Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Brewing Irish Sour Beers in Belfast

On November 17th I packed up the car and headed to Belfast on an invitation from Matthew in Boundary to brew a couple of my own recipes in collab. You may have seen the pictures on Twitter, now here's the story behind them.

Stardog Champion is a light coloured beer heavily hopped with Cascade, Centennial and Citra hops and fermented with a slow moving brett like yeast that produces lots of fruitiness, a bit of funk and if you're lucky you'll get a hint of sour. 5.5% abv in 330ml bottles.

Chloe Dancer is very sour and has an intense raspberry flavour and colour. It has been fermented with lactobacillus in the brew kettle and then fermented again with the same yeast as Stardog Champion in French Chardonnay barrels. pH 3.3 and 4.7% abv in 330ml bottles.

The Story

15 litres of goodness, Belfast bound
Around November 10th Matthew invited me up to brew, an invitation I gladly accepted! We had a bit of a chat over the phone about what we'd brew, two were selected, and on that basis he asked me to grow up a metric shit tonne of "Trois", the yeast that I used in the original beers upon which these two were to be based. With a sense of panic I grew up the yeast from just a few ml to approximately 3 litres in record time, and it smelled and tasted wonderful. It was ready to roll, just about, by the 17th (I must thank Mark Nixon for bailing me out with a few kilos of DME which made my task a lot easier).

Cometh the hour cometh the man, and around 11am on the day we arrived at Boundary, where Matthew already had the mash on for Stardog Champion. This first brew was a slightly tweaked version of Quare Good IPA: IBUs reduced to 70 and abv reduced to 5.5%, to fit in with Boundary's "Push and Pull" series. The original hop bill remains unchanged, and this is a very hoppy beer. Once again thanks to Mark for sorting us out on the shortfall of hops (the cheque is in post!).

Come the 18th, the first brew was ripping along, which Matthew top cropped from several times for the second beer: a barrel fermented version of the infamous winner of Sourfest 2015, Raspberry Turbo. This beer requires a lot of attention and was brewed meticulously, from acidification of the strike water (to pH 5.2) to acidification of the wort (to pH 4.39) to selection of lacto starter: on the 17th I had prepared several starters and on the 18th we picked the best (and decided once and for all to abandon White Labs lacto). As this beer isn't exactly the same as Raspberry Turbo it has been called Chloe Dancer, a name which compliments Stardog Champion.

The two brews should be available to buy just before or after Christmas, I'll update here when they are. I'd like to thank my buddy in beer Matthew for the opportunity to brew these beers and I'm looking forward to them being available commercially as I think they're helping to push the boundaries of Irish beer (pun intended). I'll never forget Steve Lamond's quote at Sourfest about Raspberry Turbo being the most sour and most raspberry beer the Irish market would be able to take!

Let's hope he's right!

Evaluating lacto starters. The middle two won.

Recirculating the mash

Cleaning out the mashtun. I'm not cut out for this!

Mashtun cleaned!

Getting the hops for Stardog ready

Boiling the wort that will become Stardog Champion

All the starters in the warm room

Pitching temperature

Starter being pitched into 300 litres of what will become Stardog

Cleaning the hops out of the kettle. Stardog gets dry hopped too.

Stardog on day 2, ripping along

Raspberries in the freezer. I wonder what they could be for!

Wort that will become Chloe after acidification, pre lacto

Matt and Bill bottling in champagne bottles
Sour wort+WLP644+raspberries+Chardonnay barrel=Chloe Dancer

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Boundary Set to Enter Second Round of Funding

Matthew Dick, founder, part-owner and head honcho at Boundary Brewing Co-op is quite a remarkable chap. Anyone who knows Matthew will know that he has a great knowledge and appreciation of beer, an infectiously positive personality, and a great drive to succeed. Combining these was always going to produce results and the first of those was achieved in spectacular style just a year ago when Boundary set a target of £70,000 and within just 8 days had raised £100,000 via a community share offering.

So it would come as no surprise that Boundary are going back to raise more capital. The business is quite successful with demand outstripping supply so it's time to take it up a notch.

Boundary will be launching another share offering to raise another £100,000, this time to buy among other things a canning line. The craft beer market is increasingly moving away from bottles in favour of cans so this would be seen my many as a wise investment.

The offering is to go live on December 7th to new members. Keep an eye here. I know I'll be investing.

Friday, 30 October 2015

2015 Harvest Apple Juice Delivery

Davy and some of the cider in Leixlip
Regular readers will know that every year I organise a bulk buy of fresh apple juice from Davy Uprichard, the man behind Tempted? Cider, for consumption among friends and like-minded appley people, this year being no different.

A bit of ping pong between myself and Davy over the last few months culminated with Davy pressing our apples at midday on October 27th, and six hours later he personally delivered almost 1.5 tonnes to Leixlip. Davy's bit of a legend anyway, but even moreso in that the juice arrives ready to just have yeast added to it, though this year a lot of the juice hasn't been sulphited on request. I had spoken to Davy about a single variety press too, and though I would have preferred Granny Smith, it wasn't available and upon his advice I ordered a few hundred litres of Golden Delicious. Davy uses GD as the base juice in his strawberry cider.

Vital stats of the blend:

  • Blend, 25% each of Dabinett, Michelin, Falstaff, Lord Lambourne. Slightly different to last year but Davy reckons it's better.
  • pH is about 3.7, adjusted with malic acid to keep microbes in check.
  • OG 1.048, should ferment to 6.3% or more if untouched.
  • Sulphited to 50ppm to keep wild yeast at bay.
My personal stash consists of 3 x blend, 1 x Golden Delicious, 1 x Golden Delicious/Dabinett blend and 1 x Dabinett, all unsulphited and left to ferment on the natural yeast... nothing added but nutrient.

After unloading the van, Davy and myself went for a bite to eat in the Courtyard Hotel, the site of Arthur Guinness's first brewery, where we had a chat about business plans. I can't reveal anything other than there are exciting times ahead... like with the juice we've just go to wait and see, but it should be good, very good indeed!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Sour Beer At The Irish Craft Beer Fest

I don't normally do beer reviews, but I decided to make an exception as these brews are available right now for you to try in the RDS.

First up we have Sour Brown Ale from Blacks of Kinsale. This is a batch of their Jester Brown Ale which has had a mixed sour culture from White Labs added to it in secondary. Jester is an exciting new British hop from Charles Faram's breeding programme which makes either version of the beer worth trying in themselves. The soured version is only ever so slightly sour as Sam Black, the brewer and owner, told me. The mixed culture was only added three weeks ago, so this is definitely one for keeping and letting the sourness develop. It's ever so slightly acetic on the nose, but not in a bad way. Worth trying, and if you can take away some in a growler and let is age.

Next up is Beann Gulban from White Hag. I sourced some wine barrels a while back and Joe Kearns, the head brewer in White Hag took two of them. Joe has blended a very acidic batch with a less acidic one, and has been aged the blend in one of these barrels. The uniqueness doesn't stop there though. Beann Gulban has no hops at all (yes you read that right), instead it has a huge amount of heather flowers added to primary and when the conditions (pH and gravity) are right Joe pitches the yeast. All the sourness is coming from the heather, and it is definitely lactic in nature, with the oak adding an extra dimension, a truly wonderful beer.

