Join with us on our adventure as we build East Alstead's first brewery and what is quite possibly the only off-grid commercial brewery in the United States. We feel that what we brew and how we brew it are equally important. If you would like to help out with this project, contact me at: tim@belgianmare.com.




The Belgian Mare Says Hello!

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Life For an Old Bird

I hope everyone had a good holiday season.  Things are going well here at the farm.  The most noteworthy occurrence has been the resurrection of one of our chickens.  Maybe not a true resurrection, but a pretty good comeback.

Our last remaining Leghorn had been laying misshapen, wrinkly eggs for some time.  Then she laid shell-less eggs for a while. This could be a real mess when she would try to lay in a nest that already had other eggs in it.  The membrane of the shell-less egg would break and cover the other eggs in goop and make a mess of the nest box.  Eventually, she just stopped laying all together.  That was a few months ago.

Imagine our surprise when we found a perfectly shaped, extra-large white egg last week.  The next day brought another.  Then another the day after that.  She has now laid an egg for four days in a row!  Pretty good for a three year old Leghorn!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Doors

A bit of progress has been made on the brewery as of late.   We have put on one set of doors, the loft floor and the blocking on the first floor. We are moving forward.  I have also, for the first time in three months, got some homebrews going.

Below I have posted a photo of the new doors and some videos for your entertainment.

Cheers!

The new doors are in place!



video video

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Two Articles On Beer Styles

Below are two articles I wrote on beer styles.  They have not been published before.  I had intended to combine them into one article, as they are closely related, but decided that each worked better as a stand alone article.  As always, I welcome your comments.

Cheers!

A Word On Beer Style

When considering the question of beer styles, the argument has an unfortunate tendency to, very quickly, become contentious and confining.  Many persons, sometimes it seems to be the majority, simply will not accept a beer that does not fit their concept of an established style.  One may hear them say something along the line of “It is a good beer, but not to style.”  What does this mean?  Is it a nice way of saying a beer is awful?  (Looks good on you…) Who gets to determine what a style is?  Will the beer police arrest the brewer and take him before the beer judges?  If it is truly a good beer, but not to style, is it then a new style?

Not long ago I read an essay in which the author, a beer judge of some certification, stated his belief in the importance of brewers being trained to “recognize styles and to judge critically.”  However, he then quickly stated that he often had to “turn off” his critical tasting apparatus and simply enjoy the beer he happened to be drinking.  So it would appear that being sensitive to beer styles takes the joy out of beer drinking. 

Well, now isn’t this a pretty state of affairs.  Perhaps we need to go back to the start and see where beer styles came from.

The first thing that we all, as beer drinkers and creators, need to realize is that until recent times a beer style was a wholly unintentional creation.  The first brewers did not sit in their caves, scratching their chins, and suddenly cry, “Aha, I have it.  I will make a Welsh Bitter!” No, indeed.

Rather, beer styles arose as an artifact of geography and culture. In the early stages of brewing, up until the industrial era, people used the ingredients that were readily available.  Not all ingredients were available in all locations.  Further, due to cultural norms, some ingredients would be accepted in one area and rejected in another. So the origin of style is a reflection of culture and geography.

As trade and transport became more efficient, brewers found at their disposal previously unavailable ingredients.  As might be expected, this lead to the creation of new styles of beers.  However, the creation of these new styles was still not an intentional end. Rather, brewers experimented with new ingredients and techniques in an effort to make better beer that would sell.  Bear in mind that the first London Porter was not to style, if for no other reason than that the style did not exist.  Then as now, the intention of every brewer was to make good beer.

As new beers came to be accepted within a local area, they often came to be seen as characteristic of their region of origin.  Thus we came to have Welsh Bitter and London Porter. But, again, the intention was not to create a style, but to create something people liked.  The concept of style was the outsider’s way of delineating regional variations.  This was reinforced by local consumers’ tendency to become stoutly loyal to the local product (style) and resist any change. 

In time, as beers became more available outside their region of origin, the concept of style was created as a useful means of broadly categorizing products and indicating similarities and differences.  To this day that remains the utility of the concept of style - a way of communicating similarities and differences to the inexperienced.

