Category Archives: Homebrew Competition

Loft conditioned goodness

A couple of loft experiences this month and while the first one was intentional the second was surprising. We started off with a non-alcoholic Hop Water commercial product that Ed brought along. We’d talked about these previously and it was interesting to see they really are just hop flavoured (Well more scented than flavoured) sparkling waters. This was a product by Manchester brewery Track and the aroma from the clear sparkling liquid was an intense hop loft. Fresh hops out of a vacuum pack, lemon and bright citrus – as you’d expect from Citra hops. The flavour was less – it was simply sparkling water I thought. It felt like a really grown up 0% ABV beverage for a summer beer garden.

We moved on from this sophisticated grown up drink to Unicorn beer. This was a stove-top 1 gallon kit brewed by Malcolm that should have been pink in colour with glitter. Thankfully the beetroot for colour (Surely it would add a soil flavour?) and the glitter were left out so it ended up being a clean pale ale style beer. Being a kit we did have a guess at trying to work out what the hops and grist were. It was quite fruity and the link above seems to indicate Amarillo and Mosiac. Seems about right

We followed this up with a paradox. How do you enter the SIBA homebrew contest where the concept is the best tasting Wheat beer in the UK when you’re a Gluten Free brewer. If you’re Ed you raid a vegetarian’s store cupboard and brew a light, refreshing Belgian Wit. Mashed with Teff, Millet, Quinoa, Rice and Lentils the beer was extremely light in colour, held a good white foam and had the gentle estery pear aroma. There was a lot of yeast handling discussion about how to get the best from the Lalbrew yeast; pitch rates and fermentation temperatures as well as considering the use of car wash water.

Lee had also been to visit the car wash to get the benefit a beautiful soft water as befits a wonderful Kolsh. Really clean and fast and wonderfully conditioned the yeast benefitted from a cool fermentation due to an absent son and a switched off radiator. I thought I picked up an English style hop aroma despite the use of hallertau mittelfruh. More down to my lack of sensitivity than the German hops going British I Imagine.

We had a return up next – a re-drink of Ken’s Cryo-hop entry – Polar Beer – again we discussed our disappointment with the cryo-hops and wondered if the fact the samples we snagged were out of date may be part of the reason for this. We also saw a little bottle to bottle differentiation. The first bottle having some astringency that wasn’t evident in the brighter and fresher tasing second bottle. Full marks for the use of AI in producing the excellent label – that really is the future. No more messing about with powerpoint.

Our second loft example was from Alistair who’d taken the unusual process step of bottle conditioning a beer in his loft for 2 or 3 years. While that wasn’t intentional (We all have bottles of brew stashed away in forgotten locations) the huge temperature fluctuations we get in our loft: Ice cold in winter and oven hot in summer, are not ideal storage conditions for aging beer. So how did this fare? It was actually really well conditioned. It had obviously kept fermenting in the time as it was highly carbonated – meaning a slow opening or a beer explosion – and had some considerable amount of sediment at the bottom. On tasting it wasn’t bad. Really complex is how you might describe the host of flavours fighting for attention, surprisingly drinkable for a not-to-be-repeated experiment.

Mine was the last beer and, as I am soon to be moving house, it is sadly the last beer I’ll brew in my Old Windsor shed brewery. It was a schwarzbier that is quite light and fruity with some dark flavours coming through. I’m hoping to enter this in the Lager than life homebrew competition and so look forward to seeing how it scores there.

We ended the night remembering Lee’s brilliant idea for a club competition we will aim to host in June we’re going to call (Loyd Grossman voice) “Who would brew a beer like this?” We think after trying each other’s beers so often now we can pick out each member’s brewing style in a blind tasting. While we’re still working out the logistics there’ll be two winners. The best identifier and the most confusing brewer. With the spanner in the works of throwing in a Ringer beer from the brewery this should be an interesting test of our sensory prowess.

Cheers.

Cryo pop Challenge

As per the meeting report from October 23 our first meeting of 2024 will be the Yakima Chief hop Cryo pop challenge. Brew a beer within the following guidelines ready for the January 31st 2024 meeting.