Joe also brought along the very acidic batch in a corny keg for "special guests", whoever that could be ;) This is proper hardcore Beann Gulban the way I like it, and being honest I personally prefer it, but it may be too tart for others.

I made my way over to Kinnegar's stand and had a good chat with Rick Lahart about his latest creation, Geuzberry. The wort was pasteurised and then kettle soured with yoghurt probiotics and fermented out with a neutral yeast, and for a final twist there are locally grown gooseberries added. It's like a strong (ABV-wise) Berliner weisse, and is properly tart. Just like Berliners of old, Rick offers a variety of sweet syrups which can be mixed in to take the edge off, but says himself that he prefers it straight up. I didn't try the syrups but I can see why Rick likes it: again a beautiful beer. If you can't make it to the RDS this is also available in bottles in good off-licences but won't hang around long.

So this this is a snapshot of the Irish sour beer scene as of August 2015. It's great to see the number of sour and less conventional beers increasing as the market becomes more open to new ideas. We're not quite Belgium yet, but we're heading in the right direction.

Foot note: Not beer related, but Blacks have also become a licensed distiller, bought a still, and are producing spirits in small quantities. I sampled their poteen and decided I'd procure a bottle as it's top notch stuff. Very limited availability (there were only a handful of bottles left) so I'm sure it'll become collectable.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Quare Good IPA

My mate Dave asked me to brew him an IPA which he could take away in a jerry can, ferment, dry hop, and bottle at home when it's done. Dave has been a recipient of Davy Uprichard's excellent cider juice of 2014 and has confirmed his position on the 2015 guest list, so by now he's no stranger to alcoholic beverages by the jerry can.

Dave lives in the Wexford Mountains, where everything except strawberries and Wexford queens is in short supply. Dave's initial request was for a "Double IPA" prompting me to produce a simple enough recipe along the lines of BrewDog's Hardcore IPA, which to my surprise drew horror. 9% abv was the issue. Clearly there was a problem with definitions! So after a bit of ping pong the "Double IPA" was binned and a new recipe for quaffing of around 5% drawn up, with hop fruitiness.

This meant lots of US hops and a simple grain bill. Where I decided to throw a semi curve ball was the yeast. This would normally be a US-05 or WLP-001 no-brainer, but I decided to go with Brett Sacch WLP-644. This gained a bit of notoriety this year when it was DNA sequenced and found not to be brettanomyces but in fact saccharomyces. White Labs have subsequently renamed it in an artist-formerly-know-as fashion and it's now Saccharomyces "Bruxellensis" Trois.

A few things that are unusual about WLP-644:
  1. It's slower than regular saccharomyces. Allow 2 weeks to finish primary.
  2. It super attenuates. Think 85% or more, compared to ~75% for regular sacch.
  3. With lots of wort aeration it possibly can generate a small amount of acetic acid, though this is open to debate.
  4. It can form a pellicle.
Lucan County Water
Again as it was going to be hoppy, it meant Leixlip water was out. As I've written before Leixlip water is far too hard to be suitable for brewing this sort of beer without treatment, and so I opted to use water from the Lucan County instead. As there is no such thing of course as Lucan water, they just get a blend of our Leixlip water and another very soft source, I think currently Ballymore Eustace (ironically both sources are 100% Liffey water). On the day in question Lucan water was showing 90 ppm on the TDS meter and in comparison Leixlip was at 230 ppm. TDS isn't hardness but it's a general indication, and Lucan was showing a mere 40% of whatever Leixlip was on the day.

Recipe for 40 litres

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.50 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) MCI (5.9 EBC) Grain 95.00 %
0.50 kg White Wheat Malt Bairds (4.7 EBC) Grain 5.00 %
30.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 87.4 IBU
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
60.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (0 min) Hops -
90.00 gm Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
150.00 gm Citra [12.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
60.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) Hops -
0.50 items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 min) Misc
1 Pkgs WLP644 (White Labs #WLP644) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.056 SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.058 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.008 SG Measured Final Gravity: 1.008 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 6.3% Actual Alcohol by Vol: 6.5%
Bitterness: 87.4 IBU Calories: 542 cal/l
Est Color: 10.3 EBC Color:

Unusually for such a large brew I overshot my efficiency targets by a few percent, which is the opposite to what I'd expect: instead of 70% or so on this size of a brew, I actually hit 77%. Also, even more annoying was when I was drawing up the recipe I left US-05 as the yeast in BeerSmith as it didn't have an entry for WLP-644 (it's the old version, 1.4), which of course meant the anticipated attenuation was much lower, at around 72%. Using these two figures (70% efficiency and 72% attenuation) would have resulted in 5% abv on the dot. Mental note: put in the right yeast at the start in future!

Using hop extract in this one was a no-brainer as it meant the hop debris if I had used pellets was greatly minimised. I still don't have a way of dealing with large amounts of hops that I'm 100% happy with. Guess I'll just have to keep at the whirlpooling.

The wort was split into a 33 litre fermenter and a 25 litre jerry can for Dave to take home. I had made a moderate sized starter with the WLP-644, though I'm not sure that was necessary as it was vigorously healthy when I was slanting it. Dave got half the starter and I got the other half. I split the dry hops and vacuum packed Dave's share for the arduous journey up the mountains.

As I said earlier about WLP-644, this brew took a fortnight at 22°C to hit terminal gravity of 1.008. It dry hopped about a week in, and once terminal gravity reached it was fined with gelatine at 2°C for a few days before being racked and in my case kegged. Dave bottled his.

Tasting Notes
Bright copper and opaquely coloured with a lasting white head and associated lacing, this is quite an awesome brew! Very fruity and also quite bitter. It's definitely in the "Double IPA" league when it comes to hop flavour and bitterness. There is no perceivable acidic taste and the pH meter, showing 4.5, confirms there is no real acid present. It's one of the better IPAs I've brewed. What would I change? Well nothing really apart from the bitterness. At around 90 IBUs it's not to everyone's taste, and I think a few of Dave's mountainous mates are finding it a bit tougher going than the large bottles of McArdles off the shelf that they're used to.

Quare Good Lad

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Lambic 2.1

After the lambic barrel of 2014 was emptied I decided I wouldn't get involved in the re-filling. This was for a number of reasons, but the most relevant one to this blog is that I already brewed to this formula and used this barrel so I know what to expect from it. Been there, done that, so to speak, without wanting to sound crude. While I'm very happy with the results from that barrel I have always felt it could have had more bite. I don't recall seeing any pH meters on the brew day, but the finished beer only clocked 4.2 on the pH scale a year later. While the beer compares very favourably on the whole, the acid deficiency is clear when commercial examples are compared, which often have a pH of less than 3.5. In Classic Beer Styles 3: Lambic, Jean Xavier Guinard typifies "hard" lambic as having a pH around 3.4 and "soft" as 3.9. (page 36) and the European Union has declared the highest pH to be considered lambic as 3.9. So ignoring geographical origin that beer was not a lambic by other established standards.

