Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beer After Prague - A Response

My good friend Max, aka Pivní Filosof, pointed out an article on the Prague based website, with the title "Is There Beer After Prague", wherein the writer claims that there is no good beer outside the Czech Republic. Seemingly the writer spent a few years in Prague before heading off to the sunnier climes of the Iberian peninsula and started to have longings for Gambrinus. The article is hilarious, so painfully bad that I hope the guys at Expats didn't actually stump up good money for it. Its premise is ludicrous and the writer's comments on American beer utterly devoid of knowledge of anything beyond the pale lagers dished up by the very same multi-national brewing companies that make, and entirely fucked up, the Gambrinus for which the writer hankers.

In describing Coors Light as "diet alcoholic nonsense" the writer simply highlights their ignorance of beer. Sure, I don't drink Coors, whether light or otherwise, but a beer that is 4.2% abv, or to put that in a Czech context, just 0.2% abv less than Pilsner Urquell and 0.1% abv more than the much missed Gambrinus, is hardly "diet alcoholic nonsense". The writer then goes on to lament that American pale lager is "light" and "watery" and makes her (I assume) want to run back to her precious wine, yet her beloved Gambrinus is some of the most watery, light piddle I have ever drunk, and from talking with friends in Prague, it has gone even further downhill of late.

Now, unless you have been living under a cyber rock, you will know that I too love and miss Czech beer (oh just one more gripe about this article - typical expat Pragocentric bollocks, all the best Czech breweries and pubs are outside the city). And while it is also true that I search, achingly at times, for an authentic Czech style lager brewed here in the US, or even a good German one, that hasn't stopped me from enjoying all the delights of the Virginian, and wider American, beer world. Let me say this loud and clear, the American brewing scene is fantastic, for the sheer range of beer styles being brewed here, there are few places that come close. Where else can I go to a brewpub and have superb examples of Vienna lager, American IPA, hefeweizen and pale lager?

As you quite likely know, I spent 10 years living in the Czech Republic, and I drank a lot of beer, I remember when Kozel was still independent and making beautiful lagers, I remember when Gambrinus didn't go in for high gravity brewing and post fermentation dilution, I remember when a beer festival like Slunce ve Skle would have been virtually impossible. However, it has been 2 years since I left and in answer to the writer's article, yes there is beer after Prague, it's just you've never got off your arse to go find it, just as many expats never get their indulgent arses out of Prague to discover the real Czech Republic.

There is no shame in missing a place, hell I miss Prague practically every day, but one thing I hope you will never read on this blog is a lamentation about how bad the beer culture is wherever I happen to find myself. I also hope that I am proactive enough to go and find the beer culture in the places I live, which is pretty much a given as my favourite way to waste a few hours is sat in the pub. This article did my head in for several reasons, other than the simpering style. Firstly, it is clear that the writer has no idea that there is more to beer than just lager. Secondly, that there is more to the Czech Republic than just Prague.

Yes Czech lager is great, and I would say the best in the world for certain styles, but it is just one bright star in a beery sky full of stars, America, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Norway, France, Australia......the list goes on, you just have to go exploring.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cider Pork Roast

It was about this time in 2009 that Mrs Velkyal and I made our first attempt at making cider. I say "first" although in reality to date it is our only attempt at cider making, but it most certainly will not be the last. One thing we will remember to do next time is to prime the cider at bottling. I know there is a school of opinion out there that likes still cider, but I am most assuredly not a member of that particular persuasion. I like a little sparkle, not fizzy, but gently carbonated, the French would call it "pétillant", the Czechs have the wonderful phrase "jemně perlivá". My maple mead is lightly carbonated, and at nearly 10% abv all the better for it, but the cider is flat.

We have toyed with idea of what to do with the remaining couple of gallons of cider and not done anything with it other than leave it in the cellar, a quick note for my American friends and readers, cider with no alcohol is not cider, it is apple juice, thus the term "hard cider" is pointless. Suggestions have included making cider vinegar and then using it in chutneys and the like, Mrs V and I both love to cook, so it would be nice not to have to buy vinegar in chutney making season. It was in one of my cooking moods that I decided to make a stab at using a bottle up, with my Sunday roast.

