Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sullerica Brewery and Mallorca Craft Beer

Lizzie and I have just got back from a week in Majorca.  Lots of nice food, relaxing, swimming and walking... but one thing I did not expect to find is craft beer!

We stayed in a place called Port de Soller on the north coast, the beach resort just down the road from the larger town of Soller. On our first day wandering around town, we were in a local deli shop and came across bottles of beer which happened to be brewed just up the road in Soller.  I was very excited. We immediately purchased a cold one from the fridge and took it down to the beach to try in the sunshine...

The brewery is called Sullerica.  They had four different beers in the shop: a wheat beer, a porter, an IPA and this one... a pale ale made with orange blossom. Really refreshing, with a light fragrant flowery aroma. Although they're refreshing enough when drunk cold on a hot day, this made a lovely change from Mahou and Estrella.

We made a note of the address of the brewery printed on the bottle and made sure to look for it next time we visited the main town.  A couple of days later, after a long day walking, we ended up in Soller and we immediately headed for the brewery.  We had no idea what to expect... it might just be someone's house, but I was desperately hoping it would be somewhere which was open to visitors and hopefully somewhere we could buy a beer. I was very happy when we found it...

The brewery was open so we walked in and found we were the only visitors there. We were greeted by Guillem in a small but impressively set up brewery.  He was more then happy to get us some beer and explain a bit about the brewery which was launched in February 2013. We tried two beers. The porter, a lightly roasted beer, very smooth for the 6% ABV and also made with orange blossom which gave it a subtle underlying fruityness.  The other one we tried was their newest beer, and IPA. This really impressed me. A fantastic punchy aroma which immediately tells you that it's going to be good and a really good bitterness. Guillem explained that this is made with local olives... the local olives are very bitter so these add a unique bitterness to the beer that I could genuinely detect in the taste. I thought this was such a good idea... olives essentially used as an extra hop variety!

With a bit of help from his Wife Maria who joined us when Guillem called on help translating, we had a chat about the recent growth of craft beer. We talked about how popular it is these days in London and Guillem and Maria told of their constant battle to popularise it in Mallorca and Spain, where the majority of people are daunted by the intense flavour and bitterness and instead prefer the softer lagers they are familiar with.

We very much enjoyed our chat with Guillem and Maria. I felt very happy that they seemed to get a lot out of it too... they seemed almost taken aback by my compliments, especially when I commented that their IPA would not be out of place on the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Guillem didn't want any money for the beers we had tried but I insisted he had some, I felt compelled to support these guys in what they're doing and I appreciated how much hard work it was. I very much hope to see more of this brewery in the future and I fully expect that I will. Buena Suerte Sullerica!

Since our discovery of Sullerica, we later found that Majorca has several microbreweries. We tried to seek out some of the others but were not able to find any others in the fairly remote area we were staying.

On a day trip to the capital Palma, we were able to try a couple of beers by another brewery known as 'Beer Lovers' (from Alcudia) in a great little bar called Bar Rita. Their IPA was seriously good and would genuinely hold up well against the best of UK and American IPAs. 

The world of craft beer is booming at the moment but I think Spain is slightly different. The beers I tried were impressive and surprised me in a good way, especially as recipes were still fairly new, but I never saw anyone of the locals drinking them. Understandably the prices are higher than the more commercial beers but Spain is a country of tradition and sadly I think that is part of the challenge. Guillem at Sullerica told me that they had beers on sale in Barcelona and I saw that they recently represented at the Barcelona Craft Beer Festival. They seem to be getting recognition in the craft beer world and I have no doubt that if they make their way to the UK, people would drink them and enjoy them. I just hope that they can make the breakthrough in their home country and one day, just maybe... they can replace crappy San Miguel.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Underrated South East London Pubs

Just a small post. There are lots of London pubs that get mentioned all the time and deservedly so but there are also a couple of my favourites that never get talked about... some people have never even heard of them. So I just want to give them a quick mention and recommend that you check them out.

Stormbird, Camberwell

One of my favourite pubs in London.  I might be a bit biased because this is my local but why does this never get mentioned by anyone?!  One of the best keg ranges in London including Belgian and American beers that I don't see anywhere else in London... do you know anywhere else that has Kwak on tap permanently?  The prices are really reasonable, I can't say I've seen pints of Kernel and Beavertown any cheaper anywhere else.  It's a very relaxed place with friendly and knowledgeable staff.  If you're one of the many people who for some reason have never heard of this place, go and check it out, you'll thank me.

