The Beginner Brewer: July 2012

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)}

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Wonderful Weiss Reviews

Today I'm reviewing a selection of wheat beers. Weiss beers add wheat and unique yeast flavours to the mix and are often associated with good food and beer festivals. Apart from the familiar German Weiss beers, Belgian varieties are flavoured with coriander and citrus peel. Note: Weiss beers are really refreshing and are perfect for even people who don't ordinarily drink beer (you know who you are, you weirdos).

Today I review a few local craft varieties as well as some imported ones.

Brewers and Union Steph Weiss.

(5% ABV; 500ml, bottled)

Color: Hazy pale straw with foamy white head.

Aroma: feint malt and bread like yeast.

Taste: characteristic flavors of crisp wheat and floral notes from the malt. The Weiss yeast also provides its own contribution of slight bread-like flavors. Overall a bracing, refreshing beer with good, moderate effervescence--not overly fizzy like many in this style. The fruit and grain flavours are very well balanced to make for a well rounded brew.

Robson's Wheat Beer.

(5% ABV; 550ml, bottled)

Color: hazy straw

Aroma: medicinal, slight coriander

Taste: this is an odd beer. It starts out with a slight fruitiness but finishes with a sharp, overly sour citrus bite. Aftertaste is medicinal and very phenolic, with a bitter citrus peel note.

Overall this beer is not well integrated, despite being of a Belgian style, which makes me more forgiving of strange flavour profiles. While all the constituents of a witbier is present, they are not in the correct relationship. This is a poorly balanced brew with potentially serious flaws.

Unfortuantely, I'm hard pressed to find a redeeming feature here.

Maisel's Weisse (Original)

(5.2% ABV; 500ml, bottled)

Color: Hazy dark golden

Aroma: cloves and bubblegum notes

Taste: This beer has a lovely aroma and initial tastes of fruit (citrus and apple) and mineral maltiness. The aftertaste is yeasty and reminiscent of toast. Overall, this is a really authentic, tasty example of the style.

Definitely a beer that calls out for food pairing. I'd also want one (or more) of these on a hot day--very refreshing!

Drayman's Altstadt Hefe Weissbier

(4% ABV; 1l, bottled)

Color: hazy pale straw

Aroma: Slight cloves and spice

Taste: This Weiss is more grain-forward than the others I've tasted in this post, but has a slight fruitiness to bring everything together. A very balanced finish with earthy hops rounding out the malt to produce a memorable mouthfeel. A refreshing and palate cleansing local Weiss!

Erdinger Weissbier (Mit Hefe)

(5.3% ABV; 500ml, bottled)

Color: Hazy yellow

Aroma: Tart citrus

Taste: Erdinger is massively popular worldwide, and the taste of this beer shows why.
Despite the tart aroma, the flavour is well balanced fruit and malt, with a crisp, mineral finish. Aftertaste is very moreish, with a slight hint of apple and spice.

This macro Weiss has very little to complain about. Habit forming and complex, it's definitely a well crafted wheat beer.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Basic Brewing Techniques Part I: Keeping things clean

I think that every hobby has a few key things that you should do to enjoy it, and a few you shouldn't. In the next couple of posts, I'd like to share key principles I've picked up over the years that will save you a lot of disappointment in your own homebrewing adventures.So pull up a chair, crack a cold one, and listen closely..

Clean Brewery = Good Beer

Yeast: Beneficial Beasties
The thing about beer and its ingredients is this: microbial life loves it. That's partly a good thing of course, because if beer was not a good growth medium, yeast, a most helpful micro-organism, would not be able to ferment it for the brewer.

Unfortunately, there are other micro-nasties that will definitely kill your beer and make it undrinkable.

