Thursday, 31 March 2011

Elizabeth II, first tasting.

Straight from the oak (left) and unoaked (right) samples of Elizabeth II Old Ale. 

I'm happy to announce that unlike last time, no saltiness was detected at all from my barrel aged old ale. After about a month in the barrel its aromas are quite sweet, almost port like with oaky tones. Another positive was the lack of harsh alcohols that were a bit of a problem from the previous batch. The words madera like and sweet come to mind, with rich molasses. The challenger hops are still in there, but seem more abundant in the un-oaked sample, that tastes a bit more like a heavier straight-forward-strong-ale without the resinous woody notes building in the finish.

Overall I'm quite chuffed with it. Its quite balanced and drinkable, and the oak aging seems to have mellowed everything in the beer and added an extra layer of complexity. My next challenge is to get my finger out and get brewing that replacement beer so I can get the stuff bottled before it tastes like nothing but wood.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

John Bull Awarded North Nothumberland pub of the year 2011.

Landlord Gus Odlin (right) receives the award.

 Gus; "Check ma bad invincible award winning self!"

That's right, for the third consecutive year the John Bull in Alnwick is hailed by CAMRA as the North Nothumberland pub of the year. The best thing is it's my local so long live the mighty John Bull, the greatest pub in Alnwick.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Spring brewing adventures

This blog post is technically two posts in one. The first bit covers what you could call my first brew for Mordue Brewery, 10 barrels (so a half batch) of the spring seasonal, Bunny Hop, which to date has only been brewed three times. A big step for me in getting to know the kit and although some minor anomalies occurred in the process the major disasters were averted.  Highlights included a super fast transfer to FV and the raw pleasure of getting into a mash tun still half full of grain to dig it out. Hardcore.

Bringing the wort to the boil after sparging was a tricky moment. Especially with a copper that’s as wild as an untamed beast with a reluctance to boil over. A steam fired trouble maker. In fact if it was a 20 barrel brew (and the thing was full), considering where I was standing, I may well be up there with Michael Jackson Beer Hunter in that brew pub up in the sky by now.
But at the end of the day it was all great fun. At the moment things are going splendidly, my only concerns are with my beer supplies. I have plenty of viciously bitter un-named IPA and delicious P45 Brown Ale left from my brews at Daleside brewery on my own kit but am still to face the challenge of getting the kit up and running in the kitchen at home.
I need to tackle the new water chemistry, temperature controls, the kitchen layout and concerns from the wife. But I have some answers lined up;
“yes, I will clean it up afterwards”

“yes, the house will smell like a brewery for a day”

“no, it has to stay there for a week till it’s fermented”

I've been there before. But it’s all well and good having a constant supply of beer at your disposal but for my first home project that won’t be part of the objective. Rob’s Beer Quest readers will remember Elizabeth. Or Elizabeth II in this case. Well next month I plan to empty her to bottles and re-fill her with another brew before she ends up sitting around picking up infections. The question is what to brew?   
Elizabeth poses in front of the kitchen door "smile for me darlin'!"
 I know what, I thought, I’ll go old school again and do a robust porter style beer.  I’ve always wanted to do one. Then I suddenly remember an old book my dad passed down to me years ago from the Durden Park Beer Club  from 1976. As many know the Durden Park beer circle is a group of enthusiastic home brewing types dedicated to replicating old beer styles.

You can tell it's ancient just by looking at it

Although I’ve never been one to follow brewing recipes, I find the idea of trying to replicate historic beers intriguing. The recipe I have chosen to carry out is the one for a 1750s original Porter, or Entire Butt as it was called back then. An almost identical recipe from the one in the book can be found here, and if you convert the weights of grains to percentage extract contributions the grist reads something like this;
1750s Porter.
Pale malt: 75.9%
Crystal malt: 9.3%
Black malt: 4.7%
Brown malt: 10.1%

(OG: 1090 to finish at 1010-1025)

Bittered with 70-80 IBUs worth of Fuggles hops and no mention of any late hops.

It’s gonna be a beast, and a four gallon batch should nearly over fill the mash tun, so I better watch out with that. The three hour mash stand time is something Im not sure on tho, it may be shortened. I almost forgot how lovely the kitchen (/garden/driveway/entire house) smells during home brewing, so will be looking forward getting stuck in.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Brewing it for tha toon! My first week at Mordue Brewery.

Mr Millichamp, meet your new kit...

And look, a posh little shop at the entrance.

So all said and done I arrived at Mordue Brewery at the rather relaxed time of 8:55AM Monday morning. No more forcing oneself out of bed at 4 or 5am for me. Inside things become more clear. The atmosphere is youthful and laid back. The floors are super smooth and easy to clean below a nice tightly packed set of square fermenters. I meet Matt and Gary Fawson, am welcomed in to the company, and then it's time to get down to some work.