Growing up, almost every Sunday had as the heart of the day a roast dinner. Most often chicken, but also beef, lamb, pork and occasionally venison or mutton. Whatever we had was served with at least roast potatoes, veggies and onion gravy. Yesterday I cooked a roast pork lunch, served with roast potatoes, braised leeks and onion gravy, and to top it all, it was the first time I had made that most delectable of foods, crackling.

Usually the leeks are braised in white wine, but I ditched that (well alright then I didn't have any white wine) and used cider. The rest of my bottle went into the onion gravy to give it a nice tart apple bite to balance the sweetness of the caramelised onions, I roasted the pork on top of the sliced onions, to the pork fat, as well as keeping the meat moist, also cooked the onions.

To make the gravy, I chucked the onions and juices from the roasting dish into a saucepan, added some flour for thickening and then poured in good half pint of cider with a quarter pint of water from boiling the potatoes and let it boil away to reduce. Eventually Mrs V and I had plates looking like this:

Paired with this delight of pork and veggies was a high ball glass of 7 UP with a liberal dose of brandy in the top - lately I've been on something of a spirits and soft drinks kick, which is most disturbing, though thankfully the sanctity of my single malts is still intact.

A minor diversion from beer, to be sure, but a tasty one I can assure you - and yes, the crackling crackled and was cracking.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What to Brew?

I mentioned on Wednesday that I am planning to brew this Sunday, usually I brew on Saturdays but this weekend I am working the tasting room at Starr Hill - if you're out and about, escaping from the coming hurricane for example, pop by and say hello, try some beer and buy some merchandise!

The question of what to brew has been going round and round my head all week. Here's the issue, I have a hefty stash of dark malts that need using, caramels of varying degrees, chocolate, chocolate wheat, bits of this and that. Obviously then I could just brew a dark ale, but I have a cellar full of dark ales, having just bottled more porter and a "dark" mild (I don't think it is particularly dark, or mild for that matter).

I thought then, what better than to ask for suggestion from the many fine people that read this blog? So here goes, I will be buying more base malt this afternoon, Golden Promise if the local homebrew place has some, Maris Otter if not, and the list below is what I have in stock and that isn't already spoken for:

  • 2lb 8oz Briess Caramel 80
  • 9oz Simpsons Chocolate
  • 12oz Weyermann Chocolate Wheat
  • 12oz Simpsons Peated Malt
  • 5oz Briess Caramel 120
  • 5oz Saaz
  • 1oz Unknown, possibly Goldings – unlabeled prize from Dominion Cup
  • 1oz First Gold
  • Nottingham Dried Yeast
  • Wyeast Biere de Garde
  • Wyeast French Saison
  • Safale 04 Dried Yeast – Whitbread
One of the reasons I am only buying base malt this afternoon is that I want to get through the malts that are knocking about before buying more. Also please keep in mind that I only brew 2.5 gallon batches, so rather than specific recipes, percentages and IBU ratings works better.

Have at it good people!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surprises from the Depths

It started slowly, barely perceptible, but in the depths of darkness something was astir and eventually life burst forth. No, I am not referring to the earthquake that struck Virginia yesterday - close to the town of Mineral to be precise, about 30 miles from where I am sitting. I am in fact referring to the larger of the two beers I brewed when I decided to recreate a medieval approach to parti-gyling on a homebrew scale. I say medieval because those new-fangled brewers at Fullers disregarded tradition entirely for their method of parti-gyling.*

The larger of the two beers was, naturally enough, the weaker. With an original gravity of just 1.036 and the fact that I used only 21IBUs of Willamette hops, this beer was very much in the "mild" category for the BJCP style guidelines, and it was planned that it would be entered in the Virginia Beer Blitz as such. A quick disclaimer, I generally care not a fig for style guidelines when I am actually brewing, preferring to see where an actual beer fits best after the fact, as long as it tastes good then I am happy with my exploits. Last night, just before the largest aftershock so far, I bottled both it and my robust porter which made up the smaller brew.

The porter behaved pretty much as expected, the dried Nottingham yeast was bubbling along after about an hour and finished off at 1.016, giving the porter a quite respectable 6.1% abv. My small batches are a mere gallon and only give me 8 bottles per batch, but I find it less painful dumping 8 bottles of crap than I do bigger batches. Thankfully I am yet to ditch any of my 1 gallon experiments, indeed one such experiment garnered me my first competition gold - intriguingly enough, also a porter.

