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.
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.
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.
April was a month of Smashed Peas for the WEHomebrew Club, as we all tried our hand at brewing a SMaSH beer, and not getting all poncy about naming mushys. A SMaSH beer is one that is made with only one hop and one malt, this allows you to really focus on the flavors of each ingredient.
By a quirk almost all the hops used started with a P (Until I ruined it) Pilgrim, Progress, Pacific Gem is definitely the name of a long lost John Wayne film.
So here’s the beers!
Alan’s Pacific gem pale
Alan’s Kviek pale was fruity and clean tasting, even though the hops were years out of date. He fermented it warm around 30C, which complemented the fruitiness of the hops well. This makes it a great choice for brewing SMaSH beers, as it can help to bring out the flavors of the hops and malts.
The Pacific Gem hops gave it a citrusy and tropical flavor.
The result was a delicious and refreshing beer that was perfect for a spring day.
Lee’s Golden ale / English Pale ale
Lee’s Golden ale used Maris Otter malt and gave a darker more amber/copper color than the pale ale malt used by Alan. This left the beer with fantastic foam and lacing and a beautiful flavor that was seasoned lovely by the Progress hop choice.
Progress is a hop variety that is known for its fruity and floral flavors. It is a great choice for brewing golden ales, as it can help to create a beer that is both flavorful and aromatic. The result was a delicious and well-balanced beer.
Ken’s Pilgrim hopped Vienna malt ale
Ken’s Pilgrim hopped Vienna malt ale had an issue with strong almond/marzipan flavors. He had issues with no fermentation starting and pitched three times before it took off. He also saw a weird thing happening with the break in the fermenter. Issues with hot and cold break going into the fermenter can cause Benzaldehyde to form in the beer, this could be what we tasted.
The amount of benzaldehyde that is formed in beer depends on a number of factors, including the type of yeast, the temperature of fermentation, and the pH of the wort. Higher temperatures and lower pH levels will lead to the formation of more benzaldehyde. The break is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and other compounds. When the break is not removed from the fermenter, it can provide a food source for the yeast. This can lead to the production of more benzaldehyde.
As we said, all beers seem to improve with age, so best not to throw anything away, it will improve. The concept is definitely worth going for again – especially interested in the malt flavour here
My Belgian blonde
My Belgian blonde made with Pils and Styrian Golding gave a lemon/lime flavour to the beer leading to an almost fruity acidity. This example was bottle conditioned but I kegged some of the beer that was picking up strong farmyard flavours. The root cause was a dirty dip tube so we discussed ways to get the inside of thin pipes like this clean and sterile.
Styrian Golding is a hop variety that is known for its citrusy and herbal flavors. It is a great choice for brewing Belgian beers, as it can help to create a beer that is both flavorful and aromatic.
Our last SMaSH was a superb Kolsch made with pils and Hallertau mittelfruh hops. Pin bright, beautifully carbonated with long lasting tight foam. Really crisp and dry with a faint sulphur aroma. This was of commercial quality and was made with Tesco spring water to get the mineral content just right. We’d previously been talking about yeasts packing down and the difference between US05 and other yeasts. The Kolsch lallemand yeast formed a clods of sediment that were really visible after the pour in the last bit left behind.
Ken’s Citra Pale
Vindication as we retried a super Citra hopped pale again. Ken nailed this brew – while not a SMaSH (I think it had some caramalt in there to bulk up the base of the beer) it was a great showcase for the citra hops. The wonderful aromas of lemon, lime, grapefruit – well basically citrus fruits right? Excellent.
The SMaSH month showed how much complexity and variety can be found even when only using one hop one malt. It doesn’t have to be a complex blend of ingredients to make a fantastic beer.
The meeting started with me drying out after an ill conceived idea to cycle in through the pouring rain. It also highlighted my poor memory when Ed walked in with 25kg of floor malted Maris otter that he had gotten by mistake. He’d very kindly offered to divvy it up to anyone who wanted some and everyone was very happy to receive it. It also gave us the opportunity to see an “ancient” Chinese grain scoop, which Alistair brought to fill a bucket. The grain scoop was a simple design, but it worked perfectly.
