Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back to the Brew House

After about a fortnight off from brewing it felt good to get back into it today. To add to my feelings of excitement today I will be fermenting my first batch in stainless steel. If this experiment is successful it will be good bye to the uncertainties of plastic fermentors and the game of chicken as to when to change buckets.

Unlike fellow Wellington homebrewer Rob Owen who has an imported conical from the states I am going to use corny kegs as fermentors. The plus side is that cornys are easily attainable, reasonably cheap and I can get as many as my 2 brews a week schedule requires, they are easy to clean and can be lowered into water when fermentation takes place to control temperature. The possible down side is that the tall narrow shape might cause convection providing a less than ideal environment for the yeast. Only one way to find out …

The Session- Barley Wine

A Question of Style

There is often a fair bit of debate about where the line is drawn between old ales and barley wines. The beer I have chosen for this session, Gales Prize Old Ale, is often considered to be an old ale and indeed contains the word old in its name. However it seems to me that both World Beer Cup and BJCP style guides for Old Ale and Barley Wine have a vary wide scope. The contemporary ‘old ale style’ seems to draw its ancestry from sweet dark fruity Burton Ale at the lower end of its gravity and strong aged tawny October Ale* at the top, quite a range!

The contemporary ‘barley wine style’ also draws its ancestry from October Ale, with American versions showing a family resemblance to another of October Ale’s descendants, India Pale Ale. I would argue that there is no significant difference between strong old ales and barley wines.

A Very Precious Beer

In March 2006 the Horndean Brewery was closed following the purchase of George Gale & Co by Fullers in 2005. It was widely believed that following the closure of the brewery Prize Old Ale ,which relied on antique equipment, would be lost for ever. Fullers announced during the following year that they did intend to continue production of Prize Old Ale and then after I raised the issue on beer-pages here Fullers PR manager Georgina Wald confirmed that a Chiswick brewed version was about to be bottled.

Whether Fullers have been successful at matching the character of Horndean brewed Prize Old remains to be seen, what is for sure is that the only Horndean brewed Prize Old Ale I am ever likely to drink in the future sits in my cellar.

The Calvados of the Beer World

Michael Jackson once compared Prize Old Ale to Calvados apple brandy from Normandy. The beer certainly does display an enormously complex range of fruit and vinous aromas and flavours which slowly develop, meld and change as the beer ages. Horndean Prize Old was bottle conditioned by simply running the ale into bottles un-primed with only its residual yeast count to give it condition. As I have discovered with certain vintages of my own Merchant of the Devil Imperial Stout bottling in this manor accentuates the esters and promotes vinous oxidative characters to form in the beer.

With my own experience of Calvados being non-existent (I’m more of a port man myself) my description of the 2004 vintage went like this:

Big vinous fruit aroma, hints of caramel , and nutty malt. On the palate the vinous notes turn decidedly raisin, with hints of prunes and alcohol warmth, surprisingly the malt weight is relatively low with dry alcohol cleaning things up nicely. A truly exceptional beer.

Michael Jackson also once wrote of Prize Old Ale “Is there any beer that better accompanies a roquefort or stilton?” on this I am in complete agreement.

*October Ales or Beers were strong highly hopped beers brewed in the Autumn to mature through the winter and spring and be tapped in mid summer when the heat made brewing small beers

Monday, January 28, 2008

Summer Swelter

I apologise, updates have been few and far between recently the combination of uncomfortably hot weather and a full on work schedule have resulted in everything being pretty quiet on the home front. The heat wave that has hit my valley has made ferments all but impossible to control, add to that the fact that this sort of weather makes me thirst for cider rather than beer and there has really been nothing to report. Next month will make up for it however, with big changes to the brewery in store, beers from New Zealand’s newest real ale brewery to review, a visit to my favourite pub in the world, and a brewpub I have never been to before February should be an eventful month.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Summer Ales Festival Announcement

Each year I celebrate my favourite season, winter, with a winter solstice knees up. Last year I developed the concept a little further and ran a winter ales festival where myself and other local home brewers provided kegs of beer and the masses flooded into my bar to enjoy a range of old ales, porters, stouts and even a draught imperial stout. I have been inspired to run summer ales festival so on Saturday the 08 of march I will be putting on the Valley Summer Ales Fest. As the summer seems to have got away on me a little it will be more of a late summer ales festival with a few autumn styles thrown in for good measure. Any readers of this blog who will be in Wellington on the 08th of March are welcome to come along, either to present their beer or to simply sample what is on offer. Cheers.