{A lot of novice brewers (and their families) worry that homebrew can make you ill if it's "off". Don't worry: if your beer is infected, you will not drink enough of it to make you ill! It will be that bad.}

Bacteria: They want to kill your beer
So how do you prevent spoiling all that hard work? Mostly, it pays to be just a little paranoid when it comes to cleaning (removing visible dirt) and sanitizing (removing invisible nasties). First, let's look at cleaning:

  • Make sure that all your equipment is clean (i.e. free from dirt, build-up, and visible gunk). What can't fit into the dishwasher should be cleaned thoroughly with a good cleaning agent. Although dish-soap is somewhat acceptable, I strongly recommend using a non-scented dish-washing powder and hot water (wear rubber gloves though). Dish-washing powder contains mostly Sodium Metasilicate, a powerful cleansing agent that is suitable for brewing equipment.
  • As a side-note, I'd steer clear of more powerful cleansers like caustic soda for now. Unless you have tons of stainless steel vessels to clean (i.e. you own a microbrewery or a lot of kegs), you really don't have to use these. They are very dangerous, and for a small homebrewing operation, overkill.
  •  Rinse everything thoroughly with hot water. Residual alkaline cleansers can neutralise acidic agents used in sanitisation before they take effect (not good). Now, let's take a look at sanitisation.

Santize, Sanitize, Sanitize

Once you've cleaned your gear, you will need to sanitize everything that will come into contact with the wort after it has cooled down. 

When wort reaches 60 degrees Celcius, it can support microbial life, so contamination becomes a real risk. If your beer is going to become spoiled, it will probably happen during this period. Another risky period is later, during bottling, but the risk is significantly less because the beer now contains a good sanitizing agent of its own: alcohol!

Pictured: The correct attitude for homebrewing
Ultimately, it's all about attitude. If you don't want spoiled beer, it's best to cultivate a surgeon-like attitude to sanitisation. Just like surgeons assume that everything below the operating table is unsanitary, you should assume that everything that is going to touch your cooled wort and yeast is teeming with nasty microbes.

I've never heard of beer being spoiled by over-sanitising, but I know of many beers that have been poured down the drain due to careless sanitation. Here are a few pointers on how to stay bug-free:

  • Use a good sanitiser. The cheap option is diluted bleach, but I prefer a more purpose-built agent such as Sodium Metabisulphite, or Peracetic Acid (both available from homebrew shops).

  • One of the best things I've ever done is to switch to a no-rinse sanitiser like Peracetic Acid (Perisan). No-rinse means that you don't have to rinse off equipment that was sanitised with Perisan. This saves a heck of a lot of time, not to mention water. Dilute Perisan 1ml per 1 litre, and make it on the day of the brew. Perisan has a short viability once mixed, so it needs to be used within a few hours of preparing it. I usually make enough to fill the fermenter a third of the way, plus another couple of litres to sanitise everything else (about 6-8 litres). Please be cautious when handling undiluted Perisan though--it's nasty stuff.

  • Speaking of water: remember that anything boiled in water for about 10-15 minutes can be considered sanitised.

  • Buy a spray bottle and fill it with your sanitiser of choice: it's very useful to keep this handy, because you can instantly sanitise anything you are worried about or which may have become potentially contaminated (due to touching unsantized objects, like your dog).In fact, most pieces of kit can be fully sanitised by spraying them thoroughly with sanitiser, making soaking unnecessary.

Here's a checklist of all the bits and pieces that will definitely need to be sanitised on brew day:

  1. The brew kettle lid (you'll be covering your wort once the boil is complete)
  2. Anything used to stir or agitate the cooled wort (i.e. spoon or whisk)
  3. Anything that is going to touch your yeast, like containers used to hydrate dry yeast, scissors used to snip open packets, etc.
  4. Any additional water you will add to the wort after cooling (use bottled or boil before use)
  5. The fermenter, its lid, the rubber grommet used to seat the airlock, and the airlock itself
  6. The water that you'll put inside the airlock (good alternative: vodka)
  7. The immersion wort chiller (if used)
  8. Any funnels or strainers used when transferring the wort into the fermenter
  9.  A couple of plates and containers to store already sanitised gear in
  10.  Any sampling devices used to sample cooled wort such as measuring jugs
  11. Thermometers used to check wort temperature after cooling.

One final note: A lot of cleaning and sanitising agents are very dangerous chemicals that must be treated with respect. Use rubber gloves when handling them, and use them in well ventilated areas. When working with acids like Perisan in their undiluted forms, it's a good idea to wear eye and respiratory protection.