It’s been a while…

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted something.

It’s been a crazy year at work, and as my job involves a lot of writing every single day, to the point where I’m usually to fried to do something in my leisure time, my resolution for the new year is to really push on here and post more regularly.

I’ve added a new “My Beers” section to the pages bar above… this contains info about each individual beer I’ve brewed… and I’ve got another two under my belt this year… again, the plan is to do a few more next year and see where it takes me.

Bizarrely, I’ve still been picking up traffic/readers throughout the year (admittedly, probably driven by Adam Lambert fans reading this review), so I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who has stopped by here over the past couple of years… hope you liked what you saw, please don’t be a stranger.

Hopefully, posting will pick up in the new year, but for now, bottoms up!!

First brew of the year…

It was Easter 2014 when I started this blog and, in effect, my new homebrew hobby. A lot of beer has been brewed – and drank – since then and I have found that my pastime has occupied my free thoughts a lot over the past 12 months.

While time, space and equipment limitations, coupled with work and family commitments, has limited the number of actuals brews I’ve seen through from start to finish to only four, I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made over the year and have enjoyed learning from my mistakes to ensure that each subsequent brew has been better than the last.

Although not quite  a year to the day, I’m marking the anniversary of my debut brew by getting another batch on.

This one will be quite similar to my first effort, Badfish Bitter, but the recipe has been rebooted slightly, which will hopefully give a better result this time around.

I’ve stripped out the crystal malt from the original and instead, am going total marris otter this time around, mostly pale, but with approx half-a-kilo kilned to a lovely hazlenut brown, which should give a nice toffee finish.
Any I’ve tweaked the hop blend to include a mix of Target, Northdown and Challeger, with a final drop of the latter going in dry in secondary.

It’s sunny outside, my spotify is loaded up with ska/reggae loveliness and I’m looking forward to creating what will hopefully be an early-Summer session beer.

Cheers!

My Royal Appointment… An evening with Queen

image

There are a few people in life who are so skilled at what they do that you very quickly realise they deserve your respect. Adam Lambert is one of those people.

Before last night, I knew little of the 30-something American singer, save for the odd YouTube clip and the fact that he’d finished runner-up on American Idol. He is, however, a very special talent indeed.

I can’t profess to being the world’s biggest Queen fan. But, like many men of my age, I was bought up listening to their biggest hits on the way to the football in my dad’s car and I’m well aware of their deserved position at the very top table of British rock, so when the opportunity came up to see them in the flesh for the first time, I couldn’t really pass it up.

So, I entered the venue with an open mind but some uncertain expectations. By the end of the show, I was far from disappointed. Blown away is a more accurate term.

Arena music is a far cry from where it was 20 years ago. These days, bands simply can’t just turn up and go through the motions – the crowd demands a show in exchange for their coin and this is where Queen came into their own.

It can’t be doubted that their founding fathers Brian May and Roger Taylor have assembled a band as exceptionally talented as they are to do their back catalogue justice. It’s more that with Queen, it’s not just about the music, it’s the showmanship that goes with it… and they didn’t disappoint.

While nobody can replace their legendary late frontman Freddie Mercury, in Adam Lambert, they have unearthed a showman more than capable ensuring their legacy lives on.

No stranger to guyliner and with a fashion sense at the flamboyant extreme of the spectrum, Lambert slinked and slithered across every inch of the stage during the two hour show.

A natural performer with the voice to match, his masculine edge ensured that his brash and playful campness stayed just on the right of pastiche.

He was also extremely respectful to both the band’s material and it’s elder statesmen, Taylor and May, who were clearly having a blast working with a performer so adept at shouldering the responsibility of fronting one of the biggest names in music.

As for Taylor and May, there were a few moments – such as the instrumental in the raucous Tie Your Mother Down – when they really let go and you could see the chemistry between them which lifts Queen from being just another rock band into the chart-topping, stadium-filling juggernaut which was the mainstay of their career.

Mercury’s legacy was also reflected, with May duetting with a video of his pal in full pomp during Love of My Life, in the presence of Freddie’s mum, a long-time Nottingham resident who had front row seats last night.

As for the best moments, there were a few. The opener, One Vision, set the tone perfectly and the set’s early appearance of Fat Bottomed Girls was a masterstroke in audience manipulation, with Lambert getting everyone on their feet and singing. But the real hairs-on-the-back-of-your neck stuff came towards the end of the show.

Radio Ga Ga, Who Wants to Live Forever and, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody – complete with another virtual  appearance from Freddie during the anthem’s final restrain, bought the show to a fitting climax, setting up a rousing finale of We Will Rock You and the sing-along We Are The Champions, before the performers took their bows, applause and exited stage left, to the strains of God Save the Queen.

It was a fitting finale for a bona fide member of rock’s Royal Family.

