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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Beer O'Clock Show Homebrew Special...

Earlier in the summer Steve, one of the hosts of the excellent Beer O'Clock Show podcast, asked myself a couple of other well know Twitter homebrewers (Ady Goodrich and Carl Marshall) whether we would want to feature on this years homebrew special. The only stipulation being that I had to re-brew the Black Forest Stout I had sent him the year previous. Obviously I jumped at the chance and despite one failed brew the final beer turned out pretty good. Anyway, enough chit-chat! The podcast was released on Friday so go take a listen. If you're ever asked to participate on one of these specials definitely get involved, we had an excellent time recording it and the beers we sampled were all superb! Cheers guys!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

BIAB #12 - Black Forest Stout 3 (Re-re-brew)...

Having had experienced an absolute nightmare with my previous attempt with this brew, I decided to cool my jets and play it sensible, sticking more closely with the recipe I had originally created. Well, I say sticking with, I have made a few minor tweaks to the amounts and decided to throw in some lactose to add a bit of sweetness. I’ve also changed the brand of cherries, from Opies Black Cherries in Kirsch to Aldi’s own brand infused in a cherry syrup. They’re less expensive and pack a helluva lot more of that all important cherry flavour. So, not sticking with the original recipe at all then.

The plan is to forgo any silliness and go for a straightforward brew - mash for 90 minutes at 67°C (dropping to 65°C). The usual 60 minute boil, with some Northern Brewer for bittering, cherries thrown in at 55 mins and then chuck in the lactose with 10 minutes to go. No messing! As for the yeast, this time I’ve decided to play it safe and go for some Whitelabs California Ale as so not to muddy the flavours of the other ingredients.

The brew couldn’t have gone more smoothly. BrewMate was predicting an OG of 1.057, but I ended up with 1.060 (due to the addition of lactose), which if it dropped down to the predicted 1.020 should give me a beer that’s around 5.2%. Going into the FV the wort was tasting very good, with a slight hint of the cherry which I hoped would increase as it ferments, not to mention masses of chocolate, in both aroma and flavour. This actually surprised me as no cocoa had even been near the wort at this stage. The lactose really balanced out the bitterness of chocolate and roasted barley to give it a smooth chocolate taste. I actually contemplated leaving out the cocoa infused vodka potion, but again that would be deviating from my original plan. 

After a week it did indeed ferment out at 1.020 and it was tasting exactly how I wanted - a lovely sweet chocolate base with some subtle cherry sourness on top, which should only get more prominent once the beer carbs up. When it came to bottling, I threw in 70ml each of the cacao nib and vanilla pod potions I’d been infusing for some time. I knew the vanilla would be slightly overpowering whilst the beer is young, but from my experience, this should settle down a little and complement the chocolate notes. 

After a couple of weeks of carbing and conditioning, it was time to sample the beer. As predicted it was indeed vanilla heavy, completely masking the chocolate flavour and even the cherry with only some slight sourness coming through in the tail. Just a week later it was a whole different story - the vanilla had calmed down and was now playing nicely with the chocolate and malts and cherry flavour was really starting to rise up out of the murk with its sour bite giving way to a more sweeter dessert like flavour. 

It was certainly bang on my self-set brief to create a rich dessert beer and I’m very pleased with the results. My only disappointment is the lack of body of a good stout. It’s lightly carbed and has a great head on pouring, but that diminishes quickly. Next time I will increase the addition of flaked oats. So overall it turned out to be a decent brew and any worry I have about sharing it with my peers on the Beer O’Clock Show lessens each time I crack open a bottle.

Grain Bill...
3.5 kg Maris Otter Malt (70%)
450 g Chocolate (9%)
400 g Flaked Oats (8%)
250 g Roasted Barley (5%)
200 g Torrified Wheat (4%)
200 g Vienna (4%)

Hop Bill...
30 g - Northern Brewer Leaf (9.6% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil) (1.4 g/L)

Misc Bill...
800g - Black Cherries (in syrup) @ 55 Minutes (Boil)
0.5 g - Irish Moss @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
500 g - Lactose @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
70 g - Cocoa Nibs @ 0 Minutes (Bottling)
70 g - Vanilla @ 0 Minutes (Bottling)

Single step Infusion at 67°C for 90 Minutes (dropping to 65°C).
Fermented at 20°C with WLP001 - California Ale

OG: 1.060
FG: 1.020
ABV: 5.2%

Saturday, 1 November 2014

BIAB #11 - Black Forest Stout 2 (Re-brew)

Just under a year ago I designed my first all-grain beer recipe, a Black Forest Stout. My skills were still pretty green and despite ending up with a perfectly drinkable beer, it fell short of what I had in mind. However, one surprising thing that came out of it was the unexpected attention it received. Jim from Beers Manchester took a shine to it, as did Steve from The Beer O’Clock Show which resulted in me sending them both a bottle by way of thanks for the support. As if to mark the anniversary of this brew, Steve invited me to participate in their occasional homebrew special podcasts and suggested that I re-brew the stout to feature on the show. I wouldn't normally repeat a brew as there’s a wealth of beers out there I’d like to explore, but as my brewing skills have come a long way since those early days, I liked the idea of attempting to produce the beer I was aiming for originally. I was planning on making it bigger in every way possible - up the ABV, increase body and head retention, use real cacao nibs and double the amount of cherries. My vision was to brew a luxurious, rich, dessert beer.

Having already researched, planned and prepared what seemed to be a decent recipe, I decided to change it at the last minute, all because I had sampled an excellent chocolate stout at the Homebrew Camp. Instead of adding cacao nibs I put a couple of milk chocolate bars in there! Bad move! It resulted in a messy wort, full of debris and a nasty looking film caking the surface (I obviously didn't consider the amount of fat that would be in the chocolate!). Also, worried that there wasn't enough cherry flavour coming through, I threw some more cherries in during the conditioning and also the remaining kirsch during bottling. This was an even BIGGER mistake! The result was an severely alcohol heavy beer (we’re talking barley wine territory) that was extremely overcarbed, these things were dangerous! Whilst dumping them down the drain, one particular bottled decided it was time to redecorate the kitchen! This shit got everywhere! The rest were opened in safety, under water in a bucket. So I shall not be doing a full write-up of this disaster, instead I shall be re-brewing in the next week or so, this time sticking closely to my original recipe and definitely not changing things at the last minute! Important lessons have been learnt!

BIAB #10 - Wallonian Pale Ale...

