Advent Beer: Moor PMA

I was supposed to finish on Moor JJJ IPA¹, but due to my incompetence, Thirsty had run out. So Moor Pale Modern Ale for those with a Positive Mental Attitude is the finisher instead.

Given the name, I was expecting something ultra pale. Instead, it was more of a burnished copper, marmalade colour. The loose white head sat proudly, taking its time to slowly sink back.

I struggled to get much on the nose. It wasn’t that there was nothing there, I just couldn’t determine what it was. Maybe some slightly citric aromas, maybe a bit of biscuity malt, maybe.

Lots of body in the mouth, with a lovely prickly wave of bitterness to start. A solid, slightly sweet, malty backbone supported the bitterness, allowing it to sweep through the mouth. Lingering bitter orange flavours lead into the, slightly sweet and juicy, aftertaste.

As you would expect from Moor, the execution is spot on. Very drinkable, very moorish, very good.

¹ Yes, of course I’ve had JJJ IPA before. Normally from 660ml bottles, but also on cask occasionally. Damn you high strength beer duty!!!

It’s my blog though, and as I’d not had it for about four years, or from a can. I figured that would be the perfect beer to finish on.

C’est la vie, there will be other opportunities. Merry Christmas!

Advent Beer: Moor Claudia

Notes? Who needs notes…?

It had been a long day.

At work, we’d just released the latest version of our product. Most of us retired to the pub after that, a celebratory meal. Piles of food and lashing of beer. Not for me, driving home has its drawbacks.

Home eventually, tired, cotton wool for brains. Beer, beer would be good. Notes though, I’ll have to take notes, I’ll have to blog. All I want to do is fall asleep on the sofa.

What’s in the fridge, oh, a wheat beer, I can dump the sediment in, neck the lot.

So, yes, Moor Claudia, it does what t says on the tin, drink and fall asleep be merry. Dump¹ the lot into a glass and neck it… 😴💤💤💤

¹ Yes, I know the can says store upright and pour gently, but it’s a wheat beer…

Dark Alliances

Dark Allaiance and Double Dark Alliance...

An evening of collaboration coffee stouts.

I popped into the Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road a few weeks back, I was after a bottle of Moor Fusion 2012, which they unfortunately didn’t have. They did have bottles of Dark Alliance though, which, in cask form, was one of my beers of this year’s Cambridge CAMRA Beer Festival. I’d not seen it in bottles before, so grabbed one before heading up the road to the Bacchanalia.

It’s not often I walk into the Bacchanalia and walk out again with the beer I intended to buy, there’s normally so much good stuff that I instantly become all indecisive and my careful plans go out the window. It’s really, really not that often that I go in and instantly regret buying something from Moor at Cambridge Wine Merchants first, but damn, the Bacchanalia that day was stuffed to the rafters with amazing beer.

I half joked about wishing I hadn’t bought the Dark Alliance the with Jim, who was behind the desk that day. He mentioned that they also had that on the shelves, which came as a bit of a surprise and a quick check round the corner yielded the sight of not Dark Alliance, but Double Dark Alliance. Moor Dark Alliance... So once again the careful plans I had of what I was going to buy, went straight out the window.

Dark Alliance was originally a collaboration brew between Moor and Arbor Ales, using coffee from the Clifton Coffee Company, think a hoppy coffee stout kind of thing and you’re in the ballpark. I didn’t get to try the original, but it must have been popular enough that Moor now brew it as one of their own portfolio. I think the original brew was undertaken at Moor, while the Double Dark Alliance was brewed at Arbor Ales, I could be totally wrong about that, but it would make sense.

Dark Alliance poured a really, really deep chestnut mahogany brown, so that it sat black in the glass. A tan coloured compact head was easily formed and while it dropped to a patchy covering, it lasted for a long time. The nose was all dark chocolate and bitter coffee. In the mouth it was smooth bitter dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavours, with a building bitterness that grew and grew with each mouthful. The aftertaste was a decidedly lingering affair, with hints of liquorice and treacle. It wasn’t as up front and hoppy as I remember the cask version being at the Cambridge Beer Festival, but it was still a seriously nice beer.

In a similar fashion to the Dark Alliance, the Double Dark Alliance sat coal mine black in the glass; although you could see hints of a deep, deep chestnut brown at the edges when it was held up to the light. Arbor Ales / Moor Double Dark Alliance... The head was one of those that starts really slowly, but you know if you don’t watch out, it’ll treble in size in an eye blink and spill out of the glass. It didn’t last quite as long as the head on the Dark Alliance, dropping to a patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose was all musty dark treacle and molasses.

In the mouth it was huge; it felt like you almost needed a spoon it was so thick. Massive treacle flavours washed through the mouth, almost at the expense of everything else. A bit of coffee mouth buzz, alcohol burn and bitter roasted malts completed the flavour assault, with the aftertaste giving to impression that it’ll still be around in the morning.

