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18 March

Christmas 2010 Kits Review

I know we are approaching the cusp of Spring but I have not been posting for a while and thought it was time to write-up my Christmas Kit reviews.  I actually still have some left in the cellar but most is gone and we have more than enough experience with them to provide the feedback.

As regular readers know I am a fan of Northern Brewer and the kits they regularly produce. They are continually innovating, I fully intend to order something from their new “Pro-Series” in the near future.

With my parents coming for Christmas and staying over 2 weeks I knew I would have to stock up on the ale and started planning back in October 2010, brewing every weekend for over a month.  Here was the final list of Christmas brews.

  1. #8: Belgian Strong Dark ale brewed with Wyeast Belgian Abbey Ale II. A fine example of a dark ale brewed in the Trappist fashion.  I still have half a case left as I wanted to experience first hand the effects of aging.  The brew came out of the fermenter very clear, a lush rich burnt brown colour.  After 1 month of aging the palate was a little sweet but after nearly 5 months aging tastes of dark chocolate and caramel are coming out offset with the spice of the Abbey Ale yeast.  Defintely not a session brew but a good drop nonetheless but drink sparingly the ABV is high, mine came in at over 9.5%.
  2. British Imperial Mild: Part of the Northern Brewer Limited Edition Series for Q4 2010 the Imperial Mild is a play on old British Mild recipes where a mild designation meant “not sour, stale or aged”.  The choice of Wyeast Ringwood Ale yeast delivered the fruity esters to an otherwise smooth classic pint.  It was probably my favorite of the list though did not age that well. The first month delivered a level of estery fruit tartness that recalled Apple Jolly Ranchers, which worked really well. 2 months was the peak for this beer, a well rounded malt/hop ale with the earthy fuggle hop balancing nicely with the Dark Crystal Malt.
  3. Dundalk Irish Heavy: A clone of a classic Irish Ale and another NB Q4 Limited Edition brew, no longer linked to on the NB site.  This kit was probably my least favorite. The Wyeast British Cask ale (a past limited edition yeast from Wyeast) provides a nice dry crisp flavour with the speciality grains giving the deep red brown colour and copper penny brown flavour. The ale was not overly hopped and appeared a little off balance.  The kit peaked at 2 months in the bottle.  Not a bad drop and we finished the whole batch but not something I will look to repeat.
  4. Brakspears Best Bitter: This was the Christmas keg session brew and a recipe we have made before. Originally a limited edition from NB based on the Wyeast limited edition Thames Valley II yeast sourced from the defunct Brakspears Brewery in Henley on Thames and now brewed under license by Marstons.  I took the recipe and made some changes to create the final recipe. I replaced the yeast with Wyeast Thames Valley and the result was a crystal clear accurate replica of the original Henley brew, my dads favorite beer.  It is hard to believe this ale is under 4.0% ABV. The recipe produces a clean, crisp with surprisingly complex malt and hop flavour for such a low ABV. Serves well from the keg and was finished during Christmas week 🙂

The Brakspears and Imperial Mild were the clear winners this Christmas. We are still enjoying the #8 especially as the flavour profile continues to develop.  We were all a little tired of the heavy ales by the end of the season which probably accounts for the IPAs and session keg brews I have done since.  I also worked on a lighter seasonal brew, the Samuel Smiths Winter Welcome which came out a winner and we will review in the next post.



18 April

Recipe Update: Old Speckled Hen (10/10)

Old Speckled HenWe really are on a run here.  I have had numerous comments and emails on this blog and Hopville asking for feedback on my Old Speckled Hen clone.  Well I am happy to report we nailed it.  There is really nothing I would change.  It has become a very popular ale in my house and I really wish I had brewed the whole 5 gallons and not limited myself to a 2.5 gallon test batch.

First lets get a reminder of what we were shooting for, from the Almanac:

Nose: Superb Goldings hop aroma
Palate: Full hops and fruit in mouth, long dry finish with hops and delicate fruit notes
Comments: Rich coloured and fruit flavoured strong ale with generous hop support.

