Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Homebrew 13 - Low ABV Pale

Brewday - 13/04/14

Boy Racer - 2.8% ABV Pale Ale

With a window of brewing opportunity presenting itself at fairly short notice, I had a look through my ingredients box and decided to do something I'd been meaning to do for a while and try my hand at a low alcohol beer. 

After a bit of calculation, the measly collection of grain and hops I had left appeared to lend itself quite well to this beer. All I needed was some yeast so I decided to use liquid yeast for the first time, seeing as how it was a bit of an experimental brew anyway. I got some White Labs WLP001.

The grain bill was mostly Maris and lager malt. I decided to use 5% torrified wheat for head retention and a bit of Munich and Crystal for flavour. The colour would have been so light with this, that I had to add 20g of chocolate malt to get the colour to hit 7 SRM, which is the kind of area I was looking for.

Grain Bill Type Amt (g) Amt (%)
Maris Otter 2095 58.2
Lager Malt 1024 28.4
Crystal 101 2.8
Torry Wheat 180 5.0
Munich Malt 180 5.0
Chocolate Malt 20 0.6
Total 3600

These low ABV beers require mashing at a high temperature for a short amount of time, to limit the conversion of starch to fermentable sugars, thus retaining body in the beer. I decided to mash at 71C for 60 minutes although in hindsight, 45 minutes would probably have done it.

I dumped a kettle of boiling water into the mash tun at the end, to try to stop the enzymes and sparged with 80C water until 32L had been collected. The OG was 1.032, which considering I was trying to make a 3.4% beer, was a little less than I had been expecting.

I used Northern Brewer, Target and Amarillo hops for no other reason than they were what I already had. I wanted to make it quite bitter and hoppy so went for 50 IBU, with decent late additions and 100g in dry hop.

After 2 weeks, the FG never made it past 1.011, which gives a strength of about 2.8% ABV, much less than I had been expecting. It's a good job I hadn't been trying to make a 2.8% beer really, as it'd have ended up as utter dishwater. This beer was a bit of a journey into the unknown but given that a short, hot mash would create less fermentable sugar, I suppose it shouldn't come as too big a surprise.

I eventually filled 37 bottles, priming with 99g of dextrose, which should give carbonation of around 2.1 volumes. Looking forward to the verdict in a few weeks.

The verdict:
Horrible! The beer looked okay, was nicely carbonated and didn't have any off-tastes but was simply not a very nice recipe. The Northern Brewer was vile and the small amount of chocolate malt seemed to have the effect of making it taste, well, like watery, weak chocolate.

Magic Rock - Un-Human Cannonball

Magic Rock have long been the subject of my main brewery man-crush. They have the best name, the best branding and make some of the best beer so when this year's release of Un-Human Cannonball came out, I had to get a bottle.

MR have a pretty logical way of classifying their pale beers by strength. 5% is Pale Ale, 7% is an IPA, 9% is a Double IPA and 11% is a Triple IPA. Quite neat, really. An 11% ale isn't exactly going to be a mass-appeal drink, so to keep it special, the brewery's triple IPA, Un-Human Cannonball, only gets made once a year using the freshest hops.

It came in a 660ml bottle, costing £12.85, which is a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle of beer in the cold light of day. Such was the excitement surrounding this year's release though, I had to have a bottle and the price was not a consideration as I simply trust Magic Rock to deliver something worth the money. Such a special beer deserved a special occasion so I waited until Giggsy's first game as manager to crack open this beauty.

The sense of occasion started well before the moment the cap came off. The bottle itself was beautiful, with the Richard Norgate artwork screen printed directly on the glass and the cap being symbolically held in place by a sticker in the shape of a pointing finger wrapped over the top. A nice touch.

My one and only criticism is that the yeast used seems to be so flocculant that it forms really big clumps in the bottle, which just don't settle and stick to the bottom. I stood my bottle in the fridge for 24 hours but it made no difference, the yeast just stubbornly hovered a centimetre above the bottom of the bottle and some inevitably made its way out into the glass.

The beer poured a lovely light amber colour and the carbonation was spot-on, with a fairly vigorous pour releasing all the aromas and resulting in a moderate, velvety head. The first sniff was fantastic, unleashing an all-out assault of hop aroma. I had to have about five big sniffs, it was so good, leading to some funny looks from across the room.

The taste was incredible - I struggle to describe tastes, suffice to say that it was a fantastic onslaught of hops. The most remarkable thing though, was how easy it was to forget that this was an 11% beer, it was so easy drinking. It was clearly a very strong beer, with the warm alcohol sensation never far away, but if asked, I've had said it was 8 or 9%.

I polished the bottle off no problem at all but have to admit that the football was getting a little out of focus by the end of it. Un-Human isn't exactly the sort of beer you'd drink regularly but once a year, it really is a special treat.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Kung Fu Ramone

I was handed this bad boy to sample as an example of the Macclesfield Home Brew club's quality output.

Made with Amarillo and Citra, it's pretty darn good. "Flawless", said Nelly, and while he's being slightly optimistic there, it's certainly one of the finest homebrews I've ever tried - hoppy (but could be more), an excellent nose, and the quintessential citrus notes. 

Excellent work.

