Category Archives: Beer and brewing news

Championes!

No not the tasty French woodland fungus but the champions of the world. And by the world I mean the prize giving for the most important Homebrew competition of the year. The Old Windsor handicraft, horticulture and produce show where – drum roll please – we managed a wealth of rosettes. A triumph of brewing excellence that unearthed a new preference in the judging. No longer dark and sweet, now strong and spicy. Note for 2024.

To celebrate such an important event we were lucky enough to have fancy glasses in the brewery boardroom and special glasses deserved some special beers.

And ciders. First up was a fresh ’23 Cider from neighbour apples. Tangy, fresh and zesty, a lovely rose colour from the cranberry juice added both sparkling and bright. The technical specification of one wheelbarrow of apples to 20 litres of cider is a metric I will long remember.

We stayed Gluten free for the next couple of drinks. A direct comparison of the impact of a yeast nutrient on the sensory characteristics of a GF lager. The difference was clear – a significant improvement – where the control, lacking the additive, had a sweet diacetyl flavour that coupled with apples to give a surprising toffee apple taste the special was much cleaner and faster. A good beer showing an important improvement, but one that could still take some more bitterness maybe to make it sharper still.

A month earlier than expected was a green hop blonde ale from Owen next. Using Challenger to set the bitterness and then finishing with green Ernest and Golding hops it gave a fresh, hedgerow, English countryside aroma on a full body. The grist is a brilliant base for letting hops express themselves and it will be interesting to see how this matures and conditions over the next four weeks till the official Wet hop week in October.

More punchy hop aroma next as we tasted Alan’s Siren Soundwave clone kit from the Malt Miller. The three C hops gave an expected powerful and vibrant fruity aroma as you’d expect. A taste directly against a can of Soundwave showed this brew to be even more pungent than the commercial variety. The colour, however, was surprisingly dark compared to the canned beer. Obviously some differences in the malt bill used here. As it was a kit it’s hard to know what that might entail.

Ramping up the hops again we enjoyed Alistair’s amped up IPA. Somewhere between 6-7% this harked back to the days when IPAs were bitter and their were wars between breweries over who could cram in the most bittering hops into their beers. Because of the strength and darker malt bill this easily carried the bitterness. A great example of a Westie from the 2000s.

Finally we ended on a rebrew of my Alt Bier. This was different to the first brew a little more fruity and complex – described accurately as a sweaty German aroma – and so a little off style. I think the last brew used some old Carafa malt to give it colour, this brew I had ordered some new and so the flavour was there that was missing last time.

I’ve been a little late writing this up, but it does give me the opportunity to tell you about Brewcon 2023 at Hackney brewery. A day on tour for the club with some really interesting talks, a lot of good brewing people to chat with and a bunch of free hops. The hops have been collated and we’ll be looking to see how we can do comparative brews and see what tunes we can play with the same recipes.

Cheers

Competition warm up

Pre-game nerves and tactics were on display at August’s brew club meeting. The Old Windsor Horticulture show on the 1st of September – the biggest match of the season for local homebrewers – was on people’s minds. Entry papers submitted and beers chosen, maybe, as the decision to go ‘Strong & sweet’ or try something left-field and surprise the judge was passionately discussed. We’ll find out who had the right approach at full time on Saturday when the rosette for best homebrew beer is awarded.

Amongst the competition deliberations it was good to welcome a new member and we look forward to tasting John’s beers as he gets to grip with the Grainfather.

We had a great selection of beers to taste this month, including some of the entries for the OW show. First up was my Pseudo-lager brewed for the Elusive birthday homebrew competition. It was fermented with the Lutra Kviek yeast at 30°C which meant it was done and bottled in less than a week. From a taste point of view, however, I don’t think it is a traditional lager. The yeast seems to give a distinctive citrusy lemon flavour. So drinkable, but certainly a little unusual.