I did a side by side taste test with the wife and the malty flavours really come through all mixed up with the fruit and a tinge of bitterness. We drank the ales with a salty baguette with mustard and ham. The commercial version left a lingering aftertaste in the mouth which the clone did not and the mouthfeel of the clone was a little lighter than than the real-thing. My wife actually preferred the clone because there was no aftertaste. We used canned Speckled Hen Draught and I think the BeerGas insert in the can gave the brew a thicker mouthfeel than the bottled.  This clone would make a solid keg ale, especially with BeerGas. Next time 🙂

Here are the photo’s. We went into this exercise with SRM as a variable we did not have any definitive guidance outside of “Amber”.  As the photo’s demonstrate the colour appears to be a match, as is the brightness.

Old Speckled Hen (original canned version)

Speckled Hen Original (Canned Version)

Speckled Hen Clone

Speckled Hen Clone

The recipe we crafted was shooting for an OG of 1050 (mandated by the ales history) and a final ABV of 5.2%. The recipe was perfect and came in at 1050. The Wyeast Thames Valley was very active. The stated max attenuation was 77% which would have given us a final ABV of the 5.2% we were shooting for but the yeast was a little overactive and had an observed attenuation of 82% making a final ABV of 5.6%. It did not detract from the flavour in any way.

So this brew is being promoted to the recipes page along with the Theakston OP.  With my Left Over Ale coming out of the primary tasting good and the soon to be brewed Nut Brown Ale wrapping up the series I am confident we will have at least one more winner out of this group.

10 April

Recipe Update – Theakston old Peculier (10/10)

With the sad passing of my DoA Shakespeare stout clone I decided to crack open an early sample of my Theakston Old Peculier clone, the first of the Old Ales series started back in the beginning of February. Well its been at least 2 months so it must be worth a try.  Old Peculier truly is a classic with its rich, almost porter like quality with heavy molasses and bitter sweet fruit.

What a way to begin a series. The English Pales series started late in 2009, got off to a slow start, finishing strong with a great Flowers Original clone and a Fullers London Pride to die for.  In the case of the Old Ales I seem to have struck gold early. I must admit to being a little worried about this brew. The recipe had a lot of ingredients, some of which I had never worked with before including black molasses and Lyles Golden Syrup. The speciality grains also packed a punch with Chocolate, Black, Crystal and Torrified Wheat all included.

The biggest concern was the use of Trappist Ale, a real leap for this recipe. We were looking for a high attenuating, high fruit yeast, a characteristic that is hard to find. With some inspiration from the Pretty Things Old Ale, inspired by Theakston Old Pecuilier amongst others, and their use of German and Belgian strains we were lead to the Belgian ale strains.  The Trappist Ale yeast worked, I am now convinced Old Peculier uses Belgian yeast as the final flavor characteristics in this clone are on the money with the original.

First the colour and head.  Head is thick, rich and a caramel colour similar to the original. Colour is as close a dark Old Ale can get.  It is almost indistinguishable from the original. The mouthfeel is that of a big Ale. Smooth at the front, hitting you hard at the back. Watch out cause this ale packs a punch.

So what about the taste, something a little difficult to demonstrate on a blog.  It is close, which is why I gave the brew a 9/10.  As a reminder the The Real Ale Almanac presents the following as the flavour profile we are trying to recreate:

Dark and vinous old ale bursting with complex fruit flavours. Massive winey bouquet of rich fruit with peppery hop notes.  Toffee and roast malt in the mouth, deep bitter-sweet finish with delicate hops

The taste definitely lives up to the billing. All of the above is in this clone, its hard to explain how complex this ale is. The hop load is lite considering the amount of malt and the final alcohol content but the peppery Fuggles come through perfectly.  The toffee and roasted malt hit the front of the palate but give way to heavy fruit at the end laced with the peppery hops. Quite delicious.

