The Beginner Brewer: 2012

Friday, 7 December 2012

Books on Brewing

It's nearly Xmas, and that means that, at least for me, a fair amount of stress as I try to find just the right gift for  loved ones. For the homebrewer however, there's always an easy bet: books on brewing.

So here are three absolutely essential books that every homebrewer should have on his or her bookshelf. They've taught me a lot, and here's hoping you'll find value in them too!

Homebrewing for Dummies

This is an absolutely excellent read. Whether you're a beginner or advanced homebrewer, this book by Marty Nachel will have something to teach you.

Don't let the 'Dummies' title put you off. There's an excellent section on bottling and kegging, as well as more recipes (in every single BJCP style) than you can shake a pint at.

Worth buying and worth buying for a friend!

Clone Brews

This delightful book by Tess and Mark Szamatulski is a tour de force of various styles of beer and how to brew them at home. Attention is paid to extract and full grain homebrewers alike, and the erudition and attention to detail found inside the pages are more than worth the price of admission.

A particularly cool feature of the book is the food recipes and pairings suggested. So even if you're not a homebrewer, this book will help you decide exactly what dish to serve with that bottle of Duvel you've been saving for Xmas.

The Home Brewer's Answer Book

The final selection in this book round-up is this little (in size, not content) book by Ashton Lewis. He's the Mr Wizard answer guy at Brew Your Own magazine. This powerful reference guide is for anybody who really wants to improve his or her homebrewing prowess.

It covers topics that range from how to identify infections in your beer (hint: ropey bacteria ain't fun), to how to cultivate yeast 'sampled' (stolen) from commercial beers.

The sheer psychological benefit of having The Home Brewer's Answer Book handy while brewing is more than worth it's price. Get it! Today.

Hope you enjoyed this post! That's the final one for 2012. I'd like to thank everyone who read the articles, posted comments, and enjoyed the amazing hobby of homebrewing alongside me this year! I'm off to Cape Town for some serious craft beer research--watch out for the occasional Tweet or Facebook post on my adventures there.

Thanks and see you on the flip-side!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Devil's Peak First Light Golden Ale

Today I review another ale from Devil's Peak Brewing Company. And it's a corker!

Devil's Peak First Light Golden Ale

(500ml bottled; 4.5% ABV)

Colour: Yellow-gold
Aroma: Fresh pine and citrus
Taste: This is a lovely rendition of the Golden Ale style, with some interesting deviations and notes that make this somewhat more than an entry-level craft beer. First tastes are clean citrus, grapefruit, and malt integration. It finishes long, with a biscuit-like roundness that calls out for quite a few more sips. This is really a sensational beer that satisfies the hop lover while still maintaining a very accessible, session-friendly style.

I'd give this to anyone who wants to know what craft beer is really about. It's about balance, good ingredients, and above all: loads and loads of flavour! On the label it says that First Light is "your constant beer companion." They're not lying.
Well deserving of it's (!) award.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Is South African Craft Beer Too Tame?

I've recently been to quite a few craft beer fests in and around Jo'burg and Cape Town.

Two things are clear:

  1. The South African craft beer scene is definitely taking off, and that is a fabulous thing indeed.
  2. SA Craft beers are, sometimes, surprisingly tame.
So before I get a lot of people upset at me (although, by all means..), let me qualify my second statement. There are more than a few really well made, well balanced beers out there made by South African artisan brewers. I've reviewed some of them in this blog. By tame, I don't necessarily mean a lack of hoppiness (but it is that, too). Tame also refers to a restricted variety of beer styles and ingredients.

Where have all the styles gone?
In South Africa, there seems to be a curious lack of the kind of craft beers that are very common in other countries. 

I mean, where are the hop monster IPAs and Imperial Stouts? Where are the high ABV Belgian hybrids? Where are beers that have interesting, non-traditional ingredients in them? The left-of-centre styles? There are exceptions, of course. Three Skulls has a Saisson, Devil's Peak BC has some interesting stuff going on. But I don't think this is the rule.

