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Kev’s New Kit: Brewday

In the attempt to meet a certain important academic deadline, I haven’t been posting. I have

How Rustic!

been brewing, and now that I’m back to blogging who knows what delights will appear in due course.

The post that takes me out of my hermit-like exile is devoted to a Saturday’s brew day at the brand new shed-brewery of my brewing associate Kevin, in Dublin’s north city. Poor Kevin finally has a shed of his own, which is the unalienable right of every man and woman interested in fiddling and tinkering with objects, and above all, brewing beer. It’s not a huge shed, and it’s an odd little shape, nonetheless it contains a brewery capable of boiling probably 80L, though we only brewed half that.

The Elements of KevBrau

The Kit: The boiler and the Hot Liquor Tank are 100 litre pots that were sourced in France. I bagged one too, which I use as a fermentor. Kevin has taps on his, and they are both heated by quite impressive gas burners. The gas bottles live outside the shed, and with the window and door open there is no danger of any fume buildup. The mash tun is a picnic cooler with something like a 65L capacity. The transfer between the vessels is via a little 12v pump, a solid little workhorse despite its size! There is a vent that is happily situated right beside the boiler. In time I think this could be hooked up to a lid with a flexi pipe, to direct the boil off steam straight out of the shed.

For our brewday we made a simple stout, something along the lines of an “export strength” beer. We brewed 40L, our recipe was straightforward, if I remember correctly there was 12 KG of Pilsner Malt, 800 G of Roast Barley, 700 G of Chocolate Malt, and 500G of Black Malt. There may also have been a little crystal in there, I’m sure Kevin can fill us in in one of his “witty” comments. The Og was to be in the 70s somewhere. The water was treated with calcium chloride flakes, at least, it was the second time around. Kevin already had it measured out and dissolved in a pot of water, waiting to be added to the mash. I tipped it out because I thought it was just dirty water. That’s what happens when two people try to brew a beer.

Nom Nom Nom

The mash smelled incredible as usual. My favourite mashes are the really dirty looking ones where there’s heaps of dark malts, like this beer. The smell of chocolate, coffee, just general roastiness is almost irresistible. I wanted to scoop some out and eat it like porridge. We ran the wort off into the boiler, sparged, and added the second runnings, getting about 45 litres.

The brew took most of the afternoon, and in between waiting for this to heat up, or that to cool down, we played, at a rough estimate, 30 games of Pro Evolution Soccer 8 (Kevin has recently upgraded from PES06), getting through such classic matches as France vs Germany, Brazil vs Argentina, MUFC vs Chelsea, several “El Classicos” and of course, em, Sweden vs Denmark.

The beer was hopped with Northern Brewer, a mid strength hop which has quite a spicy smell. Around 80 G went in at the start, with a couple of additions towards the end of the boil. The beer should be around 70-80 IBU, which might sound like a lot, but the higher the strength of a beer the more it needs to be balanced by higher hopping, or else it can taste cloyingly sweet, even if it is 40 or 50 IBU on paper. This is especially true of big stouts.

We pitched some very fresh yeast that I had taken from an active fermentation only that morning. The stout had taken off by the following morning, so here’s hoping it ferments out well. The yeast was originally White Labs 028 (Edinburgh Ale), which I had cultured on to slants in the fridge.

All in all, an epic brew day, with the new setup performing extremely well!

**Special Edit!** I neglected, in this post, to mention the awesome cookies, not to mention the bean soup that Hazbo made us while we were fearlessly brewing. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my admiration for Hazbo, and add that she looked fantastic on saturday on her way out on the lash with to meet some knitty types for cocktails and sushi. Knitters are clearly classier than brewers.

Post-Brew Gunk



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Brand New Banner!

Those of you lovely people that drop in from time to time may notice that I have a lovely new banner for the blog. It was sketched for me by a terrifyingly talented young London based illustrator and animator, my very good friend Yasmeen. Check out her site to see lots of her lovely artwork. I am particularly fond of “Racket Man” and also “The Royal Collection”, under “Illustration”. It was (probably not) commissioned by the Queen herself.

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Petrus: A Barrel Aged Pale

Petrus Aged Pale

Bavik is an old fashioned Belgian brewery, and Petrus (7.3%) is an old fashioned beer. It is, according to Bavik, an ‘undiluted’ old beer. It is aged in wooden vats, which judging by smell are funkier than if Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and the whole Parliament-Funkadelic ensemble got together and made some extra smelly blue cheese. It’s a dark golden amber colour, the head doesn’t last much. I was surprised given the smell that it wasn’t more sour, now don’t get me wrong, it is sour, but it’s not Cantillon sour; perhaps it’s more that it doesn’t finish dry, it’s not especially puckering. It is similar to red sour Flemish beers like Rodenbach and Vichtenaar, it has that same almost balsamic sweetness coming through, it could be the oak I think that given the fact that it doesn’t finish that dry, it could have been more highly carbonated, as it is the gas is weak, and it sits a little flat in your mouth. I love this flemish sour thing though, and this is a really nice example.


