Saturday, 24 September 2016

US beer odyssey part 2 - Reno

Matt behind the bar at Imbib, foeder, and great beer
With sadness I left Utah early on a Monday morning, the 16th of August, sad because I was leaving Salt Lake City, which had been so wonderful to us for the previous few months, but also because I was saying goodbye to my wife and son with whom I had enjoyed all the great experiences Utah had to offer, I was striking out by myself into the great unknown. Over the next two weeks I would drive 2,640 miles, visiting eight cities, and many great beer establishments.

Superb saison
Google maps said it was just over a seven hour drive on I-80 from Salt Lake City to Reno, and nine and a half hours later I arrived at my lodgings, Harrah's Casino Resort Hotel. $36 a night, plus resort fees and taxes, bringing the total to about $54, a bargain by any standards. I had been advised to avoid Reno and hit for Lake Tahoe instead, but combined with the steep prices at Lake Tahoe and my sense for a bargain, Reno was the clear winner. I had googled before I left about brewpub in Reno, and therein I discovered a gem: Imbib. Just a 10 minute walk from my hotel, this is one of Reno's newest (and smallest) brewpubs.

Slightly off the beaten track -- but then Reno's not exactly a beaten track like Vegas is -- I had one of the best beers I've had in the US: Imbib with an Alibi. A saison that has been made from a blend of two brews, one by Imbib themselves, and aged in a white wine barrel, and the other made by Alibi Ale Works (in Tahoe), aged in a red wine barrel. Fermentation involved two yeasts, before the beers were parked for a relatively short time in barrels. The result is spectacular, classically saison, but with some acidic sharpness that was picked up in the barrels. One of only a few beers I've give five to on Untappd.

Beer menu at Imbib
One of the benefits of visiting a small place is you get the personal touch. Matt (Johnson), one of the owners of Imbib was on duty that night, in an unbusy bar, and we got to have a good chat about Imbib and what they're doing. Their current brewkit is very small, between 300 and 400 litres (he speaks barrels, I speak litres, and we weren't sure of the exact conversion). Additionally, they have a number of barrels, and an American made foeder. The foeder is egg shaped and was a first for the manufacturer, which hasn't gone flawlessly. Unlike other foeders I've seen there are no centre braces and as a result it's starting to sag and split in the middle. It's not leaking, or really a big deal, but the manufacturer has guaranteed it and will replace it.

Imbib has five owners, all brewers, and a few others help out in the taproom etc. They all have day jobs too. A bigger brewkit is on order, which will allow them to achieve wider distribution. All the beers are quality (see the menu, right), something I hope doesn't get lost in the upscale.  All are available on draft only, for now, but the new kit will see it in bottles. I expect to hear a lot more from Imbib in the future, definitely a must-see if you're in the Reno area.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Liked Castaway? Good news! Read on

Castaway, the beer that was prototyped in my kitchen and subsequently brewed by myself and Mark Nixon with Delcan down in Yellowbelly, went down so well that we (well, Mark) decided we make it a trilogy of beers in a similar vain.

Can you guess the fruit?
Number 2 in the trilogy, Castaway's successor (currently nameless) is sitting in a tank in Hope Brewery souring away and will be released in around 6 weeks from now. The fruit in this one was somewhat inspired by a beverage I had sitting on my balcony one sunny July morning in Salt Lake City as we chatted over WhatsApp. I won't give it away yet, but have a look at the photo. This combination hasn't been used in an Irish beer before, so we're super excited and a little nervous! We've dialled back the sourness ever so slightly on this one as we feel that it will go with the fruit a bit better. If you're a fan of sour beers, in general, you won't be disappointed -- it's still going to be well puckering!

We brewed 2,000 litres on September 7th in Hope's super shiny new brewery beside Howth Junction DART station, to be released mainly in bottles but also a limited number of kegs, as a Hope product primarily, but it will be co-branded with Yellowbelly and myself.

One of the things I picked up in the US was a 360-degree camera. Embedding 360-degree photos in a blog is not straightforward, but below is a shot of Hope's lovely Caspary brewhouse, with myself, Declan and Mark on the deck. You can pan and zoom with your mouse.

