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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Manchester CAMRGB #Twissup...

Starting at midday and visiting some of Manchester's finest beer haunts for the next 12 hours, there was no doubt that the Manchester CAMRGB #Twissup (it's really difficult to write that without the hashtag!) was going to get messy! Surprisingly for me it didn't, despite drinking copious amounts of fine ales, it was more a civilised *ahem* opportunity to meet the people I've often chatted beer with many-a-times on the Twitter.

The promised land...
The days proceedings kicked off at the jewel in Manchester's crown - Marble Arch, the birth place of the much beloved Marble Brewery. With it's sloping floor this place makes you feel tipsy before you've even taken a sip of any of their superb beers. Myself and Tom (@thomasrolewis) were representing the Macc Homebrew Club Massive and as Dom of Thornbridge had given a talk at the last meet we thought it fitting to start off this beerathon with a half of Dobber, which Dom had more of a hand in creating during his stint there. I've said it before and I'll no doubt I'll say it again, you just can't go wrong with a Marble! At this point the place was starting to fill up fast and we figured the folk without City scarves and not ordering food were here for the beer. We were right! You know what they say - eat and you cheat! We hadn't been there long before the Marble guys started handing out the promised "special" beer, and boy was it special. A 10.8% Imperial Stout! We were actually sat away from the main crowd at this point, but moved like lightning to grab a glass when we noticed people sampling it and nodding in approval. This was a good opportunity to start meeting these Twitter avatars I've been relating with in the cyberweb. I introduced myself to the #twissup organiser and fellow blogger/homebrewer - Connor Murphy of BeerBattered.co.uk. Then a forthright fellow introduced himself, it was of course Jim of BeersManchester and champion of Northern beers! Jim in turn introduced me to Paddy of AllBeerNoBelly. My god this shit just started getting real! The great thing is, thanks to Twitter, we're already friends. No small talk needed, lets just big up the beer.

 
Can you hear the angels sing?
After a couple more of top Marble halves it was time to saddle up and move on to Blackjack Beers Brewery, just down the road...literally! Down a steep incline, to even steeper stairs and under a railway arch. Holy crap, it's a piss-up in a brewery! Despite a teaser picture of the makeshift bar on Twitter earlier in the day, I don't think anyone quite expected how frickin' good it was going to be. Rob and his guys had set up a selection of Blackjacks own fine ales (brewed on Marble's old kit), along with some other goodies from the likes of Burning Sky and a superb collab Arbor/Alchemy. The best bit? It was dirt cheap! They had set up an honesty 'conical flask', drop your dosh and pour your own. Having never poured a pint in my life I went straight in for Blackjack's own DoppelKopf (excellent by the way!), what I ended up with is a pint of froth, but I didn't care...I was only pouring my own beer in the brewery it was made! With more people arriving it was another opportunity to strike up conversation with random people. I sparked up a conversation with a fellow by the name of Cameron, a name that I recognised. A flash of his branded top confirmed he was another blogger from AllYouNeedsIsBeer! Christ we were all out today. This reminded me I needed to pick up my medium CAMRGB t-shirt from Simon, the founder of the glorious organisation that started all this mayhem. We chatted about music and the parallels of microbreweries and indie record labels, and how CAMRGB has exploded into something beyond his wildest dreams, even to the point where CAMRA have been paying close attention with beady eyes. We all love some drunken anarchy don't we? Simon is a busy chap so I offered my blogging services and hopefully will be throwing a few official CAMRGB updates up in the near future, once I get my own house in order.

Everyone was having much fun, enthusing about the top beers and location. There was only one place in Manchester that could drag us away from such luxury - Port Street Beer House. Waiting there was the unveiling of Quantum Brewery's Bock. It was from this point on that things start getting hazy. I bumped into Jay of Quantum and commended him on the excellent Bock, which was also the first time he'd got to sample it. After chatting to a few twissupers (sorry guys I forget names, but get in touch!), before we knew it, myself and Tom were in conversation with Rob of Blackjack, Shane of Cheshire Brewhouse and Michelle from Offbeat, the cream of Northern brewing! For a couple of aspiring brewers, life doesn't get better than that! We were grinning from ear-to-ear!

