Thursday, 26 November 2015

Bass brewery to close

Molson Coors have confirmed that their Burton (South) plant is to close in September 2017. The brewery is perhaps better known as the old Bass brewery. Production will be transferred to the Burton (North) plant, the old Allied brewery.

I did hear rumours that the Burton (South) plant was under threat a while back, as apparently it’s basically a large Carling factory and Carling sales are in decline. The news it will close was confirmed in a local paper three weeks ago.

Friday, 20 November 2015

A visit to Crisp Maltings

"Insist on Crisp" isn't quite up there with "Put some pork on your fork" as far as marketing slogans go but it almost rhymes and that's got to be worth something. I visited Crisp Maltings in Ryburgh the other week for an excellent tour of the site.

They have a few different types of maltings there.

First we saw the eight tonne pilot maltings which has a combined steeping, germination and kilning vessel.

At the  pilot maltings at work we have kilns separate from the steeping and germination vessels, but at 50kg capacity each are on a rather different scale.

Then we were off to our next port of call, the floor maltings.

As you would expect at a floor maltings it was quite historic, dating from 1870.

There are three floors, each of which can take seven tonnes of malt, the grain being laid on the floor 10cm deep.

There has been some modernisation so there is air conditioning rather than just windows.

Up at the top were barley storage areas, though these aren't used anymore.

All three floors of malt are kilned together, the kilning taking three days. Though the floor maltings was closed for servicing whilst we visited it's normally in pretty much constant use.

Crisp store 40,000 tonnes of barley on site.

It's analysed on arrival and if not up to scratch is rejected, though the rejection rate is less than 1%.

The central laboratory facilities are on site too.

For microbrewers they mill grain, and the mill is working at close to capacity.

Barley is dried gently (max temp 40-44°C) to less than 12% moisture for storage.

If the farmers bring grain with greater than 15% moisture they'll be charged for the drying!

To keep costs down they have their own effluent treatment plant and use borehole water.

Most of the malting is carried out on two mid 90s plants, each with a 220 tonne batch size. Sadly none of my photos from inside the big plant turned out well due to the humid atmosphere.

They have flat bottomed steeping vessels. This gives a shallower and more uniform bed depth than a conical bottomed steep tank, but does use more water and is harder to clean.They steep to 44-46% moisture, the moisture and temperature varying slightly depending on which type of malt is being made.

The circular germination vessels have a bed depth of 1.8m over a wedge wire floor, with a giracleur to level and turn the grains. Two steeps are used, with a total germination time of 48 hours. Air can be vented or recirculated to control temperature. Approximately 0.5% moisture is lost each day.

In the kiln heat is first applied to the grains with high air flow and low temperature. When the air off humidity is less than 100% the temperature can be increased, the final kiln temp ranging from 85-110°C depending on the type of malt being made. Kilning takes 24 hours. The two kilns run in staggered tandem so heat can be moved back and forth between the kilns e.g. after the break point (less than 100% humidity) air one kiln can be used to heat the other kiln. The bed depth is 1m.

After kilning the malt is analysed and goes to storage. Batches are blended to meet customer specifications. Big brewers can ask for their own specifications, microbrewers get what the regionals asked for!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Avin a bubble

I was briefly in Athens for work last week but I did manage to fit in a bit of freelance beer nerdery too. Unlike Bavaria or Prague there's no handy beer guide to download so I had to settle for seeing what Ratebeer recommended.

The two hour time difference screwed my plans somewhat though, so rather than call in at the hotel first I went straight into town. After a bit of wandering aimlessly psychogeography I manged to find one bar on my list: The Pulp bar. It's close to the Acropolis museum so can be found even with only a print out from google maps.

It was dark and dingy with rock music playing, so my kind of place really. It even had heart warming graffiti in the bogs. 

ζήτω η αναρχία

I managed to get a locally produced craft beer here.The bar man enthusiastically explained to me that the brewery was so small it was practically home brewed. I managed to fix a grin on my face and consoled myself that at least I'd found something local.

No idea about the brewery name but I managed the beer name OK
The beer turned out to be pleasant enough, though of course murky. I do feel a bit sorry for countries without much of a beer tradition as they seem to think any non-industrial beer has to be murky. Though come to think of it the bar seemed to be selling more bottles of Fullers beer than anything else so maybe they're learning.

As the greeks have their own alphabet I was a bit concerned I'd have language problems but English worked just fine. Though British and American imperialism may have killed tens of millions of people it's not entirely without benefits to monoglots like myself. And a lot of greek doesn't seem half as foreign when it's written using the latin alphabet:

Though some is best left in greek:

I think this shop sold lottery tickets
I also got in what I assume was industrial filth as it didn't taste of grapefruit, but I don't know the breweries production and share ownership so can't be certain.

Fix Hellas seemed rather fittingly to be in the helles style i.e. rubbish. Fix Dark was a little better:

But not much.

