Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Clutha

As I write this the emergency services are still searching the Clutha Bar in Glasgow for survivors, painstakingly making the building safe.

Surreal is the only word to describe the idea that a helicopter has crashed through the roof of a pub around twenty minutes’ walk from my home.

I don’t have any more information about the disaster than anyone else who has been following events on Twitter, but I do know the Clutha. It is a well-established, popular pub with an active live music scene.

I’m not a regular by any means; I think I’ve been in maybe twice this year, yet it was on my mental list of pubs to visit more often. Only recently I heard the landlord was planning to expand the range of cask ales. Alas, we all now have more pressing concerns.

Together with its sister establishment, the Victoria, the Clutha is one of those Glasgow pubs that once occupied the ground floor of a three- or four-storey tenement. The upper floors are long since demolished, leaving a flat roof and a beer garden where the back court of the tenement was.

In my student days the Clutha, the Victoria and the Scotia Bar just up the street were a triangle of a vibrant pub scene; a pub crawl involving very little walking, just crossing the road from one pub to the next, on to the third and perhaps back to the first by closing time. I would have said that was its heyday but the Clutha and Scotia are still very popular pubs today, though the Victoria has been converted into an Italianate bistro where you could get some well cooked pasta and a reasonable drop of wine. In those days I remember drinking Maclays Oat Malt Stout in the Clutha.

The Stockwell Triangle, as it was sometimes called, was famous for folk music and radical activism. Artists, musicians and other bohemian types frequented them and the likes of Billy Connolly and Adam McNaughtan played here. One of the dead is poet John McGarrigle, a regular in the Scotia/Clutha/Victoria scene since the 1980s Workers City days.

Looking at the aerial photographs of the crash it looks like the helicopter came down on top of the front snug and the toilets. I sat in the snug the last time I was in, a comfortable area with old photographs on the walls. The stage where a band was playing is on the other side of the pub, to the side of the bar. Bad as it is, it could have been much worse.

On the cordoned-off street just before dusk, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, was being interviewed for the news. A few dozen people were standing there, watching and waiting for something to happen, hoping that maybe some people would still be brought out alive.

It seems quite callous in a way to think of the future of the pub rather than the injured and bereaved, yet we also have staff and licensees who don’t quite know if they will have a job or a business to go back to. At the moment it’s not yet clear whether the building can be saved, and even if it can, it will be many months before the pubs can re-open. I hope that the Glasgow hospitality trade will rally round and support the pub and its staff in the meantime.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Essay question

“US beer tastes of hops. German beer tastes of malt. Belgian beer tastes of yeast. English beer tastes of water.”  Discuss.
(15 marks)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A calm pint – Glasgow Beer Week day one

Blackfriars on Bell St have to my mind some of the finest cellarmanship in Glasgow – I’m not sure I can recall ever having a flat pint in there. That being so, they eased us into Beer Week by opening up the basement bar early (it usually hosts club nights later in the evening), and sticking two fresh casks on the bar to be poured by gravity.

The pub gets extremely busy on Friday and Saturday nights, so much so that I actually avoid it on weekend evenings. So it was a great relief to be able to sit down with a pint downstairs and talk in a less crushed atmosphere.

I love gravity beer. Often it is done very poorly, leading some people to believe that gravity beer is always flat, including the London barman who once served me a pint lacking any carbonation whatsoever and argued that it was meant to be like that.

Happily, both beers were in great nick and very drinkable. Kelburn Pivo Estivo really shone, seeming hoppier than usual, though I think this may be down to a slight variation in the beer rather than dispense.

It is really weird the way that Glasgow Beer Week has things go around in circles. Three and a half years ago, after the event that inspired Beer Week in the first place, I wrote “I also tried a very good hoppy stout which would put plenty of commercial versions to shame.” That hoppy stout was the beer that later became Williams Bros Profanity Stout, and one of the homebrewers was Craig Middleton, then a brewing student at Heriot-Watt. Craig has, of course, since gone on to set up Cromarty Brewing whose beers are already regarded as some of the finest in Scotland.

What did we have as the other beer on Friday night but a new porter “Ghost Town” from Cromarty? I wouldn’t like to stick my neck out and say it’s the same recipe, but it certainly tasted secular enough to be reminiscent of the earlier beer. For its 5.8% it was surprisingly smooth and it turned into one of those “goodness, is that the time?” evenings – always a sign of a good beer.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

First Scottish screening of Michael Jackson documentary

“My name really is Michael Jackson; but I don’t sing, and I don’t drink Pepsi. I drink beer. That’s what I do for a living. I travel the world, sampling different brews and writing about the ones that I’ve enjoyed. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

I can’t be the only one for whom the words spoken at the beginning of Michael Jackson’s TV series The Beer Hunter in 1990 were the beginning of a life-long interest in beer.

At this year’s Glasgow Beer Week starting this weekend, we will be showing the new American documentary “The Beer Hunter” (not the earlier TV series of the same name). Film-maker J.R. Richards accompanied Michael Jackson on several trips, beginning in 2004, and much of the footage in this film is being seen for the first time.

Even better, Allan McLean, former beer columnist of The Scotsman and long-serving member alongside Michael of the British Guild of Beer Writers, will be joining us to introduce the film and say a few words about Michael’s work.

This is only the second screening of the film in the UK and the first in Scotland. I am quite chuffed to have been involved in bringing this film over, and all proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Parkinsons UK, which seemed appropriate as Michael suffered from it in the last years of his life.

Tickets are available here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hackney’s new microbreweries

It’s lovely the way there are so many brewery arches in London now. I don’t know how the railway managed to operate before they were there; the trains must just have been down on the street getting in everyone’s way, I imagine.

I popped by three breweries in Hackney, which are all within about five minutes’ walk of each other and have all started brewing within the last six months. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Pressure Drop is in a lane just by Hackney Central station, in arch no. 19. We look into no. 9 by mistake, where there is a reception desk, a young lady behind it, and — a load of dogs running around. We soon realise this is not a brewery, though I am reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

Having found the correct arch, Ben and Dan show us around. It’s a large space with the brewing kit along one wall. Like any sensible brewery, they’ve left space for more fermenters when they can afford them.
Pressure Drop, no dogs added to the beer

All the publicans know each other and drink in each others’ pubs, says Ben, so it’s easy for word to get around about a new brewery. Not only have they not needed to advertise, they have not needed to make a sales call yet; rather, pubs and other outlets approach them. Then again, when you’re brewing such tiny amounts you only need a few outlets to sell everything you can make.

What’s the signature taste of Pressure Drop? The chaps are honest enough to say they don’t really know yet, but they love the flexibility of brewing on such a small kit. It gives them the chance to make unusual beers, not just their dark Weizen, the only such brew in London as far as I know, but also for example with bay leaves or foraged herbs.

But there’s one less exotic beer that every new London brewery seems to brew, and rightly so. I love the way Porter has returned from the dead to be celebrated in its home city. Pressure Drop Street Porter, Gyle 2, bottled only a month previously, still smells and tastes fresh with a big roast-coffee nose. Light and dry with slightly minty hops. Highly carbonated, the bubbles tingle.
Five Points

Only a short walk away is Five Points, another very new brewery. It differs from other East London micros, firstly by not being in a railway arch and secondly by having decent money behind it. While it’s far from being slick, it’s less ramshackle than the smaller operations.

One thing that strikes me about the new London micros is that they all seem to have terrific graphic design. Five Points is no exception, with their stark black and white typographic labels. The heavy nineteenth-century grotesque lettering in the same style, painted on their red-brick building, just screams London to me.

Doreen shows us around. The long hall contains a big shiny mash tun and kettle, both of which look very similar until you see the hop debris on the kettle. Flooring is being laid to make room for more fermenters, which will enable them to brew more often. At the back there’s a cold store full of beer and storage space. Office admin is done at a couple of desks opposite the brewing kit.
First worts from Five Points Pale
Head brewer Greg and his intern, Heriot-Watt student Ian, are brewing Five Points Pale today. Greg says his favourite Five Points is their red rye beer Hook Island Red, but Pale Ale is a simpler recipe, hence easier to brew on the morning after a long session at the Great British Beer Festival. 

