Monday, 17 July 2017

Malting, thatching and religious fundamentalism

Something on the news seemed strangely familiar the other day, so I did a bit of googling and sure enough I'd spoken to one of the people mentioned. In my last job I was involved in malting as well as brewing, and I'd had a fascinating conversation with John Letts. He's a thatcher, and a baker, who has revived ancient cereal varieties and he was interested in getting them malted. When buildings are re-thatched they put the new thatch on top of the old, so old buildings have a history of grain varieties contained in their roof. There are talks he's given about this on youtube.

Commercial maltsters won't normally go below ten tonnes, so he was looking for someone who could malt on a smaller scale, and even malt mixed grains. The pilot plant where I worked would only do 100kg at a time, so was too small for anything but research. I would have been interesting research though. Grants are available, and he said he'd look into it, but I never heard back from him. Now I have at least heard of him again.

It turns out his son has put the mentalism into funamentalism by converting to islam and running off to join ISIS. He's now in prison so the restrictions he's imposed on himself with his deluded beliefs have ended up with him being extremely physically restricted too. There's probably a moral there or something. I don't have much sympathy for the son. But I can't image how awful it must be for the father. I hope he gets to see happier times.

Friday, 7 July 2017

What's with the levitating cans?

There was a recent controversy about the iceman beer pour amongst some of my fellow beer nerds. Filling glasses to the brim is for some people offensive to the eye it seems. Personally it's not something that's ever bothered me, I just assumed people were doing it so they didn't get the problem of the head collapsing when they're trying to take a photo. No, the thing that disturbs me is the levitating beer cans.

What sorcery is this?

Before taking a photo of a canned beer the in thing now is to attach the empty can to the glass, as in the picture above. This freaked me out a bit when I first saw it. "What sorcery is this?" I thought. But let's face it magicians are basically liars, and nothing supernatural is involved. Nowadays cans will attach quite easily to glasses, but it still makes me do a double take when I see a can apparently floating next to a beer glass.

Friday, 30 June 2017

On the origins of beer

In Pete Brown's latest book there's an intriguing passage about brewing with unmalted grains. The problem with brewing with unmalted grains is they don't have the enzymes that will break their starch down to fermentable sugars. This is something often overlooked by people researching pre-historic beer who, mistakenly in my view, think that wet grains will spontaneously transform into beer.
"He shows me the results of experiments that prove you can still get fermentable extract from unmalted grains. Malting yields by far the most fermentable extract, but Martin brewed with raw grain, crushed grain, cooked grain and crushed and cooked grain. Malted grain gave a beer of 6 per cent ABV, but the unmalted, crushed and cooked grain yielded a beer of 3 per cent ABV, and there were traces of fermentation in all the brews."
As I mentioned this was one of areas I'd like to see more about Pete was kind enough to let me know more information could be found in the book Liquid Bread, so I had to get a copy.

It's actually an anthropology book which is interesting, as it's a change in perspective about beer compared to what I normally read. The relevant passage in the book is sadly brief, referring to another study:

"Extensive preliminary trials showed that high alcohol yield is possible only with malt. Most fermentations on unmalted grain had no appreciable alcohol yields. Boiled, therefore gelatinised, unmalted barley grist was the only one having a small yield, comparable to half the alcoholic content when using malt grist"*
Even with Sci-Hub I couldn't get hold of the paper about the preliminary trials so there could well still be some fascinating facts that need tracking down. How the starch breakdown occurs with the unmalted grains we're not told, but it can't be from enzymes in the grains as they've been boiled. The boiling will gelatinise the starch though.

The authors continue saying how they made their beer using malted grains, but with a low temperature mash and a mixed culture fermentation:

  • mashing at 34°C, with 15 minutes of vigorous mixing and a very wet mash (liquor to grist ratio 1:8.3). 
  • Inoculated with a mixed culture of Saccharomyces and Schizosaccharomyces yeasts and Lactobacillus spp. added to the mash. 
  • Final attenuation was 87 percent but due to the vary dilute mash ABV was just 1.6%.
Perhaps the mixed culture is able to carry out a partial breakdown of the starch in the boiled, unmalted grains in a manner reminiscent of how sake is made?

