Friday, April 29, 2011

More is Better?

Sometimes, when I am feeling cynical, I imagine people hunkering down in the depths of a brewery to decide on a new beer to brew, and the winning arguments are always one of two things:
  • let's use Cascade* instead of East Kent Goldings/Saaz/insert hop here and call it an American insert style here
  • let's use even more Cascade* than we did last time, add about 4% more alcohol and call it an Imperial/Double
Said beer gets a couple of decent reviews on websites and hey presto, every brewery within a thousand mile radius starts doing the exact same thing. Usually during such reveries of insanity, I can hear my teenage self muttering "it's not big, it's not clever".

Perhaps I am being harsh, though not as harsh as some hop bombs, but I find it gets a little tedious and tiresome. Especially when new brewpubs and breweries open up and start doing the exact same thing as everyone else. One of the reasons I am so happy to have Devils Backbone just down the road is for those times when a pint or two of Vienna Lager is called for, and the fact Jason makes classic lagers so damned well.

My aim though today is not to rant on about the continued cascade of hoppy beer obliterating everything in its path like a 21st century pilsner. Rather to wonder if it is possible to have too many breweries or brewpubs in a given area?

The instinctive part of many will say that you can never have too much craft beer, but I wonder where the tipping point would be between a vibrant craft brewing scene and one tolerant of second rate beer - even given the fact that the most rank of craft beers is likely to be tastier than many a multinational produced beer?

The emergence of more craft breweries and brewpubs naturally encourages existing players to up their games, but part of me wonders, what happens when the more established breweries realise that the new guys aren't really up to much and as such not so much of a threat? Do they relax their standards, become complacent and start living on former glories?

I guess I would rather see fewer breweries but consistently high standards of beer than a glut of slightly better than mediocre beer.

* Cascade here is obviously a catch all for C-hops and the like.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Royals Drink Beer

I am not a monarchist, I am not a republican either. It seems though that the entire blogosphere has got itself into a lather about their being no beer at reception for Prince William and Kate Middleton. It is true that I commented the following over on "I Might Have a Glass of Beer":

"If the comment had been something along the lines of "William and Kate just don't like beer so why have it?" I wouldn't have minded so much, but "not appropriate for this kind of occassion" - they may as well say that the British people are not good enough for them".

However, looking further into the whole furore, it has all blown up from a "quote" from an "insider" to the Daily Mirror (quick cultural tip for non-Brits - if the newspaper has a red top then the "news" included is likely to be utter nonsense, unless corroborated by the BBC). So, I decided to do a little research, Google being my friend, and discovered these delightful pictures:

You have to love the Queen Mum - apparently her appetite for booze was prodigious.

Her Majesty seems not to be too bothered by the presence of a pint in her hands, suggesting said "insider" is something of a pompous twat.

Prince Philip, say what you like about him, but his favourite drink is apparently Boddingtons. That was a beer last time I looked.

Prince Charles, 2002 Beer Drinker of the Year apparently.

Prince William, yes, that's beer he's holding there.

Prince Harry, how mainstream to be drinking smoothflow from a can.

According to this report in the New York Times (no red bit on the top their paper, perhaps trustworthy) the reception is to be light finger foods rather than a sit down meal. So it seems this whole thing isn't going to be the lavish overblown bash everyone seems to be thinking.

As Time Goes By

I am sure we all have a similar story to tell. Bottles of homebrew, or even commercial beer, that have been sitting around at the back of the cupboard, or storage room which we flamboyantly call our "cellar", at best forgotten about, at worst, guilt inducing because we are yet to drink them. Naturally I have a stash of vintage ales and the like that I keep in a cupboard and am saving for "a special occasion", but when special occasions arrive, I invariably fancy a few pints of whatever I normally drink.

Yesterday was a distinctly lazy day in the Velkyal household, but come the evening as the smell of homemade fishcakes was wafting from the kitchen, I decided to would attack a touch of the guilt that had been gnawing away at me for a while. I have too much homebrew that I haven't drunk, so in the "cellar" I popped and pulled a bottle each of Gunnersbury Gold and Old Baldy.