It's surprising how many of our local craft breweries have come out of the gates with lagers, when most craft brewers elsewhere (in equally lager-dominated markets, like the US) shun the style or leave it for much, much later in their evolution.

One of the advantages of being a small volume brewer has to be that you don't need to follow the macrobrewer's schedule of consistent, middle-of-the-road beer making.

And yet, that's what you find with all -too-often regularity when visiting local craft beer festivals.

I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I've got at least two theories:
  1. South African microbrewers are overly concerned about the dominance of lagers in the larger population. Unless South Africans are uniquely equipped with taste buds that only respond to yellow fizzy stuff, there really is no reason to believe that the average beer lover won't take to more extreme flavors and styles. In fact, South Africans do love extreme flavours in their food and wine (think of super-hot curries and single varietal wines, like Malbec that have done well here). While it makes sense to have a "gateway" beer in your line-up; say a blonde ale, surely that should lead to more interesting beers down the line?
  2. The Reinheitsgebot. The German purity laws of 1487 are often touted by some micro and macro brewers as a seal of quality. These laws dictate that beer may only be made with water, barley, and hops. But why are brewers so enamoured with this medieval practice? Just across the border from Germany, the Belgians have been making beer for as long, but have made beer with a much wider variety of ingredients. Nobody has yet complained about how bad Belgian beer is.
Belgian beers: not known for being tame

I hope that SA craft brewers will take a slightly wider view of beer and what the drinking public will approve of. I hope that the Reinheitsgebot will remain where it belongs: in the history books.

Here's to more interesting beers. Cheers!


{Photo credits: Belgian beers: visitflanders; Empties: NgyenDai; all CC BY-NC-SA 2.0}

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Bottling Basics (without the Blues)

You've fermented your first brew (to check out a step-by-step how-to guide to making your first brew, click here). You've obsessively checked the bubbler and fretted about the ambient temperature in your fermentation room (you have right?).

Now comes that stage of the process that most homebrewers refer to as: hell on earth. Or, bottling.

Maybe bottling isn't so bad. Maybe I'm making too much of it. Then again, maybe not. The truth is, bottling is the less fun part of making your own beer, but it does need to be done right. Don't ruin your brew at this late stage! Follow the steps below, and you won't.

First Step: Prep

You can save yourself a whole lot of time by making sure you start with clean bottles. Before bottling day, it's a good idea to wash your bottles (you'll need 24 quarts or about 58 330ml bottles for an average 19 litre brew) with some dishwasher powder and hot water.

Make sure to rinse them very thoroughly. Put them away to dry.

Test your beer one last time to check if it's fermented out to your target final gravity. If you've been using the Beginner Brewer Best Bitter recipe, the final gravity you're aiming for is around 1.011 or so.

Bottling Day

The day has arrived! The best thing to start with on bottling day is to get all your equipment cleaned and ready. Here's what you'll need:

  • Bottling Bucket: this is a fermenter-sized bucket that you'll transfer the fermented beer into
  • Siphon: your auto-siphon is indispensable for bottling day
  • Bottle caps (also called crown caps): these have nifty little liners that leach oxygen out of the headspace in your bottled beer.
  • Capper: to crimp the bottle caps onto the bottles and seal the beer
  • Priming sugar: you'll need glucose or dextrose for this. The Best Bitter recipe calls for 105g of priming sugar. The priming sugar carbonates the beer in the bottle--cool!
  • A measuring jug or other container to place your caps in for easy access

Get things sanitized!
Again, cleaning and sanitizing are incredibly important. All of the above kit has to be cleaned and sanitized! Don't skimp and don't cut corners. It's insane to ruin your beer at this stage because you couldn't be bothered to keep things clean.

Step 1 

Sanitize your bottles. Soak them in sanitizer (hopefully you're using a no-rinse sanitizer like Perisan) for at least 20 minutes.