Last batch gone, next batch on

Seems like an age since I started this post off, but events at work and home kind of took over my life for the past few weeks, so what I initially started out wanting to say has moved on somewhat.

My last brew made it into the bottle and is all finished. Again, it was a step-up from my last beer.

image Burnt amber in colour, it was so hoppy in both nose and flavour that it was christened ‘Hoppy Jack’.

It was my clearest and cleanest-tasting brew to date. Some of the early bottles could have done with another couple of weeks of conditioning before being consumed, but the latter ones were more or less see through, which I was very pleased with.

The hops, however, did not do what I was expecting at all.

I used an early drop of Citra and EKG in the boil, with the remaining hops dropped in dry.

I was expecting really big, floral and citrussy flavours in the end product, but what I got instead was a really dark and fruity, almost plummy flavour, with intense notes of pine, treacle, aniseed and cassis. Others who tried it reported hints of honey, orange blossom, cinnamon (??) and fennel.

All very strange, but no matter, it was an enjoyable brew and didn’t last long enough.

Anyhoo, it’s been a few months since the mash tun has been out, but it’s busy bubbling away in the kitchen at the moment on my dark winter ale.

It’s base is marris otter, but there is a kilo each of black malt and crystal thrown in for good measure. The liquor is an inky black at present and the whole house smells of coffee and bonfire toffee.

I’ll flavour it up later with some Saaz and 2014 harvest Green Bullet hops (13% alpha), reserving some back for a dry drop in secondary.

Hoping to at least get this one in the bottle in time for Christmas, but as we all know, these things take time.

Hot n Hoppy Chilli Sauce

20140805_191950Beer aside, I’m a bit of a chilli freak… the hotter, the better in my book. 

I love that feeling you get when the first embers of a nice and spicy sauce start to fire up the synapses on the tongue, building into a crescendo of flames before the endorphins kick in and start working their serene and calming magic.

Wherever we go, if I see a hot chilli sauce – or rub, or powder, or pickle – that I’ve not sampled before, I have to buy it and give it a test drive.

On Sunday just gone, I was in paradise. The great East Midlands Chilli Festival was in town, so I got to troop my long-suffering other half and our daughter from stall to stall, trying every last fiery delight until my tongue was burned out, before settling on some booty to bring back.

I got three distinct and different jars of the fieriest sauces I could find and plan to review them here at some point in the future, so we’ll leave it there for now.

20140805_194110Because the main point of this post is not what I bought at the weekend, but what I made last week, when I came across these little bad boys in the supermarket.

Officially certified the hottest in the world and packing a whopping two million Schoville, they may look cute and harmless, but they could bring down a rhino at five paces.

Now, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of chilli beer and whether or not it’s possible to create one that sates my need for heat without ruining the whole beer drinking experience.

I’ve tried various alcoholic concoctions laced with capsaicin in the past, with varying effects, and overall, find the drinking experience too weird to be enjoyable. 

Even in its mildest form, any drink which instantly sets the palette aflame – soup excepted – doesn’t really float my boat. 

So, with chilli beer firmly off the menu, my plan was to tackle it from another angle instead… after all, if the chilli won’t make the beer, why not see if the beer can make the chilli?

Now, a big component of my basic hot sauce recipe, regardless of whatever chillies I may have to hand, is having something sour to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes, the heat of the chilli and the fragrance of the spices. 

It usually takes the form of the juice and rind of a couple of lemons, limes or even grapefruit, depending on what looks fresh and juicy in the store. 

On this occasion, it was two whole lemons and two whole limes, juiced, to start off the boil. Added to that, a half-litre of passata, a proprietary mix of the three Cs… that’s cumin, cardamom and coriander, and a liberal dose of chopped Trinidad Scorpion Chilies (four whole packs, to be precise).

Then came the beery twist – courtesy of some of the used hops left over from my latest brew. I went with the Citra, given their fresh and citrussy fragrance and high alpha content, which would hopefully lend a bitter dimension to the overall recipe.

20140805_193140I took a handful of the lovely, whole hop flowers and did a very gentle infusion in a saucepan of warm water.

The resulting brew was more fragrant and less hoppy than I was expecting, more like a very delicate lemon tea than a full-bodied IPA, but a pleasant aroma nonetheless. 

It had no chance of standing up to the big, bold flavours of the tomatoes, citrus and spices – and, of course, the chillies – in the finished product, but the aim was to enhance, rather than overpower, the other ingredients. 

The rest of the process was simple, just cooking it out until the sauce was the consistency of thick ketchup, before allowing to cool and spooning it into a kilner jar to chill… after a crafty sample, of course.

20140806_075528Did it disappoint?

No… I had the merest scraping of sauce on the corner of a tortilla chip and my mouth was on fire instantly.

