Saturday, 23 November 2013

Anchor Steam Beer

Anchor Steam Beer wasn't what I was expecting. Being from the US west coast, I was ready for this beer to deliver a big hop aroma but this isn't what it's about.

The malt is the star of the show here, in a good way, with a really strong carbonation helping to deliver the robust caramel flavours.

It's probably not a beer I'd choose to drink very regularly but was very pleasant and makes an interesting change from hop-forward beers.

Blakemere - Navajo

A trip to a kids' birthday party at Blakemere Craft Centre led to the chance discovery of a little microbrewery and beer shop, just round the corner from the play centre. Obviously, I snuck out while Gangnam Style was on, and had a nosey round.

The brewery was closed, which I would expect on a Saturday, but the attached shop was open. It was called "Beers 'o' the World". I went in, looking forward to perusing the American craft ales, drooling over the Belgian beers and perhaps buying a nice Pilsner or two.

No. It turns out that "Beers 'o' the World" only stocks beer made next door, with a range of what looked to be about ten different ales. The range was really traditional, with a mild, a stout, a fruit beer and of course the obligatory Christmas novelty beer. Who buys those anyway?

One thing that immediately struck me when choosing a bottle was that a lot of the crown caps seemed to be barely on, with the bottoms still splayed out a bit. If they were on, it was only just. The bottles also mostly had sticky beer stains around the necks from the bottling process. Not a good first impression.

I didn't find the range very inspiring but I got a Navajo (pale golden ale with hoppy citrus notes) and a Jewel (light-golden, well-hopped IPA). They sounded like the pick of the bunch.

Once home, the 3.9% Navajo was first up. The cap kind of limply fell off when I wielded a bottle opener at it, with a very small release of pressure. I started pouring quite slowly, with a tilted glass like always, but quickly realised it was going to be pretty flat and moved the glass upright in an attempt to get a head to form. No chance. It was completely flat and also rather cloudy.

A quick sniff revealed a significant tangy fruit smell, with no hop aroma at all. I had a swig and it was drinkable. It was quite bitter but pretty nondescript apart from that and I found it hard to concentrate on any other flavours because of the off-putting fruit tang that never went away.

I may well be wrong, but it tasted like it wasn't ready yet - like it had not had chance to condition properly. Whatever the reason though, I spent my hard-earned cash on this beer and was left very disappointed.

Upgraded brew kit

After the last brew, I had decided that some of the kit I was using needed a bit of an upgrade. The main thing that needed sorting was the filter at the bottom of the mash tun. There is a tap fitted to the bottom of the mash tun, for draining out the wort. This needs a filter fitted to the inside, to stop the grains clogging up the tap. The filter should have some substantial surface area to it, as it helps when the sparge water is flowing down through the grain bed during sparging.

The mash tun I bought was supplied with this filter:

It was okay but doesn't have much surface area and was a bit wobbly and delicate. I had previously tried to make my own replacement, out of a length of stainless steel braided hose reinforcement from a plumbers' merchant:

This worked pretty well, and covered more of the bottom of the tun. I hadn't bought stainless jubilee clips though, and these started to get corroded. The braiding was also very hard to keep clean and had a tendency to trap bits of grain.

I bit the bullet and bought a proper false bottom from the homebrew shop in Stockport. This is made from a sheet of stainless steel, perforated with small holes to let the wort through. It's got a domed shape and the fluid actually flows back up through a fitting in the centre and exits the mash tun through a short hose going to the usual tap. 

The false bottom came as a full circle, designed to fit bigger mash tuns. I had to cut slices off the edges and make a few tweaks to get it to fit, as the pictures show.

I also bought another coolbox, to use as a hot liquor tank (HLT). I'm going to fill it with 75C water to use during the sparge. Previously, I'd been heating water up to the required temperature in pans on the hob but this was really hit and miss. Hopefully these two upgrades will help out a bit.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Redemption Trinity at the Euston Tap

Following an excellent meal at The Fellow in King's Cross, my lovely friend Bella and I decamped to the legendary Euston Tap for a post-prandial beverage. For provincial readers, this former wing of the Euston Arch is one of London's premier beer locations; no messing around here, just pure dedication to ale.

Sadly - unbelievably - I was driving, so Bells was supping the majority of the booze. She could see the sadness in my eyes so restricted herself to just a cheeky half of Redemption Trinity. 

It was an excellent choice, but given the superlative choice on offer they could barely fail. Trinity is a 3.0% pale ale, and - at the risk of repeating myself - it's fruity, hoppy, with citrus overtones etc. the three sips I had I really enjoyed. 

What I've learned over this beer odyssey is that I really, really like pale ale, but it's a pain to find new ways to describe it. 

And as for the Euston Tap, it's worth adding an hour on to your journey to the north west to have a couple of the superb selections on offer. Don't expect a seat, though. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Black IPA taste test

Well, the time has come. The mighty Propaganda has been bottled for two weeks and is ready to drink. Instead of the usual simple tasting, I decided that Mrs Nelly and I should do a "Black IPA comparative blind taste test". I bought a bottle of Thornbridge Raven (which used to be called Wild Raven) and a Buxton Imperial Black IPA (7.5%).

In the brief period of time between our child going to bed and tea being ready, we did an "in-depth" taste test.

Drink A (Thornbridge) was hoppy-ish, with a head that stuck around. It had a medium body and a slight caramel/toffee taste. It also pulled off the clever trick of managing to have a fairly white head on a black drink.

Drink B (Buxton) had the least aroma and had a head which subsided the quickest with the least carbonation. We noticed a distinct liquorice flavour which, while not unpleasant was different to the other two.