We stayed with a Kviek yeast for our next two beers. Firstly a super American pale ale. This will be an entry at the OW show so we got a peek at the quality of the beers that will be there. The hops really zinged in this and that was down to the water adjustments made that lifted the beer and made it much sharper and crisp. A stronger, more bitter version of this would make a first class West Coast Pale Ale. We had a long discussion about the high carbonate level in the local water and how it is not suited to pale beers.

This really set up for the next beer an evolution of the popular Tropical Storm Black pale ale from the W&E beer festival last year. Again using a Kviek yeast that stayed out of the way to let the English hops shine through. There was an assertive bitterness and a lingering pleasant liquorice aftertaste from the black malt. The dark malt also helped make this a crisp fresh beer without the need for excessive pH adjustment of the water. Our water is perfect for dark beers like this.

We followed this with another OW show entry (maybe) a beautifully conditioned ESB. Clear as a bell and a stunning chestnut colour. The slight fruity-sweetness from the English ale yeast balanced against the hoppy bitterness nicely. A lovely beer you could drink pints of as it hid its 6% strength really well.

Staying above 6% and another OW show entry, AND another brew from the W&E beer festival we moved to the Low Countries for a Belgian Disaster. I’ll just leave possible the best description of a beer ever made here; “A sweaty Dolph Lungden.” We think Ken might have meant Jean Claude Van Damm, and it’s not 100% clear if it’s a bad description but I’ll take it!

Staying Belgiany we had the comeback of the Elderflower Saison. As before this was a great example of a saison and while last time I didn’t get any of the elderflower – I could pick it out this time as a delicate fruitiness. We discussed the remarkable lack of foam and think it could actually be from the elderflower addition.

To wrap up we were looking forward to a light coloured 10% mead, that would have been a lovely finish. What we got was a mystery beer in the same bottle as mead with the same colour cap on. A copper coloured, slightly caramel tasting body with grassy hop aromas brewed at some distant point in the past.

Just a reminder that September is an open month again but October we have the wet / green hop brews. There’s a lot of wild hops knocking about that look about ready to pick so maybe a wild farmhouse ale is out there waiting to be brewed.

Cheers

Homebrew kit you can use

A lot coming up and free kit!

After our min-month jaunt out to Reading for the Meet-the-supplier event with the Malt Miller at Double Barrelled brewery it was good to be back on home turf. A small gathering with concentrated beer quality. Four lovely beers and great discussions and ideas.

So to the beers first; an Elderflower Saison, a British golden ale, the return of the Belgian Wit and an Alt bier. 

Saison bottle

The aroma on the saison was spot on for style, the yeast choice and warm fermentation highlighting the spicy clove phenols and fruity esters. Really good carbonation but low head retention. A subject we had a lot of discussion around. The grist was as expected so what could cause it? Although a good sized portion of elderflow was added to the boil there wasn’t much more than a hint of its presence. We talked about the potential to add the flowers into the FV as if dry hopping – something to try in the future.

The Golden ale was a hop bomb. Intense tropical fruits on a well-balanced full-bodied beer that was perfectly carbonated in the bottle. The Talus hops gave immense flavours and aromas even though they were only dry hoped at 50g / 20L a real impressive performance. The beer was fermented using US-05 – a notably clean yeast – so the fruit flavours weren’t coming from there. It was a real testament to the intensity of Talus and a prompt to use these in the future.

The welcome return of the Belgian wit we tasted last month showed that the yeast mishaps that led to it haven’t caused any stability issues with the beer. It was interesting to see the head retention on this compared to the saison and we discussed the grist differences that might cause this.

We had an expert in for the last beer. After a trip to the Bolten Brewery near Dusseldorf Lee was primed to compare my Alt Bier with the real McCoy from Germany. I’m glad to say it was in the ball park as I brewed it without ever tasting one! Very malty, clean finish with a soft mouthfeel. Maybe would be improved by upping the bitterness but a beer – and yeast – I’m very happy with. I think the yeast (White Labs WLP036 – Dusseldorf Alt yeast) could be used for anything where you want a really clean fermentation on.

