Friday, July 30, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

This week we come back to Virginia for the homebrew interview, up to Fredericksburg to be precise and the author of A Homebrew Log. As you probably recall, James and I swapped beers recently and you can my thoughts of 4 of his brews here, and here. I have a couple of his lagers sitting in the fridge and will be reviewing them soon.

Name: James Tweeddale

How did you get into home brewing?

About four or five years ago I was actually more into wine than beer. During that time my wife and I were doing a lot of wine tastings and tours of wineries and I found the whole production and fermentation process very interesting. So, I decided to have a shot at making a couple batches of fruit wine myself. I read a book, bought some equipment, and got started. My first batch, a peach wine, ended disastrously when a rubber stopper popped into the carboy and I didn't remove it. After a week with the stopper, the peach wine tasted like rubber bands so I had to dump it. The other batch, an apple wine, turned out to be pretty decent and drinkable. A few years later I had become more interested in beer and since I already had carboys, siphons, hydrometers, etc... from my wine making adventures, I decided to brew some up myself. I read a couple books (Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and Byron Burch's Brewing Quality Beers) and started with a stovetop all-grain pale ale. The beer turned out pretty nicely although much lower in alcohol (3% abv) than planned due to a horribly inefficient mash. In hindsight I was pretty ambitious for starting out all grain but, for me, having already fermented beverages in the past, the mashing and wort production process was a grey area that I wanted to understand better. 

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

Although I brew predominantly all grain beers, I also enjoy extract brewing. Since I brew in a non-climate controlled garage, some times of year can bring extreme weather. Six or more hours in 90+ degree heat standing next to a hot mash tun and a boiling kettle can become uncomfortable and detract from the joy of homebrewing. Its times like that, or when I am trying to troubleshoot a fermentation, boil, or cooling related problem that I will brew extract recipes. Each method of brewing has its advantages. For many styles, I think the quality of beer you can make with extract & steeped specialty grains is just as good as what you can make with all grain. Good fermentation and sanitation practices make just as big of a difference regardless of which of the two methods you use to brew your beer. Extract brewing can help to focus on and troubleshoot certain aspects of brewing procedure while ruling out processes involved with mashing, sparging, etc.... The only beer I have had win a medal in competition, my Chili Pepper Lager, was made from an extract w/specialty grain recipe and fermented with dry lager yeast. All grain brewing certainly allows for a larger degree of control over the characteristics of the finished beer and many times additional opportunities for employing stylistically authentic or creative procedures and most of all, its fun!

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?
Its hard to pick only one, but, so far I would have to pick either the late hopped IPA or the Scottish 80 that I made in the past few months. The late hopped IPA because of the massive fresh floral citrusy hop aroma and flavor I managed to capture in it by adding a ton of hops during the last 5 minutes of the boil. The Scottish 80 because of the sweet malty caramelly breadiness that is derived from a high quality pale malt mashed at a high temperature followed by a long caramelizing boil. I like it when I can enjoy a beer and understand why and how the ingredients and techniques used in its production yielded the characteristics I enjoy.

What is the worst, and why?
 I went through a bad period of time this past Winter in which I had three beers in a row turn out infected with the same infection. None of those ever made it to bottling, but what I tasted was terrible and it sucked dumping out carboys full of beer that I spent so much time making. Eventually after tossing out all of my plastic hoses and plastic (as well as some non-plastic) equipment piece by piece and bleach sanitizing my carboys, I was able to beat whatever was causing the problems.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

 I can't say that I have a favorite. For one, I have brewed several beers that turned out to be wonderfully enjoyable to me. Also, I haven't spent much time re-brewing or tweaking the same recipe. I have only been brewing for about a year and a half and for the most part I have been brewing a different recipe or style each brew so I don't really have any "house" or regular beers.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

Sometimes I daydream about the prospect of owning and operating a small brewery one day. But, then I wonder if it would be possible to maintain the same enthusiasm and enjoyment that I get from brewing if it were to become a job instead of a hobby/creative outlet.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

 Like many others have said, its the one I'm drinking right now.