Drink C (Nelly Brewery) was the darkest in colour and had a slightly brown foamy head. It had more carbonation than the other two and more mouthfeel.

Mrs Nelly, the Father-in-law and I agreed that we liked Beer A the best, Beer C second and Beer B third. I felt that the Buxton was too flat and became a bit chewy and hard-going as a result, which I think can happen easily with very strong, dark ales and was something I had consciously been trying to avoid. The Thornbridge beer definitely had more flavour, with a lovely complex roasted, caramel taste and was really nice, as you'd expect, having recently been voted best Black IPA in the World.

I think that next time, I would slightly reduce the amount of dark malts used, as there was more than enough to make it go black. And it needs more hops. When I tried a few bottles in the first week, the hop aroma was still there but after two weeks in the bottle, it's all but gone. You have to put a stupid amount into these beers, to get the delicate hop aromas to stand out against the strong roasted malt background. I reckon about 400g in late and dry-hopping would be okay for the next batch.


I had another three bottles of Propaganda and can now report that the hangovers you get from homebrew are very similar to the ones you get from shop-bought ale. Urgh!

Monday, 11 November 2013

More home brewing

Well, I've been quite please with myself lately, having finally made a homebrew which isn't minging!

Propaganda, my first attempt at a Black IPA, was quite fun to make and the results are really promising. It's only been bottled for a little over a week as a write, but of course I've had a few "sneak previews" already and it's really nice, even if I do say so myself!

I've added a homebrew page to the blog, which I'll keep updated as a log of my brews. It's actually quite a useful exercise for me to write down the recipe and my thoughts for each brew.

This Sunday morning was another brew day and I went for a single hop US Pale Ale, with Cascade hops. This one was intended to provide a bit of a learning opportunity more than anything.

My brewing kit is starting to need upgrading, with a proper false bottom for the mash tun and another coolbox for use as a Hot Liquor Tank top of the list. I'll try to get these bits and pieces sorted out over the next couple of weeks before setting about the next one. Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Nelly Brewery - Hedgehog Down (2)

Well, I'm now down to my last bottle of Hedgehog Down, having variously drunk, given away and thrown away the rest. I decided I'd better do a review!

Well, despite what the last review said, I was really impressed with the clarity of the beer. It's really, really clear - crystal clear one might say, as the photos show. That's where the good points end though, I'm afraid to say. 

The top came off the bottle with a nice pop and a decent head formed upon pouring. However, there just wasn't much body - the beer was rather thin and the head dissipated pretty quickly. The colour was too dark for a pale ale, being a mid-amber hue more than anything. 

There was a strong fruity smell, which I think was estery. I'll readily admit that I'm not experienced enough to be 100% certain but from the various guides to beer off-flavours that are available online (like this one), estery smells and flavours are my best bet for what was going on. Beyond the fruity tastes, there wasn't really much else going on, with no discernible hop character at all.

Looking back at my notes for this one, I don't think the fermenting temperature was too high, being 18-19C all the way through. I'm more inclined to think that the fruity taste was both an inherent product of the English yeast used and also due to the long ferment time. I racked this on day 19, after a really slow ferment. 

My latest thinking is to use cleaner-tasting American yeast and more of it. I used 2 packets of US-05 for the latest batch and it was finished in about 5 days, with really encouraging results so far. I talked to a pro brewer about this last week and his beers stay in the FV for 7 days before racking so I hope I'm on the right lines here.

I'm currently planning to use 2 packs of US-05 for my next 2 brews, to keep this variable the same, before moving to reused or harvested yeast from then on.

So to sum up, Hedgehog Down wasn't great but it was another step along the learning curve.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hedgehog Down, Nelly Brewery

In a slight shift from the usual format, I will be sharing this review with another beer enthusiast - in this case my Dad - who was desperate to sample the latest offering from the Pride of Holmes Chapel, the Nelly Brewery - hence the two glasses below. 

It's an English Pale Ale hoping by the name of Hedgehog Down - read the story to see why - although it doesn't look particularly pale, as you can see; it was also rather cloudy. 

I might have expected a hoppy boutique, but instead it was rather more yeasty. That said, first taste was meaty and full frontal, with the taste sitting on the front of the tongue. "Needs more hop", said Dad, and I was inclined to agree. 

A note about my Dad

Dad likes to think he knows about beer, as he's been drinking it since the early 60s. He doesn't. I'm not saying I do either, but bear that in mind for the rest of the post. 

Back to the beer...

"It's almost the same on the front of the mouth as Jaipur," claimed Dad, extravagantly. "But it doesn't linger". Let's not be too harsh here - Jaipur is utterly amazing. I was struggling to identify a decent aftertaste, although noted that "the meatiness is accompanied by some fruits". Maybe like a lamb curry with raisins?

Dad held the empty bottle up to the light, to reveal a huge lump of brewer's yeast. He then regaled me for the fifteenth time of the tale of the Sixties home brewers who would scoot round the back of Liverpool pubs for the yeast remaining in the bottom of Whitbread bottles - "worth it's weight in gold couldn't buy brewer's yeast as an amateur in them days". Rightio. He may, however, have had a point when he noted, "you shouldn't be leaving yeast in the bottom like that...that's why it's so cloudy. Perhaps it was racked off too early?"

Now I know little about the brewing process, but last time I heard the phrase "rack off " it was going shouted at Bouncer as he stole a cricket ball on Ramsey Street. The flamin' galah. I assume in this context it refers to the point on time at which a beer is bottled - but I'd be interested to know if this us a real phrase or just a Dadism. 

I asked Dad for his final thoughts. "As a homebrew, it's excellent" he declaimed, as he chewed the last of the yeast thoughtfully. Would you drink another bottle, old man?

"Christ, no."