Gunnersbury Gold is a best bitter that I brewed back in September. I have this desire to brew a really stonking bitter, so far my two efforts have been on the "ok but not great" end of the scale. Admittedly, I think the first one, Ring of Gold, has potential and I plan to re-brew that recipe at some point. Gunnersbury Gold was brewed from a base of Munton's pale dry malt extract and caramel 10, Special Roast and Chocolate for specialty grains. In terms of the hopping, this used only First Gold, an English hop which is a cross between Goldings and a male dwarf hop. For the yeast, I used Wyeast 1968 London ESB.

Unfortunately the picture doesn't do the beer justice as it was pretty clear, but condensation on the glass makes it look a touch murky. The beer was a deep copper colour, very well carbonated, as you can see from the the light tan head in the glass there, and so I didn't pour a full glass as I didn't want to get the lees in the glass. The nose was remarkbly fruity, lots of apricot and peach with maybe a hint of tropical fruit, in the background was a slight touch of spice, almost cinnamon, and a medicinal note, which when I tried back in October was the dominant aroma. Tastewise, upfront was a sourdough tang which I have read is likely a product of the Special Roast. A light sweetness and a nice boozy glow came through at the end, with a decent enough crisp finish. Not a great beer to be sure, but not bad either.

Old Baldy was an American style IPA that I brewed about a year ago now, to be ready for Independence Day, and Mrs Velkyal and I's wedding anniversary (of which we'll be having the third rendition of this year). In terms of malts atop the extract base, I only used caramel 60. This being an American IPA, I went overboard on the hopping and used Citra, Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo in the kettle, and then just for fun, dry hopped the beer on Challenger. Depending on which method of calculating bitterness you go for, this ended up with either 65 or 125 IBUs (I tend toward the former really). The wort was fermented with good old 1056 American Ale from Wyeast.

Again condensation issues, but the beer poured a rich amber with a light beige head that clung around for a while, and the carbonation was good (nice to know after the early bottles of this were wildly over-carbonated). Wow, what a difference the best part of a year has made on the nose, whereas last year it was heavy with acetone and pine notes, this year the citrus you would have expected has come to the fore, lots of bitter oranges and grapefruit. There is still a piney kind of thing upfront in the mouth, though not unpleasant like drinking washing up liquid, and the caramel background holds firm against the bitter assault. Given the extra time in the cellar, this beer was integrated more and with a boozy afterglow and long finish, is not at all bad.

Coming up to date, I currently have a bitter sitting in the primary fermenter. I will be transferring it to secondary in the coming days, and using isinglass for the first time as Windsor yeast is a non-flocculating strain so it needs finings to clear up. The beer started off at 1.037 and seems to have finished out at about 1.014, so an ordinary bitter with an abv of about 3%, and 30 IBUs of Goldings and Fuggles. Assuming it clears up nicely, I am playing with the idea of putting half of it in my 1 gallon polypin to "cask" condition in time for the next homebrew club meeting, perhaps even dry hopping it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Brewer of the Week

This Friday sees a return of the Brewer of the Week series hereon Fuggled, and today we head up to Brookings in the state of South Dakota. I have to say that if South Dakota is anywhere near as beautiful as North Dakota, then I look forward to getting the opportunity to visit, and of course try some beer from today's interviewee!

Name: Luke Rensink
Brewery: Heist Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I was sick of drinking bad beer. I have always been a “Do it yourself” kind of person. I love to work with food and brewing is just an expansion of my passion for cooking. So I combined my desire to drink good beer, cook, learn, and create. I think I just thought it would be so much fun to start home brewing.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Motivation and passion. Creating a brewery from the ground up is not as easy as it might seem. Brewing is the easy part, getting through all the red tape is the hard part. You have to push yourself no matter what. You have to have the motivation and passion to put in the long hours.

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

I did start with home brewing and still do it. We are in the process of starting a brewery so have not converted any to full scale yet but we have about seven we will make the first year. Some all year around and some just for special occasions. I keep a bottle from every batch I have made and last year I made 21 different beers.

If you did homebrew, do you still?


What is your favorite beer that you brew?

I like making beers with a lot of different ingredients. So I like Making our Tea Off Ale, our Christmas spiced beer, and our dark beers the most.

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

I have never worked in any other brewery but I have worked in several cheese factories which are surprisingly very similar to breweries.

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

It depends on the time of year. During the cold months I like our porter or amber ale and during the summer months nothing beats our Tea Off Ale.

