Wednesday 8 February 2012

Venus Gold

Venus: Second planet from the sun; The goddess of beauty and love
Project Venus: Lots of fantabulous lady brewers, or brewsters.

I think it's quite fitting.

Project Venus has been going for about a year or so now, and after watching it grow, I've become one of the Project Venus gals. So what exactly do we do? We all meet up once every few months at one of our breweries and make a one-off, unique, collaborative brew. Simples.

For the Winter beer, Venus Gold, we met at Patsy's place in Standish - Prospect Brewery. It was an incredibly frost morning and after having missed the grand mashing-in and bacon butties, I rocked up in time for a round of teas and the photographer. I think there were about 14 of us girlies there which was quite an astonishing turnout considering there are so few of us, so unfortunately there wasn't quite eough work to keep us all busy. Inevitably, we stood around sharing beer-related gossip and recounting our individual brewing tradgedies whilst supping hot tea until about 11am when Patsy cracked out the beer (essential for photographs, you see?).

After such an inordinate amount of exited brewster chin-wagging, posing for pictures, and removing our one shovel-full of mash each, we needed sustinance. Patsy and John (her lovely hubby) had made some scrummy spiced butternut squash soup, which went down a treat. And of course, once the brew was in, we went for our evening 'debrief' at the pub up the road.

Dinner with the girls (plus the odd honorary husband or two, and a token male engineer) was lovely. It was good to chat more whilst drinking Patsy's wonderful beer, and plan the next few brew days - we're off to Zero Degrees in spring, and coming to me at Welbeck in the summer (hooray!)

So, we've established that the day was brill fun, but what was the result?

We went to the official launch of Venus Gold at the Port Street Beer House in Manchester, where we sampled the very first few pints. This is a 3.8%ABV pale ale, brewed using a variety of hops along an astronomy theme - Galaxy and Stella (and a bit of Cascade for good measure) . It's a gorgeous, super hoppy, citrussy, fresh and zingy pale ale which is incredibly moreish. Good work girlies.

So Patsy has dished out the beer to the various brewsters and I have 2 casks of it which will ONLY be available at the Mallard in Worksop tomorrow night from 7pm. You'll not get it anwhere else close - the brewsters are from all over the UK so the beer has been spread far and wide.

See you there then :0)

Monday 9 January 2012

Sorry for being away so long, I've been drinking coffee...

The Brew Girl is back. I promise this time!

I have missed blogging and have been badgered by many people to start up again, particularly with my oh-so-amusing disaster stories, and uber geek stuff. So here goes, blog 1 of 2012.

I'm going to start today with an easy one, and tell you about my January special at Welbeck Abbey brewery. This month I've brewed a 4.0% English Pale Ale called St. Simon. The recipe is simple using all English ingredients, as I like to do.

Challenger hops and a touch of roasted barley give soft but robust bitterness which mellows, and bucket loads of gorgeous Kentish Goldings hops are used for aroma after the boil which gives a classically British fresh, subtle, yet slightly spiced floral aroma.

Now, I'm very lucky and run a brewery on an estate with more history and stories than you can shake a proverbial stick at, so I am naming all my beers after Welbeck-y stuff. Racehorses were a huge doo for the 6th Duke of Portland in particular, and many of the buildings on the estate were built for the equestrian world; stables, a riding school etc. St. Simon was one of the most famous racehorses that ever there was, and it was owned by the Duke. I will be brewing a years series of special ales based on the racehorses at Welbeck which will lead up to the new exhibition at the Harley Gallery. If you follow Welbeck on Twitter and Facebook you'll learn about them as they pop up but I'll try and blog too.

Also, I was on the telly this Christmas! On ITV's Countrywise Kitchen, (yes, like actual channel 3) doing a spot of brewing. You'll also see some bits of Welbeck. You've got 18 days to watch it before it vanishes from ITV Player.... if you watch this you'll get the coffee bit...

Saturday 16 July 2011

The Beers of Welbeck Abbey far

So far (fingers crossed!) the beers I've sent out have been a success.

'First Brew' which was a really grapefruity, lemony zesty pale at 4.3% went down very well indeed. We've bottled bucket loads of it, although we've added too much priming sugar to it so it's super fizzy like a lager. Although this isn't how bottled beers are meant to be, my lager-drinking consumers are saying it's lovely and they want loads of it. It is a lovely beer, although really very similar to what many microbrewers are producing so I'm reluctant to keep it as a core product - maybe just a special brew every so often.