One final note about the bottles. As a homebrewer, there are certain bottles I like to keep, I wrote about getting the labels off them a few weeks ago. Both these beers came in 660ml bottles, which are a size that I usually keep. You’ll notice that they are different shapes though, Moor used to use the one the Double Dark Alliance comes in, but now use the other shape. A word of warning about this new bottle shape, they don’t have the same lip at the top, so you can’t put crown caps on with one of those twin handled cappers. I know this from experience, when I chopped the top off a bottle earlier in the year. I think you have to use a bench capper, as it doesn’t require the lip to grip against when sealing the cap.

Cleaning Bottles

Soaking bottles...

Stripping empty bottles of their labels can be a bit of a chore. If you want your homebrew to look the part though, it’s a chore that has to be done. Here’s a few techniques that are working for me.

If only everyone used the same kind of glue and label material, stripping them from bottles would probably be a lot easier, as there would be one commonly know way of doing it. As there appears to be almost the same number of glue and label combinations as there are breweries, it can take a while to work out the techniques required for each type. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth trying to strip the labels from certain bottles, as the level of effort required is just too high. This poses a problem, as if you only ever drink beer from breweries that use a glue that could survive a nuclear explosion, then you’re a bit screwed.

Bottles stripped of labels... In certain circumstances it’s worth taking the pain though, especially if you are after a particular bottle shape or size. Take the Thornbridge bottles, I’ve given up on taking the labels off those, as they are nigh on impossible to get off cleanly and thus require lots of extra clean up. There are loads of beers I drink that come in 500ml bottles, where the effort to remove the label is much, much less, so I just use those instead; I’m particularly thinking of German beers here. I take the pain when it comes to Moor bottles though, as I want that particular bottle shape and size; at least I did before they changed it. Getting the labels of those is a complete bitch, but worth it.

No matter what kind of bottle you have, a good long soak in hot water is a good starting place. You could, if you wanted to, put your bottles into your homebrew boiler and hold them at simmering point for twenty minutes or so as well. The idea here, it to soften the glue and if you’re lucky to have the labels float off without you having to do anything; German bottles are great for this. If you’re going to simmer them, just make sure they are completely submerged, otherwise you run the risk of getting a tide mark on the neck of the bottle, which can be brutal to shift.

Scrubbing the sticky off... Once the glue is soft, it’s time to remove the label. If you’ve simmered the bottles, they’ll be hot, so take the necessary precautions, or let them cool down first. Labels on BrewDog and Hardknott bottles come off quite easily after a soak, just try and be consistent with the pressure you use to pull them off, as stopping and starting can lead to lines of adhesive being left in the bottle. The Ridgeway Querkus bottle in the photos, has a clear plastic label on it, it came off without a fuss and left pretty much nothing behind it.

Some labels will come off and leave a very sticky patch of glue, or label base behind them, I’m looking at you Thornbridge. The Harbour Brewing bottle in the photos did a similar thing, but it wasn’t quite a sticky as some. You might also get bottles where the label and glue part company, the label floats off while the glue stays on the bottle; a bit like the Brasserie Larché bottles I brought back from France. In some cases the film of glue left behind can just be wiped off, in other cases, it’s worse than the sticky label backing on Thornbridge bottles.

If you’re lucky, all you’ll need to do after getting the label off is to give the bottle a wipe with a cloth and you’re done. If you still have any adhesive, or sticky label backing on the bottle, it’s time to use a bit of elbow grease. I’ve tried in the past to use one of those green scouring pads, but they just get clogged up and become next to useless. Clean and ready to use... I’ve also used the metal scouring pads, which suffer from the same problem, but only if used without first applying some washing up liquid to the bottle. That appears to be the key, dunk the bottle in some water, apply a bit of washing up liquid and scrub away. You should eventually end up with a clean bottle.

You may find that with some bottles, like the aforementioned Moor ones, you can’t get the labels off for love nor money. I’ve found that when the labels have had a really, really good soak, that you can rub them off with the back of a knife. Or, if they’re ultra stubborn, the sharp side of a good chopping knife. It’s a lot of effort, but if you really want that size and style of bottle, you’ve no choice. You’ll most likely have to scrub the bottles quite a bit after the scrapping of the labels too.

Have you found a better way to get the labels off bottles…? If so, please let me know!

Update

I have tried BrotherLogic‘s oven method and can confirm that it works, sort of. I set the oven to 120°C, popped the bottles in and gave them ten to fifteen minutes. Then using a sharp kitchen knife, it was easy to pick a corner of the label off the bottle and then pull the rest of using my hand. Depending on the bottle though, the label would either come off cleanly, or leave all the glue behind it. I’ve found that this is the only easy way to get labels off Prosecco and Cantillon bottles, for example. I’ve also found this this method doesn’t necessarily mean that labels on Moor bottles will come off, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I have no fucking idea what glue they use, but I really wish they’d use a different one…

Update

Thornbridge's new embossed bottles...Just a quick update about Thornbridge bottles, as they’ve changed. There are three labels on a Thornbridge and they’re all different, it’s the back label that seems to cause the most grief, the residue left by the other two cleans up with minimal fuss. However, they’re now using custom embossed bottles that have the Thornbridge T embossed around the shoulder, so if you don’t like using embossed bottles, you’ll have to find another source for this style.