Bottle filler attached to a beer tap

How to fill bottles direct from a keg / tap was something we pondered over. Mainly because I felt the Alt Bier was a bit under-carbonated as I’d just filled it directly into a bottle without using my patented squeezy bottle filler (See photos). There are multiple professional and homemade solutions out there, some you can spend a lot of money on.

Looking to the future on the first weekend of September Hukins Hops have an open day where you can pick your own. A great day out at a hop farm in a beautiful part of Kent. This led to the agreement that – as many people also grow their own or you can find a lot of wild hops – the Theme for October would be Wet hopped beer or is it green hopped beer? Either way something to look forward to.

That first weekend in September is also home to the Old Windsor show where there is a category for home brewed beer judging. As we all know the judge does like them dark and sweet. So you know how to win that rosette. Entry form is here.

A little further into the future is BeerCon 2023 the homebrew expo that’s been so successful over the last few years. A great day out at Walthamstow’s Wild Card & Hackney breweries. So get a Saturday afternoon session booked in on October 7th. The talks and exhibitions of kit and ingredients make it really worthwhile. I did hear there is a talk by Windsor’s own Hoppy place Dave talking about how to go professional. Learn about the set up of Indie Rabble brewery (Who are crowd funding at the minute and planning to open very soon) There are also a few competitions to enter your beers into; the Club Challenger cup and a Lallemand sponsored Pro-Am trophy for brewing a British lager. 

Lastly the club received a really generous donation from Mr Hadjimichael. His brewing kit, a superbly made insulated mash tun and an electric heated bucket as well as a fermentation bucket. We also have a pressure barrel. So this is a call for anyone reading who would like to give all grain brewing a try; we have the kit you can use to get started and hooked on brewing your own beers. Thanks to Lambros – really appreciate your gesture, and good luck!

Please get in touch if you want to use the kit to get started.

Cheers!

Back on the wagon

Is it on or off the wagon when you start drinking again? Anyway after an enforced no boozing time out I was lucky enough to start up again with some fine examples of Summer lovin’ – light beers for the summer heat, our June theme.

A great turn out with a lot of beers to get through showcased some superb hops and demonstrated brewing excellence with clean lager styles.

We started off with a gluten free lager based on millet grist that is more or less spot on. Really feels like Ed has nailed this beer now. We had some pouring issues, but the top half was bright, golden straw in colour and clean on the palate and nose. Amazing work.

We followed this up with another clean pale style the Kolsch. Despite some brewing issues – running out of hops – this is a classic easy drinking beer. We discussed whether adding more gypsum would give a cleaner sharper bitterness and is is possible to post-dose to finished beer?

We moved onto the Pales next. A Gluten free Cascade SMaSH repeated from last month had conditioned well and showed off the classic C-Hop aroma well. Another SMaSH followed – in fact two versions of the same beer.

We did a side by side comparison of a Strata Hop SMaSH one bottle filled from a Corny keg and the other bottled conditioned. There were real noticeable differences, the consensus being that the bottle conditioned beer was superior. It was a more rounded and better carbonated beer even if the hop aroma seemed a little less intense. Something to think on for competition entries – bottle conditioned beers are better than beers filled from a keg.

A shift of pace away from hops towards malt next. A Pilgrim hopped Steam beer that combined the more delicate hop flavour with a strong flavourful malt back bone. Caramel and toffee sweetness balanced well against the bitterness. There was discussion about the summeryness off it – and we settled on Late September.

This was followed by another club favourite that probably nicely sits in the late summer / early autumn classification. Tangmere Bitter a lovely traditional bitter, perfect session drinking balancing the malt against solid British hops.

We finished off the beers ramping up the alcohol content nicely with a Belgian Wit. Lovely spicy yeast notes and fruity esters in a dry highly carbonated beer with bitter orange and coriander notes on the nose. This was a saved beer following a yeast failure. Initially pitched with Sussex yeast after very little action this was re-pitched with Belgian Wit yeast. Maybe there was some of the estery goodness combining from the two yeasts – spiciness from the Belgian and fruitiness from the Sussex – it really worked and carried the 6% ABV nicely.