After having such good success with my Sorachi Saison and with the weather being as warm as it had, it made sense to take advantage and brew another saison. Being all out of Sorachi, but wanting those sharp citrus notes, I checked my hop pantry. Thankfully I still had a substantial amount of whole leaf Citra and Summit pellets left and I was confident that combo would hit the mark. Around the time I was formulating the recipe Malt Miller Rob tweeted that he had just received a shipment of vials from Yeast Bay. I’d heard of these guys in passing, but wasn't really aware of their work so I decided to check them out further. It turned out these artisanal yeast wranglers have isolated and harvested a range of yeast strains that aren’t commercially available and then used the expertise of White Labs to culture the yeast into sellable quantities. Their Saison Blend sounded absolutely delicious, but sadly by the time I placed my order, the Malt Miller had already sold out. Thankfully, there were a few vials of the Wallonian Farmhouse still available, described as “the funkiest ‘clean’ yeast we have in our stable”. It sounded interesting so I dropped it in my basket (along with a vial of their Funktown Pale). I really wanted to get to know the flavour profile of the yeast so I kept the grain bill pretty simple, using only Vienna and a bit of torrified wheat. Checking out the information for the yeast on the Yeast Bay website it warned that it “exhibits absurdly high attenuation, resulting in a practically bone-dry beer”, so to counteract I upped my mash temp a little to around 76°C to throw some unfermentables into the mix. This looked to have worked a treat as it fermented out bang on 1.010. Well, once again I got to sample the beer before I got around to writing this article. I found the end result quite surprising and was expecting massive amounts of farmhouse funk. What I ended up with was a subtle saison that was indeed very clean, more of a pale ale saison. It was certainly an interesting yeast to work with and I will probably look at grabbing a vial of the Saison Blend I originally had my eyes on at some point. I chose to throw this in a couple of EasyKegs to take to the recent Homebrew Camp meetup, where the chaps there seemed to enjoy (or they were just being polite!).

Grain Bill...
5 kg - Vienna (96.15%)
200 g - Torrified Wheat (3.85%)

Hop Bill...
50g - Citra Leaf (11.1% Alpha) @ 20 Minutes (Boil) (2.4 g/L)
5g - Summit Pellet (17% Alpha) @ 20 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 g/L)
50g - Citra Leaf (11.1% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil) (2.4 g/L)
5g - Summit Pellet (17% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 g/L)
50g - Citra Leaf (11.1% Alpha) @ 0 Minutes (Boil) (2.4 g/L)
5g - Summit Pellet (17% Alpha) @ 0 Minutes (Boil) (0.2 g/L)

Single step Infusion at 67°C for 90 Minutes.
Fermented at 20°C with YeastBay - Wallonian Farmhouse

OG: 1.050
FG: 1.010
ABV: 5.2%

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Beer Tour of the South...

With the fantastic sunshine that has bathed the UK over the last month or so, myself and the missus decided to embark on a week-long camping adventure around the south of Britain, stopping off somewhere new each day. As beer is always somewhere in my mind, when we began to pin down locations of interest, each to be within around 2 hours drive of each other, I hit Google for any details of decent pubs and breweries that might be worth a visit whilst we were in the vicinity. Some of our chosen locations delivered pure gold, whilst others at least had a local pub within walking distance, but then it was to be a holiday first and foremost after all. It can’t all be about beer can it? Can it?! Talking of cans, to fill any beer vacuums that might occur, we picked up a stash of cans from our local bottle shop, Brewtique, who thankfully had just taken a big delivery, so we had the pick of the crop. For convenience sake, we snagged a few cans of Modus Hoperandi and Dale’s Pale, along with a couple each of Four Pure’s Pale and IPA offerings, that should be enough to keep us going for a few days. Here’s a how the beery adventure unfolded (skip to Brighton for when things really started to get interesting)…

Great Malvern
The first stop on our epic travels was to Great Malvern, to hike up the famous hills and soak up the glorious sunshine and enjoy the beautiful countryside. That was the plan, but as the laws of sod dictate, it doesn’t always turn out as you planned. The reality of it was as soon as we arrived it began absolutely lashing it down, to the point where I was thinking an ark might be in order to save the beers two-by-two! We both said that this was just part of the adventure and cracked on throwing up the pop-up tent, all that was missing was that Transformers noise as the coiled up disc sprang into a tent-a-tron. Having both gotten wet arses from hammering in tent pegs, the missus had a top idea, lets crack open a couple of cans and take shelter in the car whilst we decide whether the car was actually the best sleeping option for the night. That can of Modus Hoperandi was possibly one of the finest drinks I’ve ever had, or for that week at least! 

The rain started to ease off and our thoughts turned towards food. Despite my much beer-prepping it was actually the wife who worked out that there was a pub, The Duke of York, just within walking distance from the camp site. With soggy boots and backsides, we stomped off in search of shelter and food (and beer). The pub was what I expected to find in a rural area and the stuff they had on tap was limited, but they did have Butty Bach, an English pale ale by Wye Valley Brewery, which was nice enough and inoffensive. After our meal, Jo (that’s my missus/wife mentioned earlier!), fancied a stout in way of a nightcap, before we trudged off back to the soggy campsite, but the only stout they could offer was good ol’ Guinness which, I confess, I haven’t drank in years. It was nothing like I had remembered it! Whether my tastebuds have evolved during the time of drinking ‘craft’ ales, but it had a rich roasted malt flavour that I had no recollection of, which was a pleasant surprise. With the beer glands satisfied it was off to bed with the hope the next day would be a little brighter.

Salisbury
After a crappy night’s sleep in what seemed like never-ending rain of biblical proportions, we were surprised to awake in the same place we had pitched the tent. After a brew, of the tea variety, and a bite to eat we decided to hit the road in search of sunnier climes. Our next stop was Salisbury and of course a visit to the world heritage site of Stonehenge. Despite encountering even worse rain driving there than we endured the previous day, by the time we hit Stonehenge the sun had come out, warming our souls and cheering us up no end. Stonehenge was certainly a sight to behold! I thoroughly recommend a visit if you’re passing. On our way back to the car we stopped by the gift shop, as my eagle eyes had spotted some people drinking beers, so I wanted to investigate. Sure enough there were a couple of ales by Stonehenge Ales - Heel Stone, a standard bitter and Great Bustard, an amber ale brewed with rye. 

With the tent set up on dry land and deck chairs deployed, it was time to crack open a bottle  give them a tasting. The brewery and it’s beers are very much old school, and to be honest, I would have been hard pushed to differentiate between the two, but hey the druids probably loved it! Time to get my tastebuds wrapped around something a bit more tasty, and the lucky dip into the cooler box revealed a can of Fourpure IPA. I first tried this on keg in Red Willow, along with their stout and I wasn’t really taken with either of them, but I’ve always read positive things about this brewery on Twitter and Untappd so I was willing to give them another shot. Unfortunately, their output just doesn’t do it for me and I can’t my finger on the reason why. I think it maybe they’re just so incredibly average. That said, it was certainly better than those Stonehenge beers! 