So why has style come to be so narrowly defined by such a large portion of beer drinkers?  I am not sure.  Other than giving one the ability to smugly state, “A good beer, BUT not to style”, I can see no utility in such definitions.  In fact, the whole concept of rigidly defined styles is self-defeating.  By defining styles too narrowly and attempting to enforce these definitions through criticism, contests, and the like, innovation and creativity are restricted.  Remember, the first Stout was not to style, yet later it would become an accepted style.

What then is the upshot?  Beer style, like any other system of categorization, is an artificial imposition from the outside.  It is a useful, if somewhat unwieldy, concept that functions well as a general guide, but breaks down if definitions get too specific. Think about the categories on the periodic table of the elements (metal, gas, rare earth, etc.).  They are very useful in a broad sense, but there still elements that fall between the categories. Further, if style is strictly enforced, the creation of new styles, the beers that fall between the cracks, will cease. So I say to you, Dear Reader, use style as a general guideline, never forgetting that the point is to make good beer.


What Is Beer Style

What is style as it pertains to beer?  It would appear that, to most people, it means a defined set of characteristics that cleave a beer to others with the same set of characteristics and cleave it away from those that do not share that set of characteristics.  To be useful, this set of defining characteristics should be agreed upon by the vast majority, if not a consensus, of beer enthusiasts and be easily recognizable. If only a minority agreed upon the defining elements of a style or if these elements were so obscure as to be beyond the ken of the majority, the style in question would have no meaning.  Thus, style is a matter of agreed upon definition.

So why do we have beer styles?  It is important to note at this time that traditionally style was a matter of social evolution.  Culture and geography would conspire and the result was a beer style.  To wit, the brewer used whatever ingredients were available and socially acceptable within their locality.  So, at least in the early days of brewing, style was not a matter of conscious choice.  Rather, style was a matter of necessity, massaged by society.

Thus, in its earliest form, beer style was a reflection, perhaps even an expression, of the brewer’s geography and culture.  In short, our early brewers strove to do the best they could within their respective contextual constraints and style was born.

The modern brewer faces far fewer limitations than his predecessor.  A brewer in Australia can easily obtain Irish Ale yeast and a Patagonian may have Munich malt almost at will.  Ah, FedEx, making a village of the once wide world.

A literary analogy rises here. Who is the better poet: One working within the framework of a sonnet, or one with the freedom of blank verse?  Thence, who is the better brewer: One toiling within the limits of place and society or one with access to a world of ingredients?  I see in this question the makings of a philosophical great debate and shall plea a respectful silence and return to the topic at hand.

To return, and summarize, the question of style has moved from one of necessity to one of intent.  This is best illustrated by comparing a double (or is it now triple) IPA to a Lambic.  The former is completely contrived and market targeted, the latter is so localized and specific in ingredients as to be nearly impossible to recreate outside its place of origin.

So what, ultimately, is a beer style?  It is a means of communication.  It is a way to let others know what you are doing. If one brewer were to say to another, “This is my cream stout,” regardless of the resultant product, the recipient has a notion the provider’s intent.  Which leads to another issue (this slope does seem to be getting a bit slippery, does it not?)

What happens when interlocutors cannot agree upon the elements of a style?  I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “good beer, but not to style.” This phrase is often spoken with a certain gravity of tone that bodes ill for anyone who should produce such a beer.  Given the preceding discussion, does such a statement have any meaning?   I would opine, no.  It seems to be a bit like saying a table with six legs is good furniture but not a table. While styles can be seen a pseudo-platonic ideals that aid in communication, they are, as with all ideals, open to interpretation and ultimately outside reality.  So what is to be done?

The upshot here is that all any brewer can do, if they would be true to themselves and their craft, is to use style as a starting point and brew the best beer they can.  Use what you have, get what you can and make the best beer possible.  Follow your heart.  If you end up with a rauchbier, excellent, if you create a new style, so much the better.  In the final analysis, the concept of established beer styles is most useful as a means of exploring new possibilities.  The ultimate aim is to make good beer. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sunday Work Day

We tried for a work day last Sunday.  About one in the morning I was awakened to the sound of the beeping of my computer's battery back-up. I promptly fell back asleep.  When Annie woke me to take her out, I realized that I could not turn on the lights and remembered the previously- forgotten beeping.  We finally got power back a bit after 1pm.  By then, my JKD instructor had arrived and it was time to start kicking and punching each other.