Crate those bottles
With 24-58 bottles, you've got a potential breakage disaster on your hands. To prevent this, place them into crates once sanitized  Crates are also useful when you start to fill your bottles, and prevent them from falling over and making a mess.

Step 2

Rack your fermented beer into the bottling bucket. Before you do this, boil the priming sugar in a cup or two or water for 10 minutes to sanitize it. Then decant the syrup into the bottling bucket.

Set up your siphon so that the beer itself will kind of "whirlpool" into the bottling bucket and mix in with the syrup. Make sure your fermenter is placed above your bottling bucket, and then siphon the beer into the bottling bucket.

Fermented beer.
The ring around the top is normal:
it's spent yeast
Tip: Try to keep the end of the siphon about an inch or two above the bottom of the fermenter. You don't really want all the yeast and hops residue in your final beer, now do you?

Step 3

Now that your beer is mixed in with the priming sugar, it's time to bottle the beer. Clean out your siphon and sanitize it again.

Place your crated bottles underneath the bottling bucket, and stick the siphon tube to the bottom of the bottle you're going to fill. Why? During bottling, it is really important to keep oxygen out of your beer. Oxygenating your beer at this stage leads to off tastes like paper and cardboard. 

Bottles with un-crimped caps
Fill the bottle to the top and crimp the tube with your thumb and forefinger. When you pull out the tube, the beer should be filled to within an inch or so from the top. Place a bottle cap on the bottle and repeat until all your bottles are filled.

Step 4

Finally, crimp the bottle caps with your capper. Most cappers have magnets to hold the cap in place. 

Capper in action
Make sure that the caps have been properly crimped. If you're not sure, test it for leaks and re-do if it's not seated properly.

Step 5

Storage: store your newly packaged bottles in a cool, dark place for about 2 weeks. This will allow the beer to naturally carbonate and condition in the bottle. After 2 weeks, toss some in the fridge and try them out--congratulations, you've just made your own beer!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse IPA

Today I review a lovely little number from Devil's Peak Brewing Company and one of the few proper IPAs around in the South African craft beer scene (which is a shame really).

Devil's Peak King's Blockhouse IPA

(500ml bottled; 6% ABV)

Colour: Copper
Aroma: Floral citrus, grapefruit.
Taste: This is a big, super hoppy beer with first tastes of perfume, resinous pine, and grapefruit. Hints of diacetyl are present but not overpowering.  There's a lovely malty backbone that rounds out the beer. It finishes nice and dry with a slight bitter pine aftertaste.

Pair this one with strong flavours like a Thai curry or chilli dish. Also, after your second one, be warned: the hops will dominate your palate and all tastes after that will never be the same! A wonderful, wonderful hop monster of a beer indeed.

Also, kudos to Devil's Peak BC for the great label. Craft beer also celebrates other artisans and the playful label and great design really add to the experience of having a finely brewed beer. Cheers!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Your First Brew: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, brew day has arrived! If you've been following this blog, you may now be itching to brew your first beer (at least I hope you are).

Today's post covers each step in brewing the recipe I gave you in the previous post (click here if you don't have it yet). We'll be brewing a Best Bitter, a pleasant, tasty beer that is very drinkable when done right.

It's going to be fun, so let's get cracking!

First things first: Prep

Just like when you cook a complicated dish, in brewing, it pays to prepare well. So before you light that flame and get brewing, it's best to set out everything you'll need on the day. That includes:

Crystal malt: Before milling

  • Measuring out the grain you'll be using
  • Measuring out the extract you'll be needing
  • Measuring out the hop additions, and placing them in order of adding
  • Getting the right quantity of water ready (about 23 litres)
  • Cleaning everything, from the brew kettle (stock pot) to your spoons, whisk, fermenter,and measuring instruments.
  • Measuring out and preparing other ingredients, like Irish Moss and the Lyle's golden syrup (yum).
  • Prepare the ice bath or wort chiller you're going to use.
  • Get a timer ready. You can download a really nice one from this site.