Brighton
I was confident on this leg of the road trip where things would get more interesting on the beer front, as we were guaranteed some decent scoops at Craft Beer Co. We stopped off the city centre on the way to campsite just to get the ‘lay of the land’ for the evening. As we randomly made our way through the streets in search of the beach, we stumbled across a nice looking brew pub called North Laine. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to check it out fully, but they had a great looking menu so we earmarked it for our evening meal and continued on our way. We didn't realise when booking our stay in Brighton that it coincided with Gay Pride, so the place was absolutely heaving with party goers and party goers heaving into bins. When we did find the beach there wasn't enough room to swing a cat, so we headed back to the car and onwards to the camp site, situated in Lewes. 


Despite being a Sunday, the bus services to and from Brighton were pretty regular and furthermore they ran right past the North Laine pub that we had discovered earlier in the day! It was a nice looking place with a large bar displaying their wares and behind the bar, taking pride of place, was the shiny brewing equipment, fundamental in creating them. Thankfully we arrived just in time to get a food order in, so with the scorching sun and holiday vibe we ordered a Mediterranean mezze whilst we decided on what to try first. They had a decent range of beers available, but I had my eye on a 5.8% black IPA named Crazy 8 as soon as set foot in there, so it seemed a good place to start. It was fresh, fruity and hop forward, just as a 
true BIPA should be. An impressive start for a brewery totally unknown to my taste buds. I was eager to sample another, so we moved on to their IPA, which again was fruity, fresh and very tasty. These guys had seriously impressed me, but sadly, they don’t bottle any of their beers so I'm unlikely to find any outside of Brighton. This is a shame as the ones we sampled stand up well in comparison to the output of other breweries of a similar age. If you get the opportunity to try their beers, do so! 

With our whistle well and truly wet, it was time for a dash across town into the welcoming surrounds of Craft Beer Co. with it’s ample array of beers, and what a line up they had! What struck me first was the amount of beers available from the local guys (local to home that is) at Thornbridge. With around six beers on offer, and not just Jaipur and Chiron, they had some of their latest, more off-centered output on tap, with the likes of Peanut Butter Brown Ale, Valravn and Slezak just begging to be sampled. Again it was a black IPA that caught my attention in the form of Valravn. An imperial version of their superb Wild Raven, although at just shy of 9% I thought I’d take it easy and order a third. The barmaid had no idea what I was talking about, to be fair she did seem quite green at the job, but I was doubting the words coming out of my mouth! It turns out that Craft Beer Co. don’t serve thirds! Whaaaa?! When you’re dishing out those big imperial beers, thirds are a must! Ahhh well, I just had to survive with a half...what a shame *ahem*. After that we continued down the Thornbridge route trying both the Peanut Butter ale and Slevak, a pale ale brewed with apricots, which was nothing like I imagined it to be. It was more akin to a fruit tea than a beer, but very nice, as you would expect. However, Thornbridge weren’t the only Northern brewery represented on the taps as the mainstay of Manchester breweries, good old Marble has their offering, Primus, an anniversary collab brew with the chaps at Cask Pub and Kitchen. My Untappd review just said - ‘It’s like I'm sailing on a sea of cheese. Fab stuff’. Nuff said. It was certainly good to see Northern breweries having such a presence as far south as Brighton. To follow on from the fruitiness of Slezak, I went for Beavertown’s Tour De France beer - Convicts of the Road, a saison with grapefruit and elderflower. Again, I was expecting to be slapped around the chops with massive grapefruit sharpness, but surprisingly it was the elderflower that was the star of the show. Before we left we decided to take Craft Beer Co up on their offer of 33% off takeaway beer, to replenish the cooler box that was running dangerously low. We went away happy with a fine selection of beers from the likes of Wild Beer, Weird Beer, Tiny Rebel and Beavertown. I could now sleep easy knowing we wouldn't be left high and dry.

Canterbury/Sandwich
With a slightly tender cranium we packed up our gear and hit the road. To take a break from camping and to enjoy some luxury, we had booked a room at the Salutation B&B in Sandwich, which, if you watch Gogglebox on Channel 4, is owned by the ‘pissed up posh couple’ and is widely regarded as one of the best B&Bs in the UK. Enroute we were going to pass through the city of Canterbury, so it made sense to stop off and have a mooch around. Of course I did my research and knew it was the home of Canterbury Brewers with brew-pub, The Foundry. I always keep an eye out for their beers after trying Itzamna, a superb imperial chocolate vanilla porter, but alas I have not found any out in the wild since, so I was looking forward to paying them a visit. 


Tucked down a side street not far from the famous cathedral, and true to it’s name, The Foundry is housed in an old Victorian foundry. On the bar there was quite a line-up of their own beers, something for everybody’s taste and, just to the right, a glass partition behind which the brewery lives with the brewers busy readying the next batches. The weather was glorious and there was a nice seating area outside so it would have been a shame to let it go to waste. Having not seen a black IPA on the taps, I went for my second default option, the Foundry Red Rye, whilst the wife went for their Topaz, a Belgian pale ale. The Red Rye was very good and brewpub fresh, but I was somewhat set aback by the option of having it either carbonated or not, which is something I’ve not had to make a decision on before. I went for carbonated which really brought out the juiciness of the Citra hops. As is probably the case with any of you beer drinkers, if your missus has a different beer to yourself, by law you have to try it. The Topaz was simply superb! Brewed with Aussie hops of Topaz and Summer and fermented out with a subtle Belgian yeast, this was a real summer treat! I had spied it in bottles behind the bar so I was definitely taking some of this away with me. Our food arrived and I ordered a half of their Loco IPA, to wash it down, which again was superb, but it was the Mediterranean veg and goats cheese sandwich that sat before me that we were in awe of. I had never considered eating a sandwich with a knife and fork, but this this was an absolute monster!


With bellies full, it was time to head off to our destination for the night - Sandwich, obviously not before filling our shoppers with take-away beers. I grabbed a 3 pack box of beers, making sure it included a bottle of Topaz, a bottle of Itzamna, which had lead me there in the first place and I spotted a couple of cans in the fridge by Backyard Brewery that looked quite interesting. It was only when we checked in at The Salutation and cracked them open that I realised they were a subsidiary of Carlsberg and weren’t actually all that good. Thankfully we still had a can of Beavertown’s Neck Oil to wash away the disappointment. After checking in at reception I had noticed a big banner hanging outside the tea room saying “The Salutation Recommends R&R Ales”, a brewery I was unfamiliar with so I made a mental note to keep an eye out for their beers. 