I had no idea what to expect with the larger batch. I had added a pound of Belgian dark candi sugar to bump the gravity, about 14% of the overall fermentables - which I was worried about, but reading some of Ron's historic recipes puts my mind at ease on that front. As I said earlier though, it took time for the yeast to get going, I used the Wyeast 1338 European Ale, which is known to be a slow starter. Measuring the terminal gravity was something of a shock then, it had fermented down to 1.002, giving me a "mild" of 4.5% abv, and I am assuming it will be bone dry when the conditioning is done with. I actually have high hopes for this one, I love dry finishes, and the colour is a gorgeous copper tinged with red. Wherever I choose to put it in competitions, I am looking forward to drinking it!

I will be brewing again this weekend, not entirely sure what, but thinking along the lines of an ESB, fermented with Nottingham - I love that yeast, it gets going so quickly. The days are cooling down and the brewing is ramping up.

* ever so slightly tongue in cheek.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lazy Marketing

Mrs Velkyal and I spent the weekend in South Carolina, again visiting friends, going white water rafting and just generally having a blast before the end of the summer holidays - Mrs V is back at work today.

On Saturday afternoon we went off to the shops to get in supplies for a little soiree we had planned for that evening - basically drinking and playing board games with friends. I have to admit that while I take a great interest in food, both the preparation and eating thereof, I really do not enjoy bimbling around the shops. My approach to shopping is simple, get in, get done, get out. What I tend to do is wander off to the booze section and see what is available.

The shop we went to was Greenville's branch of Trader Joe's, and I had heard good things about their Bohemian Lager. Although I knew I wouldn't be buying anything that day, I had bought a case of homebrew and a growler of Devils Backbone Barclay's London Dark Lager, I went to have a look at the selection purely out of curiosity, and general interest. Trader Joe's has a range of own label, Central European style beers, namely:
  • Bohemian Lager
  • Vienna Lager
  • Dunkelweizen
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen
  • Hofbrau Bock
At only $5.99 for a six pack, I know that when the planned Charlottesville branch opens, I will spend some money and try the beers. However, it was the packaging that I found particularly interesting, some of which you can see here.

Each of the labels features a picture of what most people would expect a Central European urban scene to look like, and to the untrained eye the interest level would no doubt stop there. But look a little closer at the label for the Vienna Lager, the building is the Old Town Hall in Prague. The ragged edge of the red building is where the Nazis set it on fire and parts collapsed as a result.

Now take a quick look at the Bavarian Hefeweizen label, and unless I am mistaken, that is a picture again of the Old Town Square in Prague. Look at the Hofbrau Bock label and that skyscape is from the Old Town side of the Vltava, looking across the Charles Bridge toward St Nicholas' Church in Mala Strana.

While I am entirely biased and would say that there is no more beautiful city in Europe than Prague, though Budapest and Lublijana both come close, it feels like lazy marketing to rely on the consumer's lack of knowledge or interest in your labeling. It also feels something of a slight on Vienna and the cities of Bavaria that beers historically and intrinsically bound to those locales should have pictures of Prague on the labels.

Just a simple search of one of the many online stock photography services pulls up plenty of pictures for iconic places and scenes, such as Vienna's Hofburg, Munich's Frauenkirche, Schloss Neuschwanstein or the Wieskirchen.

This kind of lazy marketing really does my head in. I know it is just a picture and that the important thing is the beer in the bottle, but the cynic within wonders if they can't be bothered to get the artwork right, did they bother enough with the beer itself. I guess I will find out when Trader Joe's opens its doors in Charlottesville.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brewer of the Week

I guess most people don't really think of beer and France at the same time. However, some of my favourite beers are from France, La Goudale and 3 Monts for example. In the area where my parents live there are just shy of a dozen small breweries making artisanal beer, mostly set up and run by British expats. For this week's Brewer of the Week though we head north, to Normandy, a part of the world perhaps more famed for its cider, and a brewery making British style cask ale.

Name: Steve Skews
Brewery: Le Brewery

How did you get into brewing as a career?

My apple trees blew down in a gale (I was a cider maker).

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

A passion for sharing happiness.

