16 March 2019
The cozy relationship between breweries and bakeries is something I recall hearing about since I was a kid. Both baking and brewing use yeast; but both also produce it. Brewing, in particular, produces large amounts of yeast as a by-product. Some may be recycled for the next brew - but much is dumped. And, historically, some has ended up in the bakery next door.
Barm cakes were made using the krausen scooped off the top of fermenting ale - they were a favourite in northern parts of the UK (where I grew up), best enjoyed stuffed with chips. But trub, the sedimentary yeast-sludge from the bottom of the primary fermenter can be used too. For me, this passed from the quasi-mythological to the realm of urgently necessary practical experiment when I stumbled upon a well-written and detailed article, complete with recipe, a year or 18 months back (which, sadly, I can’t track down right now - I’ll keep trying). One afternoon, after bottling, trub in hand (well, glass jar), I set about baking, vaguely following said recipe. The yeast was very active, and before long I had a couple of well risen loaves. They looked great. But they tasted awful. So, so bitter and grassy. I realised then that trub from an American IPA wasn’t a good starting point.
Two weeks ago, though, while bottling a stout I recalled an earlier thought that the endeavour may be more successfull with the waste from a sweeter, less hoppy brew. So I put a few cups of the black, 1.014 FG oatmeal stout sludge in a jar and threw it in the fridge. To be used in due course, or discarded with disgust months later, as fate would have it.
I’ve recently seen a few images and posts by bakers using spent grain - the depleted and oft-discarded crushed malt (and adjucts) mashed in hot water as the first step of brewing. Earlier today, moments before the hot grist from a pale ale was scattered in the garden, that mind-seed sprouted, instinct kicked in and I held back a pot-full of the still steaming mulch. Thus, a plan was born. And the happy fate of the jar of black sludge was sealed.
Not having any recipe to work from, I started simple. I mixed 125g of spent grain with 375g of strong white flour, then added 7.5g of salt (1.5%, if counting the grain as a flour). To this I added 100g of trub. Figuring the trub might be 50% water/beer, I added 275g water for a target hydration of 65%. There was a lot of guesswork in this - and as soon as the dough started to come together, I realised how far off my liquid guesses were. For this was a very wet dough.
I left the dough to autolyse for 20 minutes before making my next move. It was still fairly unmanagable, so I added more flour, until in the end there was 550g of strong white. This gave me a dough which behaved as though it was around 70% hydration. In the end, I think the water portion of the trub was far higher than I estimated, and there was also quite a lot of liquid in the spent grain. On top of that, the spent grain didn’t absorb any liquid at all (of course - it was already wet).
Anyway, after an hour’s bulk, the dough has risen to around twice original volume. I went ahead an shaped it and put it in a banneton. As the yeast seemed active and it was a fairly hot evening (around 30 celsius) I was concerned about over-proofing. So I gave it only 30 minutes before baking at 220 for around 40 minutes.
The loaf looked pretty good - it rose well, and had a deep colouration. I was already too full - and it was getting too late - for immediate tasting though.
And so the next morning, having made coffee, I cut a few slices. The crumb was ok, not too tight, and the texture was good though moist (it could have done with a higher temperature or longer bake to drive off more liquid). The flavour was far better than the first try with IPA trub. But I knew immediately that this was a bread which needed to be toasted. After a light toasting, it showed its colours well, with a pleasant, slightly sweet, nuttiness and just a hint of bitterness on the after-taste, a reminder of its origin.
Notes for next time: Would take the approach of incorporating water gradually to hit desired hydration (as this is the hardest thing to control). I’d probably also add some wholewheat flour into the mix, and treat the spent grain as a soaker, not a flour - which in retrospect seems like the obvious thing to do. Also - really must try baking a balm bread…
25 January 2019
In some sense, this evening marked the goal of the trip, the Japan Brewers Cup in Yokohama. We wandered to the venue - which is a large hall at the end of the Osanbashi Ferry pier in Yokohama Bay, after an afternoon strolling around the nearby Red Brick Warehouses. The venue is stunning, lying at the end of a long wood-planked and organically curved concourse passing over the passenger ferry terminal like a hill.
