Saturday, 20 December 2014

Koelsch in casks

One article in particular caught my eye when perusing the brewing related abstracts this month. "Problem-Free Casks" it was called. Not perhaps hugely interesting, except when you see it's from the German magazine Brauwelt. 

The article is about the flexible keg and cask washing machinery a koelsch brewery in Cologne uses for cleaning its "diverse range of draught containers, including 20, 30 and 50 litre polyurethane-coated metal kegs, 30 and 50 litre conventional kegs, 5 litre traditional wooden casks (called "Pittermaennchen" in the Cologne dialect) and 10, 15, 20 and 30 litre polyurethane-coated metal casks (of a design based on that of the wooden ones)". 

There's no doubt here a clear and correct distinction is being made kegs and casks. I have noticed that cask beer has spread to barbarian lands, but from the reports I've seen from The States it seems your chances of finding a cask beer without weird shit added to it are about the same as finding a British brewed unflavoured gose or traditionally hopped saison.

Serving koelsch from casks on the other hand sounds extremely close to beer as god intended. Surely the similarity is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of real ale. And I have to say my impressions of keg and bottled koelsch have been that it's decidedly dull and crying out to be served on cask. I'm not sure if the German cask beer has a proper secondary fermentation in the container from which its served, but surely CAMRA could send a few missionaries over to teach the vital last step if  needed?

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Best Beer Bargain Ever!

Mail order beer club 52 Beers seem to have been sending out samples to beer bloggers recently and fortunately that included me. "Would you like some free beer?" they said. "Why yes, that sounds and excellent idea" I replied, and soon enough a box had landed on my door step.

The beers are clearly selected with the craftophile in mind, and some of the breweries I'd not even heard of. I was delighted to see that a can was included so I got to drink craft beer from a can without having to fork out excessive amounts of my hard earned money for it.

Four Pure Session IPA was the can in question. It was, as you might expect, thin, bitter, unbalanced hop juice but none the worse for it. I'm quite partial to an occasional bit of unbalanced hop juice.

The Hop Studio Blonde was similar, though not from a can so scored less craft points. Had a strange vegetable flavour to go with the hops too.

Tiny Rebel Cwtch was good too: very piney, not too bitter, got the body but still can't taste any maltiness over the hops. Had a bit of a harsh after taste.

Septem Thursday's had a good hop aroma and I could actually taste some malt, which was nice, but it could actually have done with a bit more bitterness.

Some of the beers did show brewing faults but as I'd never heard of the breweries before I suspect they're new so I'll spare their blushes for now.

My favourite of the bunch was something unusual that actually interested me rather than made me roll my eyes. It was Triporteur from Heaven, a Belgian beer made by people that bake their own malt. As I've been doing a bit of home malt roasting myself. The brewery is a bakery as well and they bake/roast various different types of malt themselves. The beer had high carbonation, a strong floral aroma, clean taste, not belgian spice or phenolics. It was very good. 

So now to the Best Beer Bargain Ever:

The good people at have given me a unique code that allows a £10 discount on your first box - just go to and type in EDWRAY10 when you order. Good eh? But even better than that for each order using that code I get a fiver! Oh yes, you get cheaper beer and I get hard cash - you won't get a better deal this side of libertarian communism!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Today I committed murder

The day I most dreaded has arrived. Today I committed murder. I knew in my current job it was likely to happen sooner or later and finally that awful moment arrived. We cold bloodedly took a poor innocent beer, subjected it to torture, and snuffed out its life.

First we forced it through something resembling a medieval torture device:

Well, a plate and frame filter anyway

Then we subjected it to the gravest of indignities: we added extraneous CO2:

The beer strapped to the next torture device
See how it struggled to escape:


But there was to be no escape here.

After artificial carbonation we then bottled the beer...

 ...and put it in the death chamber, I mean pasteuriser:

Once it was shut inside the moment that sealed the fate of the beer, and I fear my immortal soul, arrived.

I started the pasteuriser.

This was no venial sin, like using a cask breather. Murdering beer is a mortal sin. I doomed several crates of beer to an unreal zombeer existence. Surely now hell awaits me.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Orval yeast laughs in my face

After much dithering I finally got round to doing a brew inspired by Orval. As I twist I used a saison yeast for the primary fermentation to try and add a subtle twist to the flavour.

It was not to be though. The Orval yeast just laughed in my face and trampled all over the saison flavour, and the hops for that matter. I just got lots of Orval yeast flavour, which while not entirely unpleasant was not what I was after as I prefer fresh Orval where it adds to the other flavours, not overwhelms them.

