Joppa Stout

I’m not sure why it has taken so long to write about this amazing journey. But since there have been several stories written now, I guess it wont hurt to add a few more lines.

the final beautiful product

the final beautiful product

On 3rd November 2013, my home brew, a dry stout, won Champion beer in the SOBA New Zealand Home Brew Competition. To say I was proud seems insufficient. I was over the moon! SOBA Awards Nov 2013 (800x600)

The Stout style is one I really enjoy. This particular recipe has been brewed many times over the 11 years I have been brewing. The recipe changes a little based on feed back from other brewers but when I participated in brewing this recipe with Steve Plowman at Hallertau on a commercial scale (the prize for winning) I learned so much more.

Over the years, I have added equipment to improve my brews – a wort chiller, a temperature controlled refrigerator, a new mash tun with false bottom – the one thing that I failed to appreciate was how each of the grains taste. As we were milling the grain for the Joppa Stout, Steve would reach in, grab a few and start munching. So I did the same. I had never been able to actually taste each grain in the recipe before because when I buy it, the shop mills it for me. What a revelation. Like any good cook, you need to taste your food along the way – to know what each ingredient is adding to your overall flavour profile. I’m not sure why this had never occurred to me in regards to home brew.

While I can’t possibly afford my own mill, I did taste some of the grains when I next went to the Brewer’s Coop.

Having Hallertau brew my beer was a great experience. I had watched brews before on the old system. But this brew was on the new expanded capacity kit installed mid last year. For the first time, Hallertau would release the SOBA Champion beer in both kegs and bottles.

Barry was kind enough to offer his design skills to come up with a tab badge as well as bottle label. I think it turned out well. We joked about doing a dogue one but not only would it be too expensive, the joke wouldn’t translate to everyone.

My dog as a meme - not a beer label

My dog as a meme – not a beer label

So now “my” beer is available throughout New Zealand any place that the Hallertau beers are sold. Most of the kegs are gone, but you can still get the bottles.

The best part of having a beer with my name on it? My dad getting his picture taken with a Joppa Stout!

Pappa Joppa with a Joppa Stout. Made my old man proud

Poppa Joppa with a Joppa Stout. Made my old man proud

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It’s the beer’s fault

I learned heaps this past weekend. And the good news for you is that I took notes.

As part of a relatively large group of avid home brewers, I enter my beers into competitions. Partly because I think they are good, but more because it’s good to get feedback from people who know what they are talking about. Any punter can taste my home brew and think it’s great when in reality, it has a major fault of diacetyl. This is why it’s easy to believe your beers are great and not understand when you continue to get low scores in competitions.
But what exactly is diacetyl?  Or Acetaldehyde; or DMS for that matter?

I contacted one of my home brewing friends, who happens to brew at Lion. He put me in touch with their guy in charge of sensory quality control. Bradford was excited to share his wealth of knowledge and his chemistry kit to teach 25 home brewers what 5 of the most common brewing faults smell and taste like.  This was a great opportunity to taste and smell the faults we keep hearing about. DISCLOSURE: Bradford works at Lion but he was there representing himself with his own opinions, not those of Lion.

Smell and taste sensations are genetically linked. So not everyone will be able to pick up all of these faults. I know a guy who can’t smell Acetone but for me once I have gotten a tiny whiff, I can’t get rid of it – it’s like a contamination of my sinuses.

Each of these chemicals were spiked, one at a time, into a common base beer (Lion Red) at around 4x threshold. The threshold is the concentration where 50% of the general population can detect it.

The first was DMS or Dimethyl sulfide. I would describe this as a rotting vegetable smell, old cabbage, or  when you forget what’s in the veggie drawer of your fridge for a couple weeks. It’s caused by the malt and it’s more common in pale malts than dark malts. Usually, DMS dissipates during the boil. A 60 minute rolling boil is ideal, 90 minutes works too but there is not much use in going longer as you probably want to avoid caramelising the sugars in the wort. It is important to boil with the lid off your kettle so the DMS can evaporate. It is equally important to cool the wort quickly to prevent DMS from being reabsorbed. This is where a wort chiller makes a big difference.wort chiller

The next Fault we reviewed was acetaldehyde. This is commonly described as “green apple or fruity, paint, or even cardboard. It can be caused by the yeast at the beginning of the fermentation as a result of the yeast being in poor condition and have a slow start. It can also be caused by bacterial contamination. You can re-pitch with more yeast if you end up with a slow start, but acetaldehyde is hard to get rid of once you have it. We talked about adding oxygen to the fermenter for the first day or two, but for those of us who are too cheap to fuss with tanks or fancy equipment, it’s easier to start growing up your yeast culture on the day of your brew, and keep them happy so you can pitch them at a good concentration and a great start.

