Feb 27, 2014

Tasting: Brewdog Hardcore IPA Clone

This was the Hardcore IPA clone I brewed for Jason's birthday back on December 14. This tasting was on the 27th February. No photo because it was dark and I was lazy.

OG: 1.082
FG: 1.020
IBU: 86
ABV: 8.3%

Aroma: Pine, resin, sweet malt. Some floral aroma too. No alcohol detectable.
Appearance: Verging on red, very clear and with a nice sticky white head that lingers.
Flavour: Intense. Layers of malt and resin. Pine again and some passionfruit. Some husky malt happening at the end. The alcohol is very well hidden.
Mouthfeel: A little more full than the original, with a lowish-moderate carbonation. Assertive but not rough bitterness that lingers in the aftertaste.

This was my first attempt at cloning a beer and I guess it's moderately successful as a clone. It's not something that has interested me at all in the past but over the last couple of months I've turned around on that. It's a measure of where my brewing is at and a chance to learn from the recipe formulation of the pros.

The big difference between this one and the original Hardcore IPA is the extra sweetness and body that came from the lower than expected level of attenuation. I did everything right in terms of pitching rate and yeast management so my hunch is that I just need to alter the process a little and mash at a lower temp. Aside from that it seems pretty similar to how I remember the official version but with lots more hop aroma. I guess that's got to do with the suffering that a Brewdog goes through as it's shipped to the other side of the world. I think I've got one more bottle left so I'll try to track down a commercial one and see how they actually compare.

As a beer rather than a clone it's pretty good, definitely one of my better brews. It's very balanced and the resinous bitterness is very satisfying. There's plenty of malt from the Maris Otter and when it was fresh the hop aroma was climbing out of the glass. If I was going to brew my ideal IIPA I'd prefer a drier version but with a similar balance but this is very nice nonetheless.

At the request of Jason and Luke and so I can try to get it exact for my own satisfaction I've got two more shots at this one planned for later in the year. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can get it right.

Feb 25, 2014

#IHP2014 - St Stephen's Porter 1834

Bron stirring for me while it heats to
mash out
For the last four or five years Velky Al, aka the Homebrew Womble, has organised the International Homebrew Project. It's a great idea: a bunch of people around the world brew a historical recipe and then post their results. This year the beer was a Porter brewed in Norwich in 1834 by St Stephens Brewery. I think most people participating brewed on February 15 so I'm a little late on this one but I'm glad to participate this year rather than read along jealously as in previous years.

I love the idea of brewing historical recipes but I haven't actually gotten around to brewing the 20 or so recipes I've got. I tried the Barclay Perkins EI Porter last year but I got sick and someone tipped it out when we moved house. It was tasting delicious before that and I'm a bit sad that I never got to taste the finished product. Anyway, I want to brew these kinds of beers more often but I somehow never do so it's good to have something like this to bring me to it. I've also got a 1914 Courage Imperial Stout planned for later this year.

This porter uses the three basic malts that most 19th century porters seem to have used: pale, brown and black malt. It also uses lashings of Fuggles, up to 82 of your Earth IBUs which the balance value formula says will take this beer into Imperial IPA territory in terms of hop/malt balance despite the relatively high FG. I've gone for WY1028 as the yeast because that's what I had on hand. It's probably a higher attenuating yeast than is ideal (the original finished at 1.022) and I haven't used it before so I'm not sure what to expect but I'll ferment it at a fairly low temp so I imagine it won't be too expressive.

The brewing itself was nice and straight forward if a little longer than normal. But the smell! It's worth brewing for the aroma alone. During the mash it was a crazy mix of Milo, coffee and burnt toast and then opening the packet Fuggles to that floral and tobacco hop aroma was happiness. As I was chilling it there was an intense chocolate covered raisin and pipe tobacco thing going on. It was strange but nice. I kept coming back to it. It's totally different to anything I've brewed before. It's hard to reign in my excitement about this one!