Five Points Pale Ale is in the “London Murky” style pioneered by The Kernel. One bottle is still from the “Test Brew” series, now approaching its best-before date and there’s something a bit homebrewish about it. The hop aroma seems to have decayed a bit and what we are left with is a very dry beer, distinguished from others chiefly by a long, intense, slightly chalky bitterness. Might be one which would benefit from a shorter shelf-life. A fresher bottle is still a bit low on aroma but is much better with loads of Citra and lychee flavour backed up by that intense bitterness once more.

Hook Island Red, a much more complex beer with all sorts of mad aromas: spicy root beer and chocolate on the nose together with cola-bottle sweeties and tinned fruit. In the mouth big, fresh American hops and both caramel and malt sweetness, topped off with a bitter, bitter finish. I’m not that keen on red rye beers myself, but this is a good one.

The plan is to head across the road to the Pembury Tavern, but it doesn’t open until noon. A pity as I had never been and was looking forward to visiting it.
Relaxing in The Cock Tavern
Never mind, though, it’s only a short wait until The Cock Tavern back down the road opens. What a remarkable place. I can’t figure out whether it has never been renovated since the 1930s or whether a subsequent refurbishment has been stripped out again. The walls are deep mahogany-coloured wood, not varnished and shiny but matt and lived-in. The hand pumps are of a design that has surely not been manufactured for decades. A glass cabinet is an ironic nod to the clingfilm-wrapped cheese baps of the past, and now contains high-end pork pies and the like.

The Cock is also host to Howling Hops, the smallest of the three breweries we visit; so small, we hadn’t even planned to. In the basement of the pub, they brew the beer downstairs, pump it into Grundy tanks and serve it upstairs. I thought Five Points were being ultra-local when they told me about delivering beer by just rolling casks across the street to the Pembury Tavern, but this stuff doesn't even leave the building.

The beer taps are a bit more sparsely populated than normal – the local micros are gearing up for the London Cr*ft Beer Festival at the weekend and their beer is in short supply. So there’s no Pressure Drop or Five Points on here as I had hoped. There are a couple of Howling Hops beers on handpump – Pale Ale No.3 and the elderflower-spiked Poachers. Sadly, neither impress greatly. There’s nothing specifically wrong with the pale, but it is muddy and confused with no clear lines of flavour. Poachers is better with a bitterness reminiscent of forest-floor vegetation, like lovage or dandelions.

We are about to leave – pub 10/10, beer 5/10, bar staff’s beards 9/10 – when I notice that two of the people behind the bar are wearing wellies. That might be the latest fashion trend – you never quite know in East London – but it turns out the guys are indeed the brewers here.

Ed’s eyes sparkle with delight that people are interested in his brewery, and we are invited to clamber down the alarmingly steep stairs into the cellar. It’s tiny and cramped, with brewing kit along one side and fermenters behind glass along the other, and just about room for one person to stand in between.

One taste of the new double IPA, straight from the tank, and our opinion of Howling Hops is revised upwards. Huge hop flavour prevents the strong beer ever being cloying. Ed has been experimenting with beer styles from other traditions, too: back upstairs we try a pseudo-Belgian dubbel from the keg, which is good if a bit one-dimensional – then again you could say that about a fair number of the Belgian originals. Also kegged, a sour beer in the Berliner Weisse style, tart and refreshing at just 2.0% alcohol. Rather than add a commercial culture to sour the beer, Ed uses the lactic bacteria that naturally occurs on the malt. It’s very drinkable and we return to the pub later to have some more. 

What’s impressive about these three breweries is the way each is creating its own identity. Pressure Drop the little experimental beer kitchen; Five Points, with some proper money behind it, focused on a core range of beers that people will want to buy again and again; Howling Hops, taking influences from the continent and symbiotic with the London pub upstairs.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The day I queued up for Greene King

Queueing up for 5X
What is there to say about the Great British Beer Festival that I haven’t said before? Well, it’s two years since I was last there so I hope I can come up with something.

It must be tough organising an event on this scale. It’s too big to be cutting edge anymore, and the selection procedures move too slowly for it to include breweries who have only sold their first beer three months ago. At the same time it’s too small to include every one of the now over 1200 breweries in the UK.

Both these things draw criticism. In some quarters there even seems to be a belief that there is some sort of conspiracy to exclude exciting new micros. On the other hand, if GBBF had featured a London bar with the new railway-arch hipster breweries, just imagine the whining there would be people in other parts of the country, who already believe it to be too London-centric.

Whatever is excluded or included, there is an embarrassment of riches on offer and I’ve never found myself bored at having to consume yet another British beer. It’s more a question of how many I can try and still be able to negotiate the tube home afterwards.

After waiting in the queue in the sun, a nice mild is called for to wash the London dust down. Thwaites supplied horse-based entertainment outside so let’s have a Nutty Black – ubiquitous round Blackburn way I’m sure, but a treat where I live.

Wandering around we find some seats equidistant between the Bieres Sans Frontieres bar and the Harvey’s of Lewes bar. Not moving from here then…

Harvey’s, old-fashioned old buffers in a very good way, have a new beer with those trendy new hops. Still, you can tell instantly it’s a Harveys beer with that unmistakable yeast aroma, just as you recognise a Rolling Stones record as soon as you hear it. It’s still a British-style brew with austere bitterness rather than perfumey hop aroma.

Round the corner to the American bar. One of the saddest ironies of the beer world is that CAMRA has a relationship with US “craft breweries” going back decades, before most of today’s British CAMRA-bashers were old enough to drink. Every year NERAX, the New England Real Ale Exhibition, gets a load of British cask beer sent over to the US. To use the shipping most efficiently, the empty casks are then filled with American beer and sent back. The result is a bar of American cask beers, many of which are unique in this form on either side of the Atlantic.

The first one I taste is Clown Shoes Galactica double IPA. Tasting it blind, I’d say it was a British “American-style” beer from someone like Great Heck. Ballast Point Sculpin is spectacular, with huge hop aroma, lovely fresh leafy hop taste, crisp and cool with a substantial, satisfying bitterness. An excellent retort to those idiots who go around saying that hoppy IPAs don’t work from the cask.

On my tick list, I don’t have any American or Belgian beers. What I have are a few beers from very unfashionable British brewers. Namely, I want some Courage Russian Stout from Wells & Youngs and some Greene King 5X. I am forced to wait, however, as I discover both beers are rationed, being poured at specific times. At first I think this is cutesy deference to their strength, which is a bit silly since the American bar is cheerfully pouring 10% beers for anyone who wants them, but later I discover that the brewers only have limited amounts of each so need to eke them out.

While waiting for the Courage imperial stout I may as well try Harvey’s imperial stout – a rare chance to experience it cask-conditioned. It’s rich and luscious with dark bitter chocolate and chocolate-coated raisins, an aroma of burnt toast and dark rum, hop bitterness melding with roasty bitterness but somehow remaining magically distinct.

Shortly before two we are at the Greene King stand. Queueing. I didn’t think I’d ever queue up for a Greene King beer, but there you go. As news of the queue spreads, there are a number of condescending tweets along the lines of “stupid CAMRA peasants, queueing up for Greene King piss”.

What know they of craft beer, who only craft beer know? What we are waiting for is 5X. It’s 12%, aged in oak for two years and only available here. 5X is one of the components of Strong Suffolk, of which I am very fond and wish it was more widely available. Although like many beer lovers, I avoid Greene King IPA, I’d happily drink in a pub that offered their XX mild and bottles of Strong Suffolk.

I’m not expecting this to be wonderful – it’s not brewed to be drunk on its own, after all. But I gingerly take a sip and it’s rather good. Rich and smooth with barely any alcohol heat. Richly fruity with dates and marzipan. The oak is only subtle, unlike some sawdust-flavoured beers. The most surprising thing is that it’s not sour as I’d been led to believe it would be. Despite sitting around in wood for two years it remains “sound” as old-time brewers used to say.