Update

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I stumbled across this, I think someone tweeted about it, but it’s been ages. Anyway, evidently peanut butter will remove label glue from your bottles, this I had to try. So I popped into a local supermarket and bought their own brand smooth peanut butter, I wasn’t about to waste my decent wholenut chunky on an experiment like this, and gave it a shot.

As you can see from the photos, it didn’t really work. I did pick the bastard of all bastard bottles though, as they were from Oakham Ales. The labels on Oakham bottles come off really easily, but the glue, my [insert favorite diety here] the glue! One bottle can clog a metal scourer, no matter how much washing up liquid you use. They’re a complete nightmare, which is why I choose them for this experiment.

The peanut butter did take a bit of the sticky off, so they weren’t quite as sticky to the touch, but they still required an obscene amount of scrubbing to get all of the sticky off. The bottles then required a good clean, as peanut butter is oily and the bottles had an oily residue left on them, even after all the scrubbing.

I’m in no rush to try this technique on any other kind of bottle, especially when other labels come off so easily. Your milage may vary though, as there are a few US based websites promoting the technique. Maybe their peanut butter has something else in it that helps, I don’t know…

Update

The Ormskirk Baron has tweeted me a couple of times with his technique, which is to pour boiling water into the bottle and leave it for a bit. He (and a few others to be fair) claim this is all that is required and that the label and glue will them come off. Can’t say I’ve had much luck with this to be honest, as the labels either rip, or leave the bits of glue behind.

I’m also not sure about the environmental impact of having to boil the kettle lots of times if there are more than two or three bottles to de-label. Kettles aren’t exactly the most energy efficient and I can fit a whole box of bottles into the oven in one go, where I’d have to boil the kettle a minimum of four times (my kettle holds 1.7 litres, so depending on the bottle size).

Again, your mileage may vary and it might work better with certain bottles over others, you’ll just have to try.

AG #03: Binary Star – Galaxy Amarillo

I’ve not brewed for about twenty months, mainly as we were having an extension built, but then mainly due to being lax. After finally getting the brew fridge up and running the other week, which I’d been using as an excuse not to brew, it was time to finally pull the proverbial finger out and get a brew on. Fitting a brew in round a young family can be challenging though, as I’m not allowed to spend a whole weekend day on one of my hobbies and ignore the family.

It wasn’t so much of an issue when I was doing the extract/partial mash brews, as they could be all done and dusted in an evening. The initial plan was to take a Friday afternoon off work and brew into the night, although I just don’t have enough spare holiday this year to be doing that. This didn’t leave many options, but one that was suggested on Jims Homebrew Kit Forum, was to split the brew over two days; getting the mash done in the evening, then doing the boil early the following morning.

So that’s what I did at the weekend; mashed in on the Saturday evening while my wife was out and then got up at five o’clock on the Sunday morning and completed the boil and clean up. In fact, I actually started on Friday, as I needed to give all the containers a really good clean, they were quite manky from having sat unused in the shed. So I picked up some VWP at lunchtime and spent the evening up to my elbows with a cloth and shower head getting all the grime off.

Here’s the recipe I was working to, I was aiming for something pale and very hoppy, with an OG of 1040 and 50 IBUs. I wanted to keep the grist simple, as I had done in my first two all grain attempts, there’s plenty of time to experiment with other grains once I’ve got back into the swing of things. I have a load of hops that need used up, they were all bought a couple of months before I stopped brewing, as I thought I could fit in a few more brews before the extension was started, but I didn’t manage to fit any in. Wanting to use up as many as I can in each brew is the main reason why there is 150g of hops in the brew. The other 50g of Amarillo will go in the next brew, along with 100g of Simcoe, my fifth and sixth all grain brews will feature even more as I try to use them all up.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3586 grams 92%
CaraPils 4 EBC 312 grams 8%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 90 9 40%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 20 6 15%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 11 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 10 10 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 5 18 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 80°C steep 30
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% days 6 to 11 27
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 6 to 11 21
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 12.3 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 66.9°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.060
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.011
ABV 4.9% 7.1%
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I batch sparge, as while I have the kit to do fly sparging, the mash tun isn’t quite square enough and I’d rather not have to worry about getting water flow rates equalised when my mash tun tap is so crap. I don’t mind having to use a few hundred grams more grain to offset the loss in efficiency, as it makes life alot easier. Having said that, I didn’t actually do it properly on my first two brews, as I mashed in with both the mash liquor and the first batch top up liquor. Having read this article on batch sparging on Jim’s Beer Kit, I did it properly this time and used the right amount of water for the ninety minute mash.

I was aiming to mash at 66°C, but let the strike temperature of the water get a few points of a degree too high. I also didn’t recheck the temperature of the grain once it had gone into the preheated mash tun, so this all resulted in the temperature creeping up to 66.9°C. I wasn’t too bothered to be honest, as having a bit of extra body would theoretically help to carry the bitterness. When the ninety minutes was up, the mash had only lost about a degree and a half, which wasn’t too bad, although I’d still like to insulate the mash tun lid with some two part epoxy foam.