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?
One of my favorite things about home brewing is that can I brew whatever style of beer I am in the mood to drink. When it comes time to formulate a recipe, a find a good basic starting point in books like Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, Brewing Classic Styles by John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff, or more narrow scoped books like Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus and Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. I also look at recipes homebrew bloggers post as well as recipes shared on forums like Once I have a basic idea for a recipe, I look at my favorite commercial beers of the subject style and tweak my recipe to include ingredients or procedures that give those beers the characteristics that I enjoy. After I brew a beer once, then the trick is to begin slowly tweaking the recipe in future re-brews to get it closer to where I want it to be for my system. I still have not brewed a beer that turned out exactly like I wanted it to.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

That would have to be my Chili Pepper Lager. Its has a crisp clean golden lager base with lot of prominent smoky roasted jalapeno pepper flavor and a touch of habanero heat on the finish. Its a pretty funny juxtaposition to spend six or seven weeks slowly fermenting and lagering a beer in the style of a clean delicate golden lager that all the while has jalapenos and habaneros floating around in it.
If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

I can't choose one in particular, but I would be interested in brewing with one of the small micro or nano-breweries that are sprouting up around the country. I like the flexibility they have to be creative with small batches. I also like the way they are more closely tied to serving the area and community in which they exist. These kinds of breweries have the opportunity to form close relationships with the people who purchase and consume their beers and cater to niches of small demand that aren't profitable for larger breweries. There are small nano-breweries that have started up here in Virginia recently that I have been following with interest such as Wolf Hills in Abingdon and Shooting Creek in Blacksburg. As far as what kind of beer I would like to brew, today I would have to say a nice golden, hoppy, and aromatic American IPA but tomorrow it might be a big malty dopplebock.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A carboy, a carboy, my kingdom for a carboy!

It has been a while since I brewed. My fermenters sit empty, forlorn and pleading to be filled with wort and yeast, apart from the dandelion wine that Mrs Velkyal made in our tiny little 1 gallon carboy which is being bottled this week and left to sit until Thanksgiving.

I am expecting to change this situation in the near future, in fact at some point today I will be buying ingredients from good old Northern Brewer, and maybe also from Rebel Brewer as they have a wider selection of hops. I have a few options when it comes to what beers to make next.

Of course there is the British Style American Style India Black Ale I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I also want to re-make my Ring of Gold Best Bitter, largely because I am convinced the recipe is sound, it was just that the carbonation didn't happen because the cellar was too cold for the yeast. Then there are my winter beers, Machair Mor and Biere d'épices which maybe I should brew earlier this year to give them plenty of time to condition in the bottle. Also due to be done is making parallel versions of LimeLight using the two yeast strains I have used, to see the difference - on a side note, one of my colleagues mentioned that the 2.1 version reminds him of Hennepin from Ommegang.

Those are the existing brewing plans, and perhaps I think too much but I have a raft of other ideas floating around my head - one of which is to make maple mead, using maple syrup rather than honey, or possibly a combination of the two. Naturally I am planning to take Ron's Let's Brew Wednesday posts and make some of those historic beers. Also maybe, just maybe, I should make a special beer for my birthday this year, perhaps something with an OG of 1.075 and an IBU rating of 35 or some such mess of numbers.

In the midst of all this homebrew stuff for my cellar, I have also had the delight of helping some friends take their first steps in homebrewing, both of whom work with me at the Starr Hill tasting room. One kicked off his career with a large scale version of the Black Rose Weizen Porter (originally a dunkelweizen, but perhaps a touch too dunkel, though not too dissimilar in colour from Erdinger's dunkel), while the other started out with a California Steam Beer.

So many ideas, I think I need more carboys...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why Bother?

I was well prepared for a week of limited drinking when in Florida last week, not just because previous experiences with Floridian beer had been so comically bad but because I find that I don't drink much beer when it is hot. Of course I had a couple of 6 packs of Boston Lager in the fridge for evenings, and later on in the week I picked up a case of Honey Porter, also from Samuel Adams, which was a decent enough beer. One thing I wasn't prepared for though was a trip to the Daytona location of the BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse chain.

I was well prepared, notebook, pen, phone camera all sorted, I even remembered to save the pictures I took of the beers in the sample flight, the plan was to write a "7 Beers, 21 Phrases" type post. I scrapped that plan, evidently, sometime between finishing the sample flight and getting tucked into a cheeseburger. Why scrap the plan? Were the beers bad? Were the pictures hilariously awful?

Well, no, the pictures are ok, nothing special mind. The beers were generally alright, nothing beyond alright that is, and in the case of the Tatonka Stout and the PM Porter barely scraping into the alright status which is of course a mere one step above "meh". Of the seven beers on the flight, just one was decent enough to order a pint of, though I didn't bother. The Brewhouse Blonde is a smooth Kölsch style beer which was nice in the Florida heat. As someone who is not an avowed hop head, I was left wanting more hops in most of the beers available, and in the case of the porter and imperial stout, I wanted more body and oomph as well.