The merry folk...
At some point the shout came to move onwards, to Font Bar...hoorah! Food here I come! The last time I went in Font was many moons ago, I remember it being quite a studenty place, and I think we were all pleasantly surprised with the stuff that was on tap. There were two Blackjack beers on pump and I joked with Rob saying I doubt the bar staff would have believed him if he said he was the brewer. Anyway, the pull of Magic Rock's High Wire was too much to avoid. That stuff is bloody marvelous! With food and a few more scoops in my belly the atmosphere was at a high and the laughs were flowing. The Macc Homebrew club contingent got one stronger with the arrival of Graham (@arrowsails), who by default also made a beeline for the High Wire too. What a cracking night it's been so far! At some point the shout to move on came again, not that I really remember it...

A cab ride later a bunch of us ended up in some Salford scrubland walking towards an illuminated railway archway in drunken slow motion - it was like a scene from an indie film. We must be at First Chop! I tell you, it's not what I was expecting - part DIY project, part trendy bar. With a half of HOP in my hand myself, Tom, Rich Caller (@rcaller, an accomplished homebrewer) and Shane stood around and chatted about things I don't remember, but I do recall plenty of laughs.

Unfortunately, living in Macclesfield, I had to be mindful of the train situation, especially when I'm essentially in a different city than the train station I need to be in! So talk eventually moved on to going home, but luckily we were all heading towards Piccadilly so a cab share was in order. We said our goodbyes to our fellow #twissup survivors and promised that whatever happens on the #twissup stays on the #twis...ermm...gets blogged about. I've held my side of the bargain. Big thanks to Connor and all those involved, it was a bloody cracking night! Until the next time fellow drunken Twitterers! 

UPDATE: For more takes on the days events check out BeersManchesterCAMRGB blog and of course Beer Battered.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Macc Homebrew Goings On...

We're only a few meets into the Macc Homebrew club and already it's really starting to gather some steam. We're still small and are working hard to gather up more members, but the one thing we do have going for us is we're based in Macclesfield! Not only are we a hotspot for a decent scoop, but we're quite central to a lot of acclaimed brewers out there. This month we're blessed to have the company of Thornbridge brewer Dominic Driscoll and Buxton head brewer Colin Stronge, who will be sharing their vast knowledge over a pint or two. In the pipeline we have future meets with Jay Krause of Quantum and Shane Swindells of Cheshire Brewhouse, so plenty of exciting times ahead! 

Not only that, one of our founding members Mike has setup our own social network to allow our members to chat without Twitter noise and share knowledge. It's still early days but we're working on building up a resource of useful info. I think eventually we would like to have some inter-club competition with some of the bigger established groups out there (Manchester and Leeds we're giving you evils!). 

So, if you're a homebrewer yourself, a beer fan or are just curious, we meet every third Tuesday of the month (next meet 18th of Feb) at the Red Willow bar in central Macclesfield (2 mins from the train station)...everyone is more than welcome!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

BIAB #4 - Guatemalan Insanity Stout

As a bit of friendly competition, the fellas at Macc Homebrew decided to have a "Stout Off", to see who could conjure up the best..err..stout. I have previously brewed what could loosely be named a stout and despite being pleased with the overall flavour, I was far from pleased with the body. Regardless of the recipe I decided upon, I wanted that stout creaminess, and that called for flaked oats...and plenty of them. Scouting around looking at various recipes it seemed the ideal amount was 10% off your grain bill. As I already had some chocolate and crystal malt in the cupboard, I only needed oats and a base malt, good old Maris Otter of course.

20 grams enough? Naaah.
So with the base stout sorted I wanted something to make it stand out. Having always had a thing for coffee-heavy stouts, it was a no brainer. I scoured the internet for a suitable coffee and stumbled across Whittard's Guatemalan Antigua ground coffee, described as having a flavour of 'sweet honey with a hint of spice and chocolate', sounded bloody delicious! I immediately put in an order! The coffee's Guatemalan origin brought to mind an episode of the Simpsons where, having eaten a Guatemalan Insanity Pepper, Homer went on a hallucinogenic journey and woke up the next day in a golf bunker. Just the kind of experience I wanted from my stout, the now named - Guatemalan Insanity Stout!

