Author Archives: Ken Johnson

When is a Porter not a Porter? When it’s a Mild

When is a Porter not a Porter?  When it’s a Mild.  Or when it’s a stout. And when is a Baltic Porter not a ‘Porter’? When it’s ‘Baltic’.  These critical questions and even fewer were very thoroughly debated and deliberated at the WEHomebrew Dark Ale themed meeting, on the last Wednesday of March.  And you may not be surprised to hear that our answers to these existential philosophies were: A. Inconclusive. B. Confused. C. Wrong.  Otherwise we hit the nail cleanly on the head and came away with a thorough knowledge of dark beer styles.

We hope the move went well Ian.

Our deliberations were helped by the sheer quantity of beer on offer at the meeting, with the five brewers in attendance delivering a mouthwatering array of 8 beers.  We were however without our club Chair, Ian, who took the questionable decision to prioritise moving house on that day, rather than attending WEHomebrew.  In a club first, a motion was raised, seconded, and unanimously agreed that this was a terrible ordering of priorities, and that Sheffield isn’t that far away really, and the journey would have been easier, faster and much more fun after 8 pints of WEHomebrew’s finest offerings.  Regardless, we honoured our club Chair, by saluting his usual seat (as shown above, distressingly empty), and we reminisced on his very encouraging approach to all of us keen amateurs. On several occasions Owen has remarked  that the quality of the beers offered each month has improved greatly over the last two years – and we all agree that he is right.  Not that they were ever bad, but the consistency, flavour and inventiveness of WEHomebrew beers has gone from strength to strength.  So thanks Ian for helping us develop our styles and techniques, share the joy of success and smack the bottom of off flavours.  Luckily our Chair informs us that his work continues to bring him to Windsor on the last Wednesday of each month, for which we are thankful, for we still have much to learn Sensai!

The evening progressed working from lowest ABV at 3.6%, to the downright liver picklers  in excess of 8%.  Satisfyingly, three Milds were on offer to get the ball rolling, from Alan, Owen and Lee, all of which had a wonderful dark aspect that glowed ruby with he patented torch test.   Alan came in at 3.6%, a lovely smokey note on the back of toasted malt. A beautifully coloured ale, and with a high depth of flavour, but with a delicate mouthfeel also.   Owen was proudly exhibiting his first brew using water from his home RO kit.  This came with a sweet syrup smell, almost bubblegum, but with a flavour that was absent of candy flavour, but high in malty goodness.  And to round of the Mild opening, Lee’s 4%+ was a delight, again with a roasted aspect but Lee fessed up at just over 4%, was it strictly a Mild?  But as discussed earlier, we’re not really sure we can define a Mild beyond describing it as dark, sessionable, with a nice gentle malt, so we all agreed that it was a Mild, and anyone who disagrees should stick to Babycham.  What a great trio and a delightful start to the evening.

A dazzling smorgasboard of dark and not so dark beers. You need to top those glasses up chaps.

Next up, we had an interlude from the ‘dark’ theme and cleansed our pallets with three lighter coloured offerings from Alan (his second beer of the night), Ed and Owen (his second offering also). Ed presented a wonderful bright  SMASH Cascade, 3.9%. A nice foamy head which lasted down the glass and tasting to a dry finish with a very nice cascade flavour coming through. As always from Ed a gluten friendly beer this one I recall with a strong millet component in the recipe.  Moving on then to Alan’s Wheat Beer, at 4.5% and apparently not called ‘Hazy Dazy’ despite what the bottle may say.  This one definitely nailed the banana flavours, helped by brewing at a 25C, and as we understand a favourite with Alan’s other half also (good call Alan).  On to Owen’s second offering of the night – a Cryopop.  You may remember we had mixed results previously here, to put it mildy with the Cyropop brand, with us all struggling to get much hoppiness.  Not to be daunted, Owen took his kegged Cryo-ale, and chucked in a good amount of mosaic into the keg, as a last ditch effort, and left it to dry hop for what I believe was an astonishing 6 weeks, allowing us to sup on the goodness of mosaic.  So nice to have a result with the cryopop although I fell this is more attributable to the tenacity of the brewer rather than Takema Chief.

Heading to the later part of the evening with the two higher strength offerings, opening up  with Lee’s Baltic Porter.  This was a fun experiment, as this brew was made with the same recipe as his Mild, but splitting the runnings out, with the first mash liquor going to the Porter, and the lower gravity sparge water making up the Mild.  And an excellent Porter it was, dark, and luscious, very full bodied.  A great toasty feel and a touch of caramel. This pair from Lee definitely opened the conversation further on the Mild/Porter/Stout conundrum.  A little further ‘googling’ has told me that  Porters ‘originating in 18th Century London, descending from Brown Ales, and drunk by Street and river porters, should be dark brown or black’.  ‘A stout, was, apparently, first known as Stout Porter as a stronger version of stouts’.  But what of a Baltic Porter?  According to  ‘Baltic-style Porter is a smooth, cold-fermented and cold-lagered beer brewed with lager yeast’ which fits with Owen’s thoughts on the need for a lager yeast for a Baltic. But then according to, ‘created in the Baltic countries the Baltic porter gained fame when introduced to London’s working class: porters, who often loaded ships and traded with the Baltic states — hence the name.’  So are we any clearer?  Perhaps.  Did we enjoy the Milds and Porters? Yep.

