Friday, January 29, 2016

Black Dreams

I don't make New Year's Resolutions.

I don't join a gym, I don't decide to quit smoking (mainly because I have never smoked anyway), and I don't decide to go on a health kick. I do stop drinking for the month, but that's because 'the holidays' are brutal and I like a rest.

I did though decide that I would make every other brewday this year the same recipe, so that I can get at least one beer that I can brew almost with my eyes closed. I had several options, I could brew a best bitter, but given that Three Notch'd 42 is my recipe and is being brewed again soon there was no immediate need on that front. As I toyed with ideas I realised that I have only ever once brewed a straight up (ish) dry stout. I have brewed plenty of milk, oatmeal, foreign extra, and imperial stouts, but only one dry stout. As a devoted drinker of the black stuff, what better style then to have regularly on tap in the kitchen?


Thus I decided to create a new recipe for the beer rather than just re-brewing the one I had done before, as I wanted to take elements of my favourite stouts to make a unified whole. Strangely for me, I started with the hops. My favourite regularly available stout, and potential cause for outright rebellion and angst should it ever be axed, is Starr Hill's Dark Starr, which is hopped with Perle. Thus my stout will have 33 IBUs worth of Perle added at the beginning of the boil, with no flavour or aroma additions.


I knew the base of my grist would be Golden Promise simply because it is my favourite base malt. Sure, Maris Otter is a nice malt, but I love the mellow sweetness of Golden Promise. Departing a tad from many a stout I'm sure, but I knew that Victory malt would be making an appearance. The first time I used Victory in any great amount was in the trial batch of 42 and the crusty warm toast characteristic beguiled me at first smell, and utterly ensnared at first taste. Stout wouldn't be stout without the dark malts, such as chocolate malt and roast barley, so in they went as well.


The yeast was possibly the easiest bit of the plan, I like using dry yeast, and I like Safale S-04. Done.

The final recipe ended up as follows:
  • 75% Golden Promise malt
  • 11% Victory malt
  • 8.5% Chocolate malt
  • 5.5% Roasted barley
  • 33 IBUs Perle hops for 60 minutes
  • Safale S-04 Yeast
All of that goodness will, if all goes to plan give me a beer like this:
  • OG - 1.047 (12°P)
  • FG - 1.014 (3°P)
  • ABV - 4.3%
  • IBU - 33
  • SRM - 40
With all being well, come the end of February the first keg of Dark Island Stout will replace the keg of ESB currently carbonating in the kegerator, just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

More Than Strength

Yesterday Lew Bryson announced that April 7th would be 'Session Beer Day' (quite why all these days have to be on Thursdays is beyond me, but that's by the by), and that is something that Fuggled gets 100% behind. However, it also got me thinking about the current swell in session beers that we are seeing in the US and I am not happy with what I am seeing. Ask your average Joe on the street what a 'session' beer is and you'll likely get the response that it is a low alcohol beer that you can drink a lot of, and while that is an undeniably true statement, it is not the whole truth about session beer.

Before going further, let's remind ourselves of Lew's definition of session beer here in the US, sure other cultures may have different definitions, and that's fine, but I find most other countries concepts are broadly similar. Here is the definition as spelled out on Session Beer Project:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced

Clearly by that definition many a 'session IPA' is not a session beer. Founder's All Day IPA, 4.7%, not a session beer. Lagunitas Day Time, 4.7%, not a session beer. Lickinghole Creek Til Sunset, 4.7%, not a session beer. That's not to say these are bad beers, and in the case of Til Sunset far from it, or that they are beers I don't enjoy polishing off a six pack off, and again see Til Sunset, but they are not session beers. They are what I refer to as 'pintable', meaning I can have 2 or 3 pints quite happily, but not sessionable in my mind, and not just because they exceed the ceiling of 4.5% abv - something Lew actually mentions in his Session Beer Day announcement.

Where many such beers fall down as regards the definition of session beer is in pretty much every other facet of the description. Many a session IPA, and I am sorry if I am picking on a particular style right now, is one dimensional in the extreme, once you get past the sensory blast of hops. Oooo hop flavour and aroma, how freaking original.