Despite my initial concerns around the ingredients the ale was easy to brew. The White Labs Trappist Ale yeast (#WLP500, Attenuation 75-80%, Flocculation: Medium-low) worked as advertised, the ale went into the primary with an OG of 1064, was in the secondary for 3 weeks and in the bottle for 4 weeks with the FG coming in at 1012 producing a whopping 7% ABV (the original 5.6% so a little upgrade here but not something I am complaining about).

This recipe is going to be posted on the permanent recipe page, the first of Old Ales to get there. 1-1 is not a bad start. In a week or so we will get to try the Speckled Hen, another popular brew. There are many eyes on the outcome of this batch and I hope it lives up to expectation. 🙂

17 March

Recipe Update – Fullers London Pride clone (9/10)

Fullers London PrideWell they say good things come to those who wait and so it has come to pass with this the final clone of the English Pale series, the Fuller London Pride, started at the end of January of 2010 and opened yesterday to much fanfare.  This clone really does have a high standard to reach. Not only is it a very tasty and popular commercial brew but it is also one that is relatively easy to come by in the USA.  So in order to really put this clone to the test I went out and acquired a bottle of the real stuff in order to perform a side by side taste test.  The results were revealing.

The side by side test

The ‘real’ Fullers London Pride

The BritishBrewer Fullers London Pride Clone

First the colour and head.  I have included pictures as evidence, taken at the same time in the same light on the same camera to ensure accuracy.  As the picture demonstrate the brew color is on the money though not as bright due to lack of filtration. The head is slightly off but the clone is bottle conditioned and the commercial bottle is force carbonated. The mouthfeel is identical which I can attribute to the Burtonization of the water.

So what about the taste, something a little difficult to demonstrate on a blog or with a camera.  It is close, which is why I gave the brew a 9/10.  As a reminder the The Real Ale Almanac described the beer as an:

Astonishingly complex beer for its gravity, a marvelous melange of malt, hops and fruit.

and the Brew Your Own British Real Ale” as a:

…fine for drinking on its own or with full flavoured food. A multi-layered delight of malt and hops and a deep intense finish with hop and ripening fruit notes.

The taste definitely lives up to the billing. This beer has a very simple malt bill and its the balance of hops that makes the beer dance on your tongue and it is the hops that I am going to alter to make this ale a 10.  I have been using the Tinseth formula up till now and the one small issue I have with all my English Pale clones has been the strong hop character of the ale.  This is partly a benefit of homebrew as the ales are fresh, bottle conditioned, unfiltered and unpasteurized, so who really knows what a commercial pint of Fuller Pride sampled directly out of the barrel really tastes like.  But I am going to experiment using the Rager formula, which promotes less hops per IBU and I have made the necessary adjustments for the London Pride clone promoted to the permanent English Pales recipe page.

The ale was easy to brew. The White Labs Fullers yeast (#WLP002, Attenuation 63-70%, Flocculation: Very High) worked as advertised, the ale was in the secondary for a week and in the bottle for 4 weeks.  I cannot express how happy this ale makes me, and not just the alcohol, its a true taste of South West London, my home and a place of many memories from rowing past the Fullers brewery to drinking in many a Fullers Pub.

So please enjoy and try your own version.  This wraps up the English Pale series. The next time we brew the Pales it will be to perfect some of the recipes that fell short the first time around. Its been an experience, I have definitely got more comfortable with the ingredients and this probably attributes to why the ratings have improved from one recipe to the next.  Here is the final breakdown:

This is truly a great line up of Ales with a magnificent history, so please brew a couple and pass along your feedback. None of these recipes made 10/10 so we have 1 point to make up.  Next up will be the first review in the Old and Browns series, the Theakston Old Peculier, but given the aging requirements for this ale it won’t be for a while.

Happy St Paddy’s Day to one and all.

