The Friday Pint 2 #4 – Brewdays and Holidays

So, with the first month of the year almost out of the way, I have to say this is turning out to be easier than expected. Of course, that may be due to the fact that I’ve been busy doing other things, and also trying to not spend money.

Last weekend I ventured out to a pub, to meet up with a friend. There I opted for Weston’s Old Rosie, a cider which I often drink and think to myself that I don’t drink it enough, probably because when I do drink, it’s usually beer. This was followed by another cider, and when it was my friends turn to buy the drinks, I went for a beer.

This past week I have been off work, with the main purpose of sorting out my old room at home. Most of my bottles are now nicely rearranged into boxes, rather than mostly loose, and I can see floor for the first time in quite a while. As well as rearranging beer stashes, finding forgotten possessions from my childhood, and recycling a large amount of magazines and University notes that meant nothing seven years on, I also found time for two brews.

The first was a Perle hopped version of the Vienna lager that was my first attempt at brewing last year. That first attempt was too bitter for a lager in my opinion, and so this time I changed the amount of hops I added. Everything seemingly went well, until I went to check on the progress of the fermentation to discover that nothing had happened.

The second brew was a single hop IPA using Flyer, a new English hop. This was made with 2/3 Maris Otter, 1/3 Caramalt, and 100g of continuous hopping over a 60 minute boil. The OG came out at 1.061 which I’m happy with.

By brewing my own beer, I’m doing two things. One, I’m getting beer to drink that means the bottles I already own last longer, and two, I’m learning more about producing beer. After doing four brews, one thing is certain, I need a more efficient system, certainly when it comes to siphoning off the wort at the end of the boil.

In terms of the time and effort it has been taking me, it seems like a worthwhile investment.

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The Others – Yeast

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the people who look after the yeast…

Yeast is arguably the underrated ingredient in beer. As a community, the beer drinking world raves about the many various hops that impart their wondrous aromas and flavours, yet when it comes to yeast, aside from the sour beers of Belgium, not much is said about them.

This is probably because many drinkers don’t even realise that yeast imparts more than just alcohol into a beer. Certainly for myself, it is something that I have come to discover relatively recently, and I see no reason why a casual beer drinker would even think about what flavours the yeast is adding.

Geuze Boon is one of the many Lambic beers to come from Belgium

Geuze Boon is one of the many Lambic beers to come from Belgium

Arguably, the most obvious effect on a beers taste from yeast can be seen in the many sour beers, including the Lambics and Flemish Reds from Belgium. The Lambic style is produced using Spontaneous Fermentation, which involves allowing the airborne yeast to ferment the beer. The yeast is unique to the area in which the lambic beers are brewed, and as a result, Lambics are a style produced exclusively in Belgium.

Some brewers in other countries brew sour beers using strains of the yeast found in the Lambic breweries, the most common being Brettanomyces bruxellensis. These will be made using more controlled fermentation methods to avoid contamination with airborne yeast which may impart unwanted flavours.

The yeast used in many wheat beers contributes a banana flavour to the taste. This is also present in Brakspear’s Triple. The yeast used by Fuller’s Brewery has, for some (I’ve yet to recognise it myself), a marmalade characteristic, that is present throughout the brewery’s range of beers.

Last year I asked Chris Bond, collection manager at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norfolk, some questions about yeast and beer. Here are the responses he gave me…
1.       How long have you been working at NCYC?
Over 25 years.

2.       How many yeasts related to brewing are currently in the database?
Approximately 350.

3.       How important would you say your work is to the beer industry?
We work with a wide range of brewers from micro-breweries up to national and multi-national brewing companies. We are able to supply a unique quality control and identification system, which allows us to check the purity of cultures and identify any contaminants, as well as having state of the art Safe Deposit storage systems for brewing strains. For our customers we provide a very important service for quality control and back up of their strains – one of their most valuable assets.

4.       Has there been any sort of increase in activity over the last few years?
We continue to steadily accumulate new customers and their strains and so each year tends to be slightly busier than the last. We have had a slightly higher number of enquiries from micro brewers over the past few years, but have not seen a consistent pattern of increase from any particular sector.

5.       How have things changed with the influx of new breweries opening up in recent years?
As mentioned above, the numbers of smaller breweries opening recently has been reflected to some extent in an increase in enquiries and use  of our services by these smaller concerns.