The Kernel - Pale ale US366

A delicious, well-made pale ale, this has just enough malt background to be interesting yet is clean enough to showcase the hops. It's quite low in carbonation, meaning you can pour vigorously to release the flavour. The 366 hop is new to me and I was really impressed. Citrus and lychee were in evidence, with a bit of spicy bite too. I may try to get hold of some for a homebrew.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Huddersfield pub crawl

Last Saturday saw a rare treat for me - an actual good old-fashioned pub crawl. Dave (@belmontrivera) and Nige from work are fellow beer geeks and suggested a trip to Huddersfield, where there are meant to be a few good real ale (is that still an acceptable thing to say?) pubs.

There's something quite exciting about catching a train to go boozing in another town, with all day in front of you and no timescale to adhere to. It's the kind of thing I used to do all the time but in the days of jobs and families it now tends to happen very rarely.

We had the pleasure of sharing the journey with the "White Army". I knew it was them, because like Craig David, they liked to sing about themselves quite a lot. All the way to Huddersfield, in fact. I'd never been to Huddersfield before and have to say I was quite impressed with the place. The train station is the focal point of the town, spilling its passengers out into a lovely square.

The White Army took themselves to the Wetherspoons and we went to the HDM bar, as it was only a few hundred yards from the station. It was small and had a weird bar, which was about five foot six high for most of its length, leaving you with your nose at countertop level. There were a few keg beers and a couple of handpulls, with most of the offerings from the HDM brewery. We had a Monkey Loves Hops, which was a fine pale ale, really clean and tidy if a little restrained. It was a lovely session beer but considering the name, my impression was that it could do with more hops.

We moved on to a HDM Red Saison, which was very good indeed. Zesty and refreshing, with a hint of sour zing to it. I think we may have had something else there but to be honest, I can't remember. I do remember though, that we exhausted the beer list pretty quickly and felt the need to move on.

Next stop was The Grove. Boy, what a pub this place is. It's slightly out of town and the building itself is pretty nondescript; a typical corner boozer. The beer list though, was out of this world and by a country mile the best I've ever seen. The website says there are 18 handpulls and 14 keg lines and I can vouch for this. The range of beer was fantastic too, with everything from pale ales to barley wines on offer.

Being the massive Magic Rock fanboy that I am, I started with a Villainous IPA. Needless to say, it was sensational, with fresh fruity zing almost crackling out of the glass in the way that Magic Rock do so well. It did, however, do that thing where it shares characteristics with other beers from the same brewery, meaning this was unmistakably a Magic Rock beer. I'd previously put the distinctive MR taste down to the use of Golden Promise malt but this is apparently made from Vienna malt, so there goes that theory.

Next up was a cask High Wire, which was really bloody marvellous but not quite as good as it is from keg.

Then it was time for a Jaipur. This was the beer that started my newfound love of ale but in all my travels, I had never once seen any Thornbridge beer on draught in a pub until now. When you live in a small village with only a Robinsons and a Mitchell and Butler pub, then the opportunity to have any decent beer is pretty limited. Add to that the fact that the craft beer bars of Manchester and Macclesfield never seem to stock Thornbridge beer when I've been, and I'd started to think that Jaipur in a pub was just an urban myth but obviously not, and here was the proof:

In bottles, it's extremely impressive, with a hop aroma that stays fresh even after a month or two and is very hard to beat. On cask however, it was more restrained. It was slightly cloudy, which I don't mind at all, but that was in contrast to the bottled version, which is always totally clear. Like the High Wire, it was still a marvellous beer on cask, but (CAMRA members look away now) just not as good as from keg or bottles.

The Kernel Motueka IPAwas next. This was from keg and was bloody brilliant, with the light, lemony hop aromas fizzing out of the glass.

I'm starting to see a pattern emerging now. Keg is simply a better way of serving beer than cask, certainly for hoppy pale ales, which is what I would like to drink most of the time. There.

Having said that, it was time for a change of direction and Dave and I moved onto some more challenging styles. I could not leave without having tried a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barley wine. I'd seen a video of this fermenting earlier in the year and was keen to try some.

I would usually use "malty" as a pejorative term but in this case it would be an accurate description of a fantastic beer. It was the kind of beer I could imaging drinking on a cold Winter's night, with its cozy warming alcohol kick. For something that was a complete change of style, I really liked it.

There was time for one last beer before we had to reluctantly leave the Grove and I opted for a Thornbridge Imperial Oatmeal Stout, which at 11% was a bit of a beast.

It was everything you would want an imperial stout to be, with a luxurious silky texture and a cacophony of roasted malty flavours. It says a lot about the quality of beer on offer when High Wire, my favourite beer, was probably the least memorable one of the visit. The Grove was truly special and I hope it's not too long before I can go back.

We staggered back across town to The Sportsman. It was really busy and we had to stand up outside. I'll be quite honest and admit that I can't remember what we drank in there but it was perfectly nice. Things were stating to get a bit spinny by then.

The train ride back to Piccadilly was again spent in the delightful company of the White Army. Once back in Manchester, we headed for one last beer at Port Street, where I remember having a Quantum Black IPA. Sadly, the next thing I remember is a train guard waking me up at Crewe Station, before I embarked upon the now customary taxi ride back to Holmes Chapel.

All in all, it was a really nice day. Huddersfield seemed like a decent town and was certainly a splendid venue for a good old drink, with seemingly a pub on every corner. In a rather selfish way, I'm glad that The Grove is slightly out of town though, because that will stop it from being rammed full of punters. Being able to sit down and work through a beer board as extensive as that was a real treat.