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

I think that American brewers are not seeking to be authentic because American craft beer drinkers want something new and innovative. While we do have some classics we like to take classic styles and put a twist on them. We like to be true to our ingredients and methods. The process of brewing hasn’t changed a whole lot over the thousands of years; it is still the same basic concept. Turn starches to sugars; boil with hops, ferment, and drink. However, Technology and creativity have taken off in the past 20 years paving a way for many great beers to come.

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

Brau Brothers in Lucan, MN they are our neighboring brewery, they are great people and they make some great beer.

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

Lost Continent double IPA. One of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Nature of the Relationship

It is clear that beer doesn't exist within a vacuum, in the sense that brewers don't sit on the steps of their brewhouse and invent entirely new beers without the years of knowledge and expertise the brewing community has acquired. The development of Pilsner was not a case of Josef Groll going into isolation and suddenly creating this pale lager that would revolutionise the beer map in Europe. He bought with him the tools and knowledge of centuries of Bavarian lager brewing to create a beer using the ingredients native to Bohemia - which raises the question again in my head, what was pre-1842 Pilsner beer like?

Tmavé is similar, in that at around the same time as Baltic Porter went from being primarily warm fermented to cold fermented, so did it. Putting pay in many respects to the lunacy of labelling tmavé as either a dunkle or a schwarzbier, it is neither, though possibly related to both. It would almost be like calling the English language either French or German because it is influenced by both. Personally I have a notion that the old Pilsner beer was a warm fermented tmavé, but I can't prove that at the moment.

There is, however, a third common beer style in the Czech lands that deserves more attention than it gets, polotmavé - literally a "half-dark". From my understanding of the style, it was an old lager style which went belly up and was eventually resurrected by Staropramen when they brought out Millenium back in 2000, replete with misspelling. These days Millenium is known as Granát, Czech for garnet, and that has become a fairly common name for breweries making a polotmavé, the other being "Jantar", which means "amber".

Something I am researching and trying to figure out at the moment is the relationship between Vienna lager and polotmavé, if such a relationship exists of course. Yes, there is a overlap in terms of colour, but is that where the relationship ends? Vienna lager was, at least in the 19th century, made with mostly Vienna malt, if not entirely, yet polotmavé appears to be made with the same malts as tmavé but proportionately less of the dark caramel and black malts.

All this theorising about cold fermented beers of varying traditions is really making it a necessity in the near future to work out a suitable method for fermenting and lagering so I can put my theories to the test. One idea I have is to brew a single gallon of them at a time, ferment in the fridge - a 1 gallon jug will stand up quite nicely. Then for lagering, pack ice into a bottling bucket, put the jug into the bucket and then surround and cover with more ice, and store in my cellar - changing the ice as required.

Any thoughts?

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Praise of Growlers

I still remember the first growler I ever saw, perched atop one of the fridges at PK in Prague, a mammoth bottle sporting a swing top, capable of holding 2 litres of beer and with Svijany branding on the side. Given that pubs serving my favourite beers were but a few steps from my front door, I never bothered with a growler, though I often saw people in PK filling PET bottles with beer to take home. Only once do I recall someone coming in with a džbán - basically a traditional ceramic jug used for taking beer home from the pub for dinner, the kind of task in more civilised times you would send the kids to do.

On moving to the States, I got a job working in the tasting room at the Starr Hill brewery, where you can still find me one day a month behind the bar, talking a lot and being asked where in Australia, South Africa (?!) or even Canada I am from. Seriously, nobody ever seems to get that I am British, I know my accent is all over the place but even just ten minutes listening to the World Service will put you on the right island. Admittedly my habit of muttering to myself in Czech may be a bit off putting. Anyway, we sell a lot of growlers, and we fill even more.

I now have three growlers, the Blue Mountain Brewery one in the pictures, and a couple of Starr Hill ones, which have a metal handle that makes them a little easier to carry that the one above, but it is the beer inside that is important. One Friday afternoon, my good friend Mark Stewart (seriously talented photographer and all round top bloke, soon to be moving to London, but here for a while yet) and I met up and drove out to Devils Backbone en route to going to his place for dinner. Mrs Velkyal had been at a quilting workshop close to Mark and his wife's place, so we decided to have a get together. Having two growlers to fill gave us a window of opportunity to sit at the bar and enjoy a few pints, and a chat with Jason about many things beer, including an upcoming brew we'll be doing - but more about that at the right time.