The Ivy House, Nunhead

This has recently re-opened and I first visited it a few months ago but since then it has become a favourite. It's an amazing place, an old music hall with original stage and lovely old wooden panelling... makes for a really cosy setting.  The beer selection is good, mainly focusing on local beers with cask ales from breweries such as Brockley, Late Knights, Clarence & Fredricks, all of which are well kept. On keg, regulars inlude Beavertown Gamma Ray and the deliciously quaffable Rocky Head Zen... it's worth going just for that in my opinion.

If you're ever in south east London, I recommend you check these out... they deserve more praise!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Chinook Pale

This is the first blog I have written in ages so I had lots of things that I could have written about but I thought first I would give an update on my latest homebrew and what has inspired it.  

The Inspiration

There are lots of different beers around at the moment, and I'm trying more and more that I'd never tried say 3 years ago. Saison, Sour, Berliner Weisse... all beers I really enjoy when I'm in the mood but it took a recent trip back to my Derbyshire home to realise how much I love a simple (in a good way) fresh cask pale ale. I have mentioned it before in a blog post but I'll say it again... I don't think cask pale ales get any better than Buxton Moor Top.  I think with lots of high ABV keg beers all the rage in London at the moment, I forget how much I love this type of beer.

Pint of Moor Top
My dad at the Cliff Inn, Crich with a Moor Top!

So, I decided after a couple of adventurous (for me) homebrews, I would revert to my love of simple pale ales and try and recreate a Moor Top type dry, crisp, hoppy pale ale.  All I knew is that Moor Top was brewed with a smidgen of wheat and with chinook hops. I look chinook hops. There are lots of fruity pale ales around, I'm thinking particularly of ones made with Australian and NZ hops, chinook is less fruity with more of a herby, grassy, piney taste. I want a dry moreish pale ale and I think this hop works better than a tropical fruity tasting one that can sometimes take over a bit.

My Chinook Pale

The Recipe


3.5kg    Maris Otter
0.25kg  Wheat


10g Chinook        60 mins
20g Chinook        30 mins
30g Chinook        10 mins
40g Chinook        Dry Hop



I know it's a very simple recipe and there could be more to it but one thing I have learnt from brewers (especially when I brewed with Kernel) is that it's all about simplicity, especially with a light pale ale like this... keep the malt base simple and let the hops shine through etc.

The brew day went well with no problems for probably the first time ever. I added some gypsum to harden the water slightly.  I mashed at a fairly low temperature of about 65 degrees for 90 minutes. I'd read that mashing at lower temperatures for longer would give more fermentable sugars, hopefully meaning a good attenuation and a nice dry beer.  I was hoping that this along with the clean US-05 yeast would give me the crisp dry beer I was after. The estimated OG was 1.039, it ended up as 1.041.  The estimated FG was 1.011, it ended up at 1.010. So, apparently the yeast attenuated well so I was pretty pleased.  I then dry hopped the barrel with more Chinook.

Lovely chinook added to the boil
Cold Break settling nicely to leave an amazingly clear wort

I reckon lots of homebrewers reading this will think that I've not added enough hops but it is a weak beer (about 4%) and according to the malt/hops chart, this is still considered to be very hoppy and it has an IBU of about 47 which I thought was enough for a beer of this strength.

After conditioning in the barrel for 10 days, I bottled the beer with sugar.  I filled 43 330ml bottles (all the bottles I had in the house) which left a few pints for me to enjoy straight from the barrel and by this time it was tasting really good... I could almost imagine I was drinking Moor Top! well, that's probably a bit biased, but I genuinely think it didn't taste far off.  

The more I have read of other people's recipes, I'm still a bit anxious that I've not added enough hops or the late addition wasn't late enough or I should have dry hopped with more. Having said that, I always have doubts when I've made a beer, after all it's all about trying new things.  I'm still optimistic that the beer will develop further as it conditions in the bottles and as always I'm excited about the outcome.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Homebrew - American Apricot Saison

I haven't blogged for a while but that's because I was waiting for my latest beer to be ready before I wrote about it. I can now talk you through the brew day and how the beer turned out.  Saisons seem to be all the rage at the moment.  I wasn't sure at first but they have really grown on me... especially some of the more modern takes on them... generally the stronger ones (which probably goes against what Saisons were invented for in the first place - a thirst quencher for farmers with a low alcohol content such that their workrate isn't hindered).  If you don't think you're a fan of saisons, please try a beer from De Molen called Blikken & Blozen and if you still don't like them, then you're an idiot.