25 February

Recipe Update – Flowers Original Ale 9/10

Flowers Original AleFinally the time has arrived to review the Flower Original Ale clone recipe, the penultimate brew in our English Pale Ale series.  Well the title says it all, its a winner and the first recipe to be promoted to my permanent recipes page.  It really is a pleasure to drink.  It has a light mouthfeel, going down easy as a good session beer should. The flavour is packed with fruit, its fresh with a balanced malt/hop flavour profile with the Target and Goldings hop really coming in on the front and a sweetness from the Crystal coming in the back.  The tasting notes call from a “hop edge and a dry finish”, this recipe delivers.

The brew process went well.  The OG came in at 1042, exactly on the money with the recipe, the colour came out exactly as planned though to be honest I am comparing with memory (unreliable given the amount of this stuff I drank in my youth) and some pictures I found on Google images.  The fermentation process went well with the recipe calculator calling for a 1009 FG which is exactly the measurement on the hydrometer out of the primary.  Aroma seemed close to.  I was indeed hopeful but I have been hopeful before and walked away disappointed.  I bottled the beer after 1 week in the secondary using Cooper Carb drops for priming.  Following my own tip to leave ales primed with Coopers for 4 weeks I waited one whole month before sampling the final brew.  So here we are, our first beer to get promoted to the permanent recipe page, and the first of the BJCP English Pale Ale series. 🙂

So my record in the English Pale Ale recipe section has picked up a bit in recent weeks.  Here is the current roundup with 1 recipe to go:

I have the Fullers London Pride clone conditioning and showing promise. So maybe I can get 2 of my English Pale Ale classification recipes to reach my self imposed 8/10 grade required to be promoted to my permanent recipes page.  Getting to this page ensures its a recipe I have faith in and something I would recommend to other people to brew. I will continue to refine the other recipes that did not make the grade with the goal of getting all of them over 8/10 and therefore enjoyable by all.

I welcome everyone to go ahead and brew this recipe and enjoy a near reproduction of a British classic. Send along your comments, brew notes and suggestions, we still have one 1 point to gain for a 10/10 after all.  Give one to a Bud Lite drinker, it will make them cry, InBev can go……… nite nite

20 February

My Favorite Extract Kits

Northern Brewer For those that are regular readers you know that in between my British ale brewing I brew a bunch of kits from Northern Brewer (NB).  The quality of the brews is high and every few months they introduce something new.  I especially enjoy the beginning of every new quarter when Wyeast and White Labs put out a special limited edition selection of yeasts and NB crafts a special recipe to showcase the yeast.  This quarter NB put out a Rogue Dead Guy Ale clone and Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout clone to complement the Wyeast Special Edition release of PacMan yeast, the proprietary strain from Rogue Breweries

I have brewed quite a few of these kits over the last 12 months, some more than once and a couple one too many, so I thought I would provide my own little guide to the kits I have drunk and some little tips I have picked up along the way.

1) Quality – Almost all the pre-prepared recipe kits I have brewed have been of the highest quality. The ingredients are fresh and pre-packed to the right quantities.  Grains are crushed and hops are sealed and fresh. If brewed correctly the quality of the finished brew is also of the highest order with some exceptions.  I thoroughly recommend the clones such as the Broken Spear Bitter (Brakespear Best) or the Grateful Dead Guy (Rogue Dead Guy Ale).  I have done side by side comparison with the commercial version and the clone and they are so close, helped of course by the fact that the yeast strains hail from both version are the same.

Here are my top 3 quality favorites:

#1 New Old Ale – winner of my 2009 brew of the year. This ale matures well with age, strong fruit with a rum quality on the back with a balanced hop flavour make this strong old very approachable.  Many friends who are not ale drinkers have been converted after drinking this ale because it is so well balanced with a distinctive flavour.  Leave this brew in the bottle for at least 2 months before drinking,

#2 Sinistral Warrior IPA – this brew is currently in my 2010 favorites list.  A killer American Style IPA with a high IBU count.  But give this brew 2 months in the bottle and watch as the ale begins to mellow slightly whilst retaining the hop driven peppery spice leaving a really smooth IPA. It goes down way too easily for its alcohol content, so be careful.