Style

An IPA – make of that what you like. This link here is what Siren Craft brewery make of the style but there’s a wide variety of beers types to choose from.

Grist

Brewers choice as this will very much depend on the style, however there is a range for the finished product ABV. Aim for a beer between 4.5-5.0%

Yeast

After much deliberation we settled on US-05 – something that will get out of the way of the hop flavours and aromas.

Hops

Now to the main course. Only two hop types are allowed. Cryopop and one other type. The hop addition timings and amounts are the brewer’s choice but the aim of the challenge is to showcase the hop flavours and aromas. So aim for something with punch.

Good luck!

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!

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!

Winter warmers

Our first meeting back after the Christmas break, and our first ever competition, saw some old friends making a welcome return back from the pre-Covid world meetings. The meeting was dedicated to judging the Winter Ale Contest but we also welcomed a few lighter palate cleanser beers as well to help with the concentration; an excellent dry hopped lager, a first spot on all grain attempt at a Landlord clone and a fruity Mosiac SMaSH

Judging the beers

We had four beers entered – which may not seem many but given half of them had an ABV in double figures it was plenty to get though in a session. There were two prizes on offer. The main prize was the Champion beer as judged by combining a carefully thought out and considered scoring system looking at Appearance, Aroma, Flavour, Desirability and Style. After some discussion and recalibration of what 10/10 would mean for a strong dark winter ale (Note – it is not “Could drink pints of this”) the judging commenced.

We were also lucky enough to have Head Brewer Matt Stead with us as well to offer advice and choose the Brewer’s Choice prize. So to the beers, quite a range two extra-strong dark beers in a Russian Imperial Stout and an Eisbock and a couple of relatively lighter beers – relative being key at around 7% – with a traditional spiced winter ale and a Belgian Dubbel style beer. After trying the beers I’ll admit the maths proved to be more of a problem than I anticipated. Adding up scores and working out the average was impaired by the strength of the beers.

Counting is hard

And so to the winner – a superb beer, perfect for sipping next to a roaring log fire with a cigar on the go. Congratulations to Iain M’s Russian Imperial Stout. A worthy winner and I’m sure he’ll turn the Maris Otter he’s won into a special beer.

A worthy winner

Embarrassingly – and certainly not a fix I swear – my own Belgian Dubbel “Radiant Orange” was chosen by Matt as the Brewer’s choice and the rosette is proudly displayed in the kitchen now.

Overall another great night of fine beers and good conversation. Looking forward to February (Wednesday the 23rd) and then the March (Wednesday 30th) meetings we agreed to a free for all tasting and beer swap next month and then a challenge for the March meeting. The theme of the challenge for March – something to get started now – is a light beer. Make of that description what you will. I’ll be most looking forward to Fran & Vincent’s effort after taking advantage of an amazing offer from David E who got in contact with the club to offer to donate his 25L all grain set up to someone looking to move up their brewing to the next level. I think this applies perfectly to Fran & Vincent a perfect home for the equipment.

Cheers!

January Winter Ale Competition

Our January meeting is planned for Wednesday 26th January 2022 where we’ll be holding the Winter Ale Challenge. Excitingly the winner will take home (Or pick up later…) a beautiful 25kg of Crisp Maris Otter. A biscuity malt that imparts a lovely colour to your beers.

Winter Ale

So how can you win this amazing prize?

Bring your take on a Winter Ale to the January meeting where it will be judged by your fellow club members (and you’ll be judging their beers). The judging system will be explained on the night but what criteria will you be judged on? What is a Winter Ale?

Your Winter Ale should be a big bold beer that evokes dark evenings in front of a log fire while the snow falls heavy outside. Think red leather armchairs and cigar smoke, candle light and sleeping dog at your feet. These are the intangibles your beer should conjure up when tasted. Of course on top of that it has to be technically sound as well. From the colour and clarity through to the taste and aroma. There should be no faults and the recipe should be balanced as we’ve come to expect from our members.

You’ll need to provide at least two 500ml bottles for judging which we’ll serve and judge anonymously.

Please get in touch with any other questions via email or on the facebook page.

The prize