Fortunately I had some McCrorie IPA I could blend it with, so I got out my big glass and mixed away. It worked very well: lots of English hops with a more restrained Orval flavour was great. The only trouble was drinking a litre a time of beer over 6% ABV was a tad excessive. Oh well, sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

More Fuggles in Farnham

Hogsback brewery have now added Fuggles to the hops they grow, planting 1200 cuttings in the hop ground opposite the brewery. 

Prior to the Hogsback starting to grow their own hops Fuggles were the last hop grown in Surrey, at the last surviving hop farm in Puttenham. Though Fuggles were once overwhelming the main hop grown in England their susceptibility to verticillium wilt means they've now become something of a rarity.

Goldings have fared slightly better, though a lot of what's now sold as Goldings is the wilt resistant hybrid variety Early Choice. The Fuggles will be joining the Cascade and Farnham Whitebine hops that were planted back in May.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Brewing an all Brettanomyces beer

Having been doing a lot of home brewing of late I finally got round to making a beer using only Brettanomyces yeast. When I was using Brett commercially for secondary fermentation I'd tried a few times sticking wort in a fermenting bucket and adding some Brett but the results had been undrinkably sour.

As more information on brewing with this yeast has come out I've seen that it only makes beer sour in the presence of oxygen. So this time I fermented it in a plastic demijohn with an airlock.

The fermentation was slow to start but once it got going was fairly respectable.

Brettanomcyes claussenii (Dekkera anomala) fermenting away

The beer attenuated fine, which just shows what Brettanomyces can do if it's not out competed by  Saccharomyces,, the more usual brewing yeast.

As to the beer it wasn't sour but it was really, really spicy. Or 'yeast forward' as some of my fellow beer geeks might say. Certainly any other flavours were overpowered. It was interesting, but to be honest too much for me and it didn't rate highly on the drinkability scale. I don't think all Brett beers are for me.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

How to make malt

I've been doing some more malting at work recently. This is the process in which starchy barley grains are partially germinated so that when used for brewing the starch can be broken down to fermentable sugars. It's very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very interesting (sorry about that, you'll need to have been on twitter to get it).

The first stage is screening. I like this bit:


This separates the wheat from the chaff, or barley in this case. Though the grains have been mostly separated out there are still some bits of straw you want to get rid of, and a series of sieves and a blower do the job.

A barley grain

After that the barley's ready for steeping.The grains will have been dried for storage and they need to be rehydrated before they will start to germinate. At work we have cylindrical steeping and germination vessels. 

Here's a look inside:

The vessels tilt up for loading, and down for unloading:

Adding the grains

When loaded the barley sits on the sieve plate at the base of the vessel. The barley will then be completely immersed in water, following a carefully controlled programme of steeping alternating with air rests. Having air rests during the steeping of barley came directly from research carried out here. Well maybe not exactly here, but this workplace. It's now universally used as it makes malting much faster and more efficient.

Steeping alternated with air rests means yeast and bacteria on the grain are washed away, as well as phenols from the husk, oxygen can get to the grain so it can respire, CO2 is removed, and so is ethanol produced by the grain during anaerobic respiration. Yes, that last one disturbed me too. What a waste. Air will be blown through the grain bed and fans remove the CO2.

Getting the correct steeping schedule can have a huge effect on how well the grains germinate. Here's a picture of the same barley sample that's had different steeping schedules:

Example schedules may be water 8 hours/air 16 hours/water 24 hours or water 6 hours/air 10 hours/water 6 hours/air 6 hours/ water 6 hours. Tests for germinative capacitiy (and similar tests for germinative energy and water sensitivity) can help determine the best steeping schedule to use.

Here's a grain that has just chitted i.e. the rootlet is just showing

After approximately two days the steeping will be completed and grain moisture 42-46%. The germination stage starts now, and the plant hormone gibberellic acid can be sprayed on at this point. This is where our cylindrical vessels come into play as they will periodically rotate quite rapidly to break up the grains rootlets and stop them forming a big tangled mat.

Here's the rotating:


And here's some tangled grains all stuck together:

Most big malting plants have vessels with rakes or screws running through them to break up grain tangles. And it can also be done by a bloke with a rake, as most pictures of floor maltings show, though I have heard they have something like a lawn mower they can move through the grain bed too which must be a lot less effort.