The Plan

A fruity, slightly spicy, quite strong saison but with an american hop aroma. Hmmm..... this might be tricky. Researching saison recipes, they commonly use a little black pepper to give the hint of spice and on the fruit side they often tend to use orange or lemon zest. I decided to add a couple of other things just to give it more body... oh yeah... and apricots. I decided to try some apricots to give it more of a fruity hit.  No real reason why I chose apricots, I just thought it seemed like a fruit which is not too citric or sour whilst hopefully not overpowering.

I was originally going to use a Belgian saison yeast... obviously, it's a saison, you obviously need some king of Belgian yest. When I came to ordering the ingredients, I realised I'd already got some US-05 yeast. For those who aren't familiar, this is more commonly used with american pale ales and generally fresh hoppy ales, but you wouldn't consider it for a saison. For some reason I thought "meh... that'll do... it'll just be a cross between a saison and an american pale ale".  Since making that decision, I read that the yeast is pretty much the most important part of a saison and that which gives it it's distinct taste. Sometimes home brewing can be exciting playing around with things but sometimes it really doesn't work. I was just going to go for it, I wanted to make beer and I had a free Saturday... I didn't have the option now to order another yeast otherwise I'd miss my window. So fuck it I thought.

The Recipe

(around 25 litres)


6kg     Pilsner Malt
0.5kg  Caramunich
0.5kg  Carapils


10g Columbus      60mins
15g Hersbrucker  20mins
25g Saaz              20mins
30g Calypso         10mins
30g Calypso         Dry Hop



Other stuff

Star anis
Black pepper
Lemon zest
14g Gypsum

Brew Day

Spare Saturday... not made any beer in a while... weather's a bit shit... Brew Day!
Here's my massive brewery, in my kitchen. 

Copper on the left, Mash Tun on the right

So... all seemed to be going pretty well. This is the most grain I'd ever used before, I wanted to get a decent ABV on this one, so the alcohol balances out the sweetness, I'm not a fan of overly sweet beers. I could only fit so much liquor in the mash tun and when I took the first runnings, I was disappointed at how little I got from it... obviously a lot more grain had really sucked up the water.

First Runnings
7.5 litres from about 16 litres of liquor
The remaining grain bed

So with all that grain and so little wort from the first runnings, I had to sparge a lot... but it kept running sweet, there was definitely enough sugary goodness in there which I was very happy about and I was happy to have to take the time to get the volume of wort I wanted.

Finally... enough lovely wort

So it was boil time.  I like boil time... because I get to measure out all the ingredients to add at whatever time I choose and it's at this point where I really feel like I'm creating something. Although it does sometimes make me nervous when I'm adding things I haven't added before like this:

Apricots? In beer??  yeah...... chuck em in

Right, now there's always something which doesn't go right on brew day, it never goes completely smoothly and it's always something slightly different each time.  So, I transferred all the wort back into the boiler and cranked up the temperature then made myself a sandwich while I waited for it to reach boiling. I kept checking the temperature and I knew something was wrong when it read 70 degrees three times in a row in the space of about 20 minutes. Shit... my boiler was completely dead. Great, so my boiler's knackered, that's brew day over... I was genuinely upset. The only thing I could do was to empty all the wort back into the fermenter bucket while I tried to figure out what was wrong.  The heating element was pretty limescaley so I thought that might be the problem.  After going to the local shop, buying some ciff and some brillo pads, giving it a scrub, then rinsing it, then sterilizing it, then rinsing it again, then pouring the wort back in... it got up to 70 degrees.... then 75.... 80. Yes....phew... relief is the word.

Boil you bastard
obviously, you've got to have a brew day beer on the go...

Boiling done, I was nearly there. However, due to the palava with the boiler I was running quite a bit later than I had planned so I was rushing a bit now.  I cooled it down and then lifted it onto the table.  I then immediately started drained it through a sieve when I really should have let it settle for a bit first to let to let the cold break material separate. This resulted in the tap getting clogged with crap, then it taking ages for me to drain the boiler and ending up with loads of cold break material in the fermenter.