Bergina beer was more like it though, having enough hops to overcome the inherent handicaps of brewing with under kilned malt and feckless lager yeast.

There's also lots of historical stuff going on in Athens that I got a chance to wander round.

And philistine that I am I did even get a bit of poetry going round my head. It was Shelly mind:

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Night of the Hawks

Ah, free beer again. It must be the third lot I've got this year. I did see something on twitter about how crowd funding is being used to launch mail order beer businesses. If this is indeed the case then I'll have to change my views on crowd funding. If crowds of people want to spend their money sending me free beer I'm all for it!

The latest company to get in touch was Beer Hawk. An excellent name I thought, both beer and half of Hawkwind in the name. They did give me dilemma though, as rather than asking the simple "do you want some free beer?" to which I of course answer "yes, please!" I was given a choice this time. They have quite a wide range of beer on offer and asked me which I would like.

I thought of going for German beers, as it's my weakest area in terms of nerdy beer knowledge but some of the beers looked boring. So then I thought maybe American as I don't buy a lot of American beers either. But I saw Rogue brewery were included in the selection and I didn't want anything from those anti-worker wankers. Perhaps British craft brewers were the one I should go for? But what if they were all badly made murk? Cracking under the pressure I failed to make a clear decision and went for a mixed selection.

When the beer arrived I saw my cunning plan had failed as it included a beer from Rogue. Oh well, at least I didn't pay for it.

On the plus side it did included some canned craft beer. This is the thing that causes the most excitement amongst my fellow beer nerds at the moment so I'm curious about it. Not curious enough so spend my own hard earned cash on it mind, but welcome when it's free.

Weird Beard Decadence Stout (5.4% ABV) had an interesting name. I'm a firm believer in decadence. On a practical, not a theoretical level of course, I've no time for that ICC nonsense. I was wary of the beer at first as it looked cheap with a stick on label on the can and a beer stain down the side. It also fobbed when opened, and I had to fill two glasses to empty the can. The beer quality was fine though. Sadly the taste was of American hops and dark malts. Not a combination I'm fond of I'm afraid but it leant more to the malts so not too bad.

Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier (6.3% ABV) was suitably German so educational for me. It tasted lagery, with not much aroma from cold fermentation. Light in body for the strength. Clean European hop and a beansprout vegetal lager malt flavour.

Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest (5.5% ABV). Similar to above so recognisably in the style but a bit more zing and a bit less vegetable, richer malt taste. It was American though so I'm not sure if it was as educational.

 Otley Blonde (4.8%) was a grapefruit tasting ale, not high bitterness but pleasant enough.

Mordue IPA (5.1%), made by my mate Rob, was as expected delicious. Grapefruit again, with some orange this time and the bitterness to back it up.

Anchor Liberty was similar: bitter and citrus, but a bit more restrained than Mordue.

I took the precaution of wearing a hat when drink Ilkley The Mayan as I didn't want to risk catching my death of cold. As it happens the beer had chilli in it so was quite warming. It was also chocolate flavoured, and whilst the chilli was at the right dose the chocolate was too much.

Celt brewery Bleddyn 1075 had my scratching my head as they claim 1075 is indeed the original gravity despite the ABV being only 5.6%. Nice beer though, citrus and piney taste, but with a  loose yeast. It reminded me of the work of John fucking Kimmich, thought it didn't manage to immanentize the eschaton.

Brooklyn East India IPA had a cascadey citrus smell with grapefruity taste so definitely craft beer. Bitter but not tongue stripping, with a decent body to it. A good American IPA

Rogue whatever it was on the other hand tasted of the sweat of oppressed brewers and the tears of proletarians yearning for freedom and equality. Not to the recommended.

Left Hand Brewery is a name I approve of. "Left Hand" just makes you think of that winning combination of intelligence, ability and good looks common to so many left handers.Good Juju was a bit thin and lacking though. Made with ginger it had a ginger aroma and ginger taste, but the taste wasn't as strong as it is in ginger beer so seemed under powered.

Flying Dog Double Dog had a fruity smell, but not just citrus. Full bodied, in fact a bit chewy, which made me think more of barley wine than IPA. Bit piney which I'm not so fond of but pleasant enough.

Durham White Stout harks back to the days when "stout" meant strong, not "something like Guinness". There's not a lot of aroma and at 7.2% ABV it does taste alcoholic. It was full bodied but balanced by the bitterness.

Siren Craft Quadrophenia impressed me with the name. Surely a handy way of removing any doubt about whether your beer is craft or not is to include the word "craft" in your brewery's name. As to the beer, there is a Belgian yeast taste but the taste is slightly harsh making it unbalanced. Not as smooth and rich tasting as I expected but it did mellow out as I drank more, or I did anyway. The actual Belgians definitely do it better though.

Finally it was back to Germany for a wheat beer: Unertl Oberland Export Weissbier.This was flavoursome wheat beer, though perhaps a touch too phenolic for me as it tasted a touch plasticy at times.