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

Homebrewed since age 14. Converted none but influenced by all, for better and worse.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

No…. Now ive got a big boy’s toy!...its still home brewing really - but with class!!

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

It changes from day to day and morn til night .. today I have been drinking my wheat beer, its 32°C here and the wheat beer, ‘Mysterious lady’ at 3.8% abv and 6°C is very refreshing. But now the sun is setting and I have a pint of ‘Conquerant’ our malty 5.5% best bitter.. My friend is making a ‘Greek Curry’ for dinner!!! throughout which we will drink Norman Gold, abig hoppy 4.9% golden beer, after which we will probably sup a little ‘Decca-Dance’ the 10° I.P.A that I have made to celebrate 10 years of brewing here in Normandy!!

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

Worked in several great breweries with some inspirational brewers, they're all mad but brilliant, enjoyed every brew !!!!

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

Don’t have a favorite – haven’t made that one yet!! Norman Gold is I guess the one a drink most, love the hops!

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

Authenticity is of course important, and with the great variety and quality of English malts, (ours is Marris otter from Warminster Maltings,), it's possible to bring an amazing variety of flavours into classic beers! British style of brewing is totally wonderfully unique.

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

Cotswold Spring Brewery, Nick Milo, the brewer, is a master, completely mad, but a monsterous master, look out for his beers they're going to seriously impress the British, his talent was rather wasted on the French!!

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

Wow! Difficult!! Ruddles County, as it was in the 1960’s. Adnams Tally Ho, same period . Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter, (but only as it was served in the Queen something or other in Uffington) and more recently, J H B or Summer Lightening. I think the bank manager would prefer I’d invented Fosters, Bud or Kro! Bbut then I wouldn’t have anything here to drink..!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BrewDog - An Attempted Balance

It is with interest that I have read the guest posts over on The Beer Monkey this week about everyone's favourite brewery/PubCo to talk about, BrewDog. One post in the naysayer camp and one an epistle from the St Paul of BrewDog fandom. As a result of reading the comments, I decided that I wanted to attempt to write a balanced post about those love/loatheable brewers from the North East of God's Country.

Way back at the beginning of Fuggled, I wrote a post about the various places I had lived in or had been influenced by and the breweries and beers that come from those diverse parts of the world. My mother comes from Fraserburgh, a fishing town at the very pointy bit of the Grampian region (well ok, Kinnaird Head is a little bit closer to the pointy bit, but since when have beer lovers been utter pedants?). I still have lots of cousins of varying removedness living in the town and surrounding area, most of whom I haven't seen since I was just edging toward my teens. Naturally, when I learnt that the Broch had a craft brewery, I knew that the next time I got back to the UK from Prague, I would be on mission to find some of their beers, after all, they had to be good, they came from the Broch.

Thus it was that while Mrs Velkyal was at an education conference in Oxford, I tagged along for a weekend jolly in one of the finest cities in England (back in the days when I had 25 paid days holiday a year, plus public holidays, and insanely low rent). Walking around, waiting for the pubs to open, I happened upon an Oddbins and popped in to peruse the selection and ask for directions to the Royal Blenheim, a pub I was planning to visit during the weekend. In the fridge were 3 bottles of Punk IPA, which I bought and stashed away in order to give one to Evan Rail and the other to Max from Pivní Filosof. When eventually we got home to Prague, Evan, PF and I did a co-ordinated blog post about the beer. At the time, I wrote the following:

"the beer pours a golden amber with flashes of orange and a thin white head. The nose is very hoppy, as you would expect from an IPA, with distinct floral notes and a very assertive citrus tone. Citrus is also very much to the fore on the taste front as well, like pink grapefruit, tart, yet with sweet undertones which save the bitterness from being too much. The sweetness reminded me of butterscotch or tablet, one of my favourite confections my mother makes. There is a nice full body, which doesn’t cloy, is smooth going down and the zing in the aftertaste makes it a nicely refreshing beer. I only have one gripe, I wanted more than just 330ml – ok it is 6% ABV, but it certainly doesn’t feel or taste like an overly alcoholic beer, so a full pint would have been ideal, as I say though, just the one gripe."

