Whisky Cask Aged beer

pic by Jesse @Beerandnosh.com

pic by Jesse @Beerandnosh.com - Drakes Imperial Stout

The fashion, taste, interest call it what you will has been progressing this way for some time now.

Started really by Todd Ashman of the Flossmoor brewery, in Flossmoor, Illinois, now of 50/50 brewery in Truckee, California – on a professional basis, having observed homebrewers fermenting their beers in bourbon barrels – a subject that I recently bridged with him when I was in his company.   His early adoption of this technique blazed a trail for a unique style of beer, centred around the region between Detroit and Chicago – noted brewers such as Kuhnenn, Three Floyds, and Bells are keen proponents of this technique.     Sometimes you will see the beer barrel aged for a limited release project – or in somecases blended back into beer to accent everyday releases.   This technique is also starting to emerge in the beer mecca that is Belgium – the Struise brouwers have taken their very impressive Black Albert, and aged it in a Four Roses Bourbon barrel- called Cuvee Delphine – a quick look at beer rating sites like  Ratebeer and their top 50 will give you an insight into just how influencial this has been on many breweries.

Breweries in the UK have been slowly adopting, where as the midwest in the US has the proximity to a source of very expensive barrels – the UK brewer has had to turn to Scotland for similar materials.    Typically the beers tend to be big dark, imperial stouts, those with enough body and strength to carry the concentrated flavour notes rather than swamping them.   To mind one of the early adopters were the now highly regarded Thornbridge Brewery,  others have brought barrel aged beers out – Lovibonds of Henley and Gadds or Ramsgate, and I am sure you’ll have heard of the Paradox beers from BrewDog.    There is a close sense of origin between the Thornbridge Brewery and BrewDog – one of the brewers of Brewdog is once of Thornbridge.

So, here we have a brewery well versed in brewing a good imperial stout, and then they have sourced three different cask flavours – Mortlach, Macallan, and Caol Ila.    The Speyside, Highland and Islay notes will shine through the intense blackness of their beers – a perfect beer for the beer and whisky lover.

This is not a barrel fermentation as the Burton Union system suggests, or what Firestone Walker have adopted  – this is “simply” ageing a beer in a cask from a distillery – capitalising on the residual oak, char, and spirit bound flavours.    Considering that a used bourbon cask can weigh something in the region of 30lb heavier when fresh from the distillery, there are clear indicators just how much the barrels can influence the beer!   When travelling – some brewers aged their beers for 50 days, right through to 300+  some stored ambient, some stored cool to cold.   Some had developed a nose for particular notes that said to the brewer “‘I’m ready”  – this is still a new art form, and some are doing it very well, some come out as tarry alcoholic messes.

This is a great deal of investment for many breweries, making said beer, finding shipping and purchasing said cask – then to top it off – not being able to sell a beer for nearly a year!   I thank you, dear brewer for taking this chance!

I have had the pleasure of sampling some of the greatest (highly sought after) barrel aged imperial stouts, listed on Ratebeer, and I as much as I am not a big whisky lover – I really enjoyed the Highland.    Some might say that the idea of going through this process is a waste of good beer, or good whisky – and these are for the “beergeeks” out there – certainly not, they are a fantastic after dinner drink, contemplative and decadent with it.

They will also age very well.

Thornbridge St.Petersburg Highland, Islay, and Speyside cask aged will be available on Beermerchants.com – along with anything else I can get my hands on.

Another set of brewday pics… Common Conspiracy

Whilst I was away with friends and great beer in California, my brewing amigo – Steve – had to carry the flag for our Conspiracy brews at Gadds.  They were brewing an American hopped pale ale, with a nod toward the Californian Common style, and the famous Anchor Liberty – one of the earliest american style hoppy pale ales.

This beer is now available around Thanet.   I for one look forward to getting a pint or two…  Check with Eddie at his blog for distribution.

here’s Steve’s pics.

Brew Day@ Triple Rock

Considering the crash of my beloved Canon 20D, probably much to the relief of many of my friends who regularly have a lens jammed in their face, but I found I could remove the card just now, actually looking for all the wrong reasons…

As for the brew, it was an all English Hopped Big IPA, hopped with Bramling Cross, Styrians and Goldings.  Rodger will probably call it an English Double IPA or something – me, I call it an English Export Pale Ale.

I expect tasting notes to start appearing on Ratebeer.com sometime soon…. yikes…  if’you’re local, please go taste it and let me know…

Our Barrel Ale and Cool People


Anchor barrel aged, yumminess!

Anchor, february 09!!

Just coming back over the pictures of what has been a fairly hectic three days, 5pm time in the UK, and just gone 9am in the US here in California.    I kinda smashed my 20D canon, dropping it from 15′ up a ladder on to flat concrete wasn’t suc a clever idea; so the best of the pics will soley be from the iPhone.

Spent a hazy evening at the Anchor Brewery – where J Brooks, of the Brookston Beer Bulletin cast the first toast.   Then the bottles were opened by after a great open speach by Fritz himself.    Big magnums of the beer poured to all those clamering to get some.   And nicely done too.    It was a blend of the four beers, Liberty, Fog, Steam, and the Porter, aged in their own barrels – from the distillery.