We ended the night with a super dessert. A bramble gin that had an amazing plum and sloe aroma but pitched up with a blackcurrant fruity tang. The simplicity of Gin, Sugar & Blackcurrants superbly blended by Alistair into a lovely aperitif that worked great on its own and would make a fantastic long drink.

Upcoming Events

I’ll see you there!

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…..you 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.

A shedload of Stout

Is a shedload the right word for a lot of stout? An Oil tanker? A Swimming pool? I’m not sure there’s an official term but whatever we decide it is that’s what we had at the February meeting. As well as a lot of beers it was great to see a lot of people. A couple of new members and great to see some old faces again.

Fifteen beers is a good old session and we had some superb specimens. I think there’s a wealth of stout brewing capability in this group. We need to turn our hand to malting and come up with a way to get the dark colour into Gluten Free grains. The first beer was a GF Stout but suffered from low colour. The use of tea in the recipe, I think, helped with the dark flavours but there’s a solution to the increasing the colour out there somewhere.

We then had a couple of versions of the same beer – Camden’s Ink – two great dry stouts the biggest difference that jumped out was the body. The beer with amazing body, much fuller than the 4.5% abv warrants was mashed at 66.5C. So there was a lot of surprise and discussion about how high this seemed, but it obviously worked. Both these beers were great examples of a stout in terms of both recipe and execution. It also led into a discussion about how using a higher mash temperature could inject a fuller body into Gluten free beers. Mashing these in at 68-70C may have a dramatic increase in unfermentable dextrins that would add to the mouthfeel of these beers.

We had a little jaunt away from Stout-land with a malty clean schwarzbier and discussed the use of oxygen scavenging caps , really useful if you’re planning on keeping your beers for a long time. This was followed by a Dunkel Weiss which was drinkable but lacked a little in the banana aroma department and had quite an acidic bite. The source of this acidity was discussed and various potential reasons were proposed.

Back on the stouts we delved into commercial samples – see what we’re aiming for. One of these was a beer brewed using Kviek yeast – something we’ve often discussed – the strong coffee and chocolate and full body were something we could all aim for. I’d recommend Mammoth brewery’s Aguacatones breakfast coffee stout A great beer.

Back to the homebrew and we get right back onto a return star we’ll now call Mt Vesuvius. The Cherry and tequila soaked oak chip stout we’ve tasted rounding out over the past few months has fantastic flavours but is a lively beast. It took some opening and we lost a very high proportion of the bottle to excessive foam loss, but it was worth it.

Alan’s cooking stout we tasted while the explosive beer settled down to pouring effervescence and this was a treat. A classic dry stout with a subtle flavour of dandelion & burdock from a Barr’s pop lorry a happy reminiscence. We followed this up with a triple Christmas stout comparison. The same beer made for the last three Christmas’s from 2020 to 2022. The flavour changes were noticeable as the beer aged, some slight oxidation flavours in the older bottles gave a sherry note, the others were enormous with a lot of complex flavours marrying together in a way that clearly rounds out over time. Maybe the oxygen scavenging caps are perfect for beers that are to be aged like these.

Our last stout of the night – not the last drink mind – was a strong 7.5% boozy brew that had a slight apple flavour to it we couldn’t pin down. Was it red apples or maybe even soft fruits? However the beer was one you could sit down with a big cigar in front of a roaring fire on a dark winter’s night. Stout level completed we rounded off the night with some fruit.

Brining the bananas was a classic representation of a Hefeweizen. Bang on spec, doing everything as it should, cloudy, thick white head and the distinctive aroma and taste direct from Germany.

For desert we ended with two meads. My first time drinking mead and I can say I’m a fan. I was expecting honey but got a zingy, refreshing, smell of springtime from the elderflowers and punchy in your face fruit-acidity in the red fruit version. The flavours belied the strength of the beverages and you could easily see yourself sipping a lot more of these than you expected to.

