Category Archives: homebrewing

Gimmick or Twist?

Ahead of our saison tasting spree (first batch tonight) we’ve been thinking about the place of herbs, spices and fruit in beer.

Back in February, Masterchef winner and Japanese food expert Tim Anderson wrote a post suggesting some obscure citrus fruits to use in brewing:

I understand that there’s something irresistible about yuzu, but if everybody uses it then it loses some of its appeal. I fear we may have reached ‘peak yuzu.’

(There’s nothing to make you feel uncool like reading that something you’ve only vaguely heard of is already played out.)

He gives a reason, in passing, for why you might want to use obscure fruits: to make ‘a dish or a beer exotic and intriguing’, which additive-sceptics might read as different for the sake of being different — what’s wrong with beer that tastes like beer?

So, there is a question of motive, which probably, or maybe, coincides with the success of the experiment. A brewer who is trying to meet demand for a ‘new’ beers by chucking cinnamon or maple syrup into base products (a problem in ‘real ale’ before it became a problem in ‘craft beer’) will inevitably turn out a few duds where the Guest Starring additive clashes or overrides.

On the other hand, a beer that is thoughtfully designed and carefully developed, where the left-field flavour is brewed in rather than merely added at the end, may well do a better job of truly integrating it into the finished product. Camden’s Gentleman’s Wit isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the bergamot that is its unique selling point is not clumsily done, and does, indeed, add a twist which makes the beer intriguing, without surrendering its essential beerness.

When Lars Marius Garshol wrote about traditional herbs in Norwegian farmhouse brewing earlier this week, he reminded us that such additives aren’t a trendy new thing. We were particularly taken by his description of Myrica gale:

Home brewer Micro Maid made a Myrica beer for the Norwegian home brewing championship last year that won the prize for Audience Favourite. She used leaves picked in the forest, crushed in a kitchen blender, 23 grams for 26 liters of beer, boiled for 25 minutes. I tried the beer, and it really was excellent, with a lovely fruity flavour, not entirely unlike lime or yuzu.

Maybe the reason this seems, to us, less gimmicky than some such experiments is because it is in some sense historically and regionally authentic?

If all that matters is how the beer tastes, as some insist, then the brewer’s motives, or the authenticity of the additives, is neither here nor there, but we suspect that brewers who consider why they’re using a particular ingredient — who think about what the story is — might just generally be more careful and thoughtful, which tends to lead to better beer.

And if you’re a brewer (pro or at home) and you need more ideas than those provided by Tim and Lars, here’s Stan Hieronymus’s hot tip:

Main image adapted from ‘Fruit’ by Nils Dehl, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

The Temperance Spectrum

Triggering tipsiness is one much-valued feature of beer, but not the be-all-and-end-all.

A first, beer and ale were thought preferable to gin because gin made you bad at holding babies, while on beer, you could simultaneously catch up on some reading, spend quality time with your other half, and balance fish on your head:

Details from 'Gin Lane' and 'Beer Street' by William Hogarth.

Then, in the 19th century, people got excited about lager because there was a belief that, unlike British beer, it didn’t really get you drunk, or make you rowdy.

Continue reading The Temperance Spectrum

Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

The 1965 Watney’s quality control manual we’ve borrowed contains recipes for two brown ales: Watney’s and Mann’s.

Both have rather different recipes, perhaps surprisingly, given their similar specifications: for example, Watney’s contained black malt for colour, while Mann’s got most of its from caramel. The water was also treated very differently. (And, by the way, bottled Watney’s Brown was also quite distinct from their draught mild.)*

Because Mann’s is still in production, we’re a bit twitchy about sharing the details, but the following information should enable you to produce at home something resembling Watney’s Brown as it was in 1965.

Continue reading Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971

As we’ve noted several times before, Watney’s Red, launched in 1971, was a rather different beer to Watney’s Red Barrel, whose place it usurped.

The Watney’s quality control manual we’ve been lent was printed 1965 but contains typewritten inserts on how to brew Red, issued in August 1971.

There are some obvious omissions in the otherwise quite thorough information supplied. For example, no original gravity (OG) is specified. External sources of information, however, seem to confirm that gravity figures were approximately the same as for Red Barrel, which makes us think that these special instructions (reproduced in full, beneath the table, below) were intended as updates to the detailed instructions already included in the manual. Obvious, really, after all the time, money and effort that had been spent perfecting the process across multiple plants.

Continue reading Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971