We're still however left with a situation where grains need to be either malted or cooked before anything like beer can be made. So beer remains something that cannot occur naturally or accidentally, as something like wine or mead could. From what I've read beer seems to have emerged around the same time as bread, and both are human inventions.

*Zarnkow, M. et al. (2006) Interdiziplinäre Untersuchungen zum altorientalischen Bierbraune in der Siedlung von Tall Bazi/Nordsyrien vor rund 3200 Jahren. Technikgeschichte 73 (1): 3-25. 

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. 
Help bring about a better understanding of craft beer by voting in my handy poll.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A visit to Pope's Yard brewery

When I was organising trips to for the Brewery History Society this year I was keen to include Pope's Yard in Watford. It's not an old brewery, but I know they have an interest in old beers. One of the beauties of beer is that although a brewery might be long closed it is possible for its beer to live again. Or at least something close to it.

I've had a few goes at reviving old beers, and experimenting with how old beers might have been. One thing I have in common with Pope's Yard is that we've both had a go at reviving Benskin's Colne Spring Ale, though they've done a much better job of it than me.

There's a shrine to Benskins at one end of the brewery, complete with bottles of Colne Spring Ale...

... and the Journal of the Brewery History Society

The Business end of the brewery is a small German kit...

...with a smaller pilot plant for good measure:

My researches into Colne Spring Ale involved emailing a few libraries and collections which was sadly fruitless, so I based my version on an analysis Ron posted. Geoff at Pope's Yard did considerably better by physically looking through old records. Amongst some documents on brewery properties he found the Rosetta stone of Benskins: a booklet detailing how their beers were made.

As well as the historical and experimental beers Pope's Yard do make some more 'normal' ones too, which is just as well as I had a long day. All of their beers were enjoyable to drink, and I found them interesting too. A lot of the 'innovation' in breweries at the moment looks like arbitrarily throwing in a new ingredient or following the latest fad which doesn't really interest me. But at Pope's Yard you can see they're exploring where their curiosity leads them to create a fascinating range of beers.

Geoff and Ben were excellent hosts and I look forward to seeing where Geoff's recent research into ancient Sumeria via Burma takes his brewing.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Science of Beer

Last month I did my bit for British Science Week by giving a talk on malting at the Youngs brewery in London. Well, sort of the Youngs brewery as it must be ten years since it closed, but it was on that site and there was beer from the Ram brewery there.

I was particularly pleased about that last point, as though I did visit the Ram brewery once for a SIBA event I didn't manage to get any of the beer. It was good stuff too, with that nice tongue coating bitterness.

A series of speakers was lined up, which started with Steve Livens, who at one point was a microbiologist at Youngs, though he's now at the BBPA where he spends his time trying to destroy craft beer at the behest of his evil multinational overlords, amongst other things.

His talk stated by going back 10,000 years to the earliest history of beer, and took us up to the present day and the nutritional benefits of beer.

Next was Charlie the head brewer at Wimbledon brewery, who took us through the brewing process and the materials involved.

John Hatch then gave a fascinating talk about Youngs brewery...

I'll forgive him for not doing his lab coat up, we were in a bar
... which included this fascinating slide:

What do you see there? That's right Farnham bells! I thought this was exciting until on the way to the toilet I saw the actual hop pockets themselves:

Sadly two of these hop farms have gone, but the Hampton Estate is not only still growing hops, it has recently expanded production. Intriguingly though it now only uses one bell on its hop pockets.

I was on after an interval, which was perhaps for the best as it gave more people more time to pour beer down their throats before my scientific onslaught. As I'd been asked to talk at a science event I'd been pretty merciless in cramming the detail in to my talk. Steeping, kilning, germination, Maillard reactions, that sort of thing. I don't know if it's quite what the audience were after, but I felt I'd done my bit for science.

