Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Little Self Evaluation

So far this year I have brewed almost as many times as I managed in the entirety of 2022. It turns out that having children that understand instructions and get quickly bored of watching daddy watch a boil kettle and disappear to play in the yard makes getting back to all-grain brewing far more feasible, and even enjoyable once again. It might also help that I have replaced the crappy little push button faucet on my mash tun for a ball valve and draining the first runnings now takes 5 minutes where it used to take 20.

In getting back to brewing more regularly this year, I also made a commitment to use malt from our local maltster, Murphy & Rude Malting Company, as much as possible. I have been developing new recipes based purely on their malts, and updating some of my existing recipes as well.

The very first brewday of 2023 was to brew a long standing favourite style of mine, dry stout. The grist was made up of pale, biscuit, roast barley, and milk chocolate malts - milk chocolate is Murphy & Rude's name for pale chocolate malt. For hops I used the locally grown Challenger hops, and of course the water came from my well. The only non-local ingredient was the yeast, which is Safale S-04, basically my go-to yeast. Coming in at 4% abv, and with 40 IBUs, it looked like this:

Basically what you expect a pint of stout to look like, and those looks are not deceiving, it smells and tastes as you would expect a low gravity dry stout to taste, especially if your reference point is Murphy's rather than Guinness. While it is true I do like a pint of Guinness, if Murphy's is also on tap in the same establishment, I'd be on the Murphy's instead. One thing that struck me though with this being my first all Murphy and Rude malt homebrew was the freshness and clarity of the malt flavours, especially the biscuit and milk chocolate which lacked the fusty character that can sometimes be present in malts that have enduring long journeys from Europe to the US.

As Virginia's rather lame, mild, and snowless winter dragged on, thoughts began to turn to spring, and in particular my wife's fiddle teacher's kind of annual St Patrick's Day concert/gathering, for which I brew a couple of kegs of beer. Mrs V's teacher is Alex Caton, who in 2015 released an album of songs and poems from the mining communities of England and Appalachia called "Never Take A Daisy Down the Mine". For the album release party I brewed a dark mild called Pit Pony, and Alex asked for a re-brew for the gathering.

Pit Pony was a beer that I re-factored to use Murphy & Ride malts, though as they don't do a honey malt the grist wasn't 100% Virginian. However, I did use a blend of their Crystal 40, 60, 80, and 150, as well as the biscuit malt, all on top of their pale malt. Sure at 4.3% it is a wee bit stronger than some of the guidelines would say a dark mild should be, so let's just call it a best mild shall we? The hops were a remnant of East Kent Goldings I had knocking about, and so that the malt could shine through, I took advantage of Safale's US-05 for it's clean character. The crystal malts really are the star here, with lots of toffee, caramel, and a touch of singed sugar in the mix. My only regret was that I didn't put it in a cubitainer to serve as an ersatz real ale.

The third of my recent brews, there is technically a fourth but that is a re-brew of the stout, was a blonde ale so there would be something paler for those who equate dark colour with heavy beers.

This one is a completely new recipe for me. Continuing my 100% Virginian malt when possible commitment, the grist is Murphy & Rude's Virginia Pils, Vienna, Crystal 15, and Soft Red Wheat malt which gave me an ABV of 4.5% and that absolutely banging colour. On the hops front, I decided to use up some Cascade I had in the freezer, with a calcuated 23 IBUs, though with a healthy addition at flameout just for aroma. I stuck with US-05 for the yeast, though this time more to let the hops do their thing. I realise I am biased, but damn this is one lovely beer, well, was as my neighbour and I kicked the keg last weekend. I will be brewing this several times this year I am sure, though likely swapping out the hops to get different characters, I definitely plan a version with Saaz, and likely one with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh,  perhaps even a 100% Fuggles one as well.

With regular brewing very much back on the table, and a kegerator in the kitchen to justify the expense of by having beer regularly on tap, I can see homebrew making up a greater portion of my drinking this year. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Tour de Pils

In the Before Times, I went to Texas, San Antonio to be precise. With a day of conferencing behind me, I found a bar in which to have dinner, and in said bar I had my first ever beer from Live Oak Brewing in Austin. I had been in Austin just a couple of months previously but hadn't seen this beer while I was there. The beer was Live Oak Pilz, and I described it at the time as "one of the most authentic iterations of the style I have had in the ten years since I left Prague".

