Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Craft blog clickbait

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cask Quality. A modest proposal.

"I gather there's been a lot of blathering about cask beer quality", the Professor said, dragging us into his workroom.

We knew what he was talking about, so didn't even attempt to interrupt his flow.

"All kinds of explanations have been offered - lack of traditional cellar skills, rubbish little micros, not enough people drinking the stuff to give the throughput, the failure of CAMRA and, for that matter, Cask Marque to adequately signpost good beer - all true to an extent. But see here!"

He waved a small device at us.

"Oh no, Prof", we groaned, "Not another hopelessly infeasible invention?".

"No indeed!", he chuckled, "It's a thermometer!"

"You see", he continued, "much cask beer is simply too warm."

We wondered if it could really be so simple.

"In many cases, for sure. Yes.", He gestured at a recent blog post on the Cask Marque site.

"See, 18% of accredited pubs were selling bad, or at least not good, beer, and 49% of the others also".

We must have looked surprised, and he continued "Yes, only 82% of Cask Marque pints were really fit to drink in the summer of 2013. Brave of them to hold their hand up if you ask me. And of the other pubs, you stand about an evens chance of getting a decent pint.  And of the 'not good' beers 'virtually all were at least in part due' to being too warm! Too warm before it gets to the pub, and finings will fail. To warm in the cellar and the beer will almost certainly be flat, if not actually spoiled. Too warm in the glass and it just plain won't be nice!"

"What's to be done? you ask, Stringers."

We hadn't, as he hadn't given us chance, but nodded anyway.

"Brewers and distributors can make sure that beer doesn't get too warm in the supply chain - I'm sure most of them are on top of this. Don't leave beer sitting outside in the summer.  Look to your cellar, python and (if you've got it) cylinder cooling.  Don't serve it in hot glasses.  Get a thermometer! Check the temperature of the beer!"

We were edging towards the door as the Prof waved his thermometer around wildly. He noticed, smiled and drew a breath, "Also, Stringers, you might want to have a look into Cask Breathers".


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waste of hops.

"Here, Stringers", said the Professor, "You'll be interested in this."

He waved at the far wall of his workroom, currently the target of the blinding glare of his triple laser digital projector.

"Say again, Professor?", It was rather difficult to hear over the whine and whirr of the motors which whirled the mirrors of the projector.

"Ah, yes, sorry about that", He threw a knifeswitch, and as the mirrors slowed and stopped, and our eyes readjusted to normal illumination, we could see that  he was holding out some papers.

"Yes", he continued, "I printed this out for you. It's a jolly interesting presentation on dry-hopping."

"So, here's someone who's actually done some measurements on what you get out of your hops in a model dry-hopping procedure. It's most educational. Now, Stringers, what sort of efficiency of extraction would you expect to be getting?"

We weren't quite sure what the Prof meant, and said so.

"Well", he continued, slowly, "If you were adding 10 kilos of smelly hops into a tank, how smelly would your beer end up?"

We supposed that would depend on how much smelly stuff from the hops got into the beer.

"Precisely!", said the Professor, "What percentage of the smelly chemicals added via the hops will be found in the finished beer."

He went on, "Of course, this will depend to a large extent on the solubility of the compound in water - beer's mainly water - as well as the detail of how the hop material is dispersed in the beer. So it's no surprise to see that, according to this piece of work, linalool is extracted with around 100% efficiency. It's an alcohol after all, with a reasonable solubility in water. Whereas other important smelly chemicals, myrcene for instance, are pretty much insoluble in water, so you'll not be surprised to see that less than 1% of what you put in makes it into the finished beer. The same thing seems to hold for caryophyllene, and humulene."

We were unsure, "But Prof, if we don't get much of these things out of dry-hopping, but we all love the  dry-hopped beers, surely it's because we don't miss them?"

The Prof nodded, "For sure Stringers, these poorly extracted chemicals have some much more soluble relatives, either naturally occurring in the hop, or produced in the brewing process, or as a result of yeast metabolism. But it seems to me that if you want, say, myrcene, in your beer, dry-hopping is a terribly inefficient way of going about it.

"And with hops the price they are, to say nothing of the environmental impacts of growing and transporting them, I wonder if it's something you should be giving more thought to?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What we did on our holidays.

It's been a funny couple of weeks, right enough, but we pressed ahead with our trip to Berlin.