Back in my room now, starting to write, my overwhelming reflection is what a high quality, civilized and well organized event this was. With, I would guess, a couple of thousand people drinking and eating, the atmosphere was never anything but light, friendly and fun with no hitches all evening. None of the beer vendors was particularly crowded. The live entertainment was cool, even to a non-Japanese speaker. And the bathroom queues moved with typical Japanese efficiency.
From the point of view of a visitor from Thailand (where the craft brewing scene is active, but limited by antiquated, protectionist legislation), it was interesting to see so many Japanese breweries with foreign brewers and representatives. That’s not to say that foreign influence is required to make good beer, of course: simply that having an open brewing industry looks to be a healthy model in terms of beer quality and the economy.
One manifestation of this is the Japan Beer Times (many thanks for the free back issues). Published in both English and Japanese this is a fine examplar of an artifact which both describes and participates in the creation and growth of an industry and culture.
And the beer? Well, it was plentiful and excellent. Out of principle, I stuck exclusively to Japanese brewers, with three exceptions (one accidental, one deliberate, and one on the way out), though several overseas breweries were represented and would have been very tempting under almost any other circumstance. My strategy wasn’t too focussed or strong. But here are some brief notes, for what they are worth. I’m sure my palate and phone typing skills weren’t really up to the magnitude of this task, but I gave it my best.
Awesome start. Hoppy, fruity nose, soft mouthfeel, very fresh.
Big bubbly head. Melon, lemons, peach, bubble gum over a light body with firm bitterness. Fresh, fun drinking.
Big foamy head. Not much aroma. Malty body with a solid bitterness. Woody hops. A very dark and toasty taste for ipa. Different, and an interesting, slow sipper.
Murky orange with almost no head. Sweet, sweet citusy aromas. Sweet zest on the first taste, quickly bittering and drying with a funky note on the nose. Little carbonation. Lost of farmhouse.
Solid maltiness and hops in good balance. The bitterness lasts well. A full bodied pilsner that makes me want more.
Malty with caramel and a hint of roast. Mild hopping. Quite English in style, close to a strong mild or even brown ale.
Cloudy yellow. with no head. Grapefruit and passion fruit aroma. In the mouth, the whole tropics with a pine fringe. Minty pineapple juice. I don’t want to use the word lush, but there it is.
Small brown head. Stong medicinal peaty nose. Very smoky and medicinal in the mouth too - could almost be drinking a whisky. There’s a solid dry body to back up the smoke. But that smoke really does linger. Interesting. Though the mildness of the porter surprises. Almost wants to be a creamy stout.
(On beer engine). No head and quite flat. Mid-malty body with herbal, delicately minty hopping. On point for a traditional UK hand-pulled pint. Could use a little more conditioning.
Full of passion fruit aroma and taste, with touches of lime. Very little body, a dry finish and very refreshing.
Light spices on the nose - it does smell like a fragrant curry. And it tastes that way too. Aromatic at first with some chilli In the end. Medium body and not much hopping. An interesting novelty.
It’s difficult evaluating a new beer right after the curry IPA. But I think this has hints of the French kitchen and roast chicken. While that may sound hideous, it blends well with the moderately dry brown ale base. Leads to a slightly bitter finish leaving herbs in the nose. Good job.
It had just won a prize as I walked past their stall. So I picked one up, though it’s not really in my uusual style gamut. Not much head. But that peanut butter and caramel really comes through on the palate. Sweet, basically, but there is a subtle toasty coffee, bitter backbone. It’s very good. Just not my thing. And now I have a pint of it (as there were no small pours available for this one :( ). This was my accidental non-Japanese brew.
I didn’t want to do this (I mean go non Japanese). But as a keen saison brewer, with rare access to Saison Dupont, I cound't resist. So here goes. Firm, rocky head. Small funky leather and fruit on the nose. In the mouth, dry and hoppy with some dirtiness in the bitter end. I’m glad I tried this.
Cloudy, no head. Hoppy to the hilt, with citrus and some pine. Medium malt body, bitter finish. There's no sweetness here.
Along the way I also tasted a couple of the event’s stronger ales: Death Hole, a 17.5% Imperial Stout (collaboration between Repubrew and Hagane Brewing) and Pit Bull Barley Wine at 15% (Outsider Brewing). I have only slight recollections of them (sadly didn’t take notes), but recall enjoying the depth and boozy sweetness of the Imperial Stout.