Back from the wilderness.

After a several days of internet starvation the house is back online, I may describe myself as a luddite occasionally but when the broadband goes down I certainly get a little twitchy…

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

White Rino – Imperial India Pale Ale

Back in November my team won the 2007 Gisborne Gold Beer Options. Our team was called White Rino. The name stemmed from when team member Pete attended his work Christmas function at a Loaded Hog. The Loaded Hog is a dire pub chain that has its own brewery which brews beers so balanced you would swear you were drinking coloured chilled soda water. Due to Pete’s dislike for wine and the lack of any beer worth drinking he chose to drink actual soda water. The usual raised eye brows followed and he was asked:

Co-Worker 1 “Why aren’t you drinking?”

Pete “I don’t like wine and I don’t want to drink these beers”

Co-Worker 1 “What beer do you drink?!!”

Pete “A wide variety”


Pete “No I said a wide variety”

Co- Worker 2 “I heard you say White Rino!”

And hence White Rino entered our vocabulary, a faux cockney slang born out of miscommunication. When team White Rino won I promised to brew a beer in their honour, and so on Sunday I will be having a stab at one of the most over the top style out there, imperial India pale ale. It should be a fun day of slaughtering hop bines and will have the added element of a journalist from an Engineering Publication sitting in for a forth coming article on brewing large and small scale. There is some irony in me being included in the article as I am somewhat renowned among local homebrewers for being a bit of a luddite.

A Religious Conversion

After years of using the Saf-04 English ale yeast, a dried twin of a Whitbread strain, I have decided to make a change. This is reasonably significant as I have always been an avid and vocal supporter of the strain. Recently however I have been finding that particularly when dealing with low gravity beers the yeast has been producing a lot of diacetyl, in addition a few people both pro and amateur brewers have been remarking that Saf-04, or 1099 its liquid twin, seem to hide hop aroma. My silver medal winning IPA was brewed with Saf 05, the dried version of 1056 which traces its history to the English Nottingham strain via the Ballantine Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewery in the US. I’m going to use this strain for awhile and see how my beers fare. Today I’m brewing the first batch of Berhampore Best Bitter with the new yeast.

Just to be clear, I’m still firmly in the dried yeast camp. If you really needed proof that you can brew fantastic beer with dried yeast you need look no further than Barry Hannah, Brewer of the Year at the SOBA Homebrew Championships and runner up for Best in Show with his unanimous gold medal Mild. Barry only uses dried yeast.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cheese of the Month January: Barry’s Bay Mature Cheddar

Last month I chose Linkwater Cheddar as my cheese of the month because it is I believe the best mass produced cheddar available in NZ. This month I thought I would write on Barry’s Bay Mature Cheddar as it’s a rare New Zealand example of traditionally produced cheddar. Unlike mass produced cheddars which are aged in vac packed 20kg blocks Barry’s Bay Cheddar is moulded in wheels and then wrapped in clothe or wax and left to mature.

Barry’s Bay is just out of Akaroa on Banks Peninsular which is known for having been the scene of jousting over the South Island between France and England in 1840. At one point Akaroa was known as Port Louis-Philipe. It is then somewhat fitting that a very English cheese is produced in what could have been a colony of France.

Barry’s Bay Cheddar is a fantastic example of naturally matured artisan cheese, no two wheels are the same and due to the natural aging of the wheels the flavour varies significantly from rind to core. At the rind the cheese displays a complex mix of earthy notes, bonfire smoke and sometimes even a radish like sharpness. The core tends to be palate coating, rich, savoury and creamy.

Barry’s Bay Mature Cheddar finds a perfect place in a Ploughman’s Lunch such as pictured, with strong bitters, old ales or strong ales making a good partner. I drank a pint of Theakston’s Old Peculier when doing the photo above, magic.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Imperial Stout Tasting Number 2

What better tasting to conduct in mid summer than a range of Imperial Stouts?, well you didn’t think I was going to do wheat beers did you?

With the release of Pink Elephants second vintage of Rushin Imperious Stowt Adam and I decided that we would put the 2 vintages up against each other, I thought I would put out samples from the conditioning tank of the 2 batches of Merchant of the Devil as well.

Comparative tastings always seem to highlight things in the beers you are tasting that you might miss when tasting them in isolation.