Even more good news is that today (September 9th) Declan is brewing another batch of Castaway, so the two should be available for your drinking pleasure around the same time! :)

Monday, 27 June 2016

Crackaway: Going native in Wexford

Who knew Stone IPA tasted so good on the move
Some of you will know that I've relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the summer. I had the pleasure of writing this piece on the train from Chicago to Salt Lake, a 1400 mile, 41-hour journey across Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, into Denver (Colorado, for a brief stop) and then across the breath-taking Rockies and on to the Promised Land of Utah. It's a trip of a lifetime and one I would recommend to anyone... Amtrak even have decent craft beer on board!

The view as I type. That's our train, snaking along beside the Colorado river
Mark Nixon, the main man at the new and very impressive Hope Brewery, asked me to do a fruit sour with him after the success of Chloe Dancer. Mark (and Niall Maher of the Corkscrew at Kenny's) had tasted Chloe in Kenny's and really enjoyed it. (Though in fairness they had listened to me blowing off about it for long enough too.)

Mark wanted to produce a dry hopped mango and passion fruit sour beer that had the tart fruit sourness of Chloe but also nodded in the direction of Siren's excellent Calypso, and more importantly one that would be zymurgically unrisky, i.e. the yeast was to be US-05. The reason: so that no commercial brewery would be reluctant to brew it. (As you probably know I have almost universally replaced US-05/WLP-001 with WLP-644 in my brewing)

So I brewed a sour base beer, with a grist of around 25% wheat malt and 75% pale. Pre-acidified and then soured for a couple of days with a mixture of pro-biotic lacto caps down to pH 3.3. I made a yeast starter of half-and-half regular wort and soured wort as I didn't want to acid shock the yeast. I suspected the yeast would be fine as I've fermented pH 3.4 apple juice from our cider man Davy with US-05, but I decided I'd not take the chance. Belt and braces as a risk-averse work colleague used to say.

Once fermentation was looking healthy and well under way I handed the batch to Mark for fruiting. I suggested he split it in two and use mango in one half and passion fruit in the other, and then try blending, rather than putting the whole lot in one brew. Two weeks later we tasted the fruits of our efforts (bad pun intended) and concluded that the mango version was a bit whoaaa! Very mango, it probably could have done with one tenth as much purée to be a beer, but was it was it was definitely one of your five-a-day! The passion fruit on the other hand had nods to Chloe and to Calypso, I think the latter was due to dry hopping. But either way we felt we had out beer.

As timing would have it Mark was between breweries (most readers will know Mark was Head Brewer and Master of Recipes at Trouble for two years prior to joining Hope) when he mentioned it to Declan "Rennie" Nixon of Yellow Belly in Wexford, and Dec suggested it be brewed there. The brew day is well photographed and documented on Yellow Belly's website/blog, so I won't go into it again. Needless to say we had a blast: the whole crew at Simon Lambert & Sons made us feel very welcome but special shouts out to Nicky, Seamus and Danny. Gentlemen, one and all.

So I'm not going to give the recipe for Castaway away, but this should land you in the ballpark. Feel free to dial up the passion fruit and sourness for a hardcore experience, dial it back for something closer to what you might have had before. Either way you'll get an enjoyable beer.

Crackaway - A sour passionfruit beer

Makes approximately 20 litres (dependent on passion fruit)
Amount Item Type % or IBU
3.00 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (5.9 EBC) Grain 75.00 %
1.00 kg Wheat Malt, Bel (3.9 EBC) Grain 25.00 %
1 Pkgs Your favourite source of lactobacillus Bacteria
1¼ to 2½ kg Passion fruit Purée Yum
1 Pkgs Safale American (DCL Yeast #US-05) Yeast-Ale
20.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -


  1. The boil is 60 mins before pre acidifying and adding the lactobacillus. Once the lacto has been pitched store at around 30°C for a couple of days. Test for pH and proceed to next step once it has hit 3.6 (sourish) to 3.3 (sour).
  2. Once the pH has been hit you can boil for 15 mins to halt the progress of the lacto. Or you can leave it as is with live lacto, it's up to you. Personally I do the latter at home.
  3. It's a good idea to rehydrate the yeast with some of the sour wort mixed with regular wort to minimise the risk of acid shock.
  4. Once the fermentation is under way, add the passionfruit puree and ferment as normal.
  5. Hopping is optional, maybe mix it up and hop one half but not the other.
At the time of writing Castaway has clocked up 4.22 on Untappd, neck and neck with Chloe Dancer. It's nice to be associated with both :)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

What do The Púca and Chloe Dancer have in common?

