My Christmas Barleywine: A Simple Recipe

On Sunday evening I brewed this year’s Christmas beer. I decided not to go with spiced beer as I had in the previous two years. I found that last year’s attempt was a little too sweet and heady, I overdid the spice, and I couldn’t drink much of it. All the same, I wanted something quite strong, and full of body for sipping in the dark and cold December night. This year I’ve gone for a straightforward Barleywine, and my recipe is pretty simple. At 1.070 original gravity, depending on how the yeast attenuates the beer should end up at somewhere between 6.5 -7%abv, a nice winter warmer. I brewed 19L.

The malt bill is simple. I used Bairds Pale Ale Malt. It’s not the much prized Maris Otter variety, rather it’s their standard pale malt, apparently the variety (for the nerds) is “Flagon” . A group of us got a bunch of bags of this in recently, and I decided that the premium price of Maris Otter wasn’t worth it; I have always felt that the preference for Maris Otter is a baseless preference in brewing, and I agree with this post by Brewsters Brewing Company that Maris Otter is a “sacred cow”.

I used 6KG Pale Malt, and 1KG Dark (120 SRM) Crystal Malt. That sounds like a lot of Crystal, and it is. I’m hoping that 14% Crystal Malt will give me a really big sweet body that will stand up to the alcohol. Of course such body and alcohol needs adequate hopping. I used Northern Brewer as the bittering hop, 60G at 60 minutes. The rest was the well tested tag team of Challenger and Northdown, reputedly the hop combination that Fullers use in their delicious ESB. I used 30G of Northdown at 30 minutes and at 5 minutes, punctuated by 30G of Challenger at 10 minutes. I used Carageen as copper fining (to clarify the beer) as usual, at 15 minutes. Northdown is said to have good flavour and aroma, so I’ll be interested to see if it breaks through. According to my recipe program (Brewtarget) this beer should be 98IBU, which could be a little high even given the big OG and sweet body, but I find that Brewtarget’s estimates never come out quite as bitter as they say, so I’ve started overcompensating.

Welcome to my Brewery/Sauna

The brew went well, and I pitched the yeast from a previous brew (2 weeks ago), about a cup of White Labs 028 “Edinburgh Scottish Yeast” yeast gunk. I had kept half of the yeast from said previous brew in the fridge for the last week, and the other half went into the big stout that Kev and I brewed last week. The only thing that went wrong was that, as you can see from the picture, my tried and tested method of “leave-the-door-open-and-hope-the-breeze-takes-all-the-steam-out-through-the-skylight” didn’t seem to be working. I half expected to find Van Morrison magnificently sailing into The Mystic each time I went out there. Looking out the back door towards the shed gave the impression that some beautiful, mythical transformation was going on inside, and I suppose it was.


Twelve or so hours later, and fermentation is strong. Here’s a little video of an airlock bubble. 



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Italian Craft Brewery: Toccalmatto

Toccalmatto Brewery near Parma

Come here ’til I tell you something: there’s more to Parma than just the ham and cheese. The whole of Italy is making a bit of a splash lately when it comes to beer. The general direction of contemporary Italian birra seems to be a beautiful mix of the sensibilities of the two greatest brewing nations on Earth, that is the Belgians and the Americans.


Italy is unburdened with the ball and chain of tradition, instead it has the freedom to experiment. You can find all the fleeting trends that we see in American brewing, wood aged beers, big beers, hoppy beers, sour experiments, and all manner of hybrid styles. Yet at the same time, they take their beer seriously, in a way that reminds me of Belgium. Craft brewing is really young in Italy, but from the outset it seems to have allied itself with excellent food. Probably the best range of beer I saw in Italy was the selection carried by the trendy grocery/lifestyle store Eataly in Bologna, where many Italian beers rubbed shoulders with the best of Belgium, America, Britain and the rest of the world. Perhaps what really made the Belgian connection for me though, was the preponderance of 75cl bottles, they were everywhere.

Line 'em up

Toccalmatto is a small, young brewery – less than two years old – in Fidenza, not far from Parma. They only bottle in large bottles, and I asked Bruno Carilli, the owner/brewer whether it was hard to shift these in bars. “Italy is a wine country” he told me, “so it’s normal to share a bottle. Anyway, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking that my beer just another beer.” Don’t worry, there’s no chance we’ll be confusing this with Peroni or Moretti any time soon.

Well decorated!

It was really refreshing to see Toccalmatto’s brewery. It’s a simple affair, it doesn’t take up much space, it doesn’t have a huge capacity, it is well organised, but overall it’s simple. They bottle by hand with a simple gravity filler, and the beer is bottle conditioned. Good beer doesn’t need to come out of fancy equipment Bruno says. Perhaps there are limits though – he has recently come back from a visit to the Great British Beer Festival, and he visited Kernel brewery in London. “But they are crazy” he tells me. He shows me some pictures he took of their brewery, which I recently visited myself. It is in a tiny space under a railway arch. “But they brew beer right beside these people who are making cheese!” he tells me in disbelief, adding once more that they are crazy. We agree that Kernel make some very nice beer nonetheless.

