Temperature control

Based in the Southwest USA, I am sadly not blessed with a basement, and so temp control is a rather critical and cumbersome task at all times of the year.

All summer long, I used a large freezer unit outside in the garage, with a Baylite pre-wired temp-controller to create a fermentation chamber with a temp range of of 66F to 67.5F. This ensured that fermentation started towards the top of the recommended range for my yeast strains, so yeast got to work quickly and I would typically see bubbles in the airlock within 24 hours.

This winter, I’ll be moving my fermenters indoors, as I don’t have a way of adding heat to the existing unit. I’m apprehensive about not having quite the same level of strict control over the fermenting temp, especially in the first couple of days after the yeast is pitched. Having said this, I did make some great beer back in the UK indoors. My usual strategy is to select a cupboard which is neither too near nor too far from the home’s primary heat source, and far from things which could cause warming or cooling if possible. For example, the kitchen is probably not ideal, as most kitchens heat up considerably when something is in the oven. Close to a window or against an external wall is also not optimal, as much heat will be lost in this area, especially during overnight lows.

I’ve carefully selected a cupboard accordingly. I’m confident that I’ll be able to keep the space in the 60F to 69F range. My plastic fermenters have thermometers on the side, and I have a mini digital thermometer for the space, so I will be able to monitor the difference between the ambient temp in the cupboard and the temp of the beer itself. Temperatures of fermenting beers spike in the first couple of days, as the process creates its own heat. I’ll be keeping an eye on the beer temps and using the old-fashioned cold water bath for the fermenters if I start to see the temp creeping above 73F.

Beer tasting at Goose Island Brewhouse

On my recent visit to Chicago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the taproom for Goose Island brewery. Goose Island IPA was one of the first US craft beers I tasted some years back, but I’d never tried many of their other offerings.

The taproom offered excellent views of mash tuns and fermenters, and had an industrial vibe whilst also feeling like a real bar. This was right up my street; I really like it when breweries lean in to the function of their space, and go the extra mile to show off the shiny production facilities to drinkers in an aesthetically pleasing way.

The menu was extensive. My husband opted for the barrel-aged beer flight, and I chose a mix-and-match selection of some slightly lower ABV beers, so we both got to taste eight different beers.

Everything was good, and more importantly, nothing was boring or awful. The were some standouts, including the IPA Now, which was pleasantly heavy on the pine, and the Sofie Saison, which had the perfect balance between citrus and peppery aromas and flavors. The smoked Helles beer packed a punch, and I made a mental note to pair something like this with spare ribs in the future.

I’m not big on meaty scotch ales myself, but my husband thought that the Copper Project was about the best in this category he’s had recently. The biggest surprise was the Brasserie Blanc, a beer fermented with Napa Valley Muscat grapes, and aged in a wine barrel. My last foray into a white wine cask beer was rather unpleasant, so I was somewhat apprehensive. But it was great – crisp and fruity, yet still with a hint of oak. Something that would appeal to cider fans and highly adventurous beer drinkers alike.

Overall, a lovely time stepping out of my beer drinking comfort zone, and the perfect end to a city break. I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Chicago – please feel free to leave a comment if you know of any other breweries that I should check out next time!

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Italian craft beer

When I think of Italy, I think of stunning countryside, imposing architecture, and eating more carbs than I should. And obviously, excellent wine. But great craft beer does not necessarily come to mind right away. But maybe it should, as I’ve come across a couple of pubs dedicated to innovative Italian craft beer in the last year or so.

The Italian Job, located in swanky Chiswick in west London, hosts beers from a handful of different Italian breweries across eight taps. The cinnamon pale from Birrificio Italiano was particularly good. There were also two options on handpull, including a rich porter. I have to say, it was surprisingly every bit as good as the cask ale that’s made on UK soil.

When I was in Berlin at a craft beer meet-up earlier this year, a guy who was visiting the city from Italy told me about an Italian pub ‘Birra’ on Prenzlauer Allee. Since I was passing by the next day, I decided to pop in for a quick pint. The evening seemed in full swing, and jubilant (if slightly raucous) drinkers who I imagined to be ‘the regulars’ created a fun, welcoming vibe. The taps boasted plenty of choice, including a few selections from Milan-based brewery Birrafico Lambrate.