My turban looking grain bag draining
after mash out
St Stephen's 1834 Porter (20L batch)
OG: 1.066 (1.065 measured)
FG: 1.018
IBU: 82
EBC: 79.5
ABV: 6.4%

72% Maris Otter
21% brown malt
7% black malt

60 IBU of Fuggles @ 120 min
22 IBU of Fuggles @ 30 min


  • Mashed @ 69C for 120 minutes with a 78C mash out
  • 4g CaSO4, 5g CaCl2 to increase the calcium but keep everything else pretty balanced

  • 120 minute boil
  • 120g Fuggles @ 120 minutes
  • 60g Fuggles @ 30 minutes
  • Whirlfloc @ 10 minutes

  • Oxygenated for 90 seconds
  • Pitched an estimated 280 billion cells
  • Fermenting at 17C until it's 80% complete, then increased to 20C to finish off

25/02/14 - Brewed

New Hobart home brew club

In the last week a bunch of us have taken the first steps towards starting a home brew club in Hobart. We're hoping to round up 20-30 people for the first meeting upstairs @ the New Sydney 7:30 for an 8pm start on March 19. If you're interested in meeting other home brewers, join us!

Feb 21, 2014

Brewday: Business Time Saison

I've brewed several saisons over the last couple of years and aside from this one, I've been more disappointed than pleased with how they turned out. Some of it has been bad luck, some of it bad decision making and some of it is that Fantôme and Dupont set an impossibly high standard for saisons. The feedback I got from my mate Nick G about the good one was that it was a nice saison but lacked an 'x factor'. I think he was spot on about that so this year I'm going to be brewing a few different versions of it to try and see whether I can find that x factor.

That's easier said than done. It's hard to know what will give it that hook that turns it from a nice beer to a truly compelling one. Will incremental changes be enough or does the whole recipe need a makeover? At the moment my incremental ideas are to increase the gravity, to try different hops or different yeast management. I'll also bottle several bottles of each with some different strains of brett as another potential x factor.

My first attempt is pretty simple, just brewing a higher gravity (1.050 compared to 1.040) version of the original. I would have kept everything else the same but since I harvested my hops a day before brewing I thought I'd use some fresh ones for the late hops.

WY3725 has become one of my favourite strains of yeast. It works quickly and at relatively high temperatures, gives a lovely lightly apricot and strawberry lolly and leaves a soft malt flavour. I pitched a very healthy dose of yeast and oxygenated for 60 seconds. Fermentation kicked off nice and quickly at 23C and after 36 hours I allowed it to rise to 25C and plan to increase it one degree each day after that until it is finished.

The actual brewing went nice and smoothly so there's not much to report on that front. I'm comfortable with how my process is working and the beer seems to be turning out well.

Check out the fresh hops and the not so
creative photography!
Business Time Saison (21L batch)
OG: 1.050 (measured)
FG: 1.005
IBU: 22
EBC: 6.3
ABV: 5.9%

82% Dingemans pilsner malt
11% Weyermann rye malt
7% Best Malz wheat malt

20g Aramis @ 60 min
100g fresh Hallertau @ 15 min
150g fresh Hallertau @ 0 min

Wyeast 3725

  • 3g CaSO4, 5g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 for a balanced water profile with calcium increased for yeast happiness
  • 4ml lactic acid for mash pH correction
  • Stepped mash: 62C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a mash out at 78C

  • 90 minute boil
  • 20g Aramis @ FWH
  • 100g Hallertau @ 15 minutes
  • 1/2 tab of Whirlfloc @ 10 minutes
  • 150g Hallertau @ 0 minutes
  • 10 minute steep post-boil

  • Oxygenated for 60 seconds
  • Pitched an estimated 210 billion cells
  • 23C increased to 30C over the week

15/02/14 - Brewed

22/02/14 - Bottled, ~2/3 straight and 1/3 with Brett II

Feb 16, 2014

Drying my home grown hops

Picking a few kilos of hops is awesome but it does mean that there's a bit of work to be done in a short time. Hops either need to be used very soon after picking or dried out for use at a later time. Short of having an oast or a makeshift fan and fly screen contraption, a food dehydrator set to low temperature is a good way to dry the crop. The only real drawback I found was that it doesn't have a large capacity so it took me 6 batches to get through the full harvest.

Loading up the dehydrator. It's probably a
bit overfull. 

