18 August 2019
Sometimes an experiment seems to appear out of nowhere. In this case, I was planning to make a shaken not stirred yeast vitality starter to make sure the yeast I’d carried around for ten days in Europe’s heatwave was still viable (it wasn’t). As such I had in hand some malt extract, and the impetus struck to make up an extra gallon of wort beyond the litre I needed and play a little.
Now one of the beers which made some impact on me during that Eurpoean trip was a gose I drank in Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam, a limited 2019 release of this beer. It was a light, subtle, sparkling draught with a slight acididity and a moreish saltiness. Just perfect after a walk around town on a sunny afternoon. And so I’d been thinking about the style a bit, and about brewing one - and I’d been reading up on kettle-souring as a result.
Lacking a pure lactobacillus culture, but being a regular sourdough baker, my mind had been turning over the idea of using sourdough culture for the souring. I’d just refreshed my starter after the trip and it was bubbling away on the counter. There was the spark. I figured I could use this as a trial run towards that sourdough kettle sour.
I drew off the liter I needed for the vitality starter and got that going. And then I brought the extra gallon of wort to the boil, dropping in 10g of Hallertau Tradition to give this somewhere around 20-25 IBUs of bitterness. When the boil finished, I realised I’d ended up with too little wort (and the gravity was 1.067) - maybe this was boil-off, but more likely a screw-up in measuring something. Anyway, topping up with water gave me my gallon of wort at 1.040. Just what the doctor ordered.
The next decision was pitching temperature. I settled on pitching at around 30C and letting it ferment at room temperature. That would allow the lactobacillus to get to work - though it could also lead to off-flavours from the saccharomyces. Still, that was the plan. After cooling as best I could in the sink (I didn’t have any ice), I finished off the temperature drop in the freezer, and pitched approximately 4 tablespoons of ripe liquid sourdhough about an hour later.
I left the brew in my basement which is currently around 25-30C. The next morning it was bubbling away, and there was a good krausen by afternoon (less than 24 hours after brewing). The real test, of course, is a week or so from now.
31 March 2019
I can hardly believe that these lovely looking bottles have been chilling in my fridge, untouched, since delivery three weeks ago. But I know which one I’m going to start with, now the time has come, as I intend to drink them in their natural order.
Pours a mid-golden colour with a good head. Tropical and piney notes hit the nose as soon as it is in the glass, with just a hint of something catty in the background. Substantial, malty body, with a medium finish, and the hops linger in the mouth and nose well after the beer has gone down, giving citrus and grapefruit with a slightly dank edge. A solid and very quaffable pale, with a decent bitterness and good hop presence.
The Be Craft Beer project was delivered as something of a new year’s gift in a video posted to YouTube in early January by P’Chit, Thailand’s most prominent craft beer agitator. Under the project, selected Thai brewers each design a beer which is then pre-sold via the Be Craft Beer website. Once sales targets are reached the beers are brewed at Stone Head’s brewery in Koh Kong, Cambodia, and sent directly to customers after packaging.
Each brewer and beer was introduced in a series of short videos released over the couple of weeks following the project announcement. Needless to say, as soon as the sales website was launched I put in my order for four bottles of each the six beers. This wasn’t a hard sale to make, if I’m honest - but the videos introducing the project were exceptionally well made, and did a great job of presenting the beers in a thoughtful, informative, but approachable way.
Slightly hazy, light gold pour with a small head which lasts well. On the nose I'm getting green fruits, gooseberrys and acidic notes. Crisp, yet malty body, with a very dry finish and just a hint of bitterness, backing up delicate hop aromas of tropical fruits and wet grass.
As promised, my box of beer arrived early March, and I chilled half of it immediately, waiting for an opportunity to dig in. My criteria for indulgence were simple: I wanted to sample all six beers in one session, and I wanted to do it on a fresh palate. Hence the delay between reception and consumption. And so we arrive at the last day of March, a Sunday afternoon (hiding, as best one can, from the Chiang Mai smog - I feel the pollution affects my palate and ability to taste, just as much as my health and ability to feel happily human).
Hazy orange pour, with sweet, tropical fragrances bursting out of the glass. Soft and light in the mouth to begin with, but that initial impression soon gives way to an explosion of fruitiness with a dank undertone in the finish. This whole flavour experience happens towards the front of the palate, leaving merely a faint juicy memory after the swallow, encouraging another. Especially easy to sup, despite the highish ABV.
And so, mid-way through the tasting, I can say that things are going well. I’m loving these beers - and that’s a relief. For anyone unfamiliar with the Thai craft beer scene, it is essentially impossible to open a micro/craft brewery here due to brewing laws maneouvered into place by the macro-brew oligopoly. Despite that, Thai craft brewing has been thriving in recent years - partly underground, but largely through the practice of Thai brewers brewing abroad at contract breweries and importing the product.
Mid-coloured, almost clear pour with a small head. Caramel and light tropical fruits on the nose. In the mouth, this is mainly about malt - a weighty, malty body with a significant caramel sweetness accompanied by understated hopping offering pine and slightly floral tones. A sturdy, filling ale, subtle in its bitterness and hoppiness, a little old-school, and that's not a bad thing.
Contract brewing has its limitations, though, in terms of control over the details. And many of the packaged Thai craft beers now available have flaws which are more reflective of processes, procedures or equipment limitations at the contract breweries than the brewers themselves. In contrast, the beers I’m currently tasting are all produced at Stone Head’s brewery - which, while it is not actually in Thailand, is Thai owned and run. And, literally, just across the border.
Thick with a firm tan head. Plenty of roast and chocolate on the nose. Mouthfeel is quite slick and there's a medium amount of body for the style. The flavour is bitter chocolate and coffee, with some roasty sourness coming through. On the outbreath, I'm getting roast barley. A medium finish, avoiding any cloying sweetness, though it does leave its lactic slickness in the mouth - and down the side of the glass.
I’m enthusiastic about this project as it works on several levels. It raises awareness of craft beer locally (and, almost passive-agressively, awareness of the legal absurdities of brewing here - all the bottles have “Made in Cambodia” on the label). It provides what could become a workable interim model for Thai craft brewing (between out-of-country contract and in-country, brewer-owned brewing). And it opens access to Thai craft beer at a lower price point than is currently normal (without the markup that inevitably comes from contract brewing).
Hazy, mid-brown with a solid white head. Chocolatey nose, full aroma like a brownie. Rich and luxurious in the mouth, still putting me in mind of that brownie, but now with vanilla ice-cream too. Then, subtly, slowly, the roast asserts itself - this beer is big and dessert-like, but ultimately not sweet. The finish is burnt, bitter and adult. Not overly boozy, but complex and deep. A late-night beer.
I have enjoyed every one of these beers. They are well brewed, well packaged, and each expresses or plays off its style with confidence. I believe they’d stand their ground in any market or competition in the world. They are testament to how far Thai brewing has come both in terms of technical mastery and creativity within (and without) the established boundaries of beer styles.
It was reassuring to see how quickly sales numbers ramped up once Be Craft Beer opened up their ordering system. And it is even more reassuring to see that the project seems to be growing (partners have recently been added, to increase retail distribution for future brews). But then it’s also not surprising - the demand for craft beer is very strong here. My hope remains that a project like this ultimateley plays a part in raising home/nano/micro-brewing to the national agenda. At some point, even the establishment has to realise just how absurd - and costly - those “Made in Cambodia” labels are.
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…