Monday 29 December 2008

Bitten Bullet Barleywine #1

It's been a busy week or so. My mother flew back to Dublin yesterday after what seemed like a very quick eleven days. Things are getting back to normal, in a way, so last night I bottled the amber ale I made two weeks ago. I can't wait to taste it carbonated, as it has a really unusual flavour; heaps of passion fruit, or grenadine. I'm not sure which. Certainly more hoppy in the flavour stakes than an amber ale should be, but that's because I got distracted and added the flavour hops too early. Maybe a good thing, who knows?

Today (spread out between familial tasks) I made a barleywine I'd been planning for ages, using yeast trub from the amber ale to get this monster off to a good start. It should finish out at about 10.5% alcohol, and the bitterness units are estimated to be around 106. I used heaps of American "C" hops; Chinook, Centennial and Cascade, all with wonderful citric, grapefruity aromas. My son really wanted to chew the pellets, but he had to settle for the malt and malt extract ("that's not enough Daddy! More!"). I tasted the wort and it was so hoppy it tasted like black pepper. I plan on maturing it on oak for three or more months before bottling (maybe longer) and to try and leave most of it till next Christmas. That's the plan anyway!

For the geeks, my full recipe can be found here.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Christmas preparations

I've been a bad blogger over the past week or so. Normally I have a stash of things ready to go, but between my mother being here, and my son having taken to waking up at extraordinarily early hours (six in the bloody morning!) I haven't even had time to read my favourite blogs.

Still, it's been nice to be off work and just getting stuff ready for Christmas. My mother and I have been to four out of the five Christmas markets in Münster. Today was the best as we popped in to the oldest and biggest one in the Rathaus courtyard (and beyond) and were able to relax, ramble, purchase some last minute items and have some currywurst and pommes with the rest of the rabble. Then I had to have a couple mugs of Gluhwein just so my mother and mother-in-law could get the nice red Muenster Glühwein mugs (my mother doesn't really drink, although I just sent her to bed with a hot whisky as she caught my cold). I know you can just buy the mugs empty, but where's the fun in that? As a result I only narrowly avoided buying a leather Australian-type hat that my mother thought really suited me, but I knew my wife would hate.

In terms of Christmas markets, yesterday was great. We popped over to Telgte, some 20 minutes (unless you take the shortest route though dirt tracks, thanks Tomtom) east of Münster, a place famous for it's Medieval festivals during the summer. This year was the first Medieval Christmas market, and boy was it fun. When we walked in I have to admit I thought of the John Boorman movie, Excalibur, and that scene where Parcival arrives at Camelot soon after it was built. Lots of stuff going on, Medieval music played on a stage somewhere, fires lit with benches crowded around them, people dressed up for the period with lots of furs and cosy looking cloaks. A paradise for Goths with all the leather goods and chainmail for sale, and just a wonderful relaxed atmosphere. I should have taken more photos, but it would have been hard to capture the smell of wood smoke and food. Oh, and it had the biggest ball pit I have ever seen made out of hay bales. It was like a swimming pool, and actually pretty deep. It screwed my back though. Not because I was playing in it (apart from maybe 30 seconds worth wwhere I had to dive in to save the boy), but because of the constant hauling my son out and throwing him back in amongst the thirty other insane children. My next physio appointment isn't till the 6th of January, so I have to rely on alcohol now to ease my suffering.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure what I'll be drinking on Christmas day. I hope to make it to the drink store tomorrow, otherwise I think I'll rely on my home brewed beer, and maybe a few doppelbocks. I did buy some fruit wine at the Medieval market though, in rather attractive earthenware bottles (1 litre, very authentic) which may come out at some stage.

So, what will you be supping with your Christmas dinner? Indeed, what will you be eating?

After agonising about what I should do, food-wise, I have settled on a traditional (in Irish terms at least) turkey with a cranberry and chestnut stuffing, and cider-glazed roast root vegetables as the main course. Oh, and my mother brought over the traditional spiced beef I asked for, so that'll be simmered in a dark beer soon. Mmm, love that cold, thinly sliced with fresh bread and globs of mustard.

For the homebrew geeks, my first all-grain is now at 1.010. I need to start thinking about making that barleywine soon

Friday 19 December 2008

Things to avoid

I have a cold. Two days after starting my holidays! I'm grumpy so, despite the chocolates my mother brought over with her yesterday. So, what better way to make myself feel better than describe two shitty beers. I have posted before about a few beers that I have found boring, bland and occasionally just awful, but this is the first time I'll just lump some together.

First up, Schwelmer Pils from Privatbrauerei Schwelm, which I just realised isn't a million miles away from me, being btween Düsseldorf and Dortmund. I found their amber beer ok, and although this one opened up with an interesting freshly cut wood, resin-like and floral aroma, the flavour was detergenty/soapy with an underlying saccharine sweetness. Just not nice at all.

