Doctoring Beer

Pimms o'clock!

After finding out that my tongue was intact, I didn’t want to throw away the remaining Stella and Heineken, but neither did I want to drink them. So I decided to doctor them with Pimms after seeing the idea floated on Twitter.

It turns out that lime cordial or lemonade aren’t the only things you can use to turn macro lager into something that’s vaguely palatable. The French have a thing called Picon bière, which is a flavoured bitters, that is drunk as an apéritif to accompany beer in the East and North of the country. While Pimms being a fruit cup, isn’t strictly a bitters, it does have similar qualities, evidently (I’m not sure I’ve ever had bitters before, so don’t actually know). After Yvan wondered aloud on Twitter about using Pimms in beer, I had to give it a go and see what it was like.

As we had the majority of two large bottles of Stella and Heineken left over from our, not so, blind tasting, it was the perfect opportunity to see if either would be improved with a dash of Pimms. It's not worth it, really, it's not... I did consider buying some lime cordial, but thought that might bring back too many memories of being seventeen and drinking Skol and lime; a time I’d rather forget about, if I’m being honest.

I did try doctoring a whole bottle of Budvar, but I put too much Pimms in and to be honest, it wasn’t very nice, as the Pimms trampled over everything. I found that even with Pimms added to the Stella, it was still pretty rank, but turning it into a shandy with a load of lemonade at least made it drinkable. I didn’t try putting Pimms into the Heineken, as it was drinkable as a lager tops, so it seemed like a waste of Pimms to doctor it further.

So yes, it looks like you can use Pimms to pep up an otherwise underwhelming macro lager. To be honest though, it seem a rather expensive and convoluted way of drinking beer. It would be a lot simpler and easier to just buy better beer to start with.

“Have they had their tongues cut out?”

Which is which...?

According to a flurry of media reports at the backend of last week, drinkers can’t tell the difference between Stella, Heineken and Budvar. Obviously this didn’t go down too well with the folks in České Budějovice and they responded by questioning whether the mere 138 participents used in the blind-taste test had “had their tongues cut out?”.

Always one for a challenge, I decided to see if I could tell the difference between the three and seeing as how I already had a bottle of Budvar in the fridge, it was just a matter of purchasing the other two from a local supermarket. Now, I don’t have proper blind tasting equipment, black glasses, rooms with red lights, etcetera, so all I could do was get my wife to pour the three of them for me so I didn’t know which one was which.

If you’re going to try this yourself, I wouldn’t recommend having all three poured and lined up like I did, as you can tell which is which just by looking at them. The Stella is anemic and the lightest of the three, while the Budvar has the deepest colour and the Heineken is the one with the most bubbles. I tried to ignore how they looked and just tried to concentrate on how they smelled and tasted.

Surprisingly there wasn’t much to differentiate them on aroma, especially the Heineken and Budvar. Taste wise it was obvious which one was the Stella, it was much thinner and didn’t taste like something you’d want to actually drink. C, B, A... I was surprised by the Heineken, it was actually quite drinkable and I think if I’d done a proper blind-taste, I might have struggled initially to separate it from the Budvar. Having said that, for me, Budvar has more body than the other two and doesn’t get noticeably nastier the more you drink of it.

I’m pleased to say that, while it wasn’t exactly a proper blind test, I correctly identified the three glasses that were in front of me. Did I learn anything though? Yes, Stella really is quite nasty, Heineken smells pretty much the same as Budvar and is quite nice in small quantities and that I’d much rather drink Budvar than the other two any day of the week.

AG #11 – Binary Star: Nelson Sauvin, Citra

title

This brew was originally supposed to have happened at the start of July, mainly so I could enter it into the Thornbridge, Waitrose homebrew competition. Best laid plans and all that though; my entry into home brewing competitions will have to wait.

I’m normally quite excited when I get to homebrew, but for some reason I really wasn’t feeling like it for most of the day. I was very tardy in setting up and could’ve and should’ve, started a couple of hours earlier. I was also home alone with the kids, so had to juggle the brewing with looking after them, which complicated matters somewhat. This is the recipe, which is essentially the same as AG #09, except for the hops:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 90 8 15 30%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 15 9 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 10 12 8 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 5 22 8 15%
          50  
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 80°C steep 20g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 80°C steep 20g
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% dry hop, days 7 to 11 29g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop, days 7 to 11 18g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 120 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 (9.8 Brix) 1.042 (10.3 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.002 (4.2 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 96%
ABV 4.3% 5.2%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.19
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

I used the same malt bill as last time, mainly as I had to buy a kilo of Cara Gold, which was enough for six batches of this beer. But also as I blew hot and cold with the last batch, sometimes it was great, other times, a bit meh. I thought it deserved another couple of chances before deciding if we should keep it, or go back to what I was doing before.