Henrietta is going down a storm, it's a very easy drinking pale which is well balanced. Good fresh hop aroma with a subtle bitterness, and a decent bit of body. It drinks like it's well over 4%, despite only being 3.6% - a good trick I think. Very pleased with that one, and it'll be a keeper. Not sure about a permanent name though. Henrietta? Henrietta Harley? Something totally different? Thoughts please.

Ernest George (4.2%) is also going really well, it's very different from your usual microbrewery ale. It's a very deep ruby bitter which has plenty of dark crystal, roasted, chocolate and black malts, and Challenger, Bramling Cross and Willamette hops. In my neck of the woods, this is going really really well because it's different. Not sure if the recipe could do with a little work but I probably need to sit and drink a couple of pints in a good pub to decide. Not having a brewery tap is a bit annoying. This one is the brew which got stuck and wouldn't ferment any further. With a little persuasion it got down to 1011 which was OK - meant it was very very lively though and not quite the right ABV. Second batch is now cooling and behaved much better!

Red Feather (3.9%) amber bitter is brewed with loads of crystal malt. I think it's OK, but the style of beer, ABV, and recipe don't seem to be winning me many customers. People are saying it's OK, but I've got loads to sell this week so we'll see what they say after this batch has gone out. Not sure if it's a bit safe and averagey.

Then there's the black beer - attempt one is called Portland black. This one also got stuck but at 1013, and unfortunately is very very stuck. I've tried everything and today repitched it with an extra 2kg of yeast which I'm hoping will make it drop by 3 degrees to 1010. Fingers crossed. Also, it's not black enough. Anywhere near in fact. I'm going to speak to Nigel (Kelham's recipe God) about it tomorrow to get some advice. I want a teeny tiny little play plant which I can practice recipes and do fun stuff on.

Anyway, enough ramblings for now, just thought I'd keep you updated.

Sunday 10 July 2011

To brew or not to brew...

Well it's been a fair while since I blogged (again), you'd think I was trying to set up a new brewery or something....

Things are going really well at Welbeck Abbey Brewery now - we're finally producing some cracking beers and selling quite a lot of it. I update the official blog with current beer info last week so have a snoop at that if you want to know exactly what we're brewing.

I've been trying to work closely with the local CAMRA groups. I'm really lucky because I'm in the middle of Nottingham, Sheffield, Lincoln, Chesterfield and Derby, and to be honest I need all the help I can get.

I'm determined not to follow suit and brew lots of highly hopped, high ABV beers which is often what many micros do - I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I'm trying to brew beers which the consumers in my area want to drink.

I spoke at the last Nottingham CAMRA meeting and was very honest with them all. I explained about what I thought I needed to brew, and thankfully they thought I was at least pointing in the right direction! The grand plan is to brew a 3.6% pale, a very dark 4.2% bitter, and a 4.5% black beer. I wan't sure about the ABV for the pale, or that even a mild/black/porter was right, but after talking to Notts CAMRA I'm now set on my range.

OK, so there's nothing in there of a particularly high ABV, but I can have higher ABV monthly specials. Why? Well, many of my customers drive to the pub so don't necessarily want a high ABV, and often they don't want to spend a fortune on a pint so by keeping ABV down I can keep cost down (grr beer duty!), and at a higher ABV I'll be able to bottle condition a cask of each special knowing that it will keep well.

During my talk I also explained that I am trying very hard to find customers, but don't really know their 'patch' particularly well and would appreciate any help with finding good pubs to supply. I had a great response from this and have had lists of pubs sent to me!

The approach I'm taking is all centered around talking to publicans and CAMRA to make sure I brew exactly what normal people actually want to drink, not what I think they want to drink. I just hope it works...

Monday 27 June 2011

Sticky yeast

My yeast is stuck again. It's fermented about 3/4 of the sugars into alcohol and decided to stop. Most inconsiderate and inconvenient of the little fellas.

I've got a 'to do' list to fix it, many of these tricks will probably apply to the keen home brewer too.

1. Add oxygen (but I don't think it's that - added loads of oxygen after learning from last time)

2. Give it a good ol' rousing. The yeast I'm using forms a lovely yeasty-Carbon dioxidey-beery foam on the top but doesn't really swim around in the beer very well. Mixing it up (with a very sterile stick!!) gets some of the yeast back into the beer.

