Saturday, June 21, 2008


Recently I have fine tuned my cellarmanship practise, and if I do say so myself, the condition of my beer at present is excellent. When I first played at cask conditioning beer in corny kegs I was much helped by George Busby at the Wassail Brauhaus. His advice was to not prime the kegs, it was advice I followed until recently. Ale was racked into the corny at the end of primary fermentation, oxygen purged from the head space with co2 and the beer then left to drop bright and build some condition with the small amount of fermentable sugars that were left. This method served me well, however as I have learnt more and more about real ale I have grown to demand a decent level of condition in my beer. Some batches would struggle to achieve a head and as I am loath to use a sparkler to hide the lack of condition it had gradually become clear that I would need to prime. At the same time I had been striving to achieve crystal clear beer. It often amuses me to hear American and Kiwi homebrewers talk of how real ale must be cloudy because it is naturally conditioned, what rubbish. A long time ago I had played with gelatine as a fining agent, my then status as a vegetarian hadn’t been the issue, the fact that you couldn’t boil it and that you often ended up with lumps of jelly at the bottom of the corny had. Then I stumbled across agar, boilable, effective and traceless it has worked a charm. So now an addition of boiled sugar and agar goes into every corny as its filled and the results are sexy, as the picture of a pint of Berhampore Best reveals, cheers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

O-Street Festive Tonic Ale

I currently plan to have 7 different beers on at this year winter ales fest, most of them will be malt accented beers for winter with a best bitter and a pale ale thrown in. I really wanted to do a special festive recipe and was trying to find some inspiration when I came across a section in my copy of the Durden Park Beer Circle “Old British Beers and How To Make Them” entitled ‘Bitter, Tonic Pale Ale, Old Ale’. The book went on to read:

“Tonic Pale Ales can only be described as a Victorian fad. These were light beer heavily hopped and drunk young. Drinkers were assured that the bitter flavour was doing them good.”

This sounded like a concept that could mix things up a little and also use up some bits and pieces that have been lying around. So I decided to brew a very contemporary version.
So today I am mashing a mix of weyerman pils and Golden Promise pale ale malt to produce a beer that will be in the vicinity of 1050 and am then going to aggressively hop it with NZ Nelson Sauvin and American Willamette hops. It should keep the hop heads happy!

Imperial Stout on my mind

As is probably clear from this blog one of my favourite styles is Russian Imperial Stout. In an ideal world my cellar would be over flowing with them, however the best I usually achieve are a couple of vintages of my own and the odd bottle of Pink Elephant Rushin Imperious. However recently I have had two very exciting additions.

The first came from the left over stocks of beer from the NZIBA, and came in the form of a new world hop charged Rogue Imperial Stout. It seems so American to present an 11% abv beer in a huge 750ml serve. I tried the beer during judging and it was impressive and very definitely wore its American hopping on its sleeve.

The second addition to the cellar has come in the form of a bottle of 2003 Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout lovingly carried back from the UK for me in Greig’s suitcase. A classic of the style and perhaps the closest to Courage RIS I will ever get to try, I’m going to cellar it a while longer before I try it.

Of course putting beers into the cellar makes up the will power part of the process, however there is also the very enjoyable ritual of pulling out a bottle when the time seems right. Recently I pulled one of my precious few bottles of the first ever all grain batch of Merchant of the Devil. Brewed in January 2006 I was playing with ‘spiking’ big beers with Champaign yeast at the time. Primary fermentation was with s-04 and then the wine yeast was added to the secondary fermentor where The Merchant sat for 6 weeks before being primed and bottled. For the first 18 months the beer exhibited a slightly funky estery character from the Champaign yeast and an enthusiastic condition, however as she has aged The Merchant has mellowed significantly. At two and a ½ years she is warming, rich, smooth, and complex. It’s a tragedy that there is only one more bottle left.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Valley Winter Ales Festival

The frosts are starting, I can see my breath on brew mornings, it’s my favourite time of the year. As usual I will be celebrating winter with an ales festival. Alongside strong bitters, porters, old ales and Stouts (and probably the odd pale ale to keep the masses happy) I will be serving up some beef & ale pie, goat curry, a vego tagine and a cheese or two. Anyone who is in the area on the 19 of July is welcome along.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cider in Variation

For a large period of my teens cider was my choice of alcoholic beverage. It was cheap, palatable and most importantly, intoxicating. After I began to discover the wonders that lurked in the world of beer I gave up on cider, dismissing it as a simple quencher and intoxicator without any of the complexity that made beer so exciting. The cider I knew of course was New Zealand cider, fermented from eating apples stabilized and fermented with wine yeast, a process that creates a clean but uncomplicated drink. It wasn’t until several years ago when a couple of bottles of Weston’s cider appeared on the shelf next to the imported beers at Regional Wines that I was introduced to the complexity of traditional English cider. It was immediately evident traditional English cider was something I would enjoy. Unlike NZ cider the offerings from Somerset were made with tannic English Cider apple varieties, and were fermented with the natural yeast from the apples skins. These complex tannic funky ciders stood up to the beers of Belgium in terms of complexity and perilously, tended to be far more drinkable, they could be both refreshing in the summer and warming in the winter.