Obscene dry hopping alert! Probably "Zona Cesarini"

Toccalmatto make quite a few different beers, many of which I was lucky to taste during my visit. First up was their Saison, Sibilla. It was an excellent saison, up with the best of the Belgians. It was very pale, and there was a citrus quality to the hop flavour. Bruno told me that the yeast strain he used also caused that citrus flavour, it was not the Dupont style yeast “because I am not making a version of Dupont”. Fair enough. It had a very dry finish, which did not last. All of the flavour was up front. Bruno seemed happy with this appraisal, telling me that “drinkability” was a key thing that he was trying to achieve, He wanted his beers to leave you wanting more, they should not be heavy, or filling. They should be tasty but easy drinkers. I have read that this is a trait also prized by the Belgians, who use sugar for this same reason – to make beers “digestible”.

Stray Dog Bitter was up next. This one was funny. It features a bulldog on the label, and a green white and red Union Jack. Bruno rather proudly showed me a certificate from the website which had it as the top rated bitter, above the British renditions that we all know and love. He seemed quite happy with himself to have upset the apple cart with an Italian version of the quintessentially British beer. As we go to press it has just been pipped by Jolly Pumpkin, for all these things are worth! I found that it had a thinner body than I expected. Styrian Goldings hops were certainly in attendance. It had little caramel, and again the drinkability was key.

Some of the barrels in the cellar

We tried a beer called Zona Cesarini, which was a twist on an American styled hoppy beer. Pointedly, non-American hops were forward, including Motueka and Sorachi Ace. The name was polysemic, it refers to Cesarini, a 1930s Italian/Argentinian footballer who had a habit of scoring in the last few minutes of the 90, in what is still called the “Cesarini Zone” by Italians. Furthermore the label features a Japanese Kamikaze pilot, referencing the Japanese (Sorachi) element, and also the “last minute” aspect of the beer: just like Cesarini’s goals, most of the hops don’t go in until towards the end of 90 minutes! For that reason it has very little bitterness, but a huge Motueka Pineapple flavour, Citra’s signature tangerine flavour makes an appearance, and Sorachi Ace are renowned for being lemony hops. All in all it’s a fruity affair; I very much liked it—it reminded me a little of Metalman’s Windjammer.

And the beer kept flowing. Bruno opened a bottle of Surfing Hop, which he described as a “Double IPA with artistic license”. Again there was a little subversion of the normal style. Sure, there were some American hops, but the malt was French, the yeast was Belgian, and it was quite dark. I was impressed by this, because when I brew, I find that the Belgian yeasts that I love can be too dominant to let me achieve the American style of late hop flavour which I also love, but Surfing Hop pulls it off.

At this stage Bruno revealed that he had a cellar. What was in the cellar? Barrels! Now you know I am a fan of barrels, and I was mightily impressed already at the beers that this simple little brewery was producing, but the experimental beers that we tasted then were really special. The first was a really big Barleywine that we sampled straight out of the Caol Ila barrel that it was aging in. Caol Ila is a lovely Islay single malt, a style I am really fond of because of those smoky peaty flavours that are associated with it, and this really didn’t disappoint, it was big and sweet, but it had picked up a really nice peaty flavour from the whiskey barrel.

One that got away: Jadis, a really interesting sounding Wit beer, rested on red grapes. There was no time to try it!

But there was stillmore. An Imperial Stout, which I think was in a calvados barrel. Bruno had whiskey, wine, calvados, a number of barrel types. This was no straightforward barrel-aged imperial stout (how passé) – it had the wild yeast brettanomyces added during aging. For all you myco-geeks, he stressed that this was not brettanomyces clausanus, but rather the kind that is found in gueuze and Flanders red, I presume he meant brettanomyces bruxellensis. In any case, this stout was incredibly complex. The big malty flavour was still there, but there was that wild acidic flavour right in the middle of the taste. My notebook says “v. hard to describe” so I’ll stop there. The barrel projects were both in the development stage, but they seemed pretty promising to me! He confessed that he had consulted his friend Jean Van Roy of Cantillon when he initially planned his barrel project. No better man.

King Hop

We had been there several hours at that stage, so we decided to let Bruno get home, the couple of other brewers he employs had long since left. I picked up a bottle of Re Hop (King Hop) to take back to the hotel with me, since it’s one of their best sellers. I can easily see why. It’s a 5% moderately hopped golden ale, in fact it’s extremely pale. The malt base is Pils, and I would guess not much else. The hopping is a mixture between the signature American Cascade flavour, and some late German Perle addition. It poured with a frothy, lasting head, and it was a little cloudy. It reminded me of some of the modern hoppy Belgian pales that the likes of Senne are producing. It had a very dry finish, due to the minimal crystal character. I found the European/American hop balance very pleasant. The beer wasn’t even cold, but 75cl seemed to disappear quite fast – drinkability topped the agenda once more. It was a lovely way to finish a great day, I really enjoyed meeting Bruno, seeing the gear, the beer, and the barrels. I think they’re doing something really special over there, and I hope they make it up in our direction soon. Importers take note!