The brew kettle and burner
Important Sanitation Note: As part of the prep, fill your spray bottle with sanitiser (like Perisan) and fill another container large enough to hold the fermenter lid, spoons etc. This becomes your sanitation station--a critical and convenient solution.

Step 1. Crush speciality grains and steep.

If you haven't bought pre-milled crystal malt, you can crush the grains by putting them in a plastic bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or wine bottle. Try to crack each grain properly. However, don't overdo it! You don't need to mill them into a flour. For this recipe, you'll need 280 grams of crystal malt.

Put your grains in a plastic bag
 before crushing
Tie your bag to the kettle for
easy extraction later
Put the cracked grains into your grain bag, tie it, and then stick it into the 23 litres of de-chlorinated or mineral water you've got in the kettle. It may be useful to attach the bag to the pot's handle to allow for easy access later. Now, light the burner, and let the water temp rise slowly. Every now and again, agitate the bag with your spoon or whisk to let free some of the grain's good stuff.

Steeping grains: Adding flavour and colour
Using your thermometer, check the water temperature periodically. Once it reaches 60 degrees, start your timer and don't let the bag steep for more than 30 minutes, and don't let the water temperature rise above 75 degrees Celsius! When it reaches 75 degrees, pull out the grain bag, and let it drain naturally. 

Don't squeeze the bag. All this rigmarole is necessary: it prevents the extraction of unwanted tannins in the grain that makes for astringent flavours.

You'll need 2 kgs of DME

Step 2. Add the extract.

Once you've drained the bag, chuck it in the garden (the grains, not the bag), and turn off the burner. This is important, because you're going to add the extract now, and you don't want it to stick to the bottom of the kettle.

You should be using Dried Malt Extract (DME), so snip open the bags, and get your incredibly large whisk ready (ahem). Dump the DME into the water and whisk away, ensuring that you get rid of all lumps.

Once your satisfied that the DME is well mixed in, light the burner and turn it to maximum. It's time for the rolling boil!

A good, vigorous, rolling boil

Step 3. The Boil.

Bring your liquid (known now as wort) to a boil. You want to try and get it to boil vigorously and roll around in the kettle (see pic). Once that happens, it's time to start with the first hop addition. 

That's why it's important to prep properly, and measure out your hops in the order in which you'll be adding them.

Step 3.1. Bittering hop addition.

Once the rolling boil is up and running, add your first hops: 57 grams of Fuggles. Be careful at this point, adding the hops may cause a boil-over. You can prevent it by reducing heat for a bit or (better) spray some cold water on the rising wort.

At this time, also add the 340 grams of Lyle's golden syrup. Swirl the container with some of the wort to make sure you get all of the good stuff into the kettle.
Lyle's Golden Syrup

At this stage, you can begin your 60 minute timer.

Not much is going to happen until later, so this is a good time to sanitise all the equipment that will touch the cooled wort. Also, rehydrate your yeast.

Step 3.2. Rehydrate your yeast.

Yeast slowly hydrating--as it should
Take about 125 ml of sanitary, boiled water and put it in a mason jar (also sanitised). Let the water cool to 30 degrees C. Snip open your packet of Nottingham dry yeast (with sanitised scissors--picking up a trend yet?) and chuck it into the jar. 

Close the (sanitised) lid, and let it gently sublimate into the water for about 10 minutes. After that, you can swirl the yeast cream around every now and again until it's time to pitch (see the later step).

Step 3.3. Flavour hop addition. 

With 15 minutes remaining on your 60 minute timer, add the 14 grams of East Kent Goldings. This hop addition will impart a nice, spicy flavour to the beer. 
Irish moss: Weird stuff
Also add the teaspoon of Irish Moss to the wort: this will help to clarify the beer.