#3 Peat Smoked Porter – an American style porter that goes down smooth like desert.  It has a full mouthfeel and delivers a balanced hop malt character.  The kicker with this stout is the inclusion of peat smoked malt giving an almost bourbon note to the drink.  This ale will fill you up, its not a session drink and is great as an end of the evening brew.  Needs at least 1 month in the bottle.

2) Degree of Difficulty – NB extract kits are not hard to brew, if you can cook oatmeal you can brew these kits.  The OG’s tend to be conservative but SRM and IBU calculations to my eyes and taste are typically on the money.  There are some exceptions.

#1 Lord Fatbottom Ale – a very viscus Barleywine. The kit ships with a monster 14 lbs of extract and its nearly impossible to avoid the hot break boiling over.  I recommend using a 10G boiler for this brew.  Many people who have brewed this ale have reported the need to kick start the primary fermentation with champagne yeast as the ABV climbs over 10%, most yeasts pack up and go home with ABV’s over 10.  Its a tough one to brew, I have and its is a decadent, thick hop bursting delight.  I have one in the carboy conditioning away at a happy 13% ABV.  Needs almost a year to finish. I recommend at least 1 month in the primary, 6 months in secondary. But come prepared.

3) Ones to avoid – not everything or everyone is perfect and NB kits are no exception.  We all have times when our brews have gone wrong due to matters well within our control, wrong ingredients, poor sterilization, temperature etc.  But sometimes there is nothing we can do, the ale just isn’t that good.  Here are my least favorites from NB

#1 Cream Ale – just don’t try it, it’s bland, has poor head retention with nothing distinctive whatsoever.  The brew process was accurate, OG, FG, color and IBU perfect. It just doesn’t taste of anything.

#2 Irish Draught Ale – this was a big disappointment but the wife liked it.  None of the nutty character claimed by the kit was present, it was a little too dry and left an after taste not too my liking, the late clover honey addition appeared to have no effect. I had high hopes for this brew based in the reviews but I will not be brewing this one again.  Again the brew process was perfect, the taste just wasn’t there

So that’s my list for now.  I have the two Rogue clones on the go right now and I cracked a sample of the Dead Guy Ale clone and had a bottle of the real thing immediately after.  The results are almost identical.  This brew will definitely be making my favorites list this year. If you have a favorite kit drop me a line or post a comment, would love to get some recommendations.

30 January

Wadworth 6X recipe review (4/10)!!!!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, I was right, my worst fears concerning the use of oak chips in any quantity have been realized.  Big lesson, trust your instincts, that little voice raging inside your head telling you not to add oak chips, it is not required, especially since the beer was doing so well in the primary and came out near perfect without the help of any adjuncts.

Well I didn’t listen, the ale has strong oak notes and a sweetness similar to a chardonay, its not bad to drink it is not a Wadworth though.  Ah well that is why I brew these experimental brews in small batches, its not a big loss and I have tons of other brews in the cellar right now.

So why did I give the ale a 4/10, well the recipe without the oak appeared to be very close. The OG and FG were perfect as was the colour and aroma.  The flavour out of the fermenter showed great promise.  I will brew this again as an experimental batch, little changed from version 1, except NO OAK CHIPS.

So my record in the English Pale Ale recipe section remains poor.  Here is the current roundup with 2 recipes to go

  • My example generic best bitter modelled after the BJCP style using only kent hops, Kentish Best Ale, was a 7/10
  • I have upgraded my Fullers ESB to a 6/10 as aging has improved the flavour some what
  • Green King Abbot Ale – 6/10
  • Wadworth 6X – 4/10

I have Flowers Original conditioning and showing promise (and no adjuncts going in to spoil it either) and a Fullers London Pride in the primary fermenter. So I live in hope that at least one of my English Pale Ale classification recipes reach my self imposed 8/10 grade required to be promoted to my permanent recipes page.  Getting to this page ensures its a recipe I have faith in and something I would recommend other people to brew.  I so have work to do as I want at least one brew in each major English Ale category.