Rushin Imperious Stowt 2006 10.5%abv:

Aroma features dark chocolate, bubblegum, artificial lime essence which as the beer warms in the glass almost takes on a brett character

On the palate there is sweet malt, a touch of sour acidity, a confected chocolate/caramel note, roast malt and a peppery finish.

Rushin Imperious Stowt 2007 11%abv:

Aroma features dark chocolate, a lactic milky note, black pepper, and a smoky note like sniffing a smokers jacket.

On the palate this vintage seems much sweeter than last years did when young, it certainly has more body, a caramel milkshake note blends with chocolate and a perceptible although reduced roast character.

Merchant of the Devil 2007/1 11%abv and 9.6%abv:

Aroma features an estery mix of dark fruits, plums some berry fruit, chocolate liqueur, and a bready whole grain note.

On the palate sweet malt, chocolate and dried fruit give way to a slightly acrid roasty and bitter finish.

You can find my notes for Rushin Imperious Stowt 2006 when it was young here and an account of the brewing of Merchant of the Devil here. Notes on the first Russian Imperial Stout tasting can be found here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Session – Doppelbock

These sessions are getting harder and harder. There are few quicker ways to make my eyes glaze over and none more effective at inspiring me to words not out of place in a Spitfire ad than to mention German beer to me. I have little interest in German beer, when I can avoid it, I do.

Doppelbock of course isn’t the worst beer style in the world, however when I drink it I cant help but think ‘this would be so much better if you swapped the lager yeast for an ale one and the German malt and hops for English’ lovely ! a Strong ale, sorted. Alright, enough with my prejudices I should give this a stab.

Outside of judging the only bock I have had in the last year was related to the cheese beer tasting I ran last summer, I have had no doppelbock at all in the last year. I was looking for a match for Meyer Old Gouda, not surprisingly there was an abundance of ale styles already pencilled in for the tasting and I knew I should really find something that was stylistically from the continent. The beer I wanted to use was actually not from Germany but from a former German colony, Namibia. The Hansa UR-Bock is a pretty fantastic example of the style from the most unlikely of locations.

Namibian Breweries Hansa UR-Bock 7%

Pours a dark red with a white thick head. Aroma features bready malt, a tussocky/honeyish German hop note and some fruit. On the palate the bready character is continued, joined by sweet toffee and a hint of roast, the finish is malt accented but does clean out from the hops.

In the end Regional Wines couldn’t source enough UR-Bock for the tasting so we went with HB Maibock and that combination turned out to be one of the best of the tasting.

Fingers crossed that next months host picks a topic closer to my heart, cheers/

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brooklyn Bitter

Today I’m brewing Brooklyn Bitter a strong bitter loosely based Young’s Special London Ale. Brooklyn Bitter will not be as strong as Special London Ale as its intended for draft consumption and it will be a touch darker but I do intend to infuse some of the striking hop character that Special London Ale used to present.

I say Special London Ale used to present a striking hop character as I picked up a bottle yesterday, the first to be marked Bedford, perhaps they have run out of tankered beer from London to blend or have just used up the old labels, and it was a very different beast. It looked like the Special London Ale of old, it smelt like the Special London Ale of old, but on the palate a sweet malt accented beer was revealed with very little bitterness. Where did the IBUs go?! The balance was far more like that of its former neighbour Fullers ESB and certainly not the beer that Michael Jackson described as possibly containing a whole hop garden in every bottle. Anyway I digress.

Brooklyn Bitter’s grist of Maris Otter malt, medium crystal and a touch of patent is currently mashing in burtonised liquor, once it is in the kettle it will be bittered with fuggels with large amounts of goldings being added late in the boil, finally s-04 will be added, hopefully it turns out well.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Clean

Brewing beer isn’t always all beer and skittles, sometimes there is a bit of hard graft involved as well, actually most of it is hard graft, up at 4.30am for a HOBBY!?.

It’s the second of Jan, don’t believe the date and time stamped on these posts I can’t seem to get blogger to recognise NZ time, so I have decided to start the year as I mean to go on, with a clean brewery. Caustic rinses for the mash tun, vinegar and elbow grease for the kettles, new beer lines to run between the hopback and the fermenters, new racking lines for cask filling…

First brew of the new year tomorrow, a strong bitter loosely based on Young’s Special London Ale, and perhaps the last to use so-4, yes that’s right, I’m considering a religious conversion, I’m just not sure my house yeast is doing what I want anymore, more on that later.