(If you're using an immersion wort chiller, you should stick its coils into the boiling wort at this point to sanitise it)

Adding some hops: Watch out for the boil over!

Step 3.4. Final aroma hop addition

With 5 minutes left on the clock, add the 7 grams of Fuggles and 7 grams of East Kent Goldings. This addition mostly adds a nice hoppy aroma to the beer.

Step 3.5. Flame out and chill

At the end of the 60 minute boil, turn off the burner, and let the wort rest for few minutes. 

Using your incredibly large whisk, create a whirlpool-like vortex in the wort for a minute or so. This will help to collect all the unwanted bits (the trub) in the centre of the kettle. 

The (covered) wort: Just chilling out
After this, carefully lift the kettle and place into your ice bath (or if using a immersion wort chiller, you can connect it up to a water supply and turn on the tap). Make sure to cover your kettle with a sanitised lid to prevent nasties from floating into the wort.

This is also a good time to take a sample of your wort. Let the sample chill to room temp and then take a reading with your test tube and hydrometer. 

If all went as planned, you should have a reading pretty close to 1.044

If it's higher, it may be because of the reduction in volume due to boil off (especially if you had a vigorous boil). Don't worry. You can dilute it later.

Step 4. Wort transfer: Fermenter time!

The Sanitation station: Keeping the nasties out
Please remember that from this point onward, your wort is very, very vulnerable to infection. Everything that touches it from this point onward MUST be sterile! Don't cut corners and don't take chances!

Once your wort is chilled to about 25 degrees C, it's time to transfer to the fermenter. Again, carefully take your kettle and dump the contents into the sanitised fermenter, preferably using a sanitised funnel and sieve.

 At this stage, it's not a bad idea to splash the wort quite a bit as it enters the fermenter--that helps with aeration.

Both the whirlpool and the sieve will help to keep your beer free of trub and thus make it far more pleasing to the eye (and mouth) once it's done. 

A good tip: mark your fermenter at the 19 litre level. If your wort comes to below the line, dilute to 19 litres with sterile water.

Step 5. Pitching

Your beer is in the fermenter. Well done! You're almost finished.

The last step is to ensure that there is enough air in your wort--this will help the yeast to survive its long stay in your beer as it produces alcohol and CO2--cool! 

You can aerate the wort in a number of ways. The easiest is to whisk the wort vigorously to introduce air, or if you're fermenting in a carboy of some kind, you can shake it for a few minutes to mix in the air. 

Beer in the fermenter. Note the thermometer to keep
track of the ambient temperature
Once that's done, you can pitch your yeast. Chuck it into the wort and give it a good stir. 

Half-fill the airlock with sterile water or vodka, stick it through the rubber grommet, and then pop that assembly into the fermenter lid. 

Seal the fermenter and put it somewhere dark, with an ambient temperature of between 16 and 23 degrees C. 

Step 6. Waiting..

Now comes the hard part. Waiting. 

Your beer should start fermenting within about 24-48 hours, which will be evident by the bubbling and gurgling sounds coming from the airlock. Leave it well alone and let the yeast do the work--no intervention necessary!

This beer should be complete (fermented out) after about 7 days or so, but will be improved if you let it condition for 2 weeks in the fermenter. During that time, feel free to take a reading or two with your hydrometer, but always sterilise your sampling equipment and never return the sample to the fermenter! 

Besides, there is a better receptacle for the sample: your mouth. Tasting the beer as it develops is all part of the fun and science of brewing.

You're aiming for a final gravity reading of approximately 1.011. It's best to give it some time and not rush things--a luxury the homebrewer enjoys over the commercial brewer!

Step 7. Bottling.

This is a whole additional project of its own. So tune in next time for my post on the basics of bottling.

Monday, 6 August 2012

First Recipe: Beginner Brewer Best Bitter

If you've been following this blog, you'll now that we've covered what equipment to get; the nice-to-haves; and some basic brewing techniques.

