Matrimony-Ale: A Wedding Beer Recipe

Photo by Ben Smith (Thanks!)

Recently, two of my oldest friends Yas and Ally got married in Marylebone town hall . They are staunch supporters of my brewing efforts, and I was excited when they asked me to brew a beer for the wedding. To my delight it was a hit, unless everyone was just being polite. The bride, who is a very talented illustrator designed the label (she also designed my blog banner), and I think it’s gorgeous. It’s perfect for a summer wedding, and it reminds me of certain Beaujolais nouveau labels. I don’t really have a brewery name that I use, but we thought the label should have a brewery name. ‘Velocity Brewing’ and the little penny-farthing man is a motif that Kevin and I have been toying with lately. Of course no wedding beer would be complete without some puns: ‘Matrimony-ale’ and ‘beerly beloved’ make it on there. It was served before dinner at the restaurant.

I wanted this to be a fairly easy drinking, light beer with a hoppy finish, and I must confess that I looked to brew365’s account of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for inspiration. I based the hopping schedule on that, but I complicated the malt bill somewhat. The late hops are all cascade, there’s amber malt in there to give it a biscuity body, a light caramel malt for sweetness, and I used my current favourite yeast, the super clean San Diego strain from White Labs. Here’s what I brewed:

'Matrimony-ale'       -36L-    OG 1.044     IBU: 35
Malts:  5.5kg Pale Ale Malt,   250g  Amber Malt, 250g Pale Crystal Malt,  200g Wheat Malt. 
Hops: 20g Dana (60 mins), 25g Challenger (30 mins), 50g Cascade (10 mins), 100g Cascade (end of boil)
Yeast: White Labs 'San Diego Super Yeast' (WLP 090)

I assumed about 85% mashing efficiency but you may have to adjust malt levels based on your own system. Additionally, I treated my water with calcium sulphate and calcium chloride, with the emphasis on the sulphate level to accentuate the hop flavour somewhat. Because my water is quite hard, I also added roughly 100g of acidulated malt in order to lower the mash ph to the correct range, but this would depend on your own water. I used Carrageen as a fining agent at about 15 minutes left.

I brewed this beer again at the weekend because I felt like I didn’t drink nearly enough of it when I was in London (I had three in the restaurant, and began to feel a little self-consciously greedy). I also think it’s a good summer drinker. For the second round, I doubled the 10 minute cascade addition to 100g, to ramp up the late hop flavour. I also had to substitute Northdown hops in for the Challenger.

To the Bride and Groom!



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Camden Town Brewery

The Brewery Bar

For some reason I wasn’t expecting much from my brief stop by Camden Town Brewery, I think it was because all I had seen from them was their label design which I found a little dull. I’ve since warmed to it. When we visited, they were having a ‘street feast’, which involved lots of stalls producing yummy food setting up outside the brewery. This reminded me of Kernel, who operate in and around Maltby street market, so they’re also surrounded by excellent food. Furthermore, Camden Town Brewery are underneath a set of railway arches, just like Kernel. It’s very easy to find, it’s just up a lane beside Kentish Town West railway station, just off Prince of Wales road.

Needless to say my expectations were exceeded. Camden Town brewery is a stylish little brewery

Pale Ale, Gentleman’s Wit

tap, it’s fitted out in a fairly functional manner, not unlike a Brewdog bar. The beers I tried were excellent and the staff were friendly and clearly enjoying the day. As I understand it, they only open on Friday afternoons/evenings. I tried their Pale Ale, which is a standard American Sierra Nevada style ‘C-hops’ offering, but done very well. Their ‘Gentleman’s Wit’ is a Belgian style Wit (wheat beer) spiced with roasted lemon peel and bergamot. Bergamot is something I had previously considered spicing a Wit with, and on the basis of this, I think I’ll give it a try, it worked well. I also tried their stout, ‘Ink’, which seemed to me to have the sort of creamy fulsome body that I associate with an oatmeal stout; I don’t think there are any oats in it though, in any case, thumbs up for ‘Ink’. They must be

Conicals and kegs under a railway arch

doing well, as they’ve just installed two large, new, conical fermentors outside the brewery. I also noticed that they had some sort of automatic gizmo that pumped the spent mash out of the mash tun through a large pipe in to a bin outside, eliminating the need for hopping in and getting your hands dirty. Slackers.