Hitting Google for places to eat in the evening, I stumbled across a pub just around the corner from the B&B which not only had a tasty menu, but they had taken the time to recommend beer pairings for each dish AND not only that, they also served the R&R Ales I had spotted earlier! It was a no brainer, so we headed out for a quick wander around Sandwich and then on to dinner. Thirsty for a pint of something sessionable I went for a pint of Otter Amber by Otter Brewery, whilst Eagle-Eyed Cherry (Jo) spotted R&R Ale’s Gallant Ale, which was on special at £2.50 a bottle, very reasonable for a 6.8% beer. Do you know those times, when you order something and then wish you’d ordered what your partner was eating/drinking? Well, just that. Gallant Ale was excellent, a sweet toffee-ladened rich ale with hints of burnt fruit, a beer that very much reminded me of the output from Traquair House.

I must admit, I have forgotten what I ordered for my starter and main, but I do remember the beers - La Trappe Tripel and Belgoo Magus, a couple of quite big Belgian beers that did indeed pair well with the dishes. I just wish more restaurants would take the time to recommend beer pairings on their menus as it really does enhance the experience. For dessert I side-stepped the recommendation, as I just had to have a bottle of Gallant Ale and I couldn't stop singing it’s praises! So much so, the very next day I revisited the pub to pick up some bottles to take away, along with a bottle of another one of their beers - Eastrian Blonde, a tart blonde ale with some subtle background sweetness. R&R Ales is a man and wife run nano-brewery (Pierluigi and Amber Rossi) and the two beers I picked up are currently their full line up. It turns out Pierluigi had trained as a brewer years ago and they both decided to quit their jobs in IT to follow their interest in brewing, which bears some resemblance with my current situation. IT is no industry to be in when you want to express a creative flair. If you are lucky enough to find their beers definitely give them a try!

Cambridge
The next day we loaded up the car ready for the leg up to Cambridge, but ‘oh no’ we had a casualty! As I was pushing in a bag one side of the car, something fell out of the other door. It was my Canterbury Brewers gift box! Thankfully only one of the beers smashed and it wasn't the Topaz! Phew! 

With Cambridge being famed for it’s university I was confident that we would be able to get a quality tipple. I wasn't wrong. One place that really jumped out of the Google search results was The Pint Shop, which proudly proclaimed it has 10 keg and 6 cask lines. A quick scan across their Twitter account confirmed that this was indeed a place worth checking out, with beers on tap from the likes of superstar brewers such Wild Beer, Beavertown, Buxton and Thornbridge. Furthermore, they also had a cracking food menu, so that was beer and food sorted for the evening then. Our visit to Cambridge was around the same time US brewers Green Flash were touring their ‘meet the brewer’ events around the UK to unveil their Westcoast IPA on these shores, but alas, we had missed their visit to Cambridge by just a couple of days. I just hoped their IPA was still on the taps!

After setting up camp and chilling out in our deck chairs with a bottle of Gallant Ale, we hopped on the bus into Cambridge. This proved to be one of the most excruciating bus journeys of our lives, made worse by the heaters being on! It seemed to be doubling back and going in the opposite direction to Cambridge most of the time and I'm sure it even passed by the camp site a couple of times. It was like a chase scene out of Scooby Doo! After what seemed like an eternity (in fact it was only around 40 minutes) we landed safely in Cambridge. A check of Google maps showed we weren't actually that far from The Pint Shop, so we made our way through the bustling streets in search of cold beer.

On the website the bar looked like quite a small cosy place with it’s small shop front, but inside it stretched quite far back, with a large dining area to the rear and upstairs, plus an ample sized outdoor area. It was busy, but not so much so we couldn't get a table. We were shown into the dining room where I spotted the black board with the drinks line up, Westcoast IPA was still on the taps! It wasn't cheap mind at £5 for a half, but then it was a double IPA at just over 8%. It was lovely, lots of fruity hops and quite smooth, concealing it’s high ABV well. As always, I can’t remember what we ate, only remembering the food was excellent. We decided to get another beer in before we left and Wild Beer’s Evolver IPA had just been chalked up on the board, so it seemed like a good choice having never tried it before, although we did have a bottle in the cooler box, purchased from Craft Beer Co. in Brighton. My brain just couldn't compute, I was tasting Brett! On the board the next beer down the list was St Feuillien Saison, so I was convinced the bar staff had picked the wrong tap. Good job I Googled it first and found out that it contained ‘Hops, Brett, Hops’ and tasted of tropical fruit and farmyard funk! Anyway, as is the case with Wild Beer’s line-up, it was of course super delicious.

With our bellies well and truly filled we thought we would walk some of it off and take in the sights around Cambridge. It’s not often you visit a place where nearly every building is ancient and steeped in history, it was like going back in time. On our travels we spotted another pub called The Eagle, with an A-board proudly proclaiming that it stocked ‘50 craft beers from around the world’. We made a mental note and continued on our stroll, but it didn't take long for our bladders to start protesting and so we doubled back towards the pub in search of relief. We really struggled to find any evidence of the 50 craft beers it had claimed, but I did spot Founder’s All Day IPA in the fridge so we thought it was only polite to make a purchase after using their facilities. 

There was only one thing for it, get our asses back to The Pint Shop for a nightcap. I had earmarked a half of Buxton’s Extra Stronge Stout, but when we returned the board had been updated with a new contender - Oakham’s Black Hole Porter. I've never seen anything of Oakham’s output other than pale ales on the taps, so it was it was a bit of a rarity. It was absolutely sublime, probably one of the smoothest porters I've ever drank and if you threw in a load of hops it would have also made an superb BIPA. Another excellent finish to another top night!

Cromer
This leg of the journey was definitely the one I was most looking forward to. En route to Cromer we passed a bottle shop in King’s Lynn that I thought might have a few beers of interest, a few hundred that is! The bottle shop? Beers of Europe, the massive online beer emporium, which just happens to allow you to peruse the shelves in their warehouse. Upon pulling into the car park we were greeted by a great wall of beer crates from breweries from over the globe, it was sight to behold and possibly one of the biggest man made crate structures in the world and one that may well be visible from space. Getting out of the car I was like a giddy school kid outside a sweet shop, I was just itching to get in there. Whatever sights greeted us when we arrived paled into insignificance when we passed through the golden automatic doors! The rows of shelves just seemed to go on into the horizon, my eyes were popping out on stalks! The choice was overwhelming, a game plan was definitely needed. I decided I would have a quick look around to get the lay of the land and then I’d make purchasing decisions, or else the contents of the trolley could have seriously escalated. If you’ve already had a scan or purchased from their website then their impressive selection should come as no surprise, my only complaint would be the lack of beers from some of our more prominent home grown breweries, but then again, these beers are easily obtained elsewhere so I wasn't too fussed. My main focus was the US section as a lot of what they had to offer is stuff I've never seen on these shores before. 