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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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Howling Gale Ale

Eight Degrees Brewing is, I think, the most recent addition to Ireland’s ever growing craft brewing population. Started by an Antipodean duo, bottles of their first beer “Howling Gale Ale” (5% abv) hit the shelves in Dublin last week. They are based in Mitchelstown, County Cork.  Here is my take on their pale ale.


As you can see from the picture, it pours nice and clear, despite being unfiltered and bottle conditioned. Having a quick gawk inside I could see that there was very little sediment inside, not even enough to completely coat the base of the bottle. It is a dark yellow/amber colour.  I didn’t get a terribly strong hop aroma from it, rather I got a sort of winey/fruity smell that I associate with something like Kölsch.

It is quite lightly carbonated. There is quite a strong roof-of-the-mouth bitterness, but happily I found that this was followed by a reasonable amount or sugar sweetness, more straightforward sugar than caramel. I don’t get an awful lot of late hopping, but my guess is that there is some Chinook in this since the hops have a certain spicy flavour to them. Because of the sugar perhaps, I find this has quite a juicy finish, and dare I say it, (perhaps also due to the low carbonation) I find it quite “more-ish”. Gah. I said it. I feel dirty.

It’s a bit hoppier than other Irish beers in its class, as far as straightforward bittering goes. Pale ale is a broad church and there’s room for this sort of thing. Metalman’s “Windjammer” was hoppy too, but it was all up front, so it’s a different story. All in all, I think “Howling Gale” is a good solid debut. They have a red ale in the pipeline, and I’m really interested to see what they do with it. I often find reds more than a little dull. Watch this space!


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Micro Alt in Düsseldorf


So there I was, in the Rhein und Ruhr Megalopolis last week to give the Germans a piece of my mind, at a philosophy conference in beautiful Bonn. Of course the area is well known for two of Germany’s more interesting beers, Kölsch from Köln, and Altbier from Düsseldorf, neither of which is a lager as commonly conceived (at least, they are not fermented with Saccharomyces pastorianus which is responsible in part for the familiar taste that many lagers have, although they probably are Lagered, that is, stored at cold temperatures after primary fermentation is complete, just as most modern beers are.) which is nice to see, not that I didn’t enjoy a couple of perfectly good glasses of Stauder Pils, the local beer in Essen, where I was staying.

On my final day, Sunday, we ventured in to Düsseldorf before I flew home in the evening, and as seems to always be the case in German towns I visit, they were having a big party in the city centre. We mingled around the bustling squares, there was some sort of “Jazz Marathon” afoot, and plenty of music. We ate Thuringer bratwurst, and sampled fine altbiers from the iconic Uerige, from Frankenheimer, and  Schlüssel at least, probably Diebels, and I may be leaving some out. Just as in Köln where we saw them filling the little 20cl glasses of Kölsch from a fast pouring tap, 20 or so at a time without turning off the tap, the stand outside the Uerige brewery had a simple cask up on the table, when one ran out, they hoisted another up, slammed in an old style tap and hammered what I presumed was some sort of spile in to the top, and the tap was opened and I didn’t see it shut off while I was there at least. One barman poured and the other served.

A Barrel of Alt

My favourite alt of the day was one from a small microbrewery, the Kürzer Brauerei, on Kurze Strasse, which


only had a 2000L capacity, although from what I could see it had a pretty hi tech setup. It was a real microbrewery, the brewing gear was in the back of the slightly industrial, functionally furnished bar, it wasn’t behind glass, but merely roped off. The alt was tasty, it was malty and well hopped, similar to Uerige which I think is the bitterest of the well known varieties. It may even have been more hopped still.

I asked could I poke around, no problem I was told. In fact, I had a good chat with the friendly young barman, who I took for an Australian but who in fact had grown up in Papua New Guinea. At least he took my Australian comment as a compliment.

The setup was very interesting. As far as I could make out, the beer was brewed as normal, except I think they harvested the c02 from fermentation. It was secondaried in conicals at roof height I guessed, and then passed through a rather large plate filter. At this stage the barman wasn’t sure of the procedure, “I only sell it” he told me. What he could tell me was that they didn’t use kegs, instead there was a rather large (I would estimate 200L) horizontal tank suspended from the roof near the bar, and the beer was fed from that to a glass container that refilled automatically, and had an adjustable level sensor. It looked a bit like one those things that has margherita mix or something like that in some bars, you can make it out in the picture, as well as the holding tank. So as far as I could see, the beer was probably filtered and recarbonated with the harvested c02 in one of those smaller tanks, then pumped to the holding tank at the bar, where it fed by gravity to the glass serving vessel, which then poured by gravity also. There was no external serving gas used.

Holding tank top-left, serving yoke bottom-right.

The bar was only open since October, I don’t know if they had been brewing before that. The friendly barman was delighted with this system, they didn’t need to use kegs anymore, so no more lifting for him. They Also owned a bar down the road, and the one directly across the street. “We still fill kegs for the bar down the road” he told me, but the bar across the street is equipped with a similar serving system. “We just use a giant hose to fill it from here!” he told me.


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