So the beer was uninspiring, that's not a crime at all - after all I am sure that we all know places where the beer doesn't do anything for us. However, I have never before been in a brewpub which sold beer other than it's own, and personally I find that a little disconcerting. Walking into the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was not a set of nice shiny tanks, no copper brewing kettle or any other brewpubesque things you expect to see. The first thing in your line of sight is a bank of tap handles, tap handles for various breweries from around the US.

Perhaps I am just being a little idealistic, but if I owned a brewpub which brewed beer that has won a raft of awards, I wouldn 't be selling mass produced beers at the same time, especially not Bud Light, which I saw a couple of people drinking. From my exceedingly unscientific review of what people were drinking in the vicinity, only 4 or 5 people from about 50 were drinking beer at all. 2 were the Bud Light drinkers, 2 were myself and Mrs Velkyal, while the final drinker was supping on something pale golden. Every one else was drinking soda of some definition, and the place was full, full of fizzy pop drinkers - real fizzy pop that is, not piss poor lager.

This all got me to thinking, a dangerous habit for sure. The food was ok, nothing spectacular, and I can think of several better places in Daytona for food. Why then go to a brewhouse restaurant if you are not going to drink beer? Could it be that going to a brewhouse is the cool thing to do these days, so people go despite not having any intention to try the beer? If that is the case, what does it say about the "craft beer industry" in the US as it becomes more and more mainstream? I left BJ's very disappointed, not because of the beer, but because so few people were actually even trying it, and it seemed as though the restaurant gave patrons as many opportunities not to bother as possible.

Thankfully we stopped in St Augustine on the way back to South Carolina, and as usual we went to Rendezvous for a beer, or two. We discovered that Mrs Velkyal's mother likes raspberry lambic, that Left Hand Milk Stout is pretty damned nice, and that Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale is everything Newkie Brown can but dream about. Back in Columbia itself naturally meant a trip to the Flying Saucer, and yes it is as good as always, and in Amanda, we had an excellent waitress, and revelation beyond revelation, I finally found a pilsner worthy of the name - Victory Braumeister Pils - Saaz.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

For Homebrewer of the Week today we head over to Ireland and the author of the Tale of the Ale blog, whose wife is a good friend of Mrs Velkyal and hosted us in November 2008 when we visited that most fantastic country.

Name: Reuben Gray

How did you get into home brewing?

I had been thinking about it for a while and Velky Al introduced me to during a visit to Ireland. Amazing that it is an Irish website and I never knew it existed.

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

All grain

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?

There are a number of fantastic beers I have brewed but the one that stands out for me the most, and perhaps it is for sentimental reasons is my first all grain brew called Cloaked Stranger. A very strong, bitter, toasty dry Irish stout. I have never had a commercial stout I like more.

What is the worst, and why?

The worst is not even a bad beer. I would say that Wheaty Goodness is the worst. This is a recent brew which doubled as a demonstration to a fellow homebrewer who wanted to move to All grain from extract. It is a wheat beer but with extra hops, one of which is Rakau from New Zealand. I think what happened is that a wild yeast made it in to the fermenter so it was initially very sour. This has now mellowed out and is a rather refreshing beer now but due to the suspected wild yeast infection (harmless to consume) it gets worst beer vote.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Cloaked stranger is my favourite all-time beer although the beer I am drinking right now, Hoppety Hop is a double IPA and in this warm weather is so refreshing that it is my current favourite brew. It is so bitter (106 IBU) and refreshing but the sweetness makes it seem very drinkable.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

Yes I would love to open a brewpub at some point.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

For pure ease of drinking in quantity, perhaps Blonde Beggar which is a simple blonde ale although Seeing Red was a much more complex beer but could pass as a session beer. The cascade finish from a very malty red ale was just superb so I will go with Seeing Red because everyone who likes beer was blown away with it. The style is aiming towards Clotworthy Dobbin but was not a clone of the beer, just the inspiration.

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?

Random thoughts, there is usually very little planning. One of my latest beers is called Random Summer Sunshine and was born out of what ingredients I had handy that were getting on in age and the need to make another summer Quaffer.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

I brewed a Belgian style Dubbel and I was going for the less sweet style of Northern Belgium (Bruges). I made a very complex beer using all kinds of different grains and I thought it came out fantastic and exactly what I want. One comment I got from a very experience home brewer was “wow that’s weird…” I don’t think he knew what to make of it but I loved it as did my wife and the comments were positive on the whole.