I loaded up the dehydrator and set it to 35C and it took 6.5 hours to dry the first batch. The trays needed to be swapped after a few hours as the bottom layer dried quicker than the top. For later batches I turned the temperature up to 41C, filled the trays a little less and managed to get the time down to about 4 hours. I'd have preferred to keep it at 35C but I've read that commercial hop drying is carried out warmer than that and I had to return the dehydrator.

Weighing out the dried hops for bagging

As they dried the room was filled with the aroma of sweet perfume, pine and grass. It was incredible. My wife said the smell brought back childhood memories of Christmas with real pine trees.

It felt like I was bagging drugs

Light, heat and oxygen are the enemies of hops. So after drying I weighed them out into 60g lots and put them in vacuum sealed bags and then into the freezer. In theory I'll be able to use them months and months down the track and they'll be close to as good as they are today.

Ready for the freezer

All up I finished up with 640g of dried hops from 2.736kg of wet hops - way more than I'll be able to use this year given my plans.

Sticky lupulin goodness! It smells just
like the hops on the vine.

I'm thinking of doing a small boil and ferment in an erlenmeyer flask to get an idea of the level of bitterness they'll contribute. I can't measure the bitterness in a scientific way but even a taste should give me enough of an idea to plan future brews with it.

Feb 13, 2014

2014 Hop Harvest

I planted my Hallertau and Saaz rhizomes 2 1/2 years ago and since then they've been pretty well neglected. They're growing in my mate Jason's backyard, running along a reinforcing steel tunnel that used to be a hothouse frame. And even though I've neglected them, they've treated me very well. In their first year they didn't do much, last year we were pleasantly surprised to get 440g wet hops from them and today we harvested 2.98kg of wet hops from the Hallertau vine.

The Saaz has always lagged behind the Hallertau and its much smaller crop looks like it needs at least another month to mature.

The Hallertau flowers smell beautifully floral, perfume-like really. The plan is to use some wet hops in a Saison I've got planned for Saturday. The rest are being dried in a dehydrator and I'll vacuum seal them and keep them in the freezer until I'm ready to use them. I'm expecting to have 500-600g of dried hops.

Plump hop flowers ready for the picking!

Some of the flowers were pretty huge!

Jason getting a good whiff


Feb 12, 2014

Brewday: Sideshow Brett - 100% Brett Baby IPA

The low gravity (aka Baby) IPA-style beer is a beer I keep coming back to. Big hop aroma, nice bitter kick but very drinkable. I know some people think it's stupid to call it an IPA when pale ale is the category for a pale hoppy beer that's lighter than an IPA. Still, I think that when the balance of bitterness is on the side of the IPA, the IPA label is appropriate and even helpful. If a label like IPA has any meaning, it's to give people an idea of what to expect before they drink it.

I've brewed several of these over the years with some good results and they're always somewhere on my torturously long list of 'what I'd like to brew next'. I've also been aiming to brew some kind of Brett IPA since August but between competitions, events and a couple of seasonal brews, I haven't been able to get to it until now. So here we are, two birds, one stone.

The yeast I used is fairly exotic. Last year my brother posted me a jar of Brett II from Saccharolicious, a home brew yeast supplier in Sweden. I've been itching to try it out in a beer but haven't gotten past making a starter. The starter gave me heaps of strawberry aroma and I'm hoping that those esters make it into the finished beer. I'm flying blind with regard to temperature and the esters it will give in primary fermentation so we'll just have to see how it goes.

The recipe is pretty much what I've used before for a 'clean' Baby IPA except for a smallish addition of flaked oats to ensure the beer has a decent body. Vienna and biscuit malt are there to maximise the malt flavour which is important in helping a low gravity beer punch above its weight. I've used it in the past with good results. With the hop combination I'm shooting for a big fruity and floral punch with plenty of bitterness to back it. Hopefully the Brett will give an extra dimension to the hops.

The good stuff! Crackerjack biscuit malt.

