Ben Dean-Titterrell

Ben’s Brew: 1. Rivers of Amsterdam

Over the past year I’ve developed an increasing interest, and interest that has become almost an obsession, with beer. I’ve drunk and read my way to being able to make a casual, passing judgement of any beer. But at some point along the way I declared to myself that I must begin to make my own beer if I hope to increase my expertise and refine my judgement. Also, making beer sounded like fun.

So, I present here the first edition of Ben’s Brew; the tales of my attempts at brewing beer. Expect this series to be periodic and sparse, as, of course, beer takes some time to ferment. I aim to make all kinds of beer and make them all as exciting and interesting as possible. I expect failures, mishaps, and mistakes, and perhaps a decent pint or two, along the way.

Rivers of Amsterdam

My first venture into homebrewing is an amber coloured ale. It came from a basic homebrew kit my girlfriend got me for my birthday. It took about three weeks to make and it spent most of it time fermenting in a cupboard. Here’s what I did step by step to make my first homebrew.

Step 1: Disinfect everything. I shan’t bore you with this step too much, but you basically just have to clean everything so you don’t poison yourself or something.

Step 2: Next you add this weird looking mix to the large plastic tub. This was the malt extract. There were no actual fresh hops or malt grains here, but in future editions of this series I plan to use raw ingredients. The mix used for this homebrew looked and smelt like a very dark honey.

Step 3: Next I had to add 19 (nineteen!) pints of water, 3 of which had to be boiling. I go through this one kettle full of water at a time. It only took till pint 12 or so that I realised there was a second kettle next to me that I could also use. After adding the water you just mix it around with a big spoon for a while. I was surprised at just how easy this was; honestly an idiot could do it, as I hope to have proved.

Step 4: Finally you just add some yeast to make it rise like bread or ferment or something. You might be able to tell that I actually know next to nothing about brewing beer.

Step 5: Put it in a cupboard for about a week and just sit and wait around. I was meant to wait until there were no bubbles at the top of the mix but in the end I just couldn’t be arsed so moved onto…

Step 6: Siphoning! This was pretty grim because when I first sucked on the tube I got some of the liquid in my mouth (beer that hasn’t fermented is really nasty). But yeah you just siphon the mix into this big plastic cube and leave it in the cupboard again for another two weeks.

A note on “leaving it in the cupboard”: The instructions gave specific temperatures to keep the beer at but I didn’t have a thermometer or control of the temperature in the room I was using. So I just thought I’d put in a cupboard and hope of the best. Part way through the fermenting process I bought some new equipment that should make my temperatures more accurate next time around.

New equiptment

Step 7: Now I just sort of waited around for it be ready. I waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and went on holiday to Amsterdam…

Amsterdam 1

 

 

…and waited a little more…

 

 

…and then it was ready!

So, the big question is how does it taste? Well, in a word: plain.

That’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s just so incredibly plain. The flavours were just so simple and straightforward. It was like drinking a beer that was stuck on the default settings of some kind of digital beer generator. I know that’s quite an obtuse way of putting it, but it was just so one dimensional.

But, it was drinkable and it doesn’t seem to be poisonous. I’ve had it on two occasions now and I’m neither catastrophically ill nor dead. So yeah, I made an actual beer. Regardless of how it tastes, this was, undeniably, a success.

One thing I unfortunately don’t know about the beer is how strong it is. ABV is measured by taking two readings before and after fermentation using something called a hydrometer. I only found this out part way through fermentation, so it’s impossible to know how strong my first brew really is. It feels pretty average though, my best estimate would be between about 4.5 and 5.5 percent.

And finally the name. The name comes from a conversation I had with my girlfriend when we were in Amsterdam as we were walking next to a river. It went something like this:

BEN: You see the colour of the water?

LOUISA: Yeah.

BEN: It looks like my beer.