I filled up with Devils Backbone's Maibock, which is a deliciously smooth beer with something of a booze kick that creeps up on your from behind and smacks you across the head, I liked it. I also got a fill of my current "go to" beer, the Vienna Lager (another minor aside, I am researching the similarities and differences between Vienna Lager and Czech polotmavé pivo), which I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday afternoon.

Perhaps I am something of a stickler, but whenever I finish a growler, I make sure that I rinse it. Every once in a while I will give them a thorough cleaning - fill with hot water, add a teaspoon of Oxyclean and leave overnight, the next morning, rinse with hot water 6 or 7 times as Oxyclean leaves a slight film on the glass, once clean it gets closed and stored in the cellar until needed. Before I fill them again though, I will use my non-rinse One Step cleanser just to make sure - like I say, I am a stickler. There have been times though at the tasting room when people present you with a growler caked in all manner of crap and you just shudder at the thought of putting beer in it, and I don't mean the kind of crap a quick rinse sorts out.

I love having growlers, though they will never replace going to the pub for a few pints. A word to the wise though, it is never a good idea to drink 2 litres of Legend's 15.6% abv barleywine from a growler on a week night. Trust me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Traditional Beer Friday

Back when I was studying to be a minister of religion, I took New Testament Greek. I didn't have to, I wanted to. I wasn't very good at it, only just passing the first end of term test and deciding to sack it in favour of ethics and the purchase of a good concordance with Greek and Hebrew lexicons (there was no way on earth I was ever going to take Hebrew). Despite my abject failure at Greek, though in later life a knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet greatly helped when I had to learn some Russian while living in Minsk, there was one word which, for reasons unknown, lodged itself in my cranium, paradosis. Paradosis is generally translated as "tradition" though a more thorough explanation of the term would be "the things that are handed from generation to generation".

When it comes to beer, tradition is a word that we hear and see a lot. Whether talking about "traditional ingredients", "traditional brewing methods" or "traditional serving methods", there seems to be a part of beer that seeks to hark back to times past. The problem with such backward harking is deciding where the tradition starts and whether the development of said tradition is a good thing or a bad thing. The whole traditional IPA debate comes to mind, see Ron's blog for more on that subject.

Of course there are some breweries that seem intent on giving tradition a swift kick in the head, while others are so traditional that they almost appear quaint. Generally speaking I like drinking beers from the latter breweries than the former. That's not to say that a uber-hopped bourbon barrel aged beer isn't a tasty drop from time to time, but it is best just that way, from time to time. I couldn't imagine sitting in the pub polishing off many imperial pints of such beers. Perhaps that makes me a faux beer geek, but if proving your geekiness means drinking hopped up paint stripper, then I am perfectly happy not being a beer geek.

This whole train of thought came about after reading more about the Budvar brewery in the Czech Republic. When I moved to the Prague, back in the 20th century, I already knew that I liked Budvar - I had the pleasure several times in the All Bar One pub in Birmingham. I have never actually done a side by side tasting of Budvar and Pilsner Urquell (more's the pity) but they are very distinctive beers and most people prefer one to the other. Given the choice of a lifetime drinking either only Budvar or Pilsner Urquell (not exactly a hardship, I know), I would drink Budvar. One thing that impressed me about Budvar, while I was reading, was that it takes 102 days for a batch to go from kettle to tap. That's 12 days fermentation and 90 days in the lagering tanks before packaging, more than 3 months for each batch. I find that remarkable, also damned drinkable.

Innovation and new flavours are all well and good, but I have a soft spot for a brewery that considers innovation as brewing a dark lager, more than 100 years after the first Czech dark lagers went from being warm fermented to cold fermented. I also have great respect for the former head brewer at Budvar, Mr Tolar, who refused to bow to the demands of the economists of the Communist regime to make his beer quicker (funny how regardless of political system it is always the economists and lawyers that end up running the show).  In the flood of fancy hops, bourbon barrels and imperialised beers, let's not lose sight of the classic beers that have stood the test of time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Broederschap Project

It started with an idea. Craft breweries seem to love their collaboration beers, so why not get a few homebrewers together to do likewise? Then the idea morphed into, why not get a few homebrewers that also blog together, and how about doing it with guys I only get to see from time to time and whose company I very much enjoy? Thus I sent an email to James from A Homebrew Log and Eric from Relentless Thirst with a very simple question - would you be interested in designing and brewing a collaborative beer?