And finally we brought the evening to a conclusion with a Belgian Dubbel  from Ken. A wet yeast problem here as the original Trappist Ale White Labs yeast showed little signs of activity after 36 hours, leading to the addition of an English dry yeast, and a rapidly acquired dried trippel yeast.  But it seemed to come out pretty good, mahogany coloured, full bodied, spice with caramel, with a rather striking 8.5% ABV.  An of course, probably never likely to be recreated with such a mysterious fermentation schedule.

And so we left brewclub eight beers down, and feeling warm and toasty. April and May are ‘freestyle’, whatever floats your boat.  June is ‘Who Would Brew a Beer Like this’?  Inspired by Lee’s observation that all brewers have their own ‘flavour signatures’ we will be testing the hypothesis that in a blind taste testing, on any style, we can guess the brewer. Beers will be ‘randomised’ by  an adjuticator (victim yet to be named), and to make it more fun, a ringer will be added from the WEBrewery tap.  Also, a ridiculously over contrived and complicated scoring system is in the works, but with a focus on who can identify the brewer, so less focus this time on ‘beer critique’.

And finally, WE Brewery have their beer festival on 26-28 July.  We have been invited as amateur brewers to showcase our best, so we have a booth where we can bring our own keg of beer.  Pale Ales are great, but something ‘a bit different’ is fun.  If you don’t have a keg, the WEHomebrew members can always help find a way. 

Next meeting is Wednesday 24th April.

Quaffable Ale

Elegant, clear, subtle and refined.  No, I am not describing the members of the WE Brew club from last Wednesday’s meeting, but am referring to the top notch offerings this month.  This was a ‘freestyle’ week, but if we had to provide beer style in retrospect, then this month’s theme would without a doubt be ‘quaffable’.

A couple of shout outs to start.   Firstly a shout to our resident club Chair who is out of action for this meeting. We raised a glass to you Ian, drank it, then raised another, drank that one too… get the picture.  So please, any complaints about  this write up should not be addressed to our resident beer journalist Ian, but to Ken, the junior tea boy.

Secondly, thanks to Ed was unable to stop at the meeting due to a important work commitment the following morning for which he needed a clear head  However in the finest brewers spirit, Ed arrived with two bottles, and let them with us to enjoy.  Many thanks!

After Ed left the building, we pounced upon his two offerings for the evening.  We started off with a Millet lager.  A beautiful straw colour, very bright and clear, and a very good level of carbonation, with the bubbles clinging to the edge of the glass and rising to the surface in a constant stream.  An aroma reminiscent of a champagne nose, to me, but perhaps the best compliment here is that it ‘smelled like a lager’ – so job done!  All agreed it had a wonderful light and pleasing flavour,  a real winner.  Second on Ed’s list was a SMASH cascade.  Slightly darker in hue than the lager, with very nice tight bubbles.  Aroma of fruit coming through to us, we detected apple, passionfruit and lychee in the mix.  Taste had a rather pleasant toasty edge, reflecting the ‘toasted millet’ grain used in the mash, and had very nice body for a 3.9%.  An edge of cream crackers too, and then a distinctive bitterness to finish. Surprisingly we didnt get much ‘cascade’, but that didn’t matter, as we very much liked what we’d got.    A unanimous decision was that these are the two best gluten-free beers we have tasted, two great offerings.  So very kind of you Ed, to leave two of your finest with us to drink at our leisure.

We followed, by moving into two darker brews, each using  traditional English hops, including Challenger, Fuggles and EKG.  Alan provided us with his house special, a rather excellent ‘Best beer’, and Ken provided an ESB. Comparing them side by side, we had quite a discussion on what was chestnut coloured and what was mahogany coloured, and in short order decided that both were in the ‘brown’ ballpark, and we’d rather drink them than obsess too much on ‘how much brown is brown’.    Now my notes become a little hazy (or non-existent at this point).  This reflects two things; the lack of attention to detail in my note taking, and also the desire to spend more time tasting versus scribbling.  Alan’s ‘Best’ came in (if I recall correctly) at just under 5%, and had a nice gentle flavour, and pleasant bitterness to follow, in all quite a gentle and delicate profile.  The ESB presented with a pleasing creamy head (pleasing to me, given my challenges in this area). Coming in at 6%, with slight toffee/caramel notes, but not proving overbearing given the strength.  So compared side by side, two beers that looked to the eye quite similar, gave very different flavours, but which again both slipped down very easily.

Serious discussion and thought on ‘how brown is chestnut versus mahogony’

So last Wednesday provided four very quaffable beers which could be drank very easily by the river on a long summer’s day.  Next month the style is ‘easy summer drinking’, I reckon some of these four could easily fall into that category too.