Now, it's time for your first brew. If you've brewed kits before, you'll have a head start, but this form of extract brewing is different, with a few more steps than you're used to.

For our first beer, we'll be brewing a style called Best Bitter. It's an English Pale Ale with a pleasant, herbaceous flavour and a slightly fruity finish.

The reason I've picked this style is because it's relatively easy to find some reference beers here in South Africa to compare your own creation to.

Some tasty examples to look out for are:
- Marston's Pedigree Bitter
- Thwaites Lancaster Bomber Ale
- Mitchell's Bosuns Bitter
- Darling Native Ale
- Drayman's Goblin Bitter

Beginner Brewer Best Bitter Recipe.

To brew this recipe you will need:

23 litres of sterilised, boiled water (or use bottled)
280 grams Caramel/Crystal Malt (crushed)
2 kg          Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)
340 grams Lyle's Golden Syrup (don't substitute with sugar--believe me!)
64 grams Fuggles Hops [4.50 %]
21 grams  East Kent Goldings Hops [5.00 %]
1 tsp          Irish Moss
1 pkg        Nottingham Dry Ale Yeast (Lallemand) (Alternative: Use Fermentis S-04)
Necessary cleaning and sanitising agents.

Some technical notes:

- OG (Original Gravity): 1.045
- FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
- ABV (Alcohol content): 4.4 %
- IBUs (Bitterness): 32

Next Time: We'll be brewing the recipe. I'll post a step-by-step guide on exactly how to brew your first beer. Can't wait!

{Photo credits: mfajardo}

Friday, 3 August 2012

Basic Brewing Techniques Part II: 5 Steps to Better Beer

In my previous post on basic brewing technique, I talked about the importance of keeping things clean. Today, I'm discussing 5 key techniques that if mastered, will make your homebrewing more enjoyable and your beer far tastier!

1. A Full Wort Boil

While you can get by with boiling only part of your wort when using extracts or kits, it's not ideal. A full wort boil is far better. What it means is simply to boil the full volume of beer that you will ultimately put in the fermenter.

For a 19 litre batch, that translates into about 22-23 litres, depending on how vigorous the boil is. Boiling the total volume has several benefits:

    Corn: Good on cob, bad in beer
  • It gets rid of DMS. DMS (Dimethyl Sulphide) is contained within malt and evaporates as the wort is boiled. It can give beer a cooked corn or vegetable taste; both rather unpleasant.  Boiling all of the wort for 60 minutes reduces DMS, providing you can cool down your wort quickly enough (see point 2 below)
  • It releases the full flavour profile of the hops. Hops need to be boiled and agitated for a while to release all the oils that give your beer that lovely hoppy flavour. A full wort boil does that far better than a partial boil.

2. Cool down rapidly

If you don't cool down your wort quickly enough, it can re-introduce all the DMS you've boiled off, which is just not cool (sorry). Also, cooling the wort rapidly creates a cold break, which is essential for creating a nice, clear beer. Removing the proteins that come out of a cold break also keeps the beer fresher for longer: always a good thing!

To rapidly cool down 19 litres of boiling liquid is not easy. Two relatively affordable ways to do it though are:

Salty Ice: A brewer's friend

  • A really cold ice bath. Get a medium sized galvanised metal bathtub, fill it with several packets of ice, water and salt. You now have an incredibly effective ice bath. 
This will chill your wort in about 30-40 minutes, but can be a bit of a pain. Make sure that you cover your brew-pot with a sanitised lid, and don't let any of the salty water into the beer!

3. Don't guess: Measure!

Measure things already!
Brewing is both an art and a science. The science part is often neglected by homebrewers though, with predictable results.

If you don't have one already, invest in a good kitchen scale for weighing your ingredients properly.

Use thermometers and hydrometers to measure the gravity of your wort, the right time to pitch your yeast, and when to bottle your beer.

Guesswork is just not going to cut it.

