Friday, 20 December 2013

Golden Pints 2013

So here are my Golden Pints 2013... so it turns out that I did a lot of drinking over the past 12 months, and these were the most memorable moments (and Birmingham Beer Bash):

  • Best UK Cask Beer - Start with the toughest category... memorable cask moments of 2013: Siren's Whiskey Sour in a Barrel at LCBF, served with ice, a slice and a cherry was as far from Boring Brown Beer as anything I've tasted from a cask and was incredible. Sticking with Siren, all their cask imperial stouts have been awesome Oakham's Green Devil was again superb, the Ashover Rauchbier at IMBC hit just the right spot, Weird Beard's Black Perle was stellar at Ealing Beer Festival, ... and speaking of WB, I loved our LAB\Weird Beard collaboration Hive Mind on cask too. I thought Siren's Oi! Zeus! was glorious in Copenhagen, even if the other guys I went with weren't quite so sure (was that a collab? It was good, anyway.) 

  • In the end, it comes down to the one pint of cask I remember above all others: Summer Wine Oregon at the Well and Bucket in Shoreditch. As I said, these awards are all about moments in time - and on a muggy, thundery day in a crowded bar, it was served at the perfect temperature,  in perfect condition, and was stunningly refreshing.

  • Best UK Keg Beer - Honourable mentions to Thornbridge Tzara for being consistently drinkably great, Beavertown Gamma Ray for similar reasons and Siren Broken Dream for being everything I want in a coffee stout... but the best for me was Weird Beard Little Things That Kill Batch 3 - it took them a few batches to nail it, but the 3.4% iteration of LTTK was knockout. 

  • Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer - Wild Beer Ninkasi, for being both way out there and incredibly accessible for non-geeks. I could easily have picked their Modus Operandi or Shnoodlepip too. Partizan's Christmas Stout was pretty special too, which had a perfectly judged blend of spice, cherry tartness, a hint of funk and lots of roast.

  • Best Overseas Draught Beer - To Øl Black Malts and Body Salts at LCBF and Indy Man was patently ridiculous (double black coffee IPA), proper craft wanker, but also proper tasty, as was their I've Seen Bigger Than Yours raspberry and orange barley wine (which I heard an American guy at Borefts describe as a 'real panty-dropper'... you can decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing).
  • Other top beers... Dieu du Ciel!'s Aphrodisiaque and Péché Mortel were both a real treat at their recent Brewdog tap takeover... Three Floyds Vanilla Bean Dark Lord was pretty good in Copenhagen (albeit probably not worth having to basically scrum down with a lot of big bearded Scandis to get at), and Pizza Port Bacon and Eggs at their Craft tap takeover was coffee overload in the best way possible.

  • Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer - Hill Farmstead Anna honey saison. There is no way that I can do justice to how good this was - just the right levels of everything, from acidity (sharp but soft, way short of a lambic) to funk (textural but short of a full-on plough into the barnyard) to sweetness (very slight but perceptible) to carbonation. Nearly perfect.

  • Best Collaboration Brew - Wild Beer\Burning Sky\Good George Shnoodlepip. Absolutely crazy beer - passion fruit, hibiscus and pink peppercorn saison with Brett sounds like something @TheCraftWanker would come up with, but it just works. So good that I drank four in quick succession at Birmingham Beer Bash, contributing to a 4pm 'bedtime'. 

  • Best Overall Beer - Any of the above, on any given day, could be the best overall beer.

  • Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label - Weird Beard - Josh has done a great job on their branding.

  • Best UK Brewery - Thornbridge - Despite producing some of the most dependable and available regular beers around, as well as fantastic one-offs and seasonals, Thornbridge don't seem to get the recognition that they deserve online. Perhaps it's their ubiquity that makes people overlook them - you can get find a pub with Jaipur on pretty much anywhere, from America to Estonia to... Stroud, but in all of those places, you know that it will be worth ordering. Their German series of beers have been a triumph, the Imperial Raspberry Stout at Borefts was a stand-out in a crowded, crazy festival, and even crazy craft shit like Baize worked. In short, they don't have any bad beers.

  • Best Overseas BreweryTo Øl - All their beers were just a load of fun to drink, and they were really nice guys at LCBF and IMBC.

  • Best New Brewery Opening 2013 - Split decision here between Siren and Weird Beard. They both started off a bit slowly - I wasn't wowed by Siren's core beers, Broken Dream aside, and it took Weird Beard a while to dial everything in, but by the back end of the summer they both really hit their stride.

  • Pub/Bar of the Year - A month ago, it would have been Craft Islington, the homeliest of the Craft bars and their events have been great this year. However, the new BrewDog Shepherds Bush has 40 taps, is closer to my house, has great staff, isn't full of Brewdog's usual wall-to-wall branding and it has pinball tables. So it wins.

  • Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013 - Brewdog Shepherds Bush.

  • Beer Festival of the Year - Copenhagen Beer Celebration and associated days of drinking around it. If you've never been, go. Go for the beers at the festival. Go for the chance to go to the Mikkeller bars. Go for the seminars (Chad Yakobsen of Crooked Stave talking about brettanomyces was superb). Go for the chance to meet some brewing heroes. Go for the hot dogs, even. But make sure you go.

  • Of the UK fests, IMBC was superb again, Birmingham Beer Bash was great (or the hour or so of it that I can remember was great) and London Craft Beer Festival at Hackney Oval was a surprising success, despite the deafening music.

  • Supermarket of the Year - I don't really buy beer in supermarkets... but let's say Waitrose.

  • Independent Retailer of the Year - Favourite Beers, Cheltenham - friendly, wide selection, well priced, and it has a shop dog called Ruby. 

