mols → New yeast cells + ethanol + CO2

So that's the process and science, now for the monster.

Mashing in is done by eye - its where the art and experience come into it. It's important to 'mash in' at the right consistency so that we can get the best possible extract. The rate of hydration (liquor addition) is controlled by a valve which is adjusted by hand. This is important, as a brewer must keep the correct and uniformed consistency when the grist is released from the hopper into the mash tun. Unfortunately, when mashing in during the cold weather all you can see is lots of hot steam and no mash which only leads to what feels like burning your face off, and sneezing like mad. This is an unpleasant, awkward and mildly monsterish characteristic. As my head brewer always says, you've got to use your spider senses and trust your intuition to get it right.

The real monster is the mash tun. This is the big tub which we pour the mash into and leave it to stand, and in a micro brewery we have to dig it out by hand. For a 20 barrel brew (36 gallons per barrel, therefore 720 gallons) it's about 400kg of dry malt, so the weight of spent grains is much more. These spent grains have to be shovelled out of a little door, so a 30 barrel brew length, which is the biggest batch we brew at Kelham, is a bit of a monster to dig.

And it's blinkin' hot. That's another monstery characteristic.

So what happens to the spent grains? It's an awful lot of malt which we can't use again, so a farmer comes to pick it up in big tubs and his cows enjoy it for their dinner. Lovely.

The mash is a bit of monster, but I love it really and without it, there would be no beer.

Friday, 3 December 2010

History and Science But Not Much General Knowledge

IPA. It's a mystery to many people, including a fair few beer drinkers.

Why? It might be the fact that IPA is an abbreviation so if you don't know what it stands for, you've probably not got much to go on. Or maybe you know it stands for India Pale Ale, but other than mentioning it's a Pale Ale, you don't really know what India has to do with it.

Well, a little history goes a long way when it comes to demystifying the wonders of India Pale Ale.

Since before the turn of the 19th century, the Great British Empire had a problem. A problem in that the British naval men travelling to India, and the colonialists in the country, were parched and longing for the taste of a sweet, thirst quenching English ale. In these years of the British Empire, travelling to India was no easy task. An arduous journey at sea took between three and five months in challenging and varying climates. A journey which, needless to say, was not exactly an optimum environment for traditional English ale.

Beer was a common drink in England, being popular for not only the taste, but it was also safer to drink than many pure water sources. The water in India was less than pleasant, and full of contaminants, however the heat was too great to brew home-style beer. Taking beer on board resulted in a flat, soured, and generally unpleasant beer. A solution was needed.

George Hodgson had this very solution.

In the mid 1700's, Londoners had started to drink a new style of ale - a paler ale of reddish and copper hues. These were the first ales made using pale maltsbeing quite different to the usual stouts, porters and brown ales. To try and create a beer which would last several months at sea for both consumption and trade, Hodgson experiemented with pale ale, applying his knowledge of beer chemistry.

Beer became undrinkable on this voyage due to a number of factors, one of the main culprits was bacteria which bred in the warm environment. Hops contain a natural chemical called isohumulone which is an antibiotic - this was the original reason for use in brewing. Alcohol also has a similar, but stronger, antimicrobial property. Hodgson increased both of these ingredients in the new pale ale in an attempt to preserve the ale for the voyage. He also primed (added sugar to) his casks to allow a little more fermentation, and added dry hops for yet more preservatation.

The resultant beer matured and condition over the journey, incredibly reaching India in a drinkable state. This new 'India Pale Ale' was a high alcohol, highly hopped bitter which travelled well over sea. The soldiers and sailors were happy, and colonists were able to trade the ale for an income. After a while there was a demand for this new style of beer in England, leading a revolution in beer styles.

And that's how IPA came about.

So an original IPA from the 1830's was a hoppy, bitter, high ABV pale ale. Now, if you look at an IPA you'll see that it's rare to find an IPA which fits this description - usually the ABV is much lower. The style of beer has significantly changed from its original roots due to an evolution over years, the direction of which was influenced by the introduction and increase in alcohol tax. This forced brewers to reduce the ABV and IPA has gradually become a term used more generically to describe a hoppy, bitter, session beer.

One of the most popular and well recognised IPA's today is Greene King IPA which is a hoppy, golden coloured bitter at 3.6% ABV - not an original 1830's IPA, but a good example of a contemporary IPA.

