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.

#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…

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.