Saturday, 21 May 2016

Beer colour and colour units

I'm currently reading the Malt book in the Brewing Elements series. I was pleased to see a reference about beer colour from Breiss malt I remembered reading, but had forgotten where.

A powerpoint presentation explains how a range of different coloured beers can get the same value when the colour is measured in a laboratory. As different malts absorb light in different parts of the spectrum we get beers of different colour, but laboratory measurement at 430nm can't always tell them apart. Dark roasted malts absorb more strongly across the spectrum, leading to darker beers and browner tones at equivalent colour value.

So much like bitterness units are a very incomplete picture as a flavour descriptor, colour units don't actually tell you what colour a beer is.

You really need to look at the slides, but here's a little taster which I've translated into English:

Colour (EBC) Caramel malt Black malt
20 Orange Tan
40 Red Brown
60 Mahogany Black


Monday, 16 May 2016

A visit to Greene King brewery

The Brewery History Society AGM was held at Greene King brewery on the 6th May. It was a fantastic day and included one of the best brewery tours I've ever been on.

Many of my fellow beer nerds have a very dim view of Greene King, and seem to consider them to be if not the Great Satan, at least part of the Axis of Evil. I think it's down to them having an IPA which is not very exciting and 3.6% ABV. Despite them making it for the best part of a century apparently IPAs are inauthentic unless they're at least 6% ABV and taste of grapefruit. Having had such a wonderful time at Greene King I'm completely biased in their favour and as far as I'm concerned they can call any beer whatever they like.

We were hosted by their QA manager Susan Chisholm, who'd dug out some of their archives for us to look at:

The books on display were only about one percent of the records they have, though sadly at the moment they're not very well organised.

The historian Richard Wilson was given honorary life membership at the AGM. I knew he'd written the history of Greene King, so I'd made a point of reading that before the meeting. Rather 
embarrassingly I didn't realise he's also the Wilson half of Gourvish and Wilson, authors of a classic brewing history text I haven't got round to reading yet. He's also written on the history of British lager brewing, which I'm sure if of interest to many, but not me.

Rather foolishly I didn't take a notebook on the tour so there may be fascinating facts I've already forgotten.

The tour starts up on the roof where they have water tanks. They have their own wells but the water is treated with reverse osmosis to strip everything out, before salts are added back to match a particular brewing liquor. Greene King brew beers from the various different breweries they taken over and closed, and they match the liquor and still use the different yeasts from them.

There's a great view from the roof:

And you can see a maltings on the other side of the town:

The brewery dates from the 1930s and is a tower brewery, so as we headed down from the roof the we came to the floor with the four roller mill:

They have pale, amber and crystal malt in silos and the other speciality grains and adjuncts are in sack. The hops are pelletised.

Grist cases are on the floor below:

And the mash tuns are next:

They're copper clad but are relatively modern. When looking to replace their old mash tuns they did look into getting a lauter tun or mash filter but decided that as a traditional ale brewery mash tuns were best. With their microbrewery they have the flexibility to very the brew length from 10 to 1600 barrels.


As we were here about the history we had to have a look at the 5X vats, where a 12% ABV beer is stored for two years. There's barely any change in the ABV during ageing so they can't have many bugs growing. Last time I'd look round I'd seen two vats, but I was delighted to find out they actually have four, and have the space to add some more.

Here's the other two: one new, one old.

Here's the new one again:

I think the new one is 150 bbl, and the others 100 bbl. I wonder if I could persuade them to fill one with old style porter?

We got down to the sample room, where of course we had a taste of the 5X. It is wonderful stuff.

And we had a peek at some old bottles from the 1930s. Sadly this beer was around 4% though apparently some bottles are still drinkable.

I also got to try their XX mild at last, which like I've seen others say, I did prefer to the IPA. They brew 60 bbl a week of it. Having various milds in the portfolio from the breweries they've taken over they rationalised it to just one recipe, and had tasting trials to decide on the best one. Despite the name it's sold under it was actually the Hardys and Hansons mild that won.

Susan Chisholm has found in the Green King archives recipes for all the X beers from one through to five.

Here she is getting a certificate from BHS chairman Jeff Sechiari
They have plans to get the archives into order, and I can't help but think that it'll then be time for Ron to have a holiday in Bury St Edmunds.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Brown stout porter

I learnt a lot from making my first old style porter using 100% brown malt. It certainly tasted quite different from the beers that you can buy today, and adding Brettanomyces had, in the end, got the fermentability to a respectable level.

Adding a pure culture of B.claussenii seemed a rather sanitised subsitute for ageing in an oak vat for a year though. The old porters will have been exposed to a range of bugs back in the day so for added authenticity I really needed to add a mixed culture. Looking at the cultures available Wyeast Roeselare blend seemed like it was just what I was after. The name Wyeast have given to the mix is hinting very strongly the Rodenbach brewery, which is surely the closest that we have to an old porter brewery today in terms of how they age beer. I was a little peeved that they're not totally forthcoming with what the bugs are, as it made my research a little uncontrolled, but then again a bit less controlled was what I was after anyway.

I added the Roeselare blend after primary fermentation and then left the beer under an airlock for a year. I wasn't overly optimistic when it finally came to bottling the beer as  I suspected it might well be undrinkably sour. So I was very pleasantly surprised with how it had turned out.  There's the roasted flavours from the malt, some residual sweetness and sherry like flavours from the ageing.