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Good beer in Venice

Great bottle selection in Venice

It’s a game of two halves, Bill. In the first half, I stood in a Venetian square beside some Dutch racists, and behind a baying Italian mob, only to see Ireland finish their dismal European championship campaign with a 2-0 loss to Italy. In the second half of the evening, I found a great little beer pub and drank some really nice beer. Up until then I had despaired of Venice; for all its beauty, for all its excellent food and wine, all I had seen was Moretti, Peroni, Castello and a few red versions of same. Then we happened upon a bar which didn’t seem to have a name, but which had something like “beers from all over the world” on a blackboard outside. They only had Becks, Budels, and Leffe on tap, but they had six fridges full of bottles, including many Belgians, Italians and Germans. We had two very pleasant American IPA style beers from Ducato, and a Birra del Borgo / Dogfish Head collaboration called ‘My Antonia’. Although it was described as a ‘pils’, which was continuously hopped, it tasted pretty much like Dogfish Head’s 60 minute IPA to me, but unfiltered and bottle conditioned. I had a local dark ale from ‘San Gabriel’ called ‘Nera di Tarzo’, which was a little sour-fruity, I’m not sure it should have been as sour as it was. This place is a beautiful find if you’re in Venice though.   You can find it in Cannaregio, the northern quarter of Venice, on the ‘Fondamenta degli Ormesini, which is the same canal as the “Fondamenta de la Misericordia”, just further west. I think it was number 2708. Here is a link to a Google satellite map which may help.


A pair of Ducato beers. Both full of US hops

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Yeast Ranching: storing yeast on slants

“Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, keep those yeasties rollin’… don’t try to understand em…”  etc.

Yeast slants

Storing yeast on slants is a handy way to keep a ‘bank’ of liquid yeast strains in your fridge that will keep for months and months. The basic idea is this- you make a jelly from malt extract and something to make it set, either agar or gelatine, you put some in a vial, sterilise the whole thing with steam, let it set almost horizontally so you get a larger area, and finally swab it with a source of yeast, like a vial of liquid yeast or a previous slant. Within a few days the yeast will grow on top of the jelly, and you can stick the whole thing in the fridge. To revive it, simply mix some weak wort like you would for a normal starter, put some in the vial, shake it to dislodge the yeast (or scrape it with a sanitised implement if necessary), and add it to the half pint of wort you’ve made, and build from there.

Malt extract from the health food store, and agar agar from the Asia Market

There are other more technical posts on yeast ranching, but here’s how I do it. I add 10g of agar agar to 250ml of wort. Agar agar is available in shops that sell a lot of Asian ingredients. I got mine in the Asia Market on Drury St. in Dublin. Beware- when I went in first the only stuff I could see was in the Japanese aisle, and it came in either red, or green- it was clearly dyed in order to make some hideous dessert. The slants I made with it didn’t work, green dye ran everywhere. In one of the Chinese aisles though, I found the clear, uncoloured stuff. It’s made from red algae, and it looks like scrunched up cellophane.

Dissolving agar in the wort

You have to heat the wort and add the agar gradually, until it has all dissolved. This took a while, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Unlike with gelatine, it doesn’t really matter if it hits the boil now and then. It was hard to find good information on ratios, but 10g/250ml made quite a well set jelly, you could probably get away with less.

When it had all dissolved, I added it to 10 or so vials. I used vials I got from a fellow homebrewer, Shane, who got them from some scientific supply place. They are handy because they are large, but also have a flat bottom, and they’re made from a resin that can withstand high temperatures. This means I can stand them in my pressure cooker. Real scientists

Fill them to between 1/4 and 1/2 full

use a thing called an autoclave to sterilise with steam, but it’s essentially a big pressure cooker with more bells and whistles on. Steam sterilises, and the higher pressure the steam is at, the faster it does it. I popped everything in the pressure cooker for about 15-20 minutes, with the lids lightly on the vials.

When that was done, I screwed the caps on, and I laid the vials on their side, so that the jelly came almost to the lid. This means we have a surface area that is a diagonal cross section of the tube, that is, quite a nice little area for the yeast to grow. Popping everything in the fridge at this stage speeds up the setting.

When it’s all set, it’s time to inoculate the slants with yeast. If you can find an

Sterilisation by steam

inoculation loop in a scientific store or on ebay that’s great, I made one by twisting a guitar wire so it had a loop about 2mm wide on the end. I had sterilised this loop in with all the rest of the  gear in the pressure cooker. The loop picks up the yeast on the end. It’s not necessary to have it dripping with the liquid yeast, a small amount of cells will grow up to be colonies of millions.

Old slant containing yeast growth on the right, fresh slant on the left

For the next stage it’s crucial that everything is super clean, because this is when the sterile slants get open, and there is the risk of exposure to something other than yeast. Make sure hands are sanitised, and surfaces, and if possible work beside a flame, as this means the air above where you’re working is less likely to have any nasties in it. I do this step in my kitchen beside the gas cooker with one ring on.

