Friday, 15 December 2017

A visit to Brasserie de la Senne

Help me!
The forth day of the IBD study tour of Belgium started with a visit to Lambrechts to hear about keg washing and filling. It was interesting stuff, and I did ask them for a quote on some equipment, but I know you're only here for the beer so I'll move swiftly on to our next stop Brasserie de la Senne.

We were shown round by one of the owners, Yvan de Baets. He is a big fan of British beers, and mentioned his fondness of Harvey's Best. The brewery was originally started in 2004 using kit made from old dairy tanks. After two years they moved to cuckoo brewing  at De Ranke until they were able to re-start in Brussels in 2010. At the current site they brewed 9000hl last year and are planning to move again to a new site soon.

The beers are brewed for balance and drinkability with hop, malt and fermentation flavours coming through so he doesn't use new world hops: 95% of the hops used are German or Slovenian. One Saccharomyces yeast strain is used (though a Brettanomyces strain is also used in some beers).

To get the right ester profile in the beers flat, wide fermenting vessels are used. This keeps the hydrostatic pressure low. He also said this means less amino acids are used during fermentation so the beer has better mouthfeel. The large fermenting vessels are filled to a depth of 2m, and the smaller ones to only 1m.

The mashing temperature profile is 45-62-72-78°C, though the times are varied for different beers. Some beers are re-fermented with a Brettanomcyes bruxellensis strain found in the wild by a homebrewer in Brussels. Some beers are also barrel aged.

They have a 20hl brewlength and brew twice a day, six days a week.

Pelleted hops are used, as he says whole hops lose their aroma quickly as they age. 10-15% crystal sugar is added to the copper for beers over 6.5% ABV. This raises the alcohol but keeps the drinkability. The also use liquid invert sugar for the secondary fermentation in bottle and keg.

The yeast is used 30-35 times then re-propagated as after this flocculation decreases. The yeast is a top fermenting strain but it is bottom cropped. The beer spends five to six days in the fermenter and two weeks in the maturation vessel. The collect wort at 21-22°C, with weak beers the temperature is allowed to rise to 26°C to encourage ester formation, for strong beers the temperature is kept to 24°C to limit higher alcohol formation. Secondary fermentation is carried out at 23°C for 15 days and carbonation of 5.5g/l is aimed for in bottles. The Bretted beers have an additional three months conditioning at 15°C.
Not sure how balanced 4.5% ABV and 60 IBU is mind

Thanks to Richard Rees for the brewery pictures.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Portman Group

The canned version of Tiny Rebel's Cwtch has had a complaint against its branding upheld by the industry watchdog The Portman Group. As is usually the case when things like this happen twitter has been aflutter with people outraged, though over at Boak and Bailey's blog there is a more measured response.

The Portman Group do come across as rather po-faced, but they don't seem to be being vindictive in their judgement. And it's worth bearing in mind that The Portman Group is an industry body, and it's the self regulation of brewers that stops state regulation coming in. I'm not sure what the people howling with outrage think would happen if self regulation collapsed. Do they really think we'd be left alone to get on with things as we fit? As Malatesta put it:
"... these institutions cannot be usefully destroyed without replacing them by something better."
So until such a time someone comes up with a better alternative to The Portman Group I think we just need to suck it up and be grateful it's not state imposed.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Ancient Brews by Patrick McGovern

Patrick McGovern is a biomolecular archaeologist who has been researching ancient beers and brewing beers inspired by them with Dogfish head for many years. His research and details of the beers made are recounted in Ancient brews.

It starts off covering some of the same ground in Uncorking The Past, though this time it's definitely written more with the beer geek in mind. Brewers will be pleased to hear that calcium oxalate plays an important role in the story as an indicator a vessel contained a fermented malt beverages. So next time you're descaling a fermenter think happy thoughts about the historical importance of beer stone.

Each chapter covers a beer from a different time and place, and comes complete with a recipe for the beer and historically appropriate food to go with it. The research is fascinating, but the recipes are a bit of a let down. After using the best modern analytical techniques they could to identify ingredients used to make drinks from residues found at ancient sites they then had to come up with recipes for Dogfish head. Due to legal, commercial and availability reason the recipes are more beers inspired by the research than attempts at genuine recreations. Surprisingly considering how advanced American homebrewing is they all start with a malt extract base too.

So modern malts and hops, as well as modern brewing techniques (e.g. everything is boiled) and pure cultures of yeast strains are all used. I found this a shame as homebrewers don't have the constraints that Dogfish head do so could go further in trying to be historically accurate. As it is you're given information about ancient brews but will have to go a lot further with the materials and methods that would have been used if you want to truly try and recreate something ancient. The book is certainly a big step in that direction though and it's definitely given me a few ideas about things I'd like to try.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Why did no one ever tell me about Wine Rack?

Not since the whole Chiron incident have I felt so much that people are deliberately keeping me in the dark. After having popped to the shops in West Byfleet (walking distance from my mum's house) I went to a cash machine near a shop called Wine Rack. With a name like that it obviously held no interest for me. And saying "wine and spirit specialist" on the sign did nothing to help.

