Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Charcoal sparklers

Recently, I was reading the excellent Dave Bailey's views on the fastcask system being introduced by Marston's, (you can read the original here), as well as his thoughts on Brewdog advocating a "real keg" system.

To briefly summarise what I hope is an accurate reflection of Dave's views, Marston's fast cask is handy, but the quality of the beers the system is being launched with, as well the degree to which yeasty gel balls will actually condition the beer is a moot point. Likewise, many breweries leave beer to settle for so long in a conditioning tank, that very little conditioning actually happens in many kegs; albeit enough to do a little fermenting and for it to be classified as cask ale. Lastly, Dave would see the idea of a blanket of CO2 being laid down over the beer in the cask, as it is opened and pumped out, would be a good idea, as long as it was merely placed their to prevent oxidisation, and not force carbonated.

Finding all of these points very salient, and having my own doubts about the fast cask system, it got me wondering about my own views and alternative suggestions. I mean, Brewdog advocating "Real Keg" is all well and good, but I personally feel "Real Keg" is suitable for styles which are traditionally served draught- in my mind, it would be best utilised for their 77 lager, for example. Which is fine, good beer in a keg, is good beer. But you can't really stick complex smoked beers, or strong, golden ales in a keg. No matter how real the beer is, it just wouldn't be quite right. Likewise, manufacturing yeast in gel ball suspension is such an odd technology it would simply be too awkward for the average microbrewery.

As such, I got thinking about how to get a beer bright, without it having to drop bright. Well, one way is to filter it, that's what is done prior to kegging. So, why not just filter the beer as it leaves the cask and before it gets into the punters glass? That way, the beer can condition perfectly and stay active in the cask, but just pass through a filter in the line as it gets into the glass.

Then, I dismissed such a though. That's madness. The filter would clog. It would be impossibly slow. There would be little to gain.

Then, however, I thought it could be possible. How difficult would it be to stick an activated charcoal filter into a sparkler? The advantage being it could be replaced easily every few pints as it may clog, less if the beer has actually dropped bright. Furthermore, they wouldn't be expensive to manufacture, either they could placed in the plastic housing of a normal sparkler, or simply be made specifically for the purpose.

Then I realised that I am a Southerner advocating sparklers. Then I noticed the strong emotions even on the sparkler subject.

I think I'm going to sit and stew on this one for a bit...

Seriously, however. Would such a system be possible? I know it sounds so obvious... so I'm wondering what the flaws are/were. Has this ever been tried? If so, what went wrong?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Drinking in the UK, featuring a skateboarding priest!

"I am an antichrist... I am a beer drinker..."

Not quite a sex pistols classic this, more a stream of conciousness musing on what can be done to improve the liquid in pint glasses around the country.

Like many people with a passion, I am a pedant. I like things to be done well. I am fussy about certain standards. And, when I end up in an argument, when I think I'm right- boy, do I argue.

The joyous world of beer blogging is much the same. People have opinions, whether it be a raging debate about sparklers, CAMRA over representing dull session beer, how many jalepeno's should be on the average plate of nachos (my employer specifies 6. I'd eat them from a jar with a spoon!) - these foibles cause us to act. People complain when they're not happy, hopefully by doing so we get change.

CAMRA and the online squad of concerned and conscientious drinkers have implemented an amazing and wonderful change in the way people drink. What we drink, how we think about drink... it's wonderful. And it is continuing. It is something I am passionate and proud of.

But, a lot of it has been achieved through pedantic efforts. Labouring a point that Cask ale is the only real beer, refusing to stop selling and making beers the way we want them. And, importantly, attacking the squalid squirrels piss that passes as beer from many macro breweries.

The problem is, I feel however, that the pedantry required to gain ground for a progressive drinkership, or to restore quality for a traditional drinkership, can also off put as many casual drinkers as it wins round. A lot of people do not care, all they know is kegged lager and Guinness. To try and convince such drinkers to sample other beverages, we need to compete with their interests, price range and make products available. Education, is also required.

The problem is, however, to say "we're going to educate the consumer", is a phrase which rather patronises many consumers. A lot of people, no matter how right or wrong they are, know what they like. Taste is subjective. working in my pub everyday, I know the regulars. "John Smiths, in a Guinness glass."

Next to the John Smiths, we have a huge range of guest ales. Some are much, much better pints.

But, will these people drink it? Know. They like what they know- and try to campaign to them, or educate them, and you'll be told to shove off. Fair enough, it is the consumers choice.

But many people are more angry by the fact we try to change tastes and are passionate and pedantic than will admit. For many people, it's just beer. It's not quite so good, so what. It's 5%, it's cheap, and I get wankered. Whey.