I'm still fairly new at 100% brett fermentations but these seem to be the key differences between a 100% brett beer and a 'clean' Saccharomyces fermentation:
  • Add some extra lactic acid/acidulated malt after the mash conversion is complete to get more fruity esters from the Brett. The lactic acid is converted during fermentation to ethyl lactate which can add creamy and fruit aromas.
  • A brett fermentation can leave a thin mouthfeel. It's a good idea to mash a bit higher than normal and maybe add flaked oats/barley/rye for body.
  • It's a good idea to grow up a bigger starter than with saccharomyces. I aimed for a pitching rate of 1.25 million cells/ml/degree plato or around 245 billion cells total. Most people seem to suggest something between standard ale and lager pitching rates.
  • Keep oxygen out! Brett tends to produce acid/funk when it's got access to oxygen, the aroma of my starter was crazy. We're talking about the stinkiest washed rind cheese smell ever, it was crazy. The original unstirred starter was all strawberry, hopefully that's what I get from the beer.
  • Fermentation temperature is a bit of an unknown for me with this yeast but it seems to be higher than I'd normally ferment an IPA. The yeast didn't come with any documentation so I'm making a guess based on WLP644 Brett Trois which says 21-29C. I started conservatively at 19C but it was sluggish until I increased it to 21C.

Hop stew: post boil hop stand
Sideshow Brett Baby IPA (22L batch)
OG: 1.035 (1.037 measured)
FG: 1.007
IBU: 35
EBC: 8.3
ABV: 3.9%

88% Golden Promise
7% NFH Crackerjack (biscuit malt)
5% Flaked oats

5g Columbus @ 45 minutes
20g Simcoe @ 10 minutes
20g Galaxy @ 10 minutes
20g Centennial @ 10 minutes
30g Simcoe @ dry hop
30g Galaxy @ dry hop
30g Centennial @ dry hop

Brett II from Saccharolicious

  • 8g CaSO4, 2g CaCl2, 3g MgSO4 to increase the calcium and sulfate. 3ml lactic acid added during mash out to encourage the production of ethyl lactate.
  • Stepped mash: 66C (45 min), 72C (15 min) and a mash out at 78C.

  • 60 minute boil with hop additions as above at 45 and 10 minutes.
  • Irish moss @ 15 minutes.

  • Chilled but didn't oxygenate this time. 
  • Started fermentation at 20C, increased to 22C over 7 days.

31/01/14 - Brewed with help from Sacha

12/02/14 - Krausen has mostly dropped, I'll take a gravity reading in the next day or two and hopefully dry hop & bottle within the week.

22/02/14 - Finally got around to dry hopping

Feb 7, 2014

Tasting notes: Morrison English Bitter

In light of The Local Taphouse's Hottest 100 Australian Craft Beers of 2013 in which Tasmania failed to place a single beer, I'm working my way through the range of available Tasmanian beers. There are 7 microbreweries in the state and I'd like to survey the scene systematically and get a proper sense of what the state has to offer.

First cab off the rank:

Morrisons English Bitter
4.2% ABV

Aroma: In a word: delightful. Orange, mandarin and marmalade mix nicely with the malt, the calling card of Styrian Goldings. It's also giving fruity esters that reminds me of when I've used the Wyeast 1968 strain. Could be wrong about both of course but not about it being delightful.
Appearance: Hazy orange with a thin head that reduces to a few wisps before long but leaves something behind most of the way down the glass.
Flavour: Lovely malt, it reminds me of the Golden Promise I've been using lots over the last year. There's a little crystal there too and the hops finish what they began in the aroma. Orange peel, mandarin and juicy citrus.
Mouthfeel: Carbonation on the lower side of medium. Low/medium body.

I first tried this beer sometime in 2012 and since then it's been one of my favourite Tasmanian beers so I'm not coming into this one with anything like neutrality. I'm very glad that it's just as good as I remember.

The success of this beer is in it's drinkability. The hops? Perfect. The yeast? Just the right level of esters and attenuation. The malt? The ideal canvas for this painting. It works so well as a whole. And while it doesn't really offer anything new or different, it is a damn good bitter. I could happily work my way through a carton of this which is pretty good considering that I love variety and wouldn't buy a 6 pack of most beers.