I also understand the mashing process a bit better having done a bit more reading and talking to people at Toer de Geuze, so I have refined the procedure somewhat. A couple of things that seem to be missing from a lot of texts is an explanation for the small bit of barley malt that is added to the wheat during gelatinisation. There are conflicting reasons cited for this but some say it's to perform a mash of sorts to help make the gelatinisation of the wheat starches easier. Also there is no need to boil the wheat, it just needs to be kept above its gelatinisation temperature. Anyone who looks at a turbid mash schedule, which is what the genuine lambic breweries in Belgium do will notice that there is no cereal mash and at no point is the wheat boiled. For the reason I've changed some of the steps, simplifying and speeding up the process a bit:

The original quantities gave a water to grain ratio of about 3:1. This is in the regular ale brewing range but from experience I can say that with that much wheat both the mash and sparge are close to sticking point. My new step of adding 3L of boiling water to the gelatinisation pot after the 30 minute gelatinisation rest the "strike" water thins to a ratio of 3.6:1 in the mashtun while also helping to raise the temperature of the pot contents to "strike" temperature. This keeps the mash thin enough not to stick but lots of stirring is still required to aid conversion.

For 20L, revised:

1. Add 2kg wheat + 0.6kg malt to a pot with 15L water and heat to around 62°C
2. Bring to gentle boil for 30 mins
2. NEW: Hold at ~62°C for 30 minutes
3. Let cool to normal strike temp for your gear, plus 3 or 4°C (as you want to mash at 70°C)
3. Add 3L of boiling water to the pot. Apply heat and raise temperature of the pot contents to 3 or 4°C above normal strike temperature (to 80°C in my case).
4. Use as strike water and add to the remaining 2.4kg malt in the mash tun.
5. Hold at 70°C for 2 hours.
6. Sparge with 92°C water until 26L collected.
7. Boil for 2 hours, add 3-7 IBU shitty hops at 120 mins.
8. Collect around 20L in the fermenter.

I have done this procedure twice now (and lambic 2.0.1 twice), and not being restricted to a barrel has allowed me to experiment with different configurations, especially with regard to yeast. The first two were brewed to the 2.0.1 schedule and have WLP-645 grown up from dregs of a Framboise given to me by Nigel Comerford. As of 18 June 2015 these have fermented out, but have not produced a pellicle, three months in. Both done to the 2.1 schedule were actually done as a double brew, and split into 2 x 20L batches. Both were fermented out with a neutral ale yeast before having dregs added: the first had the dregs from the 2014 lambic barrel added, the second had the dregs from Boon Mariage Parfait. Two months later both smell fantastic, though the Mariage Parfait is edging it. Both are showing signs of pellicle development too.

Since I wrote this I had refined the process even more and will blog about it after my next brew. I'm going to call it 3.0 as it's different enough to warrant it. Stay tuned!

Monday, 22 June 2015

June BeerCamp - Cocoa Psycho by BrewDog

Image courtesy ratebeer
I recently invested in BrewDog via their currently running Equity for Punks scheme, so it's no coincidence that BrewCamp beer for June is Cocoa Psycho by BrewDog. This is an intensely flavoured Russian Imperial Stout that bears a passing resemblance in flavour and texture to a barrel stout I was involved in a few years ago, albeit with a massive difference in FG: 1.021 vs 1.007. I'm still not sure why that barrel stout finished so low, other than that there is some organism in the barrel that's not supposed to be there. I would describe most of Cocoa Psycho's character as coming from the roast grains, possibly with some astringency from coffee, though the coffee is very hard to pick out. Oak chips and vanilla pods are in the description, but again I don't pick up any oak or vanilla flavours, another similarity with this and the barrel stout of a few years ago. They are possibly there but just masked by the roasted grain. It is a very thick and almost syrupy beer; obviously a lot went into it, reflected in its off-licence price tag of €7 for a 33cl bottle.

Fortunately BrewDog have given us a lot of information in various locations about Cocoa Psycho, making our job a lot easier. On this page they say that roasted grains make up 23% of the grist, while on this page they give us the vitals:
  • Grist: Extra Pale, Wheat, Dark Crystal, Smoked, Black, Roasted Barley
  • Hops: Cascade to 85 IBU
  • SG: 1.098
I don't think there is any Cascade character present so I plan on bittering with hop extract or Magnum. Yeast is not specified but I think a neutral yeast like US-05 or WLP-001 would be appropriate, however US-05 does not attenuate enough to make the final numbers work. Chris White was right when he said liquid and dried yeasts are not the same! Phil said he can pick out the crystal malt clearly, but again I'm not so sure: if I hadn't been told it was there I probably wouldn't notice.

The recipe I've devised for a 19 litre clone brew going on the information given is:

Amount Item Type % or IBU
5.90 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) MCI (5.9 EBC) Grain 66.67 %
1.00 kg Black (Patent) Malt (985.0 EBC) Grain 11.30 %
1.00 kg Roasted Barley (591.0 EBC) Grain 11.30 %
0.50 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (157.6 EBC) Grain 5.65 %
0.25 kg Smoked Malt (17.7 EBC) Grain 2.82 %
0.20 kg White Wheat Malt (4.7 EBC) Grain 2.26 %
19.00 gm Hop Extract [51.00 %] (60 min) Hops 85.4 IBU
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) Yeast-Ale

Est Original Gravity: 1.098 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.021 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 10.06
Bitterness: 85.4 IBU
Est Color: 172.7 EBC

Unfortunately I'm all out of black malt but Mark said he'll sort me out with some, so this should make for an interesting brew, but we've all agreed it will take time to mature, so I won't have an update on this one for 2 months or more.


Update 07/07/15
Brewed this today in 10 litre batch which is a departure for me, but turned out to be a lot easier than doing a 20 litre as I have lots of smaller pots etc and a 3kw gas ring can boil ~12 litres a lot quicker and easier than it can ~22 litres. I missed my targets slightly probably by over estimating boil-off. Resultant wort is 1.090

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lick Then Hammer - Part 2

This is a continuation of this post: Lick Then Hammer

In the previous article I omitted what I was going to do as regards yeast and bugs in the Lichtenhainer I was brewing, the main reason being that I was departing from the established norm to the point where I was nervous the resulting beer would be crap! To recap, the basic details of the brew were:

  • 20 litre batch
  • 1.9Kg Weyermann rauchmaltz (beech smoked barley malt)
  • 1.9Kg Baird's wheat malt
  • 200g Weyermann acidulated malt
  • 8g of Hallertauer Hersbrucker in the mash
  • Regular 75 minute infusion mash at 66°C
  • 60 minute boil
This is where I departed from other recipes. Rather than opting for a controlled environment I decided to make a lacto starter from some Weyermann acid malt. From our chat with Chris White we know that the subspecies most common on grain is L. brevis, but of course there is always the risk that something else is there. I pitched the starter at 40°C and let sit at warm room temperature for a couple of days. There was quite a bit of airlock activity and when the gravity dropped to 1.016 I added a small amount of Brett Bruxellensis, the Yeast Bay Beersel mix to be exact. It was fascinating to watch the pellicle form on this over the next couple of weeks! When activity seemed to slow to the point where there was very little I racked to a corny keg. A Lichtenhainer is the kind of beer that should be consumed young!

So how did it turn out?

