Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for the ‘beer tastings’ Category

Sometimes they just ask the wrong question.

with 2 comments

So when was the first beer brewed?

“So who knows when the first beer was brewed?”

I’m not sure if our guide Eva Kočková at the Pilsner Brewery museum knew who she was asking. I was in the company of three of the country‘s best beer writers – Peter Brown, Mark Dredge and Adrian Tierney Jones. Beer writers are a bit like economists – get three together and you will have at least four different opinions.

The craft of brewing is as old as civilization. Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, some people discontinued their nomadic hunting and gathering and settled down to farm. Grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process.

Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, some historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. Here, the oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians or Mesopotamia as Eva told us.

However there is some evidence from  China which shows brewing took place more than 8,000 years ago. And in South America there is evidence of some early civilisations, pre-Columbus, making a fermented drink made from corn. In truth we will never know, but it seems fair to assume that brewing like the use of fire could have developed almost simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Na Parkane, a good place to enjoy a beer and some dumplings

The excellent Pilsen Brewery Museum is housed in an old 15th century maltings, one of the many which were once found in this brewing town. It includes a gothic malt house, a mock-up of the laboratory used by the man credited with developing Pilsner style beers Josef Groll and on the remains of the city walls outside, which kept enemies at bay for centuries, there are small plots of barley and hops.

It really is a pleasant place to wile away an hour or so.

On special days actors create scenes from Pilsens beery history, including the improbable tale of the ale connor – a myth which too can be found in many British accounts of the history of beer. According to legend, the quality of beer was judged by the stickiness of beer and whether the ale connor’s leather breeches stuck to a beer soaked bench. The more the trousers stuck, the better the beer. Well it is a good story.

Hard hats are a necessity for the undergound tour

Underneath, a separate tour, for which hard hats are obligatory winds through a 800m labyrinth of narrow tunnels, linking streets and houses. Hewn from the soft sandstone the first tunnels date from 1290.Here can be seen some of the 360 original wells from which brewers drew water to make beer. The temperature is 7’C perfect for lagering. Here too, the citizens sought refuge when the town was under siege.

Josef Groll's laboratory is recreated in the museum

And to end the tour, what could be better than to visit the adjacent Na Parkene pub for a glass of dark, unfiltered beer, and of course some dumplings. Potato or bread?

http://www.plzenskepodzemi.cz/en/

Advertisements

Join the search for the Welsh John Barleycorn as Hay on Wye become Beer on Wye

with 2 comments

The town of Hay on Wye on the English and Welsh border is world renowned for its literary festival. But now it is having a rival ale and beer books weekend – 24-26 September – at Kilvert’s pub in Bear Street.

Organiser Ed Davies says he has arranged for some of the country’s best beer writers to come and talk about their work.

Hops and Glory author and beer writer of the year Pete Brown will describe his three month journey from Burton Trent to India in the company of a cask of IPA.

You get two pints for the price one when Adrian Tierney-Jones (1001 Beer You must Try Before you Die) and myself (The Beer Book) debate which are best – ales from North Wales or the South.

Melissa Cole will take the “beard out of beer” and lead a tasting for the ladies and a beer and food matching. And if all of this is not enough, Zak Avery, author of 500 Beers, will describe some of his favourite brews.

From the Wye Valley Brewery Peter and Vernon Amor (brewers of Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout) will be giving readings from the Dorothy Goodbody stories and Breconshire Brewery’s head brewer Buster Grant will talk about the future of beer in the Principality.

Should you tire of the beer, there will be talks and readings by several local authors and poets. And if you want something that goes with a bang the Sealed Knot’s Hay Garrison will be firing their muskets. More than 50 different Welsh ales will be available at the festival.

Tweet it, blog it, tell people about it. Go to www.thehaybrewery.co.uk/festival for more information.

Wadworth goes green

leave a comment »

Fresh, green, plump and full of citrus zest, fresh green hops.

For the last 18 years, at the start of England’s hop harvesting season, a van has left the Wadworth brewery in Devizes to drive to a hop garden in Herefordshire. Its mission is to collect a vital ingredient for the Wiltshire brewery’s Malt & Hops seasonal beer– fresh green hops. The quest means an early start for someone from the brewery, as the hops have to be harvested and transported back to the brewery in time to be put into the first brew of the day.