In fact, the only knock on this beer has nothing to do with any problems that the beer itself has. It's just that it's the best of a limited bunch. It's traditional and safe. It's extremely good but it's not doing more than that. It's not challenging anyone. There's always a place for very good beer and not all beer needs to be challenging or bold, but I want something more. A contender for the best beer in the state shouldn't just be very good. I want the best one to be interesting, creative, have some kind of x factor. It might be unfair to criticise it for not being something else but it exists in a context and in this context I want something more.

Actually, what I really want right now is some sourdough, pickled onions and a sharp and crumbly cheese to eat along with pints of this beer. I am a ploughman.

Feb 4, 2014

Lazy craft beer marketing

I love craft beer (whatever 'craft' means exactly) and I respect many of those involved in its production. The problem is that there is a mountain of marketing gibberish to deal with before you even get to the beer itself. I understand that marketing isn't going to go away but there has to be a way to communicate with consumers that doesn't treat us like we're too stupid to be taught. And the crazy thing is that educating consumers is the business that craft brewers need to be in if they want to keep growing and selling their beer.

So at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, here is my list of the best worst craft beer marketing nonsense I come across regularly.

1. 'We use only the finest ingredients'/'finest natural ingredients'

'Natural' malt, finest quality of course.

Really? Do you forage for them and pick out the individual grains and hops? No. You buy them from the same suppliers as everyone else. These days most malt and hops are high quality, packed and stored well. It's not that this kind of statement is necessarily wrong, it's just meaningless because everyone is in the same boat. Adding natural to the phrase and you just create a more dense ball of meaninglessness. The malting process is not natural, hop pellets don't occur in nature.

2. 'Our beer is handcrafted'

Beer is not a piece of wood or marble to sculpt. It's made in an industrial process. And if a human is pulling levers and connecting hoses rather than pressing the buttons to run an automated system, does that make the beer intrinsically better? And if it really does give it a level of authenticity that outweighs any losses in consistency, then shouldn't you brew using a completely manual process? Give up on electricity, thermometers, gravity readings and all of that stuff. Brew like Boegedal or Ramūnas Čižas. If you just mean 'we worked hard to create a great tasting beer', then say that.

3. Anything about water

Beer brewed with this water would be way better than beer
brewed with what comes out of the tap. Of course.

Please don't tell me anything about your source of water. You brew beer, there's water in it. That's a safe assumption. In this day and age it should be at least decent wherever you are. And with RO and other purification and modification techniques employed by breweries, talk about pure spring water is just silly. It comes from a tap, not a stream, and has gone through a treatment plant before it ever made it to your brewery and went through whatever further treatments you make to it.

4. Co-opting history unconnected to your brewery to sell your beer

Australian breweries seem to be in love with this. I realise that stories are important in helping people connect with the brewery but it's so tired. Pick some obscure historical figure or location, massage the story to make them your theme, tie in your roster of beers in some tenuous way. Doesn't do anything for the beer, it's just a story to suck people in.

5. Emphasising the setting of a production brewery

Brewing equipment on a farm works way better
than elsewhere. It can feel the authenticity.

Does it really make any difference if your beer is brewed in a shed on a farm or in a shed on an industrial estate? A farm is more romantic and perhaps a nice place to drink but if the beer is being consumed off-site, it's not at all relevant. If you want people to connect to your brewery, give them a sense of your attitude, character or philosophy. The place you brew can be part of that but it's not even close to being sufficient.

6. Anything that invokes the Reinheitsgebot

Step back craft brewers, better save all that rye and wheat
for the bakers. Your beer will taste better this way.

Really? An obscure German law designed to free up wheat and rye for bakers and keep bread prices under control means your beer is better than one that uses other adjuncts? That's some solid thinking right there. Anyone who equates craft beer with this law really doesn't understand what's been happening in the beer world over the last 45 years.

7. Stunts & weird ingredients

I'm sure this is what the keg raft looked like

You're so wacky and crazy! You made a raft out of your beer kegs and sailed it to India to recreate the journey of the original IPAs or you made a beer using some native herb instead of hops. I'm all for innovation but the wacky thing is pretty tiring and limited and feels like a smokescreen hiding the absence of any real philosophy or personality. It's similar when it comes to using unusual ingredients, it's fine if it adds something but often it seems like a gimmick. Either way, it has a very limited shelf life.