I’d used oat husks in the mash on the previous two brews and it had a massive difference to the run off during sparging. This time it didn’t, with the run off petering out with a third of the sparge liquor still left in the mash tun, on both sparges. It wasn’t that the grain bed had set solid either, as when I emptied it, it was nice and fluffy underneath that nasty grey top.

I’m not really sure why it happened, but it meant that the wort in the boiler was rather on the murky side, as I had to jab a hole through the grain bed to get the run off going again. Which I have to say, it did really easily, so maybe that grey top on the grain bed was the issue.

Alternatively, it could be the fact that the tap on the mash tun is crap and is either on or off. It’s practically impossible to get it to trickle, as when you turn it, it jumps halfway round; I must buy a replacement before I brew again.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the mash I had issues with, as my boiler decided to play up as well. It would boil fine for a bit, then start cutting out and just simmer, even on full power. This meant that the first twenty minutes of the boil, it wasn’t exactly boiling; I think there maybe something loose in the bit that controls the temperature, so I’ll have to look into that before brewing again. It did work correctly for the majority of the ninety minutes though (after a bit of waggling), so hopefully everything will be alright, there certainly seemed to be some hot break, so fingers crossed.

I did remember to take a pre boil gravity reading though, unlike the last two brews where I’ve forgotten. It was 9° Brix, or ~1.036, with about 25.3 litres of wort in the boiler. There was quite a bit of liquid left in the mash tun, but given how prone my boiler is to boiling over, it’s best not to go far past 25 litres. This means that the mash efficiency was somewhere in the region of 76% to 77%. I’ll need to do a proper calculation to work it out correctly though, as I don’t trust the website I entered the details into.

The last time I brewed this malt base, I forgot to do an 80°C with the hops. It does add an extra half hour or so to the brew length, but it’s worth it I think. Hopefully it will add an extra layer of flavour to the finished beer along with the dry hopping that is still to come.

After chilling, I transferred it to the fermenter, I was aiming for 19 litres and got 18.5 litres, so not too bad. The gravity was a touch high at 1.046 or there abouts, so I liquored back with a litre and a half to bring it down to about 1.042, which is still slightly higher than the 1.040 I was aiming for. This all meant that the final volume in the fermenter was 20 litres, so hopefully that will mean around 18.5 available for bottling, after losses to yeast trub and dry hops.

Now it’s just a case of being patient while letting the US-05 do its thing. I’ll admit to sneaking out the the brew shed to check on it, it’s smelling wonderful. I do like the smell of fermenting beer.

Update: 08/08/14
I’ve been a bit lax with tracking the gravity on this batch, in that I haven’t checked it since putting it into the brew fridge. I should probably have check it on Wednesday evening, but the Great British Bake Off was on the telly box and I was tired. So I checked last night and the gravity had dropped to 5.2 Brix, or 1.007 or thereabouts, so I probably should’ve dry hopped it on Wednesday night, but better late than never…

So it’s three days at 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling, which means bottling should happen on Tuesday night. Except I normally go for a 100+Km cycle on Tuesday nights after work and I’m off down the pub next Wednesday, so I think I’ll have to revisit what I do when next week as I don’t want to leave this too long in the brew fridge.

Update: 13/08/14
I turned the brew fridge down to 2°C ±1°C on Monday morning, due to forgetting on Sunday evening. When I checked it after work on Monday, it was only down to 7°C, so I was a bit worried, as this was the second brew on the trot, where the fridge hadn’t got down to the required temperature. I then noticed that the fridge dial was only set to 2, so switched it all the way round to 5. When I checked again on Tuesday morning, it was finally down to 2°C. Not sure why I had it set so low, obviously it needs to be all the way round to enable it to go cold…

The bottling went without any issues, thirty 500ml and twelve 330ml bottles is quite a good return. It was interesting to see that the gravity drop quite a bit further from what it was when the dry hops went in. An alleged attenuation of 96%! US-05 is a funny old beast…

The Dimpled Mug

The dimpled mug in its natural environment...

Twitter has been alive with chatter about the dimpled mug today, after an article appeared on the BBC website heralding its return. I didn’t realise that the one true beer glass had gone anywhere…

I jest a little when I say it’s the one true beer glass, as certain styles of beer do require a certain type of glass. However, I’m not a fan of what the BBC article calls a Tulip and I positively loth the Nonic. The humble dimpled mug has been my favorite for as long as I can remember, certainly way back into my childhood. There’s just something about a tankard with a handle.

I was going to just have one sentence in this blog, essentially:

If you don’t like a dimpled mug, then you don’t like beer.

But each to their own; I’m also rather partial to a goblet and I loved the two TeKu glasses I brought back from Italy in 2010. I’m sure the hipsters will eventually tire of it and move onto something else, leaving the devoted to their one true beer glass.

You can read the article on the BBC website here and see what people have been chirping about here.