The first day or two after making a beer is always a bit nerve racking, waiting for the bubbling of the airlock to signify fermentation has begun. This is the fermenter the next day:

check out all that lovely stuff in there!

Anyway... it turned out to be fine, fermentation kicked in within 24 hours and the next day the fermenter looked like this:

All nice and settled

I let it to ferment out for two weeks even though activity was done after about one so the yeast could clear up a bit of the sediment left over. All was left then was to transfer to the barrel and drop in a bag of hops.

beer in it's barrel
like a tea bag... but bigger... and with hops

The Finished Product

I left it for a week, then bottled with sugar.  I then left the bottles to condition for another 3 weeks. The end result is really so much better than I imagined.  I can't believe the yeast didn't ruin it... It does definitely have the hoppy aroma of an american pale ale or IPA but it also definitely has the sweet, almost slightly sherbet taste of a saison. I'm putting this down to a combination of the pilsner malt, the spices... and of course the apricots (which I don't really think you can identify in the final product to be honest).  All in all, I'm really proud of this, especially as I just went for it with whatever ingredients I fancied regardless of what category they fall into and what beer they are 'supposed' to be used for.  I'm still loosely calling it an 'American Saison' but I don't really care if it can't be categorised.... that would mean I've brewed something truly unique and that's got to be the ultimate for any homebrewer. Well... that and it also tastes really nice.

American Spiced Apricot Saison Pale Ale IPA Pilsner

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Cracking Beer Shop

We recently went back to visit Lizzie's parents near Southampton and I'd heard about this little beer shop so needless to say this became the main focus of the trip for me.  On the outskirts of the city centre, Bitter Virtue looks pretty basic from the outside, but inside it's impressive... lots of beer.

The first bottles you see are primarily UK beers including quite a few small local breweries and a decent range from Thornbridge, Buxton, Marble, Magic Rock etc. The rest of the shop is divided into beers by their country - lots of Belgian and Dutch beers, weird and wonderful American micro breweries and (surprising to me) a selection of craft beers from countries I'm not so used to seeing such as Sweden and Italy.

What I didn't expect to find was beer on tap!  There is also a couple of barrels at the back of the shop, you can buy yourself a pint (I think generally restricted to local beers) to sup while you peruse the shelves... what a lovely idea. We didn't have one though, it was quite early in the morning... I tend to like to leave it until at least 10.30am before I feel it's acceptable to have a beer.

So... I reckon we spent about an hour in this little place reading labels of unusual beers we hadn't seen before, trying to work out what type of beer certain ones were and mainly trying to decide which ones we were each going to buy.  This is what we ended up buying...

From left to right...

De Ranke Saison De Dottignies (Belgium) - I love their hoppy beers Guldenberg and XX Bitter... Lizzie and I have both recently got into saisons so when I saw this, I had to try it. 

De Molen Blikken & Blozen (Holland) - Speaking of saisons, this is the best one I have ever tasted... I actually bought two of these beauties.

Schneider Aventinus Eisbock (Germany) - A Lizzie choice based on her fondness of German dark beers.

Left Hand Brewery Stranger (USA) - There are so many American Pale Ales I've tried and loved so I just picked one I hadn't tried before.

Nils Oscar Hopyard IPA (Sweden) - Craft beer seems to be taking off in Sweden as the moment following in the footsteps of neighbours Norway (Nogne) and Denmark (Mikkeller), unless I've only just heard about it.  The owner of the shop reckons this is one of the best IPAs he's ever had and seeing as IPA is my favourite beer style I didn't have to think about it for long... in the basket.

De Stuise Brouwers Ignis & Flamma (Belgium) - De Molen Brewery (see above) brew an well respected American style IPA called Vuur & Vlam (which translates as Fire & Flame). The head brewer invited a number of small brewers to copy his recipe and this is reportedly one of the best ones.  Sounds interesting.

Elav Grunge IPA (Italy) - I know nothing about this other than that it's an IPA and it's Italian. I haven't tried anything proper from Italy (I mean other than Peroni and Birra Moretti), they were all pretty expensive and this was the cheapest.

I don't think there are many shops where you can go to pick up a few beers and come away with such an interesting variety as this.  If you're near Southampton, I recommend you pop in here and rummage around... and if it's past 10.30am, have a pint while you do.