We ended the evening finishing off the remaining beers and agreeing that the Old Windsor Horticulture show can act as our annual homebrew contest as they have rosettes and a judge known to like strong sweet beers. The idea was floated to all brew the same recipe for this, something we will discuss further I’m sure as ew have until the beginning of September to get our act together.

We also agreed on a theme for April. SMaSH. This is a Single Malt, Single Hop brew. Something you can use to highlight of experiment with a malt or hop variety you want to shine through. That’s the only requirement, one hop type, one malt type. Your mashing, hop additions, yeast, water additions etc etc are still a free for all. I look forward to trying them.

Cheers.

(Note : updated 27 FEB 2023 following an error on the mash temperature used to make the Ink Stout)

Gluten Free Zone

Gluten free month started with me admitting I had cocked up my brew. I had great intentions of brewing some sort of Belgian style Dubbel. I had loads of GF cereals and plenty of enzyme to convert them. Except I didn’t. I had some AMG from Malt Miller and thought I had some Amylase from a previous life. However I did not have any amylase. This meant after mashing in, and realising what I was missing, I added the AMG and hoped that would work. It didn’t I had 30 litres of hot flour water basically. And it stayed like that for hours while I wondered how to save it.

Not Wort

Fun fact. Honey is a source of Amylase. This is an issue when making BBQ sauces that contain it as over the shelf life the enzyme breaks down starches in the sauce to sugars These are much less viscous. This means the sauce loses it’s body and turns to a thin liquid. Not so fun fact, this takes months to happen so adding honey to your mash doesn’t breakdown the starches in there. It just adds expensive honey to something you’re going to end up dumping.

Luckily other members had a lot more success and we had some beers to get stuck into. First up was a lager brewed using Sorghum. This had a really fruity aroma and flavour to it. So much that you could mistake if for a pale ale dry hopped with a lot of American hops. So it was drinkable but not quite to style. We discussed what might have caused the yeast to kick out such flavours – especially as the temp was controlled through fermentation.

Next up was a GF Belgian Wit. Really characteristic of the style with the spicy notes and after-taste of bitter orange coming through strong. It would be hard to say this didn’t have wheat (as it’s name demands) in it. We then went back to a beer I had tried before. This was entered into the Chertsey homebrew competition back in December mimicking the supplied Burton Pale Ale recipe provided. The extra few weeks in the bottle had done this the world of good. It had conditioned beautifully and we thought is a great chassis to build other beers on. A foundation beer that was great on its own but you could see the possibilities that a different hop regime could bring to this.

We then made a rookie mistake. I made a Ginger ale as the ingredients (140g Ginger, 200g Sugar, 2 x Lemon Juice & Kviek yeast to give 2 Litres) are all gluten free. It’s a great and simple recipe, really nice on a hot summer day, but ginger does pack a flavour punch so trying it mid-flight does sort of blast your tastebuds a little as well as making the glass and room smell of ginger for quite some time.

So for me the the next non-GF beer we tried. A clean cold Kolsch had a distinct ginger flavour/aroma to it. However I’m certain the beer itself was a great example. We discussed the usefulness of brewing a Kolsch as it’s much more forgiving than a traditional lager and yet can easily pass for one with friends and family who are less discerning in their appreciation of beers. It’s the ideal brew to make for a family BBQ for instance where everyone will pile into it and assume it’s ‘lager’.

We finished the evening with the return of the cherry & chocolate, tequila oaked stout we tried before Christmas. Again time has been a friend to this beer. The chocolate flavour was outstanding – a lot of this coming from the use of Phoenix hops which are described as bringing ” mild spicy, chocolate and molasses” aromas. These seem to be an ideal hop choice for a stout like this where you’re aiming for that Black forest gateaux flavours.

As an afterthought we tried a little experiment adding some Ginger beer to the stout. While we didn’t quite get the ideal ratio this did show that ginger is an ingredient that would work well in this style of beer.