Then inspiration strikes. As a student I used to read and re-read Michael Jackson’s New World Guide To Beer over and over, avoiding revision and wishing I could afford to go to Brussels, Munich or Prague. So I know chunks of it off by heart, including the bit where he says that Strong Suffolk stands up to pickled herring.

There is a seafood stand directly opposite the Greene King bar. It is surely a sign.

A rollmop herring in a decidedly vinegary dressing is not normally something I’d considering eating with beer, expecting it to completely clash with just about anything. But with 5X, it works wonderfully, flavours deepening and melding, the sweetness of the beer an excellent counterpart to the stinging acidity of the heavily malt-vinegared fish.

I have never paid attention to the Champion Beer of Britain before. It is not something that affects what I choose to drink, so I am not especially interested in the results. However, for some reason I go to listen to the announcement this year.

As I think there is going to be quite a bit of speechifying, I grab a beer to drink while listening. Crouch Vale Citra is, as expected, a splendid quaffing beer of the washing-up liquid pale’n’hoppy genre.

The sound is awful and you can barely hear what Roger Protz is saying. But it’s just as well we are there listening to the announcement this year, as it turns out that Fyne Ales Jarl wins Champion Golden Ale and comes third overall in the Champion Beer of Britain. Not surprised to see it do so well – it’s easily worthy of coming top. They’d better hurry up with the planned expansion, though, if they’re going to take advantage of the increased demand from winning yet another award. (Glasgow CAMRA denies that there is any arrangement for Fyne to win lots of CAMRA awards in order that they have no spare beer to put in Evil Kegs).

The Champion Beer of Britain overall is Elland 1870 Porter. On our way back to the the centre of the hall, we see a slightly built fellow in an Elland Brewery polo shirt moving in the opposition direction. “Congratulations!” we shout. “Have we won something?” the bemused young chap replies, and hurries on.

At 4pm we finally get a chance to try the Courage Russian Stout that Wells & Youngs have held back until now. It’s very viscous and unlike any other imperial stout I’ve tasted; which is to say it doesn’t taste like coffee or chocolate – it just tastes like stout. Very interesting in a strange kind of way.

I don’t attempt to use apps or tweet much at festivals any more; the amount of chat and limited battery life don’t permit it. It’s the old paper notebook for anything that needs written down: faster and less vulnerable to beer spills. But as the afternoon wears on the chat gets faster and the tasting notes go out of the window too: Harvey’s Lewes Castle, Sierra Nevada Amber Ale, Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Löwenbräu Buttenheim Kellerbier all just come and go to accompany the chat, which has displaced the beer as our focus. “The biggest pub in the world”, they used to call this. Might be onto something there.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

How to get your brewery in the paper ahead of 800 others

I’m just back from a few days in London, including a brief visit to the Great British Beer Festival. Full writeup to follow, today just this: While standing in the queue Thwaites had their display dray in the road beside us with the shire horses and coachman in historical costumes. So far, so good, that’s nice.

Wainwright: “Needs mair hops.” Bomber: “I was hoping for some Clown Shoes from the American bar.”

Then a bloke appeared with two pints and gave them to the horses to drink.

Within minutes the road was full of people taking photographs.

The result (please imagine this last image spinning up out of the background like in the old Batman TV shows):

Now someone tell me again that these sleepy family breweries don’t understand PR.

Monday, 29 July 2013

South Side Beer Festival

Brewery vans

You know that something is happening on the beer scene when some folks organise a beer festival off their own bat in two months, and have it succeed.

That’s what happened with the first South Side Beer Festival held in the Langside Halls on Saturday.

The people behind this are the exuberant and energetic Dave and Emma of About Shawlands and Glasgow Food & Drink blog. As if putting on a beer festival for the first time wasn’t enough, they had also organised a remarkable event the previous night in a local community pub, the Old Stag Inn.

“Taps Oan” followed a pattern that I hope will become common: find a nice cosy bar that you like, but that sells mostly Carling and Guinness. Then convince the owner to stock something a bit more exciting, for one night. Tell the hipsters, and see what happens.

Actually the Old Stag has sold WEST St Mungo for some time, so it was not quite a leap into the unknown, but still quite a jump to the wide selection of bottles from Williams, Fyne, Cromarty, Anchor and the like that filled the fridges.

Fun in the outside area
There were far too many beers and not enough spare taps, so only a couple of the promised draught beers were actually available. That was fine though, as one of them was Magic Rock Cannonball. At £2.93 a pint. Merriment ensued and the saddest thing was at the end of the night watching the bottles of Sanda Blonde and Alba being taken out of the fridges and the blue WKD and Smirnoff Ice going back in.

The next day dawned and I discovered that I’m too old to drink pints of 7.4% IPA and expect to get away with it. However, after wandering down to Queens Park in blazing sunshine and queueing at the only ATM in the village, I was thirsty again and ready to take a look at the fest.

£10 seemed steep as an entrance fee, especially as it included just one measly half pint, but there were plenty of people willing to pay it, with a 25-minute queue to get into the hall. I’d bought my ticket in advance six weeks before, so it felt less painful on the day.

In the hall
Bear in mind that if you live on the south side, it’s going to cost you several quid to get into the city centre and several hours if you wanted to visit, say, both WEST and Hippo Beers, which are at opposite ends of town. Having all the brewers and retailers in one place might well be a convenience worth paying for – the same could be said for the other criticism heard, that most of the beers were already easily available in Glasgow.

I was more impressed with the venue than I expected to be – it was crowded and is really far too small for a beer festival, even a little one like this, but the outside area makes a delightful beer garden.

With no huge cask stillage as is typical at CAMRA festivals, it had more of the feeling of a book fair as you wandered from stand to stand, saying hello to brewers and sampling their beers.

What was the beer like? Well, the critics were right to some extent that there was no rare and exotic draught beer from Norway or Japan. There was loads of fresh local beer, which for my money is a much better criterion. I’d had most before, of course, but it’s fun to visit some old favourites: Strathaven Summer Glow, a seasonal beer spiked with orange, was heavier on the orange this year and had a slight hint of silage (in a good way), whereas Harviestoun Schiehallion went down nicely with the excellent chicken keema from one of the food stands. I also enjoyed the Clockwork’s nettle beer made with nettles foraged in nearby Queens Park, and a special keg of 18 year Ola Dubh was a nice surprise. 

Dave and Emma are already talking about a second event and some even more ambitious schemes.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Fyne Fest still rinsing it

Yes, I take this same picture every year
In the four years since it started, Fyne Ales’ brewery festival has become something of a brewers’ jamboree. As well as sourcing guest beers from other breweries, it attracts their staff too, who are as keen as anyone to spend a weekend camping and drinking beer in the hills.

Arriving on Friday, the first thing is to dump bags in the brewery tap and get a pint. It’s not a long walk from the bus stop, but it’s a warm day and I’m carrying a tent. Who needs an excuse anyway – it’s a beer festival! Rune is a perfect thirst-quencher at 3.5%. The idea was to drink this while putting up our tents, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush, and so by the time we head out into the field we’re already onto a pint of Jarl. Wandering at will around the farm with a beer in your hand is a wonderful thing.

In the beer marquee itself, the first beer is the recent collaboration with Wild Beer Co – Fyne/Wild Cool As A Cucumber, which is a mint and cucumber beer. Almost everyone I speak to hates it. I am not sure at first either, but I drink quite a bit of it over the weekend. It’s only 2.9%, so if the weather on Saturday had been better, I’d have been absolutely tanning it, and I suspect a lot of others would too. There doesn’t seem to be much mint, so the cucumber flavour dominates and there is a subtle lactic tang. Bizarrely, the cask version tastes slightly saltier.

Festival toilets are legendary for their filth. As a general rule of thumb, after 4pm on the first day it’s every man for himself, and God help you if you’ve failed to bring your own Andrex. Special credit must go to FyneFest for the success in keeping the array of portaloos usable throughout the festival; just as well considering the effects on visitors of huge amounts of beer. A friend claims to have seen the MD of Fyne Ales personally replenishing toilet rolls at 10.30pm. Bravo!