The first batch sparge went without incident. In a change from my previous brews, I made sure that I recirculated a decent amount of wort to enable the grain bed to settle and act like a filter. In the past I’ve just used a couple of 500ml jugs worth and felt that the wort in the boiler was a bit on the murky side. So I dug out an old 2.2 Litre jug from my old darkroom kit, that I had last used about nine years ago. After recirculating three jugs worth, the wort was much, much clearer and I let it run into the boiler. I was after 12.3 litre from each batch sparge and as you can see from the photos, I pretty much hit that on the button with the first batch.

For some reason, after filling up the mash tun with the second lot of sparge water, I left it to sit for about twenty minutes before starting the run off. This is what I did on the first two brews, but for the life of me I can’t remember why; I must have read it online somewhere. In a similar fashion to the first batch, I decided to recirculate three jugs of wort, before draining into the boiler. The first jug was cloudy, but the second was really, really clear and in hindsight, I should have just let it run into the boiler at that point.

To cut a long story short, I managed to get a stuck mash, twice. I managed to free up the grain bed with a bit of stirring, I just hope that hasn’t released too many off flavours from the grain, but I had no way of underletting to try and refloat the mash, so it was the only option. After recirculating another couple of jugs, I started to let it run into the boiler, but the mash stuck again with only about half of the required volume transferred. This time there was no recovering it and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get more than a few drops out of the tap. It was at this point I discovered that I’d also dislodged the copper grain filter, so I knew the game was up.

I was after 24 litres in the boiler, I got about 19, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it did mean the wort was much stronger than anticipated. After tweaking the recipe in BeerEngine to account for the new OG and volume, the hop weights had only changed by a gram or two for the same IBUs, so I decided to stick with the original weights. I cleaned up as best I could and stumbled off to bed at around one o’clock.

When the alarm went off four hours later at five o’clock, I won’t lie, it was very tempting to just switch it off and turn over, but I didn’t. I got up, dressed and took the boiler out to the shed, where it was plugged in and on to full whack within ten minutes. After making myself a strong coffee, I got all the hops out of the freezer and started to get everything else I need out to the shed. It was at this point I realised that I’d not fitted the hop strainer to the boiler before the batch sparges, which meant having to plunge a rubber glove covered arm into 80°C wort to get it wedged into place.

I made a conscious decision to boil at a higher power than I have in the past. I’ve seen loads of photos of other peoples homebrew days and they all seem to have more hot break than I do, so I boiled harder to ensure I’d get a good hot break for a change. This had the side effect of increasing the expected boil off though and all the steam produced, also made the shed ceiling drip with liquid. I think I’m going to have to build some sort of extractor hood to fit over the top of the boiler, as it can’t be good for the shed to have that much hot moisture inside it.

Other than that, the boil was pretty uneventful, the hop additions all went in on time, as did half a protofloc tablet. I let the wort cool down to 80°C and then added a big load of hops to steep for twenty minutes to half an hour before getting the chiller on. I had a slight issue with the jubilee clips holding the rubber tubing to the chiller letting a tiny amount of water drip out and into the boiler. I need a better way of securing the tubing to the chiller, I’ll need to see if I can get some sort of John Guest fitting, or other compression fitting that I can secure onto the chiller ends.

Once the wort hit 23°C, I drained the boiler into the fermentation bucked, sprinkled a packed of Safale US-05 onto and gave it a quick mix with the mash paddle. Then the lid went on, the air lock was fitted and it was placed into the brew fridge, with the TC-10 set to 19°C with bounds of ±1°C. I then quickly emptied all the containers, quickly piled everything up and went back to join the family.

I was expecting to clean all the kit thoroughly in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but I managed to fit it in while dinner was cooking. Over all, if I add up all the time taken, the split brew and clean up took nearly ten hours, my first two all grain attempts were both done and dusted in under eight. I know the stuck mashes didn’t help, but I think that I always slow down at the end and don’t get things cleaned up and put away as fast as I could, so there’s plenty of room to make this kind of split brew day go a lot faster.

Even though I know I’ve not brewed for a while and that my first five to ten all grain brews were all going to be about learning, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. I’m pretty sure that I caused the stuck mash and forgetting things like fitting the hop strainer to the boiler, which I’ve done before, is annoying to say the least. Mostly I’m annoyed at how little volume I ended up with, I was shooting for 19 litres, I ended up with a touch over 12. So I’m going to have to do some calculations to work out boil off and losses to hops etc and feed that back into the calculations for the next brew.

Having said that I’m disappointed, it’s really great to have finally brewed again after so long. The wort I tasted from the sample jar after taking a gravity reading, tasted really sweet and quite full bodied. While it was also really bitter, it wasn’t harsh or astringent like my previous attempts, so I’m hopeful the campden tablets have done their thing and that the hop combination will result in a really flavourful beer.

I’ll be updating this post with more details on the beer, like terminal gravity and theoretical ABV etc. There’ll also be more photos of things like the dry hopping and bottling and maybe even some tasting notes. In the meantime, here’s the photos from the brew day(s):

Update: 21/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning and took a gravity reading. There was little point in correcting for temperature, as 0.0005 of degree doesn’t really have much impact on the actual reading of 1.020. So I’m toying with dry hopping it this evening, as I’m expecting it to finish higher than anticipated due to the higher mash temperature.