The speach will be available on a podcast download from The Brewing Network.

I think I uploaded the wrong pic, but what the hell...

Tom Daldorf's Ear.

Justin Crosley of the BN getting the audio of Fritz's "giveaway all the secrets" speech

Fritz Himself

3, maybe 4, Breweries to keep an eye on… #1

Rather than a predictions post – I am usually a wee bit to far ahead – but, here’s number 1.

I am doing this in no particular order, in some sense this might take me a while. We need breweries in the UK, with brewers who know how to brew world Class beers.

I am sure that the majority of the readers of this blog will have heard of Thornbridge, Oakham, Marble, et al. These guys are making some of the most exciting beers in the UK. Add Kelham Island, Roosters, Durham, and a couple of other brewers – we are starting to get a number of breweries that know how to produce great beers! I do suppose some of it is driven by travel, experiencing beers brewed in more competitive environments. The time frame of those breweries emergence is somewhat distorted by the listing, but that’s not the point… just they are breweries who are doing some interesting things.

(Putting my brewing hat on, we are so stuffed by Tax barriers in the UK, we do miss out on the possibilities of big beer, or long aging in barrel, hell even the Hop Growers and Maltsters would aprove – brewing bigger beers… C’mon, mr DutyPerson… get back to reality, allow our brewers to be creative. I am well aware that the taxation is what makes our beers distinctive; low alcohol, balanced flavours )

I tend to shy away from beers, who’s labels espouse hoppiness, balance, smooth; probably the biggest indication of blandness. I love flavour. And this is a brewery that knows how to do it!  Bringing a real new world complexity to British Cask Ale.



Some history:

I was first introduced to this breweries beers by a good friend, Ian Harrison, of Pubs and Beer.co.uk, at the Dover Beer Festival, 2008. I sort of knew of them for their very nice winter warmer Freddy Walker, a major award winner from way back. But the beer that I was introduced to was, JJJ IPA. A monster of a hoppy beer – when first sampled, massive hops, tangerine, citrus, and complimented with a monster of a malt body… so unusual for a UK brewery… this Imperial IPA developed a cult following, with some of the best ratings for UK beers on the internet. And he gained a reputation for leading some of the most informative and entertaining beer tastings around. Some of his beers have been called extreme, either because of high hopping or alcohol content. But the truth is that he won’t drink bland, boring beer – and neither should you! He brews beers to dazzle your taste buds, not just to pour down your neck. I had to investigate further. I vanished in to the blue yonder straight after the beerfestival to San Francisco. But, this beer was still in my head when I returned. I had been to the Double IPA festival at the Bistro, Hayward, and I was certain that this beer would have held up along side notable beers like UberHoppy, Denogonizer, and HopSalad – and Dreadnaught.

Further investigation was needed, Seemingly that he’d been growing quietly off the radar. After exchanging emails – it became obvious that Justin Hawke is Californian, explaining the liberal use of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial hops, whilst still keeping one eye on the UK beer scene – and what the local drinkers actually want.

He won several more major awards, including 3 medals and the overall runner up at last year’s Maltings Beer Festival for JJJ IPA. Not content with a broad portfolio of beer styles and awards already, they added a new beer, Hoppiness (6.5%), at the end of the year which is another over the top IPA in Justin’s native California style. The brewery is investing heavily in 2009, both in personnel and equipment. For those unable to head to Somerset to taste the beers, they will be bottle conditioning them by hand in the coming months.

A recent ‘phone conversation “ I’ve added a new beer to my permanent portfolio called Hoppiness (6.5%). One day I may actually get back to brewing session strength beers that I can sell to pubs! Feedback so far from landlords has been pretty amazing. I’ve heard “the best beer I’ve served at my pub,” “the best beer I’ve had in a year,” “customers say it’s the best beer they’ve had in their life.” I finally got to taste it at a pub last week and must admit that I was pretty blown away. I guess you would classify it as a California style IPA, but with more malt and ester flavours. It’s definitely got plenty of hops, but isn’t an over the top hop bomb. I think you’d like it.” damn,… save me some!

The now award winning brewer Justin Hawke, finally completed his acquisition of Moor Beer at the end of 2008, which saw the end to another very successful year.

Congratulations and onwards!

Gueuze Mega Blend

How about this for some news, that I got at work.

About: Creation of a new lambic beer, especially for the 2009 Toer de Gueuze. The event will occur on Sunday April 26, at nine of the eleven remaining lambic producers: all except Cantillon and Girardin.

The new beer is called “Geuze Mega Blend.”

This brew is a blend of lambics from eight of the 11 remaining lambic producers; namely: Boon, De Cam, Drie Fonteinen, Hanssens, Lindemans, Oud Beersel, Timmermans and De Troch. Geuze Mega Blend was bottled October 15, and is currently maturing in 75 cl bottles.

I am intrigued. I really should look at my email inbox more often.

