Thursday, 15 June 2017

Miracle Brew by Pete Brown

I can’t think of a book I’ve waited longer for. Even Stan Hieronymus’s For The Love of Hops didn’t seem to take so long to arrive.

I'd stumped up the money for Miracle Brew through the Unbound website over two years before publication, and although there were occasional uptakes for supporters published on the strangely named “shed” things did seem to move at a glacial pace.

Focusing on the four fundamental ingredients of beer Miracle Brew chronicles Pete Brown’s research into water, malt, hops and yeast. He is undoubtedly one of today’s best beer writers so I was surprised to see him say it’s been eight years since he’s written a book about beer. His background in advertising clearly helped him learn how write in an engaging style, and he’s always keen to get the details right. Unlike some beer writers I could mention, who don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. However, by writing about the raw materials of beer he’s straying into technical territory, so how well did he do?

The book is a pleasure to read, and the author travels to key places, historic and contemporary, in his quest for knowledge, and consults with a wide range of experts. The fact I’d finished the book on the kindle before the hard copy arrived is testament to how much I enjoyed reading it. If you haven’t yet got yourself a copy I can certainly recommend you do.

And now I’ve got the praise out of the way I can start on the anal retentive OCB Wiki style commentary on where I think he went wrong, or more information is needed. Location numbers not page numbers are used as I did the nerdery on my  kindle.

128. It's stated that Peter Darby is the public face of the British Hop Association, which rather overlooks the work of Ali Capper. It continues that the National Hop Collection at Queens Court Farm is where old varieties are preserved and new ones raised, but as I understand it the hops at Queens Court are a back up and it's at the National Scientific Hop Collection at China Farm near Canterbury where most of the work of Wye Hops Ltd is done.

143. Says the Fuggle was found growing as a chance seedling in 1785. Sadly, this story appears to be bollocks, and if anything modern analysis show the Fuggle's origins are as a mainland European hop. There's a number transposed too, as 1875 is the year the Fuggle was released commercially.

146. A new hop called “Wye” is mentioned. This can't be right and I suspect this comes from mishearing a hops actual name, as at one point Wye College added the prefix “Wye” to all their hops (e.g. Wye Target, Wye Challenger)

219. It says brewers refer to the four basic ingredients of beer as “raw materials”. This is done, but yeast can be classified as a processing aid. Though probably not if you're making London Murky.

276. The photosynthesis equation is meant to be written with symbols but is in fact written as words again.

324. There's talk of the enzyme diastase, which is archaic. Amylases would be more accurate.

395. There's talk of the modification during malting being about the the activation of enzymes that can convert starch into sugar. It is also about the breaking down of cellular structures to make the starch in the grain accessible to breakdown.

399. It states the grains need to be turned to stop them tangling into a big lump. This is true, but it is also to keep the temperature even so even modification will occur.

521. William Gosset is given as Wilson Gosset.

564. It states the process of malting has hardly changed in centuries, but in fact the introduction of air rests during steeping in the 1950s was a major change compared to previous malting methods.

610. The kilning of malt resembles coffee roasting, when in fact malt roasters used for making crystal and highly coloured malts much more resemble coffee roasters than kilns do.

633. It states that beer colour is determined by analysing the wavelength of light. In fact the wavelength is fixed at 430nm and it's the attenuation of the light passing through the beer that's measured.

637. It talks of the Maillard reaction causing amino acids to brown malt, when in fact Maillard reactions occur between amino acids and sugars.

709. It states that Matthew Wood introduced coffee roasting techniques to create malts that had no extract but just added flavour. Here the author seems to have mixed up Matthew Wood with Daniel Wheeler, the inventor of the malt roaster. And roasted malts do have extract, it's just not very fermentable extract.

790. It states the Institute of Brewing and Distilling meet every spring to compile a list of approved barley varieties. In fact the English Micro Malting Group that does this is really run by the Maltsters Association of Great Britain, but the approved list has retained the brand of the IBD.

866. It's said that whisky is essentially distilled beer. In many ways it is, but it's also of course missing one of the key ingredients: hops.

1175. It states the kiln takes malt as far as caramelisation, while roasting drums create roast flavours. In fact roasting drums are used to make caramel or crystal malts as well as roast malts.

1194. Bohemian dark lagers such as Bocks and October beers are mentioned. I suspect he means Bavarian here, and you can certainly get pale bocks and October beers anyway.

1201. It states acidulated malt has been treated with lactic acid, in fact it has had lactic acid bacteria grow on it during the production process and they have created the lactic acid.

1361. It's said that during the mash the “porridge-like wort” is constantly agitated. In mash conversion vessels the mash will be agitated, but if mash tuns are used the mash is not agitated.