How Bad Can It Be…? Talon Imperial Stout

Elgood's Talon...

I picked up this Elgoods Quintessentially English Talon Imperial Stout in the garden centre, when I picked their Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer. I’d been warned that it wasn’t very good via a Twitter DM, but Shirley third time lucky…?

It poured a deep, dark, mahogany tinged black, with a fluffy tan colored head. The head didn’t last, dropping to pretty much nothing after a few minutes or so. The nose was all bitter chocolate and roasted coffee and was pretty pleasant.

While it felt quite full bodied in the mouth, it also felt a touch on the light side for what is labelled an Imperial Stout. The flavours weren’t as clear cut as the aromas, with little chocolate or coffee in evidence, although there was a decent level of bitterness. There was also a slight sharpness to it, with maybe a hint of sourness, although not unpleasant, it was unexpected. It was really drying though, with the aftertaste having a bit of a manky quality about it, that really wasn’t that nice at all.

I’m probably being a little critical here, but if you’re going to call your beer Talon and stick a picture of an eagle on the label, then maybe the contents of the bottle should reflect the branding? A talon is a sharp claw used primarily for hunting and we all know that big birds like Golden Eagles can carry off lambs to their eyrie and what not. What I’m getting at, is that a talon is generally found on something big and powerful, this beer is neither big nor powerful.

While it wasn’t the worst beer I’ve ever had, it wasn’t exactly the greatest either. I’m not sure if that sharpness was intentional, or just a result of bad storage at the garden centre, either way, I’ll not be rushing out to buy another bottle to find out.

AG #10 – Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin

Rolling, rolling, rolling...

After ten months off from brewing, it’s two brews in as many weeks. Mainly as this brew needs to be ready for a planned soirée next month.

I did consider brewing a dark beer as the second beer for my wife’s soirée, but figured that as I still have a mountain of hops to get though, I’d have another go at a hop burst. The last one wasn’t quite what I wanted, so a slight reduction in the amount of CARAMUNICH I and an all Kiwi hop bill and I was ready to brew.

This time I decided to actually do proper water treatment, so along with the CRS, gypsum and sodium chloride that I already had in stock, I bought some Epsom salts, as required by the calculations. I treated the water in the morning before work as per normal with Campden tablets, to rid the water of chlorine and chloramine and then added the rest of the water treatment in the evening just before turning the boilers on to heat the mash liquor.

Here’s the recipe details:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Wayermann Premiere Pilsner 3 EBC 5,001 grams 88%
Wayermann CARAMUNICH I 90 EBC 397 grams 7%
Wayermann Dark Wheat 17.5 EBC 284 grams 5%
  19 EBC 5,682 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Kohatu Whole 6.8% 10 32 9 15%
2013 Motueka Whole 5.8% 10 38 9 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% 10 23 12 20%
2012 Kohatu Whole 6.8% 5 67 10 15%
2013 Motueka Whole 5.8% 5 60 8 13%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% 5 43 12 20%
          60  
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% days 5 to 10 34g
2013 Motueka Pellet 7.2% days 5 to 10 50g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.5 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 90 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.060 1.054 (13.2° Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.011 1.011 (6.9° Brix)
Attenuation 81% 80%
ABV 6.4% 5.6%
GU/BU ratio 1 1.11
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with 2°C ±1°C for final two days before bottling

While everyone I gave a bottle of the last brew to, thought it was the best I’d brewed, I wasn’t happy with it. I thought the prickle from the malt was just a touch too high and don’t get me started on my perceived lack of hop flavour. So I used a couple of percent less CARAMUNICH I, with more pilsner malt to make up the difference, we’ll see if that delivers just enough prickle, but not too much.

Just like AG #09, I used oak husks in the mash, so again, it flowed freely into the boiler. There really is no going back now, I’ll be using those in the mash every time. As it was running off so freely, I recirculated six litres of wort (three jugs), rather than my usual four litres (two jugs). This all meant that the wort clarity in the boiler was amazing, still not as clear as some I see in others blogs, but by far and away the clearest I’ve ever had.

I made the mistake of not taking a pre-boil gravity reading, again. I’m not sure why I forgot, I was remembering. This means I can’t work out mash efficiency, which is rather annoying, as it would have been interesting to see given the use of water treatment. It would also of highlighted the fact that I’d not got enough extraction from the mash, which resulted in a post boil gravity of 1.054, rather than 1.060. I have a couple of theories why this might have been the case, I’ll need to do some calculations to confirm or exclude them.

While we’re on about the boil, this one was very lively and if I’d not been standing over it for the first fifteen minutes or so, it could have been a bit of a disaster. Out of nowhere really, I had two mini-boil overs, both of which I managed to catch just as they hit the lip of the boiler, so I lost minimal wort. I didn’t feel like I was boiling this one as hard as the last brew, so I’m not sure why this one tried to escape.

