Ben Dean-Titterrell

1001 Beers: 8. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

From: United States

Brewed by: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

First Brewed: 1980

ABV: 5.6%

Obtained from: Beerhawk 

This beer, according to my book, has a very important place in the contemporary history of beer. I try my best to ignore any kind of mythologising about the importance of the beers I try for this project, but its hard to avoid how much this beer is talked about in treading new ground in the realm of small, pioneering breweries.

Taking the beer on its own merits, it has an immediate freshness. The hoppy tastes are crisp and light. They sit loosely on the tongue while the fruitiness comes in. The fruity tastes are sweet and rich, they linger in the mouth long after every sip. It feels very summery, it would be best drank outside on a warm, sunny day.

This beer gives you all the vital elements you want in a pale ale. It doesn’t blow you away or change the way you think about beer in one can. But it does give you everything you want from a fairly strong pale ale. It feels like a real classic; something that you can absolutely rely on.

This beer is really good. It’s up there with the beers I’d have first off on a visit to a pub or a bar. A very respectable four out of five.

4 out of 5

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1001 Beers: 7. Arrogant Bastard Ale

Arrogant Bastard Ale

Arrogant Bastard Ale

From: United States

Brewed by: Stone Brewing

First Brewed: 1997

ABV: 7.2%

Obtained from: Beerhawk

The first thing I noticed upon drinking this dark coloured ale was how forceful and intense the bitterness was. The writing on the can boasts of how strong and aggressive it is in a very self-aggrandising paragraph; with regards to the bitterness of the hop flavours it certainly tells the truth. The bitterness stays in the mouth and lingers a while after each sip.

Speaking of sips, this is a beer that must be consumed in small increments. Taking large gulps of Arrogant Bastard Ale would be too overpowering to be enjoyable. In such a large can this becomes a beer to drink slowly and thoughtfully, and at over 7% ABV each sip packs a punch. Despite its strength one can is unlikely to get you drunk, but I reached that point where you’re aware for some time that you’ve had a drink.

There are some very dark fruity notes to this beer as well. The fruitiness tastes most like some kind of dark berry. This brings a sweetness that in my opinion is much needed, if the bitterness was left unchecked it really wouldn’t be tolerable. This is a good bitter beer that even a fan of sweeter beers can enjoy.

I wouldn’t rush to get this beer if given the option but its still enjoyable and certainly makes its way into the list of beers I would drink again. All things considered I give this a well earned three pints.

3 out of 5

Ben’s Brew 2: IPApricot

IPApricot

Beer in glass

Homebrew number two was envisaged as a light, fruity IPA. The fruit I finally settled on was apricot because that’s what caught my eye at the time I went shopping. It was also a first attempt at all grain brewing. Having had a reasonable result with malt extract brewing I decided to go a step further and try using real barley malt and hops. Having bought the ingredients and large metal pot (and gone through the necessary but boring process of sterilising everything), I got to work.

Adding malt 1Adding malt 2

First step is the mashing process. This involves heating the barley malt in water to extract the flavours. I put the malt, about two and a half kilos of it, in a large mesh bag that makes it easy to remove the malt grains after the mashing process is finished. It’s a bit like making a really large cup of tea but with barley malt rather than tea leaves. You heat this all up to about seventy degrees for around three quarters of an hour. I’m making about twenty pints (two and a half gallons) at this point, but you put something closer to four gallons of water in the pot as a lot of liquid boils away by the end of the process.

Wort 1

Once we take the grains out of the pot we’re left with a liquid known as the wort. The wort has to be brought up to a boil. Once this has happened it’s time to add the hops. As this is an IPA there’s going to be a lot of hops in it. When you add the hops to the wort makes a difference to the taste of the final beer. From my limited knowledge of brewing, the basic rule of thumb is: add them earlier to make it bitter, add them later to make it sweet. I added mine in small amounts every fifteen minutes over a period of about an hour or so.

HopsBoiling wortFinished wort

Once we’ve reached this point we’ve completed almost all of the brewing process. All that we have to do now is let it cool to room temperature, siphon it into the fermentation vessel, and add yeast. Adding the apricot comes a little later on as apparently adding it too early int he fermentation process doesn’t always make it taste great. The adding of fruit will come in about a week.

Siphoning

Once the wort has been siphoned and the yeast added the beer has to be put in a place where it can stay at a constant temperature, in my case this was in a kitchen cupboard next to the washing machine. Next thing to do is what takes up most of your time when brewing beer: waiting. After waiting a week I went out and bought ten apricots, sliced them, put them in two muslin bags, and put them in the fermentation vessel.

(At the time I thought slicing them would be enough but after checking the beer a couple of weeks later I changed my mind and decided they needed mashing up so I just picked up the muslin bags and squeezed them.)

Adding apricotApricot in brew

This is the point where things really start to go a bit wrong. After a while more waiting…

 

…and waiting…

 

…and waiting…

 

…and visiting the Houses of Parliament…

…I thought it was ready!

Then I remembered about adding priming sugar, or brewing sugar, or whatever its called. That I didn’t know the name of the thing I knew I forgot about speaks volumes about how badly things go from here. After some hasty reading of what the sugar is and does and when it needs to be added I just put some dextrose sugar that I’d bought into the brew. The sugar is meant to carbonate your beer, but I know that my adding of sugar was wrong because – spoiler alert – its flat as hell. I’m still not sure what I did wrong and what I was meant to do instead but – another spoiler alert – I’m not going to brew again until I actually learn a bit more about the science of brewing.

So I waited another week or so and decided that it was time to bottle the beer up. Things only go downhill from here. It was an odd colour but at this point I was trying to remain optimistic – unlike one friend who said it looked like yogurt. As I later found out, this weird colour was sediment, lots and lots of sediment. There was near a centimeter of it at the bottom of each bottle once I left them to sit for a while.

Bottled beer

The next few steps happened over a couple of weeks but I’ll just run through them nice and quickly.

  • I decided to buy a water filter to get rid of the sediment, it took me ages to find a UK supplier of water filters, when it arrived I realised I only had one piece of PVC tubing.
  • I cut the tubing in half before realising the now two pieces were so short they were unworkable, the tubing was too narrow to fit the in and out fittings on the filter, I made a lot of mess and lost a couple of pints of beer to spillages.
  • I bought new tubing that would fit, the new tubing did fit but wouldn’t stay on the fitting, I couldn’t be bothered to buy new fittings that would solve the problem, I removed the screw top lid of the filter and tried filtering the beer by placing the ends of the tubing in the filter, I caused a tremendous mess and lost half the beer to spillages.
  • I realised the filtering process hadn’t worked and there was still sediment in the beer, I passed caring and just decided it was finished.

So, after all the stress and irritation was over it was time to give my second homebrew a taste. My apricot IPA is – in two words – not great. It’s so incredibly flat that it’s hard to appreciate anything else about it. It is fairly hoppy and the malt flavour is nicely balanced. The apricot is there in the flavour, but preferably it would be a lot more noticable. Its hard to tell from pictures but the colour has turned out alright. In terms of strength it doesn’t pack much of a punch. Using my new hydrometer I got a reading of 4.07% ABV. This beer certainly doesn’t taste disgusting by any means. But, it’s just so flat; it’s basically impossible to get past that fact.

I’ve tried to brute force my way through my ignorance of the brewing process, and that isn’t really working. So I’m going to take a break from homebrewing until I figure out what on earth I’m doing. Until then, I’m off for a beer. Cheers.

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