If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

I would like to work with Bells and do my Seeing Red with them because Bells Oberon was the first craft beer I can remember and is what got me in to Craft beer in the first place. I was very much of the opinion that Americans only brewed beer flavoured water like Bud, Miller etc and was shocked when I came across a taps I did not recognize and found that American bars usually also serve local beers. So everywhere I went I asked for the local beers and the rest is history. Bells will always have a special place in my heart. That and they are from Michigan were my wife is from.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pub Pride

So this week is Proud of Pubs week in the UK. Admittedly I am only aware of this because the Courage Beer page on Facebook made comment about it on Monday by asking people what their favourite pub is. For the record, my favourite pub in the UK is probably the King's Arms in Oxford, which I went to a couple of years back when I was over with Mrs Velkyal, while she attended a conference and I had a jolly.

We all have different ideas of what makes a good pub, whether that be the number of taps, having cask ale, the kind of music, having televisions, the number of variables is endless. When I think about the pubs I like in Charlottesville, the only thing they have in common is having a decent range of beer. The four pubs I wrote about in my Pub Week last year, about my favourite watering holes in Prague, were all wildly different and in one case the beer was nothing to write home about, but I consider it a good pub.

There is though one constant with all the pubs I like, the quality of the staff. You can have all the cask ale you want, but if your staff are ignorant of how to care for the beer, it is wasted. You can have a trillion taps, but if your staff can't tell you difference between a lager and an ale (the most basic of differences) then it is wasted - yes I think bar staff should be trained to appreciate and be knowledgeable about the products they are serving. The skills of good bar staff are legion and the one thing every pub I like has, is very good staff.

While on the subject, here are the thoughts of Anthony Bourdain on what makes a good bar - the videos are both about 10 minutes, but he hits the nail very much on the head.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Samuel Adams to the Rescue!

Once again Mrs Velkyal and I are in Florida, spending a week with her parents at Daytona Beach, lounging around by the pool with my head in a book. At the moment it is "Godless" by Dan Barker, which describes how an evangelical preacher became an atheist, and very interesting it is too. After that I guess I will move on to Bernard Cornwell's "Agincourt", or a collection of Anton Chekov's short stories. Whenever we come down here, beer kind of takes a back seat.

Given that almost every Floridian beer I have had so far has been on the dire side of fairly poor, I am not expecting any revelations on that front. Filling the fridge at the moment, and I am sure to finish the case today, is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I know some people over here, for whatever reason, view Sam Adams as no longer being craft beer because their beers are available nationwide. In my world though, when the choice is as hilariously poor as the local Wal-Mart's beer "selection" then Boston Lager becomes a go to beer because it is actually a nice lager, one of the few American lagers I enjoy. Just to highlight how bad the selection was, it came down to a choice between Boston Lager or Michelob AmberBock!

I realise that being in a tourist area of the state means you really get the lowest common denominator when it comes to beer in the shops and restaurants, but even in the store nearest our resort where they have a decent selection of craft beer, they have beer from just one Florida brewery - the piss poor Ybor Gold which I lamented last summer. Thankfully the pub I like to go to in St Augustine on the way back north apparently has a wider selection of Floridian beer to try.

Say what you like about Samuel Adams, and yes I have slagged off some of their beers in the past, but with Boston Lager you have a dream of a beer, flavourful enough to be interesting and easy drinking to boot, and of course when surrounded by people drinking Butt Wiper or Miller Shite then an opportunity to ease people toward beers that actually have something about them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

The beginnng today of a new semi-regular series, in the spirit of my recent Brewer of the Week I introduce Homebrewer of the Week! First up is, well, me. So here goes.

Name: Velky Al

How did you get into home brewing?

My homebrewing was a result of my getting into beer more seriously than just chugging gallons of whatever industrial stuff was available while watching football in the pub. As much as I love Czech beer, which is predominantly pale lager, my first beer love has always been stout. My first legal beer was Guinness, I loved Murphy's and Beamish as well. I wanted to make my own because there is so little ale being made by commercial brewers in the Czech Republic.

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

I brew with extract and specialty grains. I don't have the space at the moment to go all grain, though I plan to eventually, the key word being eventually, I am in no rush.

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?

Difficult to say, I really enjoyed my imperial stout I brewed last winter as I did my Christmas beer. Having said that, a week or so ago I open a bottle of a barley wine I brewed last November in preparation for Thanksgiving to see if it was worth putting forward for the Dominion Cup. Well, simply put it was smooth, boozing and obscenely easy to drink for its 12%abv.

What is the worst, and why?