Over the next few months, I would email James, who would send me boxes of beer - including 3 prototypes, which again I shared with Evan and Max. I really enjoyed the beers, although I wasn't a fan of the 77 Lager. Yes I would have considered myself a fan of BrewDog, the beer was generally good, I liked the fact that they were trying different things, and then there was the letter to the Portman Group. You know the letter I am talking about, the one complaining about Tokyo* which turned out to have been written by James in order to create a furore and garner some free publicity.

Unfortunately it wasn't a one off, an aberration or even a misguided attempt at making a point, it seems to have been just the opening salvo in an all out war against anything beery that they happen not to like. Like most wars, they become tiresome and weary after the initial "over by Christmas" excitement has worn off. In the firing line since then been CAMRA, cask ale in general, the "boring" British brewing scene, "staid" pubs, the Germans, the list goes on. It has got to the point where my knee jerk reaction to any piece of BrewDog news is "what have they done this time?".

The important thing though, so the apologists tell us, is to look beyond the shenanigans and realise that BrewDog are making great, revolutionary beer. How I wish that were true. Sure they make decent beer, if you happen to like IPAs, lagers that taste like IPA or amber ales that taste like IPA. Yes, there are the stouts, and I do like Rip Tide, and the occasional something from the Paradox series, and so I am open to the idea that my problem with BrewDog could have something to do with my being more of a stout than IPA drinker. Are the beers though really all that great?

Bloggers quite often talk about context, usually in the sense that an ice cold pint of mega swill can be enjoyed on an exceedingly hot day. But I think context has played a major role in forming my current opinion of BrewDog.

When I think back to my drinking days in Prague, most of them were filled with pale lager, excellent pale lager to be sure, but it is sometimes difficult to get excited about a new brewery opening which will make yet more pale lager. BrewDog then were a welcome change from that, not better, but a nice change in terms of flavour. The likes of Kocour and Primátor were also doing something different, so I enjoyed their beers as well.

Having left that world behind for the US, the context changed and suddenly I am surrounded by craft breweries, there are 5 within 30 miles of my apartment, and no doubt more will pop up in the years to come. One thing that these breweries all share though is having a hoppy pale ale as one of their leading beers, IPA is not revolutionary in this context, it is the driver of many a business. As a brewery executive commented to me recently, "you have to have an IPA or no-one takes you seriously in America" - personally I think that is a sad indictment of the craft drinking public, that for all our hype, we are really deeply conservative about what we drink, whether it is macro lager or craft IPA.

Within the context I find myself, BrewDog is by and large irrelevant, perhaps even derivative - it is difficult at times not to think of them as a British rip off of Stone, much like Wimpy is a British version of McDonalds. When presented with the option of spending $8 or $9 on a bottle of Punk IPA or the same amount on a six pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo, I will usually go with Sierra Nevada. In my world it is a better beer, and I get more for my money. If you don't have to worry about the amount of money you spend on beer, then I envy you. Here in the trenches though, beer is an expensive passion.

When you do look beyond the hype and nonsense that seem to be part and parcel of the BrewDog circus, what you have is a brewery making some decent enough beers, though nothing earth shattering, but supported by the kind of marketing that will no doubt be talked about in college courses as a way of getting plenty of free publicity. Perhaps they are more of a case of form over function, a perfect representation of all that I find disquieting about the modern world, where the marketing is better than the product.

While it is true that I find a lot of their marketing methods annoying, there is no denying their efficacy, and part of me will always have the opinion that they are doing what they do well and making themselves a tidy living out of it, so fair play to them.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Sweetness of Bitter

The results are in and one of my beers brought home some bling on Saturday.

Of the seven beers I entered in to the Dominion Cup, the weakest as far as I was concerned was my Fuggold Bitter. Fuggold bitter uses 4 malts, pale, amber, brown and caramel 10, 2 hop varieties (can you guess what they are?), and the Windsor yeast strain. At 3.3% abv, it is very much a session beer, and one that every time I drink it I tend to think is a bit on the thin side, though tasty enough. Yet on Saturday afternoon my little Ordinary Bitter came away with the gold medal in the Bitters and English Pale Ale category, pushing a couple of ESBs into second and third.