In the meantime, a few brave souls labored with me, by hand, to get a few things done around the brewery. In a way, not having power was a bonus, it made us plan and work more efficiently. On Monday, with the power back on, I made some progress on the loft floor.

Such is life.  Hopefully this Sunday we will have power and be able to inch the brewery a bit further along toward completion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Test

A short time ago I was presented with the rare opportunity for a mass taste-testing.  A friend of mine was having an anniversary celebration and asked if I could brew a couple of beers for the event. I immediately accepted.  This would be an excellent opportunity to test my brews with a wider audience and to promote the nascent brewery.

My friend granted me free rein to choose what I would brew.  I decided to do one traditional style beer, such as we will be brewing when we open, and one more modern style beer.  Both beers started with a basic pale ale recipe of my own creation.  One was lightly hopped and about 3.5% alcohol.  The other was more heavily hopped, along the lines of an IPA, and had about 6% alcohol. Since I was using some of my own hops, I had no way to calculate IBU's  for the beers. When finished, both tasted very good to me. I had hit my intended mark with both efforts.

The night of the big event came. I did not give the guests too detailed descriptions of the beers.  I wanted people to try them without prejudice. I decided to put out the lower alcohol/bitterness beer first.  I was very pleased with the crowd reaction.  I received numerous compliments. Many guests noted that it did not "taste like any other beers". Perhaps the best compliment was the speed with which the keg emptied.

Once the first beer was gone I hooked up the second keg.  These results were very interesting.  The crowd was split right down the middle.  Several guests complimented me on yet another good brew.  However, just as many stated that they liked the first beer better and the second keg took much longer to empty.

What I take away from this is that I am on the right track.  My recipes and style of brewing has a wide appeal. There is real potential for strong sales once we get the brewery up and running.

In other taste testings, I have noticed a definite prejudice against lower alcohol/malty beers. If you don't tell people what they are drinking, the results are 90% positive.  If I say ahead of time "This is 3% alcohol and lightly hopped," I get a 50/50 split.  One rather proud critic of all things beer boldly predicted the failure of our brewery because "Anything other than a double IPA is not worth drinking."

Given the results from my friend's party, it appears that there are beers other than double-IPA's that are worth brewing. The key getting people to taste them with an open mind.

Friday, August 5, 2011

As the Dog Said to the Cat: Roof!

The boys from Bellows arrived early this morning to install the metal roofing.  As the truck and trailer were backing in, I did a bit of a double-take; the trailer appeared empty!  Was something happening that I was not aware of? Upon closer examination, it was apparent that the trailer did indeed contain the necessary metal roofing to complete the assigned task.  However, given my inexperience in matters pertaining to the installation of metal roofing,  I did not realize that the sum total of metal roofing necessary to cover a 16x32 foot building amounted to exactly  a 1.5 inch stack of roofing.  Weighing in a bit north of 600lbs, it constituted a decidedly dense load.

True to form, the fellows from Bellows engaged in the task at hand with the alacrity of seasoned professionals and upon my arrival the roof was in place and the crew long departed. Many thanks for a job well done.

Below is a picture of the new roof.  I have also included a photo from little more than a year ago to remind everyone where we started.

Where we started ...

...where we are today.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Closing Up

The fellows from Bellows have beenworking with their usual speed.  They have closed up the building and we are awaiting the metal roofing.  Their most recent doings included bracing the upper floor and adding a beam to stabilize the wall extension.  Then they tar-papered the roof.  So right now, things are fairly weather tight.  They also trimmed the rafters and added a facia board.  On the gable ends, they put in flying rafters and facia boards.  It looksvery nice. The building is really taking shape.

All closed up.

Trimmed rafters and facia boards.

Interior showing loft braces.  The new beam is at the very top of the photo.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Boys From Bellows

Over the last two days the boys from Bellows Construction have been out working on the brewery.  They have made quite a bit of progress and are well ahead of schedule.  Their next step is to put on the roofing. Once that is done it will be time for a siding party!



A few hours into work on Day One.
 

Near the end on Day One.


View from the lower pasture at the end of Day Two.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More Professional Help


Not too much has been accomplished lately as I have been over-busy with farm stuff and it is now wedding season.  A while back Andy and I started the sheathing.  As you might guess this is somewhat difficult when done from ladders.  Andy, however, is a good sport and we accomplished a good bit in the time we had available.

