The Beginner Brewer

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

IPA-off: Woodstock Californicator VS. Agar's Tomahawk

We've thrown two full-bodied IPAs into the Cage of Ultimate Death (also known as our podcasting studio) to see which one walks (or limps) away in one piece!

In the Cape Town Corner, weighing in at 6.5 % ABV is Woodstock Brewery's Californicator. In the Jozi Corner, also at 6.5% ABV, is Tomahawk IPA by Agar's Brewery.

This is going to be rough.

Before the Pour

Marcel's view: Well this is not going to be too difficult. I can't really find anything redeeming about Agar's labels. It's definitely this brewery's weakest link. In comparison, Woodstock's branding is crisp, well thought-out and gives me the warm and fuzzies. I'd give the first round to Californicator, no contest.

Matt's view: Yip. It's not tough to see who wins here. Although Agar's may not care that much about looks, it doesn't forgive poor design. They don't seem to be following any discernible design ideas that belong in this century. And Woodstock Californicator really brings it with their contemporary, icon-clever labels. Overall a win for the Capetonians.

In the Glass

Marcel's view: Now things are getting interesting. Jozi is looking a little punch-drunk right now, but it's still early days. Tomahawk poured is a beautiful hazy straw colour and the aromas are prominent tropical fruit, grapefruit, and dank hops. It delivers a serious hop punch on first taste. Exactly what you want from a true IPA. This ain't no Faux-PA.

So for Tomahawk, main flavors are grapefruit and grassy goodness all the way down with a good, long finish.

Californicator is a lighter treatment but also has the hazy (i.e. dry-hopped) appearance of its counterpart. Aroma is a clean, bright tropical freshness that promises good things to come. First taste is heavy on the grapefruit and then followed by very clean, citrus and floral notes. Not super-dank like Tomahawk, but hop-forward nonetheless. The malt is in the background, as it should be. It finishes nice and dry. 

This is a very tough call. Tomahawk delivers the goods with its 100 IBUs and you can taste each and every one. Californicator is more sessionable and refreshing, but also no slouch in the hops department. 

Matt's view: Wow. Tomahawk is delicious. Burnt straw colour and very dank hop smell. Its taste is bitter citrus, acidic fruit, and refreshing all at the same time. Somewhat creamy mouthfeel, which is interesting. Taste builds up on second and third sips but never to the point of not wanting even more of this beer. Great stuff.

Californicator is lighter in colour but aroma is right there with loads of citrus, pine, and fruit. It feels less creamy in the mouth than Tomahawk, but flavour is strong citrus hops with a nice balance. This is an IPA you can have more than a few of, I reckon. A very good, subtle beer that won't intimidate overly much.

Will it go to Mars?

It's decision time. Which IPA emerges out of the Cage of Ultimate Doom? Which one would we take with us to Mars? How many rhetorical questions can I string together?

Marcel: It's a maddeningly tough call. Both are great and deserve to go to Mars. But I'm giving it to Agar's Tomahawk. Despite issues with branding, it's a big, in-your-face IPA that delivers the goods.

Matt: Yeah, a difficult choice. But I'm also going with Tomahawk. It's just such an impressive IPA. It does what I want from this style, and that's why it deserves to go to Mars. Well done Jozi!

The Scores

For Marcel

Agar's Tomahawk

Woodstock's Californicator


Agar's Tomahawk

Woodstock's Californicator

Final Verdict

It was a tough match-up and both these beers are really wonderful examples of proper, true-to-form IPAs. If you're looking for a session-friendly, summertime IPA, Californicator probably works better than Tomahawk, but only just. 

On the other hand, Tomahawk really puts hop flavour in the foreground and is a complex, lovely IPA for all true hopheads out there. It rocks!

Guide to the Scores

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Episode 4. The Krausen are Invading!

In this episode, Marcel blames Matt for everything, including the long hiatus in recording the podcast. We review more than a few craft lagers and Matt tastes glaciers. We also look back at the best and worst of 2016 where the long-awaited argument about Mad Max: Fury Road finally happens. Join us for our New Hope episode!
Show Notes:
Some more reading on small-batch brewing:
Music by: The Deaf Commission

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Scum, Beer & Villainy: Episode 3

Just in time for the Silly Season, our third episode is ready for your ears!

