Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Introducing...The Dave Line Project

Once upon time, back in the late 1980s, my dad starting making his own beer. Through the hazy fog of time, I can vaguely recall a collection of carboys, airlocks bubbling, as the generally brown liquid fermented away before being racked into large polypins to essentially become cask ale. I don't remember my dad ever really getting beyond the "buying a kit from Boots stage", no doubt something like those still available from Munton's, with a sachet of yeast under the lid, and the kind of thing that was my own first steps into homebrewing.

While I have no recollection of my dad's homebrewing from a taste perspective, I was well and truly underage when my younger brother and I offered to "help" pour beer at dad's 40th birthday bash and indulged ourselves in the illicit nectar when folks weren't looking, one thing that stuck in my brain was a book...

Dave Line's "Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy" was a well thumbed tome during my dad's homebrewing years, and I remember dipping in and out of it as a teenager. There was something intriguing about all these foreign beer recipes, their strange sounding names, exotic ingredients, and in some cases recently revolutionised countries. I couldn't in all honesty tell you what I found interesting about the book, but when I started brewing my own beer back in 2009, I knew I wanted to hunt down a copy of my own, dad's having been lost in any one of a series of moves.

The version that I eventually got my hands on is a revised edition from the 2000s and takes into account changes in the homebrew market in the 25ish years between the original publication and the newer edition. Dave Line himself died in 1980, but I am sure that he would love to see what has become of homebrewing in the 40 years since, and that his books are still available. I also recently bought the the "Big Book of Brewing" for reference, and I love the hand drawn illustrations as well as the wealth of knowledge the book contains.

So...as I reveled in homebrew nostalgia, I thought to myself that it would be fun to try and update some of the recipes in "Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy" with a view to actually getting round to brewing again soon (twins, seriously). Thus the Dave Line Project was born, and I am slowly working my way through the book, updating the recipes to modern ingredients and methods.

Being something of a contrary sod (you've all noticed that too right?), I decided to go for a deeply uncool recipe, and what could be less cool than mild? While I was being uncool, I decided that it would be fun to go for a recipe from a much reviled brewery, thus the first beer to get the VelkyAl treatment was Watney Mann Special Mild.

Admittedly I have stuck pretty close to the recipe in the book, though I don't intend on adding hop extracts or saccharin tablets after my boil, and I'll be kegging rather than bottle conditioning. My recipe then is:

  • 77% Golden Promise
  • 17% Invert #3
  • 4% Flaked Barley
  • 2% Molasses
  • 20 IBUs of Fuggles for 90 minutes
  • Safale S-04
For all of that, the aim is to get a beer that has:
  • OG: 1.031
  • ABV: 3%
  • IBU: 20
  • SRM: 8.4° (somewhere between dark gold and pale amber)
I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised by how pale this recipe came out, especially with 17% of the fermentables being from a 50° Lovibond invert sugar syrup. Perhaps I should bump up to invert #4? If anyone reading this recalls Watney Mann Special Mild, let me know what colour it was. My choice of base malt and yeast are simple capricious whimsy, after all the title of the book is "Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy" not "Brewing Beers Exactly The Same As Those You Buy".

If all goes to plan (looking at you twins to cooperate and let daddy find a few hours to get something done for a change), I hope to have the first Dave Line Project beer ready in time for Mild Month, also known as "May". In the meantime, I'll be working on a few more recipes from the book.

Update: based on David's comment about the beer being dark brown, I changed the recipe to use invert syrup #4, and the SRM went to 21°, which is seemingly darker than a red ale, but not as dark as a dunkel, so I think #4 will do the trick.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Old Friends: Devils Backbone Gold Leaf

I spent last weekend camping at the Westmoreland State Park, on the banks of the River Potomac, with my family and our good friends. Whenever we go camping, having a cooler full of beer is a pre-requisite as once all our children are in bed, we stoke the campfire, and enjoy a good drink.

As I was working, it was up to Mrs V to get to the shops for supplies, including at least part of the beer for the weekend. Not wanting to burden her with multiple trips to various shops with the twins in tow, I was more than happy for her to just get a 15 can pack of something, and the first beer that popped into my mind was Devils Backbone Gold Leaf.

Gold Leaf is kind of difficult at times to pin down in terms of style. Sure it is as pale as a German pilsner, but only weighs in at 4.5% abv and is relatively unbitter with 21 IBUs. Sure you could call it a helles, though you would be more in the ballpark of Andechs Vollbier Helles than say Spaten's.


Having had the 15 pack on ice for the best part of the day, it finally came time to have a beer. The kids were suitably knackered from running around and relatively quietly eating their dinner, so pssst went a can and without taking notes or bothering with a glass (the picture is from an old post) we tucked in...

It is quite often that you see people talking about how the context of a beer is important, usually when drinking some mega-swill from a frosted glass on the beach in Greece, but Gold Leaf hit the spot perfectly. Yes, it is a somewhat subtle beer, but those 21 IBUs include judicious amounts of Saaz and Tettnang, giving the beer a lovely floral taste that always makes me think of alpine meadows, replete with all singing all dancing Teutonic maidens in dirndls. 

There is enough heft in the malt side of things to keep it from being watery, and that just aids the refreshment. It took about 3 mouthfuls to polish off the can, and without thinking pssst went another one, and so on, and so on until the 15 were gone, the embers of the campfire were beyond smooring, and sleep beckoned.

An inspired choice then, so huzzah for old friends like Gold Leaf!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Bauhaus Brauhaus

New England has become something of a theme in my drinking of late. I refer not to the murky swill that is all the rage among drinkers of IPA, a beer trend that I find simply baffling. If I want my fruit juice to be alcoholic, I'll bung in some vodka. Nope, I refer to the gratifying number of breweries from those northern climes who make quality lager, you know, the kind of beers I love.

The current object of my affection is New Hampshire's Schilling Brewing Company, makers of the delightful Alexandr 10° and Palmovka 12° Czech style pale lagers. I recently also had their Augustin 13° polotmavé, which was a very respectable drop, though not one that will take the place of its pale stable mates. The same can not be said for their tmavý ležák, Modernism...


Modernism has a relatively modest abv for most American made Czech style dark lagers, at 4.8%, which if I were back in Czechia I would assume a starting gravity of 12° Plato. This is however no shrinking violet of a beer, packed as it is with the classic flavours and aromas of Czech dark lagers. Yes coffee, yes some cocoa, also hints of cola, and even some sweet Munich notes. Being very much in the modern vein of dark lagers, a hefty wallop of floral, spicy noble hops. Complexity without overdoing it, I approve. Goodness me I like this beer muchly, thank goodness I still have some cans in the fridge, alongside which now reside a 4 pack of Schilling's Landbier Dunkel...

Schilling, in common with that other New England staple in my beer life, Von Trapp Brewing, just don't seem to put a foot wrong at the moment, and this lager boy is most assuredly not complaining.

Of Minnesota Oktoberfests

 At the beginning of this month, Minneapolis based writer Jerard Fagerberg started work at the same organisation as myself. The subject of ...