Thursday, 27 July 2017

A visit to Černokostelecký brewery

I organised a trip to Prague for the Brewery History Society last week. Thanks to a suggestion from Max Bahnson, philosopher and fellow pisshead, Černokostelecký pivovar was the first brewery we planned to visit.

It's a nineteenth century brewery that as left intact when it was finally closed in 1986. A wood fired copper, two large coolships, open fermenters, and traditional lagering cellars are just the sort of thing to get beer history geeks excited. And when you hear that with Pattinsonian levels of obsession the current owners have spend the last 15 years restoring the brewery to a state where they've managed to do test brews it sounds almost too good to be true. As it turned out there was even more to see!



We're getting closer

I can see the door


There's a bar and restaurant so we had lunch in before Milan from the brewery showed us round:

The lunch wasn't all liquid

An impressive looking building in the grounds of the brewery is the old horse driven mill.


The mill

The pillars and floor were added later.


The intricate roof had to be build with so many beams to hold the building up without any pillars.



Considering the size of the mill building the mill stone here looks surprisingly small.


The brewery had it's own maltings:



The wood fire under the copper:




The copper and mash kettle (well that's my guess anyway)



Which makes this the lauter tun:






The open cooling trays:


They're big.


And this one's ready to use:


There's a radiator type cooler too:



And open fermenters with new attemperators:


Wooden casks:

My feeling that the one true living beer is trinitarian not binitarian is getting stronger

In the cellar:




Max in his classic pose


Ať žije První Máj!

As the old brewery is not yet in production they have a smaller microbrewery on the premises:


Still with open fermenters though:


I've no idea how the beer will turn out when it's brewed on the big kit, though I'd love to try it. But meanwhile they're doing a good job on their 5hl plant. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Malting, thatching and religious fundamentalism

Something on the news seemed strangely familiar the other day, so I did a bit of googling and sure enough I'd spoken to one of the people mentioned. In my last job I was involved in malting as well as brewing, and I'd had a fascinating conversation with John Letts. He's a thatcher, and a baker, who has revived ancient cereal varieties and he was interested in getting them malted. When buildings are re-thatched they put the new thatch on top of the old, so old buildings have a history of grain varieties contained in their roof. There are talks he's given about this on youtube.

Commercial maltsters won't normally go below ten tonnes, so he was looking for someone who could malt on a smaller scale, and even malt mixed grains. The pilot plant where I worked would only do 100kg at a time, so was too small for anything but research. I would have been interesting research though. Grants are available, and he said he'd look into it, but I never heard back from him. Now I have at least heard of him again.

It turns out his son has put the mentalism into funamentalism by converting to islam and running off to join ISIS. He's now in prison so the restrictions he's imposed on himself with his deluded beliefs have ended up with him being extremely physically restricted too. There's probably a moral there or something. I don't have much sympathy for the son. But I can't image how awful it must be for the father. I hope he gets to see happier times.




Friday, 7 July 2017

What's with the levitating cans?

There was a recent controversy about the iceman beer pour amongst some of my fellow beer nerds. Filling glasses to the brim is for some people offensive to the eye it seems. Personally it's not something that's ever bothered me, I just assumed people were doing it so they didn't get the problem of the head collapsing when they're trying to take a photo. No, the thing that disturbs me is the levitating beer cans.

What sorcery is this?

Before taking a photo of a canned beer the in thing now is to attach the empty can to the glass, as in the picture above. This freaked me out a bit when I first saw it. "What sorcery is this?" I thought. But let's face it magicians are basically liars, and nothing supernatural is involved. Nowadays cans will attach quite easily to glasses, but it still makes me do a double take when I see a can apparently floating next to a beer glass.

Friday, 30 June 2017

On the origins of beer

In Pete Brown's latest book there's an intriguing passage about brewing with unmalted grains. The problem with brewing with unmalted grains is they don't have the enzymes that will break their starch down to fermentable sugars. This is something often overlooked by people researching pre-historic beer who, mistakenly in my view, think that wet grains will spontaneously transform into beer.
"He shows me the results of experiments that prove you can still get fermentable extract from unmalted grains. Malting yields by far the most fermentable extract, but Martin brewed with raw grain, crushed grain, cooked grain and crushed and cooked grain. Malted grain gave a beer of 6 per cent ABV, but the unmalted, crushed and cooked grain yielded a beer of 3 per cent ABV, and there were traces of fermentation in all the brews."
As I mentioned this was one of areas I'd like to see more about Pete was kind enough to let me know more information could be found in the book Liquid Bread, so I had to get a copy.