I was back in Texas last week, for the first time since the pandemic began, last time I was there was the week before lockdowns came into place, SXSW had been cancelled, and the city was a ghost town. I knew that on this trip I would finally make it out to the brewery, and its 22 acre beer garden, though me being me, I eventually plonked my arse at a long trestle table inside the tap room itself.

Naturally I checked out the tap list first, even though I knew fine well what my first beer was going to be.

Standing at the bar, I spied the opportunity to do a little tour of Central Europe through the medium of pale lager. On tap that day was not just Pilz, but that was where I started, with a mug of foamy happy place fresh from the Lukr tap...

Now, I have to admit that I was thrown off by the bartender asking me if I wanted the beer "crispy or sweet", but she was talking about the style of pour that I wanted, hladinka  or šnyt. As you can see I agree with Karel Čapek that a šnyt is "at least something more than nothing", and so had a classic hladinka. Pilz pours a lovely light golden, is as clear as a bell, and that wet creamy foam just kind of sat there, at least until I slurped a good deal of it off. Up to this point, the only Pilz I had had was canned, but fresh at source on tap is basically as good as beer gets. The aroma was mostly the spicy Saaz hops, tinged with hints of hay and orange blossom, dancing around with crusty bread of the malt. All of which carries on into the drinking, ah the drinking of a Live Oak Pilz is such a pleasure, firmly bitter, finishing snappy and clean, I could happily have ended my ersatz Central European tour in Bohemia, but having reveled with Čech, Lech was beckoning me northwards...

The other Lukr tap that day was home to Piwko Pils, a 4.4% Polish style pale lager, hopped with Lubelski, Marynka, and Sybilla. The beer itself pours a touch paler than the Pilz, but shared that wonderful clarity, and a foamy cap that just wouldn't budge without a few gulps of it being taken. The aroma was earthy, almost reminding me of the tobacco character that I find in beers hopped with Fuggles. There was little malt aroma that was noticeable, though there was perhaps a hint of smokiness. That earthiness was dominant in the flavour department as well, backed up by a woodiness that made the bitterness of the beer feel almost rough and rustic, in the background were notes of fresh country bread. It wasn't really what I was expecting after the elegant Pilz, but it was certainly tasty, and the dry, almost puckering, finish actually reminded me of a Slovak beer I had a long time ago in a village close to the Slovak-Hungarian border, Gemer - before it got bought by Heineken that is. Having journeyed with Lech, my mind wandered west...

Gold was actually my first beer of the trip, at my favourite Austin hangout, Scholz Garten, alongside a glorious plate of wurst, kraut, and senf. This one was poured on the regular taps, and I am always happy to get a beer in a Willibecher, no other beer glass says Central Europe to me than the venerable becher. Gold, as you would expect, lives up to its name,  pouring a vibrant golden with a hefty firm head, propped up by the occasional tremulous bubble making its way up the glass. As I mentioned on Twitter, "proper lager isn't fizzy", and this is proper lager. Ah that crusty bread aroma, so indicative of pilsner malt, I love it, especially when it is joined by the floral nature of German noble hops. In an instant I am transported to mountain meadows, the jangling bells of livestock, and the urge to spend a sunny day sat outside a local braugasthof sampling the wares. Tastewise, Gold is subtly spicy with layers of lightly honeyed toast and gentle minerality in the finish. The mouthfeel was almost lascivious, satiny, and yet clean and crisp as all great lagers are, and this is a truly great lager. Say it quietly, but I think it is actually better than Pilz, and I would love to try a side by side tasting of this with Von Trapp's stellar Bavarian Pilsner.

With my tour de pils complete, I did move on to try other of Live Oak's offerings that day, but I had been joined by Ruvani of Amethyst Heels fame, along with the husband, and it would have been rude to take notes and pictures, so I didn't bother.

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 ...