#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…

Let’s go to the Hop…

20140723_195412Yesterday’s mash finally cooled enough to pitch my yeast at around 3.30pm today – a full 24-hours after I shut down the boiler. 

After pouring off a jug-full of cloudy, sludgy, trub-infused liquor, out came the sweet stuff.

Once again, I’m very pleased with the clarity at this stage and OG was still at 1048, so no major quibbles there either.

I pitched the yeast/yeast nutrient and there was movement pretty much straight away, with a thin layer of cream-like foam forming on top as I gave it a good stir.

It was about a half-inch in depth by the time I put the lid on my fermenting bin.

As of 7.30pm UK time, it was fizzing away like mad and the lid of the bin has puffed up like a mushroom, with little give when pressed.

My porch now smells like Mansfield did when I was a kid. 

It’s darkened a notch overnight and is now a lovely dark ruby, rather than the burnt amber hue of yesterday, although I expect it to lighten back up once the yeast gets to work and does its thing.

My last batch went exactly the same, a really vigourous primary which was over in around 72 hours – if this one follows the same path, I may be able to transfer to secondary before I go back to work next week.

Which leads me to the main point of this post…

HopMy plan with this one is to dry hop it with a mix of the EKG and Citra hops I have left over from the bittering process yesterday. I’ve done a bit of reading up on the best way of going about it, but the internet being the internet, you can read ten different sites and get ten different and conflicting pieces of advice. 

My main concerns are around clarity (and if dry-hopping makes a noticeable difference); infection (although, to be fair, almost every site I have read has said I shouldn’t have any issues with this) and method. 

So, my questions to the awesome homebrew community – and especially to those with a more experienced and nuanced technique than mine currently is – are:

1) Do I contain my hops in a muslin bag or just drop them straight into the wort? And if the former, will it make that much of a difference to the final clarity of my brew?

2) Anything I can do to minimise the floaty bits and ensure my finished brew is as clear as can be?

3) Any general tips, ideas or things that have worked for you in the past?

As always, all advice appreciated and I’ll share some link-love and Tweet props to all who help.

Cheers

Jon

Reflections on brew day three

An absolute scorcher of a day in my particular corner of the UK made for a sticky and uncomfortable time in the kitchen, as I toiled over my third batch of homebrew.

Swelter though I did, fuelled by green tea and iced water, I seemed glide through the process this time with no particular stresses or strains and the whole day was enjoyable and relatively pain free.

The only hairy moment was a near miss with an overboil, which happened while I was watching Rita Ora on telly with my little one.

I caught it quickly and managed to cool back down to target mashing temp within seconds, thanks to a strategic drop of ice-cold water. Hopefully, none of the grains will have released any nasties. If they have, it’s Rita’s fault… that’s just How We Do.

I’m aiming for a citrussy, amber summer session ale this time, with Maris Otter and Vienna making up the bulk of the grain bill and a bit of crystal thrown in to add depth and colour.

20140722_112222I was aiming for a post-mash gravity of 1050 and it came out just shy at 1048 – minor niggle.

The hop mix is a blend of high-alpha (16.6) Citra and East Kent Goldings, 50g of the former in at the start, 25g of the latter dropped 20 mins before the end. I’ll add proprietary mix of the two – more EKG than Citra – in secondary.

Dropping the hops is my favourite part of the process. I love the moment they hit the hot, sweet wort and release their fragrant aromas. It leaves the kitchen smelling awesome for hours.

20140722_112344Post-boil, it came out a lovely burnished copper colour, which was sickly-sweet and full of peppery, citrus notes from the stronger of the two hops. Looking forward to seeing how this one develops in the days ahead.

It’s cooling in the sealed kettle, ready for racking into my fermenter and pitching the yeast in the morning.

If it goes the same as last time, and I can leave most of the trub behind in the kettle, it should be another good batch.

Just need to wait a few weeks to drink the damn thing… good thing I’ve got plenty of this one left to cool me down in the sunshine.

(People get ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady

Rocksteady LabelAfter weeks of eager anticipation – on my part at least – my second brew is finally ready for drinking.