The only way to change this, I feel, is to go down a gentler route. We need to be exciting and sexy, as opposed to sounding out a message of doom laden woe. I think there are several key factors that the concerned UK beerhead ought to sort out. Here they are...

1) Home drinking. CAMRA is pub focused, but a lot of people can only afford to drink regularly at home, and prefer to. Good beer needs to be available in Supermarkets cheaply, and the vacuum in good beer in many off licences and corner shops must change as well. Truly, then, most peoples early off premises education in alcohol will be less dominated by mass produced bile. People would discover what they want to drink in a truly open market, rather than by what they are dictated to drink.

2) Boring session bitters need to be less protected. The campaign for real ale, and the progressive school of "we want exciting, interesting and good beer" ought to get in bed more and produce a more focused approach to things. More exciting beers, in my mind, need to be pushed by CAMRA, and perhaps those of us who like the weird stuff should be a bit happier to see mild on the shelf next to other stuff. Likewise, we need to be exciting, and to produce more session beers. I love Imperial Stout, but man, I can't go for a night out on the stuff!

(Well maybe not mild. I do hate it so.)

3) We need to entice and excite drinkers. Keep it simple, market well, change the image. Make beer a cold, sexy summer thing. Make it a warming, rich, winter thing. Make it sexy. Make it traditional. Make it honest. Make it British. Make it exotic. Make it comforting. Make it good.

4) Keg beer does not have to be bad, and here I would say CAMRA will never give ground. I too feel that secondarily fermented beer is better, in cask. But, to get odder product more widely available, force carbonated beer, brewed to be kegged with a flavour that works for it, can be sold in more outlets. I love Budvar, it is a good draught beer. I have no shame in saying so. As beer lovers, exciting beers brewed to taste great, designed for draught, pressurised dispense could be amazing. It'll be easier for the consumer to get, as a foot in the door of the world of good beer.

5) I need to shut up and stop typing. A very random and rambling post, under developed, but hopefully it touches on some issues. I've got to start planning these posts to actually write well, to be incisive, critical and all those other things writers should be. But, until then, here is a video of a skateboarding priest.

Skateboarding Priest

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Chimay Blue

Yesterday evening, having racked off and sampled the first tastes of my IPA (Cloudy, but tasty), I decided to begin research ahead of my next brew. Seeing as I have a Belgian planned, and that I intend to cultivate a yeast from bottle, I had an obvious choice to make: Which Belgian yeast to use?

Well, knowing Duvel well, and being limited by the choice in my local supermarket, I opted to try the only other Belgian bottle conditioned beer they had: Chimay Blue. One of only 6 true trappist beers in Belgium, I wasn't too sure what to expect. Blonde, or Brown? Sweet and Malty, or Sweet and sickly? Rich, or rich? Strong, or absolutely lethal?

Well, I think there is a reason why many of these monks don't talk. By the time they've had a sip of their own brew, they are in a state of wonder and shock that comes from a religious experience like this. Opening the beer with a gentle hiss and pouring delicately to avoid sediment, it was a deep brown colour, that formed a rich, tall, creamy head without too much effort. The smell was one of rich, malty caramel. And alcohol.

However, the first taste was not as strong as some beers I have had. It had that characteristic high gravity, slightly sour syrupy sweetness that I had come to expect. However, it was thick and heavy- something I wouldn't characterise for such Belgium styles, often known for a relative lightness compared to strength. Very little hop bitterness came through, that which did was moderately fruity. But this beer isn't about hops, it's malty and sweet. This is Christmas beer, to be had sozzled in front of "The Great Escape" following too much pudding, when your looking for a come down step between port and the savoury world.

All in all, I enjoyed my Chimay greatly, it slipped down quickly and proved a moorish and suppable pint. However, it wasn't quite my drink. The flavour profile was just a bit sweet and heavy for my personal tastes. I think the lighter Belgian Blonde style just lets hops come through that tad more, and the lighter profile they have with the high gravity makes them that much more digestible and quaffable.

Although, really, with an ABV of 9%, a heavier beer that discourages heavy consumption may be a good thing in hindsight...

But I digress: A decadent tipple of fruity, rich, malty caramel. Complex and superb. However, for my own brew, I shall stick to Duvel yeast. If only so that I get to drink a bottle of the devil itself first...

Monday, 9 August 2010

London Pride

I think most beer drinkers in the UK need little or any introduction to this famous brew. To be honest, I doubt many need anything beyond that either, as London pride is arguably one of the best known bitters in the land. An absolutely classic ruby red ale, finely balanced, with a nice malty sweetness met with a wonderful hop bitterness. And underlying it all, the taste of good old Fuller's yeast.
The thing about London Pride is, quite simply, it is my favourite beer of all time. To quote the late, great Dave Line, from "Brewing Beers Like those you buy,

"...if I had to select just one beer to drink for the rest of my life, it would have to be "London pride"."