My first brew in the US was a total disaster. I wanted to make a pale ale with Amarillo hops, using White Labs' Burton yeast. For some reason the yeast didn't do its thing and the beer didn't ferment properly, so I had to pour 5 gallons down the sink. That was the reason I ditched the 5 gallon batches for 2.2 gallons and clear carboys rather than white buckets.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

It has to be LimeLight, my lime and coriander witbier, which is also very popular with people who drink it. It is such a simple recipe and the results are consistently good. Without having to go through the hassle of all grain brewing, I am done with LimeLight in about 2 hours from start to finish.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

I would love to, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy brewing, I prefer seeing the enjoyment other people get from drinking it. Working in a brewery tasting room has taught me plenty about serving beer, keeping lines clean and the like, so I would like to have a pub at some point in the future, whether my own brewpub or taking on a tied house with one of Britain's regional brewers.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

My favourite to drink is my Scottish export ale, which I call Gael 80/-. It is very much a classic Scottish ale, more sweet than it is malty, lightly hopped and at only about 4.5% abv something I can drink plenty of. It was also the first beer I successfully conditioned in my polypin/cubitainor to replicate cask conditioning, and it was even better!

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?

As I said in the first question, it started out wanting to brew a stout. Otherwise I think about the kind of flavours I am looking for and then go from there, sometimes I want to brewing something as close “to style” as possible. For example at the moment I am planning a beer based on my favourite chocolate bar, the Twix. I am thinking about using Biscuit malt, Chocolate malt and one of the Caramel malts, and very lightly hop it.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

In terms of ingredients, my Christmas beer was the most unusual, especially as I wasn't following a given style, just making it up. My initial idea was to make a beer that reminded me of the gingerbread houses my mother made at Christmas when we were kids. I started off with an amber DME base and added some Caramel 80 for colour and a touch of sweetness, for the hops I used French Strisselspalt, a very low alpha acid type. Nothing drastically unusual so far, but then came the spices I added to the boil, the classic Christmas spices of cloves, ginger, and cinnamon, as well as dried sweet orange peel. The result was essentially a very yummy liquid gingerbread, which I called Biere d'épices.

If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

A very difficult question, and I can think of several breweries I would like to do something with, all of them back in the UK. Everards would be an automatic choice as Mark there has given me tons of invaluable advice for my homebrewing, and I learnt a lot from his when we met up in Prague to tour some of the brewpubs there, not to mention the fact that I think Tiger is one of the nicest beers I had last time I was in England. Another brewer who has been a great source of knowledge and enthusiasm for beer, and whose beer I love drinking, is Jeff at Lovibond's. Finally would be Dave at the HardKnott Brewery because he seems to like doing random stuff, which kind of chimes with my own way of thinking about brewing. In an ideal world, we would all of get together to brew something, perhaps with one us choosing the malt, one the hops, one the yeast and the other the water!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Playing with the Darkness

It has been almost two months since I brewed the 2.0 version of Experimental Dark Matter, my dark smoked ale which I can never decide if it is a mild or a porter. The recipe for this version of EDM, new name pending admittedly, was as follows:

  • 3lbs light DME
  • 0.5lb chocolate malt
  • 0.5lb caramel 120 malt
  • 0.1lb peated malt
  • 0.5oz EKG @ 60
  • 0.25oz EKG @ 15
  • 0.25oz EKG @ 1
  • Wyeast 1782 Scottish Ale yeast
The vitals for the brew were:
  • OG - 1.052
  • FG - 1.016
  • ABV - 4.8%
  • IBU - 21
Ah yes, but how did it taste? Well last night I pulled a bottle from the cellar and gave it a try.

It certainly looked as I wanted it to, pitch black with just a merest hint of crimson at the edges. The head was about the same colour as the original EDM, but not as creamy, perhaps something a touch of wheat in the grist would solve? I had been forewarned that using excessive peated malt would make the beer too smoky, but the nose of this one was not smoky enough for me. If you grew up in the Highlands or the west coast of Ireland, where peat is the fuel of choice for many, you get used to the smell of peat smoke and I wanted more of that smell than I got. The dominant force on the nose was chocolate, dark bitter chocolate, backed up by earthy and oaky notes.

Drinking the beer again brought the chocolate flavours to the fore, though there is a subtle but noticeable touch of booziness to the beer and a light, almost nutty, roastiness. The spicy bitterness of the East Kent Goldings cut through the sweetness nicely so that the beer is not cloying. 

Overall, this version of EDM was good, very similar to the original and definitely something I will enjoy drinking, though I might prefer to make it for spring or autumn, and add a touch more of the peated malt.