Our third fault was Acetone or Acetate. Most women will recognise this as finger nail polish remover. This is a nasty flavour and should never be present in your beer. It’s caused by hot fermentation or poor oxidation for the yeast at the start. This is where having a controlled temperature for your fermenter is so critical.

Forth was Diacetyl. In some beer styles a bit of Diacetyl is acceptable but for others (lagers) this should not be present. It smells like buttered microwave popcorn and a lot of people like this flavour (which is a good thing for my last batch – at least someone in my house will drink it). We learned diacetyl is a normal product from yeast which builds up at the beginning of the fermentation. Towards the end, the yeast start to use it up again. The big problem comes from having a slow start to your yeast where they produce more diacetyl than they can use later on. It is possible to encourage the yeasties to eat more by raising the temperature a bit (to 20C max) for about 3 days. Here, again, is where a temperature controlled fermentation fridge is useful.

Ugly but it was cheap and it works

Ugly but it was cheap and it works

Here’s my fridge. It looks horrible and even worse, it has a huge Lion Brown sticker on the front (which covers up most of the rust). It was cheap on trademe and it works with the little heater plugged into the controller. (the larger fermenter looks low because I pulled several litres off to make my chilli-beer entry – that’s it on the right)

Now, the last fault we tried was Acetic acid – also known as vinegar. Again, in some beers this is expected but if you’re not brewing a belgian or sour beer, you have a problem. Acetic acid is a result of either bacterial contamination or sluggish yeast. It wouldn’t hurt to add some zinc to your water. Bradford wrote me later to say the following “At LION we add between 0.3mg/L and 0.5 mg/L of Zinc ions to our fermenter. We add it in the form of Zinc Sulphate. SO for a 30L ferment 10mg-15mg of zinc is what you need.” (Keep in mind that New Zealand malts are lower in zinc due to our deficient soil so this can be scaled back to 0.2mg/L if you’re using malts grown in another country – ed)

“Have a look at your zinc tablets and work out how many you need to add to get those levels. One of our reference books here warns against levels over 0.6mg/L.”

Starting to detect a common themes? Basically, if you invest a bit on your kit set up to control your fermentation temperatures, and have happy yeast, you can avoid the major issues. This assumes you have a tight control over your sanitation!

If you see errors in the write up, please let me know. I was trying to write and listen at the same time – it’s been a long time since I was in school.

I had lots of people express interest in attending (more than our location could accommodate) so if you would like me to arrange another go, contact me and I will arrange it. Thanks again to Bradford for a great class! Huge thanks to the Crown pub for hosting us too.

Edited to add a clarification to zinc levels – Thanks Bradford!

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Fancy glassware

We all know (or we claim to know) the reasons different wines are served in differently shaped glasses. And go to any fancy bar for a nice brandy, it will likely be served in a typical brandy snifter glass. So why don’t we treat beer, especially awesome, well made beer, the same and serve it in special glasses?

I recently had the opportunity to test the new “IPA Glass” from Spiegelau at the Lumsden Freehouse (Newmarket). Saturday morning started a bit cloudy but eventually the sun made a brilliant appearance for our test. Epic Armageddon was poured into 6 different glasses including a standard pint glass. We started by smelling each – already there was a difference. The tulip shaped glass (on the right) held the hop aroma, whereas with the tall pilsner glass (on the left) I was unable to detect any aroma at all.

Standard beer glass shapes

Standard beer glass shapes

Our taste panel

Our taste panel

The next step, of course was determining if we could taste a difference. Here, again I believe you could.

20130824_111157Each glass was slightly different. The more slender pilsner glass highlighted the malt character of this beer.

The stand out was this funky shaped IPA glass. The tulip shape in the middle serves the same function as the other tulip shaped glass – it allows the aroma to stay in the glass. The lower part of the glass has ridges in the glass that act to mix the beer as the glass goes from horizontal to vertical. I am no physics professor but to my senses, the beer still tasted fresh, even at the bottom of the glass. Compared to a standard pint glass where it’s almost painful to drink that last quarter (cause it’s stale and all backwashy – that’s the technical term), this glass was still refreshing with all the flavour of the first sip.

mmmm beer

mmmm beer

I will be the first to admit that because our brains were expecting a difference, we were more likely to see (taste) one. It’s called bias. But when the glasses are not free, I was really hoping it wasn’t true (because I am cheap). I have to admit, I am completely convinced. I plan to get some of these glasses for myself so I can enjoy my IPAs at home. Maybe my latest homebrewed IPA will be great instead of just okay. But how do I convince the judges to use these glasses?Since the sales manager for Spiegelau did not attend this event, I couldn’t ask all the questions I know you have – like where can I buy these? I will attempt to get this info and update this post. Until then, keep your eyes open for these glasses. They really do make a difference.