3. Give it a zinc hit. Zinc is vital for yeast growth and fermentation. Often if your beer is stuck at a higher gravity and won't budge, a little zincy hit will liven it up.

4. Re pitch it. This is a last resort (mainly because I've not got any more buckets of yeast lurking in the fridge) and it shouldn't really need it as we put loads of yeast into the beer which is more than enough for fermentation. Why add more than needed? Skimming over the subject...

I've roused it and added a zinc booster, all I can do now is wait.... I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

In tip-top condition

Before I start, here's a quicky for those who don't know what bottle conditioned beer is...
Basically its replicating the cask conditioning stage where a little bit of yeast is left in the beer to ferment a little more of the beer. It adds far more character and develops flavour, as well as makes the beer a bit more lively. This is called secondary fermentation and is what makes real ale, real. In a bottle, you encourage roughly the same process, although you often add a weenie bit of sugar as tasty food for the yeast. Normal bottled beer is filtered and so doesn't have any yeast which means this process doesn't happen. Often you can have both cask and bottled versions of the same beer and they taste totally different. Also, bottled beer is often brewed else where, a bit like baking a cake in a different kitchen. In theory they're the same beer but in practice they may be quite different.

We're going to bottle condition some of our beer for the Welbeck Farm Shop. Also, as of this weekend, we'll be having a cask of beer in the shop to sell fresh beer in 4-pint carry kegs (you should go and get some).

But I've never bottled beer before. I know the theory but am not really sure about the nitty-gritty business...

The question is, if I bottle condition a pale ale at 4.3% ABV, will it indeed be in tip-top condition?
Will it ever drop bright or will it be cloudy?

Apparently above 5% is a good guide to go by, because you need a higher alcohol content to make sure the yeast settles out at the bottom of the bottle to give you a clear beer.
I could do a lower ABV but very dark beer because you wouldn't be able to see if it wasn't crystal clear, but then that seems a bit like cheating.

Also, this priming business with the beers (which means adding a teeny tiny bit of sugar for the yeast to munch on). I'm a bit apprehensive about it because it's very easy to under prime which means you don't really get much conditioning, but equally you can over prime.

Last night I had a bottle conditioned beer which was really gorgeous. It was a bitter brewed with crystal malt, roasted barley, and black (or chocolate?) malt (so my excitable taste buds tell me). It was only 3.8% and quite pale. When I opened it it fizzed all over me and the kitchen for about a minute! I'm presuming this may be a case of over priming, and you could see it wasn't quite clear either, but I didn't really care because it was scrummy.

Running this brewery is a very very steep learning curve to say the least. All advice gratefully received.

Oh, and I'll find the name of that beer, but I have given the bottle to my avid home brewing friend already! Also whilst we're on bottle conditioned stuff, I tried the Marstons Very Special Old Pale a couple of weeks ago, which was rather good. It's available at Morrisons I think.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Getting into the swing of it

No not that kind of swing, although it does look quite fun.

The brewing side of things at Welbeck have finally started to go well and we should be distributing beer all over the place from next week. A good sign, considering it's a brewery. And on the plus side I'm going to be working some more normal hours, rather than spending every waking hour in the brewery - I am starting to get fed up of beer which, quite frankly, is unacceptable for a brewer.

The grand plan is to brew several different beers, aiming to develop a range of three core products - an easy drinking pale ale about 4.5 - 4.8%, a dark caramelly bitter somewhere between 3.6-4% and a really lovely rich-but-not-too-heavy mild/porter which will probably be about 5%. Thoughts please on ABV and style. We'll also brew one seasonal special a month.

We've brewed a second and much improved batch of the 'First brew' (4.3%) recipe, with a bit of experienced help on the hop addition from Iain, Kelham's head brewer. It was brewed on Friday and yesterday smelled incredible when I walked into the fermenting room to sample it. The addition which Iain suggested was a little Chinook at the end of the boil. It's got a really lemony grapefruity characteristic which has lifted the whole brew. I think I need to be less worried about over-hopping and just be brave with my hop additions! I seem to be much better at working out a good combination of malts for dark beers, but practise makes perfect and I just need a bit more experience.

It should be ready and racked into casks by Wednesday so I'll let you know what it tastes like.

The bitter is already in casks in the cold store, so I'll make some time to write some tasting notes for you to peruse and comment.