Andy is also a professional builder and the strain of the slow going was beginning to tell a bit.  Finally, he said to me, "I'm a builder. You're a brewer.  If I have my crew here, we can get this done in a day. You need to be setting up the brewing side of things."  I do not doubt that he is correct.  Furthermore, I was not treasuring the idea of trying to hoist sheets of OSB 30 feet up a ladder to sheath the back part of the brewery. I have a thing about risking the lives of my volunteers. So I agreed to have Andy's boss gin up an estimate on finishing the roof and sheathing.

A few days later Barry and Andy came out to look at the place.  Like Andy, Barry is a nice guy with a lot of good ideas. The estimates he gave me are quite reasonable, so we have decided to go with his company to get the roof and sheathing done.  Hopefully this will help speed up the process. At any rate, I will not be doing much on the brewery as I am booked the next three weekends for weddings and other minutiae.

I am hoping that once things get back to normal, and the more dangerous work is done, we can have another work party.  It has been too long since we had one.

I will keep you all posted.

We got a few things done...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Driver

Hi All,

Sorry for the off-topic post, but I forgot that I had a fire department drill tonight.  It was a good thing that I went.  Unbeknownst to me, the Assistant Chief had decided to make this the night of my check-ride on the tanker.

To give some background, our new tanker is a 410HP turbo charged, ten wheel drive, 44,000lb beast.  Needless to say I had some apprehension about taking a check-ride in this particular vehicle. Then again, I never back down from a challenge.

Let me tell you, this thing handles like a dream. In fact that is the biggest danger of driving this truck.  It handles so well that it could lull the driver into complacency.  One must always keep in mind just how much weight they have behind them when driving this truck. Modern technology is a good tool, but no substitute for an alert driver.

I made two runs with the tanker, emptying it into a swimming pool and refilling it at a lake.  I even managed to back it into the station on the first try.  In the end, I passed my check ride, though I still need more practice driving, and am allowed to respond to calls.

Pretty cool.  Yep I feel good.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

More Chicken Stuff

Still needs some work...
What week it was.  The new birds are growing fast and needed to get outside fast.  So I really needed to hammer on the coop.  I worked on it from sun-up to sundown on Sunday and Monday last week.  I was so tired that I fell asleep in the coop when I sat down to rest as the sun set on Monday. 

We moved in a few adult birds and they made do with a tarp for roofing.  This past Sunday I finally got the tarpaper on.  None too soon as the first raindrops fell as I was driving the last nail.  So it is now a secure little home for some of my birds. Trim work still needs to be done, but at least it looks
 like a chicken coop.

New coop door.
I like to make my coops look nice.   I decided to make the door out of one inch thick and 12 inch wide rough pine boards that we were given as scrap. The hinges and ring are reproductions made in Massachusetts.  The window is a real antique salvaged from a home that was being remodeled. The birds seem to enjoy the view.


One of the monsters.
The monster chickens continue to grow.  They are quite mobile and thus quite hard to photograph. Their patterns and colors vary somewhat, however most are patterned something like the lady in the photograph at the right. They learned quickly to go into the coop at night and were able to free range at an early age. Now they remain in a closed run until the hatchery chicks learn to go into the coop at night.  With luck, soon everyone will be free ranging.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Little Bit of Progress


Tomorrow is another farmer's market.  Tonight was another night of cleaning eggs into the late evening. The girls have slowed down a bit, but I still have plenty of eggs to sell.  Last market I sold 12 dozen total, let us hope for better this time.

The new coop is getting close to being done. I managed to get the tarpaper tacked down on the roof just as the rain started to fall. So I am still not truly finished with the new coop but at least the chickens do not have a blue tarp for a roof!  Putting up drip edge and tarpaper is a real pain when you are doing it alone.

All chickens are now out of the house.  The incubator and brooder are shut down until next spring when the idea of chickens in the house will once again seem appealing.  I love having peeps around but admit that I reached my limit this spring.

Hopefully tomorrow I willbe able post a few photos of progress around the farm.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Back To Work

Greetings!

I realize that I must first apologize for the long span between posts.  The point was really driven home when I was recently asked if we had abandoned the brewery project!

I am here to assure one and all that we have not abandoned the brewery project.  In fact we are just getting back to work on the brewery. The problem is that much of what has been done so far this spring has required small crews so we have not yet been able to have the big work parties of last year. But fear not for we shall soon have one!