4. Rehydrate dry yeast

When using dry yeasts, it's a very good practise to rehydrate them for at least 30 minutes in sterile water at about 20-25 degrees C.

When pitching, make sure the wort is within 5 degrees C of the rehydrated yeast to avoid shocking the yeast into a slumber (not good).

5. Aerate properly.

Before pitching your yeast, aerate the wort by either rocking the fermenter back and forth for a few minutes, or use a sterile stainless steel aeration stone and aquarium pump setup with a carbon filter.

Using this system, you will need to aerate your wort for at least 20-30 minutes, longer for higher gravity beers.

Want more tips for improving your beer? Check out five more steps to better beer!

Next Time: It's time to brew! If you've been following this blog, you now have all the info and equipment needed for your first brew.

In the next entry, I'll give you a simple, yet tasty recipe for your first beer.


{picture credits: Corn: cammyclaudia; Ice: ksuyin; Scale: Stefano Costanzo} 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Winter Warmer Lineup

If you live in South Africa, you may have noticed that we are having an uncharacteristically cold winter this year. Maybe because you've had to crack the ice in your bathtub before getting in, or because your eyelids have been frozen shut while sleeping.

Of course, there is always beer to turn to in these cold winter months, so today I'm reviewing a lineup of winter warmer beers that will help to chase the cold monsters away. Winter warmers are often darker, more roasted beers, but not always. As you'll see in this review, the lightest coloured of beers can sometimes pack the heftiest warming punch.

Moortgat Duvel

(8.5% ABV; 330 ml.; bottled)

Colour: Light straw, with a large yeasty head

Aroma: Hints of floral hops, yeasty zest, and lemon.

Taste: This Belgian Ale is a complex expression of spicy fruit with notes of toast, citrus, and dried apple. It finishes incredibly smooth despite its high alcohol content, which in turn does wonders for the winter chills. Highly addictive and moreish--a fantastic winter winner!

Paulaner Hefe Weiss Dunkel

(5.3% ABV; 550ml.; bottled)

Colour: Hazy dark amber

Aroma: Raisins and fruit

Taste: This beer starts off a bit tart, but quickly turns more fruity with classic Weiss flavors. There's a slight hint of darker, roasted malts at the end that rounds out the brew quite well. A little on the fizzy side for late night consumption, but still a solid, warming beer.

Darling Black Mist Ale

(5% ABV; 550ml.; bottled)

Colour: Very dark cola

Aroma: Molasses and brown sugar

Taste: This is a complex beer that starts with a bitter, resinous hoppy flavour but rounds out with sugary malt and burnt caramel. There are also slight hints of toffee and liquorice in the after-taste. Black Mist is a full bodied brew that is perfect for cold winter days or nights.

Mitchell's Raven Stout

(5% ABV; 1l; bottled)

Colour: Opaque black

Aroma: Roasted cocoa

Taste: This stout is a lovely, silky beer with initial tastes of coffee and bitter chocolate. It finishes with a slightly earthy, dry after-taste that makes you want some more! It has a good full-bodied profile that is very habit forming on a cold day.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

5 Steps to Converting Someone to Craft Beer

Beer: more than just yellow fizzy stuff

Until quite recently over here in SA, if you wanted to drink something other than macro-brewed lager, you had to search long and hard for alternatives. There were very few local microbreweries, and imported beers that were available were mostly of the mass-produced, yellow fizzy variety.

Things have changed. Nowadays you don't have to go to the obscure little corner in the weird liquor store anymore to find good craft beer (well not all the time anyway!).

No doubt, things can get a whole lot better. Personally I'll start believing in true beer revolution when more Cape Town beers are available in Jo'burg (and visa versa), and when I can get the occasional shipment of Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA, but that's for another conversation.

The point is, if you love the diversity of beer in general, and craft beer in particular, it can be disappointing to see how little this enthusiasm is shared by those around you.

Today's post is about converting your friends, colleagues, and loved ones to craft beer. Amazingly, this is not always as simple as one might think.

