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.
Tag Archives: Beer
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ratebeer.com 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.
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.
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.
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!
In the attempt to meet a certain important academic deadline, I haven’t been posting. I have
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 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.
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.
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.
Recently one of my viewers asked me how my Rochefort style beer Rochefortesque was getting on, now that it has aged a bit, and whether I would do anything different. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks ago I had another go at a big Trappist beer again, and yes, I did try something new out. As to Rochefortesque, it seems to be thining out slightly, and as I said at the time, I would have preferred it to have a little more of the ‘rummy’ character in a real Trappist. Hopefully the following will address those defects
Big Trappist style beers are the dark, rummy strong beers that a number of Cistercian Monasteries brew in Belgium (also a German and one in Holland). I thought I’d use White Labs number 530 yeast, which is supposedly derived from Westmalle’s yeast strain. So far so good. But what I decided to do differently this time as opposed to my last Trappist style beer was use some homemade caramelised sugar for colour and flavour. As you can see from the recipe below I only used a very small amount of black malt for some extra colour, and I used some dark crystal malt to give me a good caramel sugar flavour. I used the same amount by weight of sugar. The method I used to darken this sugar was simple. I simply heated it in a pan along with some citric acid, and slowly it went a cream colour, then a bit yellow, and it began to clump together and finally it liquified. Then it was a matter of boiling it gently until it didn’t seem to be getting darker any longer. I could have boiled it for a shorter time if this had been a different type of beer, and I could have achieved a nice amber colouring, but for something like this I wanted maximum colour and flavour from the caramelised sugar. My inspiration here, as always with brewing Belgians is Stan Hieronymous, whose books I can’t recommend highly enough. The recipe site brew365.com also documents the process of boiling sugar with acid, the point of which is to ‘invert’ it, which means the sucrose breaks down in to fructose and glucose, by a process apparently known as ‘hydrolysis’. The point is, they are easier for the yeast to eat than sucrose is. Here are some pics of the process. click for bigger versions.
This beer turned out Big. I used 7KG Pilsner Malt, 500G dark Crystal Malt, 500G Caramelised Sugar, and 60G Black Malt for 20L. The original gravity was 1.116! It finally finished at 1.026, which gives it a whopping 12% ABV. I hopped with Northern Brewer at the start of the boil, Hallertauer at 10 minutes, and Styrian Goldings at the end, for an IBU of 40. You really don’t taste it though since the final gravity is so high. It is quite sweet, and what I like most about this sugar method for darkening the beer is that, while it sits in a chalice style glass it looks very dark, but it is very clear upon inspection, with a beautiful ruby colour. I said above that it finally finished; this was a troublesome brew. Although I made up a decent sized starter, I clearly didn’t pitch enough yeast, and for one of the few times in my brewing life I had a properly stuck fermentation. I pitched a load of s05 from a pale ale fermentation, and that sorted it out. It still has the characteristic Belgian yeast flavour because, even though it stuck at about 1.050 it had started at 1.116, so the WLP 530 had ample chance to do its thing! In any case, s05 is well known for being a fairly neutral yeast. I thought I knew this lesson already, but the moral of the story is Caveat Cervesarius! Don’t underpitch with a beer this big.
Another quick post, it’s this year’s hop update. Here in Ireland we’ve had a fantastic spring, the temperature has been fairly high and it’s been sunny. I think most of my hops sprouted in February, and as you can see, they’ve gotten pretty big. From the left, just creeping in to the picture is my Cascade plant, it’s tall but it got very wind battered over the last couple of weeks. Next we have me among the Germans: Taurus, Me, Hallertau and then in the corner is Northern Brewer. On the larger wires there is Tettnang, and on the right is my largest and oldest hop, Fuggles. They’re doing well so far apart from a bit of wind burn, the key now is to keep the aphids off them. More updates later in the season!