Yum yum
Great is the short answer, but I would make improvements. It hasn't cleared, which is doubtless due to the wheat. In contrast Smoke Signals is crystal clear. There is a nice acid twang, perhaps not as strong as in Smoke Signals but the smoke levels are roughly equivalent, going from memory. What I would definitely change though is the Brett. The recipes I've come across online had a Kolsch yeast, and I think this would suit the style better. Indeed Smoke Signals has that clean flavour profile with no (non-smoke) phenolics and no other attributes that Brett brings. This is definitely on the rebrew list but next time I will make an actual L. brevis starter to elimiate any uncertainties, and use a clean ale yeast like WLP-001 or US-05. I think I'll drop the wheat malt too and just use pale or lager in its place, maybe with some carapils.

All in a worthwhile brew that I'll tweak and do again.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Brew 176: Quick Oud Bruin

Turbo cider is all the rage on the home brewing section of popular Irish internet forum boards.ie, and while I've tasted a turbo cider or two, I've always felt you can't rush perfection. Not that it's perfection but the Bulmers/Magners ad says "Nothing added but time"; they may be on to something.

This is a recipe inspired by one in American Sour Beers, but adapted to what I had available at the time and can't really be considered the same recipe.

This is an interesting brew in that the batch is split in half, one half is fermented with regular ale yeast, US-05 in my case, and the other half is spiked with lacto. When sufficiently sour both halves are combined to form the finished beer.

Amount Item Type % or IBU
4.20 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (5.9 EBC) Grain 85.71 %
0.25 kg Amber Malt (43.3 EBC) Grain 5.10 %
0.15 kg Roasted Barley (591.0 EBC) Grain 3.06 %
0.10 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (118.2 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
0.10 kg Corn, Flaked (2.6 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
0.10 kg Oats, Flaked (2.0 EBC) Grain 2.04 %
14.00 gm Magnum [14.00 %] (60 min) Hops 23.0 IBU
1 pkg Safale US-05 Yeast In one half
1 pkg Lactobacillus starter Yeast The other half
20.00 gm Light toast French oak chips Oak

The water was boiled Leixlip water, with no other treatment. After five days the pH of the lacto portion had dropped to 3.4 which I combined with the ale yeast fermented portion, racked to secondary, and let condition for a couple of weeks with some light toast French oak chips. Once conditioned I kegged and force carbed.

Tasting Notes

Oud Bruin is one of my favourite styles of beers, Liefman's Goudenband and Rodenbach Grand Cru both being personal favourites, both of which I can usually get locally. A genuine Oud Bruin takes a considerable amount of time to produce, spending years ageing in stainless steel tanks, and it shows, as this is where my version of of this recipe falls down: its lack of depth. While it's very drinkable it's sort of one dimensional and probably has more in common with a Berliner Weiss than it does with the real thing. There is a slight astringency from one of the dark grains, I'm not sure which, but I think next time I'll use all Belgian grains. And it's also slightly too dark. The final beer pH is 3.9 which isn't overly sour but all in all not a bad brew and one worth tweaking.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chatting With Chris White

It's not every day that a household name in brewing is in town, but Sunday May 10th was one of those days. Chris White, the main man behind White Labs Yeast, was in Ireland for a few days and myself and a few others from Beer Ireland (of which I'm delighted to serve as Treasurer) managed to catch up with him in Dublin for a couple of hours to chat yeast and bacteria.

Images used courtesy of White Labs
Chris's PA had indicated we would be meeting at 11.00am, which immediately limited the choice of venue due to 12.30pm being the Sunday opening time for bars in progressive Ireland! I suspected the Norseman would be open for breakfast so a quick call to Barry Kavanagh confirmed that indeed we could have upstairs, as usual. Barry is a great guy and has always been very accommodating whenever I've needed a meeting space.

The meeting lasted over two hours, so there is far too much to go into. Some of it was quite technical as well:- who knew that haploid yeast cells mate? I always assumed yeast cells were diploid and cloned themselves. That I learned from a question that came from Mark Nixon, head brewer at Trouble Brewing.

An interesting conversation evolved around a question I had prepared (I had about 30 prepared, mostly bacteria related) about kettle souring and the payment of excise duty. Lactobacillus does not necessarily convert its main food source, glucose, into any alcohol at all, so gravity readings in the conventional sense are meaningless. Chris confirmed the only way to confirm the ABV is to get your brew analysed. That or just over-pay your excise duty. Of course Mark was right that if you boil after souring for long enough you are also boiling off ethanol, further complicating the situation. But how long does it take to boil off all the ethanol present? I would think it would take as long as it would to boil off all the water too though, as alcohol and water are completely miscible. [My US readers may not be aware that it is common in Europe for brewers to have to pay an extra tax (excise duty) on beer based on ABV. The higher the ABV the more excise duty is due.]

Probably the most important advice though was that every brewery should have its own yeast lab, along with a couple of essential pieces of equipment. A DO meter is top of the list, and not one that is designed for water, but one for beer. The other is a microscope and any in the €400 to €500 range should do as long as it does 1000x under oil (White Labs sell such microscopes as it happens). I mentioned it to him that I have a microscope, but the possession is no indication of proficiency! He gave me a couple of simple tips: saccharomyces cells are circular, brettanomyces are "football" shape (i.e. American football, aka oval), and due to the vast size difference yeast and bacteria are not clearly visible under the same objective lens: use 400x for yeast, and 1000x for bacteria. I really must dig out the microscope again and start making proper use of it.

Pitching rates in double brewed batches came up too, the advice being that there is no need to pitch a second time if the second batch is brewed the day after the first, i.e. if fermentation is well under way. Relevant to me, as I'm tank shopping at the moment, is the advice to buy fermenation tanks that are three times the size of the brewhouse, as triple batching is now becoming common in the US. And conditioning tanks double the size of the fermenters. No prizes for guessing where that advice is coming from!

Anyone brewing long enough will know that Chris and Jamil Zainasheff have co-authored the brilliant book Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation (Brewing Elements) which is an invaluable reference for any brewer. I brought my copy along, and while I felt a bit cheesey in asking, Chris was quite happy to autograph it. He jokingly said that he left space for Jamil to autograph it too. I told him when he does it's going straight on ebay!

All in a great couple of hours and a huge thanks for Chis, who is not only an authority but a really nice guy too.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lambic: Brewing Up A Barrel - Part 2

This is the second part of the article found here and actually took place in March 2014.

Preparing the Barrel

Getting ready.
As we had no way of knowing of how long our barrel had been emptied or just what was now living in it we decided that the safest thing would be to do would be to sulphur it out. From reading on-line a lot of places recommending light sulphur sticks and tossing them in, but a lot of recommendations for a barrel that's going to be re-purposed suggested sulphuring in a different way. I don't think there's actually any conclusive "best" way to sulphur. The irony about it is that when Cantillon and all those great geuze brewers in Belgium rely on the organisms that are present in the barrels when they arrive from the wineries, so for us to be trying to kill everything in a barrel we were going to use for lambic seemed to be a retrograde step, but needed to be done. (Although to be fair to us, when Cantillon receive the barrels they are mechanically cleaned with chains and then steamed.) One of the main reasons was acetobacter. Acetic acid forming bacteria that depend on air, something our barrel was full of (i.e. air) when it arrived. Finally we agreed this method as outlined in BYO would do the job.