Lastly I need to say thanks again to Lee who made me one of these amazing bottle carriers for me to carry beers to future meetings. The workmanship and quality are outstanding thank you!

Outstanding craftmanship

Next month is Stout month so looking forward to some deep dark beers. Cheers.

Cold cans

Another new location for the club meeting this month – we were in the midst of the brewery next to the new canning line and Matt Stead gave us a quick overview of how it’s going. While it was interesting and pretty cool to be in the heart of the brewery it was pretty cold in there. Luckily we had a beer or two to warm us up as you’d hope.

We had a massive range of beers to try this month and started the evening with a non-beer beverage. A super neighbour’s-apples winter cider. Really sharp but with added cranberry and other flavours added to give it a bit of a Christmassy vibe. This was followed up with more fruit – a gluten-free grapefruit IPA. This was a great sessionable IPA that could probably take even more fruit – pile in the zest in the fermenter as well as the boil.

The next beer was a lovely dark mild – a great example of the style and something I could imagine enjoying in a country pub on a cold dark afternoon a real seasonable beer.

I brought in my entry to the Craft beer channel vs Meantime English IPA competition run by the Malt Miller as well as the can of the Now IPA that inspired the competition. I’ll be honest I wasn’t that keen on my own beer. It was hopped only with Olicana hops – I’d never used these before – and I just felt it tasted of Spangles. Also despite dry hopping with 100g in 20L there was no hop aroma at all. I put it down to dry hopping at 5C instead of my usual 14C. Something I’ll not do again.

We ramped the quality of beers right back up with a couple of stouts after this. Both strong beers one flavoured with cherries and oak chips soaked in tequila. The second also conditioned on oak chips. This was a fascinating insight into how aging really rounds out, softens and improves beers. One of the beers was aged significantly more than the other and the sharper jagged flavours in the newer beer were noticeable. The good news it this will definitely age into something super.

We ended the session with a real 2-cigar next to a log fire barley wine. Aged over a year (I think) this was a fantastic well balanced strong beer that would be a perfect after-dinner end to an evening. Beautiful.

That’s it for this year – we’ve no December meeting (it would fall on Christmas) – but we do have the Chertsey brew competition on the 10th December with the club being well represented. So fingers crossed. What will be interesting – and it could be an opportunity for someone as there’s also a pie and vodka infusion competition at the same time. It will be a great afternoon I’m certain.

Remember January is our gluten-free challenge. I’ve been emptying out the gluten-free isle at Sainsbury’s in preparation. Look forward to seeing what everyone else brews in 2023.

Merry Christmas & a happy new year!

Three glasses of mild beer

Hong Kong Phooey

Number one super guy. I love him but didn’t get it, the karate kicking hound looked good on the beer bottle label and I thought that was enough. Then it was pointed out he was Henry, the mild mannered janitor. Mild see! It was mild night at Homebrew club and puns were rolling. Welcome to the mild west.

Five different milds and an amazing amount of variation for what is essentially a very simple beer. The variations in colour firstly were very surprising when lined up. Individually you’d probably mark them all as black – but lined up and compared you could see the subtle range from pitch black down to a deep mahogany.

The flavours and aromas too held quite some variation. Malty caramels were abundant but beyond those there were liquorice and aniseed and smoke and chocolates. What – I think – was most welcome was the fact we all agreed milds are a good beer. I know there were reservations about the style, it’s a little old fashioned and unpopular – but it’s a great style, a real contrast against the hoppy pales that prevail.

That said we did also have some additional beers to sample – Al’s great porter was just that. The malt experienced continued with a beautifully conditioned Altbier – the German ‘Old Beer’ style from Dusseldorf. And we ended with some hops to freshen the palate.

The final Rye pale made with Motueka hops to give a light citrussy lemony flavour. And this sparked the conversation about the July theme. Back towards hops away from malts we decided the theme should be ‘West Coast’. As usual make of the theme what you will – the obvious West Coast IPA or maybe a California Steam beer or maybe something from Bristol! I look forward to seeing the interpretations.