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A Proper English IPA

I have been brewing a lot, don’t you worry, I just haven’t posted much about it. That’s going to change. My hops have already climbed as far as the roof of the house outside, and I’m turning over a new blogging leaf. Here, to ease me back in, is a short recipe post.

India Pale Ale is craft beer’s most popular style, I would imagine. But its meaning is not clear. In Britain, it doesn’t seem to mean much anymore, the glass hits the floor with the style’s nadir, Greene King ‘IPA’, a lightly hopped beer boasting only 3.6% ABV. How the mighty have fallen! I would struggle to call it a Mild. It has been suggested of English IPA that the term is just used interchangeably with “Bitter”, perhaps IPA sounds more appealing. There are some nice IPAs in Britain, but I find the majority of them quite disappointing.

Contrast this with one of the greatest family of beers on the go at the moment in my opinion, the big American IPA. Beers from Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Stone, Odell, and countless others. These beers are golden amber with a caramel body, backed up with often up to 100 international bittering units (that’s a lot), and the standard strength seems to be about 7.5% ABV

Historically, the American recreation seems closer to what the style should be. I’ll leave picking apart the history of how the English got to be the way they are to Zythophile , needless to say, I know which one I prefer.

And yet, what a history India Pale Ale evokes! Beers from London and Burton, brewers like Alsopp and Hodgson loading strong, massively hopped beer in to barrels for shipping to India. Beer crossing the equator twice, four months on the rolling, foamy brine. I decided to brew one.

The Durden Park Beer Circle have a nice little booklet full of historical recipes that they have pulled from old brewing logs. When scaled down for homebrewing they are usually as simple as Pale Malt, Fuggles, Yeast. Things were simple back then. I couldn’t find my copy, but I found a recipe in Camra’s IPA book which I thought would do the trick. It’s a beer from an author called Amsinck, I think it’s from the mid 1800s.

Pilsner Malt, and 400g of East Kent Goldings

I rounded the recipe up and down a little, but it’s basically the same. for 22L I mashed 6KG Pilsner Malt, I boiled for 90 minutes, with 400g East Kent Goldings hop pellets. The IBU that this will have is purely academic, it’s off the scale. Something like 180. In practice no one ever gets much more than 100, hence the author of the book qualifies this with “probably not relevant”. I will dry hop this with another 100g EKG pellets after the primary fermentation has wound down. I fermented with Wyeast West Yorkshire yeast.

Why Pilsner Malt you say? Isn’t this supposed to be British? Well, what’s more British than a nice yellow Pilsner? Seriously though, the historical recipe calls for “white malt” which apparently wasn’t even toasted as lightly as modern pale malt. Unless I was going to make some myself (I wasn’t), the closest thing to do was use pilsner malt, which is a whiter shade of pale. I don’t know how the body will turn out, I’m pretty sure it won’t be caramel like the Americans. I did follow the advice in that book and I mashed at quite a high temperature though, to produce more unfermentable sugars. I mashed at about 68c.

I think this is the simplest recipe I’ve ever brewed. The 400g of EKG really soaked up some wort, but not as bad as you’d expect. There was a lot of gunk at the bottom of the boiler. I don’t think I’d attempt this with cone hops, like this guy did, there’d be no beer left!


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Hoptimum (tasting notes)


Hoptimum has not (officially) hit Europe yet as far as I know, though maybe it has just got to Britain, my local awesome beer shop owner assures me he’s going to have some soon. In the meantime though, I sent a friend of mine who was just trying to have a quiet San Franciscan holiday halfway across the town so he could bring me back a bottle, which he did God bless him, so here I am, ahead of the game. Feels odd. Since this was a special occasion I sat down and took some notes.

Hoptimum clocks in at 10.4% abv. It’s clearly trying to get in on the hop-head-and-proud trend that seems prevalent in the US. Essentially this is unashamed ‘geek-beer’, of the geeks, by the geeks, for the geeks. It comes out of  Sierra Nevada’s Geek Beer Camp, and as their blurb says,

A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing. The result is this: a 100 IBU, whole-cone hurricane of flavor. Simply put —Hoptimum: the biggest whole-cone IPA we have ever produced. Aggressively hopped, dry-hopped, AND torpedoed with our exclusive new hop varieties for ultra-intense flavors and aromas.