More recently New Zealand has started to produce some fantastic ciders. While Steve Nally from Invercargill Brewing Co has done much to spread the appeal of cider amongst the beer drinkers with his very good ‘kiwi’ style cider, Three Rivers in the Wairarapa and Martin Townshend in the Moutere Valley have both started producing some outstanding traditional ciders pressed from cider apple varieties. After a summer of drinking cider (SWMBO is a big fan of traditional cider as well) I decided I would do a few tastings to show just how diverse cider can be. I tasted across the board taking in simple NZ ciders and cheap canned English ciders that I normally wouldn’t touch through to some of the very complex long established English and French ciders and of course taking in the products of the new traditional NZ. producers. So here it is Cider in Variation:

First up I decided to hunt out an English cider that I was relatively sure would be Sh#t! After all I was looking to cover the range of variation in the cider world. No I won’t be reviewing Carling Black Label next week.

Symonds Scrumpy Jack 6%

Can, Pours a pale gold with a white head. Aroma features crisp apple with a hint of sulphur. On the palate there is a sweet start with a tart note an up the nose sulphur note a vinous character and an abrupt finish. Not very complex, cheap English cider..

Next I took a cider that pretty much represents the norm in New Zealand Cider, clean , white wine like and refreshing, just not very interesting.

Brightstone Classic 5%

Super pale, almost soda water coloured, with a wispy disappearing head. Aroma features a dominant white wine note, with crisp apple. On the palate there was loads of sweetness with a hint of apple fruit, a short finish. Decent quencher, classic NZ Style cider.

Steve Nally from Invercargill is a one man campaign for cider (as well a being an enthusiastic proponent of hugs). Steve has done probably more that anyone else in this country to spread the word for cider amongst the beer community, his cider is of the New Zealand style, a fine example it is, however he does play with oaking portions of the harvest in order to introduce some tannins.

Nally’s Cider 5%

Pours a light gold with a thin white head. Aroma features apple fruit, a minerally note, and a vinous character. On the palate there is medium sweet apple fruit, a mineral note and a clean quick finish. Decent NZ style cider.

And on to the decent English ciders all three are awesome, I wish I had a cask of each of them so I could put them on draft.

Westons Stowford Press Medium Dry 4.5%

Pours a clear mid gold with a wispy white head. Aroma features a musty character, hints of leather, and a sweet apple note. On the palate there is sweet apple, a hint of musty wood, and a dry finish.

Sheppys Dabinett 7.2%

Pours a mid gold with a disappearing lace. Aroma features applewood, a touch of tannic plastic, a warm character. On the palate there is rich sweet apple, warm alcohol, loads of woody tannin leading to a medium dry finish. The evident alcohol would make this a good winter warmer.

Sheppys Kingston Black 7.2%

Pours a mid gold with a disappearing head. Aroma features a complex blend of crisp apple, oaky tannin, and a touch of wild ferment. On the palate crisp apple , tannin and a wild astringent note lead to a solid sour finish. Fantastic cider, dangerously drinkable.

The French tend to halt their fermentations early leaving a full bodied sweet apple character and a lower abv. Like the English they use cider apples and often wild ferment. This particular cider is a revelation particularly with funky washed rind cheese.

Le Pere Jules Brut 5%

Pours a murky rustic gold with a raging carbonation driven head which abruptly collapses 1/2 way through drinking. Aroma features a complex blend of tannic wood, hint of plastic, wild ferment notes and a rich apple fruit character. On the palate there is sweet juicy red ripe apple fruit, loads of oaky tannin, a spicy wild note and a tart long finish. Awesome French cider.

Three Rivers cider from the Cider House in the Wairapapa produce some outstanding cider. I wish I could get a cask of the spritzed it really is fantastic.

Three Rivers Spritzed 7%abv

Pours a mid gold with a frothy white head. Aroma features spicy marzipan, red apple. caramel, and a hint of tannic woodyness. On the palate there is a full bodied medium sweet apple character followed a hint of tannin, apple fruit, and a smooth lasting finish. Fantastic cider.

Three Rivers Still 6.7%abv

Pours a mid gold with no head. Aroma features fresh apple, and a touch of tannin. The palate is dry and sour right from the start a hint of apple wood develops leading to a long sour finish. One for the acid heads!.

Last year I was in the Nelson region while judging at the NZIBA, after the work had finished we got out of town and visited some breweries around the place. The most interesting was the farmhouse operation called Townshends. Not only does Martin Townshend brew a range of real ales but he also makes a traditional wild ferment cider each year. I returned this year and brought back some beers and some cider, rest assured his brewery will be the subject of a piece I’m currently writing. This years vintage was not the ‘brett basket’ that last years was, and was still rather than the aggressive carbonation of last years. While it wasn’t as complex as last years it was a lot more drinkable, and stood head and shoulders above the Three River Still Cider.

Townshend Rosedale Cider 2008 7%abv

Pours a light hazy gold with no head. Aroma features caramel, cloves, a hint of cinnamon and bubblegum, curiously like a wheat beer. On the palate the spicy phenolic character continues with a hint of sweet red apple and a resounding short tart finish which begged another sip. Drinkable and complex.

A Toast to my ISP

Well after an inexplicably long time in the wilderness I’m back! The simple act of changing broadband from one person’s name to another seems to have sparked off a process which left me internet less for the best part of a month! So a pint of light struck Corona to my ISP and a sigh of relief that I’m back in the blogging business. In the next wee while I have pieces on cider, the breweries I visited while judging in Nelson (in particular NZ’s newest real ale brewery) and the details of this years Valley Winter Ales Fest that’s coming up. Time to read 200 odd emails and check out the blogs.