*edit – highlighted on Ratebeer.com, seemingly this text has come somewhat edited to me, from Chuck Cook’s blog – here –  he goes there a few times a year; bumped into him on occasion.


Thornbridge Bracia

Straight from the horses mouth!

The Beekeeper - to the Beerkeeper

The Beekeeper - to the Beerkeeper

“It is often said that if you want to move ahead you can learn a lot from looking back.  The brewers from Thornbridge are always keen to innovate in the beers they produce and recognise that inspiration can come from many sources including the past.

Such is the case with Bracia their new beer.   Bracia is the Celtic name for a beverage brewed in Iron Age Europe with reference found on a Roman inscription at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.  Little is known about this except that it was high in alcohol, brewed with cereals and, most probably, honey. “We obviously wouldn’t want to produce exact replicas of beers from the past but the story of Bracia did get us thinking” says Stefano Cossi, Thornbridge’s Head Brewer.

It was the use of honey that seems to have triggered Stefano’s inspiration as he explains “I thought Chestnut Honey would make an ideal ingredient for a rich, dark beer where its complex flavours would subtly blend with the roasted and toasted notes of specialty malts”. Further research by the Thornbridge brew team identified that the Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) was introduced into England by the Romans. It is a magnificent tree with twisted bark, large narrow glossy leaves and, in autumn, spiny fruits that contain edible nuts (castagne) that are delicious when roasted. The flowers, arranged in catkins, appear in early summer, and from July the mysteriously dark honey can be harvested. This is intensely flavoured, rich and smooth, slightly bitter and pungent.

Thornbridge’s Bracia has been infused with a generous amount of dark and bitter Chestnut Honey that was sourced by Stefano from Beekeeper Onelia Pin in the Alpine foothills of North East Italy. Bracia’s careful use of Malts (Maris Otter, Brown, Munich , Dark Crystal, Black, Chocolate, Peated), Roasted Barley, Hops (Target, Pioneer, Hallertau Northern Brewer and Sorachi Ace) produce a truly unique beer. Its aromas are of chestnut honey, cappuccino, white chocolate, dark fruits and vibrant fresh peel. The mouthfeel is velvety and rich, with notes of coffee, chocolate, liquorice and hazelnuts with warming alcohol, cocoa and a little peat in the finish. “Bracia is a great drink now” asserts Stefano “but I think its flavour will mature and it is certainly a beer you can age for sometime and experience its evolution – after all looking back helped us produce the beer in the first place”

soon to be on at Beermerchants.com

soon to be on at Beermerchants.com

my opinion – very good –   Available January’09 on Beermerchants.com – the aroma reminded me so much of my childhood, taking honey from a lady down the road – funily enough in Italy, not far from where Stephano obtained his honey.

Size of your hops

Hops are expensive, big brassy American ones more so, but sod it! Last weekend I greatfully recieved a box of funky hops to play with, along with some purloined Perle. Then there were some homegrown fuggles and other varieties – dried in the airy loft space. Add some other American hops that journied back from California with me.

Seemingly I had a wealth of hops in front of me, the trouble is that they go stale – there isn’t much use for old or stale hops.

Recently Steve and I made a batch of a 10%. Double IPA – on the fifty litre kit – besides mash issues – we used about £60 in hops; varities like northern brewer, simcoe, Amarillo, centenial, and chinook, and cascade!! Hop heads favourites!! A fun and very hedonistic experiment.

Recent batches have been restrained on the hop front – a nice 6% brew for thanksgiving at steve’s – pale malt, 55l crystal, and chocolate malt, hopped with cascade, centenial, and northern brewer.

Then came pop othe hops – only 4.2% -but loads of hops all through. Cleaning out the hops from the freezer was great fun. Then dry hopping with the perle, typically a bittering hop, but what the hell! It’s only 50l.

HOP came out moderately clear – I think the sheer volume of hops hazes a shade, but it’s soporific!? But a great experiment all the same.

I know of one brewery that has a small pilot plant – and I hear that they’re lining up to brew some experimental batches and offer them in their tap room.. Why is it so far away?? I wonder how many others have a half barrel brewery along side their master kit?

When you read books like brewing up a business by Sam calagione – small batch brewing featured and was a foundation of the sucess of his business. We’re also seeing a number of commercial homebrewers come about – even though I hate that name – perhaps nano-brewers might be a better word.

I believe that experimentation with new hops, continental malts, and brewing techinques (and embrasing the accidental) – is a fundamental driver of brewing success! Size isn’t everything?

Random Brit(t)

Sometimes I just sit back in wonder, and in some fear were my travels are taking me and the fantastic people that I get to spend time with – one being the very cool chap, and home brewer extraordanaire Johnny Lieberman from Los Angeles!     A member of the very cool, dedicated, and talent group (homebrew club) the Maltose Falcons – I had the serious luxury and pleasure of hanging with them in February at their award bash at the iconic Anchor Brewery.

Why I write this – well, I have been mooching the web looking for a picture and stumpled his blog – and there was the day!   here

Wow – and this was only this year…