The downside of having a festival in a remote Scottish field: no wi-fi and only intermittent mobile reception – which means no Untappd! Beer geeks shudder with horror at the thought, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone having a good time. I’m so busy chatting that I barely have time to write in a notebook, never mind go on the internet. 

That’s a roundabout way of saying I only have a vague idea of what I was doing between teatime and snoozing under the pelting rain.
Not just any old burgers. Burgers “in a roll!”
What ever will they think of next?

Every year there’s a new beer released at the festival. This time it’s called Freya and it resembles several of the other newer beers in that it’s heavier and thicker-bodied than before. With my dinner I go back to a favourite – Highlander, the brewery’s oldest beer and one that always surprises me anew.

Certainly one of the most talked about beers is De Molen’s Raad & Daad. It’s a rather pleasant cider vinegar that nobody can actually drink.

Cromarty Atlantic Drift, Thornbridge Hopton, Kernel Amarillo are all pleasant halves that somehow disappear too quickly.

As the first evening wears on, the music gets louder and by the time Edinburgh ska group Bombskare take the stage there are quite a few brewers happily skanking in the marquee. At least one well-known brewer was in a state where the bar staff should, strictly speaking, have stopped serving (To learn the name of this brewer, send £20 in a plain brown envelope to the address above…) 

It’s getting cold so I end the evening on Zombier and Superior IPA before collapsing into my tent just as the persistent rain starts battering on the roof.

FyneFest Collab Brew from Rob Sterowski on Vimeo.

The next morning, perhaps unsurprisingly, only a few brewers have made it for the agreed 10am mash-in time. They are following a Fyne invitation to make a semi-spontaneous collaboration brew. By quarter past a perfunctory discussion has taken place and they’ve agreed on the grain bill – many sacks of pale, a sack of Carafa (roast malt, de-husked to be less roasty), some wheat, some rye malt and a bit of crystal and Belgian biscuit malt. Tasting the biscuit malt, it really does smell and taste like digestives. Matt from Hawkshead and Jake of Fyne get on with loading up the grist case.

Once that’s done, more have arrived downstairs: Janine from Ashover, Benji from Elixir, Dom from Thornbridge, Colin from Buxton, Gordon from Siren, Stuart from Magic Rock, Lewis from Alechemy. With everyone gathered round the mash tun and hot liquor flowing into it, Jake opens the grist case to let the crushed malt flow down; “This is the best bit of brewing, this,” he grins as the brewhouse fills with the smell of malty goodness.

While the mash is converting, I go off for breakfast. When I get back, the assembled stars of British brewing have produced a stuck mash. Ah well. Nothing a bit of underletting won’t solve. The first cask has already been sold for Hawkshead’s festival, and that’s before anyone knows what the hops are going to be. Chinook, Sterling and Perle are chosen for that.

As the lowly blogger, I was expecting to have to dig out the mash tun, but Colin and Dom split the job between them, like old times at Marble. I get the rather less arduous task of throwing in the late hops. Not complaining.

Why are we standing around in a brewery when there’s beer to be drunk outside?

In the tent it’s back on to Thornbridge Hopton, as I remember it being good the previous night. Alechemy Citra Burst and Thornbridge Lumford are really rather good too. The beer that makes the biggest impression is Harbour East India Porter, a dry, biscuity beer with rich sweetness. I don’t know exactly why; it just has a complexity that seems lacking in many otherwise nice beers.

Another surprise is Siren Limoncello IPA. 9% and made with real lemons, it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but someone offers me a taste and it’s pretty good.

Red Willow Fathomless, an oyster stout, sadly doesn’t go as well with the Loch Fyne oysters as I was hoping, but was nice enough. The second day draws to a close with another old favourite: Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout, and the stunning Fyne Bell Rock 'n' Hop.

Cask Jarl, in the sun, fifteen metres from where it’s made
Drink carefully, and you can wake up on a sunny Sunday morning and enjoy delicious cold beer in the morning sunshine, when the fools who have over-indulged are staggering around clutching their heads. We sit behind the brewery with Jarl before trudging back to rather sadly strike camp. The tent-taking-down beer I have chosen, Marble Pint, is disappointing: flat and buttery.

Fortunately there’s time for a last pint of Rune before the bus back to Glasgow. It is chilled, sweet, bitter and perfect. I’m halfway to the bus stop, still drinking it, before I realise I have left my tent lying outside the brewery tap. While retrieving it, it seems only prudent to get another pint. I mean, what if the bus is late and I die of thirst?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The pub with no beer

It should now be widely known that British pubs are in a deep crisis. The cause of this is not the beer duty escalator or the smoking ban – it is that their owners are waging war against them.

Many people still think pubs are owned by breweries. In reality huge numbers of pubs are owned by pub companies or “pubcos”, which are essentially property developers. These rent or lease the pubs to tenants who are then obliged to buy their beer from the pubco at inflated prices – up to 60% above the market price.

In the past the biggest pubcos borrowed heavily against the value of their pubs in order to buy more pubs. They now find themselves up to their ears in debt and desperate to pay it off at the expense of their tenants. As a result tenants find themselves faced with ever-increasing rent demands and extortionate beer prices. It’s no wonder that so many pubs are closing.

There is an alternative to struggling along until the pubco finally drives you into bankruptcy. The Black Lion in Kilburn has chosen an unusual form of resistance: they have stopped selling draught beer entirely.

Last night they threw a “draught wake” with the last keg, and from today will concentrate on wine, spirits and organic bottled beers.

It’s hard to think of a more spectacular indication of the damage the pubcos are doing to our pubs.

Find out about the campaign for pubco reform at

There is really only one headline for this story, but I am given to understand the Black Lion will not be as miserable a place as the pub in the song.

Friday, 31 May 2013

How to make Berliner Weissbier (Dörfel part 5)

The final details from A. Dörfel’s work Die Herstellung obergäriger Bier und die Malzbierbrauerei Groterjan A. G. in Berlin, and we’ve got to the juiciest bit: how they made their Berliner Weisse. This is not a literal translation but I think all the most salient details are included.

The gravity is 8º Plato and the grist is 1/3 wheat malt and 2/3 barley malt. 100kg grist per 3hl water. 25–30g hops per hl and they are put right in with the mash. A decoction mash is used. The mash starts at 30 C and is raised slowly to 53–54C and held for half an hour (protein rest). Then the mash is raised to 75C and held until conversion is completed, which usually happens by the time the mash has reached that temperature.

[I was surprised the proportion of wheat was so low. And the mash hopping makes sense when you realise there isn’t a separate wort boil. The hops would get isomerised during the boiling of part of the mash during the decoction, adding some bitterness to the beer.]

Then 1/3 of the mash is taken out to the lauter tun and what remains in the kettle is boiled for half an hour. When both parts are combined again it is important to make sure that the saccharification temperature is not exceeded (not over 76 C). The mash is left 40 minutes before beginning to run off the wort.

Läutering is crucial with Weissbier. Both first and subsequent runnings must be absolutely clear. For this it is best to have an unbroken run-off, without disturbing the grain bed, unless necessary to avoid channeling. For the same reason the sparge water can be applied using the Hoffmann’s “floating box” (Schwimmkiste). Using this, the entire sparge water can be applied immediately following the wort, enabling a good extraction from the grain.

After the run-off and gravity correction of the clear wort in the kettle, the wort is heated to about 95 C for 15–20 minutes, pumped out and immediately cooled to 18 C.

It would be better to boil the wort at 100 C in the interest of killing off pediococcus, which cause ropiness, a sickness particularly feared in Berliner Weisse. However, the beer tax law states explicitly (at the request of the Weissbier brewers themselves), that a particular characteristic of Berliner Weisse, distinguishing it from others, is that the wort is not boiled.

Ropiness may appear in the bottle during conditioning. The beer becomes thick and syrupy, forming strands, caused by microorganisms of the sarcina type. The beer is utterly undrinkable in this state. If the beer is stored for several months, the slime usually completely disappears again. The beer is once again clear and fit for consumption. A residual fine aroma and a flavour reminiscent of tartaric acid remain, which are prized by some beer connoisseurs. [I don't know what tartaric acid tastes like, but that's what it says].