But as I walked past it I noticed it had some beers in the window so thought it worthy of investigation. Once I'd got inside I was delighted to see it was an Aladdin's cave of beers:

They had the new Trappist beer from America, as well as classic Belgian ones like Orval and Westmalle. The American offerings also include beers from Crooked Stave, and there's a fine German selection too. Not to mention the British beers. I can't believe there's such a great range of beers for sale so close to my mum's. Or that no one told me about it. The shop's name doesn't help but surely someone could have told me? Oh well, at least I know now.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A visit to Dingemans maltings

Dingemans is fairly small compared to some maltings I've been to, but I was delighted to see it had a malt roaster. Steeping, Germination and Kilning vessels can produce white malts (e.g. lager, ale, Vienna and Munich). But if you want to make crystal and roasted malts (e.g. amber, brown, chocolate, black) you need a malt roaster.

The grains are dried before storage and rehydrated in steep tanks. They have six 30 tonne steep tanks and two of 20 tonnes:

They do two steeps: five to six hours wet, eight hours air rest, five to six hours wet, ten hours air rest, before ending with the grains wet. The air rests stop the embryo in the grain, which needs oxygen, to thrive. Chalk is added to the first steep to bring the pH up to 10. The aerate the steeps by pumping compressed air.

They have 50 and 110 tonne Saladin boxes they use as Germination and Kilning vessels. The turners are moved through the grain bed to stop the rootlets tangling.

He was a Kurd you know

Only joking, the malting one was French
They are filled to 80cm deep. Germination is at 15 to 20°C. When kilning they run the turners through the bed five to six  hours into kilning to give good homogeneity. They can go up to 50 EBC colour in the Saladin boxes. They also have 25 tonne kilns for speciality malts.

It was the roasters that impressed me the most though. Having only seen pilot plant sized ones before something with a 20 tonne capacity was in another league. And they emptied it whilst we were watching.

It was pointed out that they can do three very different malts with 150 EBC colour, using the kiln, a crystal malt and a roasted biscuit malt. Which shows some of the limitations of malt analysis. They can make cara or crystal malts with colour of 20-350 EBC, the darkest Special B malt is roasted twice, the last 50 EBC of colour added after the first roasting and cooling.

Annually they produce 30,000 tonnes. 60% of their production is speciality malts, with only 40% white malts.

Thanks to Richard Rees for the pictures

Friday, 24 November 2017

Searching for clarity on unfined beers

At this year's Woking beer festival a number of unfined cask beers were available. Though some impressive claims have been made for the improvements in flavour that come from not adding finings to beer I'm rather dubious about them. As far as I know there's only been one paper published which compared the taste of fined to unfined beer and it found no difference. That's not to say there isn't any effect, but I suspect it's a minor one. To investigate this further I took the opportunity to do some more research.

The first beer I tried was certainly hazy enough that in normal circumstances I'd be eyeing it suspiciously.

There were no problems with the taste though. It wasn't outstanding, but there weren't any off flavours either. Another beer in the popular pale and hoppy style.

Much to my surprise the next one was crystal clear:

Some darker malts were used in the making of it but there was not the slightest hint of haze. Unfortunately it was a bit flat. Now I don't know it this was due to how the beer left the brewery or how the cask was handled at the festival. But I couldn't help but wonder if with an unfined beer this clear the yeast count was too low to get a secondary fermentation in the cask.

The last one I tried was a deliberately murky saison from a local brewery:

I've tried this one from the bottle with and without the yeast and I had to admit it tasted better with. It was also great in the cask and had plenty of condition.

So a bit of a mixed bag from this investigation. Not fining may improve some beers, it may make some worse, or it may make little difference. As ever more research is needed.

Friday, 17 November 2017

CAMRA and cask beer quality

A hardy perennial in the world of beer is people saying that CAMRA should focus on cask beer quality. The owner of Magic Rock brewery is the latest pushing this line in a Morning Advertiser article.

He bemoans the cask beer "discount culture" but is it really the place of a consumer organisation to try and raise prices? He also talks of cask breathers, which might help in some places, but old cask beer kept under a CO2 blanket is unlikely to be as good as fresh cask beer managed traditionally.

So what exactly can a beer consumer organisation do to promote beer quality? I doubt CAMRA members marching up to publicans and telling them where they are going wrong with their beer would go down well. And anyway isn't something like beer quality best dealt with by the industry, not consumers? Perhaps there could be an industry body to assess and accredit cask beer quality in pubs.

Oh, hang on.

However, perhaps CAMRA members could give scores for the quality of beer in pubs and maybe register it online.

Oh, hang on.

CAMRA members could then select pubs that sell the best beer, and the national orgaisation could then publish some sort of guide to where you can drink the best beer.

Oh, hang on

As cask beer is something really only found in pubs maybe CAMRA should campaign to promote and protect pubs.

Oh, hang on.

Perhaps CAMRA branches could run competitions at their festivals for the best beers in various categories, and on a national level overall champions could then be declared.

Oh, hang on.

I suppose CAMRA could get its publishing arm to produce a guide to how to look after cask beer.

Oh, hang on.

Come to think of it, although talk of CAMRA and beer quality does crop up regularly I'm not convinced there's much more they could be doing.