Update: 23/03/12
I should really have taken a gravity reading and dry hopped last night when I got home form work, but I was too tired. So once the family was all up and fed, I popped out to the shed to take the gravity reading and see if the beer was ready for dry hopping. Just like Thursday morning, the temperature correction wasn’t really worth worrying about, so I’ll take it as reading 1.012, it’s getting there.

I mixed up a fresh batch of StarSan, mainly as I didn’t want to start on the peracetic until the next brew. After spraying the food processor bowl, I weighed out the remaining Galaxy hops, and enough of the Amarillo to leave 50g for the next brew. Then after whizzing them up for a few minutes, it was back out to the shed to sprinkle them into the fermenting wort.

I’ll give them two to three days at 19°C, before crashing the temperature down to to just 2°C for another couple of days before bottling. The idea being to precipitate out as much of the dry hop, yeast and trub as possible. This would mean bottling on Thursday night after work however and as Thursday is my wife’s birthday, I think I’ll probably be waiting till Friday…

Update: 27/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning before work, as I needed to fiddle with the brew fridge. First I gave the dry hops a gentle stir, which released loads of luscious aromas, can’t wait to actually try this brew. Then I switched the thermostat down to 2°C, I’ll find out when I get home if that’s actually worked or not. Finally I popped up into my loft and got down a box of bottles, which need to be soaked to remove their labels.

For some reason I thought that this Thursday was my wife’s birthday, it’s not, it’s next Thursday. I also forgot that it’s Easter weekend, so I have Friday off work. Due to this mind muddle, I’ll be bottling on Friday, when I have more free time, hence why I waited until this morning to turn the temperature on the fridge down.

Update: 30/03/12
The last update saw the brew fridge thermostat being set to 2°C, unfortunately when I got home that evening, the low level alarm was flashing. I couldn’t remember which setting was the one to adjust it and I couldn’t find the instructions (turns out they were in my bedside table), just as well it was really cold that night. The following morning, I changed the low level alarm setting from 16°C to 0°C and left the fridge to it.

As the weather was due to be really cold, I decided to take the bucket out of the fridge on the Thursday night. Mainly so that any disturbed trub would have time to settle out over night. I also soaked twenty three bottles in hot water, so that I could take their labels off. This worked wonderfully well, even with the Oakham Green Devil and Moor labels, which are quite hard to get off. This meant that on Friday I just needed to clean the new bucket and syphon tubing I’d bought and crack on with the bottling.

So on Friday morning, after I’d got back from the gym, I made up a priming solution of spray malt and water, cleaned the bucket and tubing, put the bottles through the dishwasher and headed out to the shed to crack on with it. The temperature corrected specific gravity was 1.011, which is pretty much exactly the 81% attenuation you’d expect from US-05. This means a rough ABV of around 7.1%, which is ever so slightly higher than the 4.9% that I was aiming for originally!

The filling went without hitch, although I should have filled all twenty 500ml bottles, before filling the three 660ml ones, as I was left with two and a half empty bottles. However, upon trying to put caps on the 660ml bottles, I managed to snap off the top of one and crack the other two. I didn’t realise that this type of 660ml bottle doesn’t have the required step at the bottom of the neck to engage the capper. So whatever you do, don’t use the new style Moor bottles, which are the same one’s that Oakham’s Green Devil comes in, without a bench capper.

In the end I managed to fill all twenty 500ml bottles and there was enough beer left in the 660ml bottles that I could have had at least another one, if not two 500ml bottles. So I’m a bit disappointed, but you live and learn. If I’d used the old style Moor bottles, the same ones that Punk IPA comes in, there wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beer is currently sitting in the brew fridge, which has been set back to 19°C. It’ll be in there for a week or two while it conditions. I’m looking forward to trying a bottle, as the taste out of the sample jar was quite nice. I’m not however, looking forward to sticking twenty odd labels on…

Update: 07/04/12
I stuck the labels on all the bottles yesterday, they’re now looking pretty cool. Definitely the best looking batch of beer I’ve made so far. While I won’t be opening any for another week, I’ve put a load into the kitchen fridge, as it gives me something to look at when I open the door. Nothing worse than an empty shelf which should be full of beer…

Update: 30/04/12
And then it was gone! Without even realising it, I drank the last bottle yesterday evening. I was quite sad when I discovered that I didn’t in fact, have another couple of bottle stashed in the cupboard upstairs. For an accident, it was a really tasty beer. Yes, it had lots of issues, not enough carbonation, a bit too cloudy, no head retention, but it had bags of flavour, a great bitterness and the best nose of any beer I’ve made.

I have to say that the combination of Galaxy and Amarillo hops worked really well, especially with the Galaxy to the fore. I’m definitely going to brew with Galaxy again, maybe even in a single hop beer, so I can full understand the flavour.

Is Craft Beer Going Mainstream?