The sickness of weissbier, the Langwerden (ropiness), has three causes, the most important of which is Pediococcus viscosus. This sickness can be found sometimes in other types of beer and is not unknown in Belgian and British breweries. Sugar and protein are needed for this infection to take hold and the presence of yeast encourages the development of pediococcus. As a preventative measure (as recommended by Schönfeld in “Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung”) souring the wort to 0.1–0.15 acidity, high mash temperature, heating the wort to 80–85C for an hour, or 15 minutes’ boiling, and high attenuation are recommended. A ropy Weissbier must be kept in the brewery for months until the ropiness disappears, which means more work, tying up space and cash and interfering with the production plan. Even worse are the effects on the customers, who complain and return the beer.

A special fermenting room is kept for Weissbier and the yeast is pitched – a top-fermenting yeast which also contains rod-shaped lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria and yeast live in a kind of symbiosis: they grow under the same conditions and are found again in the head on the fermenting beer. 1L Weissbier yeast is pitched into 10hl of wort.

The fermentation is lively at 16C in the cellar. The first yeast head is skimmed off and discarded. The main head that forms afterwards is skimmed and that yeast is kept for re-use. The fermentation lasts four days, during which the temperature of the beer rises to 20C and falls to 16C again.

The beer drops bright [no indication of how long this takes] and is bottled, or sent out to wholesalers who also immediately bottle it. It is very important that the beer in the bottles contains the correct amount of residual extract necessary for the desired secondary fermentation. Weissbier should have lots of CO2, so 1% or 2% residual extract are needed. It is necessary to pay attention to whether the beer is intended to be drunk sooner or after several months.

If the beer has already fermented out too far, fresh beer can be added to bring it to the correct strength. Sugar can be used if fresh beer is not available. But this brings with it the risk of the beer exceeding the legal maximum starting gravity (for Schankbier) of 7–8º Plato.

The souring of the beer by lactic acid bacteria is temperature-dependent. Acidity increases with age. Storing the beer at 5–6 C can prevent the beer getting too sour. If it is needed to be ready quickly, it should be stored at 12–15C for 8–10 days. For the best quality, weissbier should mature for at least six weeks, though three months is preferable. For this reason the weissbier business requires a large stock of bottles, because each returnable bottle would only make it back to the brewery for refilling a few times a year.

[So Berliner Weisse breweries needed a proportionately bigger stock of bottles than others. Time to invent a beer myth: the drive to disposable bottles in the 1960s was spearheaded by Berlin breweries]

The main Weisse business is done in the summer. If there is unexpectedly high demand, the brewery may run out of well-matured beer and have to send younger beer into trade, which can be damaging for the reputation of the brewery.

At Groterjan they took these measures: large quantities of soured fresh beer are chilled and held in tanks at 5–6C, where it can stay for months without damage and clarifies. When needed, the beer is bottled and primed with sugar. The beer is sour enough already and the sugar carbonates it so that it is soon ready to drink.

As a Schankbier, the Weisse has a starting gravity of 8º Plato. As it ferments down to 1–1.2º, the finished beer is relatively strong, often 2.5–3.5% abv.

[I’m not sure that any brewer today would describe a beer of 2.5% as comparatively strong. But look how piss-weak most of Groterjan’s other beers were. It’s all a matter of perspective.]

Small quantities of strong Weisse are made sometimes with a gravity of 16–18º. That is best when matured for a year or more.

As a pale, mild and pleasantly acidic-tasting, well-attenuated beer with a high CO2 content (up to 0.5%) and excellent foam-building qualities, Berliner Weisse is a splendidly refreshing drink, especially on warm days. The beer is drunk from large, bowl-shaped glasses and some consumers love to add a slice of lemon or even some raspberry juice, the so-called Weisse mit Schuss, which is a practice abhorred by beer connoisseurs.

The pitching yeast for Weissbier is a mixture of top-fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria. Both multiply at roughly the same rate during the fermentation and so can be kept for the next brew. The most important bacteria (which is responsible for its particular bouquet) is S. pastorianus var. berolinensis. It produces substantial amounts of lactic acid during the main fermentation.

Cropping and storage of the Weissbier yeast is the same as other brewing yeasts but the temperature is slightly higher, 8C. The Weissbier fermentation is kept in a separate cellar to prevent contamination of the other beers with the lacto bacteria. Separate equipment and lines from the cellar to the bottling room are used. Again the bottling room and filling equipment are used exclusively for Weisse.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

We’re all going on a Summerhalliday

Nice space for a pint, whether there’s a festival on or not

It’s summer in Edinburgh, making for a long, hot walk down to the south side. The Summerhall complex is soon found and, well, I think I deserve a crisp glass of refreshing beer on a day like this.

Summerhall is a new – what shall I call it? arts centre, venue space, something like that. The Germans would say a “social centre” and that’s what it reminds me of most. They tend to be old industrial or commercial buildings with their former purpose remembered in the name, generally unimaginatively called “The Old Printworks” or “The Old Station” or some such thing (in this country, of course, we prefer to demolish the old buildings and throw up some shoddy flats in their place). The old courtyard of the veterinary school that once occupied the buildings makes a pretty good beer garden, and the various spaces are being used for arts events and let to start-ups.

This part of town is beer central: as well as Summerhall, there’s the biggest homebrew store I’ve ever seen, the excellent off licence Great Grog, the Cask & Barrel Southside for old-school real ale and The Southern for the trendy and rich. All within a couple of streets of each other.

The beer is made behind one of those wee doors on the left
For beer lovers the most exciting feature is that the complex features its own microbrewery. The beer connection is fitting since the site was the Summerhall Brewery a hundred years ago before the vet school was built. Logically, the new regime was keen to bring brewing back to the site.

Barney’s Beer has been operating for a few years from the back of a former brewpub in Falkirk. Unfortunately, the beer was generally dire. With the move to Edinburgh, I am extremely happy to report that the quality is much improved.

Before I even get my first beer I’ve spotted the two people I expected to see here. Adam, who puts in more miles hunting beer around Scotland than anyone else, and Rich, who writes more about Edinburgh beer than anyone else. They helpfully point me in the direction of the bar. In the beer festival, on the first floor, it’s deserted – everyone is sitting outside in the sun, those lucky enough to have grabbed a seat at any rate.

Nonetheless there’s still a queue for beer. Around fifteen beers are on offer, only two from Barney’s (the third has sold out). I have the porter which is a tad dull but there’s nothing wrong with it. Volcano IPA is more interesting with a decent hoppiness, though it’s a little slick and sticky. This is supposedly a version with New Zealand hops. If anything it tastes more European to me.

The brewery itself is located in a side building off the main courtyard, and is tiny. With Andrew “Barney” Barnett (who is much better looking than the caricature of him on his bottle labels) standing in the middle of the brewery, from where he can touch the copper with his right hand and the fermenters with his left, it’s the shortest brewery tour in the world – once you’re in, you've seen everything.

As befits a beer festival on this historic site, I bump into a couple of chaps I know from the Scottish Brewing Archive Association. They’ve got a stall and the original floor plans of the old brewery up on the wall.

Wanting to drink outside in the courtyard, we head to the temporary Inveralmond beer wagon. This is pushing their Sunburst dvanáctka (Bohemian Pilsner fae Scotland, as the posters declare), with their other beers relegated to bottles in the fridge, which, given that Sunburst is currently only 2% of their production, indicates where the brewery thinks the opportunities for growth are.

I’ve spent a bit of time recently transcribing head brewer Ken Duncan’s anecdotes about Inveralmond’s Czech yeast strain for a forthcoming issue of the SBAA’s Journal. So it felt like a nice reward to finally get around to tasting the beer.

Do you know, it’s very good indeed. Lovely and bitter with a bit of malt sweetness and nice hop aroma. I like it better than any of their ales, in fact. A rather nice smoked sausage from the stall up the stairs rounds it off pretty well.