Before we treated the barrel we had to make stillage (support) for it. The stillage made for the whiskey barrel (pictured in Part 1) was made without knowing how strong barrels actually are, and was way over-engineered. Barrels are incredibly strong and require very little support, in many places they are supported on just small chocks, so this time around we made a very flimsy stillage from bits of timber from an old pallet.

With the barrel laying on its side on its stillage we set about making up the mixture of citrc acid and potassium metabisulphite as mention in BYO. Potassium metabisulphite was impossible to source from any of the home brew shops, but sodium metabisulphite was readily available. The HBS isn't always the best place to buy things though, and quite often it's worth checking places like your local Asian food store, in my case Eurasia in Fonthill beside Liffey Valley shopping centre. They had no metabisulphite that I could find, but they did have citric acid for the bargain price of €1.45 for 400g, or about a quarter the price of the HBS! Sodium metabisulphite was purchased from HomeBrewWest.

The recommended dosage rates for a barrel of our size, 225 litres, is around 500g of citric acid to 1kg of metabisulphite. These quantities were dissolved in separate demijohns, which were in turn added to the barrel. This is where it got a bit extreme! Straight away the sulphur dioxide being produced was very evident in the air around us to the point where it was burning our nostrils and our eyes! We rolled the barrel around as much as we could, stuck it on the stillage, garden hose, filled with water, and it was left to sit until brew day.

Brew Day!

Wind breakers around burners were a necessity
but didn't always work
Hosting a brew day with six people brewing up around 200 litres represents a challenge in itself, not least because it's a long day in close quarters, but moreso because of the logistics involved. Everyone has to have the ingredients ready in advance which meant the whole wheat in particular had to be sourced from the farm shop, milled and distributed. But the biggest logistical issue on the day is heating water, either for strike or for boil, both in terms of the time taken (there are only so many hours of daylight in a February day) and the amount of energy required.

While our friends across the water in Britain have 80 amp fuses where the mains electricity comes into the house, for some reason in Ireland the main fuse is only 65 amps. Allowing for say 15 amps to run the house (the kettle is 12 amps alone), this only leaves 50 amps to play with. Quite restrictive. So on the day itself gas was going to have to come into it. Fortunately I'm on the mains gas network (which is about a quarter the cost of bottled gas) and that would be used to help too. The breakdown of "power" required was as follows:

  • 8kw burner on bottled gas
  • 8kw burner on bottled gas
  • 3kw+2kw burners on gas cooker in kitchen
  • 3kw+3kw electric elements (26 amps)
  • 3kw induction hob (13 amps)
  • 2kw+2kw electric elements (17 amps)

Tip: The gas boiler for the central heating and hot water is a Worcester Bosch Greenstar 24i and simply put it's a beast. It's 24kW all by itself. If it was mains electric powered it would need 104 amps. I put it to work on the day making sure there was a constant supply of 60°C water on tap. Heating your strike water from 60°C is a lot quicker than from 3°C out of the cold tap.

Thank fook that's over!
Straight away the issues can be seen with using electricity. No single socket can take more than 13 amps, and no mains circuit in the house can take more than 25 amps without tripping a breaker, so on the day the house was a mish mash of extension leads running to different sockets with every circuit bar the upstairs sockets in use!

As regards the brew, the day itself was largely uneventful apart except for thick mashes getting burnt to the bottom of pots. This is something that was a pain in the ass as it required constant stirring once we discovered it was a problem. The day itself was one of the windiest on record, resulting in gas burners being blown out a few times.

Ten hours after we started we had our wort cooled and transferred into the barrel, followed by 8 pitches of ECY-01, leaving us nicely in time to get the 20:45 66A down to the Lucan County for some pool and a few pints.
The end result. 200 odd litres of loveliness. Now the wait begins.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Crisp Malts comes to Ireland

Dave Griggs explaining roasting

"Malt is a beer's soul, and hops are the lipstick"

This has been a busy week! After an excellent conference on starting a food business hosted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on Tuesday in Athlone, for Wednesday I was fortunate enough to be invited to a seminar hosted by Kells Wholemeal to introduce Crisp Malts to the Irish market. Crisp would be well known already by brewers in Ireland (I've used their malts myself a few times) but Kells Wholemeal have become their official agent. This means there will be constant stocks of various Crisp malts warehoused in Kilkenny, ready for immediate dispatch. Kells are one of the biggest flour millers in the country and already have a logistics network in place, so Crisp should literally be able to hit the ground running.

The three hour seminar, given by Group Technical Director, Dave Griggs, and Brewing Sales Director Steve Le Poidevin, was informative, entertaining and very technical. There was no shortage of detail, and the couple of dozen professional brewers in attendance from all over Ireland seemed impressed. The course covered all aspects of historical (floor) malting as well as more modern methods, including roasting, something I have great interest in as my own experiments with roasting have proved very satisfactory. It was interesting to learn that malt is roasted in one tonne batches at 230°C and that well modified malt is used for lighter roasts (amber, brown) and undermodified is used for dark roasts. I forgot to ask why, but it might just be simple economics. It was also interesting to know that the malt has to be sprayed with water prior to opening the drum after roasting, as the sudden inflow of air can cause the contents to ignite. Something I must remember!

A hop "pocket". These were bags that held approx 75kg
of dried hops. They're still in use in other countries.
The venue for the seminar was Nicholas Mosse Pottery in Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny. The building itself is a fabulous old mill on the banks of the Nore, equipped with its own hydro electric plant. Originally built as a flour mill it has seen several uses, including being part of the commercial Irish hops industry. Anyone familiar with the history would associate the names Mosse and Bennettsbridge with hops, where the family had 80 acres of hops gardens, and were one of only four growers. I was amused to hear the Kilkenny Golding myth brought up by someone not so well versed in the history of the trade. The Kilkenny Golding was more than likely Kilkenny Seedless Fuggle, KSF, but someone just mis-remembered the name. KSF along with three or four other varieties were grown, all of which had their origins in the English hop industry, details of which were all recorded by the Department of Agriculture which oversaw the hop programme from Dungarvan (Co. Kilkenny) from its inception in 1961. Kells Wholemeal is owned by the Mosse family.

One of the more surprising (to me) nuggets of information that we garnered from Dave Griggs is that Crisp will be shortly releasing a flaked acidulated malt. This will join Castle's Château Acid and Weyermann's Acidulated malt in the market. It will be soured with lactic acid and the first batch is almost ready to be packaged. It's the first acid malt that I know of that will be produced by a British maltster and we can only assume is a sign of the times and the popularity of sour beers. Indeed I was chatting to Tim Barber from Metalman about the Craft Brewers Conference and sour beers seem to have become completely de rigeur in the US, almost as if they're the new IPAs. Crisp exports a significant amount of its 230,000 tonne production, much to the US, so I expect there's a very ready market for them there.

Another very interesting development, and one I hadn't heard if before is proanthocyanidin-free "Clear Choice" ale and lager malts. Proanthocyanidins are precursors to haze, and Clear Choice malt benefits from not having them.