Monday, July 12, 2010

British Sedition

In the current edition of Brew Your Own magazine there is an interesting article about the birth of a new beer style, at various times the style in question has been called Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale or in my ever so eloquent term when I first had the style, "crap". Having got together an eminently qualified collection of experts, it was decided to set the parameters for the new style, which at the Great American Beer Festival will be known as "American Style India Black Ale". The parameters for the GABF are as follows:
  • Color = 25+ SRM
  • Original Gravity = 1.056–1.075
  • Final Gravity = 1.012–1.018
  • Bitterness = 50–70 IBU
  • Alcohol by volume = 6–7.5%
In terms of mouthfeel and so on, the parameters have been set as follows (and I have taken these directly from the Brew Your Own website):

Aroma – Prominent Northwest variety hop aromas – resinous pine, citrus, sweet malt, hints of roast malt, chocolate and/or Carafa®, can include mild coffee notes, dry hopped character is often present.

Appearance – Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Head varies from white to tan/khaki.

Flavor – A balance between citrus like and spicy Northwest hop flavor, bitterness, caramel and roast, chocolate, or Carafa® type malts. Any roast character should be subdued. Black malt is acceptable at low levels but should not be astringent. Any burnt character is not appropriate. The finish should be dry with caramel malt as a secondary flavor. Diacetyl should not be present. The main emphasis should be on hop flavor.

Mouthfeel – Light to medium, hop bitterness and tannins from roast malts combine to create a dry mouthfeel. Resinous character from high levels of dry hopping may create a tongue coating sensation.

Comments – Some brewers prefer to cold steep the dark grains to achieve a very dark beer without the tannin contribution of adding these grains to the mash. The use of Sinamar® color extract to enhance the color is common.

The article itself, which you can read here, then goes on to explain how ASIBA is different from a hoppy stout or porter, but I personally am unconvinced. Therefore I have decided to try an experiment with an upcoming homebrew project. I am going to take one of the clone recipes provided with the article, leave the malts alone by and large, but substitute the hops with British varieties such as Challenger, Target and Northdown. As of this moment I am undecided as to whether to stick with an American yeast or use a British ale strain of some kind.

If I discover that indeed ASIBA is significantly different from a traditional porter, then I would like to believe that I will have developed a new beer style to revolutionise the world of brewing, the British Style American Style India Black Ale! I am sure the world waits with bated breath.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Meaning of Beer

I have been reading with interest various posts on other blogs about the terminology we use when talking about our favourite libation; whether than be craft beer, micro beer, real beer or any other of a legion of terms. One post in particular got my attention with the term "imitation beer" to describe beer made with various additives and industrial processes. All this hair splitting though got me thinking about the ultimate basic question for us tipplers, what is beer?

A simple enough question you might think, but it is really a fundamental one.

According to's sources, the noun "beer" has three main descriptions:
  • an alcoholic beverage made by brewing and fermentation from cereals, usually malted barley, and flavored with hops and the like for a slightly bitter taste.
  • any of various beverages, whether alcoholic or not, made from roots, molasses or sugar, yeast, etc.: root beer; ginger beer.
  • an individual serving of beer; a glass, can, or bottle of beer: We'll have three beers.
We can forget about the last definition there for the sake of this post. The second definition is certainly interesting, especially given that once upon a time both ginger beer and root beer were alcoholic and it is pretty much only since Prohibition that they became soft drinks.

The first definition is interesting for several reasons. Firstly it acknowledges that while malted barley is the dominant cereal used in brewing, it is not the only grain. Naturally we immediately think about wheat, rye and oats for use in beer, but there are plenty of historical accounts of the use of rice and maize - both during the Colonial era in America, and more recently in the United Kingdom. Indeed I can think of at least one Czech brewer that makes a corn beer, a well respected "micro-brewer" no less. Clearly the definition was not written by a hop maniac, as so many of the revered beers of the craft brew world are somewhat more than "slightly bitter".

If this were a case of international politics, we would probably stand aghast at the imposition of a given country's perception of beer on other brewing traditions, yet this is exactly what happens with the near sanctification of something like Reinheitsgebot. For some reason we have it in our collective heads that beer must only be made with barley, hops, yeast and water, but that immediately raises problems for beer lovers everywhere, especially those convinced that Westvleteren is the greatest beer to ever exist, after all it uses an adjunct of sugar.

One of the comments I found most interesting in this post refers to the processes undertaken by macro brewers, specifically "all that science tweaking a molecule here and a compound there", as though the application of science is in some way evil. Now consider what many breweries do by using water stripped of the natural minerals local to an area and then adding various salts to mimic brewing waters for certain beer styles. Is this not the exact same thing, as such all beers that add gypsum to burtonise their water should have to label their brews as "imitation Burton ales"?