I like this courtyard – I expect it is a splendid place to sit on summer evenings even without a beer festival. But as there doesn’t seem to be much chance of getting a seat in the courtyard, it’s time to split and head round the corner to the Cask & Barrel Southside. A lovely basic, empty pub with the odd group of men sat at tables studying pints of cask ale. There, a new Alechemy beer I haven’t seen before, Starlaw. Full of raw bitterness, it’s not my favourite of their – Alechemy and Tryst are the two Scottish breweries who on occasion produce beer that’s just too bitter for me. Great Heck Voodoo Mild is good, but past its best and the next time I go to the bar it’s finished. But replacing it is Raw Zenith, 3.7% and pale and hoppy. Yum. At this stage, anything stronger would have wrecked me, so I’m glad of it.

Disclosure: Inveralmond Brewery offered me a complimentary ticket to the Summerhall festival. I would probably have gone anyway.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Simon Johnson

I am in shock. I have just got home from the pub and am rather drunk. But I think the subject of this post would have liked the drunk post more than a more considered sober post, so here goes.

The Reluctant Scooper, aka Simon Johnson, is dead.

Just a few days ago he was leading a pub crawl or “bimble” through Derby and blogging about it, now he’s gone. It is as shocking as it is unexpected.

I only met Simon a couple of times. Twice, in fact. I was too drunk to remember the first time and was gauche enough to introduce myself to him again a second time. “Hi, I’m Barm” — “Yes, I know.” Oops.

But even those of us who only ever encountered him briefly must have been impressed by his warmth and intelligence. He was one of the most insightful beer bloggers Britain has seen and the scene will be a poorer place without him. His beer writing was always human and undogmatic, and many a more feted beer writer could have learned from him.

I still cannot believe it. On the one hand I would like to think — that it would be just like Simon to want to see what people would say about him, while he was still around to read it. On the other hand, he wouldn’t cause his friends such pain for a joke. We have to accept it’s true. The Reluctant Scooper has gone.

This reminds us, as Simon’s writing did, that life is short and that beer, while a constant part, is not the be all and end all in itself. It’s the friendships you make and strengthen over beer that are important. Tonight, get in touch with your friends, and tell them you love them.

RIP Reluctant Scooper. Fortunately, I do have a bottle of Orval in the cupboard, although it’s a tad warm. Cheers Simon.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Friedrich Ebert and his glass of Berliner Weisse

A bit of light relief in between the recipes today. If you call war, food shortages, revolution and counter-revolution light relief, that is.

I came across these drawings when I found a reference to Berliner Weisse in the artist George Grosz’ autobiography.

Grosz produced these two portraits of Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic. Anyone with knowledge of beer will recognise the bowl-shaped glass in the drawings – it’s Berliner Weisse.

The radical left, to which Grosz belonged, despised Ebert for supporting the war and suppressing the revolution afterwards. So it’s not accidental that he’s shown enjoying Berliner Weisse. Because that was the drink of reactionaries.

The “Berlin white beer philistine” (Weißbierphilister or Spiessbürger) is a common stereotype of the nineteenth century (and even Marx mocks him in passing in a polemic in The German Ideology). He represents narrow-minded, ignorant and obsequious conservatism, kind of the equivalent of today’s Daily Mail reader:
A peculiar vision is the Berlin Spiessbürger: generally a man between forty and seventy of respectable, clean-shaven appearance, who day in, day out in every season and any weather appears in the same pub at the same time, takes the same seat, to drink the same quantity of Weissbier, smoke the same number of pipes and occasionally mouth platitudes or jokes. When it comes to politics, art and literature, he plays in tune with the public opinion. He goes on holiday in the country, to the hills near Spandau. If he goes to the theatre, it is because he has obtained a free ticket. He is everywhere, as his means allow, sometimes better off, sometimes worse; but invariably he drinks good Weissbier with the proper small caraway schnapps. He drinks Weissbier, as his father did and his grandfather; and he never drinks Bavarian [i.e. lager], as the Revolution lies sleeping therein.
Friedrich Heinzelmann, Das deutsche Vaterland in Reisebildern und Skizzen, Leipzig 1858, p.322 (my translation)

In showing Ebert with a glass of Weisse, Grosz is saying that Ebert the Social Democrat has thrown his lot in with the grotesque and decadent capitalists that Grosz famously portrays in his other works. While other plutocratic accessories like the cigar and monocle are more universally understandable, the Weisse says specifically to the German public of the 1920s: Ebert is a Spiessbürger.

Whether Ebert actually drank Berliner Weisse, I have no idea.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Syrup in Berliner Weisse

While I’m on the subject of Berliner Weisse, something has been bugging me. I don’t know when the tradition started of adding raspberry and woodruff syrup to the beer. You don’t see it in most nineteenth-century sources, where a caraway schnapps is the preferred complement. At least, that’s what I thought.

My previous theory that it was all dreamed up by the advertising men taking advantage of colour supplements in the 1960s was completely wrong. It’s significantly older – already everywhere in the 1950s:

A refreshing beverage for those with a taste for tartness is "weisse mit schuss," the summertime favorite in Berlin. The "weisse" is a markedly sharp beer brewed from malted wheat rather than the customary barley. The "schuss" is a natural heavy raspberry syrup.
New York Times, May 12 1953

This is the season of the year when outwardly tranquil West Berliners, by the tens of thousands, sit contentedly in innumerable beer gardens and crowded sidewalk cafés and Drink “Weiss mit Schuss”.
   To the casual eye, the West Berliner has not a care in the world as he sits with his nose in a great glass bird bath, approximately five times the size of a champagne glass, and quaffs Berlni’s special drink, “Weiss mit Schuss”. This is a special kind of “white” beer spiked with a slug of raspberry juice. It sounds horrendous. But it is surprisingly palatable on a hot day and Berlin, like much of the rest of Europe, has been sweltering through one of the hottest summers on record.
Reading Eagle, July 20 1959 (typos in original)

Before the war, it’s mentioned too:

Mit dem Schuß Gemütlichkeit, der zum richtigen Berliner gehört, wie eben der Schuß Himbeer zur richtigen Weiße. (He had the dash of friendliness that belongs to a proper Berliner, just as a dash of raspberry belongs in a proper white beer.)
Paul Westheim, Helden und Abenteurer: Welt und Leben der Künstler, H. Reckendorf 1931, p. 165

In einer benachbarten Kneipe wurden unzählige Weiße mit Himbeer getrunken. (In a neighbouring bar countless white beers with raspberry were drunk.)
George Grosz, Ein kleines Ja und ein großes Nein, Rowohlt 1955
(Grosz emigrated in 1933 so this passage must relate to something before then.)

Man konsumiert Gose wie die Berliner Weiße: mit Himbeer („Schuß") oder indem man Kümmel mittenmang hinter die Binde schüttet. (One consumes Gose like Berliner Weisse: with raspberry (Schuss), or by downing shots of caraway schnapps alongside.)
Hans Reimann, Das Buch von Leipzig, Leipzig 1929

Fr Finton Stack also pointed out in a comment that the characters in Döblin’s classic Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) also drink Weisse both red and green.

So it goes back at least to the 1920s, and seems to have been fairly well established by then. How much further? Possibly as long as the syrup has been industrially manufactured. In the first decade of the 20th century there were already ready-made “essences” that you could buy to flavour cold wine punches such as the woodruff-flavoured Maibowle.

We can go back further still. Just found this tempting snippet:

Ich nehme dann belegte Stullen in der großen Strohtasche dort mit. Die werde an Ort und Stelle im Gasthaus verzehrt, und dazu geht eine “jroße Weiße mit” rundum. Mit was denn? Mit Himbeer. Mit Himbeer? Ja. Ein unglaubliches Gemisch, aber sehr beliebt. Ein großes Schnapsglas voll Himbeersaft wird in das Weißbier gegossen. Wenn man ein bis zwei Stunden marschirt ist und Durst hat, schmeckt alles.
( I took sandwiches with me. They were eaten on the spot in the pub. As accompaniment a “large white with” goes around. With? With what? Raspberry. Raspberry? Yes. An unbelievable mixture, but very popular. A large schnapps glass of raspberry juice is poured into the Weissbier. If you’ve been marching for a couple of hours and are thirsty, anything tastes good.)
Die Grenzboten: 1892, Volume 51, Part 2
As early as 1850 the Magdeburgische Zeitung is carrying ads for  “raspberry lemonade extract”, which mixed with three or four parts water would give a “most refreshing lemonade”.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that people were pouring the stuff in their beer even then.