I know, objectively, I can't say it is the best beer in the world, but for me I think it always will be. I'm from Fuller's country, my locals are all Fuller's pubs. London Pride is the drink that rehydrates me when I need a desperate thirst quencher on a hot midsummers evening. It is the tipple that fuels a Thursday quiz night. It is a brew I'd drink every single Christmas. Best of all, however, is that it is so drinkable. It isn't a rich treat, or an unsatisfactory mild. It is a beautiful drink and a session drink

So, this is my salute to Pride, the best damn pint in the world.

Even if my head is pumping away at the moment, asking me why the extra glass... why?!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Forays in Brewing

Sitting in my garage, upon the precipice of the old freezer, is my first brew. 40 glorious pints of East Kent Golding's IPA!

At least I hope it is...

Having not yet tasted the brew, I have no real way of knowing what is in there. Am I secretly brewing one of the finest IPA's ever produced? Or am I in fact just mass producing an acrid form of Witch hazel?

Not knowing what is going on is frustrating. But more so is the fact I've had to leave it in the garage this entire time, due to complaints about strange vats of fluid being left in the house. I mean really, it's only beer/antiseptic!

Anyways, I'm one week away from racking it off into a keg for secondary, at which point I'll sneak a taste and see if it is any good at all. Until then, however, I'm planning a second brew to wallop into my FV in the short term. Currently, I'm planning a nice Belgian blonde, with a bit of candy sugar in the grain bill to add some strength without using all malt and ending up with syrup! I'm also going to play with some grain as well, doing a partial mash, to see how difficult it is to add the flavours of some Munich and Belgian Pale malt to it!

Anyway, what are your thoughts regarding a good Belgian Blonde? Am I mad with ambition, or well within the realms of possibility? I am getting somewhat nervous at attempting this but... I've paid the grain bill now so I'm doing something in a weeks time!

Any thoughts of more specific recipes/ideas would be more than welcome!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Great British Beer Festival

Well, what can I say! Thousands of people, hundreds of beers... could it ever be a bad day?

My trip to the GBBF at Earl's Court yesterday afternoon was my second trip to the festival, and it hadn't changed much. The same blend of wacky characters, bad t-shirts and age verification wrist bands (ah, my youthful looks!) were exactly the same as last year. Inside, the stands had moved a little, the bars were reorganised and renamed, but everything was roughly where it had been the year before, give or take a few odd stands and such.

Arriving with my friend Tom, the first drink on our palates was a good slug Fruh's Kolsch. For those who have never had the joy of sampling Kolsch, I highly, highly recommend it. A weird mutant yeast means that Kolsch is top fermented beer resembling a lager more than a ale, but... with flavour! A crisp, refreshing beer, a bottle split between me and my friend Tom started of proceedings well!

Following this, we figured a nice half pint of IPA would be a good logical step, to help us wash down some fantastic Thai red curry. Given current media attention, as well as a demand on my own part to be able to formulate a response, there was only one we could try- Brewdog's Punk. At 6%, with a strong hop aroma, there was no doubt about it. It was a ballsy IPA. However, upon actually tasting the beer, I was a flabergasted by the sheer bitterness. I mean, a hoppy aroma and flavour is characteristic of an IPA, but this was like drinking liquid hops! There was no trace of malt, and it was, overall, imbalanced. I understand the Brewdog mentality, marketing and style- to make beers of character and flavour- but there is no point in just going OTT with the hops, and assuming that is flavour. I love many an IPA, whether it be Marston's Old Empire or St.Peter's IPA- but this is not one I will be quaffing again, I'm afraid!

Next up following this, we felt like a cleansing drink, so it was off to the world of Czech beer, for some unfiltered, draft Budvar. I love Budvar, it's no secret. I can drink it all day and night, letting the silken liquid hit me with a refreshing, crisp taste and wonderful flavour of Saaz hops. But this... was a treat. It really changed the mouth feel of the beer, making it seem much softer and almost velvety on the tongue, accentuating it's wonderful after taste. It also lingered wonderfully, and just provided such a welcome sense of refreshment. Add in a sit down, and a great time chatting to a few other festival goers about home brews exploding the car, and the beer really started to kick in and the festival was in full swing!