In this episode Matt and Marcel show their nerd credentials by talking about Rogue One and which beers to have during Festivus. IPAs are put inside the Thunderdome to duke it out and Matt insults Belgian carpenters! Good times.

Also: Pollinator rocks with their beautiful ear-worms. Seriously. Click on their link below and support these amazing muzos.
Show Erratum: Rodeo riders have to stay on the bull for 8 seconds, not 6. 
Show Notes: 
International Trappist Foundation.
Agar’s Brewery.
Woodstock Brewery. 
Music by:

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Redrock Brewing Co. Nine Inch Ale

(340ml, Bottled, 4.25 % ABV)

Before the Pour

Matt's view: Interesting label. Not too sure about the goat/nail motif, but it's certainly distinctive. My favorite part of the branding is definitely the bottle. Unique and stands out from the crowd. But the claim on the label that it's "Master-brewed?" That's for us to decide, methinks.

Marcel's view: I like the blue hue of the label. Nice. Certainly stands out in both design and bottle shape. The Redrock embossing on the glass is a nice touch--that must have cost a bit, I'm sure. I like that they've got some info on the brewery as well as the style of beer (amber ale). Well done on that!

In the Glass

Matt's view: Not much on the aroma-front. Which is curious. A bit of caramel but not much. Golden color which is nice and clear. 
The lack of aroma unfortunately crosses over to the taste. Bland and disappointing. Good mouthfeel though. With a name like Nine Inch Ale, I'd expect a way more aggressive flavor. Not much of a lasting aftertaste, either.

Marcel's view: A bit light in color for an amber ale, I'd have expected a deeper color. Some very slight toffee aromas, which is worrying, especially for an amber ale. Even for a milder ale, like a bitter or pale ale, there is very little on the nose here. Apart from that, it shows no flaws, which is a good thing.

Taste is quite bland, a bit blah, really. Some maltiness but so feint that it's difficult to pin down. Despite claiming to contain Simcoe hops, I don't pick up much of that. More grassy than piney. A blunt, generally one-dimensional bitterness that doesn't really satisfy. Nine Inch Ale? Underground rock-inspired? I don't think so. It's far too middle of the road. More Nickleback than Nine Inch Nails.

On the plus-side, it's clean and without obvious flaws. So there is that.

Will it go to Mars?

If we could only take one beer with us to Mars, would this one be in the cargo hold?

Matt: No. Nice bottle to look at on the long journey there, but nope.

Marcel: Nope. The cargo hold will contain other beers, I'm afraid.

The Scores



Final Verdict

A competently made, ultimately bland beer that does not live up to its own marketing. A case of style over substance, perhaps. 

Seems more like a macro-brewery's interpretation of a full-bodied ale than the real thing. Exciting design elements, but not much else. Not flawed but also not very tasty. A bit of a shame, really.

Guide to the Scores

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Scum, Beer & Villainy: Episode 2

Episode 2 of our podcast about beer, geekery, and everything in-between is freshly out the oven and ready for you!

In this episode, your hosts bemoan the curious resilience of the slop bucket at beer festivals, debate what beer appreciation is all about, and they talk to the head brewer at Drifter Brewing Company about why you'd want to hide beer at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Show notes:
Drifter Brewing Company :

On Tap magazine:
Music by The Motherland:

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

3 Easy Upgrades for Homebrewers

You want to brew better, more kick-ass beer. I get it. But you also don't want to spend half of your kid's college fund. I get that also. So here's some (relatively) cheap and easy level-ups for your home brewery that will rock you beer quality!

1. Control your fermentation temperature

This is probably the number one reason why craft breweries outmatch home breweries. If you can keep your fermentation temps consistent and between 15-18 degrees Celsius, you're golden. 

Consistency is more important than the actual number here, but don't let it get out of hand, mind you.