And with that it was the end of the freebies and back to home brew at home. 

Friday, 6 November 2015

You think when you drink

Admittedly it may be an inverse relationship but bear with me. There's a lot going on in your head when you try a drink. Our senses are not objective instruments that operate independently from our brain. 
I think of this when I see my fellow beer nerds saying that the only important thing about beer is the taste. It commonly crops up when they're defending beer so murky it's impervious to light. Now there's no denying that taste is important in beer. And so of course is the fact it gets you pissed. But whether we like it or not our brains are involved in the tasting process and a number of factors will influence it.

How a beer looks is the most obvious one, and murk aside, the colour will usually prime you for what flavours to expect, and influence how you perceive them. For this reason in the tasting panel at work black glasses are used, and I know from experience that having the blind put into blind tasting really does make it harder. I was once slight embarrassed by how long it took me to work out that I'd been given bottled Guinness.

Some of my colleagues investigated how the power of suggestion can affect the flavour of beer in an neat little study. The tasting panel were given five beers to try and asked to pick for each the best flavour descriptors from list that was provided. The terms on the list had mainly come from flavour attributes stated on the labels of the beer. 

Later the tasting was repeated, only this time the list of flavour descriptors had recommended ones for each beer. It was pretty clear what they were up to at this point, but despite that it still worked. Like they way your eyes are drawn to the unwanted telly showing crap in a pub, the taste I perceived in a beer was drawn towards the suggestions. When the panel's results were totted up all of the beers had shifted considerably in the flavours recorded, most strikingly in one beer in which no one detected 'pepper' first time round but 12 out of 19 did when it was suggested. There's more to taste than you might think.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Elgoods brewery and 'spontaneously' fermented beer

I don't know why I find brewery history so interesting but I do. So there was no way I was going to miss out on the chance to visit Elgoods brewery and see their open copper coolers.

Head Brewer Alan Pateman took a break from his holiday to show us round and talk about the beers he's stated making based on the lambic style, though they call their beer 'cambic' (as they're in Cambridgeshire) to keep the lawyers at bay.

Elgoods date back to 1795 so have a long history, but times have changed and they can’t just sell mild and bitter anymore. They've done lots of New Product Development in various styles  and now brew 30-40 recipes a year, including sour beers.

Being an old brewery the malt hopper dates from 1910, Boby 2-roller mill from 1912 and the mash tun is even older, though they don't know exactly how old.
Normally mash at 150°F (65.5°C) but for the cambics go slightly higher to 152-154°F (66.5-67.5°C)
They have a 15 quarter mash tun (2,300 kg capacity), with which they can make 30-100 bbl of beer depending on the strength. They use mains water, which is chalky so add AMS and gypsum to the grist.

For cambics they first used 70% pale malt and 30% unmalted wheat but this caused problems in the mash tun so they now use torrified instead of raw wheat. Old hops from 2010 are used, which have lost most of their flavour and bitterness but still have the tannins. They brew 45 bbl at a time using open cooling trays (coolships).

The wort pH is lower for lambics so it's adjusted with lactic acid in the hop back to pH4.5-4.8 on the cooling tray.
They have a 95 bbl copper from 1950 which is boiled at 1.5 lbs over atmospheric pressure. The boil length is 60-90 minutes depending on the colour of the beer. If late hops are used they’re added in the hop back. For the cambic they boil for 2.5 hours. Lots of tannins get into the wort from the hops and the gravity rises from 40-45°Sacch to 55-60. The cambic wort cools to 55°F (13°C) overnight. Each of the two cooling trays will take 27 bbl with a depth of about 12”. They were last used previously 22 years ago, the current head brewer saying one of his first acts was to stop using them. A lot of evaporation takes place in the cooling trays, enough to raise the gravity by 4°Sacch. They’re also very good for cold break formation.

Oak planks, made from a 250 year old dead oak they had in the brewery grounds, have been placed above the cooling trays so condensation can form on them and drip back into the trays, hopefully taking the microbiological flora living on the oak with them into the wort. Oak chips are also added in tank at a rate of 244g of oak chips per hl. They ferment for 6-9 months in glass lined tanks dating from the 1930s that they weren’t using but had never disposed of.

They think they have more fermentation taking place from lactic acid bacteria than Brettanomyces yeast. The youngest beer tastes only slightly sour and very cidery, they older beer has a more pronounced sourness though, and they’re blended together like a gueuze at Elgoods. It certainly seemed like a very credible lambic style beer to me. The also do a sweet fruit flavoured version for people after something a bit less in your face.
The cambic is sold in bottle and keg but 70% of Elgoods output is cask, with total beer production a modest 5-6,000 bbl a year.

As I was driving I had the mild, and I can see why Elgoods got by for years just selling mild and bitter, as it was really rather good. If you're after the cambic it mostly goes to the states but some can be found in specialist beer outlets as Elgoods Coolship.