Wadworth head brewer Brian Yorston has been making the run for the last three years, continuing a tradition started by his predecessor Trevor Holmes. “We think we were the first brewery in Britain, to produce a green-hopped beer,” said Brian.

Hops are normally dried before use – reducing the water content from 70 per cent to 10 – importantly they are analysed so the brewer knows more about their aromatic or bittering characteristics.

Brian Yorton assesses the hops as they grow on the bine.
But fresh hops beer are undried, crisp and full of the season’s flavours and are something of a flavour lottery when added to a beer.

This year I had the privilege of travelling with him to collect the hops – an aroma variety called Early Choice a member of the Fuggles family of hops. Brian is looking for enough hops to brew 270 barrels of beer –some were picked yesterday and lightly dried, while the rest was picked this morning as the dew lay heavy on the hills, which surrounds the Newham Farm hop garden, owned by Ian Ibbotson. Suddenly summer seems to be ending and autumn is rushing in. “We use the same mash each year, and the same quantity of hops but what the beer will be like will be a complete surprise,” said Brian.

Inside the hop back, the ripe hops are spread out before they are covered by boiling wort. Brewing beer in this way is hard physical work.

“I have no idea what the beer will taste like,” confides Brian. I do not know what the alpha content of the hops is.”

The amount of alpha present in a hop is what contributes aroma to the hops. Analysis of the hops to find its alpha levels will take five days, but waiting for an analysis of the hops to return from the laboratory, will be too late for the hops to be used and still be fresh and green.

“You can look at it, you can smell it, but that only hints at the surprise to come,” says Brian.

And what of this year’s harvest – as I smell it I am assailed by wonderful fresh citrus aromas and a zesty tangerine flavours. To brew the beer he uses 500lb of the hops together with 6,500kg of Optic malt – comprising 98.5 per cent pale ale and 1.5 per cent crystal. We taste the hot, sweet wort as it runs out of the mash tun. It is sweet and sticky, with an overwhelming nose of rich Horlicks. Then we try the hopped wort as it comes from the cooler. The tart bitterness of the hops has subdued much of the sweeter flavours.

But what will the beer taste like? I will find out on 16 September, when this year’s Malt & Hops is tasted for the first time.

“Last year’s was very bitter – said Brian, “It is quite different every year he says as he promises to see if he has any previous brews left so we will be able to do a comparison.

But with rich, ripe barley delivering sweet malt, hopefully balanced by the tart, zesty hops it should be a winner.

Malt & Hops, at 4.5 per cent ABV, is available in bottle and on draught.

www.wadworth.co.uk

Written by timhampson

September 2, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Dwink, Dwink and be merry

with one comment

Cheeky chappies Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham

In the firmament of the current group of people doing beer talks two of the shining stars are Ben McFarland and Tom Sandhan.

The cheeky, chappy Dwink duo, which I caught yesterday at a Foodies Festival in Oxford, took an irreverent and sometime bawdy journey through the world of beer and cider. “We do corporate events and consumer tastings, stag events, hen nights and children’s parties, but prefer hen nights,” confides Tom with a mischievous grin and a sparkle in his eye.

Forget the notion that beer tastings are an extravagance of technical terms and facts about hop varieties, international bitterness units and measurements for the colour of malt. In triple quick time, well they had to make way for a Portuguese wine tasting, and a testy stage manager behind the scenes was giving a stern look, the pair took an entranced audience though five beers and an organic cider.

Most loved the Hall & Woodhouse elderflower flavoured Champion. The opening of a flip top bottle of Grolsch became a piece of crowd theatre. The flavour of a Molson Coors Blue Moon, a wheat beer, was enhanced by being poured over a piece of orange. Coopers Pale Ale confused several people as it was cloudy, giving the pair a chance to talk about bottle conditioned beers. The Westons Organic Cider showed there is more to alcoholic apple drinks than Magners or Bulmers. And the tasting ended with a glass of Innis & Gunn, which introduced people to the idea of wood aging beer in whisky barrels. And on the way they took in beer and food pairings, the health benefits of sensible drinking and told everyone that the beer belly was a myth.

The choice of drinks by the Dwink’s pair was clever. All easily available, all approachable and all a marvellous entry into the world of beers. The audience left with smiles on their faces, a greater knowledge about beer and that marvellous of feeling contentment from having had a good beer.

So who have you seen recently who has given a good beer talk?

www.dwink.com