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


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.