13 January

Recipe Update (Chiswick ESB version 1) – 5 out of 10

I finally cracked the first bottle of version 1.0 of my Fullers ESB clone I started back in early December. I am a little disappointed. The brew went well with the OG being spot on and the primary fermentation proceeded without a hitch leading to an almost clear ale with great taste potential when transfered into the secondary. The FG was perfect with the yeast attenuation at 77%, the highest point in the range provided by the supplier.

But during the secondary something happened.  The colour appears to be just a little darker when compared to the original ESB.  But the finsihed beer could be clearer, its actually not that bad, but I look for really bright, crystal clear ales in all my recipes. Given the ale shows no signs of infection I am putting this down to a little over zealous use of the Burton Salts in the water treatment.  This has happened to me before and something I shall put down to experience. Clarity may also improve with age so I will be sure to hold back a few bottles for comparison. The carbonation was way off too, the finished ale is almost flat.  But all of these little gripes still does not explain the taste.

The flavour is overly sweet and malty, not dry and balanced like the original.  Again I will hold a few back to if aging brings out a more balanced hop/malt taste.  These issues would suggest a reduction in the 120L Crystal to say a 60L and potentially the use of Black Malt altogether, hopefully taking take care of the overly malty sweet flavour. The lack of malt/hop balance could also suggest an issue with the hops. In this brew the hops were a substitute, I used Perle instead of Challenger and Northdown so I guess I need to rethink the substitution or wait until my supplier gets some Challenger and Northdown hops in stock.

The carbonation I will need to work on as it is the one area of brewing I am inconsistent on.  Right now I simply mix powdered sugar into the secondary and bottle.  The issue is dissolving the sugar.  To do so requires rigorous stirring risking aeration of the wort in the process, something I do not wish to do.  I am going to try carbonation tabs and the process of dissolving sugar/DME in boiling water and adding to the bottling bucket prior to racking. Lets see which process works best and delivers consistent, predictable levels of carbonation.

Thats it for now, so far my clones are 1-3. The Kentish was a hit, the Abbott was okay but not a Greene King and the Fullers ESB has room for improvement.  I have high hopes for the Wadworth 6X which will be bottled later today so I will keep you posted.

26 December

Recipe update

Recipes first posted here and here.

Had a busy day moving beer from primary to secondary, secondary to bottles and kegs and had a chance to sample the Kentish Best and the Abbots Special Bitter.

First up the Kentish.  Am happy to report the beer is one of the brightest, clearist I have ever brewed, with the fining’s doing their job.  The SRM and IBU where as expected.  The taste and mouthfeel were that of a real ale best bitter, fresh and very drinkable.  Had mine with some ‘bubble and squeak’, a Boxing Day favorite.  The Fuggles hops came out in the flavour though I felt the beer had a metallic aroma I still cannot trace. Been doing some research on the aroma but have not found an explanation as of yet.

The one big issue I found was my own mistake, I failed to add enough priming sugar to the batch prior to bottling, the ale took longer than expected to carbonate, and when it did, it proved to be a little flat, though not overly so.  This is easily remedied. Given the metallic aroma and the incorrect amount of priming sugar I will need to brew the recipe one more time before it can get promoted to the permanent recipe page here.

The Abbots Special Bitter was a real surprise. First up the ale was nothing like the original so back to the drawing board. That said the finished ale served really well, have it in a keg with a BeerGas mix.  The IBU and SRM were perfect but the taste, flavour and aroma were not Greene King.  The taste lacked the fruit and there was a little too much malt for a recipe that calls for a balanced flavour.  Nonetheless it tastes great, sometime mistakes can lead to great discoveries.

So the Abbot clone recipe needs some work.  For the caramel I will look to change the base malt to include some amber to replace the amber specialty malt reducing the caramel tones.  I found some While Labs Burton Yeast with apple flavour characteristics I will look to try also.  Look for more in the future.

So nothing gets promoted but we have definitely made progress and as always they are fun to make and drink.