I find it interesting how different and yet somewhat similar things are here compared to my old workplace at Daleside Brewery. Things seem a bit more relaxed with less emphasis on spreadsheets, timings and various other calculations. Somethings are easier to do, other things are harder. Lunch is when ever you want till whenever you want, whereas at Daleside it was from 12 till whenever Craig and Col finished the crossword in the Daily Star (so anything between 15 and 45 minutes),

But don't get me wrong, there's plenty to do here, it's no easy ride. Matt could have well have given me that famous line from the from the film Scum; "Theres no dolly mixtures in here, poofter, I'm the Daddy and don't you ever forget it!"...

But he was a nice enough bloke not to.

Up to now I have a decent understanding of the brewing system, but have yet to independently brew my first brew. I'm very excited to find out what it will be. The kit's a bit different to what I'm used to, but like they say all breweries are individual. Some like to say one's brewery is as individual as one's woman. Treat it the right way, and it treats your beer well. Others compare them to cars, they all do the same thing but work slightly differently.

I remember my first car. An old Peugeot 106 I used to call Star Bug (after the space craft in the series Red Dwarf) with no door handles but flicky up leavers to open the doors and a radio that only worked on about four stations by manual tuning. Now I have a Peugeot 206 with power steering, air con and a digital display thing that tells you the external temperature and how many miles you have left before you need to refuel.

Brewery wise I seem to have gone the opposite direction. But I'm not saying that's a bad thing. The more simple something is the less that can go wrong. I used to love that old Peugeot, the way it throttled when you had to get it past 60mph, the way you had to force the steering wheel round on those corners. The way you could almost imagine being in a 1940s armoured fighting vehicle driving it. It never broke down and always got me from A to B. It's a bit of an exaggerated comparison on how things are between the Daleside and Mordue brew kits, but its no disappointment. After all this is the kit that's putting out those iconic North East beers and its my honour to master it.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

An evening of Beer and Cheese

So here we have it, Saturday night, a busy pub and all preparations complete. Ticket sales had forecast that we were expecting 26 customers with some possible late sales. Quite a boost from the last attempt. What was slightly concerning was that we had only just enough cheese for around 30 servings (at a push) so late surges of ticket sales would have made things tight. The principles were simple, the more people turn up the less cheese and beer they get, but in the end due to cancellations we ended up just a couple short of 26 people, meaning everyone got a more than decent serving of cheese and beer.

 Thankfully my audience was good-natured.  Plenty of old-school experienced beer drinkers, couples, cheese enthusiasts and an interesting chap from Hadrian & Border brewery called Chris Brown who I got to chat to at great length about the North East brewing scene. As a change I decided that this time I wouldn't be standing in front of everyone lecturing through each pairing. Instead I made some table cards/menus explaining everything, a much more relaxed approach.  

So from the start, here were the proceedings;

1. Van Eecke Watau Wit with Rosary Goat's Cheese

Belgian wheat beer meets nice soft fluffy goat's cheese. Yep, the exact same opening pair I used last year. It's a subtle refreshing combination that would have worked better if I'd managed to get the beer temperature just that bit colder. Even so it was still well recived.

2. Hadrian and Border Farne Island (on cask) with Northumberland Original

To some extent you have to keep it local. After trying this combination out with the bottled version I was apprehensive, though I was convinced a cask conditioned beer would lend more to this and I was right. What wasn't expected was the great number of people who thought it was the best pairing of the night. That's more than you can ask from a 4% session bitter.

3. Daleside Crackshot with Berkswell Ewe’s

Was this my swansong to my old company? You could say so, and from my mental counts I would say a good 40%-50% of everyone thought this was the best stand alone beer, and a good pairing. Originally I had these two down as substitutes so I'm glad I made the right choice.  

4. Worthingtons White Shield with Green's of Glastonbury Farmhouse Cheddar

Again straight from last year's washout. Except last year the people who were there seemed to be all over this combination, not so much this time.

5. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen with Ribblesdale Smoked ewe's

This one sure turned some heads with plenty of comments like "this is the weirdest beer I have ever tasted" and "it smells like kippers". As I say it's one of those odd-ball style hybrid type beers you don't come across so often. What makes it even more odd is that it's German. The cheese tastes a bit similar to smoked Wensleydale, with that same crumbly consistency. As expected many people didn't know what to make of this one, some liked it, others didn't.

6. Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout with Colton Bassett Stilton and Walnuts

By this point I was in my element. Talking to the clientele more or less endlessly about beer, whilst lapping up copious quantities of Imperial Stout with mighty strong blue cheese. Sadly not everyone was convinced by the clash of this one's balancing pungent intensities. Some liked the beer alone, others the cheese alone whereas the people who thought this pairing scored top seemed to be the hard core beer enthusiasts.

As some might have guessed I used Stilton for the finale of the last year's Beer-Cheese night attempt. But remembering how much financial suffering was caused by the price of Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale I found a decent, cheaper substitute in Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout. For me I would say the Old Forgorn has the edge when paired with Stilton but one of the those things I had to accept is that financially I wouldn't be able to put out all my dream beer-cheese combinations and keep ticket prices affordable.