8. Describing your brewery as traditional

Maybe what they mean by traditional is that they
wear traditional clothes while brewing?

Another meaningless description. In what sense is it traditional? Did you get your recipes from a historical source? Are you brewing a traditional style? Are you using historical methods? Stainless fermenters aren't traditional and most beer styles are 'traditional' in that they've been around for 100+ years.

I'm guessing that marketing without all this nonsense is a bit harder to pull off. At the very least it'll take a bit more thinking than the normal stuff. I don't think it's too much to ask for to have marketing that educates and communicates love for the product rather than gibberish and weak narratives.

Russian River's Pliny the Elder has messages around the edge of the label telling consumers to drink it fresh. The Stone Enjoy By IPAs communicate a similar message in a different way. Hop aromas fade quickly and IPAs shouldn't be aged. That's useful information and not widely enough known and they're great ways to communicate it. It doesn't have to be strictly informational but it should communicate passion, care and thought. Actually, I think that's why I don't like puns in beer names (because they're usually lazy and don't communicate an attention to detail) but that's a whole other thing.

There are some really good breweries that avoid most of these marketing moves and do a good job of expressing who they are and what they're really doing. If craft beer is going to grow and gain more market share, it needs more breweries like that. It's best bet is to educate people and teach them to expect certain qualities from the beer they drink. The more meaningless drivel that's part of the conversation, the more obscure the important details become and the less people care about it. Craft beer can only thrive when consumers are interested, educated and know what they're dealing with.

Feb 3, 2014

Brewday: Pink Pony Bitter

When we lived in Sydney we had a tradition of gathering at my place on Friday afternoons with a bunch of the guys I was studying with. We'd sit around, have a few beers and debrief. It became the highlight of every week. Our terrace house was a pretty ugly shade of pink and for those Fridays it got the name 'The Pink Pony', a play on the White Horse Tavern. We are such nerds. Those Fridays were very special times for me. This beer is called Pink Pony in honour of those Fridays. I imagine spending hours with those guys, drinking it and talking and laughing.

This recipe is a product of my restless internet wandering. I've come across a few bitters brewed more or less traditionally but with New Zealand or American hops. I don't know if that's a trend in the UK or if it's just a few beers but I thought it sounded fun. As I was trying to figure out what to brew next with the ingredients I had on hand, I realised that something in this vein would be a good option.

The starting point for my recipe was Velky Al's Session 42. He's treated me right so far so his recipe seemed like a good launch pad. I decided go with Golden Promise as the base malt, to reduce the Victory a bit and add a few grams of roasted barley for some extra colour. So actually the recipes are reasonably different but they do share Victory malt. There was some Motueka in the freezer that I've been keen to try for a while so that became the unorthodox hop addition. I also added some left over Styrian Goldings @ 60 min to get the bitterness up to where it needed to be. Back in September I bought some WY1469 more because it's one of my favourite strains of yeast than because I had a plan for it. I haven't used it in a bitter yet so I'm interested to see how that turns out. Hopefully it's a good combination of ingredients.

Pink Pony Bitter (22L batch)
Exciting action shot: cleaning my BIAB
OG: 1.042 (1.044 measured)
FG: 1.012
IBU: 35
EBC: 16.3
ABV: 4%

91.5% Golden Promise
8% Victory malt
0.5% Roasted barley

24g Styrian Goldings @ 60 min
20g Motueka @ 60 min
35g Motueka @ 15 min
35g Motueka @ 0 min



  • 10g CaSO4, 2g CaCl2, 2g MgSO4 to increase the calcium and sulfate levels and 2ml lactic acid for pH correction.
  • Stepped mash of 64C (45 minutes), 72C (15 minutes) and a mash out at 78C.


  • 60 minute boil with hop additions at 60, 15 and 0 minutes.
  • Irish moss @ 15 minutes


  • Chilled and gave a 60 second blast of O2.
  • Pitched an estimated 190 billion cells of WY1469.
  • Began fermentation at 18C and increased to 21C over 4 days.

24/01/14 - Brewed

10/02/14 - Bottled
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