After one circuit around the aisles I had quite a haul, but not wanting to have to make a call to Wonga, I did another circuit reluctantly putting some beers back. In the end I spent around £80 and had a superb selection including a few limited one off beers from Hoppin’ Frog, Brooklyn and Lost Abbey. Price wise, they were slightly more expensive than what I would usually be prepared to pay, but as I’d never see these beers again it was worth forking out extra. Even Jo had been taken in by the majesty of the place and picked up her own haul that included some beers I might not have chosen (a couple of black lagers jumped out at me), so I was pleased with the opportunity to try something different.

With the car popping a wheelie under the weight of the ale in the back, we headed off to Cromer for the last stop of our road trip. One thing I checked with every location we were planning to visit was the opportunity to visit a local brewery and Cromer threw up an interesting prospect in the form of Poppyland Brewery. I had picked up a couple of this brewery's beers from Brewtique just a month before and one of which really caught my imagination, the Smokehouse Porter. Not only did this porter contain ample amounts of smoked malts, but also smoked hops, both of which were smoked by the brewer himself at a local smokehouse. I have drank plenty of smoked beers, but I had never come across a beer that had also used smoked hops before so I was intrigued by the brewery behind it.

Poppyland is a one man brewery set up by ex-museum curator, Martin Warren, looking for an outlet for his creative streak. It’s a small brewery that resides in an old garage that predominantly bottles it’s beer, with the occasional cask purely for beer festivals. Take a quick scan through the brewery’s presence on Untappd and you’ll notice that a lot of the beers aren't your standard fair. Martin is a bit of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the brewing world - if an ingredient won’t kill you, it’s has potential to end up in a beer, particularly a sour or saison. When we met him in his brewery he was genuinely made up that folk as far a field as Macclesfield were even aware of Poppyland, let alone enjoyed his work. He out crafts most breweries, without even trying!

Whilst on the road I had been reading ‘Brewing Up a Business’, written by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head fame, and the more I chatted with Martin, the more the Dogfish Head motto - ‘off-centered ales for off-centered people’, seemed like an ideal description for what was being produced at Poppyland. Martin likes to use ingredients from the surrounding environment and collaborate with local people and producers to brew interesting beers, apparently nothing is too strange to put in a beer. He retold the story behind one beer in particular - Days of Empire, a strong English ale brewed with Chevallier barley, a malt much used in the 1800s, but was subsequently replaced over time with more hardy hybrid malts. It was plucked from a grain bank and grown over two years for research purposes and with Martin being a close friend of the man behind this study, he was gifted a few bags worth of this rare grain from a boot of a car. The chance to brew with a long forgotten malt such as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but not having enough grist to work with on his main brewery metal, he instead opted to brew it on his old homebrew kit, producing just about 50 330ml bottles. Obviously, with such a limited number of bottles using a super rare malt, they were quite expensive at £20! Martin did tell me people were buying two to three bottles at a time! Savvy beer drinkers know something special when they see it.

His current challenge is to brew a beer using saffron from a local supplier, but he’s found that no matter how many hops he throws in, the saffron totally kills any flavour. So back to the drawing board for a re-think, I'm sure whatever style he settles on it will be delicious. 

After a couple of hours of chewing the fat and sampling some beers, I slapped down some readies for a selection of beers (the Wild Damson Saison was absolutely superb!). If you’re ever passing through Cromer, be sure to drop Martin a line, he will gladly show you around the brewery and chat about beer. I came away feeling inspired, and after playing safe with the last few brews, I have decided to make things a bit more interesting with brews for a Black Forest Stout and a Lime Pickle IPA on the cards. 

Meeting up with such an enthusiastic brewer was a perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable road trip. When we set off on our travels I hoped I would at least find some beers of interest, whilst taking in the sights of places we had never visited before, but what we discovered exceeded expectations. We have already started formulating plans for a similar road trip next summer with a loop around the North of England. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

BIAB #9 - Rye Citra...

A few months ago ripples were being made across Twitter in regard to organising a brew camp, initiated by some of the folk at the Manchester Homebrew. The gist is that homebrewers will gather together in a field one weekend to enjoy one another’s brews, swap bottles and generally talk stuff and nonsense. However, it looks like they weren't the only people with brew camp on their minds as the Doncaster homebrew guys had already held a successful event last year and plans for this year were already in motion for the end of August. Conveniently for me, it’s due to take place just outside of Bakewell, which is just a quick jaunt over the peaks for the missus and myself.

So, with just over a month to go, I had to get my arse into gear and start working on a couple of brews. If the glorious weather holds out, it makes sense to go with a couple of tasty, refreshing pale brews. Having some rye left over from my last brew, and still an ample amount of Citra to use up, the recipe built itself. Also, I had a pack of Summit pellets just begging to be opened and I figured a couple of small additions would bump up that citrus punch nicely. As the last couple of my brews had been saisons, I decided there would be no faffing around with yeasts this time, I wanted a clean, bright beer so WPL001 was my weapon of choice. 

As mentioned in my previous brewday write ups, I have recently upgraded to a 29ltr Brupaks boiler, and so my BIAB method now employed a giant piece of voile material pushed inside the vessel, which has been working an absolute treat. Along with increasing my mash time to 90 minutes, my efficiency had shot up considerably. The only problem arises when you come to lift it out and drain out all those valuable sugars. An initial 5 kilos of dry grain pretty much triples in weight when sodden, making it a bit difficult to squeeze and suspend for anything longer than a few minutes. I've seen some of the contraptions people make to hoist the sacks out, but that’s a project for another day. Having put my thinking cap on I came up with a solution - why not split the grain bill between multiple smaller sacks that I had employed for my old 11ltr stock pot? It made total sense! Instead of struggling to lift it out in one go I could just grab a sack at a time and give it a dunking in the sparge water with minimal effort. Bingo!

The plan worked absolute treat...in my own mind! In practice I stumbled across a few problems. Firstly, as the sacks were not very wide, so I struggled to get all the grain submerged properly and had to squash the sacks down a little, and despite the grain being wet, it was a little compacted. Secondly the tighter weave of the cotton sacks lead to basically what was a stuck mash due to the use of rye. The sacks just totally blocked up! This didn't occur when using the voile in my last brew, despite using over double the amount of rye. I did manage to squeeze some wort out, but it was a real struggle and I even split the seam of one of the sacks, but spotted the impending stitch failure before the grain came tumbling out. Despite looking like I had a decent runnings of wort, it actually equated to around 3.4% as opposed to the predicted 5.5%. Ahh well, I had accidentally made a session ale, so it wasn't a complete disaster and valuable lessons have been learnt.