This why beers like a a good dry Irish stout, a classic best bitter, or a well made Czech pilsner all succeed far better as session beers, they have layers of flavour that hide and reveal themselves as you drink them. I find with the kind of dry stout that I love, think Starr Hill's magnificent 4.2% Dark Starr, you start off with a roasty bite, but as it warms chocolate notes shine though, and the clean bite of the hops snaps to attention. What do you often have behind the hops of a session IPA? A base of pale malt that is like eating saltines, and that quickly becomes boring, after about 2 to 3 pints I find, and sessions don't start until pint 4 is finished in my world.

Balance is also important, and while I don't particular hold to the view espoused in the latest Sam Adams ads on TV of beer being a battle between hops and malts, I agree with the overall idea, balanced beers are generally good beers. Beers where everything is noticeable, but in harmony with each other, not dominating, not being lopsided. It's almost like a hermenutical circle, understanding the parts helps us to understand the whole, which helps us further understand the parts, and so on.

There isn't much need to speak too much about session beers being conducive to conversation, if you're the kind of person that likes going to the pub of an evening, downing 8-10 pints of best, and then tottering home, or getting a taxi if you live too far from the pub door, then chances are you have been engaged in conversation with your mates for the duration. Unless you're the kind of bod sitting at one end of the bar reading the Daily Mail/Guardian, depending on your political persuasion, scowling at the world.

Which brings us to the last point in the definition, and one which I think is scandalously disregarded, session beers should be reasonably priced. The question here is 'what is reasonable'? Let me put it this way, I walk into your bar/tap room and the best selling beer on the taps is a 7% IPA for $5 for a 16oz pint, why would I pay $5 for a 3.5% dark mild? The cost of creating the dark mild is considerably less than the cost of making the IPA and yet the savings of making session beer do not get passed along to the consumer. Somewhere someone is gouging consumers that want to drink session beers, and in my opinion this really needs to stop. Thinking a bit wider for a moment, pricing of beer is something of an annoyance of mine lately, especially when non-US macro beer gets lumped with local craft beer in the pricing structure of many bars, but I'll likely moan about that some other time.

So there we have it, for this year's Session Beer Day, let's see brewers and bars actually stick to Lew's definition of session beer and not just flood the taps with lazy session IPAs.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sober Thoughts

It's funny the things that potter through my brain during my annual month of boozeless existence. Quick side note, I generally don't refer to it as 'dry January' because I am not doing this because of the ridiculous machinations of Alcohol Concern or some other bunch of neo-Prohibitionists, by the time the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year period is over I have drunk way too much and feel like crap, so I take some time off. I still go to my favourite watering holes, I just drink some diet form of soda. Anyway, that's not the point of my post today.

One of the things that has pottered through my head of late is the lie that is the public image of the brewing industry as a boy scout jamboree writ large and with added kegs of beer, a vocal cheer squad of bloggers, raters, advocates, and allied industries in the background, singing a chorus of whatever the beer version of kumbaya is.

While there is great bonhomie amongst the brewers themselves, I find it really disturbing when brewing companies (and let's not get so soft headed as to forget that craft beer is an industry, and its processes are largely at an industrial scale) start suing other brewing companies for perceived infringements on their trademarks or intellectual property. My ire is particular raised when brewing companies try to lay claim to the common nomenclature of beer culture as somehow being theirs.

There are, in my opinion a set of concepts and ideas which simply cannot be trademarked in all good faith. Things like beer styles, such as hellesperceived logo similarities, or even the common brewing terms 'imperial' or 'session' are not worth suing over in my opinion. I have no problem if a brewing company wants to make predominately session strength beers, in fact I support that as an avid drinker of lower gravity beers. However, the idea of session was not invented by any one brewing company, it belongs to the drinking people of the world. It is we who have decided, through common use and tradition, what constitutes a session beer. The use of the term 'session' in a beer name is simply an indicator to the consumer of the expected strength of the beer in the glass, just as 'imperial' tells me to expect something big and boozy.