The next one should probably have been mentioned first, but there ya go. The Hansa Pils made by the Dortmunder Actien Brauerei (DAB, along with DUB being one of the two big industrial era breweries of Dortmund, and the only one remaining) although originally from Dortmunder Hansa Brewery which was acquired by DAB in the early 70's. I know I've said before that beer in Germany is generally ridiculously cheap, but htis takes thie biscuit at 45c a bottle. I just had to try it! It's very pale, almost watery looking (well whaddaya know!) and a bit unappealing. It's quite sweet in a weak, malty way, and the hops seem to add a slight fruit note. It has a faint resiny aftertaste which I usually blame on the hop extract. Generally a pretty weak effort, but it's hardly surprising considering the price. Apparently it's very popular with the punk and skinhead scene here! I must stop shaving my head...

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Christmas Party 2008

Last night was the company Christmas party. I'm also now officially on leave for three weeks, and that's just as well as I really needed those extra couple of hours in bed this morning. Well, my son did still come in and chat at me for 30 minutes, and him sitting on my belly didn't produce any terrible side-effects, so I think I came out ok after the long night. And I thought I couldn't do 3am any more!

The party itself kicked off at 17:00, but due to a server ditching my work without warning (causing considerable swearing and undoing weeks of physiotherapy) I had to redo some stuff and didn't join till 18:00 (see how I'm getting into the German way of writing time?). There is a large terrace in the middle of our building, and this had been decked out with a couple of tents under which food was being served, and lots of standing tables to gather at for munching the fine food and get a few beers in. The beers on offer were Pott's Landbier and Krombacher (I have a soft spot for Krombacher actually, but usually in Summer). Inside was a bar, but the catering company had several people moving about taking orders and cleaning away empties. Music was provided by the resident DJ with lots of lighting and smoke machines. As Christmas parties go it was really great fun and relaxed. The last few hours flew by in a haze, but looking at all the photos, the late-shift crew that I was with clearly had a laugh. Despite that I do remember the cycle home, and I didn't wake my wife up crawling in at 3am and making a cheese sandwich.

Of course, the party was also an opportunity to test out the Christmas beer on some colleagues. My wife made a special delivery of two crates of home brew, one containing the Christmas beer in its three incarnations, the other was a mix of my most recent American-style pale ale, the last three bottles of my Muenster Mulligan Porter and a clutch of His Master's Vice, a dark, relatively hoppy beer that is in its second version (and one of my favourites). It still needs work though.

It was a bit like setting up shop in the kitchen, and trade was brisk. I was pleasently surprised at the reaction to the Christmas beer, but maybe the atmosphere of a Christmas party made it more accessible. Nevertheless, it was also gratifying that people could taste the differences between the unoaked and the two oaked versions, many comments mirroring my own. For some people it was a little sweeter then they were accustomed to, but they adjusted by the second glass. In fact, the lightly oaked one seemed to cut the sweetness with a little tannic edge noted by one colleague.

The pale ale was a real hit with many. It's a typically American-style affair with lots of grapefruity, citric aromas, and again a grapefruit-like dry bitterness on top of a reasonably malty backbone. Only one person didn't like it at all, pouring it out. It was strange, as this person (who does not work in the office) was picking out some very subtle flavours from the Christmas beer. I'm guessing he's a wine afficionado, but he described the aroma and taste of the pale ale as being like a train station in a busy city after midnight. Actually, very descriptive. If it was wine I bet he would have said catty though, and drank it. Actually, I just found out he was a customer!

Overall everything went down really well, and while there was a consistent group in the kitchen for nearly two hours drinking my beers, people outside were hearing about it and coming in asking for Christmas beer. Great fun! The CEO, a true gentleman in every sense, offered to pay for the costs of the beer. Of course I refused. Having a large group of people try your beers and give honest feedback is reward enough. Having them seem to genuinely enjoy them was great!

One outcome of all this is a potential team brewing day suggested by my team leader. A capital idea!

Sunday 14 December 2008

My First All-Grain

After years using dry malt extract as the base of my home brewing, today I finally used my home-made mash tun to do my first full batch all-grain brew. I decided to make an amber ale with pale ale, munich and crystal malt, and a hop I had never used before; glacier. Hence, I named the beer Glacial Amber. The recipe is here if you really want to know.

I'm not going to get all brew-geeky right now, but it was a long process. Exactly the reason I used extract till now, as it meant I could make a beer in three to four hours. Today took about eight or nine hours from start to finish. However the process is so slow with lots of waiting that I made a very tasty cottage pie in between as well as trying to clean the place up before my Mother arrives on Wednesday. I need to find a new place to put the fermenter actually...