Kegs, made easy.

The rest of the brewday proceeded without issue and the beer fermented out as predicted. As I was planning on taking this to the brew camp I had canvassed Twitter for a suitable, and affordable, kegging solution, just so I didn't have to take a hundred plus bottles with me. After a few promising leads I decided to go for some Easy Kegs. These are 5 litre aluminium vessels that come with a built in pouring tap, which a few breweries use to package up their beer as ‘party kegs’. Furthermore they’re not all that expensive either, coming in at around the £6 mark. I ordered four of them, with the plan being that I’d use two for each brew and then bottle the rest of the beer for swaps. Thanks to some useful advice from Twitter courtesy of Dean Regler, I dropped 10 grams of sugar into each keg and placed on my digital scales and zeroed, then began filling them up to just shy of 5kg. If I previously thought filling bottles was boring, filling mini kegs was even worse. I need to look into using a syphoning tube for the future instead of the bottling wand.

I filled bottles with the rest of the beer and then I had a lightbulb moment, I could enter this one into the Thornbridge competition too as it accidentally ended up in a different category. The only problem was, it wouldn't actually have been ready for sampling before the deadline. It was a risk, but I took the plunge and sent it off anyway! What’s the worst that could happen? Thankfully when I did get to try my wares it had turned out quite good and hid it’s low ABV well. Having also tried it again at brewcamp it was definitely drinkable and my fellow brewers seemed to enjoy it, so in the end I was pleased with my botched brew.

Fermentables...
 Name Type EBC Percentage Amount
Pale Ale MaltGrain5.991%4.55 Kg
Rye MaltGrain6.96%300 g
Torrified WheatGrain3.93%150 g




Hops...
 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Citra11.1%20 gBoil30 mins
Citra11.1%50 gBoil15 mins
Citra11.1%50 gBoil10 mins
Summit (Pellet)17%15 gBoil10 mins
Citra11.1%50 gBoil0 mins


Sunday, 31 August 2014

BIAB #8 - Rye Saison

One of my self-objective brewing goals for this year was to start enter a beer into competition. After some glowing feedback from my peers on my last few brews I was feeling confident and, as if a quest direct from the brew gods themselves - Thornbridge, BrewUK and Waitrose announced the Great British Homebrew Challenge, with the winning beer brewed by Thornbridge and sold in Waitrose stores. The prize wasn't great, but the potential glory was huge!

I immediately got my thinking cap on and began formulating a recipe. I have had some success with my last couple of brews using a Vienna malt base, but I want to spice it up a bit and I had been looking to brew with rye for a while so I decided now was as good a time as any. Hop wise, I had a half a kilo of Citra that was just screaming out to be used, and recalling some useful advice from Shane of Cheshire Brewhouse, Willamette is a great hop to bring out the flavours of other hops. I’m already a fan of Willamette, with it’s berry aroma and I figured it would play nicely with the citrus notes and the spice of the rye, but it would need some real quantities to stand out against the might of Citra. I decided that pellets were the way forward and put it down on my shopping list. As for the yeast, I wanted this beer to be different and as I was currently enjoying my last beer, a Sorachi Saison, I chose to go with another Saison (plus it’s the weather for it). I was unsure whether it would work with a rye heavy malt base, but I guess one of the joys of home brewing is in the finding out.

Whilst concocting the recipe I took careful consideration of the style and ABV of my brew. With the judging is taking place in August I decided that a refreshing flavour would be more suitable to summertime beer. Looking at the categories it’s quite apparent what Thornbridge and Waitrose are looking for, so I ruled out any big or far-out beers, with the aim to hit something around the 4% mark. A rye saison met both of those criteria, so it was full steam ahead.

Despite having excellent results with Danstar’s Belle Saison yeast, I chose to go for a vial of Whitelab’s Saison WLP565 yeast, the first time I’ve used a wet yeast but I wanted only the best for this champion brew. The Whitelabs website did mention that it can be a bit temperamental, with reports of stalled fermentations, but hey, I was up for the challenge.

On brew day everything went according to plan, with the exception of a missed addition - 200g of malt which was hidden from view. However, this actually worked in my favour as the final beer ended up bang on 4%. Thankfully this time around I had no thermometer mishaps, so didn’t need to fall back to my numerous backups. Furthermore, after struggling to cool the wort down on my last brew with my existing copper coil I took some advice from Twitter folk and spread out the coil a little to increase the surface area, and I also managed to widen the diameter of the coil which in turn shortened the height, meaning that it was now it was mostly submerged. 

With the wort cooled to around the 20 degree mark, I transferred it to my new heavy duty FV, which I had been looking forward to getting some use out of. I threw in the vial of yeast, put the dual locking lids on and waited for things to happen. After around 12 hours the yeast was starting to kick in and the temperature naturally increased to around the 23 degree mark. A day later the temperature was starting to drop, so I grabbed a gravity sample, it looked as if it had stalled at 1.020, just as other brewers had experienced. Out of all the solutions to kickstart fermentation the easiest was to simply ramp up the temperature, so I upped my temp controller to 27°C and waited expectantly. This worked a treat, after a day the gravity had dropped a few points and a further 24 hours later it had totally fermented out. I turned off the temperature controller and left it conditioning a few days. 

Despite having chucked in quite a lot of Willamette during the boil it was struggling to really make an impact next to the Citra, so as a rash decision I decided to dry hop with some more pellets. Not a wise move! The hop matter stayed suspended in the beer, even when it had cooled to an ambient temperature, but without any means to cold crash there wasn’t a lot I could do. Upon further inspection it looked like the majority of matter had settled out, there was just a layer suspended near the surface, meaning everything underneath was quite clear. So I just went ahead and bottled it, a few pesky flakes still managed to sneak in there and I lost around 2 litres, but it’s nothing a few days in the fridge won’t resolve.

I did have a diacetyl scare due to my impatience to taste my wares, but a few weeks later that buttery taste had completely gone, leaving the fresh citrus saison notes to take centre stage. Despite it not being a particularly bad brew, I just didn't feel overly confident about it, then you’ve got to be in it to win it, so I entered it regardless! Obviously I didn't win, that honour went to my brewing buddy from Macc Homebrew - Graham Nelson. At least I've struck one thing off my brew year’s resolution list.