Pete Brown's latest book, 'Hops and Glory', tells the tale of his (rather insane) journey to India with an IPA, sailing the old school route over a grueling few months. Only a real artisan would want to take on this task to truly comprehend not only the travel and development of this beer, but take on the unique life experience of sailing to India. In a brilliant way, I think he's bonkers.

So now you know a little more about IPA - it's roots, form, and evolution over the past few centuries. Enjoy your next IPA, and give a little thought to the years of history and development behind the style. And to Pete Brown and his crazy voyage.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A tasty cake

I said I'd help you create exciting and experimental things with beer, so if you like cake, and beer, then read on.

I was given a bottle of Rohrbachs bottle conditioned beer from work in the hope that I'd stick it in some food and produce something a) tasty and b) saleable. After tasting a little, I decided to take advantage of the gingery tang and carbonation from the conditioning to make an easy peasy cake which traditionally uses milk. I know, I'm not sure what possessed me to do it either but it turned out dead tasty (even though it does have a bit of an odd grey tinge to it!).

It's not vital that you find a beer with a gingery note, although that does help, and a bottle conditioned one isn't essential either. Just make sure you find one which isn't too heavy on the hops or you might get some odd flowery notes which clash with your exotic ingredients, and make sure it's on the sweet rather than bitter side as beers which are already bitter might go really nasty when you cook them! So, I'd recommend selecting a couple and trying them before you stick one in the cake.

Oh and difficulty level is about 2/10, so fairly safe to do after testing your beers, providing you turn the oven off don't burn the house down. Alternatively, in Blue Peter style, find a sober adult to supervise.

Kelham Island beer, ginger, lime and coconut cake

150g butter
170g caster sugar
zest 1 lime
2 eggs
55g crystallised ginger - chopped really small
215g self raising flour
45g dessicated coconut
185ml beer of your choice

180°C for about 50 mins or until a knife comes out clean

  1. Grease a normal 2lb loaf tin, or use one of those brilliant squashy silicone ones
  2. Beat butter, sugar and zest in a bowl with an electric whisk if you've got one
  3. Beat in both eggs, one at a time
  4. Add your beer, just by stirring it in so you don't get rid of all the potential bubbles
  5. Fold in the flour and coconut
  6. Pour into your loaf tin and cook
  7. Enjoy hot with some ice cream or cold
If you make this cake, let me know what you think. In all honesty, we liked it better than the version made with milk because the beer complimented the flavours of ginger and lime, and the texture was all together lighter and more airy. Yummy.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

My first beer review

I'm a newbie when it comes to giving reviews of beer, and I'm a huge fan of matching beer with food so see what you think of this honest but hopefully informative review...

I thought I'd share my opinion on this ale as its a really scrummy warming one for autumn which leaves you satisfied but doesn't sit too heavy.

Goliath, Wychwood brewery (500ml bottle only)

ABV: 4.2%
Colour: Ruby
Food pairing: I recon something gamey or rich like a good piece of lamb, duck, or venison. Alternatively something more standard like a beef stew.

The aroma is predominantly of fairly sweet, light malt tones with no strong hop aroma.

This beer has a satisfying mouth feel; it's full bodied but easy drinking with light carbonation on the tongue. The description claims that this beer is a thirst quencher, leading me to expect a lighter beer, but I think the feel matches taste well.

Autumnal notes power through on tasting, with a hit of dark berry fruit. A light bitterness is paired with this fruit to start, but both flavour notes mellows out to leave gentle undertones of hop bitterness balanced with malt.

The aftertaste is a little dry but not astringent as the bitterness doesn't linger.

The combination of fruits, malt and texture work well, particularly as there is no over powering hop bitterness. This ale is a brilliant autumnal drink which leaves you with a cosy feeling of satiety, however I'm not sure how much of this 'thirst quencher' I could drink on a hot summers day.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Skimming over the subject

So at the most simple scientific level, brewing is when sugars from malted grains, mainly barley, are used by yeast to grow giving alcohol as a tasty byproduct. Yeast also makes lots of other stuff in this process which gives beer many of its distinctive flavours. When we brew beer, the healthy yeast sticks together in Carbon dioxide bubbles on the top to make a thick foamy layer.

Fermentation has to be monitored all the time - we want to measure how much of the sugar is turned to alcohol to give your ABV (alcohol by volume, i.e percent!) and this must be consistent. When enough alcohol has been produced, the brewers have to take off as much of the healthy yeast as possible to stop it fermenting too much further. This process is call skimming and it makes my arms hurt an awful lot.