Another thing you have to accept is that not everyone will like everything you serve up. But like I was explaining to one couple, part of the nature of craft beer and cheese is diversity. None are designed with the intention of appealing to absolutely everyone. But in the end everyone seemed to have a good time and many stopped to chat till long after the event was expected to finish. As a bonus we also got some pictures taken for the local papers.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Saying goodbye: Daleside tribute post

Well, looks like this is it, the final countdown is almost over.

My last mash. my last Sparge, and my last time scooping out the hops from the copper, my last racking session and my last transfers all await.

My Last brew will be Daleside Spring Frenzy, a 3.4% golden ale that’s easy to brew and easy to drink. I was hoping for a Bitter or Leg Over batch to see me off but it’s all cool with me. I’ve had it all now. The beer festivals, the brewing, the occasional screw ups, inventing my own beers (anyone who’s tried ‘Old Winter’s Tail’ I apologise) and enjoying the joys of life in Harrogate.

Daleside are a company with an un-compromising traditional Yorkshire attitude, an admiration for simplicity and a solid core range of beers. You could say their old school. I would and have always had the opinion that Daleside would get more publicity in the blogging world if they didn’t name so many beers with the name ‘old’ at the start of them. But old school things are cool, like Iron Maiden or Monty Python.

Personally I can’t wait to move on. Especially to a brewery I’ve been familiar with since my very first few pints of cask ale. I remember well Eric Lucas (Daleside MD) asking me what I had learned from my time at Daleside, a question that would require at least a 5000 word essay in itself to answer. But since I had only found out I had the Mordue job 20 minutes previous all I could reply in my state of mind was “lots of stuff”, which about covers it. But what I should have said was “more than I ever did from my MSc in brewing and home brewing experiences put together”, which would have been more accurate.

Being in real brewing is where I wanted to be, and that's where I am. A big thanks goes to Craig (head brewer/the daddy), Matt (Brewbo), Col (man of action) Dave (number one dray) and the rest of the Daleside crew for all the guidance, support and generally looking after me. Compared to all the other jobs I have ever had, the whole experience of my time at Daleside brewery has straight ruled beyond imagination.   

Let the countdown continue...

Three days to go.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The last of the winter beers

I usually find that not much goes on around this time of year. A few beer festivals here and there and most spring seasonal beers are released or in the making. Usually that is. This year I have an imminent Beer and Cheese Evening, some gardening and a job move to deal with. Oh, and congratulations to Dredgy for finally smashing the number one spot in the Wikio rankings recently. I'm sad to be demoted again (probably from lack of posting) but don't care at the moment because news has it my Beer and Cheese night has sold more than three tickets! Yes more than the last one (and before you ask it's not four. Or even five. It's even more than that).

But anyway, I digress. What I was really meaning to discuss was this awesome beer hailing from a relatively new Yorkshire brewery. Wensleydale Brewery Beaters Winter Ale at 8.5% was a bottle I almost put aside for next winter, and am glad I didn't. On the nose; sweetish malty chocolate and dark fruit. Palate wise it's beautifully rounded with rich fruit cake and silky smooth chocolate throughout leading to a balanced lingering bitterness and burnt grain. It's bold yet very subtle, hiding the 8.5% abv well. It's kind of reminiscent of Old Tom but far less (dare I say it) over rated.

A sound winter warmer well worth seeking out again. But from the few Wensleydale beers I have tried I have liked them, but have only really found them at beer festivals. They seem worth checking out.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Sparkler Argument

Tug the rope showdown; Holly vs Troy the westie, who do you want to win?

Ah the sparkler argument, that old chestnut.

For those who don't know. A sparkler is small plastic device that can be attached to a swan neck of a beer engine that disperses beer as it's pulled to create a creamy head. This removes CO2 from the liquid and into the head. Carbonation has obvious effects on flavour perception. For a start it reduces the perception of bitterness, which has understandable benefits for Yorkshire beers. The claim that it reduces aroma makes sense but I've still had plenty of sparkled pints with a decent aroma.

To be honest, when I first started drinking hand pulled beer I was completely unaware of sparklers or the difference between sparkled and non-sparkled beer. I take every pint as I get it. But being involved in a beer drinking community you realise that some people hate sparklers, whereas others demand them.

Some good opposing views can be found here and here. I myself would like to say I'm on the fence but recently I've been weighing-up the pros and cons. For instance I prefer mild ales and Yorkshire bitter served sparkled. But sometimes the sparkler effect can be overdone. Another advantage is that say for example you decided to borrow a hand pump and pin from work (perks of the job) to fill your home brew with and take to a party where you only had 3 or 4 hours to vent your beer, a sparklers offers a collar of foam to the unconditioned pint.

But to be honest. To be really honest, if I was a landlord and had a perfectly conditioned quality cask beer to die for, I would take that sparkler off. So whats your preference sparkler or no sparkler? The argument between old CAMRA folks can be just as dramatic as watching Holly vs Troy playing tug the rope. Who wins? Well that's just a matter of opinion, that's as relevant as the outcome of the Holly vs Troy stand off?

In the end though I do believe it was Troy that was victorious.