The two hop additions made up for having to stand over the boiler watching though, they really made the shed smell fantastic. The only downside to adding 250g of hops to the boiler though, is the amount of wort they soak up, I miscalculated slightly, so lost half a litre more than I was expecting. At flame out, I let the hops steep for twenty minutes before putting the immersion chiller in.

For some reason the water seemed to be running extra slowly through the chiller, which mean that I didn’t get it run off into the fermenter and into the brew fridge until about ten past two. This meant that I was an hour faster than the last brew, but the boil was only sixty minutes, rather than ninety. I’m sure I can still slice a bit of time off if I work on it. I’m looking forward to tasting this one, as a sample of the wort was very nice.

Update: 28/04/14
The date of my wifes soirée has been set, invitation have been sent out, so this beer is on a schedule, which means it needs to be bottled on Friday night. This give it two weeks and a day to condition, which is borderline at best and lunacy at worst. To meet the bottling schedule, I had to dry hop it last night, even though the gravity reading I took in the morning, only had the wort down to 1.020 from 1.054. At least that’s what I calculated it to be, but upon looking at the figures again today, it would appear that 13.2 Brix starting gravity and 6.8 Brix current gravity, gives an specific gravity of ~1.010.

I think what was throwing me, was the fact that there was still quite a decent krausen on top of the wort and not a patchy one either. The glistening creamy tan coloured yeast was covering practically the whole surface area, I did think about cropping some of it to save for the next brew, but didn’t have anything handy to collect it in.

I whizzed up the remainder of the packet of Nelson Sauvin, so about 34g or thereabouts. To this, I added 50g of Motueka pellets that my parents brought me back from their trip to New Zealand at the end of last year. It’s the first time I’ve dry hopped with pellets, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare, especially as they’ve been carted half way round the world in a suitcase.

The wort has three days to hit terminal gravity, I’ll be checking it over the next couple of nights. The brew fridge will then be set to 2°C ±1°C on Wednesday evening and I’ll bottle it on Friday evening after work. I’m looking forward to tasting a sample on Friday night to see if I can get an early indication of what it’s going to be like, I have high hopes.

Update: 03/05/14
Everyone seems to moan about bottling their homebrew, but I don’t mind it, it’s just part of the process. It’s also a couple of hours of me time in the shed, where I can listen to some podcasts or music and chill out. I might think differently if I had a bunch of corney kegs and a Kegerator setup though.

Things didn’t start so well, as I managed to smash some bottles when filling the dishwasher, I can be a bit clumsy like that occasionally. The main issue wasn’t with me though, it was with the brew fridge. Even though it had been set to 2°C ±1°C two days previously, it hadn’t dropped below 6°C. I’ve no idea why it did this and it’s not done it before, I’ll just have to see if it does it on the next batch and then react accordingly, i.e. buy a newer fridge if this one is on the way out.

It didn’t take that long, a couple of hours maybe, as I really wasn’t rushing. Then a quick clean down of all the buckets and it was ready for bed. Looking forward to this one…

Update: 04/05/14
So while I don’t mind bottling homebrew, I do find sticking labels on to be absolutley tedious. I did two batches of homebrew and two batches of #projectcider and it took all afternoon. My thighs are wrecked from all the squatting up and down to make sure the labels were going on nice and level.

While it’s tedious, it does mean they look the part…

23rd East Anglian Beer Festival

23rd East Anglian Beer Festival

Last night I found myself at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds for the 23rd East Anglian Beer Festival.

The East Anglian Beer Festival runs until Saturday the 26th, with just over 90 ales and 15 ciders on offer over the four days. This is the third year on the trot I’ve made the festival and it’s quite a nice and relaxed affair, especially on opening night. The crowd ebbed and flowed a bit, but it never got particularly busy. We were able to get a seat at a table straight away and never had to queue to order a beer, which all made for a pretty stressless evening.

All the ales and ciders on offer are local, in that they’re all from East Anglian based producers. This can lead to a few that aren’t exactly that, erm, progressive, new wave, or interesting for a beer geek. I found asking for a taste of the beer I fancied indispensable, as it stopped me from having a couple that really weren’t to my liking at all.

Highlights had to be Crouch Vale Calypso, Adnams / Camden Town South Town, which slipped down very easily and of course Oakham Ales Green Devil IPA, which was a little less tropical and a bit more oniony on this occasion. I also tried Tydd Steam Golden Kiwi and Shortts Farm Indie Ale, both of which I’d probably pass over if in a pub, to my detriment it would appear. While both were pretty nice, I should probably have had them before the Green Jack Mahseer IPA, which I found to have an odd herbal tea kind of flavour running through it.

If you’re in the area, then it’s free entry for CAMRA members, so worth popping in for an evening. I’m not sure there’s really enough of interest to keep a committed beer geek there longer than a session though.