Have you seen any Italian craft on the taps in any other cities in Europe or further afield? I’d love to hear about anything you could recommend!

White wheat ale recipe

Today I cracked open the first bottle of a white wheat ale I made a few weeks ago. I fermented for 2 weeks and conditioned in bottles for 4 weeks.

I mashed at 157F, which was a little higher than I was aiming for, but I wanted to go for something on the higher end with the aim of getting a fairly full bodied beer. I chose to add a few extra early hops and ease off on the late additions, to ensure that the hop flavor bomb didn’t steal the show from the wheat in the final flavor profile.

I’m happy with how this turned out – the bitterness and flavor profile is pretty much what I was aiming for. Next time I might dry hop for a bit of extra aroma, and perhaps try adding lactose/more wheat, and making this a hazy beer.

white wheat

This was a nanobrew, but I’m including the grain info recipe:

Mash at 157F for 45 min

2 lb 12 oz grain per gallon
55% 2-Row pale
35% white wheat
10% flaked wheat
Mash for 50 minutes

0.8 oz of hops per gallon
Pacific Jade and warrior first wort hops
Pinch irish moss @ 15 min to go
Columbus @ 15 min left
Citra @ 10 minutes left
Mosaic @ 5 minutes left

The ultimate West Coast pub crawl

Earlier this year, I fulfilled a long-term ambition of travelling along the US West Coast, from LA to Seattle. The plan had been cooked up along a London pub crawl the previous autumn (the brainstorming process for many of my very greatest ideas). It was to be the ultimate IPA pub crawl, my travel partner and I decided – 10 days of fantastic food, beer, and stunning coastal views. We would stay in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, and drink our fill of craft beer in each.

It was January, and upon arriving in Silver Lake, LA the weather was perfect – the sun was shining, the sky was decorated with a few small fluffy clouds, and a gentle breeze kept the air cool. On the first morning in town, we headed for brunch, and whilst we tucked into eggs, coffee and orange juice, one cheerful patron came in with a dog and ordered a pint of IPA. It was 10.30am. Truly, this was the city of ‘anything goes’.

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That night, it was time to hit the bars. We took a cab to Angel City brewery. The vibe was chic and industrial, and the place was lively with hip locals. Oh, and the beer was pretty good too.

We punctuated the drive from LA to SF with a night in Cambria. It was a great chance to soak in the coastal beauty for just a little longer. The next afternoon, we made it to San Francisco, and checked into our Castro hotel. Our first watering hole of the evening was a self-styled dive bar playing loud rock music. In the UK, this would be the sort of place you’d hang before a gig, and there would be a choice of Stella, Carling or Fosters. They probably wouldn’t have heard of cask ale or craft beer. But here in the US, even the bars that were a little, er, ‘rough around the edges’ seemed to be fluent in craft. There was a tap wall featuring more than 20 pumps. Americans, after all, love to be paralyzed by choice.

lucky 13

We also checked out Vesuvio Cafe, on the recommendation of a colleague of mine. It was like stepping back in time, and I expected to see Jack Kerouac sitting in the corner, propping up the bar and staring pensively over some scribbles.

The next day’s driving was the most grueling of the trip. We made it to Eureka in Northern CA without stopping, and took a welcome break for a late oyster lunch. The rain was pounding now, and would barely give way in the coming days. Our abode for the night was just over the Oregon state line, right on the ocean. We arrived hungry and tired, but our helpful Air B&B hosts soon made us comfortable, and we sat back with a glass of wine and cheese supper to admire the stunning coastline, under the stormy skies.

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The next day, we made it to Portland. The city was rainy and gray, but happily there were microbreweries on what seemed to be almost every road intersection. I especially liked Mt Tabor, in which the taproom was situated right on the brewery floor; there’s something nice about sipping a pint surrounded by mash tuns. I arrived in the mood for something hoppy and refreshing, and was a little intimidated by the choice of FOUR different IPAs, but the barman was really friendly, and asked about my preferences before giving me a couple of samples. Later in the evening, via a few more spontaneous beery stop-offs, we moved on to Burnside, where we sat at the bar and ordered an artisan sharing platter. This is probably the most hipster place I’ve ever been to, I thought. Shoreditch, eat your heart out. 