I tend to the opinion these days that if a beer is accepted as such by the majority of drinkers then who am I to say it is not really beer? I may not like most of the beers from multinational brewers, but they are still beer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Brewer of the Week

A couple of years ago, Mrs Velkyal and I went to Ireland for a long weekend as it was a public holiday back in the Czech Republic, and close enough to my birthday to be considered a treat. It was there that I met various other beer bloggers, The Beer Nut, Barry from The Bitten Bullet and Saruman of The Tale of the Ale. That weekend is lodged in my memory as one of my favourite trips ever. The highlight for me though was fulfilling a long standing ambition to go to Galway out on the west coast, in a part of Ireland that bears a striking resemblance to the part of Scotland I grew up in, it was like going home. The fact that we spent most of the day in the magnificent Sheridan's on the Docks and I delighted in my first Galway Hooker made the day even more memorable. This week, Fuggled talks to the maker of that most wonderful of beers!

Name: Aidan Murphy
Brewery: Galway Hooker

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I always had an interest in beer ever since visiting Germany as a school boy and seeing the variety available there. I studied Food Science in university and followed this up with a masters in Brewing and Distilling. Following this I got my first job in brewing in the Isle of Man at Okells Brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think having a passion for what you do is the most important. If you love good beer you will work hard to make sure its right.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

No. Have never home brewed.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Our Irish Pale Ale. I love hoppy but balanced beers.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I always enjoy brewing new beers. So any beer I’m doing for the first time is always the most exciting.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Our Irish Pale Ale, Galway Hooker. I love hoppy but balanced beers.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I think it is of moderate importance. The most important thing is the flavour and purity. If I brew an mild and something thinks it’s more like a porter, that is of little importance to me. The important thing is if they like it!!

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

I believe all the microbreweries in Ireland are great so I would be happy to work with any of them. It would just depend on who it best fits with at that particular time

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Sierra Nevada. I think this is an iconic beer for most microbrewers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Homebrew Log part 2

I mentioned on Monday that I had swapped some homebrew samples with James from A Homebrew Log. In addition to the IHP Pale Ale which was the original cause of the swap, we traded some other beers, in my case I gave him a 22oz bottle of Gael 80/-, LimeLight and a 12oz bottle of Black Rose. Coming the other way were 12oz bottles of James's Cider, Chili Lager, Apple Ale, Peter McCotton 80/- and Imperial Walker Texas Ranger Stout.

Last night I decided to try the ales from the collection, leaving the lager and cider to chill down in the fridge for a day or so, to be written about at some later date (probably a rare weekend post). First up was the Apple Ale, the recipe for which was inspired by a German drink called Graff, 80% cider, 20% amber beer.

As you can see from the picture, it is a nice golden colour, bordering on a light amber, topped off with a loose white head that thinned out rather quickly. I had no idea what to expect with this, other than a prevalence of apples on both the nose and in the mouth, and so it turned out to be. Behind the apples though was a very gentle sweet maltiness which added body to the liquid, I can't work out whether to call this a beer or what! On a hot, hot day, and yesterday is Charlottesville was a bloody hot, hot day, this chilled down was beautifully refreshing and something I plan to brew in the future, though possibly as a candidate for mulling in the depths of winter.

Following the Graff was Peter McCotton 80/-, an export ale in the Scottish style, which to look at was very similar to my Gael 80/-.

This one was definitely a beer! A deep ruby beer which had a very loose light tan head. The nose was very much coffee to the fore, with a slight toastiness in the background which kind of made me think of breakfast. The roasty notes from the nose played on through to the drinking, so be followed by a smooth gentle caramel flavour which rounded out the beer nicely. With the coffee and roastiness it would be easy to see this as a very toned down stout, but without the cloying feeling you sometimes get with stouts and porters. The finish was long and dry,

Having had stout in mind, it was time to move on to the big beast.

Imperial Walker Texas Ranger Stout is an 8.5% ABV brute of a beer which is very dark indeed, with just the merest tinge of crimson at the edges. Even before I got the glass to my nose I could smell the coffee, big walloping dollops of coffee, with an almost milky background and as the drinking wore on a distinct boozy glow. As with many a stout, coffee and chocolate dominate the flavours, espresso and dark chocolate respectively. In the depths of winter, this would be a great beer to come home to and sip by the fire, a lovely drop indeed.

So, 3 good beers from Fredericksburg and well done James!

Monday, July 5, 2010

IHP Pale Ale a la A Homebrew Log

The plan was simple, trade homebrew with a fellow homebrewer and blog about them. The original plan was to swap American Pale Ales brewed for the International Homebrew Project which I organised back in January and blog about them. Well, James from A Homebrew Log and I met a couple of weeks ago to swap beers, and last night I popped up his version of the IHP recipe.

