Monday, October 17, 2016

Self Bitterment

An acquaintance recently asked me why I seem to be constantly brewing beers that belong in the broad family of bitter. It's true that at least every other brewday is some form of ordinary, best, or extra special, and there is a very good reason for this fact. Bitter, regardless of sub-type, is one of my favourite styles of beer to drink and for all the hoopla around craft beer and its endless IPAing of every form of beer possible, most American breweries simply don't bother with bitter as a style.

What then is a chap supposed to do, especially a chap with little interest in IPA? Sorry hopheads, your addiction is one dimensional most of the time regardless of the latest hop to come out of the Pacific north west. The answer is obvious, a chap must either take the risk of ancient, and and badly oxidised, bottles from Britain, lurking around the local bottle shop that neither knows nor seems to care what they are doing, or a chap can make his own. So unless Three Notch'd Bitter 42 is available, I make my own.

A couple of weekends ago I kegged up my most recent batch of best bitter, and having stolen the requisite amount of beer to do gravity measurements and all that jazz, I gave it a taste and thought to myself, this could be good. After a couple of weeks in the keg, I took some growlers of said brew to a friend's place on Saturday in order to lubricate the grinding and pressing of apples for cider that took up a hefty chunk of the afternoon and evening. Boy had my hunch been right, it is as good a best bitter as I have brewed, and certainly one that I would have no objections to paying proper hard currency for.


As you can see from the picture, the bitters I go in for tend to be on the paler side of the spectrum. I rarely, if ever, use crystal malts, preferring one of either Victory, Biscuit, or amber malt as my single specialty grain, and my base malt is usually Golden Promise. For this particular batch I single hopped with Calypso as I had some floating around in the freezer, and at least half of my calculated IBUs tend to come from the first hop addition. In terms of yeast, I have found that Safale S-04 does everything I need, if I remember rightly S-04 is one of the Whitbread yeast strains. I don't bother with water modifications, working on the theory that my well water tastes good, so it's fine for my beer. I brew to make something to intoxicate myself with from time to time, not to do science experiments - and given my ability to blow shit up at school in chemistry class, that's probably just as well.


While it is true that I sometimes lament the indifference of many an American craft brewery to the bitter family of beer, I love the fact that it has given me an excuse to work on my own brewing skills by repeatedly making my own versions. Sure I rarely make the exact same recipe twice, but there are common themes that run through each iteration, such as sticking to as simple a recipe as possible. Also the key to a solid bitter is in the name of the beer itself, don't be afraid of using hops predominantly for bittering rather than flavour and aroma. Hop bitterness is the very soul of a good bitter recipe, it must be firm, bracing even, but never acerbic. This is a beer designed to be drunk in imperial pints over an extended period of time, so balance is vital, once I am finished with a pint, another one should be welcome. Oh and 'balance' is not synonymous with 'bland'.

Bitter is a misunderstood and underappreciated style of beer in the craft world it would seem, thankfully they are pretty easy to make, and done well endlessly satisfying to drink, and that's the whole damned point surely?.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Feast of Oktober

It seems at the moment that every brewer and his uncle is having an Oktoberfest celebration, whether or not said brewer regularly makes bottom fermented beers in the German style (and they say craft beer isn't marketing driven!).

Being a fan of the lager arts, and not wanting to limit my Oktoberfest drinking to Sierra Nevada, I gathered together 7 bottles of American made versions of the 'style' to try in a blind tasting. As ever I was ably assisted by the lovely Mrs V, and her willingness to traipse up the stairs when I had finished each glass of beer is much appreciated.

The beers for this little taste off were:
Such a delightful little lineup...


Using, as ever, a slightly modified version the Cyclops beer evaluation method, here's my findings.


Beer A
  • Sight: rich copper, ivory head, dissipates quickly
  • Smell: general sweetness, touch corny, wood and spice
  • Taste: bready, touch of burnt toast, clean finish
  • Bitter: 2.5/5
  • Sweet: 2/5
Overall well balanced though on the thin side, nothing to really hunt out.


