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.