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%
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 work 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.

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.

How Bad Can It Be…? Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer

Elgoods Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer

Last week I found myself in the same garden centre where I purchased the Elgoods Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer last year. After thinking that was an abomination, I had reservations about buying the Q.E. Cherry Wheat Beer which they also had on their shelves.

Since I’ll try anything once and Glyn said he liked it, I thought I had to give it a try. It poured a deep cherry red, with a shocking pink coloured head that didn’t last. The nose was all cherry, think of opening a can of those cherries you’d put on a 1980′s Black Forest gâteau and you’re in the ballpark.

In the mouth it didn’t really taste of beer at all, it was more of an overly sweet, fizzy cherry squash. If you liquidised the afore mentioned can of black cherries, I’m sure they was taste exactly like this did, except not as sweet. Did I mention it was sweet yet? As it started sweet and just got sweeter and sweeter.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as the Q.E. Apple & Vanilla Wheat Beer though and was crying out to be mixed with something else. I don’t know how sour their Coolship Lambic is, but I imagine that a mix of those two might work. It’s either that kind of thing, or a large chocolate stout that can dull the sweetness. As on its own, unless you like your beer so sweet it takes the enamel off your teeth, it’s really not that great.

AG #09 – Binary Star: Galaxy, Citra

Taking the temperature of the grist...

I went on holiday last August, fully intending to brew the moment I got back, I’d even produced a brew schedule for the rest of the year. As it turned out, the holiday cost a bit more than we budgeted for, which meant that I had to make some hard decisions during the rest of the year; should I brew, or go to the grand final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt, for instance. Then there was the small matter of #projectcider. I still have some unfermented must and while I’ve given back the majority of the fermenters I borrowed, both of my fermenters still have cider (in various states) in them.

My wife has made her thoughts on #projectcider well known, especially the lack of brewing beer while its all been fermenting. So a couple of weeks back, I popped into Cutlacks on Mill Road and bought another fermenter, then placed an order with The Malt Miller for some grain. I didn’t buy any hops, as I still have a freezer full, as I bought a load before we went on holiday last year. I was all set to brew again, so decided to brew the second thing that I was going to brew after coming back from holiday last year. Here’s the recipe:

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
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 90 7 15 30%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 15 8 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 10 11 8 15%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 5 20 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% days 12 to 17 54g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% days 12 to 17 38g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 21 litres
Mash 90 mins at 68°C 105 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.040 (10 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.006
Attenuation 81% 85%
ABV 4.3% 4.46%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.25*
Yeast: NBS West Coast Style Ale
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C in kitchen fridge before bottling

Unlike all the other Binary Star beers I’ve brewed, this one has three malts in it, rather than just two. I decided to try this after reading Phil Lowry’s homebrew article in BEER magazine, where he chatted to Mark Tranter. Darkstar Hophead is one of my favourite beers, so if it’s creator offers a recipe with a similar malt bill, I’d be a fool not to try it.

I know I said after my last brew that I’d take a look at proper water treatment going forward. But as it had been ten months, I just wanted to brew without the complication of an extra new step. I’ll take a look at proper water treatment on the next brew…

The brew pretty much went without a hitch, it did take slightly longer than it could have and I didn’t get to bed until 03:30 or something daft. I also went with a much higher mash temperature, 68°C, than I normally go for, 65°C, I’m not sure why I did that if I’m being honest.

The main difference with this brew, was the use of oak husks in the mash, to help avoid the dreaded stuck mash. They worked an absolute treat and I had absolutely no issues with run off, from either of the two batches. I’ll definitely be adding some of these to every brew going forward.

The only other thing that I changed, was the yeast I used. Rather than the ever reliable US-05, I decided to use one of The Malt Miller‘s own packaged yeasts, just to see what the difference would be. It seemed slower to start, with only a partial krausen after 32 hours and slower to chop down to terminal gravity. Normally I’d have dry hopped for five days and be ready to bottle, in the time it took to reach terminal gravity.

Update: 23/04/14
As the yeast had finally chomped its way through the available sugars and hit terminal gravity, it was time to dry hop. Due to the tardiness of the yeast and the fact that I was brewing another beer this evening and needed the fermenter, I was forced to use a spare keg, that was waiting for another batch of #projectcider. As I’ll only be dry hopping for five days and the cider hasn’t quite finished, there shouldn’t be any contention for the keg.