I was followed by Craig who took us through his experiences of home brewing, and the difficulties in getting it right. 

He's now adopted a feedback system based on his experiences as a computer programmer, which didn't sound a million miles from the Deming cycle.

Lastly we had a poet, who moved things back to history and his plan to recreate a Youngs brewery dinner based on an old photograph of a staff event.

Then it was time for a quick pint or two of networking before heading home.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Why can't I get just one kiss?

I recently gave a talk on Brettanomyces and sour beers at work, included in which was a brief overview of sour and Bretty beer styles. Explaining what gose was lead to me getting some horrified looks. Does sour and salty beer, often with added fruit, sound unappealing I wondered? So I had to get some for my colleagues to try. I went home via Dorking that night and called in at Cobbett's Real Ales to pick up a can of Magic Rock Salty Kiss, a beer I must confess I hadn't been taken with when I first tried it. As is usually the case with me the drinking though, this was purely for research purposes so whether I enjoyed it or not was irrelevant.

I split the can between six of us, and no sooner had a started pouring than people were asking "is it meant to be cloudy?". "Yes, it's craft beer" I replied. But was that a touch of snark creeping into my voice? I do find the thought of  ahistorical historical beers slightly grating. And I've a sneaking suspicion that a beer called Salty Kiss is a prime candidate for public shaming on Pump Clip Parade. So I summoned up my best scientific objectivity and resolved to act in an unbiased and professional manner. I was somewhat lost for words when the next question was "is it meant to have floaters?". Haze can be perfectly acceptable in some styles of beer, wheat beers included*. Floaters though? Noticeable dark bits bobbing round in the beer? Surely that has to be considered a fault. So I just muttered again "yes, it's craft beer" and pressed on.

The reaction to the tasting wasn't great, and despite the small amount of beer I'd put in each glass three weren't finished.  

But on the other hand, three were. One of my colleagues said he could see if being a refreshing beer on a hot day, though thought the salty after taste detracted from this slightly. As for myself, I actually noticed a lot less salt than last time, and emptied my glass quite easily. I really need to try it on a hot day next, maybe I'll get why people like it then.

*Though I'm not sure if is Salty Kiss is a wheat beer, it wasn't listed on the ingredients but was listed as an allergen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Coming to an understanding with Orval yeast

The trouble with brewing with the Orval Brettanomyces is that it's a complete beast. The first time I tried brewing with it it pulled on it's hobnail boots and trampled over all the other flavours I'd tried to get in the beer. It seems to me to brew successfully with it you need to limit its growth as much as possible or the beer will become unbalanced.

I reviewed the information I'd got when I visited the brewery and this is very much what they do there:
  • Mash at 60°C so there's maximum fermentability for the primary fermentation with Saccharomyces. 
  • Include a large proportion of 100% fermentable sugar for the primary fermentation.
  • When bottling the beer pitch 99% Saccharomyces and 1% Brettanomcyes for the secondary fermentation.
Apparent attenuation is over 90% before the Brett. is added, though it does get to 100% after the secondary fermentation.

Armed with this knowledge my latest attempt at making an Orval like beer had a long and low temperature mash, with a very small Brett. addition on bottling...and it worked! I got a crisp tasting beer with a touch of funk and no nitrogenation. I'm rather pleased with this one.

Monday, 6 March 2017

More on malt

As promised the excellent Joe Hertrich has returned to the Master Brewers' Association of the Americas podcast to talk some more about malt. This time it's about the bits missing from his last talks: flavour and aroma.

Unlike colour flavour and aroma cannot be defined by a number but are defined by kilning technique. Though steeping and germination are fairly uniform throughout the industry there is a lot of variation in kilning. It is the most energy intensive process in malting due to the electric fans and fossil fuel heat.

Unless you have a dialogue with your maltster they will focus on meeting the specs on moisture, colour and not destroying DP (Diastatic Power).