My Twitter timeline has been pretty full today, full of Iron Maiden and FHM; not exactly common bedfellows it has to be said. Evidently, this months FHM features a load of craft beer, as you can see from the image above. The double page spread appears to have beers from some of the bigger craft beer purveyors like Thornbridge and Dark Star, plus some from the newer, or less well known ones like Wild Beer Co. and Tiny Rebel. I’ve not actually seen the issue in question, as my local Tesco didn’t have any copies of FHM in stock when I popped in at lunch, Hopefully they’ll have some in at some point this week so I can have a proper look, as evidently, there is also a six page article featuring that Scottish brewery.

It makes me wonder though, what with events like Craft Beer Rising having just been, SIBA Beer X (with a cracking craft keg list) just about to kick off and the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Birmingham Beer Bash and Independant Manchester Beer Convention all still to come, are we at a tipping point? Now that lads mags like FHM are running craft beer articles, are we about to see craft beer going mainstream?

By mainstream, I mean not niche. We beer geeks live in a bit of a bubble, we’re pretty irrelevant in the big scheme of things, a tiny enclave in a world of industrial beer. I doubt that a few hipster beer festivals and lads mags articles are going to change the drinking habits of the majority of the beer drinking population, no matter how much we hope they will. However, I’m assuming the target audience for FHM is mainly late teens, early twenties, so they have the vast, vast majority of their drinking lives ahead of them. If even a few of them become curious due to articles like this and start asking for some of these beers in their chosen night time drinking establishments, then maybe, just maybe we might start to see a few places dabble with getting some more interesting beer in stock. That has to be a good thing, no…?

Update: here’s Hardknott Dave’s take on being one of the featured breweries

You Can’t Take It With You

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was going to spread my wings a bit and start trying more beer, rather than always going for the perceived best that a brewery makes. That would have been a smashing idea, if I actually had any money. Gone are the days where I could walk into the Bacchanalia and blow £70 – £100 a week on rare and expensive beer. I blame building an expensive extension to the house, the financial meltdown and the fact that everything seems to have got all expensive all of a sudden. Either way, I’m totally skint and the beer fridge is empty.

One thing I have done though, is lay down a load of bottles for a rainy day. As you can see from the photo, there’s quite a collection from various breweries. I’ve never really had a plan when it’s come to ageing stuff though, I’ve just chucked it in the cupboard and tried to forget about it. I’ve not really thought about how long things should be aged for and when they’ll be at their peak and ready for drinking. Some are pure experiments, like the Orval Project (more on that in a future blog post), but most have just been set aside for some unspecified point in the future.

"Death twitches my ear;
 'Live,' he says... 
 'I'm coming."
               ― Virgil

We’ve all seen Dead Poets Society and the numerous motivational quotes extolling us to Carpe diem, Seize the Day. So I’ve decided that it’s time to drink some of the stash, what rainy day am I waiting for? All those BrewDog Abstrakt bottles, why am I holding on to them when most of them are shite? I could drop dead tomorrow from an aneurysm, never knowing what that bottle of Marble Special 2009 tasted like. Unless I’m holding onto a beer for a very particular reason (that 750ml bottle of the original Hel & Verdoemenis 666 is for my 50th birthday for instance), it’s going to either get drunk, or have a date put on it for when it will be drunk.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, 
 find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their 
 island of opportunities and look toward another land. There
 is no other land; there is no other life but this."
                                             ― Henry David Thoreau

Why wait for a rainy day that might never come…? You can’t take it with you.

Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival

There’s two reasons why I’m blogging about an event that happened nearly two months ago, but we’ll get to those reasons shortly. I wasn’t even supposed to be up in Scotland that weekend, but my Grandma died and the funeral was on the Saturday. As I had a few hours to myself on the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, I decided to try and get to a few of the participating pubs and try some of the beer on offer.

Friday saw me charge from Waverly station up to Bow Bar, where I managed to sink a few halves and start an argument with the bar on Twitter. I’m still sure that Buxton Axe Edge tasted of garlic. Next stop was the Red Squirrel on Lothian Road, a pub I’ve never been in before, but it seemed nice and had a good selection of beer. It was just a shame there was so many suits in the place for their end of week after work pint. But that did mean there was the opportunity to try and steer a few of them off the San Miguel and onto some of The Kernel’s India Pale Ale Galaxy.

It was a short wander from there to The Cambridge Bar on Young Street, although I have to say I wandered right passed it and had to ask for directions in Rebus’ favorite pub The Ox. I was running short on time by this point, so after just a half of Kernel Pale Ale Amarillo, I hot footed it to The Stockbridge Tap and beer paradise. I’m a big fan of the Moor Beer Company and while I can get some of their bottles locally, we hardly ever see their beer on cask, with only the odd one popping up every now and then in The Mitre.

It looked like nearly all of The Stockbridge Tap’s hand pumps and keg lines had been given over to Moor Beer, it was an amazing selection. To be honest, I could have just gone straight there and drank Moor Beer all evening and left a very happy man. Even though there were beers there that I’d not had before, I had to have a JJJ IPA, especially as they no longer sell bottles of it in the UK any more, which was followed in short order by an Old Freddy Walker.

