Beer, bread and buses

Recently (i.e. as of about 10 minutes before winding up the PC to write this) I thought about the cultural and social aspect of beer blogging and beer appreciation and was struck by how there didn’t appear to be any similarity with other ‘good’ food or beverage categories at the moment.

Good beer appears to be blazing so many trails at the moment. Speaking to the here and now, but also looking ahead – to what is going to be new, different or completely ground breaking. Ahead of the curve but also with an eye to the past. And being vocal about it.

Something perhaps speaks to the “everyman” quality of beer (and that is not to say that every beer is for every person or vice versa) but do other products attract such passion, opinion or strength of debate as beer? Are they any less deserving of a fan base? If not, are they as vocal? If so, are they getting their message across?

One of my other interests is baking bread and I do wonder at why the same level of social interest is not attracted by baking as beer and brewing is given that I make both at home. I also buy, where possible or inclined, independently or ‘hand crafted’ examples of both.

Let’s be frank. The ‘good’ beer revolution (I’m just going to say “good” beer and not get into the tortuous definition of what ‘this’ or ‘that’ qualifies  as craft beer – or indeed deserves, the term or not) is an amazing and welcome resurgence of comparatively small brewers producing a high quality product, geared towards seasonality, the quality of the base ingredients or redefining or reinterpreting styles of beer that is almost unparalleled in many other areas of food production.

But what about bread?

Surely, I hear you say, this is hand crafted artisanal beer we are talking about here! Not your everyday bread!

I suspect that many in the beer appreciation world probably have a similarly high standard of appreciation for any other food product created with the same attention to detail, quality and devotion as the art (and science) of making good bread. Some may even be as passionate about good bread (or other food) as they are about good beer. But something clicked when I began thinking about why we go to such lengths to produce or when purchasing: chase down, categorise, quantify, vilify, eulogise or share on social media the product that is good beer compared to bread, or any other “hand crafted” food stuff?

I considered bread because it is on one hand commonplace and yet on the other – good bread can be very hard to find indeed. A high percentage of most of the mass market bread in the UK is (by any standard) frankly terrible or at best bland and is geared towards commercial production and finding the cheapest way of making water stand upright. Remind you of anything?

But search out “the real bread campaign” and you will find an interest group as impassioned and focused as that of CAMRA.  There are people out there who have championed good bread and good bread made by skilled craftspeople. Independent hand craft bakeries are now more commonplace and if you seek it out, you will find it. They have also improved the choice for bread and availability, but still arguably have a very long way to go.

Supermarkets are offering increasingly better choice in bread, but again, what they do sell as “sourdough” or “hand made” for example is often nothing of the sort and is tantamount to passing off. Again though, one can see the similarity with beer: large commercial interests redefining their existing products, or offering a substandard product marketed as “hand crafted” to gouge out a higher profit off the impression of being “artisanal”.

Perhaps The Real Bread Campaign is fighting a battle that CAMRA did over 30 years ago and things may get even better.

Beer is big business. Bread less so probably by an order of magnitude. But then, why should this be the case? Compare the fact that they are food stuffs made up of base ingredients – grain (malted in the case of beer), water and yeast – and more complex ingredients to create variety and interest (hops and / or additional flavourings), to be transformed by the skill of the producers into something that is so much more than the sum of their parts. The answer lies in taxation, variability and availability in ingredients, equipment and start up costs plus a host of other issues. Am I therefore comparing chalk and cheese?

As a consumer it may well be that if I go to an outstanding craft bakery I can buy an amazing pain de campagne or a rye sourdough that would put my own attempts to shame, but would it really be that much better than I could make at home and be very happy with? Could I say the same for good beer? Possibly.

But as a home brewer I’ve made (at least in my opinion) good beer, but the bar to making good bread is much lower considering the equipment, time, variable parameters and experience required compared to beer. I like the beer I make – and this may be the rub, it is the making of it that is the difference. Once dough is rising, proving and being baked – that really is it. There is no real possibility to alter, to innovate or improvise as one can with beer (think dry hopping, secondary fermentations with fruit etc.) after the product is largely made. That is where the showmanship comes into Brewing I think and sets it apart from Baking.