Each time you dip the loop in the original yeast, you need to sterilise it. You can do this by holding it in the flame for a few seconds. I cool it then by dipping it in a glass of starsan. Some people recommend touching the hot loop off the inside of the vial to make sure it’s not still hot as this will kill your yeast. Dip the vial in the yeast, and then quickly remove the slant’s cap, swab it from the end to the entrance in a zigzag motion, and replace the cap. Sanitise your loop, and repeat with all your other slants. That’s it, you just leave them out somewhere and in a few days you’ll notice a nice creamy coloured growth where you swabbed, that’s the yeast. A week later you can pop them in the fridge for storage. By this time, if any are bad, you’ll notice. It has happened once or twice that I got some blue mould growing in my slant, so it’s always a good idea to do more than you need in case this happens.

After 5 days or so, healthy white yeast growth is visible!

You can then grow up a fresh, 1st generation yeast whenever you need it, and if you fear that your slants have been in the fridge a little too long, you can always use an old slant to inoculate a new slant, as I did in this case. Instead of dipping your loop in the liquid, you just scrape it on some of the yeast in the old slant.

Tip: When you buy a liquid yeast vial from Whitelabs or whoever, leave a few ml of liquid in the vial when you pitch to your beer, and pop it back in the fridge. This will be enough to make slants with at a later date.

Other resources:

I cannot recommend Yeast by Chris White (of Whitelabs) and Jamil Zainasheff highly enough. Get it if you’re interested in yeast and how to handle it properly.

There are lots of other online guides to making slants such as


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Return of the Barrel: Rotunda’s Revenge

Doughing in (mixing grain and water)

Anyone who has read my blog will undoubtedly have seen one of my frequent links to ‘The Great Barrel Project’ that I undertook with two brothers in brewing, and worse, anyone who has met me will probably have been regaled with the tale of Rotunda the Bourbon barrel, and how she came to be filled with a dark and potent stout called Diogenes. I’m probably like one of those parents who finds it hard to discuss anything other than their child. I think all three of us would agree that it was far and away the high point of our distinguished brewing careers to date though; who can blame us if we talk too much about it? So it’s probably no surprise that after some serious procrastinatin’ and prognosticatin’ we’ve started to refill our beautiful barrel.

We considered a number of beers we could do: perhaps a nice raisin heavy

Kevin’s thermometer, better known as ‘The Geiger Counter’

Belgian ‘dubbel’ style beer? Maybe a barleywine loaded with English hops? In any case it had to be strong, after all it now needs to stand up to not only the original whiskey flavours of the barrel but also a 10% abv stout that was absolutely loaded with black malt. In the end, we decided to brew what we are going to call a ‘Double IPA’ (not that we coined the term, but that we think this is what most appropriately describes our beer. Beer styles are for losers in any case).

Sometimes brewing makes you feel a bit like a drug dealer. It’s calcium chloride flakes for the mash yer’ honour.

To give a brief sketch of the beer itself, the original gravity will be in the region of 1.090 – 1.100, which we hope will ferment to below 1.020, giving us a beer that is something in the region of 9.5% abv. We found with the last brew that time in the barrel increased attenuation, so we should get to our projected 1.018. Our yeast is White Labs’ ‘Super San Diego’ yeast, wlp090. Where malt is concerned, we’ve kept it simple with about 85% pale malt, and the rest being made up by some crystal malt, some Munich, and some sucrose to lighten the body a little. Hopping is high, with flavour additions at 30 minutes and at the knockout, and

The ph of the mash is important so that the enzymes can convert starch to sugar. This one was bang on.

we’re using a tag team of the classic American Cascade, and a hop that has only recently found its way into the homebrewer’s repertoire, Marynka. This Polish hop is cheap, reasonably high in alpha acid at about 8%, but it also has an interesting flavour and aroma. It is a descendent of the classic European hop Saaz, probably crossed with a high alpha hop like

There were so many hops going in to this we didn’t want to clog the tap, so we used some nylon net to form a huge hop bag.

Magnum. I brewed a single hopped ale with it, and at high concentrations I found I was getting a lot of peach, both in flavour and aroma, so let’s hope something like that comes through in this beer. Our software tells us that the IBU (international bittering units) will be high on this, perhaps 180, although tests have shown that these measurements make less sense the more you go over 100.