It's actually an anthropology book which is interesting, as it's a change in perspective about beer compared to what I normally read. The relevant passage in the book is sadly brief, referring to another study:

"Extensive preliminary trials showed that high alcohol yield is possible only with malt. Most fermentations on unmalted grain had no appreciable alcohol yields. Boiled, therefore gelatinised, unmalted barley grist was the only one having a small yield, comparable to half the alcoholic content when using malt grist"*
Even with Sci-Hub I couldn't get hold of the paper about the preliminary trials so there could well still be some fascinating facts that need tracking down. How the starch breakdown occurs with the unmalted grains we're not told, but it can't be from enzymes in the grains as they've been boiled. The boiling will gelatinise the starch though.

The authors continue saying how they made their beer using malted grains, but with a low temperature mash and a mixed culture fermentation:

  • mashing at 34°C, with 15 minutes of vigorous mixing and a very wet mash (liquor to grist ratio 1:8.3). 
  • Inoculated with a mixed culture of Saccharomyces and Schizosaccharomyces yeasts and Lactobacillus spp. added to the mash. 
  • Final attenuation was 87 percent but due to the vary dilute mash ABV was just 1.6%.
Perhaps the mixed culture is able to carry out a partial breakdown of the starch in the boiled, unmalted grains in a manner reminiscent of how sake is made?

We're still however left with a situation where grains need to be either malted or cooked before anything like beer can be made. So beer remains something that cannot occur naturally or accidentally, as something like wine or mead could. From what I've read beer seems to have emerged around the same time as bread, and both are human inventions.







*Zarnkow, M. et al. (2006) Interdiziplinäre Untersuchungen zum altorientalischen Bierbraune in der Siedlung von Tall Bazi/Nordsyrien vor rund 3200 Jahren. Technikgeschichte 73 (1): 3-25. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Miracle Brew by Pete Brown

I can’t think of a book I’ve waited longer for. Even Stan Hieronymus’s For The Love of Hops didn’t seem to take so long to arrive.

I'd stumped up the money for Miracle Brew through the Unbound website over two years before publication, and although there were occasional uptakes for supporters published on the strangely named “shed” things did seem to move at a glacial pace.


Focusing on the four fundamental ingredients of beer Miracle Brew chronicles Pete Brown’s research into water, malt, hops and yeast. He is undoubtedly one of today’s best beer writers so I was surprised to see him say it’s been eight years since he’s written a book about beer. His background in advertising clearly helped him learn how write in an engaging style, and he’s always keen to get the details right. Unlike some beer writers I could mention, who don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. However, by writing about the raw materials of beer he’s straying into technical territory, so how well did he do?


The book is a pleasure to read, and the author travels to key places, historic and contemporary, in his quest for knowledge, and consults with a wide range of experts. The fact I’d finished the book on the kindle before the hard copy arrived is testament to how much I enjoyed reading it. If you haven’t yet got yourself a copy I can certainly recommend you do.



And now I’ve got the praise out of the way I can start on the anal retentive OCB Wiki style commentary on where I think he went wrong, or more information is needed. Location numbers not page numbers are used as I did the nerdery on my  kindle.

128. It's stated that Peter Darby is the public face of the British Hop Association, which rather overlooks the work of Ali Capper. It continues that the National Hop Collection at Queens Court Farm is where old varieties are preserved and new ones raised, but as I understand it the hops at Queens Court are a back up and it's at the National Scientific Hop Collection at China Farm near Canterbury where most of the work of Wye Hops Ltd is done.

143. Says the Fuggle was found growing as a chance seedling in 1785. Sadly, this story appears to be bollocks, and if anything modern analysis show the Fuggle's origins are as a mainland European hop. There's a number transposed too, as 1875 is the year the Fuggle was released commercially.

146. A new hop called “Wye” is mentioned. This can't be right and I suspect this comes from mishearing a hops actual name, as at one point Wye College added the prefix “Wye” to all their hops (e.g. Wye Target, Wye Challenger)

219. It says brewers refer to the four basic ingredients of beer as “raw materials”. This is done, but yeast can be classified as a processing aid. Though probably not if you're making London Murky.

276. The photosynthesis equation is meant to be written with symbols but is in fact written as words again.

324. There's talk of the enzyme diastase, which is archaic. Amylases would be more accurate.

395. There's talk of the modification during malting being about the the activation of enzymes that can convert starch into sugar. It is also about the breaking down of cellular structures to make the starch in the grain accessible to breakdown.

399. It states the grains need to be turned to stop them tangling into a big lump. This is true, but it is also to keep the temperature even so even modification will occur.