It was the occasion of the (snappily named) Global Association of Craft Beer Brewers inaugural Festival and Competition, so we got a party together (us, the boy, our friend Claire, and her boy) and piled onto the easyjet bound for Schönefeld. Once past the hours of chaos which is security at Manchester, things settled down rather.

It's not my first visit to Berlin, last time I was there the wall was in bits, but there were still technically two Germanys. So quite a lot of changes. I always liked the place; Berlin's now the largest city by extent in Europe, but the population density is practically half that of London. So, lots of green space and water, and not so very crowded. Always ranks highly in quality of life surveys. Jolly good transit system. Lots of English spoken - and this is important to me since my command of German extends to "bitte", "dankeschön", and a lot of pointing and smiling.

We were staying in an apartment a spit away from the Brandenberg gate, handy for sight-seeing - which is what the rest of our party did while Becky and I went to the thing.
Not covered in marzipan

Anyhoo, the "Globals" (as we'll now call them), had staked out an excellent compact venue at the Alte Börse Marzahn. Now, I read that Marzahn had "got a name for itself" back in the day. I didn't get to see what has happened (if anything) to any ghastly blocks of flats plonked down around windswept wastelands. But there's a fair bit of regeneration going on, at least where we were: "home to a community of artists, chefs and other creative engineers". Two breweries within 25m of each other, one a brewpub (Marzahner Bier), the other not (Bierfabrik) Decent little conference space, nice big room for tasting, all arranged around an open-air market space.

The first day was mainly judging (for me) and listening to presentations (Becky). All good. I was tasting "Belgian-style Wits" and a whole load of "Pale Ales". The wits? One was a pretty good Weissebier rather than a Wit, so we couldn't score that one very well. One of the actual wits clearly better than the others (I thought), but the standard was pretty blinking good.

The "Pale Ales" were hop-forward and in the modern style - of course. And again, the standard was very good. You can see the results here. After tasting 22 beers, I went out to sit in the sun, just in time for the rain to start. Which carried on until the evening when the awards were presented. This is why we're looking so damp (but happy) in the awards photos.
Photo: laurinschmid@gmx.de

Next day (with much better weather, hot and sunny) was more presentations - I gave one on "Sustainability" - and the public festival.  The Globals ran the main bar, and brewers ran little satellite stalls selling their wares to an enthusiastic and well mixed crowd.

Overall? Well, we won awards*, so of course I'm going to say it was great.  But you know, it was great. Hundreds of beers from 20-odd countries.  Nice spot. Great beer. Lovely people.  If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren't, why not?

*Awards? Yes indeed, best Fruit (or veg) "Damson", best Belgian-Style Dubbel or Triple "Furness Abbey", a bronze for the "Dry Stout" And a special trophy (that's the bottle thing) for judges favourite or something (again, "Furness Abbey", I think).



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pay to play?

This is an awkward one for me. Let's say I heard a story - that incentives are being sought by some pubs supplied through SIBA's DDS scheme.  Now, it's acceptable for a brewer to supply a pub with marketing materials, glassware even, to support the brewer's products which the pub has sourced through DDS.  But worryingly, I've heard (and I really can't say more than that) that some pubs are soliciting "off the books" contributions from the brewers as a condition for making orders through DDS.  These incentives may be anything from a contribution to items normally considered part of the pub's costs (over and above marketing support), to an extra cask or two delivered gratis. 

If this is truly happening - I'm appalled. Of course, I appal easily. I should really save my outrage  for more serious matters, but there you go.

If any SIBA brewers have come across this kind of thing, I'd hope that they would think very hard about reporting it officially. This kind of shit is exactly what we don't want.  DDS would become another way where larger1 businesses (who might be able to afford this kind of promotion) can deny market access to smaller2 ones (who, I guess, can't).  Anyone involved in this kind of deal should consider if there isn't a whiff of the old Bribery and Corruption about it. (note: IANAL)

You might wonder why I'm going on about this here, rather than raising the matter privately, inside SIBA.  At this point, I'm mainly interested in other people's experience. Ever heard of this? Come across it yourself? Think it's bollocks?

If anyone wants to comment in confidence, my office door is always open. (Well, it would be if the circ pump in the big chiller wasn't making such a racket)

1. or unscrupulous
2. or large, scrupulous ones

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This "new" thing they call "craft".

