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.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Buxton Brewery & The Cliff Inn

Buxton Brewery is one of my favourite British breweries at the moment, I don't think I've ever had a bad pint of it. I see it fairly regularly in London but I went back to Derbyshire for a few days over Christmas and it really is something else when you have it close to it's home... I just had to mention it. I was sitting in pubs where they had beers by Whim, Abbeydale and Thornbridge on tap which all do good beers from but once I'd had a pint of Moor Top, I couldn't move away from it. It has an amazing fresh zingy hoppiness to it which makes it so refreshing and thirst quenching but at the same time it has a right dry tone to it (I love dry tasting beers) which makes it quite moreish...

I had a cracking pint of Spa too from the same brewery which is also worth a mention (as probably all of their beers are) but I wanted to give a specific recommendation of Moor Top just from its taste to strength ratio... for a 3.6 percenter, it punches well above it's weight. One of my favourite british ales... well of course... it's from Derbyshire, the best county in the country. 

You won't get a better pint of this than at the Cliff Inn in Crich. A lovely village pub with a great atmosphere, very well kept beers, cracking bar meals and a smashing pub dog called Reuben.

The Cliff Inn, Crich
and young Reuben

The very many varieties of beer

Saw this and thought some of you may find it interesting.  Google 'the very many varieties of beer'.  The one below gives examples of each type too.  Kept me entertained for a while...