As you can imagine I am very please with this. Everyone likes to win competitions and get some freebies, I particularly like my new Sierra Nevada glass, which will likely make an appearance soon. Most intriguing though is a small packet of unlabelled hop pellets, seriously, I have no idea what they are. I think I will make a SMaSH beer with them though, perhaps with a base of 100% Vienna or Munich, just for fun.

Despite the bling and the freebies, it is the feedback on the score sheets that I am most interested in. I like getting feedback on my beers, and the medium of judging beers anonymously really is helpful as it takes away the element of being nice to the brewers face. Some of the comments about Fuggold Bitter were in stark contrast to my own opinion, for example one judge thought the beer had "too much body for this category" and that it might be better as an ESB, another judge thought it "a bit full flavoured". Maybe the next time I am back in Blighty I will have to go on a bitter drinking spree, but thinking back on a pleasant afternoon in Oxford's The King's Arms, drinking mostly Young's Bitter, I don't recall it being as thin as I think my bitter is.

Some other interesting comments on the beers I entered included both my witbiers being described as closer to saison than wit - mainly due to the colour and being "too hoppy" for a witbier, I never thought I would read that 18 IBUs of pure Saaz would be too hoppy. From this feedback though, I think I will enter both witbiers in the saison category at the Virginia Beer Blitz in October. On the subject of the three wit experiment, it was the American Witbier - same base beer as the other 2 but fermented with the American Wheat Strain - that scored the highest of all my beer and was in the running for another medal as it was involved in a category Best of Show playoff.

The beer with the lowest score was my Export India Porter, which I entered as both a robust porter and a specialty beer. For the base beer in the specialty category, I put British Black IPA, as it uses all British hops to achieve the same IBU rating as an American Black Ale/Cascadian Dark Ale/Insert Name of the Week. It was as a specialty beer that I got the dreaded "not to style" comment, at which I chuckled broadly as there is no such thing as a British Black IPA, so what possible style could it not conform to? The beer did better as a robust porter, and I entirely agree with one of the judge's comments that "a bit more substantial malt base" would "support the formidable hop bitterness". I attribute this to the fact that the first batch, which took gold as a robust porter in last year's Beer Blitz, had an OG of 1.062 as opposed to this batch's 1.052.

As a club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale pulled in a total of 16 medals, including some for mead and cider, and a second place in the overall Best of Show. Not only is the Charlottesville area something of a hot bed for good breweries, but also seems to be something of a breeding ground for homebrewers.

With my medal hanging with the others in the kitchen, my attention has already turned to preparing for this year's Virginia Beer Blitz.......

Friday, August 12, 2011

Competition Time

Tomorrow is the Dominion Cup in Richmond, one of the largest homebrew competitions in Virginia from what I have read, and one of only 3 competitions that I will be entering this year.

Unlike last year I will be heading down to Richmond with a couple of other guys from the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale to steward and, in the afternoon, do a bit of judging. Thankfully I am only judging one style, but it is one of my two favourite styles, a style that I love muchly and have been drinking since the very beginning of my drinking career.

Naturally I have entered a few beers for the judging, so hopefully they won't get massacred. One thing I am looking forward to very much though is meeting up with Eric, James and a couple of other bods I know and having a good day with a great bunch of beer lovers.

Every prospect pleases.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Planning Ahead

I sometimes think that homebrewing is an exercise in being one step ahead of the seasons. As such, I am already in the planning phase for my winter beers.

I love winter with a passion, I sometimes think I have SAD in reverse, the darker and colder it gets, the happier I become. With Mrs Velkyal soon to start work again after the summer, she teaches 3-6 year old children, my thoughts turn to beers to brew for the long dark nights, hopefully dark, cold and snowy - I love snow. Random side story, almost every year in Prague it would snow on my birthday.

Anyway, to some of my homebrew plans for winter and Yuletide. As I have done for the last 2 years, I plan to brew my chocolate Export Stout and spiced Belgian Amber Ale. Both those recipes are pretty well established in how I like them, so I doubt I will be tweaking too much, though I do plan to make 2 batches of each.

Although not a beer for the coming winter, I will brewing the third rendition of my Samoset Vintage Ale, which I brew in November for the Thanksgiving of the following year. Now that I have a little mash tun, this year's version will include Biscuit and Victory malt on top of a Golden Promise base, with extract making up the difference, and hopping with First Gold.