Monday, 13 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Porter and Feinbitter-Starkbier (Dörfel part 4)

1962 menu from the Hardtke Weissbier- und
Charlottenburger Pilsner-Stuben in Berlin
F. Feinbitter-Starkbier

Elegantly bitter strong beer, what a nice name. A nice name for a weird beer. The gravity starts at 16º, which is quite a lot, and only goes down a little.

The grist is 3% black malt, 7% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 70% Munich malt.

The hopping is much closer to what we’re used to today, much higher than for the Malzbier. 400g/hl of best quality hops and 300g/hl of caramel colour. Again they mash in cold at 12–15 C and heat it to 52–53 C. There is a half-hour protein rest, then the mash is heated to 75 C. After 40 minutes conversion time they begin to run off the wort. They do a series of small batch sparges, waiting till each is complete before starting the next and fluffing up the mash to make sure to get all the sugar out of the grains.

The hops are put in while the wort is flowing into the kettle. After boiling for an hour and a half, during which the caramel colour is added, the wort is chilled on the Berieselungskühler to 10 C and yeast is pitched (1L to 10hl wort).

The fermentation must be watched carefully. As soon as the wort has dropped 3º in gravity, after about 40–45 hours, it is chilled through a closed chiller to 3 C and pumped into a lagrering tank. After 2–3 days the fermentation has even at that low temperature produced as much CO2 as is desired for the beer. The pressure is 1.2 atmospheres. The beer is then filtered and immediately bottled and pasteurised for three-quarters of an hour at 60–62 C.

The beer still has 12º extract (that’s more than the starting gravity of many modern beers!) and only 1.2–1.4% alcohol. It has an aromatic malty flavour which is complemented by an elegant hop taste. It is a nourishing beer, which has the same grist as the Porter, but due to the low attenuation has a completely different character.

(That's a weird thing to say. I wouldn’t call 70% Munich and 3% black malt a typical Porter grist. Let's see what they were putting in their Porter.)

G. Porter – Strong beer

The grist is 3% black malt, 7% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 70% Munich malt. (What do you know!) and the gravity 18º.

The hopping rate is 500g/hl and 400g/hl of caramel colour are added during the boil. The mash and boil are the same as for Feinbitter-Starkbier (F), except the wort is boiled for two hours and only cooled down to 16 C. Porter yeast from the previous brew is added at a rate of 1 L to every 3hl of wort (quite a lot of yeast then).

Fermentation takes place at 12–14C and they leave it 14–16 days before racking the beer into small aluminium tanks of 18L. (I don’t understand why they used such small vessels. 18L is however almost exactly the same size as a British pin cask.)

As is usual in England no more yeast is added for secondary fermentation. (Perhaps that's why they added so much in the first place).

The beer is kept in the tanks for 5–6 weeks and allowed to carbonate to 1.2 atmospheres, then bottled without filtration and then pasteurised.

Groterjan only ever made small quantities of this beer. It improves in bottle, but it is not possible to keep the extended lagering time common in England due to lack of tank space.

Dörfel notes that English beers are all top-fermented and that English brewers place great importance on the secondary fermentation yeast. Brettanomyces gives the Porter its peculiar aroma and taste. Schönfeld was able to isolate the fermentation yeast and the secondary yeast and use them separately. At the Hochschulbrauerei they use the technique of adding first a pure-culture yeast and then a pure culture of Brettanomyces afterwards.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Caramel-Einfachbier and Jung- und Braunbier (Dörfel part 3)

C. Caramel-Einfachbier with sweetener, draught

(A really simple beer here. This beer’s name translates as basic or ordinary caramel beer. With a gravity of just 3º Plato, it must have been pretty watery. It reminds me of some of the really weak top-fermenting brown beer they were making in Berlin in the nineteenth century. But there's a discrepancy in the manuscript. At the start he says this is 4º.)

The grist is 6% black malt, 19% caramel malt, 20% “pale” malt and 50% Munich malt. The hopping is 75g/hl. Also added are 350g/hl caramel colour and 14g/hl Dulcin, a sweetener. These go in just before the end of the boil.

It is brewed the same way as Malzvollbier in (A). As soon as fermentation has started, usually after 12–15 hours, the vigorously fermenting wort is pumped into tanks in the lagering cellar, which are immediately sealed. The pressure is 0.35 atü. [this is about 1.35 atmospheres, a quick googling of obsolete physical units tells me].

After 6–8 days the beer is filtered and racked into trade casks without pasteurisation. The beer at racking still has 2.2–2.5º extract and a pleasant sweet, caramelly flavour. This Einfachbier is significantly cheaper for publicans and consumers, due to the small amount of malt needed and the lower rate of duty payable.

D. Jung- und Braunbier, with sweetener

(A discrepancy here too. At the start this is described at having just 3º Plato, weaker than the Caramel-Einfachbier. Here, it’s a tad stronger at 5º. “Young Brown Beer”, it sounds fascinating.)

The grist is the same as Caramelbier (C). Hopping is lower – 60g/hl. 350g/hl of caramel colour and 10g/hl Dulcin are used.

This beer is not fermented in the brewery at all! The sweetened and coloured wort is cooled to 7–8 C and 1 l yeast is pitched per 25–30hl wort. The very next morning the young beer is sent out to beer hawkers, who sell it on the streets or deliver it to homes. The buyer fills it into bottles and it is ready to drink after about three days. The customer generally gets a delivery at least once a week. Therefore there is no great need for the beer to have keeping qualities, and the brewer cannot guarantee that anyway, as he has no control over the fermentation.

Even less tax is payable on Jung- und Braunbier than on Caramel-Einfachbier and it is a cheap thirst-quenching domestic drink that sells well in summer. It represents the last vestige of the time when every household brewed its own beer, says Dörfel rather nostalgically.

(I’m skipping the section on Berliner Weisse because it’s the most complicated and will come back to it later. On to Feinbitter-Starkbier tomorrow. A really weird one. )

Saturday, 11 May 2013

How to make Groterjan Malzvollbier (bottled and draught) – Dörfel part 2

By OTFW, Berlin (Self-photographed)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We saw yesterday that Groterjan was a brewery of a special type. It specialised in top-fermenting, mostly very low-alcohol, mostly sweet beers. Here are the beers they brewed:

a) 11.5º Malzvollbier with sugar, bottled
b) 11.0º Malzvollbier with sugar, draught
c) 4º Carameleinfachbier with sweetener, draught
d) 3º Jung- und Braunbier with sweetener
e) 8º Berliner Weissbier
f) 16º Starkbier Feinbitter
g) 18º Porter

All the beers with the exception of Berliner Weisse were made with an infusion mash [by which is meant a German-style step infusion, not a British-style single-temperature infusion].

The first four are a type which has almost died out. Look at the gravities. For comparison, a modern Pils has a gravity of about 11.5 degrees Plato before fermentation. Most are ridiculously weak by modern standards. On the other hand, the 18º Porter would be considered strong today in the German market.

A. Malzvollbier (bottled)

The grist is 5% black malt, 10% caramel malt, 25% “pale” malt and 60% Munich malt.
The hopping is just 75g per hectolitre, i.e. hardly anything. Caramel colour is added in the kettle and a sugar solution is added before bottling.

The mash is started cold with water at 13–15 C and warmed slowly over half an hour to 52º. Half an hour protein rest at 52 C. Over a further half hour the mash is heated further to 75 C and held there until complete conversion is achieved. Then they let it stand for another 40 minutes before lautering. They batch sparge for five hours (!) with water at 85 C. The last sparge water has just 0.1º Plato.

Two thirds of the hops are added to the kettle while the wort is running in, and the rest half an hour before the end of the boil. The boil begins as soon as the second sparge has stopped washing out sugar. The boil lasts 1.25 hours.