Beer B
  • Sight: orange, large off-white head, slight haze
  • Smell: some toffee, baking bread, floral
  • Taste: sweet juicy malt, herbal hob bite
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Ever so slightly boozy/hot, mouthfeel was nice and full, and slightly creamy, a bit on the too sweet side.


Beer C
  • Sight: rich golden, white head
  • Smell: bready, biscuits, trace of spice
  • Taste: sweet toffee, pretzels, earthy hops
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Nicely balanced, good clean dry finish, clearly well made and nicely integrated.


Beer D
  • Sight: gold, voluminous white head that lingers
  • Smell: grainy, light lemon and herbal hops, almost like autumn leaves
  • Taste: bready malt, sweet but not in a caramel way, firm bitterness
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Slightly creamy mouthfeel, but firm bitterness cleans that right up, very nice beer.


Beer E
  • Sight: light red, smallish off white head
  • Smell: syrupy caramel
  • Taste: heavy caramel, dark toast
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Full bodied and a touch cloying, really needs a hop bite, finish not as clean as expected.


Beer F
  • Sight: deep orange, off white lingering head
  • Smell: raw wort, weetabix topped with caramel sauce
  • Taste: Very sweet, sickly caramel/syrup dominates
  • Bitter: 1/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Tasted undercooked, like the raw dough in the middle of an underdone loaf, barely any noticeable hops.


Beer G
  • Sight: rich copper, small, stable, white head
  • Smell: lots of toffee and bread, spicy hop notes
  • Taste: cereal, caramel, like dulce de leche on toast
  • Bitter: 1.5/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Sweet, warming, and overall nicely balanced, bit too sweet though for my tastes.

Having drunk all seven beers, I ended up with the following rankings:
  1. Beer D
  2. Beer C
  3. Beer B, G
  4. Beer A, E
  5. Beer F
My favourite beer, and here I wasn't actually surprised, was Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest, with the Ninkasi right on it's coat tails, a sign perhaps that I prefer the more modern pale Oktoberfest style to the older, darker, sweeter variant.

The other beers were:
  • Beer A - Brooklyn
  • Beer B - Port City
  • Beer E - Sam Adams
  • Beer F - Shiner
  • Beer G - Blue Mountain
So there we have it, 7 beers, all bar one that I would drink a pint of, 1 that I would happily drink plenty of, and one that I have been drinking maße of.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Selling Stale

Tomorrow I am planning to do a blind tasting of American made Oktoberfest lagers. I have already gathered 7 examples form across the US. Yesterday I decided to check a bottle shop near my office to see if they had any single bottles available so I could bump my testing up to 10 beers.

Having realised that there was nothing that I didn't already have, I took to looking around and seeing if anything else might take my fancy. Ever since I wrote a post about being in a local gas station that also has a decent selection and noticing out of date beer being sold at full price, I have started check out the 'best before' or 'bottled on' dates to make sure I am not getting stale beer.

The first bottle I picked up and looked at was this from Green Flash...


A best before date of November 2015??? What the actual fuck? Surely a retailer wouldn't try to push this stuff on an unexpecting public at daft prices?


Oh wait, yes they would. That's right folks, this particular Charlottesville, Virginia, bottle shop expects people to pay north of $12 (after tax) for 4 bottles of year out of date beer.

Hoping this would be a one off, I started checking out some of my favourite beers, especially the Fuller's stuff, which while still in date was in the older bottles, so it is coming to the end of its shelf life. Then there was this...


I do like Bengal Lancer as a general rule, and sure I know the history of IPA meant that it travelled in hot conditions for 6 months to get from England to the Sub-continent, but this bottle will be 2 years past it's best before date in just 120 days. Yours for full price.

As you know if you are a regular Fuggled reader, I love the lager family of beers and Firestone Walker Pivo Pils is something that I am always happy to drink. Unless of course it was bottled nearly 8 months ago, and is sat on the shelf of a very warm shop, kind of like this one.


As I was leaving the shop I noticed that they were selling day old bread with a sign informing the customer that the bread wasn't that day's. If only they treated their liquid bread with the same respect.