I had seen this before tasting it and I was expecting something like a beefeed up Torpedo, but that’s not what this is. I didn’t find it nearly as aggressive (despite the spiel) as I expected. What I had expected was a big aroma to greet me out of the glass, but no, I struggled to get that familiar SN waft. Instead the body was to the fore. The colour was unremarkable, it was indistinguishable from Torpedo or the like. As I said, there was a big body, similar perhaps to SN Bigfoot, certainly the extra alcohol was noticeable; SN are right that this is their biggest IPA. In many ways the body was something bock-ish, with a saccharine character, and little of the caramel toffee flavour possessed by many American IPAs that I have become obsessed by lately. But what about the hops? A very resiny hop character dominates the middle taste, I guessed something like Simcoe, which was subsequently confirmed by the website, Simcoe features as an aroma and a dry hop, along with a “new proprietary variety” whatever that is. There was little of the citrus I had expected. The real bittering came with the aftertaste. I wondered was Magnum (hop) playing any role here, and frankly I wasn’t sure what to make of the beer, so in the interests of having something to compare it to I opened a Torpedo

My initial thoughts about the aroma made a lot more sense after that. Torpedo has quite a rough aroma. Swirl the glass and it jumps out at your face. That just wasn’t happening with Hoptimum. But there was something going on I though, it was a faint delicate but quite pleasant tangerine aroma, nowhere near as intense as Torpedo. This was strange, because as I found out later they both use SN’s torpedo device, whereby the finished beer is pumped through a cannister containing whole cone hops. repeatedly, untill all the flavour has been stripped. Both use the new hop ‘Citra’ for this process, but Torpedo pairs it with magnum, while Hoptimum couples it with Chinook. Who knows what accounts for the aroma difference, it could be the differing bodies, of the companion hop, or the level of hopping. The comparison also shed light on the body, Hoptimum is very sweet, the extra 3.2% makes a big difference, when you drink them side by side Hoptimum makes Torpedo seem dull and thin. Hoptimum coats the tongue, leaving an almost spicy hop flavour which is entirely missing in Torpedo.

Geekery aside, I think this is a lovely beer, though I think for true hop-heads 10.4% might be pushing abv a little too high. I think beers with the body that goes with the sort of 7.5% range showcase hop character better as fas as I can see than something this strong, the bock-like body just takes over. These geeks need some more moderation to ranch them in a little it seems. It’s probably like letting a bunch of six-year-olds take over a sweet factory.

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Brewing a “Black IPA”

A wonderful new oxymoron from our American cousins, but as Ron Pattinson pointed out last year this ‘innovation’ was already brewed by the brewers at Burton, home of hoppy IPAs at least as early as 1888. The passage from the old brewing book that Pattinson pulls out hits the nail on the head as to what this ‘new’ style is supposed to bring us, basically it will look beautiful and black like a stout, but it will taste like an IPA. Faulkner in “The theory and practice of modern brewing” says

while I can example this by referring to the black beer produced at Burton, which has been universally described as a mere black pale ale—i.e., though black in colour, its palate taste reminds one very strongly of the pale beers produced by Burton firms.

The Grain Bill: Pale, Crystal and Carafa

He is not a fan. But Kev and I were intrigued enough to give one a go. The style that the Great American Beer Festival recognise as “Cascadian Dark Ale”, “India Black Ale” or “Black IPA” seems like a bit of fun. But why is this not just a heavily hopped stout or Porter? Well the key is to get the thing black without giving it a burnt or coffee bitter roast character that a stout might have. The key to this is to use dark caramel malts like dark crystal, and “Carafa®”, a proprietary malt from Weyermann. Carafa is de husked roasted malt, and by removing the husks you remove a lot of the bitterness. Of course the Continental Europeans have long been at this, i.e. brewing black beers (schwarzbier) which taste just like lagers, that is they do not have the roasted character, but they are very dark brown or black. Faulkner in the cited passage basically says this about the Burton example: ‘it might be ok for the euro-types, but it’s not what I expect from a stout”

It will be quite understood that I am not decrying this article; it may and does suit many palate tastes, and is thought a great deal of on the Continent, but at the same time it differs very widely from the accepted standard quality of a black beer as specified

Plenty of Hops

So basically the point was to make an IPA, but add some Carafa malt to turn it black. Here’s what we came up with:

“Black IPA” : 40L : Mash Efficiency 86% : OG 1.076 : ABV 7.2% : 78 IBU : 34 SRM

Grains: 9KG Pale Malt, 1KG Munich, 750G Crystal (55l), 750G Crystal (150l), 500G Carafa® III

Hops: 60 mins: 65G Magnum, 20 mins: 40G Chinook,40G Cascade, 5 mins: 25G Chinook, 30G Cascade, End of Boil: 40G Amarillo, 20G Chinook, Dry Hop: 100G Citra

Yeast: Wyeast West Yorkshire (1469 PC)

We mashed at 66c for 60 minutes, and sparged with 80c water. We treated the water roughly for the “porter” profile on the following calculator with some

Recirculating the mash: Don't disturb the grain bed!

CRS and some Calcium Chloride. We used a mixture of Bairds Maris Otter and Weyermann Pale Ale Malt as the base malt. We are accustomed at this stage to using Magnum as a nice clean bittering hop, and as for the rest, we thought that the sweetness of Cascade would be tempered by Chinook, which I regard as a bit of a ‘rough’ flavour, but rough in a good way. I think Stone brewing Co. use a lot of Chinook in their IPAs, and I once made an all Chinook IPA that was one of my favourites. Amarillo has to my mind a more pleasant aroma to Cascade, so we stuck it in at the knockout. As far as the Citra goes, well, we were already brewing the latest fad from America so Citra, a proprietary hop recently developed for Sierra Nevada (and the talk of the town, where that town is exclusively populated by hopheads) seemed apt. It is used as a dry hop in their beautiful “Torpedo”, in fact it is dry-hopped using the device of the same name, a vessel that is filled with hops while the already fermented beer is pumped through it repeatedly to strip every ounce of flavour from them. I’m really looking forward to it, it is supposed to be very similar to Amarillo, on the orangey side of citrus.

In fact, we realised half way through the brew that we were brewing very trendy; combining the hop-du-jour, Citra, and the latest style from the Pacific Northwest. The July-August edition of Brew Your Own magazine devoted an article to it, “Birth of a Style: Cascadian Dark Ale”. As Kev leafed through it he looked at me, horrified, and said “Do you realise that we’re really brewing to style  here?”, as the article waxed lyrical about the “unexpected flavours” revealed by the interaction between the classic Northwestern hops like Cascade and Amarillo, and the debittered dark malts. I’m looking forward to those!

We mashed a total of 12KG, which is about as much as my mash tun can handle, though I have noticed that my efficiency rockets when I brew this amount.

The blue one is dead. The rest are healthy, but they are very sad. This is like a little yeast funeral.

Last weekend Peter and I brewed a clone of Goose Island IPA (recipe to follow shortly) and my efficiency was up towards 80%. For the Black IPA I calculated it as 86%, which I imagine is down to the increased grain bed depth, I have read that correct grain bed depth is important to efficiency. I recirculated 2L as usual, we ran it off, and had to sparge twice for about 44L pre-boil volume. I added about 2 or 3L extra during the boil to keep it topped up, and I had enough to make a 5L batch of 2nd runnings at about 1.045 OG.

Lately, inspired by Chris White (of Whitelabs) and Jamil Zainasheff’s wonderful book Yeast, I got the old microscope down out of the attic. I had a starter on the go of West Yorkshire yeast from Wyeast, and so I plated up a diluted sample of it, and I added the pigment “methylene blue”, which is used to check the vitality of your yeast cells. The dead cells stain blue, because they cannot metabolise the dye. I’m still waiting for my Hemocytometer to arrive in the post, it’s basically a microscope slide that

Because this beer was such a great idea we decided to ferment it in a giant lightbulb that Kev found.

has a tiny grid etched on it, so you can do a yeast count, and estimate upwards based on how many cells there are in a microscopic square, to how many millions of cells there are per ml. But at least this showed me that very few of my cells were dead, and so the yeast was healthy. It was surprisingly easy to take a picture, I just held the camera up to the eyepiece and twirled the knob until it was in focus.

Our Black IPA is fermenting away strongly now, and as soon as it gets near the final gravity I plan to introduce it to 100G Citra, and they can have a little chat about who is trendier.

Happily fermenting away


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A Man With A Pint


Aul' fella with a scoop


Thursday evening, approaching five.  It is an entirely natural thing that a young man’s mind turns to where the next pint is coming from, and for my part, I’m eagerly anticipating trying out Dublin’s newest craft-brew venue. Before that however, I have a gem of literature that I want to share with you all, a particularly beautiful dissection of that great figure in a Dublin bar, the man with the pint. This passage is lovely enough to quote at length, and so I will. It is from a collection of writing called “I have been busy with words”, a collection of the best of John D. Sheridan, an Irish author who died some 30 years ago.