Fermentables...
 NameType   EBC PercentageAmount
ViennaGrain5.980 %3 Kg
Rye MaltGrain6.918.67 %700 g
Torrified WheatGrain3.91.33 %50 g

Hops...
 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Citra11.1%100 gBoil10 mins
Willamette (pellet)7.1%10 gBoil10 mins
Willamette (pellet)7.1%50 gBoil0 mins
Willamette (pellet)7.1%40 gDry Hop0 mins

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Winner, Winner, Vienna IPA Dinner...

Well well, Thornbridge, Waitrose and BrewUK have announced the winner of the Great British Homebrew Challenge 2014, and whilst slightly disappointed it wasn't myself (I wasn't feeling very confident anyway), the winner was actually Graham Nelson (aka @arrowsails) from our very own homebrew club in Macclesfield with his Vienna IPA! You can read a bit about Graham and his winning beer over on the Telegraph. Massive congratulations to Graham and all the category winners! Can't wait to taste the winning batch at next club meet, and not to mention the finished product when it hits shelves in Waitrose stores across the country in October.

We may be a small band of brewers, but we have some talent! If you fancy coming joining us at the club we meet every last Tuesday of the month at 7:30PM in Red Willow bar in Macclesfield. 


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

BIAB #7 - Vienna Sorachi Saison

A while back I received a message from Graham, one of the fellow Macc Homebrew Club members, mentioning he was having a bit of an email chin-wag with James Kemp, former brewer at Buxton, Thornbridge and Fullers, giving him loads of useful advice on brewing a black IPA. Now, if anyone is going to know how to brew a BIPA, then it’s James, as he is the brewing experience behind the likes of Buxton’s Black Rocks and Thornbridge’s Wild Raven no less. The basic gist of the conversation was that a large flame out hop addition will add a fair chunk of bitterness, which most brewing software will actually register as zero IBUs, and you make up the IBU numbers with a smaller 60 minute addition. Doing this will apparently result in a much smoother bitterness and flavour. This intrigued me so I did some research and stumbled across a great article on late-hopping on Mrmalty.com, which in a way stated the same thing, with views from well known US brewers such as Alesmith and Firestone. 

So with my next brew, I was planning on another SMaSH, revisiting a 100% Vienna malt base and throwing in the 100 grams of Sorachi Ace I had recently acquired from Al. With Sorachi having such a lemony flavour profile it made sense to go saison, so I ordered a sack of malt and some Danstar Belle Saison yeast from the Malt Miller. Having read the Mrmalty article, I totally ripped out my hop schedule and decided to go bold with a single 100g 10 minute addition. 

Not only will this be the first time using a different yeast from tried and trusted US-05, but I had also recently upgraded my kit with the acquisition of a new 29 litre Brupaks boiler, doubling my brewing capacity in an instant. Still being short on brew space I planned to continue down the BIAB route, but at least I now had the option to throw a separate mash tun in the mix further down the line to go traditional all-grain. Instead of sewing together a new larger grain sack I just bought two metres of voile material from the local textile shop, doubled it up by folding it in half and pushed it inside the boiler. I’d then simply just gather up the corners and hoist out the makeshift sack. Ta-da! 

On brewday I thought I’d try a 90 minute mash in an attempt to squeeze some more efficiency out of the grain as I had been falling slightly short with my predicted gravity. Having the grist sat in the voile lining within the boiler made stirring the grain so much easier and I can safely say that this time there wasn’t a single dough ball. The only drawback to this method is lifting the sack out, as 5 Kg of wet grain certainly isn’t light! With the back straining and the grain dunked in the sparge water it was time to put my new boiler through it’s paces. I had read various reviews about the safety cut-out inconveniently kicking in mid boil with the Brupaks boilers, but my problem was that it wasn’t even turning on! After a period of head scratching, I realised I had switched it off at the wall when mashing in...bloody rookie!

With the one and only hop addition the boil was a pretty laid back affair and having a boiler fitted with a bazooka hop filter meant I could just lob the lot in rather than having to put them in hop sacks, which felt reassuring as I have suspected that I’ve been losing a bit of hop utilisation with the hops jostling for space in sacks. I have to say I was seriously pleased with how well my new purchase performed. No only was it a more vigorous, rolling boil than I was used to with the ‘old pot on stove’ solution, but it reached the boil in record time, knocking at least 30 minutes off the waiting time. 

With the boil done it was time to see how well my old copper coil coped with cooling double the amount of wort. Initially it was working a treat, but then the cooling slowed down massively, almost to a halt. I know passed a certain point, it does take longer to cool the wort down, but this was taking an absolute age. I was convinced my coil wasn’t up to the task of cooling that volume of wort. It was only when I pulled out the thermometer probe and it remained at 60 degrees I realised the damn thing was broken...again! Thankfully, after last time it failed it’s purpose, I had bought a backup spirit thermometer and things were indeed cooling, but not quite at the pace I was expecting. Maybe I was just being impatient due to the cooling times I experienced with my previous kit? 

With the wort continuing to cool, I made a start on getting the yeast rehydrated and ready for action. I was so used to buying single packs of US-05, which is enough for a 21 litre batch, I neglected to RTFM for the Danstar Belle Saison and so didn’t realise it equated to a gram of yeast per litre of wort, and they come in 11 gram packs! Thankfully before brewday, Graham, from the club, was putting an order in with the Malt Miller so I piggy-backed on his order and he managed to get the extra pack to me in plenty of time...phew! I boiled up 220ml of water in a conical flask (another recent purchase) and left it to cool to the desired temperature (30-35°C) with some tin foil covering the opening, helping things along by running cold water over the base of the flask. Once it hit around 34°C I emptied the two sachets of yeast into the container, broke up any clumps with the end of the thermometer and let it sit for 15 minutes per the instructions. 

With the wort getting close to the pitching temperature, I transferred it into the FV and left the temperature controller to take over temp measurement duties. It was still a bit high so I let it sit for an hour or so, not ideal, as the yeast really needed to be pitched as soon as possible. I threw the yeast in and left it to do it’s thang. The temp rose to around 22-23°C and stayed there for a couple of days, but Danstar advise not to cool it and just leave it to work it’s magic. With it being a Saison of course you want those Sainsony esters! 

The OG was bang on my predicted figure of 1.050 so the extra mashing time seems to have worked a treat. Swigging down the sample, it was indeed very bitter, with lovely fresh lemony citrus notes coming through, perfect for summertime drinking. All-in-all, it was a pretty successful brewday. 

Fermentation completed without a hitch, with the temperature controller only kicking in towards the end of the cycle. It made a change to be bottling more than 20 bottles, meaning I'd have enough to hand out and also enjoy myself! So, the finished product - it was definitely a saison, with that sharp, undeniably yeasty flavour coming through in spades, but thankfully the lemony citrus tones of the Sorachi was right up there alongside, both playing off nicely against the Vienna malt base. Great result, if I do say so myself.