  • Online Retailer of the Year - Brewdog - despite the outrageous mark-up that they put on the Founders beers earlier in the year, they have had some amazing guest beers in lately, and their service is next to flawless.

  • Best Beer Book or Magazine - I thought Future's Homebrew bookazine was very creditable, if only for all those clone recipes.

  • Best Beer Blog or Website - The Evening Brews - cheery-beery or otherwise, they've been consistently interesting throughout the year, and their Brewmaster features in particular are excellent. Honourable mentions to the little-known Bertus Brewery blog and his quest to 'clone' famous IPAs; and to Boak and Bailey for striking just the right balance between dry history, tongue-in-cheek silliness and old-fashioned enthusiasm for quality beer.

  • Best Beer App - Untappd - especially now that you can turn off the auto-tweeting of badges.

  • Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer - RIP Scoop. @cshallwriter in all his forms is excellent value for his 140 characters. Quick mention to @ThornbridgeDom for tweeting lots of great brewing advice and  to @NateDawg27 and his filthy fucking mouth.

  • Best Brewery Website/Social media - I like the new Wild Beer site.

  • Food and Beer Pairing of the Year - I can't really think of anything aside from Chris and Emma's pulled pork brioche buns with our Brett IPA at their Christmas bottle share... I think the eight of us managed to eat and drink enough of those two together to satisfy scores of people. Yum!
  • Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Garden Herb Saison

    I've drunk some fantastic saisons in the last year - Ilkley/Melissa Cole's rhubarb-and-vanilla Siberia, Bristol Beer Factory's zingy Saison, Wild Beer's trifecta of Epic, Bliss and Ninkasi, homebrewer Andy Parker's Nelson Saison and its bastard son the Pomegranate Saison... It's a fashionable style at the moment, and lots of people are brewing great versions of it.

    I had a largely unsuccessful attempt at a saison several months ago - my main problem was that I was worried about it drying out too much and put some cara-pils in the grain bill, completely missing the point of the style. The WLP565 yeast that I used took it down to 1.010, which is not too bad considering, and the final beer was still fairly drinkable - but it wasn't quite right. After trying yet another fantastic saison - Stone/Dogfish/Victory's sublime herb-flavoured Saison du BUFF - just before Christmas, I was inspired to have another go at brewing one, if only to stop me spending so much money on them outside the house.

    First of all, I decided to use WLP566 instead of 565, which is a very similar strain but anecdotally is easier to attenuate without a lot of hassle. I made up a two-litre starter 48 hours ahead to make sure I had lots of nice, healthy yeast. Secondly, I wanted to keep the grain bill very simple - 5.5kg of grain, 90% pilsner malt, 10% wheat malt. In practice, I didn't have enough of either for that, so I topped up the pilsner with regular pale and subbed the wheat for 500g of spelt malt that I bought a while back on the grounds that it was a bit of a novelty. I've never used it before, but seeing as it's very similar to wheat, I thought I'd give it a try in this.

    For hops, I went the all-Nelson approach that worked so well in Andy Parker's saison, but to give it a bit of a twist, I also wanted to steal the mixed garden herbs idea from Saison du BUFF, which uses parsley, white sage, rosemary and lemon thyme at the whirlpool stage for aroma. I took the proportions from Stone's blog (although as I don't have weighing scales that are accurate to fractions of a gram, there was a lot of guesswork involved), and replaced the white sage and lemon thyme with regular garden sage and thyme, as I didn't have those to hand.

    Here was the recipe for my New Year's Eve Brew - Garden Herb Saison:

    3kg Pilsner Malt
    2kg Pale Malt (Crisp)
    500g Spelt Malt

    Single infusion mash at 67C for 90 mins

    Boil - 90 minutes
    12g Nelson Sauvin at 90 mins
    10g Irish Moss at 15 mins
    38g Nelson Sauvin at 0 mins
    Herb bag containing 7g fresh parsley, 3g rosemary, 3g thyme and a few sage leaves at 0 mins

    Yeast - WLP566 (2l starter, made 48 hours ahead)

    Notes: I wasn't sure how to treat the spelt malt, so just used it as I would wheat malt in a simple single infusion mash, which I think had an impact on efficiency.  23 litres of very pale sweet wort collected - I've managed to lose the pre-boil gravity figure but I think it was 1.050.

    This was the third brew I've done on my relatively new Brupaks boiler, which I bought to replace the leaky Electrim mashing bin in my all-electric setup (although I still use the mashing bin as an HLT). It's a picky bugger though, and it kept switching itself off just short of boiling point. I think there's an issue with the thermostat but I need to investigate further. After a frustrating 10 mins of watching the thermometer hover around the 91C mark, I gave up and transferred the wort carefully into the old Electrim boiler and used that instead.

    I put the finishing hops and the herbs into a hop bag so that I could fish them out as soon as the wort was almost at pitching temperature. The last few degrees of cooling and the dead-slow run off from the Electrim bin can take over an hour sometimes, and I didn't want to overdo the herbs - by the time it was down to about 25C, the herb aroma was pretty pungent, so out they came. SG was measured at 1.058 - below the 1.064 BeerTools predicted, but acceptable. Fermentation started at ambient temperature - a fairly constant 16C in the utility room - and when it began to slow down after 7 days, I ramped it up to 22C gradually using a combination of a heatpad and towels. It took a while but after 20 days, it was down to 1.008 and ready to rack to secondary.

    It's currently sitting in secondary with some more Nelson Sauvin as dry hops to try and balance off the strong herb aroma, but I'm pretty happy with it so far. It should be ready for bottling in a few days, and I'll blog about how the finished beer turns out once they've conditioned.