My final beer before having to head off was a Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Aged Bearded Lady and it was as amazing as I’d hoped. While in The Stockbridge Tap, I had a quick chat with both Andy from Summer Wine and Rich from Magic Rock, although I’m not sure I made much sense; three halves of strong beer in forty five minutes on top of all the other beer and walking, had left me a bit squiffy…

I was back in Edinburgh relatively early on the Sunday morning, which was a mistake, as I’d forgotten all about the Scottish licensing laws. So I pitched up at The Caley Sample Room an hour too early for them to be able to serve me any beer. It was gutting looking at the pump clip for the Moor Crockle Grog and knowing I wouldn’t get to try any. Things didn’t get any better when I got to Cloisters as it was still shut, things were not looking good.

I decided to take a quick wander up Bruntsfield Place to see if an offie I’d been told about was open. As it happened Drinkmonger was open and they had bottles of Tempest Brave New World IPA nestled into a great selection of Scottish and international beer. With my bag slightly heavier than before, I wandered back to Cloisters and straight into the arms of a Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop. I’ve never had any Bristol Beer Factory on cask before, so it was a real treat to be able to try a couple. I do wish they were more readily available around these parts.

My next stop was The Southern Bar, where I only had time for a half and had to make the agonising decision between a Summer Wine Dr Paracelsus’ Bombastic Indigo Elixir and a Kernel India Pale Ale Summit. Decision made and beer quaffed, I hot footed it around the corner to the Great Grog Shop to buy some more Scottish beer to bring home. I’m going to have to go back there next time I’m up the road, as it’s a fantastic place with a great selection of beer.

The wander down to Hollyrood 9A was a bit of a chore, as my bag was now rather heavy with all the beer, but the three beers I managed to try there made the sore shoulders worth while. Firstly Summer Wine Oregon, a fantastic American Pale Ale, secondly, Tempest Pale Ale on cask and keg, the cask just edged it for me. Finally Magic Rock’s Clown Juice, which meant I kept up my record of having tried every single beer they’ve made.

It nice to finally meet a load of people I only know via Twitter, BeerCast Rich and DanDanGlover to name two. It was also great to meet Summer Wine’s Andy (thanks for the first class train tickets!) and Magic Rock’s Rich again, both great guys. Finally, a massive shout out to both Bruce Gray and Chris Mair of Craft Centric for organising the whole thing. It was fantastic to see so many pubs coming together to celebrate some of the best beer that these Isles produce, they should all be applauded for making it happen. I’ll have to seriously consider “visiting my folks” if they do another one next year.

Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a long and rambling post, it was supposed to be short and to the point, so back to the two original reasons for it. Firstly, I’m going to review all the beer I brought down the road with me, while I don’t really enjoy doing reviews, the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt is upon us and I need the practice. So look out for three or four posts in the coming days.

Secondly, I won first prize in the Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival raffle, which is a brew day with Summer Wine!

To say I’m excited is an understatement…

Bath Ales

I often wander into Waitrose or Sainsbury’s to see if they have any new and interesting beers on the shelves. After looking around, I normally pause over the Bath Ales bottles thinking that this time I should buy some, but I always end up buying some Thornbridge Jaipur or Fuller’s 1845 instead. It’s the same story when I go into Cambridge Wine Merchants on Bridge Street in town, they have a really good selection of Bath Ales, but I always end up buying some Moor instead.

I’m not sure why I pass over Bath Ales so much, I suppose it’s my love of all things Thornbridge and Moor that often means other beers don’t get a look in. There may also be some preconceived notion that they’ll be a bit on the traditional side and I’ll thus be disappointed. After all, it’s easier to spend your hard earned cash on something you know you’ll like, rather than take a chance of something you’re not sure you’ll enjoy. Nothing worse than knowing you passed up on some Jaipur or Revival while drinking an average beer.

While life’s too short to drink crap beer, it’s also too short to drink the same stuff week in week out, no matter how good it is; variety being the spice of life and all that. So a few weeks back I decided to take the plunge and bought all the different Bath Ales bottles I could get my hands on, here’s what I thought of them:

Ginger Hare, 3.9%

Poured a pleasing light amber colour, with a rocky white head. The head didn’t last and while wasn’t too hard to get going, you just knew it would fade quickly. The nose was full of sticky stem ginger in syrup notes. In the mouth it was just a tadge on the too light of body for my tastes, with just a hint of wateriness creeping in round the edges. The flavours were pretty subdued, with the ginger being subtle, rather than burn your mouth off, but not too subtle that you were left wondering how much they’d actually put in. That coupled with the pleasant initial malt flavours and the lightly bitter lingering aftertaste, made for a seriously quaffable beer. One of the nicer ginger ales I’ve had.

Golden Hare, 4.4%

Poured a crystal clear golden colour, with a good fluffy white head. The head took a while to get going, but formed quickly there after. Although it hung around for a bit, it did eventually disappear completely. I didn’t get a whole lot on the nose, just some malty cereal notes. In the mouth it was pretty full bodied, and nicely balanced. There was a definite subtle cereal quality to the malt flavours, which were then replaced by a juicy mouth prickle and a soft fruity and slightly bitter aftertaste. A nice solid beer.