Cheers

How to brew a Mild

We were lucky enough to have Paddy and Matt from the brewery with us in this month’s meeting and being back in the boardroom almost meant we lost someone in the bar. In the end it was all good though and we enjoyed some great discussions about the beers brought, enzyme use and parti-gyle brewing.

Before we got to the beers though Paddy and Matt were kind enough to spend some time talking about the history and brewing techniques and recipes you need to make a ‘bostin’ mild. I’ve captured what I can recall here so feel free to use these tips and points to make your own ahead of our Mild May meeting based on CAMRA’s Mild month! (That’s a mouthful that sentence)

First the history, and this is where the excellent ‘Designing great beers’ by Ray Daniels shows its value. The chapter looking at Brown ales and Milds gives a real historical view of their origins but the take away for me is that time was the choice in a pub was between a bitter and a mild, two beers at opposite ends of a spectrum. The bitter end is obviously just that, bitter, and the mild end focused on the malty side of the street. A Mild is a beer designed to showcase everything malt has to offer without the sharp tang of the hops taking up too much space.

The low strength many people associate with a Mild appears to be a newer phenomenon maybe based on ‘value engineering’ of recipes by the brewers as their popularity dwindled and they had to maintain the margins. Paddy created some notes around the recipe and process build – including the strength and I’ll share and explain those here. So first what would you aim for in terms of gravity, colour and bitterness.

The gravity, colour and BU of a Mild

So here we have the specification from two breweries Mitchell & Butler and Highgate. You can see the gravity here would give you a beer of about 4.0%. The interesting aspect of this is the PG. This is the gravity that the beer was filled into cask meaning the beer was quite actively fermenting still when it was packaged and so it really was extremely cask conditioned. The bitterness of around 24 is on a par with a modern commercial lager, enough to balance the sweetness but not overwhelm it. The colour here is quite dark – as I’d expect a mild – but the range can be from a chestnut up to black, so a lot of scope there.

Mash ingredients for a Mild

What about the mash? This is a showcase for malt flavours and you can see here where they come from. The values relate to the mash tun at the brewery but the ratio would remain and then scaled down to your own mash tun size to yield 1035 or so. So a solid base of pale ale malt and then around 4% Crystal. This would probably be a medium colour crystal and then about half that amount of Black malt to get the colour up to where you like. Paddy’s tip was to aim low on the colour as you can always add more with liquid caramel (as per the recipes here) to increase it, but you can’t take it away. The 10% torrified barley and 6% malted wheat give you the body and thick head retention and then sugar as well. This is on top of priming sugar added into the cask. On top of the remaining gravity when filled that priming sugar would have made sure it was a real strong fermentation in the cask. I’ve no idea how it cleared. Note at the bottom Calcium Chloride. This should be added as opposed to gypsum to the mash liquor to emphasise the maltiness.

Additional info on a mild

And finally the process details. You can see a slight difference in the mash temperatures between the two breweries here but it didn’t have much difference on the FG. The boil at Highgate you see is aiming for a massive loss of volume, over 8%, and at M&B it’s still high so a long boil is important, I wonder if that helps with the caramel and Maillard flavour development in the beers? Not mentioned in the notes are the hops. These were discussed but used only for their bittering properties the type of hop used is less important. Traditionally they would be English hops so for authenticity Fuggles perhaps, but they’ll not be adding too much to the finished product. We did discuss the likelihood that in the US an American twist on this beer would definitely be hop loaded – so not traditional but something that could be interesting.

Fermentation was pitched at a normal 17-19C and left to rise naturally up to 23-24C as the yeast got going. The relatively low OG should mean this would probably be done in 3-4 days – less if you move to cask with all those point of gravity left. So this is a quick beer to turnaround and it was often gone so fast in the midlands that it would expected to be drunk young. This means you’ve plenty of time to get yours done before the Meeting on the 25th May when Paddy will judge your efforts and interpretation.