The final wort should be 6.4º and be very dark. The 5% black malt used is not enough to achieve this colour, but that quantity cannot be raised without affecting the taste. 400g caramel per hectolitre are added to deepen the colour. Through evaporation and cooling the wort has 6.5º Plato when the yeast is pitched.

The wort is allowed to settle in a settling vessel before being cooled over a Berieselungskühler (one of those things resembling a sheet of corrugated iron) – not an open cooler, Dörfel is keen to point out.

Yeast is pitched at the rate of 1L thick slurry per 8hl wort and fermentation takes place at 10 C. After 12–15 hours there is foam on the beer and the hop resins this brings up must be skimmed off and discarded. The yeast head re-forms and after a total of 40–48 hours the yeast head begins to compact and can be cropped for re-use in the next brew. It is kept in aluminium buckets, mixed with water and chilled. It can be kept for about 8 days at about 3–5 C.

The yeast cropping must take place soon enough that the beer will still throw up another head that will protect it from the air. This is particularly important for beer that will be bottled.

The fermentation is completed after 2.5–3 days at 10 C. The beer stays in the fermenters for another two or three days to drop bright and at this stage has an apparent extract of 4ª Plato.

The yeast head is not removed before bottling, it sinks along with the surface of the beer and ends up together with the sediment at the bottom. This residue is not used in the brewery but sent to the food industry.

The beer flows into mixing tanks one level below. Each holds 68hl and is equipped with mixing rakes and heating coils. Together with the beer a sugar solution of 55% [I don’t know whether here the % means the solution is 55% sugar, or that the solution is 55 degrees Plato. There are enough figures given for someone to do the maths]. 1 hl solution is mixed into every 9 hl of beer. Extra yeast is added in the tank to make sure there is conditioning in the bottle. A bottom-fermenting yeast is used because it compacts better in the bottle. This is the only time bottom-fermenting yeast is used at Groterjan (it is obtained from a lager brewery).

The mix is stirred for a quarter of an hour and heated to 25 C, then immediately filled into bottles. Normal 33cl bottles with swing-tops are used. After labelling the bottles are loaded into the pasteuriser and held there at 25C for 14–16 hours. After this time they have developed enough CO2. Samples are taken to check the beer has conditioned enough. This must be done by pouring bottles into glasses, as the use of measuring equipment has been found wanting. If the conditioning goes too far there is the danger of the bottles exploding during pasteurisation.

For the actual pasteurisation the chamber is heated by steam to 65 C over a period of 40–45 minutes and held there for about an hour, then allowed to cool to 35–30 C.

The bottles are removed and placed by hand in wooden trade crates. The bottled beer is sent out into trade the next day.

The gravity of the bottled Malzvollbier is 11.5º, 6.5º from malt and 5.0º from the added sugar. 2.5º is fermented out during the fermentation and  0.8–1.0º during bottle-conditioning, so that the finished beer still has 8.0º (4.2º from sugar), resulting in a low alcohol but very nutritious beer.

B. Malzvollbier, draught – 11º Plato

The grist, mash and boil are the same as before, but the hopping is slightly higher at 90g/hl. After the yeast is cropped on the 3rd day the young beer is pumped into the lagering cellar where it is conditioned under pressure in aluminium tanks at 5–6 C. After 6–9 days cold conditioning the beer is pumped through a Massefilter [this is basically filtering through cotton wool as far as I can make out] and from there into the mixing tank together with the sugar solution.

The beer is then pumped through a heater which heats it to 60C into the filling equipment which fills it under counter-pressure into trade casks. These are wooden and treated with sulphur dioxide for sterility.

The draught beer is slightly weaker than the bottled version and free of yeast. It has a very balanced sweet, malty taste with a pleasant bitterness. Despite the very similar brewing method there is a slight difference in flavour between the bottled and draught beers.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Caramelmalzbier and Grätzer in Berlin: Dörfel part 1

I’ve become enthralled with the 1947 manuscript from A. Dörfel, the head brewer at the Groterjan brewery in Berlin.

I thought I’d summarise the most interesting bit for the benefit of English-speakers. It’s going to take some time as the document is so information-dense.

With Dörfel being head brewer at a top-fermenting brewery, he is concerned with the decline of top-fermenting beer in Germany. As late as 1873 40% of German breweries had been predominantly making top-fermenting beers, in 1938 it was just 4%.

Top-fermentation had been on course to become extinct, but a new type of beer led to a small upswing. This was a sweetened type of top-fermented malt and caramel beer (the ancestor of today’s Malzbier), and that was a major part of what Groterjan produced.

German top-fermenting beers in 1938: Share of the market
TypeGravity (in degrees Plato)Share
Einfachbier (sweet, low-gravity, brown)< 6.5º30.2%
Schankbier (Berliner Weisse, Grätzer) etc.7–8º3.5%
Malz-/Caramelvollbier, rheinisches Bitterbier, bayrisches Weizenmalzbier11–14º65%
Starkbier (Porter, Berliner Weizenstarkbier, Groterjan Feinbitter)16º+1.2%

Hm, that table is less useful than I imagined, as it lumps together Malzvollbier, Kölsch, Alt and Bavarian wheat beer all in the same category. These figures are of course the share of the top-fermenting market, which in turn was just 7.1% of total German beer production.

It’s interesting that there were two kinds of what we would now call Malzbier: a weak and a strong one. The weak one would have barely any alcohol because of its low initial gravity, the stronger one would be very malty but still low in alcohol because the fermentation was stopped by filtering and pasteurising the beer. (Today there are very few genuine fermented Malzbier commercially available in Germany. The mass-market products such as Vitamalz are really malt sodas, or “Malztrunk” to give them their legal name. The Malzmühle in Cologne and Pinkus Müller in Münster still make true Malzbier, and I’m sure there are a few more.)

But from the nothing-new-under-the-sun department: there was a Berliner Weizenstarkbier or “Imperial Berliner Weisse” as the kids would say nowadays.

If you think Germany still has a lot of breweries today, around 1400, in 1929 there were 4192 commercial breweries, of which 529 used predominantly top-fermentation. There were also 35584 registered home brewers who presumably brewed mostly for themselves up to a maximum of 20hl a year.

The only brewery in the country to make over 100,000 hl of exclusively top-fermenting beers per year was Groterjan. Dörfel credits the “unusually fast growth” of Groterjan with sparking renewed interest by large lager breweries in making top-fermenting Malzbier.

Groterjan’s speciality, Porter and Weisse excepted, was the production of low-alcohol, but very rich and nourishing Malzbier. They were originally intended for women, invalids, convalescents, children, nursing mothers and athletes. But they also became popular with workers who could get a strengthening beverage they could drink in work breaks.

Groterjan had replaced all their wooden fermenters with aluminium vessels by 1923. They began replacing their wooden lagering casks with aluminium tanks in the same year.

Interesting to me is that Groterjan was still brewing a couple of beers similar to what Josty had been making in 1900.

Porter is an obvious one. And Josty’s Trinkwürze (literally “drinking wort”) at 18-19º gravity with a large proportion of unfermented sugars, seems similar to Groterjan’s Feinbitter-Starkbier.

As I said at the start, this document is very information-dense. More soon.  

One last thing. Why is this post illustrated with a Grätzer label from the Hochschul-Brauerei? Because it’s one of the other breweries mentioned in the text.

Right at the end Dörfel says: “Grätzer beer is made in Berlin in only two breweries: the Monopolbrauerei and the Hochschulbrauerei, in relatively small amounts.”

Now, if you haven’t read this appeal from Polish homebrewers to call this type of beer primarily Grodziskie and not Grätzer, you should.

However, as well as the original Grodziskie beer, it was also copied by brewers in Germany, and they of course used the German name. In 1900 Josty were brewing “Josty’s Rauchbier nach Grätzer Art (brewed according to the Graetz process)” which was “prepared from the best raw materials and is in all respects superior to all similar kinds of beer.” So there seems to have been some sort of tradition of brewing this stuff at least in Berlin.