Following this, the beers flowed thick and fast, or at least the Rauchbier we had next did. Smokey, like a porter, but somewhat thinner. Absolutely delicious. After this, it was time to grab some Bananatana, an Italian ale flavoured with bananas (duh!) and sultanas. Very banana, tasted strongly of them. Not too sweet, a little residual hop bitter finish. It worked superbly, but... banana as a drink is a little odd! A nice occasional drink I'd say. Add in then a shared bottle of port stout (hint of port in the taste, from a cask I think, should have been a porter for maximum pun!) as well as a bottle of Little valley ginger pale ale, a balanced ale, with a hint of ginger. Very pleasant. Next, I realised that I had neglected my first love... Belgian beer!

So, here I had a little taste of all the Belgian stuff I wanted. First up, me and my friend Tom shared a couple of Blondes... not a suspicious thing to do at all! These were lovely, strong, somewhat malty beers. You'll have to excuse the blur that begins to sink in by this point at the festival; a combination of intoxicating beverages and Flemmish made things a little difficult! After this, it was witbier time, somewhat different from it's German counterpart- more spiced and somehow even gassier! Despite this spicing, it is exceptionally subtle in the finished beer, not an assault of flavour- more just a very complex hint of coriander and orange, accentuating the natural citrus crisp of the hops. Then, it was Geuze time. Last year, I'd had Lambic and Kriek... this year, I thought the blend of young an old Lambic might be more palatable, more exquisite... and that I might have a Damascus moment. Wow. Once again, despite the lactic taste that is more yoghurt than beer, it was still... beer. And, I'm proud to say a good one at that. A wonderful taste of citrusy malt and even a smooth finish it balance it. I think I've been converted :)

From here, we then went and saw that the time was about 6:00PM. For those in the know, that meant one thing and one thing only... Brewer's Reserve No.2 from Fullers. So scarce was the beer, that a queue formed prior to its release. Despite a somewhat odd conversation with a rather unhinged gentleman, who has several tankards clipped to his belt and who refused to believe it was in a cognac cask as opposed to whiskey, and the beer was released. Wow. Deep, complex, a real taste of fine cognac. Possibly the most complex and wonderful beer I has ever tasted. Thank you, Fullers.

But... then I had to have one more for the road. How do you beat an 8.2% ale flavoured with cognac? Answer...

A 13.1% Danish Imperial Stout. I drank a bottle of black hole... molasses. It was almost like that, yet still somehow bitter enough at the end to balance the insane malt and alcohol content.

Then, I departed, off into anon, upon the Picadilly line. An amazing and wonderful day, what a celebration of beer!

Monday, 2 August 2010

All is ago...

Never in life has beer been more hectic this!

Having just embarked on my first home brew, last Friday, this week has been a nervous one. Every morning I wake, yawn, then tiptoe down to my garage in an 80's dressing gown and flip-flops, to look at my beer. Sitting there, in its fermenting vessel. Lid bulging slightly. Everyday, I give the lid a squeeze, hear the airlock bubble- and wait for the aroma. from banana, to apple, to rough alcohol, the fermentation has given my nose a different bouquet of fine (albeit not beery!) aromas everyday. But, more than that, it has given me satisfaction! I can create, or at least attempt to- with relative ease- a product that so many people can't even dream of making. Most don't know the first thing about where beer comes from! It is a bitter sweet empotion, one of pride and sadness. One as well that, someday, I'd like to change.

Working backwards from my blurb above, as it were, the next impending matter is that of my University bar. I'm lucky enough to have been elected bar treasurer for my college bar next year in Oxford, and along with my mate who's managing it, and a couple of supervisors, we'll get to run a bar with no overheads! Haha! It is a dream come true- and an invaluable lesson in stepping up to ever doing something similar on a larger scale. Currently, however, things are something of a mess. I need to sort out stock, staff and- oh, a lack of accounts for last year. Joy!

Nevertheless, the amazing enthusiasm and excitement I feel can't be emphasised enough- along with the limitless possibility and my great friend JT, with whom I shall be running the establishment, the bar should be a great outlet for me to spread the message of beer. I think a small festival will even be in order...

Lastly, the beer aspect of the blog. Simply put, it's the...

Oh... yeah. I'm attending the festival on Wednesday and will be hoping to make some notes to provide some high quality, critical reviews- as well as a few low quality reviews when I'm several sheets to the wind. Still, sometimes a low quality review of a high quality product can do it more justice than a normal review, as most sober reviewers will articulate and describe and advocate with decorum and style reminiscent of the beer itself. I'll threaten you so that you the buy the beer for fear of your eyes. My advocacy will a) do the necessity of the beer more justice and b) actually be more effective.

He says, tongue in cheek with a wry smile!

Anyways, cheers until later! Hopefully I'll have a review or two up in the next few days, as well as my festival report, some musings and general beer chat!