521. William Gosset is given as Wilson Gosset.

564. It states the process of malting has hardly changed in centuries, but in fact the introduction of air rests during steeping in the 1950s was a major change compared to previous malting methods.

610. The kilning of malt resembles coffee roasting, when in fact malt roasters used for making crystal and highly coloured malts much more resemble coffee roasters than kilns do.

633. It states that beer colour is determined by analysing the wavelength of light. In fact the wavelength is fixed at 430nm and it's the attenuation of the light passing through the beer that's measured.

637. It talks of the Maillard reaction causing amino acids to brown malt, when in fact Maillard reactions occur between amino acids and sugars.

709. It states that Matthew Wood introduced coffee roasting techniques to create malts that had no extract but just added flavour. Here the author seems to have mixed up Matthew Wood with Daniel Wheeler, the inventor of the malt roaster. And roasted malts do have extract, it's just not very fermentable extract.

790. It states the Institute of Brewing and Distilling meet every spring to compile a list of approved barley varieties. In fact the English Micro Malting Group that does this is really run by the Maltsters Association of Great Britain, but the approved list has retained the brand of the IBD.

866. It's said that whisky is essentially distilled beer. In many ways it is, but it's also of course missing one of the key ingredients: hops.

1175. It states the kiln takes malt as far as caramelisation, while roasting drums create roast flavours. In fact roasting drums are used to make caramel or crystal malts as well as roast malts.

1194. Bohemian dark lagers such as Bocks and October beers are mentioned. I suspect he means Bavarian here, and you can certainly get pale bocks and October beers anyway.

1201. It states acidulated malt has been treated with lactic acid, in fact it has had lactic acid bacteria grow on it during the production process and they have created the lactic acid.

1361. It's said that during the mash the “porridge-like wort” is constantly agitated. In mash conversion vessels the mash will be agitated, but if mash tuns are used the mash is not agitated.

1375. It's stated that as soon as brewers were free to legally used roasted barley Guinness began doing so. This is not the case.

1391. The author gets a bit confused about water hardness and pH, and seems to be confusing hardness with carbonate concentration (a mistake I've made myself in the past), when it's really calcium and magnesium concentration. Calcium and to a lesser extent magnesium will lower the mash pH by reacting with phosphates and polypeptides, liberating hydrogen ions. Carbonate will act as a buffer and have the effect of keeping the mash pH high.

1424. It's stated the water to beer ratio is typically 5 to 10 pints of water per pint of beer. The industry standard for large breweries is certainly less than 5:1 nowadays.

1802. The graph of mineral concentrations in Burton-upon-Trent water are attributed to Hind's “Brewing Science and Practice” though I'm pretty sure the author had a double barrelled surname “Lloyd Hind”.

2039. There's a dash in the middle of “common” for no apparent reason.

2043. It's said gruit should contain bog myrtle, rosemary and yarrow. Though this is often stated I'm sure I saw someone point out that as they don't grow in the same areas it's unlikely to have been the case.

2404 It’s stated that the IBD began developing hops to compete against the imports. I know the IBD does help fund hop breeding, but it’s still done by Wye Hops Ltd. 

2785 It’s stated that Yakima used to mainly grow bittering hops for Anheuser-Busch, but until relatively recently a lot of the aroma hop Willamette were used by AB, so I suspect they were grown extensively in Yakima. In fact, this is actually mentioned later in the book (2849). 

2924 There seems to be some confusion about the different types of hop extracts. Oil extracts can add flavour and aroma, but alpha acids extracted from the resins will be needed to add bitterness. 

3202 It’s said hop breeding begin in earnest in in Kent 1917 but it had started before then.

3356 That some “Goldings” are no such thing is mentioned but not in enough detail for my liking.

 3644 .“Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3735 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3737 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3742 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3763 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3808 It’s stated lager yeasts enjoy a long, cold fermentation and without this the beer will have an undesirable amount of diacetyl. Though this is the traditional way of making lagers, a warm diacetyl rest where the fermentation temperature is allowed to rise towards the end of fermentation, is now commonly used to lower diacetyl levels in considerably faster time. It’s also incorrectly stated that diacetyl is an ester when in fact it’s a ketone. 

 3986 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

4028 Two strains of bacteria: lactobacillus and pediococcus are mentioned. In fact these are both genera of bacteria not strains (strain is used for differences within the species). And as genera names both should be capitalised. 

4145 When talking about strain differences it’s stated that five genetically identical strains of yeast made very different beers. I would be interested to see more details about this. I wonder if it’s really about about strain variation within a species?