A final big thanks goes to our hosts for their generosity and hospitality. The food provided was deliciously fresh and was prepared by the restaurant on the second floor. I would strongly recommend anyone visit the visitor centre and restaurant if in the area, as it topped off what was a most memorable day.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Announcing SOURFEST 2015

It gives us great pleasure to announce SOURFEST™ 2015!

With the explosion in sour beers it was always going to happen. Ok, so it's not quite a beer festival (yet, wink wink!), but September 26th 2015 should see the best sour beers in Britain and Ireland crowned. Categories are to be fully ironed out, but will reflect what is going on in the world of sour beer. YES, this is a sour beer competition! Or rather two of them. And maybe more!

This has twin non-competing threads: a professional thread for commercial breweries to compete, and an amateur thread for homebrewers.

SOURFEST is open to all brewers in the UK and Ireland, and is being hosted in conjunction with our friends at Boundary Brewing Co-op in the historic city of Belfast.

Keep an eye out for the full website, launching in May, which will have all the details.

All profits will go to a good charity, but we haven't chosen one yet. If you have a charity you'd like to nominate, or for any other queries please email sourfest2015@gmail.com


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Lick Then Hammer

London Calling

L-R: Smoke Signals, Dave
In recent years the London beer scene, and indeed the wider UK scene has witnessed an explosion in creativity in craft beer. So much so that there is a distinction (and friction) being created between those traditional Real Ale breweries and the craft beer breweries, and their fans. I noted in some CAMRA branch magazines in summer 2014 statements like "I brew Real Ale, not that fizzy kegged stuff called craft beer" with a certain degree of vitriol.

So with this in mind I returned to London in March 2015, on a trip devoted purely to craft beer (and catching up with college friends). On our travels we visited the Euston Tap, a must-see on the London tourist circuit never mind the beer circuit. There's a barman in the Tap by the name of Dave who is from Lucan. Anyone who knows Lucan will know it's now a big place, but Dave is from the part that is close to one of my favoured licensed premises, the Lucan County bar. Dave is very welcoming, especially if he hears an Irish accent. He also has a great knowledge of beer, and of the huge selection of beers that the Tap serves. In fact this is true of all staff in the Tap, which is very refreshing. It's as if selling bodacious beverages is a vocation and not just a job.

Dave recommended to me that I try a beer called Smoke Signals from a brewery in Berkshire called Siren, whom I hadn't heard of before. The beer is described as a dry hopped smoked sour wheat ale. Smoke in beer normally puts me off, as unlike with bacon I don't consider it a perfect marriage. I've had a few examples of grodziskie/grätzer, a historical style of smoked wheat beer from the Polish/German border and it hasn't floated my boat. More historic but also modern beers such as rauchbier from Schlenkerla, or even closer to home Smokescreen from Metalman, haven't lifted that boat either, so it was with some trepidation that I went on Dave's recommendation and ordered a Smoke Screen.

Whoa, this was not supposed to happen! The blend of quite an amount of sour bitterness with quite a lot of smoke actually somehow didn't not work. And then there's hops too! When I say it didn't not work, I mean I'm not sure it works, like smoky bacon works, but it works well enough that I'd have another. Thankfully Siren now has a distributor in Ireland (Pro Addition), though I haven't seen Smoke Signals here (yet).

So with my curiosity piqued I decided when I got home I'd try to brew something like this. Turns out with a bit of googling it would appear that Siren weren't the first to brew a smoked sour wheat ale. That distinction belongs to the good people of central Germany, in and around the town of Lichtenhain. Another historical style that is largely gone, there is an opinion that a Lichtenhainer is somewhere between a Berliner weisse and a grodziskie, though the historical records show that it was more likely that the sourness was developed in secondary, unlike with a Berliner. The rest is up for debate: how much wheat (if any), the ratio of smoked to non-smoked malt, and so on. Accounts differ. I presume the brewers at Siren read Ron Pattison's blog too, as Ron went into some detail about Lichtenhainer as far back as 2008.

Formulating a recipe should be fairly easy as we're under constraints that are largely due to lactobacillus being involved. The guys over at The Beer Files blog have done a pretty good write-up and have surmised:
  1. It must be sessionable. This goes almost without saying with a beer that is produced using lactobacillus in primary. Especially if it's L. delbreuckii as that subspecies is homofermentative. i.e. it will attenuate out, but your sugars won't have turned to alcohol. Of course this is based on the assumption that lacto will be used in primary as kettle souring etc is common, even fashionable in current times, though historically it wasn't used for this style of beer.
  2. Low IBUs. Again lacto and IBUs don't mix, 15 being commonly considered the limit.
  3. Tart. Lacto!
  4. Smoky. The only attribute not related to lacto.

As I said above there is some variation in the reports of what was in the grist and how much but while researching I found this page about Mark Schoppe's award-winning recipe. Mark won the 2012 Ninkasi award, which is a prize given by the AHA (American Homebrewers Assoc.) for the home brewer with the most amount of points in the final stage of the NHC (National Homebrew Competition), although it's not clear if this beer contributed towards that win, but it did win other awards. Ironically the BJCP sanctioned competitions give more points for beers that are closely follow their guidelines, but Lichtenhainer is one of the many styles missing. There is an update due to the style guidelines due in 2015, and it's good to see than Lichtenhaier is included in the 2014 draft.

Mark's recipe, adapted for my conditions is:

  • 20 litre batch
  • 1.9Kg Weyermann rauchmaltz (beech smoked barley malt)
  • 1.9Kg Baird's wheat malt
  • 200g Weyermann acidulated malt
  • 8g of Hallertauer Hersbrucker in the mash
  • Regular 75 minute infusion mash at 66°C
  • 60 minute boil
  • Lactobacillus delbreuckii added when wort has cooled to 40°C
  • Yeast TBC

I've taken to boiling all my brewing water to precipitate some of the hardness, but my TDS meter generally shows around 130ppm which is far harder than I want it to be. To compensate I've started to use a lot more acid malt than usual. Longer term I plan to switch water supply completely.


Shortly after brewing this I met with Dean Clarke, purveyor of the finest beverages on behalf of Premier International to chat about a project I'm involved in. As if sent by God, Dean casually informed me over a 7-Up in the Salmon Leap Inn that he had a boot full of Lichtenhainer from German brewer Freigeist ("Free spirit") in the car park. Who would have thought someone else would have brought Lichtenhainer to Leixlip before I did! Freigeist are an offshoot of Cologne’s small brewery Braustelle, a part of the Brauerei Goller of Zeil Am Main. All their beers are on the unusual side, complete with 30's black and white horror movie type labels. Premier are importing these into Ireland and there is quite a variety, and all the the Lichtenhainer brews are under the Abraxas moniker. Most have fruit, but there is also a weisse . They're just starting to trickle into off-licences, so if you see one go for it.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

2014 Harvest Cider with Davy Uprichard

I've been a fan of Tempted? Cider since I first tasted it at the Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival in the RDS in September 2012. I was working for Gráinne and Tim on the Metalman stand at the festival, which was just a few stands down from Tempted?, and the man behind it (literally), Davy Uprichard. So over the course of the festival I got talking to him. Davy had been a horticulturist in search of something new, he explained to me at the time. He said to me that he had told his wife Jan he wanted to buy a motorbike or a cidery, but he couldn't decide which. Jan was hoping for the motorbike. Davy's accent sounds to me a lot like Matthew's and Declan's, i.e. nordie. I'm still trying to figure out the differences between them.

