Categories
homebrewing The Session

Session #92: I Made This

Home brewing books.

Pintwell is hosting this month’s Session and Jeremy has set out the question for home brewing bloggers as follows:

How did homebrewing change your view of beer? Do you like beers now that you didn’t before? Do you taste beer differently? Does homebrewing turn you into a pretentious asshole?

We have previously given this topic some thought, concluding that, as a result of brewing at home:

…we’re much harsher in our judgements of ‘craft beer’… we’ve also learned our own limits, and come to respect really expert brewers all the more.

A couple of years on, that’s truer than ever: we resent paying for beers that are no better than we could turn out ourselves and, unfortunately, quite often find ourselves saying of beers we’ve paid several quid for, “Ugh! If we’d brewed this, we’d have written off as a failed batch.”

Has it made us like beers we didn’t like before? Actually, yes — we were baffled by saison until we read Phil Markowski’s book Farmhouse Ales, at which point it snapped into focus: it’s all about the subtly funky, distinctive yeast. We’ve since brewed several batches which have not only been among the best beer we’ve ever produced but have also helped us understand and appreciate commercial examples.

In fact, more generally, one of the great benefits of home brewing has been getting to know different yeast strains, and coming to appreciate its contribution in a world where hops hog all the attention. We’re much more sensitive to yeast character, or its absence, than we ever were before.

We’ve gained huge amounts of pleasure from reading books about home brewing, which are among the best writing on beer, full stop. We’ve also enjoyed dabbling in advice and recipes, and researching its history — it wasn’t as important in the the rebirth of British beer as in the US, but it certainly played its part.

But, sadly, we didn’t need any help from home brewing to be pretentious assholes.

Categories
Generalisations about beer culture opinion

100 WORDS: Yes, That Must Be It

We drank it on the wrong day, in the wrong way, in the wrong place.

We drank it too cool, too warm, too soon, too late. We got a bad bottle, from a bad batch, from a bad source. Our glasses were dirty, our palates fatigued. The moon was full, an east wind was blowing, and there was an R in the month.

We’re prejudiced, stupid, closed-minded, and probably liars, too.

Taste is subjective, anyway, and wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same things?

Yes, that must be it — that must be why we didn’t like your beer.

Categories
bottled beer

Beer Wish-List, Q4, 2014

Detail from a 1953 advertisement for Ballantine Ale. (Not IPA...)

Though we try to enjoy what’s at hand — we drink a lot of St Austell in the pub — there are a few exotic out-of-town beers we can’t help daydreaming about.

1. Pabst’s take on Ballantine IPA. Since reading Mitch Steele’s excellent book on IPA, we’ve been dying to go back in time and try this highly influential beer. This, for now, looks as close as we’re going to get. Is anyone planning to import it into the UK?

2. The revised version of Fuller’s/Melissa Cole’s Imperial Stout. We enjoyed the first batch, with reservations (though some seem to have read it as a ‘slam’) and are pleased to hear it’s been tweaked. We might not go for a whole case on spec this time, though.

3. BrewDog’s collaboration with Weihenstephan. This sounds intriguing, not least because there’s something appealing about one of the world’s oldest and most conservative brewers working with one of the most determinedly and self-consciously experimental. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, but it might require some tactical mail ordering.

4. Elland 1872 Porter. It was suggested by multiple people for our porter taste-off but, as far as we can tell, is either not currently being bottled or has limited distribution. We’ll have to check out the handful of outposts of CAMRA-land in Cornwall in the coming months and keep our fingers crossed.

5. Conwy’s Version of Dobbin’s Yakima Grande Pale Ale. Having spent all that time talking to and researching Brendan Dobbin for Brew Britannia, it would be a shame if we missed this chance to taste an approximation of his ground-breaking beer. It’s currently cask only and not distributed all that widely, though we hear there are plans to bottle it. If you see it on sale in bottles anywhere, or on cask in Cornwall, please let us know!

What’s on your wish-list?

Categories
Beer history

Watney’s on Objective Tasting

The Watney’s Quality Control manual we’re currently digesting not only contain instructions for brewing but also sets out how to manage a beer tasting session.

“You want me to take advice on tasting beer from Watney’s!?” our older readers might cry at this point. The fact is, it’s hard to read the QC tome without gaining a certain respect for the care and attention the Big Red Giant put into process, even if the products weren’t, er… universally adored.

The purpose of this test was to check that Red Barrel brewed in the regions was as near as possibly identical to that brewed at the mothership at Mortlake in London.