Colour, flavour and enzymes are liked. Flavour compound development is parallel to colour development and enzyme destruction. For example, distillers malt has very low colour and very high enzyme content. Pale malt has more flavour but less enzymes. Very little flavour or colour is created below 60°C (the temperature distillers malts are kilned at). If the same green malt split and kilned to make distillers malt and pale malt the distillers malt will have 220 DP and the pale malt 140.

Enzyme conversion creating Maillard reaction precursors happens around mash temperatures (63-68°). Simple enzymes will have been created already in well modified malts and simple sugars will be created in the kiln at these temperatures. Amines and sugars are the Maillard precursors. This conversion phase can be controlled to emphasise it or de-emphasise it.

Green and grassy flavours are eliminated in the kiln at around 80-85°C. Lipoxygenase is also eliminated at 85°C (so why use null lox barley?).

At high temperatures and low moistures Maillard reactions create melanoidins. Light melanoidins are biscuity and toasty, dark melanoidins are more like coffee and black chocolate, with toffee flavours in the middle. Caramelisation does not happen in the kiln, only in the roaster.

Withering is the free drying of surface moisture of green malt. It is carried out with high air flow and low temperature and the moisture content goes from around 45% to 12%. High humidity air will come off the kiln. At the break point when the free moisture has been drive off curing starts and the bound moisture is removed with high temperature air which will leave the kiln at low moisture content. The moisture content will from from 12% to around 4%. Each of these phases uses half the kilning energy.

Lager malt is designed for adjunct brewers. It as minimal flavour and is made with very rapid air flow but minimal temperature so minimal Maillard reaction precursors are formed and minimal melanoidins created. It is cured at 80-85°C  just on the borderline of driving out the green and grassy flavours. It will have low colour, high DP (140) and lipoxygenase will still be active.

It's not the best base malt for all malt craft brewers, who should look to other malts.

English pale ale malt is the strongest base malt, better than US pale or German pilsner. Kilned with rapid air flow and low temperature until the break point and then cured at a higher temperature than US pale, 90-105°C at the end when moisture very low. This give twice the colour of US pale at 7.1 EBC. It's not unusual to have UK pale malt at less than 3% moisture. DP is 90 or 100 with no lipoxygenase. The real value is in the flavour notes though: no raw grain flavours whatsoever.

Light melanoidins formed by the little Maillard reactions there were, giving a toasty biscuity flavour. Much cleaner and with all the green grassy and weak aroma eliminated. German pilsner malt lets you produce a German flavour: grainy and high in DMS. In the US for English type pale malts you want "high dried".

If you want flavour there's also Vienna malt. In the withering process there is also a little re-circulation as temperature increases so more heat goes to a high moisture grain and some enzyme conversion occurs and a higher amount of Maillard reactions occur. Kilning is at 90-96°C. Raw grain flavours are eliminated by now you get more of the darker, sweeter, melanoidins which a lot of people think of as malty flavour

The light Munich types start with significant recirculation and hold when still above 25% moisture to get ezymic conversion before the moisture is gone and significant Maillard reactions occur. When heated to 100-105°C you get malty and sweet aromatics due to Maillard reaction products. If you're after flavour you will have to accept higher colour and lower DP, but Munich malt will still have enough enzymes for starch conversion.

"Lower colour expectations are the enemy of malt flavour". Maltsters looking for low colour will first have to seek low protein barley and make less modified malt so the amount of simple amines is reduced. But this reduces overall malt functionality and extract. Then there be low temperature, high flow klinings with minimum cure temperature to avoid melanoidin formation, but this risks green grassy notes. It makes no sense to use very pale malts with darker speciality malts.