So, I today introduce Rocksteady into my stable of brews.

It is a hand-crafted pale ale, very clean tasting, very hoppy and quite potent, weighing in at 5.7% on the hydrometer.

It came from 5kg of crushed lager malt, a half-kilo each of crushed crystal and torrified barley and 100g of Target hops, which were continually dropped in five gram quantities at five minute intervals during the final boil.

I was uncovinced when it came out of primary, it was extremely bitter and sickly. Thankfully, it mellowed out a lot as it cleared after a long spell in secondary and I’m really pleased with what’s come out.

It’s very clean on the tongue. Whereas my first brew, Badfish, was full of biscuity sweet malty notes, with a hoppy finish, this little baby is pure hop right off the bat. It’s not a million miles away from what I had in my head when I designed the recipe, which was somewhere akin to a clone of my fave pint, with a little bit of Madness thrown in.

20140716_213739The fact that it looks like a lager, but tastes very much like a real ale is an added bonus – I’d have been happy with the flavour even if it was brown as dishwater and cloudy as soup.

I’ve had a sneaky couple of bottles already and it goes down well in the sunshine. I’ve a few more chilling in the fridge ready for the weekend.

With the Badfish, I was too Marty McFly to unleash it on anyone other than myself and my folks, but this one has gone to a couple of my closest confidantes in the office for their opinion. Both have refined palettes, so I look forward to their feedback.

Overall, I was more patient with this batch than my previous brew, which has resulted in a marked improvement on my first effort. The main takeaways were:

1) Time is an essential ingredient. It’s worth the extra couple of days in primary, the extra couple of weeks in secondary and the extra few days in the bottle to bring about a more mature, well-rounded result.

20140716_2137132) Don’t rack into primary too early – I left it cooling in the mash tun overnight before transferring to my fermenting bucket. Not only did this help to clear out a lot of the crap, it also helped to aeriate the wort before pitching the yeast. This helped with the overall clarity too – it was crystal bright when I bottled it.

3) Batch prime, not bottle prime – my one main criticism with Badfish was that I primed each bottle individually. The result was some bottles which were relatively flat, some which were on a hair trigger, waiting to explode when I clicked the cap off. I added my priming sugar solution to the finished beer before bottling with this brew and the result is a nice background carbonation with just enough fizz to cut through the hops to a lingering, dry finish.

Name-wise, again, I took inspiration from what I was listening to on the day she was born. The link to Badfish was a happy coincidence rather than a deliberate design, while the monicker also touches on a few other things in life which float my boat.

I break up for a week tomorrow and brew number three is on the way. Until then, here’s an honourary beer to the girls and boys who inspired this brew. Take it away, Gwen…

From barrel to bottle

20140705_095301My second batch of homebrew is now in the bottle, as of yesterday.

Hoping it will be ready to try in a fortnight or so, although I racked off enough for a few crafty sippers while I was bottling.

It’s a lovely straw-like blonde ale, which came out of the fermenter almost crystal clear. It’s alot more clean-tasting than the Badfish and is all hop – there’s no sweet malty notes at all, it’s a very dry and hoppy, bitter brew.

Very refreshing and I’m looking forward to opening the first conditioned bottle in a couple of weeks, once it has a bit of added fizz, to sample.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made, as a brewer, between my first and second brews. There were a few things I learned, both from what I was doing and also from the community, which I applied second time around and which have made a noticable improvement on the results.

The main one was slowing down. The whole process, from initial mash to bottling, seemed a lot smoother this time, simply because I took more time between steps.

20140705_100440I think I was just so keen to get my first brew ready that I rushed through the whole thing.

I took my time with this brew and the results are markedly superior – there was more trub in the bottom of the bin after primary, minimal sediment after a longer period in secondary and the beer is much clearer and a lot more mature than Badfish was when it came out of the fermenter.

I’m working on a name/label today and all will be revealed in due course.

It will probably be a couple of weeks before I get my third brew on, but I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head already – I’m either going to refine and redo Badfish, or go for a strong, hoppy stout. We shall see, but I’m already looking forward to it.