1. The Room

(a) should be quiet

(b) should be moderate in temperature (58-62°F) [14-16°C]

(c) and should be low in light intensity (twilight conditions)

The Accessories

(d) The light should be red in colour (to obscure difference in haze and colour)

(e) Seats should be provided for the taster to sit in a relaxed position.

(f) A glass of water and a sink should be provided for each taster.

(g) A form of recording the results should be provided for each taster.

2. The Beers

These should have been stood overnight at a temperature of 58-62°F. They should be of equal C02 content and should be poured so that all three glasses show equal amounts of head.

The instructions go on to suggest how results should be recorded and the role of the organiser in policing the process. There is also advice on testing the ‘skill and interest’ of the tasters:

Take some distilled or tap water which is free from unpleasant flavour, cool and bubble carbon dioxide through it to remove air and introduce carbon dioxide… This water is then added to a portion of beer to dilute it by 10%. This diluted beer and a control portion of the undiluted beer… are then used in a three-glass test [where two glasses contain the same beer]… The tasters are told beforehand only that one of the two beers is more dilute.

A sweetness test, run in exactly the same way, used a sample dosed with 4 grams of sucrose per litre.

It is possible to score 33% correct answers by mere “guessing”. Members taking part with average scores of 50% or more may be regarded as suitable tasters for a permanent panel. This eliminates people with low discriminating powers where beer tasting is concerned but, at the same time, the panel selected will not be too severe in its judgments.

We hadn’t considered it before but, yes, we can see that finicky super-tasters probably are as useless as total numb-tongues for this kind of task.

As it happens, we’re currently conducting what amounts to an extended experiment in total, carefree subjectivity. Both approaches, we think, have their place, but perhaps we’ll try extreme objectivity next. The only worry is what might happen if one of us gets deselected from the blog after the dilution test.

Illustration adapted from Bulbs by Ignas Kukenys, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Categories
Blogging and writing

Best of Beerylongreads & Next Time

Starting last September, we’ve prompted four rounds of ‘beerylongreads’ in which we and others aim to produce something longer and more in-depth than usual.

The next is scheduled for Saturday 29 November (details below).

In the meantime, of the 50-odd posts that have emerged, these are some of our favourites, in no particular order.

  1. Leigh Linley on Wells’s Banana Bread Beer (March 2014) — a fresh, sincere, enthusiastic look at a quirky beer that’s far from trendy, but certainly not dull.
  2. Chris Hall on hipster-bashing in British beer (March 2014) — “You won’t see any of them bloody hipsters in my pub trying the real ales, though. They’re all in them bloody BrewDog bars, forking out a fiver a pint for that murky rubbish.
  3. Ron Pattinson on Porter between 1815-1850 (September 2013) — an epic post of near-book-length which gives a taste of the author’s still-gestating master-work on the history of British brewing.
  4. Stan Hieronymus on how getting it right takes time (November 2013)  — “Not long after Geoff Larson dumped the thirteenth batch of what would eventually be the first brand Alaskan Brewing sold he poured out the fourteenth. Then the fifteenth, and the sixteenth.”
  5. David Bishop on the state of British homebrewing (March 2014) — based on correspondence with other key players, this offers insights into a booming scene with ever-closer ties to ‘proper’ brewing.
  6. Drunken Speculation on a cult Australian beer brand (August 2014) — the story of Bulimba Gold Top, brewed in Brisbane’s suburbs in the late 19th century, using English malt and hops from New Zealand, Kent and Bohemia.
  7. And, of our own four contributions, by far the most-read is this piece on the fondly-remembered Newquay Steam Beer.

Here’s the deal if you want to join in on 29/11/2014:

  • Write something longer than usual. (Our standard posts are 300-700 words long, so we aim for at least 1500 before we consider it a ‘long read’.)
  • You could just stretch a normal post out by adding lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and indeed paragraphs. But that’s not quite the point. Instead, choose a subject which requires more words.
  • We’re not in charge and there are no ‘rules’; you can write what you like, post when you like; and you don’t have to mention us or link to this blog in your post. (Though of course it would be nice.)
  • If you want us to include your contribution in our round-up, let us know. The simplest way is by Tweeting a link with the hashtag #beerylongreads.
  • TIP: think of something you want to read but that doesn’t seem to exist — an interview with a particular brewer, the history of beer in a specific town, the story of a famous pub — and then write it.
  • Drop us a line if you want advice or just to run your idea past someone.

Illustration adapted from SYR by Robert S. Donovan, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.