Looking at the bigger picture, it seems to me that such legal wranglings actually do more to harm the independent brewing industry as a whole. Litigation when there is a real, clear, infringement of a company's intellectual property within their market is one thing, but I would hate to see any of my local breweries attempting to sue a company where they do no business. Such behaviour would just incur the rancour of drinkers in that locality, and ultimately portray the brewing company doing, or threatening, legal action as a bunch of jumped up tossers. It's kind of like those big multinational brewing companies that sue family owned breweries in an entirely different country because their beer has the same name, though different spelling, as a brand of low grade beer brewed by said big boy.

Isn't craft beer supposed to be the antithesis of big beer?

Monday, January 11, 2016

#IHP2016 - In With The New

The masses have spoken, well, 23 of them.

Last week I put a quick poll up on here looking for guidance on what to do for the 2016 iteration of the International Homebrew Project. The choices were to stick with the tried and tested formula of recreating historic beers based on the research and work of Ron Pattinson or to attempt to create a new beer style.

As I say, the masses have spoken, and by a margin of just over 2 to 1 it is decided that the International Homebrew Project 2016 will embrace the challenge of creating a new beer style, thus the theme for this year is centred around the, perhaps oxymoronic, concept of the American Mild.

I will be putting my thinking hat on in the coming days to extrapolate further on what would constitute an American Mild, but it's rather fun to have a completely clean slate on which to draw.

Thanks to those that voted in the poll, and if you are planning to take part in the project, please leave a comment here, or send me an email.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

International Homebrew Project 2016 - Crowdsourcing Style

Around this time of year I start the planning for the International Homebrew Project, which will see its 6th iteration in 2016. In previous years those of us who take part have mainly focused on recreating historic beer recipes, usually from the research of Ron Pattinson. Previous recipes were:
This year however I am thinking about doing something a little different.

Last year I started a project called American Mild Month, drawing inspiration from the Campaign for Real Ale's 'May is Mild Month' in the UK. The project had more than 50 breweries participating across the US, and the 2016 iteration is already looking to better that number.


What better way then to encourage more interest in the brewing of mild ale than to get fellow homebrewers engaged and brewing their own mild ales? However, I'd rather not stick to the accepted understanding of mild back in Blighty, and therefore to attempt to crowd source a new beer style, the American Mild Ale. As part of American Mild Month, I encouraged breweries to try and Americanise mild with the following parameters:
Let's start with color. The SRM numbers for English milds range from 6 to 34, which is basically the entire spectrum of beer. The majority of milds though fall in the dark category, starting at 17 SRM, which is a deep orange to amber color. An American mild then would be deep amber, with red in the mix as well, veering up to brown at the upper limit.

Alcoholic restraint is a hallmark of the modern mild ale, and we believe that an American mild should follow that tradition, topping out at 4.5% abv. We imagine most American milds would fall between 3.5% and 4.5% abv.

Everyone knows that many modern American beers are very hop centric while mild ales tend to be very restrained when it comes to both IBUs and hop perception, remember the official description from GABF...

Hop aroma is very low...Hop flavor is very low. Hop bitterness is very low to low

Clearly then the American Mild is not a hop bomb, but neither need it be a hop free zone. 'Low' is not the same as 'none', it is all about restraint, and with the wide variety of American hops available the range of hop flavors is actually quite broad, whether its the spiciness of Cluster, the grapefruit of Amarillo, or the tropical fruit of El Dorado, there is room here for differentiation, and dry hopping is ok too. Remember though, before going crazy with the hops, an American Mild is not a Session IPA, or a Session Cascadian Dark Ale, it's still a mild. Traditional English milds top out at 25 IBUs, but for an American Mild we would suggest an upper limit of 30 IBUs.

One major departure from the English mild style in a theoretical American mild is the yeast. The classic American yeast strain used by many an American craft brewery is known for being very clean, allowing the other ingredients to shine through without contributing the fruity flavors of the British yeasts.

So there we go, a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through.
Or for those more into lists:
  • OG - 1.032 - 1.048
  • FG - 1.006 - 1.014
  • ABV - 3.5% - 4.5%
  • SRM - 17 - 25
  • IBU - 15 - 30
If there isn't any interest in trying to create a new style, I'll revert to brewing historical recipes using Ron's research as a guide. There is a poll up in the upper right rail, let me know your thoughts by Friday January 8th.

Oh, and happy New Year!