The biggest thing we have worked on  has been planking the roof.  Loyal readers may recall that the last work party put up all the rafters.  So the next step was to plank the roof.  However, we were not able to get that done before the snow flew (The day the rafters went up we had ice on the deck and the nail guns were malfunctioning due to the cold).
Eager to get going, I started putting up the roof planks myself and realized that things did not line up. This got me concerned.  I called in some professional help in the form of our friend Andy.  Andy is a professional builder of many years experience.

Andy came out on a Sunday morning. It turned out that nothing was seriously wrong and over the course of the next three hours, ignoring wind and rain, we were able to plank one half of the roof.  With Andy up top yelling down what size plank he needed, and me passing up the same, things went quite smoothly.

The following Sunday Tracy's Uncles Vin and Greg came up.  This time Vin had the honors of the "Man on the Roof" while Greg and I supplied the appropriate sized planks.  In short order the second side of the roof was planked.

So we now have a planked roof.  The next step is to put up the cupola vent and then start with the roofing.  After that comes sheathing the exterior.  I had not wanted to use any OSB or plywood on this project. However, due to some inherent weakness in the structure, Andy suggested that we sheath the building with OSB before siding it.  The weakness arises from the fact that instead of building 12-foot walls, as the original plan called for , we built 8-foot walls and then added a 4-foot extension.  This was done to make the construction more manageable for small crews. While not exactly a mistake, it did leave us with a weak spot that we need to take care of.  The easiest way to do that is to sheath the building in OSB.  So much for idealism.

Once again we must thank the folks at Woodell & Daughters for supplying us with some mighty fine lumber. 

Hopefully, the gap between posing will be a little shorter from now on.  Thanks to you all for sticking with me, the blog and the brewery.


Some mighty fine lumber!

Vine on the roof with the hop trellis in the foreground.

Duchess contemplates a brewery with a roof.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Farmer's Market

Tomorrow is our first farmer's market.  I have a ton of eggs and brewery shirts to sell.  Hopefully we will have some success.  I hope to create a proper blog entry soon, but I just got done washing eggs and it is midnight.

Monday, April 11, 2011

One In the Keg - Working on the Brewhouse



Deep in the dungeon...

So I decided on which beer to brew and it is already in the keg!  The best idea may have been to make a tried and true recipe, so that I could tell if force carbonating made much difference, however, I was in the mood for something different.  I found a recipe in the original Clone Brews for a "Wit Dark".  Essentially, this is a stout with dark wheat malt completely replacing the dark roasted barley.

After one week in the fermenter, I ran it into the keg and hit it with the recommended 40 pounds of pressure. After two days I decided to give it a try.  Being new to force carbonating and kegging, one would expect that I might miss a few points on the first attempt.  One would be right.

The point I missed was that while 40 pounds pressure is needed to carbonate a beer, 10 pounds is used for dispensing.  So without turning down the pressure on the regulator, I happily put tap to mug and pressed the lever.  The result was a blast of black fluid that hit the bottom of the mug and erupted in a geyser of foam.  Worse yet was that the pressure coming through the line was more that the spring in the tap could handle.  I could not turn off the beer!

As beer was spewing about our small cellar, I had to think fast. Turn down the regulator pressure! I reached for the regulator, but it does not have T-handles, a screwdriver is required. What to do?  In desperation I grabbed a coin from my pocket and turned down the regulator pressure until the flow of beer stopped.

In retrospect, I realize I could have just turned off the gas at the tank, but that did not occur to me at the time.

But how was the beer?  It was, and is, excellent.  At the first tasting it was very smooth with a goody buttery roast flavor. As it has matured, the butteriness has faded and it has a bit more bite on the tongue. So there is still some conditioning going on in the keg.  Anyway you cut it, this is a good beer.

Brewhouse Update

This past weekend proved a good one weather wise.  I was able to get out for a bit and do some work on the brewhouse. I managed to get the studs put in on the gable ends yesterday and put in the last of the collar braces today.  I was also able to get the benches put up in the greenhouse. Keep on the lookout, I will be setting up a work party soon!

Round 3 of Operation Monster Chicken has hatched.  Here is a picture of one of the little boogers:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Keg It!