Right now I'm sampling a bottle of my Christmas beer. Although only bottled a week ago, it has a light carbonation that I think improves it. Plus it's been in the fridge. Tomorrow is the office Christmas party, so I was considering bringing in a few bottles if it was any way condtioned. I'm tempted. It gives a nice spicey warmth. I don't know what beer will be on offer, but I fear a night of Becks or Veltins.

Next brew should be a barley wine. I can't wait!

Saturday 13 December 2008

Schwelmer Bernstein

Schwelmer Bernstein, from Privatbrauerei Schwelm, means amber, and yes, it is exactly that. Having a strong and simple malty nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, this is another one of those gulper beers. It has a toffee-like, juicy maltiness that makes the mouth water and begs to be gulped down. There's a slight floral or perfumey flavour lurking in there too, and the grassy notes become more prominent as you go through a full glass of it. It's a little thin and verging towards being sugary, but it's easy to drink and will do adequately in a fix.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Christmas Beer Update #2

Almost two months after my last update, where I had split the spiced up beer into three demijohns, it was about time I bottled this beer, or it'd be a New Year beer. I spent a good part of Sunday night washing bottles (see right, although I consoled myself with a Paulaner Salvator while doing so), and then a disgustingly long three hours actually bottling the stuff on Monday night, finishing well after midnight on a night when I wanted to go to bed early as I had to be up at 6:30 for another torture session with my physiotherapist/osteologist (actually, she's very good, but I always feel like I've been beaten up for a day after a session).
The fact that this beer was split into three portions just made life awkward, however, I was looking forward to seeing what difference, if any, the oak chips would make. Oh, and seeing if the recipe I created ended up tasting like shit or not!
On opening the first demijohn (with the light oak), the most prominent aroma was bananas. Intense, ripe bananas with touches of vanilla, almonds and a hint of all-spice or cloves. The next one, the dark-oaked one, also had alot of banana going on, but not near as intense, Cloves were more to the fore and there's was a gunpowdery, roasty whiff. I left the big one till last, the unoaked one, and strangely it seemed to have cloves much more to the fore. I left off tasting them until I had finished bottling so I could taste them side-by-side.
I should point out (for the brewing geeks) that after splitting the beer up I left it in a warmish room (19C) for a couple of weeks and then dropped them down to the cellar where the temp slowly dropped from about 17C to 13C over the past two months. I know it was still fermenting, very slowly, but the final gravity was 1.026. A little higher than I expected, but not to worry, 6.6% alcohol is respectable enough. As a result I expected a fuller mouthfeel, and yes, it does have a reasonable body, and of course a residual sweetness.
Flavour-wise, well the unoaked did have banana notes, but cloves and ginger came out very well. It was a little solventy with a touch of licorice. I'm hoping that some carbonation will lift it a bit. The light-oaked one didn't seem as solventy, and there was a nice touch of vanilla and almonds, as hinted by the aroma, so I was glad they came through the flavour too. The dark oak was subtly different, with the biggest difference being a roasty, more havy vanilla flavour. The cloves don't come out as much, and in fact, this was my wife's favourite. I'm torn between this and the light-oaked one. I'm not sure about the unoaked one yet.
Overall the flavours feel a little Belgian, and it quite warming. I didn't get the heavy spiciness I thought I might, but you can certainly discover the cloves, ginger and orange peel. I can't help wondering of the yeast gave it an additional kick into clove territory, as it certainly seems to have added banana in a Weissbier kind of way. Lets see how it conditions in the bottle (for two weeks!).
While this beer was finishing maturing my wife was very busy over the past couple of weeks baking up a storm. She never really liked cooking or baking, but the Christmas spirit is strong in this one (I typed that with a Darth Vader voice in my head. Odd.) so we have about a dozen tins each filled with different Christmas biscuits. Impressive. Most impressive (damn, it happened again!). I thought I should share her hard work with you too as they are delicious!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Brauerei Hummel, Merkendorf

Another little collection, this time from the wonderfully named Hummel brewery from Merkendorf, also the home of Brauerei Wagner, the beers of which I mostly enjoyed, particularly their Märzen and Dunkel.

The Hummel Bräu Pils verges towards lemon yellow on the colour scale. It has a sweet, floral and slighly pineapple-like aroma, almost sherbety. The first thing I noticed on drinking this is the relatively low carbonation. There is a sourdough-like malt backbone which is sweet, but not overly so, as a gently citric hoppiness cuts it. I'm getting a sense that these are recurring attributes of Franken Pils, and I have to say I enjoy the combination. The body of this Pils is a little thin after a while, and this made it a little bit unsatisfying. Nevertheless, not a bad thirst quencher.