Both responded that they thought it was a great idea, and so a mammoth chain of emails developed (I have to say that using Gmail kept that nicely together as an easy to follow thread). In the course of the emails we decided to brew up in Fredericksburg, on James' brewhouse in the picture.

We decided fairly early on that we would brew a Dubbel, and so we all did our research and created recipes from which to design the final project. The only Belgian beer I had brewing before was a witbier, so I went off and bought Stan Hieronymous' book "Brew Like a Monk" (minor aside, while reading the book I kept getting this idea that to brew like a monk, get someone else to do the actual brewing). Eventually we ended up with the following recipe:
  • 18.25 lb Pilsner (2 Row) Bel
  • 1.00 lb Aromatic Malt
  • 1.00 lb Biscuit Malt
  • 1.00 lb Special B Malt
  • 0.50 lb Wheat Malt, Bel
  • 0.25 lb Caramunich Malt
  • 1.00 oz Styrian Goldings [4.60 %] (120 min) (First Wort Hop)
  • 1.00 oz Styrian Goldings [4.60 %] (90 min)
  • 0.50 oz Saaz [3.50 %] (90 min)
  • 1.00 oz Saaz [2.60 %] (35 min)
  • 0.50 oz Saaz [3.50 %] (10 min)
  • 2.00 lb Sugar, Table (Sucrose)
  • 1.50 lb Amber Invert Syrup (35.0 SRM)
  • 2 Pkgs Belgian Abbey II (Wyeast Labs #1762)
This was to be my first all grain mash, and I had assumed that the grain would be crushed in advance - we got our supplies from Northern Brewer, and I always get stuff crushed in advance. However, James has his own mill, which is an adapted flour mill replete with grinding stones.

Eventually we had 22lbs of crushed grain ready to mash.

60 minutes later we had the first runnings in the kettle, and while sparging the grains, we added our first hop addition, an ounce of Styrian Goldings. When we were designing the recipe, we decided that we wanted to be as classic and authentic as possible. The combination of Styrian Goldings and Saaz kept cropping up in our research so that was something of a no-brainer.

Rather than just chucking hops into the kettle, James has a hop bag that hangs into the kettle. Given that we were using leaf hops for some of the additions, it was inevitable that a few bits got into the boil itself.

During the brewing process we took the opportunity to crack into some homebrew, Eric and I had bought some bits and pieces, as well as a growler of the Brew Ridge Trail Collaboration India Black Ale. Eric brought a coffee porter which was delicious, and James had his converted chest freezer laden with goodies. On tap at the time were his version of the 1933 Barclay Perkins Milk Stout, a Warrior single hopped American Brown Ale and an American Wheat Ale hopped with Cascade and Amarillo (I think). All three were very impressive, as was his Pilsner which was bottled, but the highlight for me was the wheat ale, which combined the best elements of a hefeweizen with the best of an American Pale Ale - so drinkable, hugely refreshing and just down right gorgeous.

We ended up boiling the wort for 2 hours rather than the planned 90 minutes so we could get to our target volume of 10.75 gallons, and so we added a few more hops at the end of the boil just to add a touch of aroma. As part of our aim to be authentic, we included a healthy dose of sugar to the boil, both plain table sugar and the remnants of James' invert syrup that he made for the International Homebrew Project.

When all was said and done, we had 10.75 gallons of 1.068 (16.6° Plato) wort, into which we pitched a healthy yeast starter that James had prepared a few days in advance, and put the fermenting vessel in the fridge to do its magic.

The name for this beer is Dissolution Dubbel. The inspiration for the name was that Virginia was originally named for Queen Elizabeth I, aka The Virgin Queen, her father was Henry VIII and it was during his reign that England became a, kind of, Protestant country and in order to pay his bills, the King dissolved the monasteries and sold most of the property to his friends and supporters.

We decided that as we had such a good time planning and brewing Dissolution Dubbel, that we would make this kind of project a regular occurence, perhaps a few times a year, and so another of the names suggested for the beer itself became the name of our new project, Broederschap is Dutch for "brotherhood".

A fantastic day was had, top company, excellent beer and the prospect of more excellent beer in top company, what more could you ask for?