Will bread always be beer’s poorer cousin? I hope not. Maybe siblings in time. But I can’t imagine the same social buzz for bread as is being experienced by beer any time soon whether as an amateur producing it at home, or as a consumer . There is something to be said about the social cohesion that beer can bring or that bread is something that you break with your family.

I did however ask myself this: does the good beer community take itself too seriously? Or put another way, does it consider itself to be worth more seriousness or profile at the expense of other good food products? Should the good beer community begin to think about other “good” food?

Is the Brew master / Brewster deserving of more laurels than the Baker? Can or should bread have the same level of social notoriety or dare I say, fan worship as beer? Are we going to see bakery open days? Bakery tours? Bakery tasting rooms (with guest Bakery products also featuring)? Home Bake Camps? Bakery collaborations? Bakery takeovers? Buyouts of Independents by Big Bakeries (I’ve not heard anything about a small hand craft bakery being bought out in a £500 million share rights option by a large commercial bakery to gain access to the unparalleled marketing and distribution network that they have – but who, or indeed what can time tell!?)

In theory, probably not. Does it say something about the collective attitudes of the beer connoisseur compared to the bread lover? Probably. Are beer fans more inclined to bus spotter tendencies than bread fans? No comment. Is it that making good beer is largely more complex or expensive than making good bread? Maybe. Is beer a more exciting product than bread? Definitely (although the Great British Brew Off is yet to see the light of day and I am after all writing this with a good beer, rather than a slice of artisan bread. I do have an ale poolish on the go in the kitchen though).

I concluded that if one accepts that good bread should be something that is to be treasured and deserving of the same nurture and protection as good beer, then maybe bread needs to wake up and take a leaf out of beers book.

On behalf of good bread and good food in general though, I would ask that you consider this question:

How much did you spend last week in money and time on good beer, and how much did you spend on good bread?

Wylam Brewery Tour

We have just got back from a great weekend up in the North East over the half term hols and I managed to fit in a Brewery Tour and Tasting. Well it did coincide with the start of Manchester Beer Week (more on that in another post) so I was feeling left out.

Wylam Brewery have recently finished relocating to the Exhibition Park in Newcastle from Wylam about 3 weeks or so ago and this was a great opportunity to see what had been widely agreed on the Twitter and Blogosphere to be a great venue after their official opening.

The view on the walk up to the brewery is amazing:

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The building they are now situated in is the only permanent structure left from the North East Exhibition of 1929 – the Palace of Art exhibition space. The other buildings were more temporary and were demolished in the following years – this one earning its reprieve as a Science Museum and Military Vehicle exhibition until it fell into disuse for nearly a decade. Now Wylam Brewery have given it new lease of life and have taken up residence with their brewery and event space.

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This has been at least 3 years in the planning and represents a big step up in production and the kind of events that they can run and / or support in the space available to them.

The tour started with Dave Stone in the Tap Room where we were given a background into the company and the history behind them and the building they had only just recently moved into.

Then onto the tour of their new shiny, oh very shiny kit:

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Ben their brewer provided a great tour of the specs and process involved. On reflection I should have made notes of the size of the vessels, but from memory it is a 30 barrel kit and they can brew 3/4 times a day if they pull all the stops out which is a 3 fold increase from their previous capacity.

What a boiler and mash tun. All steam heated, and their process was surprisingly manual rather than automated in terms of transferring wort etc. around. There were plenty of control boxes for heating and boiling and the like, but still a lot done by feel and skill / knowledge if you will.

And then came the VFs:

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… and more

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All double walled stainless and temperature controlled / glycol chilled. Quite simply amazing pieces of kit.

Even the test batch equipment was enough to make you jealous:

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After they had relieved me of one of the stainless test batch kettles that I tried taking with me (only joking) we retired to the Tap Room for the tasting session.