I started this write-up the night of the event. It’s exactly a week later now as I’m making it at least somewhat web-worthy. The details of a tasting session like this fade quickly. But the overall experience remains. It was exciting to discover just how developed craft brewing in Japan is. The variety is wide, there is creativity and playfulness, but there’s also wide mastery of the fundamentals on display - beautifully crafted ales and lagers.
23 January 2019
Day 3. Kyoto
There’s a craft beer place literally 20 meters from the hotel. But, chance would have it, the place is fully reserved by a group tonight. So, I ended up with nothing but the second part of the Don Quijote clutch of cans. Fortunately, the nose seems to be getting a little better. Though the glassware isn’t - all I have available is a delicate hand-crafted glazed ceramic tea cup. Rather beautiful, but opaque. Still, the shape looks ok.
Pours light golden (as best I can judge). Aroma is fruity - sweet citrus, tangerines, and a little on the herbal side. Bitter and grapefruit on the palate with some pine notes. A fairly robust malt body, which plays out to a bitter and slightly boozy finish. Feels like a bolder version of their Pale Ale. And equally drinkable.
Dark body, dark firm head that dissipates quite quickly (maybe due to the unfair glassware). Malty and slightly herbaceous on the nose. Complex, deep roast flavours, with some slight tannins and acidity. A lengthy dark and bitter aftertaste. The lightness of the body contrasts with the seriousness of the roast, and keeps me coming back for another sip.
Day 4. Kyoto
A cold and rainy day prevented much of an outing in the evening. But chance threw a few catches in my net for enjoyment back in the room this evening.
The first has no English labelling at all. But the amazing Untappd app came to my rescue with a quick scan of the barcode - and what a pleasant surprise, style-wise.
Yet another Yo-Ho, whose beers I’ve been enjoying. And this one a saison. Pours a very light yellow (though I still don’t have glassware to get an accurate sense of the colour). Small head clears quickly. Some Belgian yeast hints on the nose, but light and sweet, fruity, even a little floral. In the mouth it is a little thin but with a firm bitterness at the back of the palate. There’s a distinctly earthy note, but no funk. It also seems a bit under-carbonated. Very dry, refreshing, but lacking some sparkle and punch in the flavor department.
Pours mid-gold with a light head. What I'm smelling is unfamiliar. It is sweet, fruity and quite thick, like a mix of honey and citrus marmalade - I’m guessing this is the Yuzu in the name. And that strange mix continues into the mouth where the bitter marmalade develops and lingers long after the beer goes down. There’s a strong maltiness behind a fruit and honey sweetness too, but that pithy bitterness cuts through everything. This is very different, a truly modern take on the IPA, but it holds together. It’s a serious drink, and very enjoyable - not heavy but bursting with flavour and depth.
I subsequently found out more about this brewery online here (google translate does a reasonable job). An interesting project providing work for people living with autism in a micro-brewery.
I hope you won’t mind me indulging myself with the following novelties.
Was a little surprised to stumble across this in a department store basement - and, yes, I realize that it isn’t at all Japanese, but the label was irresitible. Pours mid yellow. Head dissipates quickly. Malt and a little booze on the nose. On the palate, it’s mainly malt again, with a slightly herbaceous/minty hop edge, but really not much in the way of bitterness. Is this the Bass I remember from a couple of decades ago in the Midlands (UK, not Japanese)? I don’t think so, but then I’m not sure how much memory, nostaligia and the legend are interplaying with reality here.
Whilst we’re on the non-Japanese retro cick... Pours dark with a light brown head. Coffee / dark chocolate on the nose. There is some of that coffee as it hits the mouth but the taste very quickly moves to something far more toasty and dark, with an acridity in the finish and a touch of sourness on the edge. This is about roast barley, about well-fired grain. While it is fairly light in body and mouthfeel, with some herbal hoppiness if you look hard for it, there’s no getting away from its burnt flavors and dry finish. Bitter to the end.