Normally I whizz up the whole hops in the food processor and add them to the fermenter. Since I was using the keg, I decided to try blending the whole hops in the Vitamix, to see if that would help release anymore hop oils into the beer. So I added the remaining Galaxy hops and enough Citra to leave half a packet for another brew to the blender and three hundred millilitres of boiled water.

To be honest, I doubt I do this again, especially if I then have to put the resulting mush into a keg. The first issue was that the hops wouldn’t really blend, they just absorbed the water and stuck in the jug, rather than dropping into the blades. Secondly, getting the hops out of the blender jug and into the keg was nigh on impossible, without two pairs of hands.

Somehow I managed it, but I’m sure that there’s a bit of paper in there, and some of the paint from the plastic place mat thing I ended up using too. I’d been planning on trying this at some point, now that I’ve done it, I’ll probably just start buying pellets, as they’ll be rather easier to use…

Update: 28/04/14
After having dry hops in for the last five days, it was time to bottle. Normally I dry hop in the brew fridge and crash cool to 2°C for the last two days. As I have another beer in there fermenting, I ended up putting the keg into one of the kitchen fridges (yes, we have two) on Friday evening and setting it to 2°C.

After rummaging around in the loft for ages on Saturday to get a load of bottles down for #projectcider, I ended up tidying up that bit of the loft, so hopefully it will be easier to get bottles down in future. I selected two different types of bottle, one for this brew and another for the other batch that’s still fermenting. My OCD means I really have to have an entire brew put into the same style of bottle (the 330ml are for giving away to friends etc).

It turns out that I prepared the exact number of bottles required, which was a bit of a worry, as I normally have one or two spare just incase I’ve miscalculated. there was a bit left over, which looked rather opaque when held up to the light. I initially put this down to chill haze, but when I look at it again this morning, I’ll claim it’s hop haze from the dry hopping. South Cambridgeshire murky, if you like…

Taste wise, the bit left over was interesting. I can confirm that Galaxy and Citra go quite nicely together and the bitterness was just what I was after. As for the malt flavours, I’m not sure, it’s hard to tell this early and without any carbonation. I think I’ll only be sure when it’s all drunk.

* I’m not sure that the GU/BU ration is correct due to the two litres of liquor back to get to the correct gravity…

Bottle Crates

Building the prototype crate...

My loft looks like a glass recycling plant, with various sizes of bottles spilling out of knackered cardboard boxes, left, right and centre. I needed to find a solution and since there was a small pile of wood in the garden, I thought I’d have a go at building a couple of prototype bottle crates.

The reason I say they’re prototype crates, is due to the wood, it was left over from a fence that was built in the garden the other year, so it quite thick. It’s not the kind of wood I’d use if I was making creates for real, but perfect for chopping up and screwing together to flush out any design flaws.

I started off my measuring the diameter of the various 500ml bottles that I have; ex Thornbridge, Oakham, Brewers & Union, Karg and Worthington’s White Shield. The White Shield bottles were easily the widest, so all the dimensions were based around creating a crate that could hold twenty four of them.

After deciding on the dimensions, it was just a case of lots of sawing, drilling pilot holes and screwing the bits together in the right order. It still took what felt like all afternoon and made me really wish I had better tools and a proper workshop. It was quite a chilly day and even with gloves on, my fingers were struggling by the end.

The finished crate, just waiting on the bottle divider...

As you can see from the photo above, the first prototype is a bit on the industrial side. It’s also full of ex Thornbridge bottles, which just goes to show how much extra space is required for those fat White Shield ones. All that is left to do is to make the internal dividers, so that the bottles don’t clink together; I have some spare lite-ply that should fit the bill.

I still need to build the second prototype, just to make sure that they will stack correctly, but I need to buy some more screws first as I’m pretty much all out. Ideally, I’d also buy one of those fancy circular mitre saws, so that all the cuts are perfect. One of those router dovetail jigs would be pretty sweet too, as then it could mostly go together with glue. But that’s all pie in the sky, if I had that kind of money to throw around, I’d be upgrading the homebrew kit…