I’ll leave the tasting session for a separate post, but if you are ever in their neck of the woods on a Saturday for the tour – or in fact any of the days that their tap room is open, then I would highly recommend you go. The tours are I think only available on advance booking so you will need to plan or arrange that in advance via their website: www.wylambrewery.co.uk. The cost for the tour and the tasting session afterwards is currently £11.00 each (including the ticket booking site fees). Definitely well worth a visit.

Hops Update

Well, the Hops have come on since the last post:

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They have climbed the height of the upright, and with a little coaxing they are starting to go across the coir to the other support.

We even have what look to be a few side shoots, which I think are the fruiting spurs for the cones:

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There has been plenty of sun and rain so even though it has only been the first year – there is some really good growth.

Just need to keep an eye on things and there may be a Green/Fresh Hop brew in store this year after all.

Hops growing update

Oh dear…  mixed results on the hops growing front at the allotment. The First Gold / Prima Donna has rotted! 

We had a wet couple of weeks and I may have planted it a bit deep which probably allowed it to rot.

I dug the grown up and some of the thicker roots seemed ok so I cut them into 2-3 inch lengths and planted them very shallow horizontally. One or two seem to have new white roots starting on them (no, I couldn’t help digging them up again!) so we might have something to show for it.

Otherwise, the Hallertauer is going great!

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Plenty of bines growing and it seems to have really taken off. 

Can’t wait to see how it goes. 

Growing Hops

I have an allotment and at the suggestion of my dad, I have just ordered and planted two hop rhizomes to take up the space from the raspberry plants we had taken out (too leggy and a bit past their best).

I decided on one Hallertauer and one First Gold / Prima Donna. I really like the German noble hops and the First Gold is a dwarf variety so I thought I would try one of each.


The Hallertauer
 The First Gold

After extensive YouTube and ‘internets’ research (in addition to the instructions in the box) I think I have condensed Hop Growing idiot proof planting advice down to the following:

  1. They are not too fussy about soil conditions, but avoid excessively waterlogged or poorly drained soils.
  2. Plant rhizomes in late winter to early spring – they are dormant then and may put on some root growth in the cooler months before spring to get a good start when the weather warms up. Established plants can be planted in the spring when the soil has warmed up, but don’t leave it too late.
  3. Dig a good foot or so down and work the soil in the bottom of your hole / trench loosely. Add some good general purpose fertiliser to the bottom and a generous helping to the soil you will use to backfill.
  4. I found my rhizomes had very long fleshy roots on them (almost like a tap root – which I assumed them to be). I therefore tried to get as much of this to go downwards whilst coiling it round as I backfilled the soil in. I have no idea if this was right or not, but I aimed to get the  majority of the plant and what looked like last years growth about level with the soil. There are some shoots on the plants which I left just about level with the soil / lightly covered up which have grown a little bit since I planted them.
  5. A week or so later after the soil had settled, I set to making the trellis / support system:


You can see the coir twine fixed to the ground at each end with the galvanised screw type pegs. The idea is that for at least the first year, just two or three bines per twine will be trained up: one east – the other west. Each has an incline of about a foot over the length to train it upwards (hops always want to grow upwards so they do need a gradient to work up).

I think the posts are about 8 feet in height and the distance between is 12 feet giving a total ‘height’ of 20 feet which should be enough (some varieties can grow about 20 feet in height straight up, but I think I may have some bother with the local council putting up a hop support that high!).

I did think of putting two arms at the top of each pole – like a telegraph pole, but I think that I may play around with that next year when I come to review how things have gone.

Bit of a departure from what I have been posting about, but I plan to do a brew or two with the green hops (if I’m lucky enough to get any hop cones).

If you are thinking of growing your own hops, you can’t go wrong with looking at some YouTube videos from Chop and Brew (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIia4q3_rSY ) and BrewingTV  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1WsHWHqYRw ).

If you’re in the UK and are looking to source your hops for planting, try Essentially Hops website which has a good selection and also sells the galvanised screw pegs and the coir twine: https://www.essentiallyhops.co.uk/acatalog/Hop_Plants.html.

Happy Hop Growing!

Mash Tun Envy

I caved in at last and went for a mash tun.