1375. It's stated that as soon as brewers were free to legally used roasted barley Guinness began doing so. This is not the case.

1391. The author gets a bit confused about water hardness and pH, and seems to be confusing hardness with carbonate concentration (a mistake I've made myself in the past), when it's really calcium and magnesium concentration. Calcium and to a lesser extent magnesium will lower the mash pH by reacting with phosphates and polypeptides, liberating hydrogen ions. Carbonate will act as a buffer and have the effect of keeping the mash pH high.

1424. It's stated the water to beer ratio is typically 5 to 10 pints of water per pint of beer. The industry standard for large breweries is certainly less than 5:1 nowadays.

1802. The graph of mineral concentrations in Burton-upon-Trent water are attributed to Hind's “Brewing Science and Practice” though I'm pretty sure the author had a double barrelled surname “Lloyd Hind”.

2039. There's a dash in the middle of “common” for no apparent reason.

2043. It's said gruit should contain bog myrtle, rosemary and yarrow. Though this is often stated I'm sure I saw someone point out that as they don't grow in the same areas it's unlikely to have been the case.

2404 It’s stated that the IBD began developing hops to compete against the imports. I know the IBD does help fund hop breeding, but it’s still done by Wye Hops Ltd. 

2785 It’s stated that Yakima used to mainly grow bittering hops for Anheuser-Busch, but until relatively recently a lot of the aroma hop Willamette were used by AB, so I suspect they were grown extensively in Yakima. In fact, this is actually mentioned later in the book (2849). 

2924 There seems to be some confusion about the different types of hop extracts. Oil extracts can add flavour and aroma, but alpha acids extracted from the resins will be needed to add bitterness. 

3202 It’s said hop breeding begin in earnest in in Kent 1917 but it had started before then.

3356 That some “Goldings” are no such thing is mentioned but not in enough detail for my liking.

 3644 .“Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3735 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3737 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3742 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3763 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3808 It’s stated lager yeasts enjoy a long, cold fermentation and without this the beer will have an undesirable amount of diacetyl. Though this is the traditional way of making lagers, a warm diacetyl rest where the fermentation temperature is allowed to rise towards the end of fermentation, is now commonly used to lower diacetyl levels in considerably faster time. It’s also incorrectly stated that diacetyl is an ester when in fact it’s a ketone. 

 3986 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

4028 Two strains of bacteria: lactobacillus and pediococcus are mentioned. In fact these are both genera of bacteria not strains (strain is used for differences within the species). And as genera names both should be capitalised. 

4145 When talking about strain differences it’s stated that five genetically identical strains of yeast made very different beers. I would be interested to see more details about this. I wonder if it’s really about about strain variation within a species?

4172 The talk of putting freeze dried yeast in plastic test tubes and then melting the end shut before storing them in liquid nitrogen sounds confused to me so I’d be interested in seeing more details. 

4184 It talks of kvass beer strains called kvaic, mixing up the bread based beer with Norwegian farmhouse yeast, kveik, and then misspelling it. 

4227 It states that domestication robbed yeast of its ability to reproduce. Presumably that should be reproduce sexually. 

4261 Heineken is hyphenated for no apparent reason. 

4644 Interesting comment about hops affecting the colour of beer. I saw this mentioned when researching Farnham hops but it’s not usually something you see mentioned today. 

4648 Another thing I’d like to see more details of is the claim that someone brewed a 6% ABV beer with grains he’d malted, and a 3% ABV beer with unmalted grains.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

CAMRA's Wild Pub Walks by Daniel Neilson

I was delighted to get an email from a Vatican functionary CAMRA staff member asking if I would be interested in getting a review copy of their “Wild Pub Walks” book. A free book, and a chance to help with god's work spreading the good news about the one true living beer, what's not to like?

I’ve also had a cracking time using other pub walks books in the series, and have been to a lot of what pass for wild places in Britain. As this one has “wild” in the title it suggests that unlike with the London guide you would have to earn your beer. A new author, Daniel Neilson, has been found for this book, and looking at the blurb on the back I see he edits OriginalGravity% magazine (what’s with the pointless percentage?*) and has done the Mountain Leader award training . I was going for that qualification myself before a scholarship to study Brewing and Distilling gave me an altogether better way of being paid for one of my hobbies. 