Before long, it was time to leave the craft beer mecca of Portland and move onto our final destination. As we arrived in Seattle, a glimmer of sun came through the clouds. We met up with our local host, freshened up, and tried out best to put our nine-day hangovers aside to do justice to the final leg of our trip. Our first pint was at yet another bar which placed brewing equipment in pride of place on the bar floor. When I tried to pay for drinks with a $20 bill, the barman informed me ‘oh, sorry, we don’t take cash’. What the…? This is REALLY getting too hip for me now, I thought, secretly partly looking forward to returning to an old-man’s boozer in which the card machine would be permanently broken.

brewing stuff

To finish the night, we moved onto the Capitol Hill area. My favorite brewery in this part of town was Outer Planet. It’s a small but perfectly formed taproom, with a great range of board games to play whilst getting tanked. The red ale was a stand out winner. The next day, after browsing comic and vintage shops in the trendy Fremont area, we had time for one final beer before packing up and preparing to head home. The trip had been incredible; a journey rich with cuisine and craft beer culture. Can’t wait to do it all again someday, but only after I’ve seen some more of what the US has to offer. The next craft beer location on my wish list is Colorado!

Have you travelled the West Coast? Did you discover some killer IPAs? I’d love to hear your comments about your travel experiences 🙂

fremont

Brewing a Hobgoblin Clone

This week, I decided to make a ruby ale, which should be ready to drink just in time for the chilly weather. Hobgoblin has always been my favorite British ruby ale – rich, warming, just a hint of spice. Perfect for curling up by the fire with a pint.

So, I decided to see if I could find a clone recipe online. I do love the homebrew community. It seems that no matter what I tap into the search engines, many results come back, with tales from fellow homebrewers who have asked the same questions previously. A wealth of information and suggestions were returned.

The recipe I picked called for Maris Otter as the main grain, with some dark crystal, carapils and chocolate malts, and some early and late additions of Fuggle and Styrian Golding hops.

I scaled down the recipe for my small 5L batch size for my small batch all-grain brew-in-bag method. I mashed at 153F for 45 minutes, and boiled for 50 minutes.

Now for the hard part – waiting to drink it when the first frost comes!

Best of Budapest

I recently took a trip down memory lane and looked at some old photos from a holiday to Budapest a few years ago. These are all still trading at the time of posting according to various online sources, and I’ll definitely be looking them up when I’m next in town:

Csendes Letterem
This quirky cafe/bar was pretty much the only thing on a quiet street, but inside the atmosphere was warm, welcoming and lively, though still a little more sedate than some of the other nightspots we visited. There were wooden tables and cute tartan tablecloths, and eclectic art and eerie relics adorning the walls of this stripped-back high-ceiling room that’s bursting with character. The crowd was diverse and a ‘type’ could not be spotted as readily as it can in similarly hip bars in some other cities – a nice thing that made the place feel very inclusive.

Eleszto Craft Beer Bar
This tiny craft beer pub was a bit of a walk from the centre of town, but was well worth it. The courtyard was filled with barrels, picnic benches, armchairs, chests of drawers and mirrors – rather like a makeshift outdoor living room.

Some of the more commonly found draft lager choices in Budapest leave a little to be desired for those who prefer something a little stronger, and this place is a great remedy for that. I started with the Dunakanyar IPA (6.5%), which was deliciously malty and full bodied with a hint of fruit. Next up, I tried the Keseru Mez hopped lager (6%), which was smooth, bitter and full of flavour. There were around twelve beers to choose from, displayed on blackboards at the back wall in the cosy and dimly lit inside bar.

Szimpla Kert 
An original ‘ruin pub’, this place is something of a local institution. Gaining access to the bar involved walking passed a seemingly deliberately arranged pile of rubble and a wheelbarrow. It was a maze of colorful rooms filled with quirky furniture and wall displays courtesy of contemporary artists. The drinks were cheap and the vibe upstairs remained somewhat relaxed, even on a busy Friday night while the dancing got underway downstairs. There was large patio and huge screens showing black and white films.

Overall, great tunes, quirky decor, friendly people. All the energy of a pop-up, and a great place to lose track of time any night of the week.