There were a number of factors in this decision:

  1. Every home brewer / hobbyist in general has a deep seated desire for new and better equipment;
  2. I was a bit tired of constantly watching the mash temperature on my BIAB set up which was, I suspect, affecting my efficiency;
  3. I could get the mashing done earlier in the day to cut down on late night brewing;
  4. Points 2 and 3 seemed like sufficient reasons to justify point 1 – therefore a considered purchase was in order.

I decided on a 30 litre cooler box set up. I could have made one yes, but I was paranoid about getting just the right cooler box and cutting a hole in it, and went for a pre-made one.

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It is the BrewPaks Insulated 30 Litre Mash Tun and holds 10kg of grain. I did a few comparisons and this size worked well with the batches and recipes that I am likely to do for the foreseeable future. That is unless I go for a Barley Wine or Russian Imperial Stout or something – which I think is unlikely for the moment.

BIAB has been good so far, but it just didn’t quite seem to work right for me and my set up somehow. Don’t get me wrong, it works for some people and has been a great introduction (at least for me) to the whole process of All Grain brewing. But for my set up and trying to handle that amount of hot grain and draining it without making a right old mess – the mash tun option seemed the best place to go. What can I say, I got mash tun envy!

I’ll post about the first batch I brewed with this soon and there are a few tweaks that I could make to the design, but all in all, I’m really happy with the results so far.

Plus I got to brew with Munich Malt again.

Black Cat Porter

Well, what a great Christmas and New Year that was!

To help celebrate, I kept good on my promise and made a shorter all grain brew to have a Porter ready for Christmas drinking

  

The Boil and Hop Additions

 

This was based on a recipe I had done back in May 2015 for a partial mash: part all grain – part liquid malt extract. I wanted to see if a smaller all grain batch would be any different, without the additional extract to bulk up the size of the batch. I had found that this had a slight twang to it – which seemed to be the one downside against getting a bigger batch in using the partial mash method.

I settled on the following BIAB recipe:

 

2.63kg Maris Otter

0.30kg Munich Malt

0.12kg Crystal 120

0.07kg Black Patent Malt

0.07kg Chocolate Malt

0.07kg Aromatic Malt

0.07kg Wheat Malt

0.07kg Carafa Special I

 

17 ltr Liquor

Mash @ 67C for 60mins

Sparge with 3-4 ltr @ 70C

 

15g Target (30mins)

11g Fuggles (15mins)

11g E.K Goldings (15mins)

11g Bramling Cross (15mins)

 

Pre Boil Gravity: 1044

Boil: 60mins

Original Gravity: 1047

 

1 Pack of dry Windsor Danstar / Lallemande Yeast

Added 150g of a split of 50g each of demerara, muscovado and brown sugars (briefly boiled and cooled) during fermentation

Final Gravity: 1014

 

So to explain:

 

  1. I love Munich malt. It seems to end up in all my recipes. Don’t judge me – I have a favourite ingredient, ok?;
  2. This was more porter like than stout (my 2015 porter had verged more on the stout than porter side) so I was well pleased with this beer matching the style. The Carafa I is a de-husked roasted grain and this may have had an impact in keeping the harsher roast flavours in check;
  3. I really like Bramling Cross hops at the moment. They give a slight blackcurrant note to a beer and this was definitely evident in this. I could even suggest raising the late Bramling Cross addition to up this even more;
  4. I was off on my anticipated OG by quite a margin (I can’t rightly recall the numbers I was supposed to hit). I decided to add a few different brown sugars after the boil and once fermentation had started, to increase the alcohol level. I had read somewhere (mental note – one for a historic brewing post perhaps?) that porters had traditionally been brewed with a proportion of simple sugars and thought this would do well. I certainly could not taste anything off about this and it may have added something in the overall scheme of things;
  5. The Windsor yeast worked really well. I did re-hydrate it before pitching, and added some warmth during fermentation as it was so cold in the cellar (why did I not do a lager!);
  6. In a small barrel it carbonated well and was probably one of my best efforts yet. I bottled the other half in 500ml swing top bottles. I used carbonation drops but I think that the carbonation level was a little too much in the end.
  7. The head retention wasn’t great. It would pour well, but the head didn’t linger and certainly didn’t leave the lacing that you (or at least, I) want to see. I put the wheat malt in to supposedly help with this, and had stayed away from other adjuncts to avoid getting into Stout territory. I’ve found most of my brews have not had great head retention, and I’m not quite sure what to do to improve on this yet.