We got together recently to brew this, and we managed between us to brew 70L. We need a good bit more, since Rotunda is in the region of 214L, but between us, another epic collaborative brewday should do it! We’re not sure what our Double IPA is called yet, so, answers on a postcard. All will be considered, and the winning entry can be sure of a couple of bottles for his or her trouble.

And there were a lot of hops left after we took the net out!


Filed under Beer, Hops, Recipe, The Barrel Project

New Fermentor

My new keg fermentor

A quick little post about my new favourite piece of equipment, a keg used as a simple stainless steel fermentor, and no that’s not a spelling mistake. Apparently a fermentor is the vessel where the fermentation takes place, while a fermenter is the agent that performs the fermentation, i.e. little yeasts. Anyway this one was simple: there was a stray 30L keg that someone was trying to get rid of, so I obliged, I removed the spear (with a little difficulty, owing to a kind of safety ‘catch’ that meant it did not simply unscrew), I gave it a good wash out, and I popped an oversized rubber carboy cap on it. This is a size larger than the standard one that fits over a 20L carboy, and I picked it up in a lovely little homebrew shop; Edina Homebrew in Edinburgh when I was passing there last year. Luckily it fits perfectly. Now I have a lovely little 30L, steel, airtight vessel for my smaller (20-25L) brews.

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Hello Dolle!

The Dolle Brouwers' Brewery

It has been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d start back with a post I’ve been planning to do for a while now. Some time ago I visited the brewery that brews some of my favourite Belgian beers, De Dolle Brouwers (The Mad Brewers), in Esen, West Flanders. Like pretty much the rest of Belgium, it’s about an hour or so on the train from Brussels. There’s no station in Esen, but

Beautiful Yellow Kegs

nearby Diksmuide is only a 2km walk. The brewery is on the mainstreet, and upon arrival you are greeted by a rather odd looking building with an old bottling machine, now retired, sitting at the front door, as well as stacks of bright yellow kegs.

The brewery tour is conducted by the aged mother of the brothers who founded the brewery, only one of whom is still involved. The tour was in English, and any description will fail to do justice to the wirey matriarch who conducted it. There was a Polish couple beside us near the start of the tour, he was translating and relaying to her, she was clearly not interested in the slightest, and it was soon stopped in most dramatic form, as our host laid in to the poor fellow for talking while she was talking, and

The Mash Tun

distracting her.

The brewery is quite old, as I understand it the two brothers bought it in situ in about 1980, it had been disused for some time. The old equipment is still in use though, the Mash Tun is a traditional shallow circular wood-clad vessel, with a false bottom made from pie slice shaped steel that slot together, In the centre is an axle that turns a big propeller shaped mash stirrer. Equally dated is the coolship, which I had seen in use in Cantillon, but I didn’t think many other brewers still used it. The coolship is a hude shallow copper vessel that the hot beer is flooded in to, in order to cool it quickly. The

The Mash Paddle

drawback (unless you are Cantillon) is that a lot of the wort is exposed to the surrounding atmosphere, and so infection by wild yeast is a danger. The coolship also prompted some of our guides wilder claims, for instance, that since ‘copper cures cancer’, using the coolship to make beer meant that beer was more likely to ward off cancer. She should know, her son told her (the one who is no longer involved), and he’s a doctor.

We passed a little laboratory, where the yeast is cultured and various other quality control issues take place. We also passed the fermentation room, although since it is atmospherically controlled, there was a lot of condensation on the window. I could make out maybe half a dozen large, dairy style

The Lab

horizontal cylindrical tanks inside. In the warehouse section of the brewery there was quite a substantial bottling line, since De Dolle Brouwers deal mostly in bottled beers.

At the end of the tour we were directed to the tasting room, in what was an old stable, or perhaps cattle shed at the back of the brewery. The room was really homely, and a larger Flemish language tour came in shortly after we did. We lazed around on comfortable chairs and couches, near open fires and braziers, sipping the generally quite strong

Coolship No.1, Eccentric Guide

offerings out of large, red wine shaped glasses. Since it was November, we tried the just released christmas beer for that year, Stille Nacht. I tried one of my favourites, and the brewery’s signature beer, Oerbier. We chatted to the owner and brewer, Kris, who is a keen artist, his pictures are dotted around the walls. When he learned we were from Dublin, he asked had we seen his picture in the Porterhouse, one of our brewpubs. I had indeed noticed it, but I never knew who had drawn it. It’s a black and white line drawing of the pub’s Temple Bar branch, and it’s very good.

The Lineup

All too soon it was time to catch our train, and Kris was kind enough to drop us back up the road to the train station. This was one of my favourite brewery visits, and it’s well worth the trip if you have a day free in Belgium.

Happy Days


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