Sourcing the juice - Davy to the rescue!

Best part of a metric tonne
Fast forward to summer 2014. Apples are on the trees, reminding me that cider time is coming again. I bought apple juice from a couple of places in 2012 and 2013 but was never happy with the finished product, so for 2014 I decided I was going to go to a professional cider maker for my juice, and no better man than Davy. I asked Davy would he oblige me and he said he would. I told him I wanted a finished product that would be not too dissimilar to his dry cider and at the same time I contacted a few people I knew would be interested in buying in. A deal was done and Davy delivered almost a metric tonne of juice to Leixlip in early November, the exact blend of which was:

And additionally:
  • PH adjusted to 3.6 with malic acid (to kill microbes.)
  • Sulphited to 50ppm.
  • Specific gravity of 1.0465, expected to finish at 6.36% ABV

I personally got 3 x 20 litres drums myself, one with no sulphites to let ferment on the natural yeast, the second sulphited and Young's Cider Yeast added, and the third sulphited and Danstar Nottingham Ale Yeast added.
L-R: 2L of home made apple juice concentrate, 20L juice, 9L corny, 30L pot

Back Sweetening

Cologran: don't do it
Fast forward again to March 2015 and with the weather getting warmer I'm reminded it's time to bottle the cider, starting with the drum that fermented on its own yeast (Davy had recommended racking off the lees around the start of the new year; I didn't, my bad, but it doesn't seem the worse for it). It's slightly hazy and not too tart. This could easily be drank flat, as in scrumpy, a style I'm not a huge fan of. In previous years I tried leaving the cider unsweetened but found it was too tannic and hard to drink (with the exception of cider I made from a variety native to Leixlip, more on that later). Sweetening with Cologran, (a 10:1 blend of sodium cyclamate and saccharin) from Lidl was even worse, giving it a sickly sweet and completely artificial flavour.

Making Concentrate (for Back Sweetening)

With this in mind I planned ahead when I first took delivery of the juice by taking off 4 litres, freezing it, and then letting 2 litres slowly thaw. i.e. freeze concentration. The base cider was ~1.046 whereas the concentrate I had just made came in at 1.084. This would allow me to back sweeten with the original juice, without diluting the ABV too much.

The only issue with this approach is that if left to their own devices the remaining yeast in the concentrate and/or the fermented cider would end up fermenting out the sugars in the concentrate, thereby negating the point of back sweetening in the first place, while also risking "bottle bombs". Pasteurising is the only solution to this and while unusual for the amateur it's not too difficult to do at home.

Over the course of the year I took the gravities of some commercial ciders.......
  • Old Rosie: 1.008
  • Orpens Irish Apple Cider: 1.012
  • Bulmers/Magners: 1.020
  • Stella Cidre:1.022
.....and found my tastes are around the Orpens level of sweetness, 1.012.

In order to sweeten and pasteurise using the tools available to me, namely a 9 litre Cornelius keg and a 30 litre pot to warm it in, I used the dilution tool in Beersmith to calculate the required volumes:
1.2L of concentrate @ 1.084 + 7L of cider @ 0.998 = 8.2L of sweetened cider @ 1.012
To work out ABV I'd have 7 litres of 6.36% with 1.2 litres of 0%, so.....
7/8.2 x 6.36 =  5.42% ABV
...which is still quite respectable. To measure such precise amounts into the corny was easy, just weigh the corny as it was being filled, assuming each litre weighs around 1 kg, which is close enough.


Hot bath: target mid 60s
Once the juice was mixed up in the corny, next step was to drop the corny into a bath of hot water on the cooker. I preheated about 10 or 12 litres of water to around 67-68°C in a 30 litre pot with a dinner plate at the bottom to stop the rubber on the corny from being burnt, and dropped the corny in with the pressure relief valve removed. This allowed me to put a thermocouple into the juice and as my meter has two inputs I put the second one in the water. This caused the temperature of the water to drop to maybe 58-60°C as the cider in the corny started to absorb the heat. I kept the gas on full, never allowing the water to heat above about 68°C, as this is the absolute maximum temperature I wanted the cider to go to, the logic being the cider cannot heat any more than the water. Once both had equalised I replaced the pressure relief valve in the corny to keep all that goodness locked in. From here on I would only need to keep an eye on the temperature of the water as both temperatures had equalised. I regulated the gas and kept the temperature around 65°C over the next 30 to 40 minutes. Once that was done out the corny came and went into the freezer to cool enough to be carbonated.

Force carbonating the Sodastream way

I've always thought it literally a waste of time force carbonating the slow way, i.e. letting the corny sit there on gas over two weeks while waiting for the pressure to equalise. Anyone with a Sodastream knows that you can force carbonate practically instantly, and if you have a pressure gauge that you'd use for spunding you can do it pretty accurately too. The method I use, inspired by Sodastream and proven by others, just involves setting the regulator to 40 PSI and gassing the corny while shaking it. Then I disconnect the gas and leave it to settle for an hour or so. When it has settled I bleed off the excess gas, connect the pressure gauge to the gas post and gentle rock the corny till the pressure in the headspace equalises with the liquid. Measuring this pressure (with the gauge for spunding) and the temperature, then using a chart I can accurately calculate the volume of dissolved CO2. (I admit I didn't think of this method of measuring; I picked up on it when I saw it being done in an episode of Brew Masters)

Corny hooked up to gas

Pressure set to 40 PSI - time to rock

Check:7.5 PSI @ 2°C = 2.2 vols

Having grown up on Bulmers I tend to like cider fizzy, and that really means 2.2 volumes of CO2 or even more.

The proof's in the (cider) pudding

Best. Cider. Ever.
So what did this turn out like? In a nutshell, amazing. By far the best non-commercial cider I've had and very close to rivialing the best of Irish. But it's not perfect. While 1.012 is probably about the right sweetness for my tastes, a consequence of sweetening with concentrate is that it is very appley. Gone are the tannins and bitterness from previous years that negatively impacted on the user experience, which is a good thing. I think the next blend I might back sweeten with a little less concentrate (I only have around a half litre left) and see how it goes. Stay tuned!

The future

I spoke to Davy recently at the St. Patrick's Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival in the RDS and floated the idea of single varietal juice presses past him, and he was very enthusiastic about the idea. Looking forward to 2015's cider already :)

Cheers Davy!

Update #1

23/03/15 Final 4.7 litres of naturally fermented juice is now blended with 0.9 litres (my son had the other 0.1!) of Aldi 1.045 apple juice, and is being pasteurised as I type. Resulting blend should be about 1.007 with an ABV of about 5.3%
24/03/15 Very decent, also recommended. Noticeably less appley than the concentrate version. Quite close to some craft Irish ciders I've had.