Fermentables...
 Name Type EBC Percentage  Amount
ViennaGrain5.9100 %5 Kg





Hops...
 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Sorachi Ace11.8 %100 gBoil10 mins


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Macc Homebrew Goes to Red Willow...

In Macclesfield we have an annual event called Barnaby Festival. A mix of art, music, food, film and just about anything else remotely cultural… and it’s kind of a big deal around these parts. The mother of one of our Macc Homebrew members, Tom, is one of the organisers behind the event and a seed was planted that there should be a Macclesfield born-and-bred Barnaby beer (since named Trouble at Mill). There’s only one brewery in this town that could make this happen - Red Willow! After numerous meetings everyone was on board the plan was a-go-go. However, as a twist it was to be a collaboration beer with the Macc Homebrew guys and Red Willow! At one of the recent meetups, Toby had spoke of supplying each of us with a brew pack, containing the same grain, hops and yeast. We all go away, brew a beer and then the best one gets scaled up and brewed at the brewery! Four of us - myself, Mike, Graham and Tom, all expressed eagerness to be involved, of course, it was too good of a opportunity to let up! A week or so passed and there was no word from Toby, then out of the blue one Tuesday afternoon we all received an email:
Right,
Bugger me time is flying and we need to get the Barnaby Beer brewed, not on a small scale but 2000 Litres, so who is around Saturday?
Eeek! A bit short notice, but thankfully my lovely wife gave me a free pass for the day, so I was raring to go. The seemingly man of leisure (just because he seems to brew all the time), Tom, was also free, but unfortunately for Graham and Mike work and family life had them tied up for the morning, but luckily they would be available in the afternoon - just in time for the cleaning! 

Toby followed up his email outlining the recipe we would be working with; a 4% ABV pale ale with lots of fruity floral hops, an already delicious sounding summer session ale! Saturday rolled around and Tom and myself arrived bang on 8AM eager to get started, but not before a whirlwind health and safety tour. Toby pointed out all the things that could kill, maim or dissolve our faces. With the formalities out of the way and our adrenaline well and truly pumping, we got stuck in sorting out  the grain - only 13 sacks of Maris Otter with a dash of caramalt and torrefied wheat. Whilst we were busy Martin, a photographer, had turned up to capture the brew day for the Barnaby festival website. We took it in turns to feed the malt into the mash tun, whilst the other clambered up the step ladder and stirred the mash. If the beer tastes salty then that’ll be Tom’s sweat as he frantically tried to break up the dough balls forming as I fed the grain too fast. Once done we put the lid on the mash tun and set the timer for 60 mins. With nothing else to do Toby tasked us with some general brewery duties, namely cleaning casks and bottles, but it was all in a good cause as we would be bottling Red Willow’s superb smoked porter - Smokeless.
With what felt like thousands of bottles cleansed (in reality it was probably only around a 100) and left to drain on a bottle tree, Toby pointed out the bench bottle capper and labelling machine to myself and Martin and then set about filling the freshly cleansed bottles. What did surprise me is how much beer goes to waste when bottling, which Toby estimated at around 50 litres! All that lovely Smokeless going down the drain! Two homebrews worth at that! This was no time to get all sentimental, I saluted the dark liquid sailing past me in the drainage trough and set about getting the surviving beer capped and labelled. The labelling contraption did take some figuring out as I hadn't noticed the pedal under the bench that made it work, but we soon got into a flow and were boxing up beers at a rate of knots. In the meantime Tom had finished sorting out the casks ready for washing and had taken over the bottle filling duties. I’d estimate at this point we probably lost a fair few more litres of beer to the drains! Before we knew it we had filled and packaged easily a couple of hundred bottles, not bad for a band of novices.
So pleased with our efforts we hadn’t even noticed that Toby had begun sparging the wort and transferring it into the kettle, with a lovely golden glow of summer emanating from the sight glass. After a little bit of tidying up around the brewery it was soon time to dig out the spent grain and with impeccable timing Mike arrived just as I had climbed inside the mash tun. Luckily for me he was eager to get his hands dirty and offered to take over. It was soon becoming apparent that the majority of the work involved in brewing beer on a large scale is cleaning! 
Not long after Mike had began jet washing the interior of the mash tun Graham arrived completing the homebrew gang. Whilst we waited for the wort to get up to the boil, Toby filled the time in with brewery tales of HMRC bills, dealings with Virgin Trains, importing/exporting, drunken landlords, it was a great insight into this business. He was also kind enough to let us sample a few of the beers he currently has aging in barrels in the back of a storeroom. A gorgeous tart sour that will eventually join the Faithless range (Red Willow's experimental and one-off brews) and Ruthless, a cherry stout that first hit the pumps at the bar last Christmas, which was tasting even better than I remembered. The cream of the crop though was an early sample of the 10% imperial stout he has currently conditioning for Christmas. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I've found a Strannik beater! 
With the wort getting up to a boil we decided on what hops we would add. We all agreed that floral and fruity were the way forward for a light summer session ale, so Chinook for bittering and then a mainly a mix of Amarillo and Simcoe for flavour and aroma. I was surprised that the 60 minute addition in a 2000 litre brew was a mere 300 grams, compared to the 4Kg we threw in at flame out, not to mention the 5Kg of T90 pellets Toby was planning to dry hop with! The brewery was smelling incredible! With the boil done Toby began transferring it into the FV via a plate chiller and heat exchanger, with the heated water then pumped into the tank that will supply the next mash, very efficient! 
Using a pretty hefty hose it took around 45 minutes to transfer the chilled wort into the FV. One thing I did notice was that other than letting the wort drop into the FV from the top, there was no other aeration involved. This is something I was recently reading up on, of which there are numerous methods and theories that brewers employ, but I had always just dropped the wort from a height into the FV, so it was reassuring to see a professional brewer using this simple method too. With the FV filled it was time to pitch the yeast, which Toby had recently harvested from another brew. Again we’re not on small measurements here, but gallons...a couple of 5 gallon brew buckets worth were chucked in there! With the hatch sealed, it was now down to the yeast to do their stuff. With the brew done there was nothing left to do other than clean the joint up. Graham had the envious task of climbing inside the kettle to scoop out all the spent hops around some evil looking heating elements. After around an hour of scooping, jet washing and sweeping, we were done. Weary, tired and wet there was only one thing to do...get our arses down to the Red Willow bar for a well earned scoop! Beer tastes so good after a massive brew day like that.
All-in-all it was a fabulous day and a useful insight into the beer brewing business and our thanks goes out to Toby for the excellent opportunity. It was a hard day’s work, but that doesn’t matter when you’re making excellent beers!