Gem, 4.8%

Poured a chestnut brown colour with a large rocky, slightly off white head. The head dropped fairly quickly, and settled at a thin skin over the top. Not much on the nose, except for some dark cerealish malt notes. In the mouth it was sort of full bodied, but I thought it didn’t feel as full bodied as it was, due to all the mouth watering juiciness. It was certainly a malt driven beer, with the slightly dark malty flavours running all the way through to the finish. Even the slight bitterness couldn’t quite get through the malt, even at the end. Pretty nice though.

Dark Side, 4%

Poured a near jet black, with just hints of brown round the edges. The light tan coloured head was slow to get going, but ended in a decent size. It didn’t last though and disappeared completely, fairly quickly. The nose was chock full of roasted notes, with maybe hints of coffee. In the mouth it was medium bodied, maybe a tadge on the thin side, but easy drinking because of it. It was smooth, with drying, subtle roasted flavours. It had a nice bitter tickle in the middle, which lingered in the complex roasted after taste. Very nice indeed.

Barnsley, 4.5%

Poured a lovely mahogany colour with an off white, slightly tan coloured head. The head was slow to form, but ended up quite large. Although it didn’t last long and dropped to a skin fairly quickly. The nose had some soft, subtle burnt toffee, treacle type notes. In the mouth it had a nice soft burnt toffee thing going on, which lead to a lingering stewed fruit juicy mouthwateringness (is that even a word…?). It didn’t feel particularly bitter, being mainly malt driven, but it felt like there was a bit just before the after taste cut in.

Wild Hare, 5%

Poured a deep straw colour, not quite a light amber, but getting there. The fluffy white head that formed slowly, wasn’t that big and didn’t last very long, before dropping to a ring round the edge of the glass. I didn’t get much on the nose to be honest, maybe a hint of some subtle marmalade type note, but nothing that stood out. In was initially pleasant in the mouth, but then I thought there was an odd cereal type flavour that I didn’t really like, that came to the fore. It didn’t dominate, but I found it detracted from my enjoyment of the rest too much, which was a shame. While It had quite an aggressive mouth feel, it was nicely balanced with some good bitterness that wafted down the after taste along with a load of juicy mouthwateringness. Sort of enjoyable, but disappointing at the same time.

I thought all but the Wild Hare were pretty decent, the Dark Side being my pick of the bunch; I thought it was really nice and would love to try it on cask. I didn’t get on with the Wild Hare, but I don’t believe you can judge a beer on one tasting, well in most cases you can’t, so I’ve bought another bottle to give it a second chance.

Was my money well spent though, or did I wish I’d rather bought some Jaipur or Revival? Overall I’m quite happy I tried them, I can’t say I was disappointed by any of them, other than the Wild Hare. I’d definitely give them a go if I ever saw them in a pub, especially the Dark Side. Wither I’ll be buying bottles regularly or not though, I can’t say, it will as ever depend on my mood and whim.

Advent Beer – Past Masters XX Strong Ale

I’ve really not been going a good job of keeping up with the Advent Beer this year. I blame last weeks illness that saw me off work for three days, nothing to do with laziness… I’m still a beer behind, due to all the nights off I’ve had, but I should be caught up by tonight, just in time to slip back again, as I’m off down the pub with friends tomorrow. Anyway, onto the first of many updates today, Fuller’s Past Masters XX Strong Ale.

I had this beer last week and am writing this from some audio notes I took while drinking it, so I apologise in advance if it doesn’t make much sense. Evidently it poured a classic olde English marmalade colour, or a burnished copper brown if you preffer, with an slightly off white head. I thought it smelt like a Fuller’s beer, I think that just like 1845 and their Vintage Ale’s, the aroma has a certain quality about it that you don’t get from anyone else. There was a freshness about the nose as well, with subtle marmalade notes and hints of that yeasty, mustiness you sometimes get with bottle conditioned beers.

It didn’t look particularly lively in the glass, but it felt quite lively in the mouth. A good malty body gave way to that classic British hop juiciness and a lingering, slightly drying after taste. It was very complex, especially at the start and I was having trouble getting my thoughts out, that would have been the man flu. As I normally do, I jot down a few thoughts at the start and then again near the end of the glass, just to see if my opinion has changed. I didn’t get the chance with this beer though…

I had about a third of a glass left and was just having a quick conflab with my wife, when our kitten decided to knock my glass off the side table. Obviously it wasn’t intentional, the evil little git, but he broke my favourite Moor stemmed glass and wasted a third of a bottle of one of the best beers I’ve had this year. I wasn’t impressed. I’ve since been to Sainsbury’s, twice, to buy more and I’ll probably buy more next time I’m there.

I was seriously impressed. I know it would probably have tasted slightly different back in the day, but I can’t help feel a touch of jealousy for those alive at the time when this beer was around in it’s original incarnation. I really, really hope that Fuller’s do raid the archives and make more Past Masters beers.

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