I have been asked to brew up a beer or two for a friend's picnic, so I have decided to take the plunge and buy a kegging system.  I got to thinking that a picnic might not be the best situation to introduce people to bottle conditioned beer.  Having a kegging system will simplify things:  I won't have tons of bottles to clean and won't have to keep explaining why there is sediment in the bottles.

I figure that a kegging system is a good investment.  I can use it at various functions to help promote our beer and it will be much easier to move about that cases of bottles.  The only problem is that the corny kegs are rapidly becoming obsolete so I will need to secure a few as soon as I can.

Now the question is what to brew for the first beer...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monster Chickens

While I have little to report on the beer and brewery front, there is much to report on the chicken front.  We have been raising chickens for about four years and have kept several different breeds.  Each spring we would order a new batch of peeps and make sure to get some in at least one breed we had never had before.


The first batch in the brooder.  The infrared heat light played heck
with the camera's focus.

This year we decided to take things to another level. I got Tracy an incubator for Valentine's Day and we started collecting eggs.  Our only full-sized rooster is a Buff Brahma, so we figured he would likely be the sire of any hatchlings. However, given that we have hens of several different breeds, what the final results will look like is anybody's guess. 


Socrates checks out the new arrivals.

The first four peeps hatched out about ten days ago.  They were all brown but their color patterns varied.  All have feathered legs, indicating that they are indeed the offspring of the Brahma rooster. Yesterday and today each saw one more peep hatch out. These little ones are both yellow.

The first peeps are growing very quickly. They already have most of their wing feathers and starting to get their tail feathers. I do not remember having chicks grow this fast in the past.  We can hardly wait to see what they will look like as adults.


A brooder is a nice place for a nap.  The chicks do not seem to mind.


Brewery Update

Keeping an eye to the weather, I am hoping to get back to work on the brewery soon.  After having much time to think about things and visiting a sugarhouse, I have decided to plank the roof of the brewery.  The sugarhouse had a planked roof.  It looked very nice and in 25 years had never had a problem with rot/mildew etc, and that was without a steam hood.  The rafters are literally dripping wet for three weeks every year.

Given that we will have greater clearance over our boiler and will not be boiling off like a sugarhouse would, I anticipate that we will not have any problem with a planked roof.  The big advantage to planking the roof is that it will allow me to work alone on the roof on days when no one else can help.  It will also look much nicer when finished.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Early Ale Early Review

An Historic Taste!
The first reviews of the "early ale" experiment are in.  Recall that this was an attempt to brew one of the Durden Park Beer Circle recipes for a pale ale from the early 19th century.  I had been wanting to try one of their recipes for some time and so I did.

I conducted the first tasting after about a week in the bottle.  Harsh is the only word that can describe what it then tasted like.  Very bitter, almost astringent, with a whopper alcohol bite and after taste.  Some might enjoy such a beverage, but it is not for me.  But remember, Dear Reader, that this is a bottle conditioned ale and taste evolution will occur.

At the week two mark, I took a bottle of said ale to the house of some friends. Without mentioning my initial distaste for the product I poured the glasses.  Both of them liked it.  Kristen especially liked the fact that it was sweeter and less bitter than most pale ales.  She felt it was, overall, smoother than a typical pale ale.

That was interesting!  Was this the same beer that had violently assaulted my taste buds barely a week before? I took a drink myself. What a surprise: The flavor had smoothed out marvelously and the alcohol bite was nearly gone.  The harsh astringency had been replaced by a strong maltiness with a background of fruity hoppiness.  It was the type of taste evolution that would make Darwin proud.

The question that remains is this:  Does my latest effort really taste like a beer from the early 19th century?  That is a tough question to answer.  So many things have changed in terms of materials and supplies that any attempt to reconstruct an early recipe is an exercise in speculation.  The fellows and ladies of the Durden Park Beer Circle are are well aware of that and take great pains to research the processes and materials contemporary with the beer they are trying to recreate and account for those differences when they create their recipes.  So while we cannot know if we have matched the taste exactly, we are at least pretty close to what the original beer tasted like.

Nothing quite like a history lesson in a glass.  Cheers!




Saturday, February 5, 2011

Early Ale

I have chosen to call my latest effort and "early ale."  I did this because the term "old ale" has, for better or worse become a "style" and I did not want to confuse my readers and have them thinking that I brewed something I had not.