Monday, April 11, 2011

International Homebrew Project - The Tasting

Five weeks ago we brewed it, 3 weeks ago we bottled or kegged it, this weekend the day had arrived to taste it, and this morning I am blogging about it. "It", of course, is the International Homebrew Project brewing of a Milk Stout from Barclay Perkins, the recipe for which dates from 1933.

My first taste of the beer was on Saturday, while up in Fredericksburg brewing with James and Eric from A Homebrew Log and Relentless Thirst respectively, more about that project on Wednesday - suffice for the time being to say that we had a fantastic day and hopefully the result will be an excellent beer. Then yesterday I had the flat to myself for a little while, so took the opportunity to pop open a bottle in the peace and quiet and really get to grips with the beer.

First a note about the labels, they were originally meant to be black, but running low on the ink cartridge front, they came out brick red - which Mrs V actually think looks better than the black, and who am I to argue? So, to the beer, and as ever with my rare tasting note posts, my homage to Cyclops will be used.
  • Sight - very dark brown, ruby edges, persistent tan head
  • Smell - some chocolate, golden syrup, vine fruits, notably grape and blackcurrant, some spice and a touch of marijuana
  • Taste - bitter chocolate upfront, fruity aftertaste mostly blackcurrant, slight acidic tang
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I was very surprised by the complexity of the beer, given the very low alcohol involved, only 3.7%. There were many layers of flavour, and the blackcurrant/grape thing was most unexpected. While the beer was medium bodied and had a silky finish, I had it in my mind that it would be smoother than it turned out, I also didn't expect it to be as clean and refreshing as it was. Over all I was happy with the beer.

So the International Homebrew Project comes to an end for this year, if there is enough interest from the people that took part then it'll be back in 2012.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Beer - The Genius of Man

Walking our little Cairn Terrier, named Honza, the other morning I was mulling stuff over in my brain. 6 o'clock in the morning is a great time of the day in my opinion, the darkness of the night is being smudged into dawn, there is no-one else around and the street lights still twinkle. It is during my morning walk with the dog that I tend to think about stuff, nothing in particular, just stuff. The stuff that was floating around the other day was about the use of the word of "natural". You see it everywhere, natural skin care products, natural products to stop smoking, natural this, natural that.

You may have noticed that I have a touch of a cynical side, but the way all things natural are equated with all things positive does my head in from time to time. After all, hemlock is natural, arsenic too. How does this relate to beer I hear you ask? Well, I got to thinking that beer is really a sign of the genius of man than the bounty of nature.

Imagine putting several pounds of barley, some hops and water in a barrel and just letting it get on with whatever it wanted to do. I am not sure you get much beyond a soupy, slightly green porridge (and please note I said barley rather than malt). Quite how mankind discovered malted barley is beyond me, but then to say to themselves "let's boil it up for a while, add some bittering agents and get shit faced on whatever comes out" takes genius.

The same kind of thing comes along with hops. Whoever was the first person to dump the cones of a useless crawling weed into his brew just to see what happens should be given a Nobel Prize for Chemistry and All Round Happiness. Then a scientist at Carlsberg identifies yeast as the wee critter that makes the fun bit of beer, and wine, and all the happy juices in the world.

Next time you have a beer, which I am guessing won't be too soon, revel in the genius that went into making that glass of ale or lager. The genius to create the right types of malt to give us such a range of flavours. The genius of the hop growers. The genius of the Bavarians for developing lager yeast over the years. The genius of Josef Groll to make the most beautiful beer style the world has ever known, from the same basic ingredients as the swill that was poured down the drain. The genius of the brewer who pulled all these elements of genius together to make something you want to drink more of. The genius of the barman in pouring that perfect pint.

While beer may be natural in the sense that it is made with agricultural produce, it is a drink entirely bedded in the genius of humanity, perhaps we should celebrate that with gusto! What better to celebrate with at the weekend than with some cheerful music?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Plotting Season

It's that time of year. The sun shines more often than not, the trees are in bud and pollen fills the air like a yellowy green fug. Yes it's spring, the time of year when I give thanks for being short sighted and needing glasses, thus staving off some of the delights of hay fever.

It is also around this time of the year that I start thinking about the homebrew competitions I intend to enter in the coming months, and try to create a brewing schedule to fit around them. This year, for the first time, I entered the National Homebrew Competition. I only entered the one beer, Red Coat Export India Porter, which took gold in the Porter category at last year's Virginia Beer Blitz.