Cheap option: Place your fermenter in a bath of ice water. Replenish the ice periodically and measure your temperature obsessively. Obsession is sometimes a good thing.

More pricey option: Modify an old fridge with a bolt-on thermostat. Keep that puppy at a constant temp. Winning!

2. Use liquid yeast

Yes, dry yeast is getting better all the time. But liquid yeast is where the real flavor's at. 

You can access just so many more style options with liquid yeast. And unlike craft brewers, you don't have to break the bank. A few vials and off you go! If you've got ambitions to brew Belgian beers, then this hack becomes essential. 

Don't compromise!

3. Full, rolling boils

A full, rolling boil. And a sneaker. Sorry.

I've spoken about the importance of achieving a full, rolling boil before. But let me say this again. Boiling the fill volume of your wort, properly, will improve the quality of you beer immeasurably. Here are some of the advantages:
  • Clarity, as you break up haze-forming proteins
  • Hop flavor, as you fully utilize the hops you're adding to the kettle
  • DMS elimination, as that ugly off-flavor is blown off
  • Sterilization, because nothing nasty survives a full, rolling boil.


Thermometer by Dominic Wade (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Other photos (c) by

Monday, 17 October 2016

Scum, Beer & Villainy: Episode I

Good news: Our first episode of the podcast has just dropped!

Check it out here:

(For slower connections check out: This Link)

In this episode Matt and I chat about Saisons, review Citizen's Winter Porter, and talk about our favorite science-fiction movies. We also feature some primo SA indie Ska music by Fridge Poetry.

If you have any suggestions or beers you'd like us to review in future episodes, please let us know in the comments section!


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Citizen Pacifist Winter Porter

(440ml, Bottled, 6 % ABV)

Before the Pour

Marcel's view: Nice label. Really stands out from the crowd. And the best part? It's got a really nice texture. Mmm. Feel that textured paper. Definitely a favorite look and feel. But the name seems a bit, well, passive? Also: I'd like to see some more info on the beer and the brewery.

Matt's view: Solid, consistent branding. Quite like the dagger and shield motif. Bottle itself is a bit samey though. Agreed on the name. Curious choice given how full-bodied this beer turns out to be. Lack of copy about the beer is a bit of a bummer.

In the Glass

Marcel's view: Oh wow. Immediate coffee and vanilla on the nose. Quite a bit of vanilla, actually. Taste is subtle cocoa, followed by some roasted notes, then more vanilla in the aftertaste. Very smooth, very warming. Not acrid or overly bitter like some porters. Even if you don't like porters as a rule, this one might persuade you otherwise.

Matt's view: Sweet, caramel aromas. Chocolate on the nose. Smooth bitterness in the mouth. Solid coffee and chocolate in the taste. Full, warming mouth-feel. Not a lot of vanilla, but tasty nonetheless. 

Will it go to Mars?

If we could only take one beer with us to Mars, would this one be in the cargo hold?

Marcel: Yip. Bring it with. Mars has only one season: cold.

Matt: Mmm. Maybe. A bit too heavy for me.

The Scores



Final Verdict

A really tasty, solid winter warmer that would also do very nicely on a summer's day for that matter. No flaws, nothing forced or overdone. 

Imagine the love child of a really good beer and a really good chocolate brownie. Yum!

A Guide to the Scores


More about Citizen's Beers: Visit their website

Monday, 10 October 2016

New Beer Reviews: Coming soon

Here on Beginnerbrewer we're going to be mixing things up a bit with our beer reviews. A couple of things are set to change:

  • For one, I'm no longer running my own craft brewery, so I feel that I'm allowed to review beer again without conflict of interest. Yay!
  • The beer reviews will be based on our podcast's review section. So if you want the full version, listen to the podcast. The condensed version will be on the blog under the review section. But really, you should read the one and listen to the other!
  • You'll notice that reviews will now feature two (and sometimes more) people's opinions on a beer. Good one!
  • The review point system has changed. It's now even more unscientific! See below for more detail. We wanted to keep things simple and fun. So if you're looking for a full, exhaustive (i.e. yawn-inducing) BJCP rating, look elsewhere. To be honest though, we'll be reviewing things that go beyond just the BJCP essentials, like branding.