The Hummel Bräu Kellerbier has an orangey-yellow tone with a thin head despite a moderate carbonation. It has a swett orange aroma with a tough of light toffee. It has an alcohol warmth, or what feels like one, and a fullish mouthfeel with a finish heading towards dry. It has a decent hop bitterness that at one point I felt was in danger of heading towards that plastic/resin flavour I don't like, but in fact it built up to something akin to bitter orange peel.

I used to be a fan of Dunkel Weissbiers, so I was hoping the Hummel Bräu Weissbier Dunkel would bring me back to those innocent days. It didn't give me the trademark big fluffy head I was expecting. The bubbles seemed looser, so what head I did get didn't last long. This gave a faintly clovey aroma, but also hints of nutmeg, a bit of an all spice effect. The carbonation is quite low in fact, and the flavour a bit strange. A bit tangy, like the pith of an orange, but with a clove stuck into it. In fact, the more I drank of it the more like clove drops it got, with an up-front sweetness. I wrote cloves with chocolate orange. Interesting, but I'm not sure if I liked it.

The Hummel Bräu Märzen has a lovely deep amber colour with a slight haze. Worryingly, in this bottle at least, the haze has a kind of structure, like strands of haze in suspension. It brought to mind an explanation for the word "ropey" I read in Martyn Cornell's book; beer with a bacterial infection that left strings of jelly floating in it. It was precisely on the best before date, so I wasn't too worried about that. I have to admit though, my notes are very slim on this, and I only recorded that it has a firm malt backbone. I'll have to try it again with a clear head and hopefully without the stringy haze.

Another feature of these beers is that the labels all seem to be crooked.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Brauerei & Gaststätte Greifenklau

Back to regular programming after the Ireland trip! A quicky this time before I go back to making lists of gifts I need to buy.

One of the last from my first Bamberg Box, the Brauerei & Gaststätte Greifenklau Lager poured a golden honey. At first I thought grassy, like having a bit of hay in your mouth. It's definitely got hops, but not much in the way of bitterness. They give the grassiness and a slight lemony hint. Underneath this is a pleasent earthiness and while the finish is ok, I didn't really find it thrilling. I guess I was missing the beer garden and wonderful view that Boak and Bailey reported!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

A visit to Scott's View

It's been a busy couple of days, so I'm only getting around to mentioning the two bars I visited last weekend. The first was a bar i was brought to when the company I now work for was showing me around, really selling Münster as a place to live. Scott's View is talked about as a Scottish pub, and I believe the previous owner was certainly Scottish, and maybe the current owner also is. It was his night off, so I couldn't tell. I got in just after 8pm to meet a friend and the place was almost empty as they only open at 8pm. It's nice enough inside with a smallish bar, a raised area to one side with a mix of wooden kitchen, leather and club chairs, and a games room to the other side with a pool table, a very high tech looking darts board and a card table. This is also the smoking room, and a game of cards was in progress.

It's a curious mix of slightly modern clean lines with an older looking bar design and bits of bric-a-brac around the walls practically all of which has a Scottish theme. Beer-wise they had Belhaven Stout, Newcastle Brown Ale, Pilsner Urquell and Strongbow on draught, and Tannen Zapfle, Grolsch, various incarnations of Franziskaner Weissbier, Becks and Duvel (which was out of stock). Not a huge or fantastic selection, so I opted for a Newcastle Brown for old times sake.

They do have an impressive looking Whiskey menu though, with tasting notes included. A good number of Islands, Speyside, Highland and a couple of Lowland whiskies were represeented there.

As I was early I popped over to the James, the Yorkshire pub just down the road for one before returning. There I chose a Black Sheep Riggwelter (veinous, burnt dried fruits, slight woody notes, strong and very nice for the cold night it was!) from a fairly decent selection. Certainly the best selection of British beers I have seen since I moved here. I'll return to the James another time, but I'll just mention that I ended up chatting with a German chap at the bar who was drinking Rochefort 8 and who was a big fan of Belgian beer (he told me where I could find someon sale in Münster). We discussed the gebot and how it killed off local beer styles, and he knew a fair bit about Mumme. I was impressed! As he was a lawyer I was trying to find out if German brewers technically have to follow the gebot, but it was a bit unclear and I had to return to Scott's View.

I have to say I liked Scott's View last time I was there, and when I returned after my break down the road it had filled up and there was a nice hum of chat. Apparently they used to do fish and chips, but only do chips now, but the bar area stank of deep fat fryer for a while. A bit off-putting. I had a couple Belhaven Stout (sweet, chocolately in a fruit and nut way, quite flat and slightly boring) before heading off for a kebab (and chips I should add - the power of suggestion!) and nearly missing my bus. If my companion hadn't been avoiding the James (for personal reasons) I would have preferred to return there, but I'll give a run down of that place another time.