It just occurred to me, how much of the problem some people seem to have with the c-word may be down, not to over-use (and there has been of late), but rather to lack of familiarity.  I spotted a knowledgeable beer blogger apparently expressing surprise at the term "craft butcher". This is a long established usage; I mean there's even a magazine called that.

Did we forget craft potters, craft furniture makers, etc? Looks like we've got some kind of recency illusion going on here.

Update: Someone asks: "why is there a need to dub an honourble old trade which makes a quality product with a contemporary term?" To which the answer has to be: It's not a contemporary (new) term. It's just new to you.

Another Update:
Time was, any self-opinionated so-and-so might hog a spot at the bar and, unchallenged, discourse on their favourite idée fixe or bugbear. "My opinion's worth (at least) as much as anyone's".   This style doesn't translate well to the context we find ourselves in here, for instance.

While you are (or I am) holding forth, our readers have got another tab open, googling any dodgy sounding fact, hauling up counter evidence from ancient copies of Hansard (or whatever). Get with it, Dad. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mash efficiency, etc, according to the Professor.

We recently came across a piece by blogging home/craft brewer (and, we're sure, diamond geezer) broadfordbrewer  Reading an account of a yummy sounding raspberry wheat brew, we were a bit confused by some of the calculations employed in estimating efficiencies. So, as we usually do when confused (and we usually are), we asked the Professor for help.

"Ah yes, Stringers," he smiled,  "I've seen the kind of thing you're referring to."  He laughed, "These homebrewers and their formulae, passed down like myths and fairy tales from who knows what original source!"

"Of course" , he continued, "you'd be wise to measure efficiency in terms of how efficient you are in getting stuff out of the grain, so you refer to laboratory extract, rather than simply the mass of the grain (which would include husk, other insolubles, dead mice, etc), as some homebrewers do. Why do they do that?"

He limped over to the blackboard, "See, Stringers, you may have come across something like this..."
Chalk squeaked.

Extract = (volume) x (specific gravity) x (ºPlato — expressed in decimal form).

"But this doesn't really make sense...  since we can convert specific gravity to ºPlato like this..."

 degrees = (SG x 1000) - 1000
ºPlato = degrees / 4 [approx]

"So why are both SG and ºPlato in this formula? Since we can convert one to the other, we're not adding any information by including both. Formally, they're measures of the same dimension, expressed in different units. Pretty much."

He continued, "We can substitute and rearrange, to show that..." 

SG x ºPlato = (250 x SG2) - (250 x SG)   He smiled, "approximately".

"You see ºPlato has disappeared. So, indeed, there wasn't any point in having it in the first place!"

We spoke up, "The maths always seems easier if we work with litre.degrees."

"For sure, yes", said the Prof,   "The product of volume and gravity in brewers degrees."
He flourished his chalk, "For instance..."
10 litres at SG 1.040 = 10 x 40 = 400 Litre.degrees.

"Yes", we said, "That kind of thing."

He commenced pacing, "The maltsters give laboratory extracts for the malts which you might  think of as the extract 1 kg would give in 1 litre. If that were actually possible. For decent pale malts this is probably around 300 (assuming a coarse crush / moisture as is)"

We nodded, he went on,  "That's to say, one kg of malt mashed under ideal conditions would give you 1 litre of wort with a gravity of something like 1.300."

"So, for an example homebrew mash:" He turned back to the blackboard.

Pale malt: 2.8 kg @ 293 L.deg per kilo = 820.4
wheat malt: 0.8 @ 296 = 236.8

He waved at the board, "I got these values for extract from a recent malt analysis, but you can look up typical values on the InterWeb , or you could call it 300 and wouldn't be far wrong."

He continued writing,
total potential extract 820.4 + 236.8 = 1057.2 litre.degrees

Turning to us, "What you actually get out of the mash might be 24 litres at 1.040 Specific Gravity, i.e..."
24 litres x 40 degrees = 960 litre.degrees

"So your mash efficiency is something like..."
 960/1057.2 = 0.908 = 90.8%

"Post-boil, you might end up with..."
 18L @ 1.044 i.e 18 x 44 = 792 and 792/1057.2 = 0.749
"That is..."

"Which you might call brewhouse efficiency!"

He dropped his chalk and pushed his spectacles back up, "Got that Stringers?"

"Thanks Prof!"