The 22 walks are divided into nine areas across Britain, and I’m pleased to say I’ve walked and drank beer in all of them. This lead to me flicking through to the areas I know best to see which walks and pubs are covered. Langdale in the Lake District has a walk to Pavey Ark starting from the ODG, though the Stickelbarn and the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel also get a mention. Wales starts with a walk up Snowdon, with the Pen-Y-Gwyrd hotel listed as the main refreshment stop, with Plas-Y-Brenin and the Tyn-Y-Coed inn as alternatives. As it seemed to be going with the classic walk and pub for each area I then flicked back to Glen Coe, and sure enough it's Buachaille Etive Mor and the Clachaig Inn

The walk descriptions are detailed and include a map, though when the maps go over two pages it's hard to read near where the pages join. It also has the boxes filled with the fascinating facts that make guidebooks worthwhile. Who knew that Presbyterians and Episcopalians came into armed conflict Scotland's Pentland hills? Not me. There's also the usual safety section guidebooks like this have at the start: take a map, take a compass, and don't drink more than six pints before setting off on the walks. OK, I made that last bit up. 

Not all of the pubs are Good Beer Guide ticks, and with 22 walks covering the whole of mainland Great Britain it's a highly selective guide. So if you're going somewhere for more than a weekend a local guidebook and a copy of the good book would be more useful. But having said that the walks listed are excellent, and it's great to see a walking guide with pub suggestions. I'll certainly be taking it next time I visit an area I'm not familiar with.

* I suppose some people write degrees Plato as %, but then they tend to call it Original Extract rather than Original Gravity. And anyway, beers are labelled with ABV not OG nowadays.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Pseudo-craft sub-brands

Adnams aren't hiding anything
with their sub-brand
My last post on the mysterious world of British craft beer got an interesting comment from "qq" on traditional brewers bringing out crafty sub-brands:
"I use "pseudo-craft" for any traditional cask brewer that uses radically different branding for its hoppy stuff."
I do like to see such clearly defined positions, it makes life so much easier. But sadly it's not a position I can adopt myself. I've heard myself how a seven year old brewery had to launch a sub-brand if it wanted to get into the craft market as they were too well known as a cask ale brewery. And it seems they're not the only one.

In times of increasing competition it's easy to see why breweries are looking for new avenues to get their beer to market. And lets not forget the craft premium where a smaller container size can be used to increase the value of your beer by 50%. There appears to be a similar thing going on with craft keg vs. cask beer pricing too.

Irritating though it is I can even see why some breweries take the step of hiding who they are when they launch a sub-brand. Craft beer geeks seem to have a lot more contempt for mainstream cask ales than they do mainstream lagers. Drinking Bud, or now Bud Light, seems to be something to proudly tweet about, but Greene King IPA only ever gets derided.

So established ale breweries are in a bit of a no-win situation. If they don't innovate they're doomed to decline, and if they do they're denounced. Is it any wonder that for new brands, aimed at new markets, they adopt new branding?

Monday, 22 May 2017

Dealing with beer haze part two

Though some brewers are now actively encouraging beer hazes, to the extent of doing daft things like adding flour, most beer is still served bright. Following on from this article I wrote for the SIBA journal here's part two.

Dealing with beer haze part two

Having looked at non-microbiological hazes in part one of this article I will now look at hazes caused by microbes and how to avoid them.

Microbiological hazes can be caused by an excess of brewers’ yeast remaining in suspension or a bacterial and/or wild yeast infection. To prevent your own yeast causing problems the first step is to ensure that it is in a healthy state and the correct amount is pitched into the wort. For a beer with a gravity of 1.040 around 10 million viable cells per ml of wort will be required. You will need a microscope to do a yeast count and methylene blue stain to determine viability. Inexpensive microscopes are now widely available and with only a little practice they become easy to use and should become part of your routine. If weighing yeast slurry you will be looking for around 2lbs/bbl or 450g/hl. Yeast counts should also be carried out on beer before packaging. For cask beer it is recommended that the yeast count at racking is 0.5 to 2 million cells/ml.

Good flocculation will get the yeast out of suspension and there are a few things you can do to help it on its way. Calcium is needed for yeast to flocculate so get your liquor treatment right. Auxiliary finings and isinglass finings will both greatly help beer to clarify. Auxiliary finings are negatively charged and using them before adding isinglass, for example in the fermenter, will help the isinglass work well. Isinglass finings have a positive charge and will attract the negatively charged yeast cells and help them settle out. Both these types of finings will need to be used at an optimised dose as under or over fining will give poor results. Your finings provider should be able to help you with finings optimisation if you are unfamiliar with the procedure.

Microbiological hazes can also be caused by infection of bacteria and/or wild yeast. A microscope can be of use in detecting infection, but only if the organisms are present in sufficiently high numbers and further lab-based tests may be required for certainty and to confirm identification.

Using selective culture media grown under specific conditions (aerobically or anaerobically) allows the numbers of organisms present to be determined and identification is easier when looking at the shape of the colonies. Culturing for microorganisms will not give an immediate result as they will take days to grow, but can be very useful both when trouble shooting and as part of a quality assurance programme.