Just have a look at the beer list on here...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Battersea Beer Festival etc

Lizzie and I really like Battersea Beer Festival. It's a nice size, good atmosphere, lots of beer but not too big that it becomes a 'beer exhibition'. It's definitely one which we make a point of doing every year.

We went on the first night (it was a school night but we couldn't risk waiting until the Friday because the beers might have ran out). Excellent as always, good mix of national and local breweries. Highlight of the cask beers was Mallinsons Galaxy... Awesome brewery... Awesome hop! How could I go wrong.

We were quite content with our evening and were thinking about heading off but we decided to have a look at the bottled beer section and perhaps have a night cap. There were lots of intriguing German beers on offer and Lizzie had earlier spotted and bought a book 'around Berlin in 80 beers'. We found out that the author of the book was behind the bar and ended up chatting to him for about half an hour about Germany and German beers (we got our book signed too!) So... for our night cap, we asked for a recommendation from the main man, Lizzie described her type of beer, dark and fruity malts but with a pilsner crispness and I described mine, pale, dry and hoppy. The recommendations are below: the left is Lizzie's (a bock) the right is mine (made with fresh hops at harvest only available a couple of months a year)

We were chuffed we'd had such an interesting and enjoyable chat and we were already planning going to Berlin for the weekend of Lizzie's birthday to try out some of the bars and beers in the book. But before I left, I noticed a beer by a small London brewery called Rocky Head. I'd seen their name banded around on twitter from various beer people and I noticed it was brewed nearby so thought it would be rude not to try it. We'd had a few already so we decided we'd share a bottle.

It turned out to be by far the best beer of the night. Amazingly fresh, dry, hoppy and moreish! I would love to have had another but I decided to be sensible. Seriously though, I've tried several beers by small up and coming new London breweries in the past couple of months but I can quite honestly say that this is my new number 1.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Partizan Brewery

This new brewery has been mentioned a lot in the craft beer world recently.  Lizzie and I had no plans on Saturday so decided we'd go and check it out.

Partizan Brewery consists basically of one man! Andy Smith runs the brewery in a railway arch in Bermondsey about 15 mins walk east of The Kernel and he opens it up every Saturday for the public to come and buy his beer.  He told us how he pretty much does everything himself (he gets the odd helper from time to time) and that it takes a day to brew, but also a full day to bottle a brew and a full day to label them!

There were 5 beers on offer - two pale ales (both made with different varieties of hops - primarily from the US and NZ), an IPA, a porter and a stout. Between myself, Lizzie and friend Marc we tried all but the porter and they were all delicious. The two pale ales were both equally as nice and really showcased how using a simple malt base brings out the hop flavour and allows subtle changes in hop choice to come through really clearly in the taste.  One used mostly US hops and had a clean dry quite bitter taste, the other used a NZ hop (pacific jade I think) which I think gave it a more punchy fruit cocktail taste.  The IPA had the hoppiness of the pale ales but with a slight caramelly taste and some extra strength (my personal favourite).  The stout was strong at 8.6% but really didn't taste it - I find a lot of strong stouts have a bitter harshness and I can't drink much, this however was really smooth and drinkable. I'd like to have drank some more but we thought we'd save ourselves for a couple of Kernels... it seemed wrong not to go there as well with it only being down the road.  I think a few other people were doing the same.

It made me a little jealous seeing what Andy had done, he had a really good set-up, most of the brewing kit had been given to him by Evin from The Kernel. I spoke briefly with brewer Toby from Kernel (who was also sampling the beers), he said they had a few offers for the kit but it seemed the right thing to give it to someone who needs it to fulfill an aspiration, it was obviously going to a loving home and I really commend Evin for doing that. I've got to give the labels a quick mention too... I didn't speak with Andy about how he gets them made but the designs are excellent.

One thing which made me happy about visiting Partizan is being reminded just how closely related brewing on a bigger scale is to what I do at home.  Andy's bottle capper is a bit bigger than mine and obviously he brews on a bigger scale but other than that, the process remains the same and the fact that it's still on a smallish scale compared with big mass producing breweries enabled me to see the similarities a lot clearer.  He mentioned to me that I should have brought one of my beers along for him to try - I might just do that next time... any criticism (or praise) would be gratefully received and well respected. To be honest, I think it's a privilege to drink beer being produced on this scale... It's clear from being there that Andy is able to give the beer his full attention, handpicking each ingredient and monitoring things closely to ensure the beer meets his standards. It certainly meets mine.