So, what is this "early ale?"  It is something have wanted to try for some time. I adapted this recipe from the published recipes of the Durden Park Beer Circle, whose mission it is to recreate as closely as possible the recipes of the early British ales.  Readers may remember that I reviewed their book of history and recipes in a previous post. Each recipe, formulated using archived notes and descriptions, is and attempt to recreate an actual beer that was brewed long ago. Long I have wanted to brew one of their recipes, but for various reasons had not.

Two things I like about the Durden Park recipes is they are all historical and simple. Brewing their recipes is like using a beer time machine, and one need not muck-about with protease rests and octuple decoctions.  This is brewing at its raw best, when brewers brewed based on their experience, not on what they were told; each recipe being the distillation of centuries of experience.

The basis for this latest brew was a pale ale recipe from the 1820's.  A very basic recipe, it called only for the use of pale malt and hops; one malt and one hop.  I modified it slightly by adding some sugar to the boil in an effort to ensure a nice dry finish.

So how did things work out?  I cannot say for sure, but I bottled today and the early result is encouraging. The raw beer has a good hop flavor and aroma with a strong malt base and a dry finish.  I can't wait to pop open a bottle in a few weeks. Ah yes, the wait.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Discourse on Method


When the idea of this brewery first began to take shape, we realized that we needed to simplify things if we were to have any success. The latest technology is nice, but we could not afford that. Even if we could, it would likely not be consistent with our ideal, our mission.

To that end, I have been experimenting with ways to reduce the brewing process to its essential elements. Regarding equipment, all that is needed is heat and containers. Perhaps a bit of tubing for fluid transfer would be a help. In the work-flow of most breweries, each step of the brewing process requires its own container. Given our situation, we need to keep the number of containers to a minimum.

The method I devised involved eliminating the secondary fermenter and the container for priming (bottling bucket). In the process I have previously used, the beer moves from the boiler to the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter to the bottling bucket for priming then it gets bottled. In this new method the beer will move from the boiler to the primary fermenter then get bottled, thus cutting the number of containers in half. This is akin to brewing processes of the middle 19th century.

Using only single stage fermentation is not that uncommon a practice, especially among home brewers. I myself have only recently started using two-stage fermentation. Two-stage fermentation may yield a cleaner (less cloudy) beer and less sediment in the bottles, but does increase the risk of infection due to increased handling. Furthermore, beer properly conditioned in the bottle can be as clear as anything. The main reason I used two-stage fermentation was to reduce the amount of beer lost during the blow-off phase. I used to be a big believer in the blow-off phase, but that is the subject for another article.

As to eliminating the priming bucket, that was a bit trickier. Accomplishing that would mean I would have to prime the beer while it was still in the fermenter. I would need to mix the priming solution thoroughly enough to ensure uniform carbonation across the entire batch. I would also need to minimize agitation of the sediment. The two goals seemed mutually exclusive.

I finally decided to rely on some good old high school chemistry. To wit: If two solutions (in this case raw beer and the primer) are miscible (can dissolve completely each into the other) they will diffuse into each other and eventually form a uniform solution simply due to the kinetic energy of the constituent molecules. No mixing needed.

The final process involved two steps. First, the primer was poured slowly into the fermenter while the fermenter was very gently agitated to give the diffusion process a jump-start. The second step was to wait about 7.5 hours to allow the process of diffusion to complete its work. The beer was then bottled.

So how does this new streamlined method work? I have now used this on two batches of English bitter, with excellent results in both cases. Both times the final product had good carbonation and hop character with a crisp finish and no off-flavors. One reviewer, who is quite knowledgeable in things beery, asked how I managed to get such good hop aroma and still have such a clean, dry finish.

Ah, success.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hemlock

I did not specifically note, and have received a few questions about, what kind of hemlock was used in the hemlock beer.  It was, as always, our good old New Hampshire hemlock tree and NOT the poison hemlock of Socratic fame.

Cheers!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Outlet

The Belgian Mare Brewery t-shirts have a new outlet. Microbe Brewer's Supply of Brattleboro, Vermont, has started selling our shirts.  Ivan and Allison and their Microbrewer run a great little shop that can answer all of your brewing needs. So please give them your homebrewing business.

http://www.microbebrewerssupply.com/

Remember: For every shirt purchased, The Belgian Mare comes that much closer to reality!