The germination stage starts next. During steeping the embryo will produce gibberellic acid, and as I've said it can also be sprayed on to help things along their way. The gibberellic acid is transported through the aleurone*, a thin layer of cell surrounding the grain, which produces or activates enzymes which will being the modification of the grain. These include amylases, proteases and β-glucanases. These enzymes are necessary for converting the starch in the grain to fermentable sugars. Though we don't want any more than is necessary at this stage as over modification means the grain will use for growth sugars the yeast could ferment.

Here's a grain after rootlets have grown

The modification breaks down the structure of the cells surrounding the starch granules in the grain and provides the enzymes that will be used during brewing. β-glucans (and pentosans) are polymers that can cause serious problems during the brewing process if their levels are too high. They increase wort viscosity making making it difficult to separate the liquid from the grains at the end of mashing, and can lead to hazes forming in beer. Protein needs to be broken down to make the starch granules it surrounds accessible to the amylases, and to provide raw materials the yeast will use during its own growth.

Germination is allowed to continue for around four days. Rootlet growth is vigorous but a bit erratic. The growth of the acrospire, which would become the shoot, is of more interest to maltsters. Unlike the rootlets which go the easy (proximal) way out of the grain it goes the long way round from the embryo and works its way inside the husk aiming for the far (distal). When it's about 75-80% of the way there germination as gone as far as we want it to.

Here are some grains at the end of germination:

This is moist green malt, and it tastes a bit like bean sprouts at this stage. Which perhaps explains why bizarre as it now sounds beans were once used for brewing. It is possible to brew using green malt, and I've heard of a grain whisky distillery that does this. It has a very short shelf life though, as it will keep growing wasting all that valuable sugar that could be turned to alcohol, and will rapidly go mouldy.

Usually this is prevented by the next stage, kilning. This is when the grains are heated to halt germination at the optimum stage of enzyme production and grain modification, and dry the grains to the moisture content at which they can safely be stored without going mouldy. The degree of kilning will also to a large extent determine which type of malt is made and will have a big effect on the flavour of the beer.

Malt kiln

At first the grains will 'free dried' by heating gently with an air temperature of 50-60°C (though the grains themselves will be at a much lower temperature than this) and the air will be vented away. This will continue for around 12 hours, when the moisture content will be about 24%. The free drying stage will have removed the surface moisture, and that in the outer layers of the grain. We now move on to forced drying, where moisture will diffuse from deeper in the grain to the surface for removal and the grain will start to shrink. This would slow the rate of water removal so the temperature will be increased slightly to 70-75°C and the fan speed reduced. The grains will not get as much evaporative cooling as they did during free drying, and their temperature will start to rise. After perhaps 10 hours the moisture will be down to 10-12%.

Malt in the kiln

Now the curing stage begins, as the most difficult to remove water, that which is bound to large molecules inside the grain, such as the starch, is removed. To achieve this the temperature is increased again, and the air is substantially recirculated. Curing will generally continue for three hours or so until the moisture content is below 5%.

Temperature and humidity probes

As well as reducing the moisture content of the malt kilning also drives off unwanted volatiles, particularly sulphur compounds, and adds colour and flavour due to Mailard reactions between sugars and amino acids. The higher the final kiln temperature the more of this will occur. A lager malt might have a final kilning temperature of 80°C, whereas for a pale ale malt it might be 100°C.

This is a major reason why you get the reek of brimstone during lager fermentations (a sure sign it's the devil's work), and the unpleasant vegetable taste of dimethyl sulphide and watery yellow colour of many lagers. To which we can contrast the pleasant malty flavours and rich golden colour that will be found in an ale made with a pale malt grist.

After kilning the malt will be cooled rapidly but we're not finished yet. Oh no. The rootlets need to be removed, or as we say in the trade the malt needs to be deculmed. We have a machine for that too:

Here's the rootlets or culms:

They're high in protein and not good for beer so are best used as animal feed.

When the malt has been deculmed it's still not over, as freshly kilned or 'fiery malt' is not good for brewing and need to be stored for around a month before use.

Then it's over, the production of 'white malts', the ture enzymic malts (lager, pale, vienna, mild, munich) that can be used as 100% of the grist has come to an end and I can bring this #beerylongread to an end. Crystal or caramel malts, along with the various types of roasted malts are another, though closely related, story so you'll have to wait for the #beerylongreadappendix for that.

*I follow the true path of Palmer, not the false trail of Briggs.