Roasting is carried out in very small batches compared to white malts, also for a short time (2.5-3) hours. Malt is put in a drum and heat applied. This can be done without drying, which you can't do in a kiln. You can apply heat to low moisture grain but most roasters are loaded with green malt directly from germination at around 45% moisture. You can put it up to mashing temperature and do mini-mashing in the roaster. Temperatures can go up to 175-260°C, depending on the depth of the flavour and colour required. Caramelisation of sugars will occur, and all enzymes are destroyed.

If barley variety makes a difference to malt flavour it is very small. Differences in malting processes make much greater difference, both between different malting plants and the different processing and kilning that different barley varieties may need to make malt of the same specification. So though flavour differences do exist they are due to the malting and not barley genetics.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Brighton networking and CPD

I met up with some old colleagues from the Old Dairy Brewery for a day of networking and CPD recently. We met at the Evening Star, and despite the large selection it had to be the fairly weak Hophead for me. It was going to be a long day.

After a couple there it was time to move on to the Craft Beer Co., where I had a rare foray into keg, despite cask beer being available. There was one beer with a ludicrously minimalist plaque that amused me. We did ask the barman what it was called, and it was neutron star or something, the design implying something small and dense.

The ABV was pretty dense too so I went small with a third which I didn't actually finish. It was far too cold when I first got it, and when it warmed up it tasted too much like chocolate for me. Never mind, I was here for research not to enjoy myself, and someone else did finish it. Don't worry, no beer was left unfinished during this research trip. The burgers at Craft Beer Co. were good though.

I found a flaw in the beer mat design too
The it was on to The Beer Dispensary. I was delighted to see the reigning Champion Beer of Britain on draught. It's made by Chris Bingham, another ex-colleague of mine (from another brewery which was a decidedly less pleasant place to work at).

Then it was back to the Evening Star for the group photo...

... and some of Gadd's glorious IPA.

Definitely the beer of the day for me, so the CPD went well too.

Monday, 20 February 2017

It's only going to get worse

I don't often buy bottled or canned beer nowadays but whenever I'm in the Lake District I have to peruse the excellent selection in Booths. The one in Keswick has been rearranged since my last visit and there's now a section labelled "traditional ale" where all the 500ml bottles can be found.

The 750ml bottles and 330ml bottles and cans are in a separate, unlabelled section. I guess they haven't got the "craft" sign printed yet. The division is as clueless as you would expect from a supermarket, it doesn't matter what the beer style is, if it's in 500ml bottles it's "traditional".

Traditional beer from Adnams

"Craft" beer from Adnams

The two sections also gave me an excellent opportunity to investigate beer pricing in the wake of Thornbridgegate and I'm afraid the news is not good. The Adnams beer in 500ml bottles sold for £4 a litre, in 330mls £5.80 a litre. The best though was from Roosters:

The 500ml bottles and the 330ml cans are the same price, so you can get exactly the same beer at £3.50 or £5.30 a litre depending on your container preference.

Oakham brewery is still flying the flag for lovers of hop juice in 500ml bottles.

But how long will it continue to do so when it could crank the price up 50% simply by putting its beer in smaller containers?

Friday, 17 February 2017

A visit to Meantime brewery

After the excitement of the Wimbledon brewery it was Meantime next.

Here's some cylindroconical fermenters:

 And there's a close up of the conical bit:

Our genial host:

The sink was ten grand apparently, though it is rather snazzy. 

Ready for hop additions:

The Aber perfect pitch which uses capacitance to count viable yeast cells.

Some indoor fermenters:

 With a pressure relief valve and anti-collapse valve:

I know one of these people:

 Then a trainee showed us something he'd been working on...

...which was really rather good, if a little young.

The re-revived Thomas Hardy Ale has been going for three years now and still not a drop sold. I dare say it won't be too long before some finally finds its way to the shops, and I look forward to having some more.

Then it was time for some more thorough research.

Having enjoyed the visit I was in an ecumenical mood and thought it was time to try the tank lager. Though I have absolutely no idea how serving beer in larger containers is supposed to make it fresher the lager was fine. A bit grainy, but it might be how it's meant to be, and it was better than the tank  ale.