“A Man With A Pint” by John D. Sheridan

There are few things more restful than watching an expert drinking ‘a pint’. But there are one or two conditions: he must be a man who drinks regularly but never to excess; there must be no hurry on him; and he must be drinking alone.

The very manner of his entrance is soothing. It sets him apart, and although he mutters something to the man behind the bar he has no need to mutter, for the man behind the bar knows a pint-man when he sees one. It is not a matter of dress, or age, or social status: it is a sort of spiritual look.

The barman fills the tumbler slowly, taking the black stuff from several taps, and builds up a head worthy of the body. Then he sets his offering down. He doesn’t slam it down, or plant it down: he sets it down. The tempo is right from the very beginning.

But he doesn’t set it down in the right place, for in spite of his years of practice he doesn’t know the right place. After all, he is only a general practitioner, and this is a specialist’s job. So the pint-man takes up the tumbler with ritualistic care and moves it a little further along the counter. For a second or two he looks at it objectively and without desire. Then he looks away from it, forgets it, and falls asleep: and still asleep, he puts a match to his pipe and takes a few sacrificial pulls.

Nothing can touch him then. The clock ticks for you and me, but the pint-man is on an island in Time. He is no longer old or young, rich or poor, married or single. He is beyond the numbing grip of circumstance – a devotee at a solemn rite, a poet with unfrenzied eye, a man with a pint.

Presently (if you have time to spare, and can keep awake – for there is a restful, mesmeric quality about the whole business) you will see him come out of his holy trance in slow stages. First a tiny tremor runs through him, and he becomes aware of the tumbler. But it is only a tiny awareness: it might be any tumbler, and it is somewhere in the middle distance.

When his mind begins to work again, and the picture comes into proper focus, he looks at his pint disinterestedly, almost reproachfully, and turns away from it – like a contemplative dealing with a minor distraction. But even as he turns, his right hand – that ungodly and rebellious member – reaches out for the tumbler, and finds it by sheer tactual memory.

The the arm joins the conspiracy, and the glass rises five or six inches from the counter. The pint-man doesn’t know how it got there, and has obviously forgotten how to deal with such a situation. But his lips remember, and his mouth, turning traitor, comes down to meet the tumbler.

He doesn’t tilt the glass very much, and he doesn’t need to. It remains almost perpendicular, but the black stuff seems to flow out of it and in to him of its own volition, breaking the law of gravity in some occult siphoning.

When his eye meets yours across the top of the tumbler it is still calm and remote. There is no urgency in him, and from the theological point of view it is debateable whether or not there is full consent. The only sign of ecstasy you can detect in him is a slight commotion about his Adam’s apple. And it is very slight, for he can open his throat like a tenor. There is no tension, no resistance, no strain.

When the glass is three-quarters empty (the fraction varies a little with the performer – some virtuosos raise it to thirteen-sixteenths) he sets it down on the counter again and wipes his mouth. But there is no gloating. These are simply reflex actions carried out by the unregenerate right hand, which does not seem to be under the direct control of the will.

The pint-man comes to life then. He blinks a few times, shrugs his shoulders, changes his stance. He fills his pipe and puffs as if he meant it. The spell is broken.

You can talk to him now and he will answer, for he is back in the world of men. He is interested in politics and prices, and he has opinions about the weather. And you must make the most of him while you have him, for you will not have him very long. He is simply resting between two periods of deep contemplation.

Very soon the glazed look comes back into his eyes, and you know that he is on the verge of another bout of dynamic relaxation. He knows it himself, too, and just before he loses consciousness he finishes his first pint and orders a second. And this time he doesn’t even mutter – he just nods.

The barman, moving on tiptoe, sets down the second pint in almost the right place. But ‘almost’ is not good enough for your pint-man, and before he slips off again into the world of dreams he sets the stage for his reawakening.

His flight from reality is so smooth and so sudden that it almost brings you with it. The clock slows down, and a great peace flows over you. So before it engulfs you completely you finish your bottle of stout and steal out into the night

The buses seems noisier than ever, and the street lights brighter. You are back again in the world of everyday things, with its little kindnesses and cruelties, its hopes and fears. But you are ready for it as never before. You feel as refreshed as if you had just come from a musical recital or finished a great poem, for you have seen an artist at work, and you feel the better of it.

I think I’ll have what he’s having! Thanks to Nathaniel for alerting me to the existence of this passage.


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