So to summarise: a great brew in the end although I was off my numbers. I have found the BIAB method to be a great start to All Grain, but my efficiency has been off and the constant watching of the mash temperature has probably played a big part in this, as has the crush of my grains.

The end result was brilliant and probably one of my most successful batches yet in terms of taste and drinkability. It even passed the “Dad” test – my Father and Father-in-Law both declaring it the one they have liked the best so far.

As seals of approval go, you can’t get much better than that.

In A Brewing Rut

I’ve not brewed any All Grain beers for a while, hence the lack of any posts to the blog. There was an extract kit I did a while back that I dry hopped and put in the plastic barrel, but nothing that has particularly warranted an update here.

I have half a mind to try and do a “quick” All Grain Pale Ale or similar to speed up the late night brewing sessions. Although I gave enjoyed the German lager and the saison I did, the hour and a half mash and boil times are a real pain when you start at 7:00 at night!

I think an hour long Maris Otter mash and one hour boil may be the way to go for the next brew session. The advantage being that with no lager malt – I wouldn’t need to boil for a long time to drive off DMS from the beer (Dimethyl Sulphide – which is supposed to cause a cooked corn or vegetal off flavour in the beer is more likely to form in a lager malt wort than in others).

I’ve quite fancied the idea of a SMASH beer (Single Malt And Single Hop) so this may be the way forward out of this brewing rut.

Is there anything that you do to ring the changes to get back brewing again or change your process for the better?

Saison Tasting Notes

After a week carbonating in the bottle and cooled in the fridge before serving, the Saison is ready!

 

Good colour and aroma. Very dry finish and a good head, but this doesn’t last too long. It needs quite an aggressive pour to get that head, so there is likely to be more yet to get out of carbonation. 

It tastes like a good Belgian should, slightly spicy but with a rich malt flavour. Not bitter or overly hoppy either. 

No discernible honey flavour though which is a bit of a disappointment. The recipe could have stood for more honey to bring that flavour out, but this would have meant a higher ABV unless I had lengthened the batch size. Something to experiment with next time?

Not much in the way of “barnyard” or “horse blanket” like flavours. But there is a certain rustic quality which is pleasing. A pleasant one to drink- not challenging although strong at 7.5 ish %

All in all, This one is just right. 

Historic Brewing Literature #1

There have been many advances in brewing over the years but after watching a few YouTube videos on primary sources for historic beer brewing recipes, I thought it might be interesting to see if there was any information in historic brewing sources that still held true, or any practices that were now no longer good practice.

So (fade to sepia tint) in the first of a series (hopefully)…

Historic Brewing
Historic Brewing

 

The Private Brewer’s Guide to the Art of Brewing Ale and Porter

by John Tuck – 1822

 

On Boiling

It certainly cannot be controverted that in long boiling the essentials will waste more particularly the oily particles of the hops. For the first wort, three quarters of an hour I should consider quite sufficient, from the time the copper is through. It must be observed, at the same time, that the copper must be in full ebullition. Always avoid simmering; it is waste of time, and a great chance of spoiling your gyle. Therefore, while you are boiling, drive her to the full extremity.

Advice to ensure a good rolling boil still stands good today.

On Cooling

I perceive Mr Accum considers washing tubs good things for cooling. I should consider them the worst, the greasy soapy matter will at a certainty ruin your gyle … He also says, page 73, that “the Wort should be laid in the coolers that it will cool in seven or eight hours.” The best practice is to cool fast as possible.

Although not something I’ve seen in any of the more recent literature, it maybe that Mr Tuck’s scorn for the advice of Mr Accum, put paid to the continued suggestion to use one’s bath tub to cool your wort!!! Also, don’t leave your wort to cool over 7 or 8 hours!

 

{Sourced from Google Books and scanned historical books on Brewing}