Then again, it's not really that surprising given that SAB Miller's (and other macros') global marketing budget is large enough to fund things like revolutions, or say, a manned mission to Mars. They've invested heavily in creating loyalty to their brands and have incredible marketing and distribution engines to back that up.

So for the majority of South Africans, choice in beer still means choosing between different lager brands. Note that I didn't say different types of lager.SAB's offerings of Hansa, Castle, and Black Label are all varieties of American Premium Lager, as they all include large percentages of adjunct (maize) in the grain bill.

The exception here is of course Castle Milk Stout, the last remaining beer in the South African SAB  portfolio that is not a lager (although it is apparently brewed like a lager, so I'm not sure if it qualifies as a proper stout either).
Craft Beer = Taste Diversity

So, if you want to enthuse others about craft beer, it can be difficult to get past this mindset that brand diversity = beer diversity. Below are 5 suggestions on how to tackle the challenge:

1. Don't be a beer snob. I think if you're a beer geek like me, you've probably made yourself guilty of this at least a few times.

Enthusing people about the world of beer requires a lot of positive emotion and energy, which is exactly the opposite of what beer snobs are about. The beer snob sees his or her knowledge of beer as an instrument best suited to disparage those who do not possess it, and that's just not cool.

Just because your friend likes packing away a six pack of Black Label on a hot day does not make him a Philistine. Ultimately, beer is a wonderful thing to enjoy, and the way to convert people to craft is to show them just how much more there is to beer than the macro brewed lagers.

So, celebrate the diversity that beer has to offer by providing options rather than criticising your buddy's keg of Castle that he brought to the barbecue!

2. Start off gentle. If you've convinced someone to try some craft beer (good on you!), your enthusiasm may get the better of you.

In your rush to impress them with the wonderful world of Craft, you may be tempted to push your favourite 9%, 80 IBU, face-melting, double IPA into their hands. This is probably not going to have the intended effect.

Most people need a gentle introduction to craft beers, just like most people need a gentle introduction to other left-of-centre foods like oysters, caviar, or roasted Mopani worms. Try a friendly Pale Ale, or a refreshing Weiss. Before long, they will be ready for that Baltic Porter flavoured with oyster wee.
Speak to this guy:
He knows how to make Liquid Awesome

3. Let them speak to a brewer. One of the best things about craft beer (and the craft movement in general), is the closeness of the brewer,or baker, or coffee roaster to the person consuming their handiwork.

You don't have to interact with an anonymous brand or some fictitious character dreamt up in a marketing department.

You can talk directly to the person who made the beer with his or her own hands. Take your friend to a microbrewery tour and let them interact with brewers. That's one of the most powerful ways to appreciate the care (and passion) that goes into making artisan beer.

4. Invite them to a homebrewing session. If you're a homebrewer, it's a great idea to invite your pals to assist you in a brew.

Apart from the welcome help that provides, it also demystifies the process of beer making. Most beer drinkers have no idea what really goes into beer or how it's made. Once you let them taste the grains and smell the hops that go into beer, they will be more likely to want to try different varieties of beer.

5. Take them to a craft beer festival. There are at least 4 or 5 craft beer festivals each year (and they keep popping up in ever greater numbers) that showcase the South African craft beer scene. If you're in another country, chances are that craft beer festivals number in the hundreds. Nothing convinces novice beer drinkers of the merits of craft beer more than being able to drink a large wide variety of good beer (often paired with really delicious craft food).

Apart from the beer and food, the general craft vibe also sells people on the artisan experience. In my view it is often more quirky and friendly than the typical guzzle-until-you-fall-over beer festivals targeted by big commercial brewers.

I hope you've enjoyed this post; let me know what you think. Now let's go out there and convert!


{Picture credits: Beer taps: stoicviking; Yellow beer: NguyenDai ; Brewer: visitflanders (All cc-by-nc-sa 2.0)}