As ever, I use my version of Cyclops.

  • Sight - amber, volumous rocky white head and lots of carbonation
  • Smell - grapefruit hoppiness, but not extreme
  • Taste - a nice balance between the hops and a smooth sweet maltiness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
A very, very nice pale ale indeed! A nice smooth body with a long dry finish which was just perfect to end the day with. I could certainly, and happily, drink large volumes of this! One of my criticisms of pale ales at times is that they are thin and the hoppiness often makes drinking it like puckering up and sucking a lemon, James's beer is most definitely not in that ball park.

Originally I planned to drink this alongside my own version of the recipe, which I am calling Copper Head Pale Ale, but like a doofus I gave the remaining bottles of my version away. So this post ends a few paragraphs early, but you can read what James has to say about the Pale Ale and my Scottish 80/- ale here.

On Wednesday I will be writing about the other beers James gave me, and if they are as good as the pale ale, then it should be a fun Tuesday night's drinking preparing for a Wednesday's posting!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Brewer of the Week

For the 400th post on Fuggled, I decided to go almost back to the beginning for my Brewer of the Week, to the makers of the beer that got me into properly made beer, and the beer that even today is still one of my favourites. The beer was Bishop's Finger from Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent.

Name: Stewart Main
Brewery: Shepherd Neame

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I was born and bred in Edinburgh, which, in its time was one of the main Brewing centers in Britain. There were 18 breweries in the city in the 1940/50s, so the industry was a fairly large employer, indeed my father, mother, both grandfathers and various uncles worked in the brewing industry. I started at Drybroughs Brewery in Craigmillar in January 1973 in Quality Control . I did an HNC Biology then a BSc in Brewing at Heriot Watt University and over the years gained experience in every department . Did my Master Brewer examinations during my time at Drybroughs and moved south to Burtonwood Brewery in Warrington in 1986. Hook Norton Brewery followed and now I am happily brewing at Shepherd Neame .

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

A number of skills are needed to make a “complete “ Brewer . A complete understanding of the science behind what is happening in the mash tun , copper and fermentation vessels, so that the effect of time, and temperature means something to you, otherwise you cannot control the process. Microbiological understanding and therefore the importance of hygiene is paramount. Good interpersonal skills and man–management ability is key to building a strong team around you. The love of the product comes near the top of the list!

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Never did any home brewing, although I remember my father having a go when I was young. Plastic dust bins in the lounge etc. I never encourage home brewing. Far rather people went out to the pub, drink my beer and keep me in a job!.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Over the last couple of years I have started to make my own liqueurs. Bramble Gin, Sloe Gin, Coffee, Orange, Lemon and Galliano . Always looking for something new. Make very acceptable Christmas presents.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Spitfire is a favourite. The aroma in the Brewhouse as the combination of pale and roasted malts mixes with our pure well water in the mash tun is amazing. The fact that the tun is made of oak and of 1914 vintage and we are Britains oldest brewer always makes it special and actually makes me feel quite honoured and proud.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

This is easy. Burtonwood Dark Mild will always be my favourite. A classic dark Northern mild, only 3.0% abv but packed full of fantastic roast, black malt flavours. It had a good bitterness for a cask and was not sweet. Happy memories of a fine cask ale, sadly no longer brewed. The first brew I ever put through our Pilot Brewery was based on this beer, it was called Old Faversham Dark and I continue to brew it from time to time. Now a favourite in the South!

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to

A great, naturally conditioned bottled beer, 1698. 6.5% abv packed full of fruity, malty, flavours. The higher alcohol just fills it with character. Goes fantastic with, strong, mature, cheddar cheese.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I create a lot of new beers both in the Main and Pilot Brewery and I really believe that using the best malts and hops produces quality beers. There are a huge range of malts and hops to choose from, you are only limited by your own imagination. I do believe in telling people what malts and hops go into the brew, it makes the drinking far more pleasurable.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

It could never happen, but I would have loved to have brewed with Campbell, Hope and King in Edinburgh. My grandfather was a Cooper there, and my father and uncle also. It was right next door to Heriot Watt University in the heart of the city. A truly traditional old Brewery now sadly no more. Closed in the 1960s by Whitbread. Over the last few years I have collaborated with quite a few American brewers, brewing their beers here at Faversham for the Wetherspoons cask beer festival. American IPA type beers and others more English in style.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Have never wished I had invented anybody elses beer. Over nearly 40yrs in brewing I have created very many beers and am proud of them all. Each has its own special place in my memory.

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...