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!!

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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

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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.

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? 

(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.