A table of which organisms to look for in different samples is shown below:

Sample type
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeast
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeast
Green Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Bright Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Filtered Packaged Beer
Anaerobic bacteria
Cask Conditioned Beer
Aerobic + anaerobic bacteria, wild yeasts

As can be seen there are many stages at which micro problems can occur and avoiding them requires an integrated approach. Brewery design should minimise chances of cross contamination e.g. keeping malt dust away from fermentation areas. Pipework should avoid dead legs to prevent material that will support microbial growth accumulating and to ensure that cleaning cycles are effective. Plant integrity should be checked regularly and any leaks or perished seals are warning signs of potential problems.

Checks can be made for microbial contamination that give an immediate result. ATP bioluminescence detects a compound found in all living cells and is an excellent marker for microbial organisms. Swabs can be used to check that surfaces have been cleaned effectively and last rinse water at the end of a cleaning cycle can be monitored.

If infection is found in packaged beer then corrective action can only be used to prevent it reoccurring in future brews. But if bacterial infection is found in one if the most common sites, pitching yeast, then acid washing can be used to remedy the situation almost immediately.

Acid washing will significantly reduce bacterial numbers without greatly affecting the health of the brewing yeast if carried out correctly. The yeast must be at a cold temperature before acid washing and it must be kept cold during the process. Slowly add acid (typically 75% food grade phosphoric diluted 1 in 10) to the yeast slurry whilst mixing well until the pH has dropped to between 2 and 2.2. Leave for one hour, stirring regularly, and then pitch immediately. Unfortunately if the pitching yeast is contaminated with wild yeast acid washing won’t help and fresh yeast will need to be obtained.

Regular monitoring of process samples as part of a quality assurance programme is the best way of preventing microbiological hazes in your beer and finding out if there are any particular problem areas in your brewery.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Magical drinking

Avowed materialist and rationalist that I am I still think that there is something magical about cask beer. As I brewer and scientist I once explained at great length to a wine drinking friend of mine how beer gets its flavour. I went through malt types and grist composition, mashing conditions and fermentability, hop varieties and hop additions, yeast strains and fermentation temperatures, but when it got to cask conditioning I faltered. There's something it can bring to beer that I could only describe as magic. This got short shrift from my friend who'd patiently sat through me droning on about enzymes, IBUs and EBCs and Maillard reactions. But magic was the best word I could come up with.

It only happens occasionally, but it's never happened with anything I've drunk from a bottle, can or keg. The moment when angels descend from heaven to dance on your tongue and exalt the most high is the preserve of cask. It can strike in unexpected places, and with the most innocuous looking of beers. The best pint I ever drank was a national brand in a basic pub on a dull Friday night. And much to my surprise I once passed on the stronger beers in the sample room at Harvey's Brewery to spend an hour drinking only the 3% ABV mild because the good lord had seen fit to send his angels down from heaven and into the mild cask. I wonder if CAMRA theologians have discussed how many angels can fit though a shive hole?

The fact I have to invoke magic to explain the wonders of cask beer does trouble me slightly so I have pondered how exactly they occur. The lack of filtration and pasteurisation must play a part, and along with the lower carbonation and higher temperature compared to inferior serving methods the flavour of the beer is maximised. But why is it that only occasionally the beer goes from being good to truly sublime? And is there anything else that brewers and publicans can do to make it happen more often? As ever, more research is needed. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Tightwads the lot of you

Well, most of you are tightwads anyway. Rather than focus on the harm to craft that Tescos and/or Adnams are doing by flogging off small cans of beer cheap over 80% of you just see a bargain. Though as Mudgie points out what must be around half price the Adnams beer is the equivalent of £1.44 for a 500ml bottle so exactly sale of the century. And for those that were wondering it seems it was being discontinued.

There'll be more on this later
As to the beer, it was fine. It had that unpleasant vegetal note you get in lager, but as that's generally expected I'm not complaining. I foolishly drank it after an American IPA though so any subtleties, and most of the dry hopping were lost on me.

Monday, 24 April 2017

A craft beer conundrum

There's a right lot of idealistic twaddle written about craft beer. I've been trying to get together a post about the need for a proper materialist analysis but it's been hard work so it may never appear.

Not having got my thought fully in order I was unsure what line to take on the craft beer conundrum I spied on a recent visit to Tescos. What am I to make of Adnams dry hopped lager going for 96p a can?

Is it:
  1. An abomination that Tescos are devaluing craft beer by selling it cheaply?
  2. An abomination that Adnams, a company that makes cask bitter, is devaluing craft beer by selling beer in small cans that cheaply?
  3. A bargain. 
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