No, it's not a urine sample.
However, although I wanted a big coffee punch, the bitterness needed to be balanced out with something mellow. At the time I'd been reading Randy Mosher's superb book - Radical Brewing, particularly a section about making potions. Yes, that's right - potions! This basically involves adding herbs or spices to vodka and leaving it infuse over a number of weeks, then adding said infusion to your beer before bottling. Vanilla partners up well with coffee, so I bought some fresh pods from my local Tesco and threw them in a jar with couple of glugs of Smirnoff. Randy says to leave it for a week or two, but it only took a day before the vodka started absorbing that vanillary goodness.

As not to leave things last minute as I usually do, I tried to plan ahead and put my grain order in with The Malt Miller in plenty of time. I received my package a couple of days before the #brewday, but unfortunately, due to being a muppet and not double checking the amounts before submitting my order, I was shy of 1kg of Maris Otter. Unless I could get my mitts on some grain sharpish, brewday would have to be postponed. A shout out to the Twitter folk was in order to see if anyone could point me in the general direction of a local supplier. Despite a few helpful retweets, I was still no closer to obtaining the 1kg I required. Then one of the chaps from the homebrew club (cheers Mike!) mentioned that Red Willow's Toby had said at one of the meetings that if we were ever short of anything to give him a shout. So I threw a message his way and he kindly obliged! Brewday arrived and with tub in hand I paid Toby a visit at the brewery. He kindly supplied me with the grain I was severely lacking (plus a bit more for good measure) and asked what I was brewing and what my grain bill was. Imparting some expert advice he also supplied me a scoop of black malt and Carafa III to give the stout a few more EBC units. As I didn't seek the advice I don't think it counts as cheating...does it? Does it?

Sac magique...
With brewday back on track I kicked off proceedings. I weighed the grain poured them into the new muslin sacks I had sewn with my own fair hands...on a real sewing machine (with tutelage from the missus)! The weave of the cloth was a bit slacker than the ones supplied with the Massive Brewery kit, so hopefully I'd gain a bit more efficiency, and I also made them an inch wider to give me a bit more room to maneuver when stirring the grain. I wanted to make sure this bad boy had plenty of body so I decided to up the temperature of the mash rest to 67°C, which would produce more unfermentable sugars and thus less alcohol in the end product, but I counteracted this with an ample addition of muscovado sugar. Hopefully that rum molasses flavour would add an extra dimension to the stout. With the sacks submerged there was indeed plenty of extra room to stir, so I was pleased with my handy work. 

Nothing particularly notable happened during the mash and sparging stages, except I'm glad to say the stitching of the sacks stood up to some forceful squeezing! With the boil on I threw in the sugar and the first hop addition of Northern Brewer. 30 minutes later I poured in the 750ml of coffee that I had steeped that morning in boiling water (80 grams worth), then 5 minutes from the end chucked in the second sack of hops, this time the Willamette. I thought that I would have been able to smell the coffee, but all I could whiff was that familiar boiling wort scent, which made me worry that I hadn't added enough. Thankfully when it had cooled and I grabbed a gravity sample that lovely coffee aroma, not to mention flavour, was very much present. My BrewMate recipe had predicted an OG of 1.066, and what I ended up with was 1.060, and possibly without the coffee addition I might have hit that. A massive improvement over previous brews, so I reckon the new sacks did the trick! Hurrah!

With the wort cooled, thrown into the FV and the yeast pitched (good old US-05 of course), it's just the usual waiting game. After just couple of hours I was seeing some vigorous yeast activity, you could say they were going 'insane' for it *ahem*, I just hope other people do too! In a couple of weeks time I shall throw in a couple of shots worth of the vanilla vodka before bottling, well...maybe one shot as it's starting to look and smell pretty potent!

Fermentables...
 Name Type   EBC PercentageAmount
Maris Otter MaltGrain7.957.23 %1.86 Kg
Crystal 120Grain12012.00 %390 g
ChocolateGrain3509.23 %300 g
Flaked OatsAdjunct19.23 %300 g
Muscavado SugarSugar507.69 %250 g
Black MaltGrain6003.08 %100 g
Carafa III maltGrain5251.54 %50 g

Hops...

 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Northern Brewer9.6%18 gBoil60 mins
Willamette7.1%10 gBoil5 mins

Misc...

 Name Amount Use Time
Coffee80 gBoil30 mins
Irish Moss0.50 gBoil5 mins
Vanilla10 gBottling0 mins