We had seven beers tonight – a great haul – and with no theme a real mix of styles. First up was Alan’s raspberry saison rebrewed. It was a great fruity, zingy, and mouthwatering summer drink. The saison characteristics were less pronounced than in the previous version of the beer, which led to some discussion about whether under- pitching yeast can give saison flavors. Maybe stressing the yeast a little increases the esters and phenols that give the beer it’s funky flavours?
The second beer was a beautiful Citra-based APA. The hops exploded with citrus aromas, and the beer was really bright. It was made with Kviek Oslo yeast, which demonstrated how simple good beer can be in terms of recipe. It also led to general agreement that 14C is the optimum temperature to dry hop at if you can control temperature.
Number three was a Red Rye ale that the group christened “Dishwater!” It was very murky looking, but it tasted good. This led to a discussion about the use of finings to clear beers. The group discussed everything from simple use of gelatine sheets to two-stage professional fining systems.
Next up was a textbook example of an ESB. The caramel and toffee flavors were balanced well against the bitterness of EKG hops. There were yeasty fruity notes that made me wonder if the beer was stronger, could it even transform to a Belgian dubbel with a slight recipe tweak?
The fifth beer was a surprise: a Squid stout (actually made with cuttlefish ink because it’s brown not blue). The beer still needed more colour to get into stout territory, so the group discussed some viable non-gluten options that could be used; Treacle, Mollasses and Candi sugar. The aroma however was pure marmite – really meaty. This is usually from yeast autolysis, but this was a young beer so maybe not. Maybe it’s the meaty taste of the deep sea ingredients?
Google tells me (as I knew nothing of it) that squid ink is a dark ink produced by squid as a defense mechanism. It is used in a variety of dishes, including pasta, rice, and sauces. It has a unique dark color and rich, savory flavor – this could explain things. Squid ink contains many unique compounds, including melanin, and has a variety of uses, including culinary ones.
The sixth beer was a surprising Dunkle bock that last month was very bland and nothingy. Six weeks in a keg had transformed this into a dark sweet desert beer! The group had no idea how this had changed so much? I have however worked out exactly what’s happened. My keg fridge is temperature controlled by an Inkbird and set at 6C. That’s what the display reads now. However I opened up the lid tonight to find it full of ice and the colling running. The temperature sensor was iced up and still reading 6C. I think what’s happened is the water in the beer has frozen and we were drinking the high alcohol remnants. An inadvertent EisBock. I’ve no idea what strength it is but think I’ll bottle the rest of the keg! I’ve also a second keg in there with a Brewdog Elvis Juice clone in it. I’ll get a bottle of that as well for us to try next month.
The final beer of the night was a beer that the group had been worried about – an entry to the Chertsey brew competition that had been called “undrinkable.” But it wasn’t! It was a good pale ale – British hops coming through nicely and clean and bright. The thinking was it could have been too young, too green at the competition and had conditioned nicely. In brewing, time is your friend.
All in all, it was a really strong month in terms of beer quality. Next month – April – is the SMaSH theme – may well be some Maris otter beers there. In June we agreed a theme of Summer Lovin’ – light refreshing beers for drinking in a pub garden or at a hot BBQ – Alan’s saison is a prime candidate for this.
Post Script June 2023
So I decided to enter the Eisbock into the Lab Open 2023 Homebrew contest (Link) and was over the moon to get placed Third on the Strong Lager table. Everyone loves a rosette eh?
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.
(Note : updated 27 FEB 2023 following an error on the mash temperature used to make the Ink Stout)
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!
A little late writing up the October meeting so the hazy vague memories a night on the beer often leads to will be even more fleeting as I try and remember what we had.
We did start the night off with a little sensory training using Owen’s kit. The theme being hops – a lot more pleasant than the previous ‘off flavours’. We spiked samples of Republika with spikes of Myrcene, Geraniol and Linalool for aroma and with the dark brown liquid of Isomerised hop extract to boost the bitterness. It does not take a lot of that to make a tasty lager something that would strip paint.
The varying amounts (measured scientifically in ‘drops’ by me) that are needed to make the hop aromas easily noticeable, but not overpowering is a fine balance. It shows as well – the differences in amounts – that it’s nt always the highest oil content of the hop that will dominate. The balance and ratios of the oils are something that – as we see – offer a multitude of different overall aromas. This comes back to the blending ratios I mentioned before. It’s not alway more and more hops that improve a beer but the ratios of different hop types that can accentuate or dull the overall impact.