Bad / Flawed beer

When we find a flawed beer, we'll institute the following procedure:
  1. First, we'll get some more samples from different sources to confirm the problem's origin (brewery or outlet)
  2. Then, we'll contact the brewer and see how they respond--maybe they want to give us another sample, and we think everyone deserves a second chance. Right?
  3. Finally, good or bad, we'll post the review.

Why are we doing this? 

Simple. We don't want to damage breweries or brewers who are trying their best. But we also feel obliged to warn you, dear readers, of bad beer out there. After all, this stuff ain't cheap. And, as I've argued elsewhere, reviewing bad beer is ultimately good for the industry as a whole.

The New Rating System

Friday, 7 October 2016

Your Guide to Off-flavors: Volume 2

Last time, we looked at some of the most common off-flavors that might creep into your homebrew (or beer you've just bought at the local for that matter).

In today's post, we continue our journey of foul flavors. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Off-Flavor #4: Acetaldehyde

This off-flavor will remind you of green apple, apple puree, or freshly cut Granny Smith apples. This is another substance that is present in all beer: yeast produces it during fermentation. 

But in high concentrations, it is always considered a flaw. 

Remember, we're making beer here, so apple flavors are generally not ideal!

How to stop it

Acetaldehyde can be formed by bacteria, so check your sanitizing processes. Especially in the cold-side of you brewery, i.e. the chiller, fermenters, transfer hoses and tubes, etc.

Occasionally, this green-apple monster can be created by aeration during bottling. So make sure you fill your bottles (or kegs) from the bottom up, and fill slowly! To be super-sure, purge your bottles and kegs with some CO2 before filling them.

Off-Flavor #5: Oxidized

Good for packaging, sucks as a flavor
Oxygen is important in the brewing process. Yeast needs the stuff, just like us, to remain healthy. But good old O2 comes with it's own shadowy side. When introduced during mashing or bottling, it can ruin beer. 

Damn you oxygen and all your noble gas buddies!

You'll know your beer's been oxidized if it tastes one-dimensional and smells like wet paper, cardboard, or that old library scent. Sometimes, it can even taste like white pepper, but not in a good way.

How to stop it

Oxygen can creep into beer when you don't bottle correctly, so ensure that you bottle nice and slowly. Purge your bottles or kegs with CO2. Make sure that your racking equipment doesn't have tears or holes that can let air in during transfer. Don't whisk sugar into your bottling bucket, stir it very, very gently or not at all.

Also, you may not be getting a good seal on your keg or crown caps, so check those as well along with your capper.

Exposure to light can also lead to problems, so make sure you're using brown bottles and not storing your beer in UV light. Generally, poor storage of beer can often lead to oxidization problems. 

Off-Flavor #6: Ethyl Hexanoate

Ethyl Hexanoate is another natural product of fermentation, and can, in certain concentrations, be acceptable in a host of different styles of beer.

It's flavors and aromas are fruity, dried apple, slight aniseed, slight perfume, or somewhat floral. 

In high concentrations, it can make you beer taste more like a cheap apple cider than beer. The horror!

How to stop it

Esters like Ethyl Hexanoate are tied up in the fermentation of beer. Yeast health, pitching rates, fermentation temperatures, and available oxygen are all important when you want to eliminate this off-flavor.

Make sure you yeast has a healthy environment to grow in. Aerate your wort before pitching yeast and if you're brewing high gravity beers, add some yeast nutrients in the boil to help those little buggers out.

A common cause is overly high fermentation temperatures. Because homebrewers often struggle with temperature control, especially in the warmer months of the year, this can be a real pain. Try to maintain a steady fermentation temperature of between 16 and 18 degrees C for ale yeasts and see if that does the trick.

That's it for off-flavors for now! We'll no doubt be looking into them again some time soon, but for now, leave comments if you detect any other nasty surprises in your homebrew and I'll happily assist!