Despite the heat, though, the floral notes from the chillies cut through the sourness from the lemons and limes, while the hops lingered on the nose.

Three hours later, it still felt as if I’d licked a hot iron.

All in all, a job well done – perhaps too hot to eat on its own as a dip or a sauce, but excellent for adding extra punch to a curry, bolognaise or, of course, a chilli con carne. 

It will be fun finding a decent beer to go with it – I’m thinking a nice, fragrant Saison or a hoppy IPA… any suggestions, folks? 

#FF Pint – Rhatas, by Black Dog Brewery, Whitby…

black-dogThe mythical Black Dog holds a prominent place in old English folklore. There are regional – but similar – variations of this muscular, spectral lupine beast with long, sharp fangs and glowing red eyes, which preys on weary travellers.

Arguably, the most famous of all is the Barghest of Whitby, which, it is said, roams the North Yorkshire moors surrounding the once-thriving whaling port. Legend has it that any poor soul who should hear the beast’s blood-curdling cries in the night will certainly be dead by dawn.

Whilst literature is scattered with references to the black dog in everything from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter, the legend of the Barghest was perhaps made most famous in the pages of Dracula, which Bram Stoker found inspiration for while staying in the fishing resort in 1890.

Stoker, it is said, was quite smitten with the atmosphere of the town – the red roofs, the network of dark alleyways and ginnells, the eerie abbey, the church with its tombstones and even the bats flying around many of its darker corners.

The author is believed to have stayed in the town’s Royal Hotel, which sits imposingly atop the West Cliff. From there, he would have had a prime view across the town and the harbour to the older East side, in the shadow of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, which sits at the top of 199 stone steps which wind up into the cliffs from the cobbled streets below.

It’s the vantage point from which Stoker described how Dracula first arrived on our shores.

In the form of a black dog, the mythical vampire was stowed on a Russian schooner heading for London, which berthed on the coast off Whitby. He descended the vessel in darkness and climbed the 199 stones steps to the Abbey, where he came upon his first victim in the graveyard.

I mention this, because I was in Whitby with my ladies yesterday for a family day out and whenever we visit this amazing seaside resort, my thoughts often turn to the supernatural tales which are linked with it.

I’ve loved a good ghost story ever since I was a child, when my Grandad, a true ranconteur, would sit in his armchair on a Saturday afternoon and, in a fug of cigarette smoke, regale my sister and I with the spooky stories he had picked up from his travels with the Royal Navy during the war and the Merchant Navy after it.

Most involved a drink or two, but then they are kind of the best stories anyway, aren’t they?

But I digress…

We eventually left for home yesterday at around 9.30pm, after an action-packed day of crabbing, arcades, shopping and walking, all rounded-off by a famous Whitby Ghost Walk – which sated my need for all things supernatural – before heading out of the town and into the moors on our way home.

It was that strange time of day when dusk was turning to night. The sky was an amazing dark amber and the hot and humid conditions had conspired with the brisk sea breeze to create a mist which descended over the barren expanses of scrubland on either side of the winding road on which we were travelling.

The car was full of chat and laughter as we recounted the day and the experiences we’d had when I saw, in the distance and almost imperceptible at first, two bright red beacons on the road ahead, which seemed to be getting closer as we continued on our way.

Was it a car? Must have been, although we’d not seen a single other vehicle since leaving Whitby. The mist had by now turned into a fog as thick as felt and all I could see up ahead were the two, burning red lights getting closer and closer. I’m normally a rational person, but I slowed the car, wound up the window and turned up the radio to drown out the noises outside, just in case.

All the time, the lights were getting closer… it couldn’t have been, could it?

Paranormal goings-on are not the only thing Whitby is famous for, which brings me to the main point of this post. It also does great fish and chips – the UK’s best, in fact.

There aren’t many more culinary pleasures which can top this seaside staple – a foodie experience which is never better than when you’re sat by the harbour, the water gently lapping the walls, seagulls circling noisily over your head, spooning vinegar-soaked chips and freshly caught fish into your mouth with a little wooden fork. It’s perfection.

Black DogUnfortunately, with the prospect of a two-and-a-half hour drive home around the corner, I had to settle for a diet coke to wash down my meal.

Had I not been driving, I would have partaken in a pint of this.

Dark Ruby in colour and steeped in some of the spookier elements of Whitby’s history, this is one Black Dog whose howls I wouldn’t mind heeding.

The brewery had been operating in the town for many years, but ceased trading in 2001.However, in 2006, a local farmer acquired its equipment and recipes and relaunched it in a bid to keep the tradition going.

I’ve raised a couple of queries about my own brewing methods this week and once again, the homebrew community has been very generous with its insight, guidance and support.

So, here is a virtual pint of Black Dog Rhatas to the following fellow homebrewers who have helped me along the way this week…

Cheers guys. Just don’t look into its eyes…