6.       Do you have a favourite yeast?
It is difficult to pick out one yeast as a favourite because they all tend to have their own unique properties and are therefore all interesting in different ways. One of the most popular brewing strains is NCYC 1026 which is a well known ale strain originating from a UK brewery.

7.       What do you do to ensure none of the yeast develops faults or oddities?
The yeast are stored by tried and tested methods which are known to prevent genetic changes. We use both freeze drying and, for our master stocks, storage in liquid nitrogen at -196C. This is below the temperature at which molecular changes occur and so precludes are changes arising.

After storage we are able to carry out ‘DNA Fingerprinting’ as a quality control method (which is also available as a service to our customers) and this allows us to find any genetic changes should they occur.

8.       What is the oldest yeast in the database, when was it registered, and where did it come from?
The oldest yeast strains in the database were deposited in April 1920. These are mostly non-brewing yeast but also include some lager yeast from the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen.

9.       What is the most recent yeast in the database?
The most recent deposits are again non-brewing strains and include many isolated by colleagues in the Maquipucuna cloud forest reserve, Ecuador.

Although we have some very recent safe deposit brewing strains in the closed collection, the last brewing strain deposited in the open collection was in June 2011.

10.   What is your favourite beer?
Wychwood’s Hobgoblin. Also, Adnams Broadside.

Next month, an introduction to Hops

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The Friday Pint 2 #3 – Snowmageddon!

So, last week I said that this weeks post would see my first venture into a pub. My intentions were to get off the train at Southampton, and pay my first visit of the year to The Platform Tavern before making the last part of my journey back home.

If you’re reading this in Britain, you’re probably aware that it’s snowing. If you’re not reading this in Britain, it’s snowing. When it snows in Britain, everything you once knew and loved about civilised society collapses. Transport systems grind to a standstill, people panic buy things they’d never bought before, and packs of rabid zombies roam the streets, attacking the few living souls brave enough to go out in the cold.

As it is, I’m opting to go home whilst I still can with minimum fuss, and as a result, I am currently on the train with a glass of Fuller’s Double Stout in front of me.

Normally, a 7.4% stout would be a tad on the strong side for a train beer, yet in the circumstances, today it seems just right. At some point in my beer drinking life, I read that aged beer goes through good and bad periods. My suspicion is that Double Stout is on the verge of entering a bad stage. That being said though, it’s still a wonderful drink.

The alcohol has a wonderful warming quality, and as it begins to flow through my veins and pass around my body, I find myself not minding so much about the cold. My mouth is coated by the wonderful burnt malt aftertaste, that lingers in the mouth along with the traces of rich chocolate pudding, and boozy dried fruit.

As I write, the train has stopped. The delay doesn’t bother me. I have beer in front of me, and week off ahead of me. I’ll be brewing my Perle hopped version of my Vienna lager tomorrow, and a Flyer pale ale/IPA next week. There’s no need to rush, and I’ve got half a beer left. Best make the most of this.

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The Friday Pint 2 #2 – Changes already

So, last week I set out my plans for my year without buying beer. Fortunately I allowed myself one last weekend, in which I was able to try Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus, in amongst many other delights as I worked my way towards a belated Christmas meal.

The not buying of beer began from Monday, and already I’m seeing changes to my drinking habits. On Wednesday I used a bottle of London Pride to make a steak and ale pie mix. As I had most of a bottle left I poured it into a glass to enjoy. On most previous occasions I would have had no troubles with delving into the stash for another bottle. This time however, knowing it would be a while before it was replenished, I was less eager to enjoy a second bottle.

In many ways, this is probably a good thing. Not only does it mean the beer I do have is likely to last past January, it’s also a good thing for my body in general.

On Thursday I had a craving for hops, and so went for my last can of Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi. This was offset during the day by two pots of tea, and a glass of the wine I had used to cook some lamb in. From this I learned two things, I don’t make tea at home enough, and I much prefer cooking with beer to cooking with wine.

Next Friday I’ll be heading back down south, for a week that will feature a lot of tidying, and the first two brews of the year. I’ll also be doing the first drink related Friday Pint of the year. How will I cope being in a pub and not being able to buy beer?

Find out next week…

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The Friday Pint 2 #1 – The Year Without (Buying) Beer

Last year, I spent a lot on beer, much to the point that at one point my mum said to me that I should try and spend less this year.

That got me thinking, and that thinking led to the plans for this years edition of The Friday Pint. Starting from Monday, this year, I will not be spending any money on beer, and The Friday Pint will be chronicling what happens.

There will be exceptions, and rules, which I will now lay out.