After all the sniffing it was time to get back to the drinking. As ever some great beers and we’re really getting a taste for the Gluten free brews. An interesting experiment looking at two similar pale ale style beers, one with Sorghum and one with added Buckwheat. As I remember I think the buckwheat softened the beer and maybe even added a little body. Getting body in these is something that is an important club to have in your bag when using enzymes that will make every sugar molecule in sight available for the yeast to devour.
Back with the malt based brews we enjoyed a great clone of the 5 points best bitter – maybe this is a theme / competition for later. Clone wars, who can get the closest to a beer they bring in in a head to head style comparison. Will put that on the back burner. Also a return of the Pale from the previous month that was a little under-carbonated. It was lifted by more gas that also had a slight detectable banana flavour. This led to an interesting discussion of yeast pitching techniques and the benefits of dry and liquid styles and building starters.
A green hop IPA gave a seasonal feel to the drinks and is definitely the way forward to anyone growing their own hops. Something that should be in everyone’s brew schedule each year we can look forward to. We finished off with a copy of the ESB recipe from a previous meeting that had run away with itself. The Nottingham yeast Alan used munched through the wort and ended up with a brew that was packing 6.3% and had a lot of body to show for it. A lovely beer and an idea for adding body to gluten-free beers. The alcohol itself adds body to a beer, so even when there is no residual sugar there it will feel heavier.
In a change to the advertised programme we finished with a sophisticated G&T. There was a reason to this, at the recent BrewCon when speaking to Grainfather they gave a sample of a kit that allows you to make 19L ot tonic and the carbonate it in your Corny keg. I brought this is because it tastes amazing, surprisingly so. It’s now on draught in the shed and we will never run out of tonic again – this is a game changer. Next step distilling our own gin…
As a last point we agreed to a theme for the February meeting next year. January will be the Gluten free challenge and then Feb will be Stout month, so we can look forward to some warming drinks in the cold nights.
On Saturday afternoon and night Lee and myself put a beer each up against the professionals as we served our wares up at the WE Brew beer festival 2022. As the beers weren’t in the official beer list we decided to call it the secret bar.
So I thought I’d share a few photos from the afternoon. We had a fantastic day – well I certainly did! – and got to share and talk about our beers with dozens of people and got some really good positive feedback. We also got the chance to talk about the brew club and try and recruits some more members.
Lee also got the good news that his beer won the Old Windsor show brewing competition!
I hope we can get the opportunity to do this again so other members can show off their talents.
The second post COVID-Disaster-World WEHomebrew meeting took place at the amazing looking Unit4 WEBrew venue. Sat up on the mezzanine gives a great view down on the busy bar where a busy Wednesday night crowd enjoying the huge range of beers available.
There was a big variety of beers on offer from the club members as well. A really eclectic set of ales. From Saisons (including a surprise mystery beer I found in the shed) through to a lovely Belgian strong dark ale packaged in some fancy half champagne bottles. Along the way we sampled, IPAs, Mild and Stouts all great examples prompting in depth discussions about every technical aspect you can imagine.
Aside from the good beer it was great to catch up with members new and old. It’s been a long long time since the unexpected last meeting and it’s good to see some familiar faces. It’s also brilliant to see so many new faces, introductions and hearing about people’s set ups and what they love brewing is what this is all about. It’s a growing community of knowledge we can all share and learn from – and more free beer to try every month!
And so to what’s new. From next month (Next meeting will be Wednesday 24th November) we’ll be trying a new Beer Swap feature. So as well as the usual couple of bottles you’d bring for group tasting and discussion for Beer Swap you can bring a separate bottle labelled with your email address or other contact details (Maybe your Untapped Homebrew account) and someone will take home your beer, sit down one evening and give it the time and contemplation it deserves. Then contact you with their thoughts and feedback. This means you’ll get thoughts about it’s drinkability and not just the immediate impact our tasting sessions offer. Help overcome the Pepsi-paradox.
In addition to this new idea we agreed the Winter challenge – our informal homebrew competition. In time for the January meeting (Currently planned for Wednesday January 26th) think up, brew and package your interpretation of a ‘Winter ale’. It’s a broad category with plenty of scope for interpretation – so make of it what you will and surprise us with your innovation and skill. There’ll be more details on how it’ll work soon, but there’s no time like the present to get started on that recipe.