Update #2

14/04/15 I'm on to the second drum of cider which fermented with Nottingham ale yeast. It has dropped clearer but has slightly more tannins than the naturally fermented juice. I think I prefer the naturally fermented stuff as it seems rounder.
15/04/15 I have added one litre of Tesco Cherry juice drink (made from concentrate) to eight litres of this cider, pasteurised and carbonated in the normal way. The Tesco juice was 1.048 starting out so the resulting mixture was 1.007 or thereabouts. It's also quite drinkable and is going down well with the ladies, and is getting the thumbs up from my 19-year old daughter!

The man himself. Davy in the Ulster Hall 2012

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lambic 2.0.1

Over the last while I've been brushing up on brewing lambics at home primarily as we'll soon be emptying our lambic barrel (currently resident in my garden shed) but also because I want to get a few other lambic projects on the go myself.

So to start with I've decided to brew what's broadly a combination of Michael Tonsmeire's Lambic 2.0 but adapted to my target ABV, plus a recipe that was devised for the first filling of our barrel which I have slightly simplified.

Grist & Mash

Grist: 3kg pilsner malt, 2kg whole wheat
25L / 2 hour mash / 2 hour boil

  1. Add 2kg wheat + 0.6kg malt to a pot with 15L water heated to around 62°C
  2. Bring to gentle boil for 30 mins
  3. Let cool to normal strike temp for your gear, plus 3 or 4°C (as you want to mash at 70°C)
  4. Add to remaining 2.4kg malt, in mash tun
  5. Hold at 70°C for 2 hours
  6. Sparge with 92°C water for until 32L collected
  7. Boil for 2 hours, add 3-7 IBU shitty hops at 120 mins
  8. Collect around 25L in the fermenter

Whole wheat from the Glanbia Farm Shop. UFAS code is for Ketripack Ltd, Longford.
My Crankandstein 2S on its
plywood base

Milling wheat

First off, it had been a while since I crushed whole wheat and I had forgotten how difficult it is. My Crankandstein 2S is the basic model and not really adjustable. It has a preset gap of around 1mm which is perfect for crushing barley malt, but even if this was adjustable I suspect there's a better mill for cracking wheat.

Initially the mill wouldn't grind any wheat at all, the kernels just sat there and spun on the roller. Much to my frustration even tamping them down didn't help and adding a large or a small quantity to the hopper made no difference, it just wouldn't go through. My mill is bolted to a base made of half inch plywood and on closer examination I noticed that plywood base is starting to warp. Looking over the mill I couldn't really tell if it was still "square" but I decided to back off the holding bolts and see what happened. Behold! I was back crushing wheat again. Moral of the story: if your mill isn't milling, make sure it's all square.

Heavy Water

Leixlip water is infamously hard. It's the "Dublin" profile in most brewing books and brewing software as Dublin has a variety of supplies, some very soft, almost Pilsen like, but the Leixlip supply is the hard supply always quoted. Water is extracted from the Liffey at the purification plant behind the Salmon Leap Inn (where Arthur Guinness's brother, Richard, was once landlord) after it has run over maybe 10 miles of limestone, starting near Clane. The bedrock prior to Clane varies but doesn't contain any real quantities of limestone, and this is why the water extracted from the same river at Ballymore Eustace is quite a lot softer. The Leixlip plant supplies probably a third of greater Dublin, but ironically not the Guinness brewery. They use soft water from the municipal supply.

As my recent sour beer experiments have struggled to get below a pH of 4.1 I'm forming a theory that my hard water has a part to play in that. This time around I decided I would begin with softer water so I tipped over to the good people in the Lucan County Bar with some jerry cans and filled up from their tap. They're on the Lucan supply by the looks of their hardness of around 120ppm; not Ballymore Eustace soft, but not Leixlip hard either, instead somewhere in the middle. Indeed it's probable their water is a mix of both supplies. Hopefully with this water I should see some lower pH readings later on.

The brew

 I started with a simple serial mash of 2kg wheat and 600g of the pilsner malt added to 15 litres of water at ~62°C, brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes. This is for the purposes of gelatinisation. One thing about wheat is that it's quite dense and sinks to the bottom of the pot, meaning constant stirring is required. I did this on the 3kw ring on my gas cooker. Gas cooking is reckoned only to be about 50% efficient and the time taken would reflect this! Next time I might use my induction hob. After the mash had boiled for 30 minutes I turned off the heat and let it cool to 80°C. Typically when I'm brewing I need to heat my strike water to 10°C above my mash temperature, I've learned this from experience, so 80°C strike should give me 70°C mash.

T1: Mash temperature
So why 70°C? That's the sweet spot for alpha-amylase, and is essentially a dextrinisation rest. It will break down starches into complex sugars including maltose, oligosaccharides, and dextrins. Yeast requires simple sugars, so it cannot metabolise a lot of these and they will serve as food for the lactobacillus and pediococcus later on. It is important to not have the wort too fermentable in the traditional sense.

Striking in with the pot full of hot water was a little awkward from a physical perspective, but the temperature landed at 70°C bang on. I closed it up and left it for two hours.

When it came to sparging I kind of regretted having milled the wheat twice. I think if I had milled it once the bigger husks would have resulted in a less caked mash, that was bordering on stuck. But I was able to get through it at 92°C by stirring and turning the grain constantly. Once I had 25 litres collected in my kettle I started into the boil. Ideally I should have 32 litres in the kettle, losing 7 litres to boil off, but my kettle isn't big enough. Hence I started boiling 25 litres and topped it up with water regularly to keep it at 25 litres.

My brew controller - 6 amps
keeps a nice rolling boil
Once the boil started in went 10g of Saaz at 3% AA. I had planned on mash hopping just for simplicity, but between one thing and another I simply forgot. 10g would yield very little bittering, which is intentional. Hops don't really play any part in the flavours or aromas of a lambic, and too much will inhibit the growth of essential bacteria.

120 minutes later off went the kettle and the almost boiling wort siphoned into a 25 litre jerry can that I had previously purchased cider apple juice in. There is no need to crash cool when brewing a lambic - in Belgium it would have been left in a coolship overnight to cool, picking up airborne bugs at the same time.

Siphoning into the jerry can
Next day when the brew had cooled down I pitched about 200ml of starter that I had cultured up from the dregs of a lovely bottle of Framboise that Nigel Comerford gave me over a few pints in Kenny's of Lucan. Nigel has been brewing great beers for a long time and is one the most versatile and talented home brewers on the Irish scene. He's also understated, brewing for pleasure rather than glory. Anyway he had used WLP655, a mix of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus. As saccharomyces and to a lesser extent brettanomyces are quick to get moving, the starter will be predominantly these two, but that doesn't matter too much as they will go to work on the simple sugars in the main brew and be finished relatively quickly leaving the rest of the year to the lactobacillus and pediococcus to metabolise the complex sugars and dextrins. I don't know what lineage the saccharomyces is from but that starter smells quite phenolic so it's probably Belgian.

Just before pitching the starter I took the gravity, 1.042, very slightly off target. I'm not too concerned as this should still ferment out to slightly over 5% abv. By day 2 it was fermenting nicely in the warmth of my kitchen.

Oak no oak

One thing I have omitted so far is oak, and this is something I plan to rectify in the coming days. When done it will be joining the other great lambic in my shed to spend at least a year achieving greatness! Watch out for an oak update!

Son number 1. Who would have guessed a bucket of wheat
could provide so much entertainment for a ten year old!