1. I cannot spend money on bottled or draught beer, with the exception of 10 occasions. Some of these have already been predetermined. These are:

  • My birthday
  • The Tuckers Malting Beer Festival
  • GBBF
  • When my girlfriend is over in October
  • Christmas
  • Fathers Day/My Dad’s Birthday.
  • The as yet untitled and unconfirmed Birmingham based craft beer festival.

2. I will allow myself to buy a bottle of beer as a cooking ingredient. This must be bought at the same time as the other ingredients for whatever I’m making, and must not be accompanied by other bottles.

3. I can buy ingredients and brew my own beer

4. I can visit pubs and buy other drinks, and food. The point of this year long experiment is to see what happens when I can’t buy beer.

5. I can drink what I already have in stock.

So, it all seems rather simple. 12 months of not spending large amounts of money on bottles everytime I go into a shop, or on thirds and halves each time I go into a bar. There are admittedly ulterior motives to spending less money on beer, and more time on homebrewing, which will be revealed when the time is right.

In the meantime, I apologise to the establishments I reguarly spent money in over the last year. I will be in and giving some of you money, just not as much.

Here’s to 2013, the year without (buying) beer.

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The Session #71 – Brewers and Drinkers

the_sessionWell, December seemingly went rather quickly. It seems like just last week I was reading everyone’s musings on the subject of hype. Here are yet again, on the first Friday of the month, and time for another edition of The Session, this month hosted by John of Home Brew Manual.

For his Session, John asks about the relationship between brewers and drinking, and how knowledge of the processes that go into making a pint can affect the enjoyment of it.

I’ve enjoyed beer for around eight to nine years now. I started enjoying ales at The Giddy Bridge in Southampton during a three hour break at Uni on a Monday. The Giddy Bridge is a Wetherspoon’s pub, so the beer and food was relatively cheap compared to other places, and the beer selection was more appealing too.

My years of drinking at The Giddy Bridge were done with relatively little knowledge, however they did contribute to developing tastes. I still much prefer porters and stouts, though I wonder if this was in some way influenced by the beers I drank early on.

Between Uni and moving to London, my beer drinking would come from supermarkets and traveling to breweries to pick up beer in plastic containers of various shapes and sizes. At this point I was still predominately drinking English ales, though I had encountered Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, which opened my eyes to a world of American beers beyond the mainstream lagers available in the supermarkets.

It wasn’t until moving to London, and discovering bars like The Rake, Cask and The Euston Tap, that my drinking really began to expand. With that expansion in drinking came the start of this blog, which has changed the way I look at beer. Rather than just enjoy a beer, and either get or not get the aroma and taste, I now try to figure out what they are.

It’s probably a combination of drinking, blogging, and following numerous home brewers on Twitter that led me to starting last year. Foolishly, I decided that what I wanted to brew first was a lager. I was fully aware that a standard ale would perhaps be a much more simple recipe to begin with, and wouldn’t require the lagering period, or the use of the fridge, however lager is what I began with.

It didn’t go well. One person who has tried it said it was okay, and reminded them of a pale ale. The aroma is okay, yet too many hops went in too early, and as a result it’s far too bitter.

My second brew, a smoked porter hopped with Bramling Cross, was a happy accident. I was aiming for a 5% porter, and wanted more than my 8.5 litre pot will allow. I brewed a wort that was twice as strong, and added more liquor to it in the fermenter before adding the yeast. Rather than a 5-6% porter, the result was a rather drinkable 3% porter.

Brewing this porter, and seeing how it has changed in the bottle over a couple of months, has had an effect on how I’ve enjoyed a beer. When I first tried Vibrant Forest’s Black Forest Porter on draught, it was rather fruity, much like my home brew. When I had a bottle of it a few weeks later, it wasn’t as fruity, and would have been disappointing, had my home brewed porter not had done a similar thing.

Over the last year or so when drinking a beer, I have tried to find out which hops have been used. The ones I have enjoyed the most are the ones I have made a note to try and use in my own brewing. Likewise, with styles. When I enjoy a beer, I often consider trying to make my own, to my tastes.

My plans for home brew are to use it to brew beers that I want to drink, and also to use it to learn more. The home brewer has much more freedom to experiment with ingredients than a commercial brewer does. It’s through experimenting that I’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. I’m hoping I get more of the former.

Has my short time home brewing affected how I enjoy drinking? So far, I have to say not really. Will that be different with time? Possibly, come and ask me again in a year or so.

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