Skimming the yeast usually takes me anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes depending on how much there is - sometimes it's a layer only 3 inches deep, sometimes its over a foot! No matter how long it takes I'm always covered in the stuff, I think yeast must love me a bit. I think its because I sort of lean in to the fermenting vessel to reach it all, although I'm getting better at it now.

This leads me, in rather a tenuous but I think timely manner, to talk about one of the differences between lager and ale styles of beer. The ingredients and processes of making the two styles are quite different, and whist it's a minor factor this does includes our tiny friend - the yeast.

In a very basic explanation, lager is brewed at cold temperatures, a practise originating from cave and underground fermentation processes back in the day. The strain of yeast which thrives at these temperatues, about 10°C, lives at the bottom of the fermenting vessel (ale is at the top, remember?) and it can break down more sugars than ale yeast strains, turning these to alcohol and leaving the lager with less natural sweetness. Ales are fermented at about 18 - 24°C which is optimum for the yeast which floats on the top and ferments fewer of the sugars extracted from the barley.

For all you uber science geeks out there, ale brewers yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae while lager yeast is Saccharomyces carlsbergenesis. It is a diploid eukaryote that reproduces by budding which you can see on this lovely artifically coloured electron micograph. Every time yeast is skimmed from the beer we save it in sterile buckets in the fridge (yes, just like the Bosch one at home) and re-pitch this into the next brew. This makes sure that we're always using the same strain to give a consistent product. Breweries sometimes swap their yeast strains to experiment or brew similar recipes.

And here endeth the lesson for today. Any questions, please raise your hand/comment on here.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Proud of our Pale

Nottingham city centre had a visit from the Kelham Island team this week, an evening which turned out to be not only enjoyable but fruitful too. Tuesday night was the evening of Castle Rock's annual awards, held in the stunning Canal House pub which is in fact sat over the canal with real life I-kid-you-not canal boat access. Definitely a unique and quite astonishing pub feature which outdoes the odd quirky bar/fireplace/cellar.

Pale Rider is Kelham Island's 'Champion beer of Britain', officially crowned so in 2004, and celebrated through many awards since. This strong (at 5.2%ABV) pale ale is packed full of vibrant flavours, with a strong fruit hop aroma and lingering but well balanced bitterness from North American hops. This beer is a popular choice for a guest ale across the midlands and North of England, and has been featured in beer festivals nation-wide.

Castle Rock awards are voted on by the consumers, not critics, beer writers, publicans, or anyone else in the beer industry. These awards are a true measure of a beer, awarding only the single product and nothing else. We were really chuffed to be awarded first prize for 'Beer of the Year' in Castle Rock pubs for exactly these reasons.

Dave Wickett (right), owner and founder of the 20 year old brewery, proudly stepped up to collect the award from Castle Rock's Managing Director, Chris Holmes (left).

Whilst Iain (head brewer), Stuart (sales giant - quite literally) and I, were heading to Nottingham, we made the most of the day. In an attempt to get our beer in to more Nottingham pubs, we went on a sales drive in our finery. Well, I was in my finery but the less said about other two the better.

We managed to hit five pubs, one of which I would definitely recommend for a visit - the Hand and Heart.This is a lovely pub built in the caves of Nottingham. It has a quaint, antique feel which immediately welcomes you in. One aspect we loved was that you could walk in to the cosy bar area and have a drink just soaking up the atmosphere, or you could venture into the caves for what looks like a delicious meal in an unusual but intimate restaurant. There were three ciders and at least 4 ales on the bar with a range of wines too. All in all, a golden find in Nottingham and well worth a try.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

And in the beginning was the word...

"Brewster is not a real word"
"Yes it is"
"No it's not, you've made that up"
"No, really, it is. When beer became a common drink in England it was originally brewed by women at home and in monastaries by monks. The name for a woman who brewed beer is a brewster."

This was the first conversation I had with my friend when I said I wanted to become a brewster.

I have always loved drinking real ale, trying, comparing, and getting excited about beer in the same way that chefs get excited about food. I studied Molecular Biology at the University of Sheffield and as I progressed through my three year degree I found myself wanting to understand brewing science. The natural process of brewing beer is an interesting and complex science, yet at the same time an art which you cannot learn. I wanted to brew.

So, after deciding that brewing was the perfect way to fuel a passion, use my science, and develop an exciting career, I managed to land a dream job as a brewer at the award winning Kelham Island Brewery.

Just so you know, whilst 'brewster' is the correct term for a female in my profession, I like brewer better because I don't think I'm any better or worse than a chap just becase I'm anatomically different.