March 5th 2016 was Boundary Brewing's first birthday party. For any serious Irish beer lover there was only one place to be: Brewbot in Belfast. The best of the best was on show: a tap take-over featuring Boundary's full range, along with great brews from Simon Lambert & Sons, The White Hag, and Galway Bay.

For me it was the first public outing of my winner of Sourfest 2015, brewed by myself under my good friend Matthew's watchful eye at Boundary, and what a buzz it was. Due to scheduling it didn't go on tap till late in the evening, 9.30pm, by which time John The Beer Nut Duffy was on the last train back to Dublin. Misfortunate as I really wanted John to taste it. Howandever. Taking position on Tap 3 it was a wonderful experience to hear people at the bar say "Tell so-and-so the raspberry sour has gone on" and two hours later it was equally gratifying when Steven Barr, my main man behind the bar, told me "It's all gone". Live fast die young. Since then it went on sale in Glasgow and London where the reception was equally as prompt!

Chloe racked up a healthy 4.32 (currently 4.22) on Untapped once the votes from the launch night were verified, making it one of the highest ranked beers from Ireland.

So to answer the question: What do The Púca and Chloe Dancer have in common? Well, the pre-acidification method I used in Chloe Dancer is also used in An Púca. I find it works very well with fruit sours, but of course Joe used it in his own way and has produced another wonderful beer. Chloe has opened doors for me.... watch this space! #Leviathan

The White Hag's Paul, really digging Chloe
The Púca is fairly widely available as The White Hag's batch size is much bigger than Boundary's. If you see it, buy it, you won't regret it! And Boundary's other beers are as awesome as ever.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Brewing Row 2, Hill 56

Simcoe. A cat pissy, dank, hipster hop that is on nearly every page of BrewDog's DIY Dog. It's impossible to get off contract and even if you do have a contract it may not be entirely fulfilled. Going on BrewDog's published recipes it's easy to see why there might be a shortage: they use a huge quantity.

I was fortunate though to be given quite a lot of Simcoe this year, so much so that I've had to give some of it away in turn. But one thing I wanted to do was a SMaSH, or close to it, that wasn't just stuffed to the balls with hops. It's so easy to give into temptation and shovel them in, but I wanted something more svelte.

Consensus is that Russia River's Row 2 Hill 56 is a damn fine example of a single hop Simcoe pale ale. Deriving its name the row and hill on the hop farm in Yakima where it's grown, it's draught only and only available in the US. So I haven't had it (yet), but that's something I plan to rectify shortly. The recipe below is drawn from a number of internet sources.

20 litres. Single infusion mash at 66°C for one hour, and boiled for one hour. Cleared with gelatin.

Amount Item Type % or IBU
2.90 kg Lager Malt (MCI) (3.9 EBC) Grain 60.66 %
1.56 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) (Castle) (5.9 EBC) Grain 32.63 %
0.32 kg Cara-Pils/Dextrine (3.9 EBC) Grain 6.70 %
14.00 gm Simcoe [13.00 %] (60 min) Hops 21.2 IBU
14.00 gm Simcoe [13.00 %] (30 min) Hops 16.3 IBU
26.00 gm Simcoe [13.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
50.00 gm Simcoe [13.00 %] (Dry Hop 10 days) Hops -
0.26 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs Safale American (DCL Yeast #US-05) Yeast-Ale
Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.056 SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.056 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.015 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Estimated ABV: 5.30 % Actual ABV: 5.74 %
Bitterness: 37.4 IBU Calories: 526 cal/l
Est Color: 8.4 EBC Color:

Tasting Notes

Crystal clear thanks to gelatin with excellent retention and lacing. An unexpected and wonderfully delicate hop aroma and flavour with none of the cat-pissy dankness I've come to associate with the likes of Simcoe, Galaxy, Citra and a couple of others. If you're looking for a simple sessionable hoppy pale ale, this is it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Experimental Grapefruit Pale Ale

My glass of Elvis Juice at
Brewdog Birmingham
Ever since I first achieved good results brewing with fruit I've been determined to brew with more fruit, fruit juices, purees, concentrates etc. And ever since I first got into craft beer I have been amused by what flavours people have described, the first descriptor that stuck out was "grapefruit". I remember thinking to myself  how the fook could you taste grapefruit from a beer that doesn't have grapefruit in it?

So I decided to brew an American pale ale with 10% grapefruit juice.

My point of reference for a recent brew that I had that ticked the grapefruit box is one by a commercial Irish microbrewer that is almost a SMaSH, and the solitary hop is Mosaic, a hop I'm over-stocked with at the moment. As two litres would be made up from grapefruit juice the batch size only needs to be 18 litres. Grapefruit juice is surprisingly sugary, at 90g per litre for the Tesco juice. I worked this into the calculations as adding a litre of water and 90g of sugar. When it came to priming the maths are the same: one litre of juice contributes 90g of sugar, which would land just a little short of where the carbonation was meant to be, so another 30g of sugar was added to the bottling bucket.

The yeast used was Mauribrew 514 dried ale yeast. I had intended on using WLP-644 originally but didn't grow up enough in time. 514 kind of reminds me of Safale S-04 and indeed it may be the equivalent, but I'm not a fan of either.

Batch size: 18 litres (additional 2 litres to be made up by grapefruit juice)

Amount Item Type % or IBU
4.10 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) Bel (5.9 EBC) Grain 94.25 %
0.25 kg Wheat Malt, Bel (3.9 EBC) Grain 5.75 %
10.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 65.9 IBU
30.00 gm Mosaic [13.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
1.00 Litre Tesco Grapefruit Juice (Fermenter) Misc
10.00 gm Mauribrew 514 Ale Yeast
1.00 Litre Tesco Grapefruit Juice (Bottling) Misc
30.00 gm Sucrose (Bottling) Misc

Tasting notes
Refreshing, opaque,
bitter, grapefruit
This beer pre-dates BrewDog's excellent Elvis Juice, the only beer this year I've given five stars to on Untappd. Had I seen the recipe for Elvis Juice beforehand I probably would have opted to use grapefruit rind instead of juice, and gone down a different route with the hopping, but my main intention at the time was to see what fermented grapefruit juice would do to a pale ale.

The final beer ended up around 5.3% abv. Due to a screw up with the hop extract I likely ended up with around 30 IBUs, but at the same time there was an intense bitterness from the fermented juice. The grapefruit is there, it's undeniable. It's not the delicate "hop" grapefruit though, it's in-your-face, real flavour. When consumed ice cold it's quite refreshing but if it's any way warmed up the grapefruit really comes to the fore. This was definitely an experimental beer which was educational more than sessionable. It's drinkable in its own right, but no more than maybe two at a time. My buddy in beer Mark after tasting it commented that it may be possible to bitter a beer entirely without hops and set a challenge for us to devise a recipe for a balanced beer, with bitterness, flavour and aroma without using any hops at all, a challenge accepted! 

Beer Ireland Micro Brewed Logo

The Beer Ireland – Micro Brewed logo is an initiative of Beer Ireland Artisan Brewers' Association. The logo was developed to identify and promote beer brewed by independently owned Irish microbreweries.

The Micro Brewed logo identifies to the customer that any craft beer displaying the logo, adheres to the following criteria:
  • The beers have been produced in a brewery on the island of Ireland.
  • The brewery is legally and economically independent of any other brewery.
  • The brewery meets the legal definition of microbrewery.
  • The brewery owners are professional members of Beer Ireland.
To be a member you need to be IBD certified and/or own or work in an independently owned microbrewery producing less than 200khl per annum.