I am also planning to brew a couple of clone recipes, in particular the Fuller's London Porter from a recent Brew Your Own magazine, for which I am playing with the idea of pulling out the little polypin to try and condition it almost a la cask. Staying with the Fuller's theme, I want to create something akin to 1845, which is still one of my favourite beers on the planet.

As ever then, lots of plans, ideas and thoughts, what will you be brewing with winter in mind?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Welcome to the Parti

It had been a while since I had brewed any beer, a few months at least, and with Mrs Velkyal out of town starting her Masters degree, I took the opportunity to make a start on some beers for upcoming competitions.

Reading a recent edition of Brew Your Own magazine, there was was an article about Fuller's, along with some clone recipes which will be given a run out at some point. In the article, it was mentioned that Fuller's do a tehcnique called "parti-gyle", and so I decided that in order to maximise the efficiency of my tiny mash tun, I would give it bash.

I am sure you know what parti-gyling is, but just in case, basically you pull the strong first runnings to make one beer and then the weaker second and third runnings to make another. Obviously the first runnings are used to make something stronger, while the rest is for a more sessionable brew. Given my small set up I decided to do a single gallon from the first runnings, and a normal batch from the second and third.

In deciding what to brew I looked at my grain store (sounds so much grander than "box of bags of grain") and opted for a robust porter for the stronger beer, and a dark mild for the weaker. I also chose to make Briess Special Roast the main specialty grain, supplemented with Caramel 80 and Chocolate for colour and some more flavour. Initially my plan was to use Maris Otter for the base malt, but when I drove round to our local Fifth Season, they had Golden Promise as well so I plumped for that instead, purely because it is a Scottish barley. I was nervous though that the second and third runnings would produce a wort that would fall well short of the 1.030 target gravity of the session brew, and so I bought some dark Belgian candi sugar just in case.

Into my mash tun then on Saturday went the following:
  • 80% Golden Promise
  • 12% Special Roast
  • 4% Caramel 80
  • 4% Chocolate
For the hopping of the two brews, I have had a 2oz bag of Willamette leaf hops sitting around in the freezer since I won some bling at the Virginia Beer Blitz,so it was about time they got used. For yeast, my favourite dried Nottingham strain was lined up for the porter, while the mild would be fermented using Wyeast's 1338 European Ale, a warm fermenting strain from Germany.

The brewday went without a hitch, other than the expected short fall on the gravity I wanted for the mild, and so, in went the sugar. In trying to decide what to call the beers, as it was my good friend Reuben's birthday on Saturday (check out his blog), I thought it would be nice to name the stronger beer in his honour, and so Gray's Gylactic Porter was born. On the mild front, I went for Wee Willie's Mild, referring to a nursery rhyme from home, and the fact that I used a Scottish base malt.

The vitals for the beers are as follows:

Gray's Gylactic Porter
  • OG - 1.062
  • IBU - 47
  • ABV (projected) - 7.2%
Wee Wille's Mild
  • OG - 1.036
  • IBU - 23
  • ABV (projected) - 4%
If I did my calculations correctly, doing a parti-gyle in my little mash tun meant I ended up with an efficiency of about 78%, and most importantly will have more beer to drink than from a standard mash! I think this method will become something of a regular occurrence.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Day We Can All Celebrate

What beer styles do you like?

My favourites, and this really isn't shocking for my regular readers, are Bohemian Pilsner, Stout in all its forms, Bitter (ordinary, best and extra special) and on occasion a weizen. Looking at that list makes me think that really they are all very simple beers, but all of them damned difficult to do well. Perhaps I am just a demanding drinker, not satisfied with drinking paint stripper style pale ales, preferring balance and knowing that to do those styles well, a brewer must be at the height of his craft.

Today is International Beer Day, which has 3 declared aims:
  1. To gather with friends and enjoy the taste of beer.
  2. To celebrate those responsible for brewing and serving beer.
  3. To unite the world under the banner of beer, by celebrating the beers of all nations together on a single day.
This is my kind of day. It's about beer in general rather than some factionalist approach to beer styles, it's about friends, pubs, drinking - the things that make beer the everyman drink, shared by toffs and proles alike.