4172 The talk of putting freeze dried yeast in plastic test tubes and then melting the end shut before storing them in liquid nitrogen sounds confused to me so I’d be interested in seeing more details. 

4184 It talks of kvass beer strains called kvaic, mixing up the bread based beer with Norwegian farmhouse yeast, kveik, and then misspelling it. 

4227 It states that domestication robbed yeast of its ability to reproduce. Presumably that should be reproduce sexually. 

4261 Heineken is hyphenated for no apparent reason. 

4644 Interesting comment about hops affecting the colour of beer. I saw this mentioned when researching Farnham hops but it’s not usually something you see mentioned today. 

4648 Another thing I’d like to see more details of is the claim that someone brewed a 6% ABV beer with grains he’d malted, and a 3% ABV beer with unmalted grains.
 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

CAMRA's Wild Pub Walks by Daniel Neilson

I was delighted to get an email from a Vatican functionary CAMRA staff member asking if I would be interested in getting a review copy of their “Wild Pub Walks” book. A free book, and a chance to help with god's work spreading the good news about the one true living beer, what's not to like?

I’ve also had a cracking time using other pub walks books in the series, and have been to a lot of what pass for wild places in Britain. As this one has “wild” in the title it suggests that unlike with the London guide you would have to earn your beer. A new author, Daniel Neilson, has been found for this book, and looking at the blurb on the back I see he edits OriginalGravity% magazine (what’s with the pointless percentage?*) and has done the Mountain Leader award training . I was going for that qualification myself before a scholarship to study Brewing and Distilling gave me an altogether better way of being paid for one of my hobbies. 

The 22 walks are divided into nine areas across Britain, and I’m pleased to say I’ve walked and drank beer in all of them. This lead to me flicking through to the areas I know best to see which walks and pubs are covered. Langdale in the Lake District has a walk to Pavey Ark starting from the ODG, though the Stickelbarn and the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel also get a mention. Wales starts with a walk up Snowdon, with the Pen-Y-Gwyrd hotel listed as the main refreshment stop, with Plas-Y-Brenin and the Tyn-Y-Coed inn as alternatives. As it seemed to be going with the classic walk and pub for each area I then flicked back to Glen Coe, and sure enough it's Buachaille Etive Mor and the Clachaig Inn

The walk descriptions are detailed and include a map, though when the maps go over two pages it's hard to read near where the pages join. It also has the boxes filled with the fascinating facts that make guidebooks worthwhile. Who knew that Presbyterians and Episcopalians came into armed conflict Scotland's Pentland hills? Not me. There's also the usual safety section guidebooks like this have at the start: take a map, take a compass, and don't drink more than six pints before setting off on the walks. OK, I made that last bit up. 

Not all of the pubs are Good Beer Guide ticks, and with 22 walks covering the whole of mainland Great Britain it's a highly selective guide. So if you're going somewhere for more than a weekend a local guidebook and a copy of the good book would be more useful. But having said that the walks listed are excellent, and it's great to see a walking guide with pub suggestions. I'll certainly be taking it next time I visit an area I'm not familiar with.









* I suppose some people write degrees Plato as %, but then they tend to call it Original Extract rather than Original Gravity. And anyway, beers are labelled with ABV not OG nowadays.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Pseudo-craft sub-brands

Adnams aren't hiding anything
with their sub-brand
My last post on the mysterious world of British craft beer got an interesting comment from "qq" on traditional brewers bringing out crafty sub-brands:
"I use "pseudo-craft" for any traditional cask brewer that uses radically different branding for its hoppy stuff."
I do like to see such clearly defined positions, it makes life so much easier. But sadly it's not a position I can adopt myself. I've heard myself how a seven year old brewery had to launch a sub-brand if it wanted to get into the craft market as they were too well known as a cask ale brewery. And it seems they're not the only one.

In times of increasing competition it's easy to see why breweries are looking for new avenues to get their beer to market. And lets not forget the craft premium where a smaller container size can be used to increase the value of your beer by 50%. There appears to be a similar thing going on with craft keg vs. cask beer pricing too.

Irritating though it is I can even see why some breweries take the step of hiding who they are when they launch a sub-brand. Craft beer geeks seem to have a lot more contempt for mainstream cask ales than they do mainstream lagers. Drinking Bud, or now Bud Light, seems to be something to proudly tweet about, but Greene King IPA only ever gets derided.

So established ale breweries are in a bit of a no-win situation. If they don't innovate they're doomed to decline, and if they do they're denounced. Is it any wonder that for new brands, aimed at new markets, they adopt new branding?