[side note: the beer was a hell of a lot darker and greyer while it was fermenting]

LOUISA: *laughs slightly* That could be a good name for it. Rivers of Amsterdam.

So that’s that. The full story of my very first homebrew. It was great fun, really great fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. Next time there’ll be real malt grains, real hops, more flavours in the fermentation (I plan to add fruit and stuff), and hopefully another interesting name. Until then, cheers!

1001 Beers: 6. Adnams Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

Adnams Ghost Ship

From: England

Brewed by: Adnams Brewery

First brewed: 2010

ABV: 4.5%

Obtained from: Tesco (Colchester, Essex)

Adnams Ghost Ship was the first beer I’ve had for this project so far that I’ve drunk with food. I have to say it went wonderfully with the fish and chips I had that evening. This was all thanks to the strong, dominating citrus taste of this IPA. The tastes of lemon and lime were obvious from the first sip and stayed with me the whole way through.

Another thing I noted about this beer was how it was nicely balanced on the palette. It wasn’t too heavy and it wasn’t too light. It reached a lovely middle ground where it could be enjoyed with a full flavour whilst at the same time not being overpowering. Ghost Ship is best had in full, long swigs that fill the mouth with all the intensity of the taste rather than in short, shallow sips.

Bottle Top

I like to close my eyes and envisage the optimal time and place to drink each beer I try. For this one I saw a pint of this in a garden (doesn’t have to be a beer garden) on a warm, balmy summer’s evening as the sun sets.

Scoring this beer was certainly a tricky one. Torn between a three and a four I’ve eventually opted to give Ghost Ship a strong three out of five.

3 out of 5

1001 Beers: 5. Fuller’s London Pride

Fuller's London Pride

Fuller’s London Pride

From: England

Brewed by: Fuller, Smith and Turner

First brewed: 1959

ABV: 4.7%

Obtained from: Tesco (Colchester, Essex)

When I drank my first sip of Fuller’s London Pride, I really needed a drink. I was in a frustrated and irritable mood. Someone had let me down with a bit of bad news and I really wanted something to take my mind off things. Fuller’s London Pride did exactly what I needed.

This ale was smooth and light on the palette. It wasn’t harsh on the tongue and it wasn’t so strong that it was hard to drink. I felt relaxed as I drank it, it helped clear my mind of the frustrations of recent events. The flavours were good but at the same time incredibly simple. This beer was, for lack of a better word, accessible. It was welcoming to a beginner, to those unseasoned to the nuances of ale drinking.

Bottle top

It had a lovely amber colour which glowed well in the right light. It looked like the idyllic type of ale you envision when you read “real ales” on the outside of a pub. I drank London Pride in my bedroom and feel that this was not the optimal place to drink it. This beer felt like it would be more at home in a pub, perhaps drank alongside some classic British pub food.

Fuller’s London Pride boasts that it is the UK’s favourite premium ale. As far as I’m concerned, it deserves to be just that. A high 4 out of 5.

4 out of 5

1001 Beers: 4. British Bulldog

British Bulldog

British Bulldog

From: British

Brewed by: Westerham Brewery Co.

First brewed: 2004

ABV: 4.3%

Obtained from: Beers of Europe

I was cautious about British Bulldog. Cautious about the thought of trying my first bitter in general. I like sweeter beers, I like beers that are light on the tongue. Bitter, to my mind, seemed the complete opposite of what I like. So I took my first sip with extreme caution.

I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised. There was a lovely balance to this beer with regard to the bitterness and sweetness. Westerham included a handy little bitterness and sweetness scale on the back of the bottle – this beer got a rating of 3 out of 5 on both factors. I think the balance worked well in this beer’s favour, perhaps it defeats the point of a bitter to be so, well, un-bitter but I liked it and that’s all that really matters on this blog.

Bottle Top

In terms of the strength of beer, I feel it hit a more or less perfect balance at 4.3%. It had a seriousness about its strength but it didn’t come close to being overpowering. It had a little kick in the back of the throat which made it a little coarse to swallow.