This version is slightly different from the winning batch, being 5.4% abv rather than 5.9%, and about 50 IBUs, which is a little less than the last batch, but maintains the same BU:GU ratio. With the beer entered in the NHC I am hoping just not to get slaughtered in the feedback forms, anything beyond that is a bonus.

In the regional competitions, I am pretty sure that I will just enter the same as last year, which would mean brewing beers for the Dominion Cup and Beer Blitz here in Virginia, and the Palmetto State Brewers Open in South Carolina.

Over the coming months I have a load of projects I want to complete, including a triumvirate of wheat beers based on my LimeLight recipe. LimeLight has become my most commonly brewed beer, and has proven to be well received by those that have tried it. My three way project is to make 3 batches over a weekend, with exactly the same ingredients except for the yeast. The yeast strains will be the classic 3944 Belgian Wit, 3068 Weihenstephan and 1010 American Wheat.

As a result of brewing a historical recreation of milk stout for the International Homebrew Project, I have found myself wanting to brew more historical beers, one that took my particular interest was a 1921 Pale Ale from Barclay Perkins. My interest was piqued by the use of Saaz hops alongside Goldings. Also coming up will be a a single hopped Old Ale, a blackberry lambic, a mild, and perhaps a peated pale ale.

There is a big homebrew project on the very near horizon, something that has been in the works since November, but I will tell you all about it when the brewday has been done.....

Monday, April 4, 2011

LOL - Love Our Lager

Recently I have been on a lager jag. Generally speaking I am not much of one for writing posts describing the aromas, flavours and lacing of a beer - though I do have a liking for beers that leave a trail of lace somewhat akin to a white fishnet stocking. I will from time to time put tasting notes into Ratebeer, but I am far from religious with that. Anyway back to my theme for today, lager, which, as I said, I have been drinking a fair bit of lately.

I like lager, nay, I love the stuff. I wasn't much of a fan when I was spotty youth back in the west of Scotland, but when you live in central Europe for a decade, it gets into your system. Czech lager got so well into my system that if someone makes a pilsner and it doesn't match up to the beers I drank back in Prague then I am afraid I am not interested. Yes, I am a lager snob.

A good pilsner is one of the beer world's great contradictions. Utterly simple ingredients, generally speaking just pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water and yeast, yet it is exceedingly difficult to make a great pilsner. Brewing a proper pilsner takes confidence. Confidence to do a decoction mash (yes I know the argument that malts are more modified these days, thus rendering decoction redundant - personally I think that is tosh), confidence to use just Saaz hops, confidence to let "product" tie up your lagering tanks for at least 30 days, 90 if you are trying to recreate Budvar.

And yet, when you look at lists of the top 50 beers in the world, there is not a single lager. Seriously, go and have a look, not a single lager makes that list. No Pilsner, no Dortmunder, no Dunkel, no Schwarzbier, no Baltic Porter, no Vienna, nothing, not one. Reading through the comments of various lagers makes me wonder if people actually understand lager at all. Seeing someone describing a beer as a "good pils" and then give it a score of 2.8/5 makes me wonder what this person wants from an exceptional pilsner (probably 8% abv and a trillion IBUs says my cynical side). Of course, the Baltic Porter gets more love than many a lager style, but that's likely because it is a strong beer.

I have heard in many a watering hole a comment along the lines of "I used to drink lager, but now I like only craft beer". Lager has become shorthand for the pale lagers churned out by the likes of AB InBev and the other multinationals, beers that have very little in the way of character. It really bugs my head when I hear that kind of comment from people who really should know better, after all are they not claiming to have a greater understanding of beer than the average Joe?

The world of lager is huge and full of interesting ingredients and flavours, and is, I fear, painfully overlooked by many in the craft beer world, in favour of the extreme beer that will rape your tongue and render you senseless to the pleasures of classic beers. That is one of the underlying reasons behind a website project I am working on at the moment focussing purely on the history, styles and tastes of lager beer around the world.

Making good lager is a labour of love, perhaps we should requite that love and celebrate lager more often.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day Off.

Not from work, from blogging.

See you on Monday my good folks.

Oh alright then, something for the weekend.

Best Beer Ever!

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