Happy International Beer Day people, drink what you like, with whom you like, in a place you like and let's celebrate our passion for beer!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Random Thoughts

I followed Twitter yesterday with an unaccustomed intensity, waiting for the first person to tweet about the Barclay's London Dark Lager - the last I heard, it was unlikely to be on during the first day, and would likely make an appearance today.

When it was announced that the Champion Beer of Britain was Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde, I thought for a moment that the hashtag for the festival was about to go into meltdown. In amongst the congratulations to the brewers was a swathe of criticism, howling that a 3.7% mild ale could in no way be the best beer made in Britain. Very few of the comments about the chosen winner actually commented on the flavour profile of the beer, preferring to stand aghast that a beer of such a low abv could possibly be the best British cask ale at the Great British Beer Festival - it was almost as though Ratebeer had a collective hissy fit.

The problem with any form of competition is that it is, in reality, the subjective judgment of a panel of judges, who we can only hope have a depth of beer knowledge and a good palate. I am not entirely innocent when it comes to be shocked at some of the beers that win awards, but I try to remind myself that competitions can only judge what is in front of them.

Pondering all this over a dinner of bangers and mash, I was reminded of a passage in Bill Bryson's magnificent valedictory to Blighty, "Notes from a Small Island" about how Brits approach food:

"the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly".

Having never had anything from Mighty Oak, I am not in a position to say whether or not it was the best beer at the Great British Beer Festival. Given though that some of my favourite British brewers are at the festival, Fuller's, Everard's and the Durham Brewery for starters, I can only assume that Oscar Wilde is a damned fine beer, regardless of style.

I can understand people's frustration that the Great British Beer Festival doesn't have the likes of Lovibond's  and Meantime showcasing their superb beers to the public, but as I mentioned in a post a while back, the Great British Beer Festival is CAMRA's game and they can make the rules however they see fit.

However, it is clear that there is a market for a new national beer festival, one which embraces all of the beer made in Britain and Ireland, perhaps one that isn't tied to a given location every year? You could even call it the Festival of British and Irish Beer, one year in Birmingham, the next, Dublin, the third Glasgow and then on to Cardiff, travelling around the major cities of Britain and Ireland celebrating the national drink in all it's glory. Perhaps it could even take a leaf out of the Great American Beer Festival's book and not have any foreign beer whatsoever?

The point is, there is so much great beer being made in Britain and the near constant slanging match between the stalwarts of CAMRA and the acolytes of the new breed of brewers is not doing the industry any favours. Dividing the drinking community into "staid and boring" real ale drinkers and edgy young hipsters supping on craft beer in a bright shiny "bar" just leads to people drinking what they know and not furthering their knowledge of beer in general. Perhaps we all need to wise up and see each other not as enemies, but all on the same side in wanting better beer to be made available to the public.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great British Beer Festival - a Reminder

This week is the Great British Beer Festival, held at Earl's Court in London rather than in the Earl's Court of London Below. Anyway, for those of you lucky people able to get along to the festival and enjoy the best of British brewing (and no, "they" are not, never have been and never will be the best of British brewing), do remember to pop round to the Bières Sans Frontières area.

In particular, head for the American Cask Ale Bar, which is designated according to the website as "W2 - Blackwell", and order a lager. Not just any lager mind, order the Devils Backbone Barclays London Dark Lager that I have posted about several times. I would ask that you only have thirds of a pint rather than anything bigger, at least until Ron has been able to get there to try some.

If crafted lagers are not your thing, preferring instead to have your tongue savaged and abused by hops, then while you are trying Virginia beers, you might want to have a bash at the Starr Hill Double Platinum, a double IPA from the brewery where I do occasional stints behind the bar of the tasting room. A third choice if you are on a Virginia themed drinking session, is St George's Nut Brown Ale - I have never had it so can't vouch for it in quality terms, but I quite like their IPA - they have the temerity to use British hops, Fuggles exclusively no less!

If you do get to try the Barclays London Dark Lager and are of the social media type, please could you tweet about it when you try it? Perhaps I could suggest the following hashtag "#BarclaysDarkLager", and please cc Devils Backbone's Twitter accout, @dbbrewingco.

Cheers and have a great time if you are going!

Get Your Coat Love

I have said it plenty of times on here as well as my various socials, I am an abysmal beer tourist. You see, I have this tendency to find a ...