I liked this beer but I couldn’t fall in love with it. As only my first bitter it was never going to win me over from my sweet, light lager loving ways. It wasn’t the nice chilled beers I’m most accustomed to, but perhaps with time I’ll come to appreciate it more. I give British Bulldog a solid 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5

1001 Beers: 3. EKU 28

EKU 28

EKU 28

From: Germany 

Brewed by: Kulmbacher Brauerei

First brewed: 1954

ABV: 11%

Obtained from: Beers of Europe

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed as I swallowed my first sip EKU 28. A beer of 11% is an impressive achievement, and the taste of this beer is just as strong as the double digit ABV suggests it should be. The full nature of the taste hits you immediately, but it takes a few moments to figure out what it actually tastes like. For me , it tasted like syrup.

EKU 28 is so strong and so incredibly sweet that it reminded me of maple syrup more that anything else. I don’t mean to be rude to the people who make this beer, but to me it tasted like diluted maple syrup with a a shot or two of vodka in it. I like sweet beers, but this was more sickly that anything else.

Bottle Top

I wan’t to be able to say something good about EKU 28, but nothing really comes out at me as particularly great about it. It wasn’t intolerable by any means, I finished it, but I just really didn’t enjoy it. Overall it’s a 2 out of 5 from me.

2 out of 5

1001 Beers: 2. La Chouffe

La Chouffe

La Chouffe

From: Belgium

Brewed by: Brasserie d’Achouffe

First brewed: 1982

ABV: 8%

Obtained from: Beers of Europe

The beer that comes in this charming little bottle is a strong one, 8% is not to be sniffed at as far as I’m concerned. The strength of La Chouffe is the first thing that hits you. From the start I knew I was having a beer that if consumed by the pint could do some pretty serious damage, but this isn’t to my mind automatically a good thing. This beer was strong but it felt somewhat harsh on the tongue, which made it a bit less enjoyable.

There’s also an inescapable hint of spice to it – having checked the ingredients of the bottle I’ve found this to the coriander in the beer. The use of coriander is definitely interesting and gives this beer a sense of character, but I also feel like this contributes to the harshness on the tongue that I can’t help but dislike.

Bottle Top

This beer is without a doubt refreshing and its interesting how this can occur when it lacks the sense of being light on the palette. It seems “light” and “refreshing” are not inseparable. In terms of where I’d envisage drinking this beer I see this as something to drink in a beer garden on a sunny day with friends.

La Chouffe is a good beer which I’d drink again, I just didn’t fall in love with the mix of strength and hints of spice. A well earned 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5

1001 Beers: 1. 13 Guns

13 Guns

13 Guns

From: England

Brewed by: Thwaites

First brewed: 2011

ABV: 5.5%

Obtained from: Wetherspoons (The LantokayStreet, Somerset)

This English tribute to an American twist on Indian Pale Ale (IPA) packs a serious punch. The flavour of the beer is very intense, you really don’t have to wait a moment to get the full body of the taste. This beer is like when someone gives you a very firm pat on the back, it’s not so intense as to knock you over but you will be a little taken aback.

In terms of the tastes and smells that hit you a few seconds after you take a sip there’s an obvious fruitiness to this American IPA. It feels tangy on the back of the tongue and has sweetness to it that I really enjoyed. The fruitiness stays with you after each sip, lingering on the tongue. This is a beer to savour in the evening somewhere warm and cosy.

A final thing I liked about this may at first seems inconsequential, but I felt it made a difference. The colour. Yeah it sounds silly but this beer had a lovely colour. It had beautiful amber glow when the light hit it and this made the experience ever more enjoyable.

The inaugural beer for this 1001 beers project was a lovely one. Certainly makes it onto the list of better IPA’s I’ve tried. I’d definitely drink 13 Guns again. Out of 5, it gets a 4.

4 out of 5