This was as dark as I could get it to look

It's dark brown, not black, so in both taste and appearance it's nothing like a modern stout or porter. I'm really pleased with how this one has turned out, it's time to do one aged in wood next.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Fable for a failed race

Having made my own malt I then had to decide what beer to make with it. It would have to be single malt so I could best see how my malt had turned out. And single hop seemed appropriate too, as should the brain eating living dead destroy civilisation as we know it I'm sure we'll have a lot less hops to choose from. Which I'm sure will be one of the pressing concerns of the few scattered survivors.

The hop really had to be English too, as I'll have to find something growing locally and the delicate flavour of English hops won't overpower the malt. I did go a little off piste in choosing Flyer though as it's now only grown in small amounts on one farm, but I had some in stock and I'd been meaning to use it for a while and this seemed a good opportunity.

I stuck to the self sufficiency thing by propagating the yeast myself, from a bottle of Summer Lightning before it went keg (I also had other plans this yeast but that's another story).

Not always being entirely on the ball in the morning I did ask myself what the grist was when I saw how dark the wort had turned out. It seems with the long moist kilning I'd ended up making munich malt rather than pale.

Just to be certain that starch conversion had taken place I got the iodine out:

It was good to see that all was well. The fermentation stopped fairly early leaving the beer sweet, but the high alpha Flyer hops did their job and gave plenty of balancing bitterness and a pleasant fruitiness. The yeast gave nice flavours too, and I'm glad I got some on a slope before Hopback stopped bottle conditioning.

If this is how post-apocalypse beer is going to be then I don't think we've much to worry about.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Home malting

As a brewer and microbiologist I have felt a certain smugness when contemplating the zombie apocalypse. Though civilisation may have collapsed around me, I'm sure with minimal equipment I could make my own beer. But once I'd thought it through a bit more a cold feeling of dread came upon me. Where will the malt come from? Making inferior fruit based beverages may be a simple task, but making booze from a starchy substrate is an altogether more involved process. There was only one thing for it, I would have to try home malting.

My Mk II mash tun seemed like an ideal candidate for a steeping and germination vessel. It's made of a home brew bucket with holes drilled in the bottom inside another one with a tap at the bottom.

Here's the inside:

I decided to start with an overnight steep.

Here it is in the morning:

Draining it for the first air rest:

Air rest until the afternoon then the second steep:

And then drained again at night:

After two steeps and air rests it  was ready for germination:

Chitted grains:

See the tips of the rootlets poking out

The rootlets start growing very quickly:  

day 3

day 4

day 5

day 6
It's important to keep mixing the contents of the germination vessel to stop the roots tangling and hot spots developing. For the laboratory scale malting at work we take the grains out and shake them in a bucket. I thought rolling the vessel around, like a drum malting, would be enough but it wasn't. Look at this bolted bastard:

I'd had a clump in the middle that hadn't mixed and the grains had got a lot hotter and grown a lot more. Fortunately most of them were like this:

I decided to include a withering stage, letting them partially dry on the floor.

That a few grains had bolted showed that the germination process needs tweaking a bit but nothing too major. My real problems started with the kilning. Keeping the malt on a tray meant I could only put a small amount at a time in the oven. I left the rest on the floor to wither more, but it was a long and involved process to get it all kilned, and even then the moisture content was still high at just over 8%. Initially I heated with the oven at a very low setting to remove as much water as possible before cranking up to over 100°C for the final kilning.

I did even worse with removing the rootlets and in the end admitted defeat. I tried shaking the grains in a colander but as well as the roots falling through the holes quite a few grains did too. I could only do a very small amount of grains at a time too, so rather than spend hours doing it I gave in and used the machine at work. Who'd have though that one of the first tasks of a post-apocalyptic society will be to build a deculming machine?

Tune in for the next episode to see if I'll be happily sipping a pint as the zombie hordes hammer at my door or if the brewing all went horribly wrong.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

May Day Greetings!

Once again it's time to remember our martyred dead and seek out pints of mild. It's often hard work finding mild round my way, but as I get older, and senile lightweightism weighs more heavily upon me, I've been appreciating it more when I find it. I'm quitely confident I'll track some down this month as I've got a few possibilities scoped out.

I wish you all success in your struggles in the coming year.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!

The 500th Anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law, has left me uncharacteristically indecisive. Most beer geeks have used the occasion to put the boot into it, and it has been eloquently argued that it is, in fact, a load of old bollocks.

But whereas I know I can speak infallibly on the superiority of cask beer to other forms, I can't quite bring myself to condemn the Reinheitsgebot. I wouldn't want to brew under its regulations, and a lot of German brewing practice seems designed to keep to the letter of the law whilst riding roughshod over the spirit of it. Yet brewing with only water, malt, hops and yeast still seems a worthy aim to me, and there is an infinite variety of wonderful beers that can be made from those ingredients.

Many of the "innovative" ingredients of the craftily inclined are things I would actively avoid in beer rather than seek out. And despite their claims of non-conformity there is something samey about craft beer bars: the same selection of beer types, and often from a list of usual suspects.

That Germany has a distinct brewing heritage and a rich beer culture seems to me something that should be defended and I do wonder if those that rail against the Reinhetsgebot risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Despite my opposition to state imposed restrictions, and indeed states, I'd far rather get to Franconia and try the traditional beer there than the latest offerings from the cutting edge of craft.