Day 5. Kyoto
Was almost going to skip interesting ales for the day, after a few dinner-time lagers, with the aim of turning in early on another cold night. But I stopped in the bottle shop round the corner from the hotel and found it to be full of interesting beers - especially imported ones - at not unreasonable prices. So, to match the cold, I’m going international today, with a couple of breweries which have long been on my todo list. First to the US for some hops, then to Scotland. Hope you’ll pardon, again, this intermission.
Pours golden with a thick white head. Malt, light fruit and pine on the nose, with a touch of caramel/butterscotch. Bitter citrus, pine and a malty sweetness combine well as it hits the tongue, following through to a mid-bitter finish of grapefruit tinged with sweetness. Medium-bodied but with some presence, inviting another swig.
Dark brown with a big creamy head. A little cocoa and booze on the nose. Full bodied, and almost immediately fills the mouth with a rich caramel sweetness with suggestions of raisin and slight booziness. It finishes with a hint of something woody and herbal, leaving a lasting bitterness. For a beer on the sweeter side, that’s really quite quaffable.
Black, with a cream head which quickly subsides. Milky coffee and chocolate on the nose. Dark chocolate and roasted malts fill the mouth. Fairly full-bodied and smooth with a sweet finish but leaving a lingering roasty bitterness with a mild herbal touch.
Day 6. Osaka
Location for all the following was the excellent Beer Belly Brew Pub in Osaka. This turned, without planning, into a tasting of Minoh beers. My notes are underwhelming. But the beer was extremely on point. Very well made and served. Everything had restraint though. I guess that’s a positive.
Golden with a good inch of head. Mild hoppiness on the nose. An easy drinker with a medium malt flavour and a classic but light hopping. Delicate bitterness, very smooth, with a touch of sweetness coming though in the end.
Describes as a 2.5x IPA. This is all about booze, malt and fruity hops. But in good balance with some floweriness coming on the outbreath. The bitterness holds off until the finish. Surprisingly drinkable for the high abv.
Black with a solid head which lasts well and provides beautiful lining on the glass. Some chocolate on the nose. Exceptionally creamy mouthfeel with complex caramel and roast maltiness. Hopping is delicate and herbaceous, only showing through in the aftertaste. There’s a dark, toasty edge but overall this is supremely smooth drink.
Strong dark chocolate notes, medium bodied. Finishes fairly dry.
Very light and slightly cloudy. Sweet herbal scents from the glass. Delightfully sweet and grassy at the start of the sip with a bitterness and dryness way, way below. And nothing in the middle. Gently plays the upper and lower registers of the palate piano. Effervescent in every swish of the glass. Absolute perfection.
After the brilliance of the kölsch I thought I should try the pilsner. Good head. Slightly sweet aroma. Bitterness immediate and all front of mouth, top of palate. Quite a creamy body. Solid and refreshing.
Cloves, cinammon, nutmeg on the nose. Hits the mouth like a spice bomb - the whole spice drawer plus a little chilli. I think there’s malt behind there. And it is certainly boozy. But my palate feels ruined! It’s not bad though.
Day 8. Yokohama
A change of town, after a night in the mountains, and taking it easy in preparation for the Brewer’s cup tomorrow.
Light golden colour and very effervescent. The yeast aromas are immediately present on the nose. Very light bodied and quite sweet with gentle cinnamon and spice aromatics and a little banana towards the end. A little tame and sweet for my taste.
Hazy brown with a good, slightly off-white head. Caramel and chocolate wafting off the glass as soon as it was poured. Medium-bodied, with a forward dark maltiness, which resolves to a slightly more toasty bitterness in the finish with a herbal note to it.
Day 11. Tokyo
I wasn’t planning to take notes at all today, it being the last day. But habits die hard. So when we ventured into the Baird Beer Taproom in Harujuku for snacks and a rest, I jotted down the following.
Full, creamy mouthfeel with a clean, bitter hoppy finish.
From cask, only very slight carbonation. Deep malt base, plenty of hops but not particularly distinct, making this drink almost like a British ipa.
Light and slightly creamy mouthfeel. An edge of dry coffee and woody hops.
Rocky head. Fruit on the nose. Big hops in the mouth backed up by a solid malt. Extremely smooth mouthfeel.
Dark and smooth. Deep roast, but not harsh. In fact there’s a sweetness to it. Despite the high abv, there isn’t much alcohol on the palate. Exceptionally well put together.