The last bit - you still want to drink it

The last bit – you still want to drink it

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Dry July

I am going to blame only myself for getting into this. And being stubborn as a mule, I am going to stick to my commitments. It doesn’t mean that I can’t whinge about it, though.

Dry July, for those of you who are not familiar, is a fund raising scheme in which people give up their beloved alcohol for the month of July to raise money for Auckland Cancer treatment centres (or Christchurch or Wellington if you choose). Participants or donors are “allowed” to purchase golden tickets which allow them a drink for special events.

On one hand, I think raising funds for supporting cancer care is a great idea. I used to work at Auckland hospital Oncology department. The funds from last year’s event allowed them to buy flash new chairs for the day-stay unit (where patients receive chemotherapy – some treatments can take several hours), and free wi-fi for patients to use. I love that I can contribute to making someone more comfortable during what can be an ugly treatment process.

Let me be perfectly clear: Cancer sucks. But there are a couple things I don’t like about Dry July.

First is the insinuation that we all have a drinking problem. One of the two mission statements is: “Raise awareness of drinking habits and the value of a balanced healthy lifestyle”.

Alcohol is not bad so long as you are an adult about your consumption. “Everything in moderation” as Julia Child used to say. I believe you can have alcohol as part of a balanced healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, anyone who says that New Zealanders have a worse drinking culture than anywhere else is misinterpreting the numbers. In fact, alcohol consumption has been decreasing for several years in a row.

I will admit I was thinking that giving up alcohol might lead to my loosing a few kilos. But the reality is that I didn’t actually drink that much to begin with. 1 drink with dinner, maybe 2 on weekends does not add up to much. And the replacement of juice isn’t going to offer much of a calorie reduction.

The second issue I have is that the hospital is under funded to begin with. It’s too bad that Auckland Regional Cancer Centre needs to fund raise in the first place. But, since they really do need the additional funding, I just wish it were done in a different way. How about asking smokers to stop smoking for the month? Or one of those 3-day walks that they do for breast cancer (so long as the majority of the funds really do go to the Cancer centres.)

But this is a beer blog so I won’t go down that rabbit hole.

Basically, the whole thing has just made me grumpy. I enjoy beer. I enjoy wine. I am an adult making adult decisions about what I drink and how much. Giving up alcohol for a month has not changed my mind or made me see the error of my ways. It just makes me sad that it’s such a good cause but such a shit way to fund raise.

Wanna donate anyway? Here’s the link:

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Trust comes on board

Recently, I have described how changes in the beer market have finally lead to improvements in West Auckland. Back before the “super city” swallowed Waitakere, nearly all alcohol sales in this area were controlled by the Waitakere Trust [1]. Grocery stores were dry and the Trust owned liquor stores stocked your expected big brewery fizzy brown ales and tasteless lagers. But the profits from alcohol sales went back to the community. One year, all residents were given free smoke detectors. Another year, we got first aid kits. Plus they built the Waitakere Trusts stadium.

I have lived in West Auckland area since moving to this country eight years ago. I tried several times to convince the liquor stores to bring in some craft beers. My argument has always been that craft beers are about quality, not quantity. If one of the goals of the Trust is to reduce alcohol consumption, then surely selling craft beers would go towards that goal [2].

I am not sure who to thank for changing business practice at the Trust but someone has finally looked at the market trends and adjusted the selection offered for sale at Trust owned liquor stores. I have been given permission by the Trust to reprint an article in their April publication which follows.

[1] The exception was Blanc (formerly known as Lincoln Road Winery) whose sale of alcohol licence had grandfather status (they existed prior to the Trust). By the way, Blanc has an expanding and most excellent craft beer selection. I highly recommend them if you are out this way.

[2] Can I just say “I told you so”?

The Craft Beer Phenomenon

Craft beers are becoming a big hit around the world and The Trusts have chosen to make West Auckland a leader in this growing trend, by progressively installing filling stations for dispensing a wide range of craft beers as new stores are opened.

Craft beers are effectively hand-crafted in relatively small quantities and from an increasing array of highly individualised recipes.

Along with the demand for the craft beers, there is a growing sophistication in both the products and the way people are consuming them. People now go beer tasting where they would once go wine tasting – and bring the same sort of skills into play, sampling the beer to separate out the different flavours that go into its overall taste. Similarly, restaurants are increasingly offering food and beer matching.

An important part of this growing trend, is the option to sample across a wide range of beers and to move quickly and easily to new products, hence the introduction of The Wests Selection Craft Beer On Tap filling stations.
A four tap station now in operation at Swanson Village Wine and Spirits and a major eight tap station at the newly opened West Liquor Glen Eden.

The Trusts believes West Aucklanders are very keen to explore craft beers. Manager of Retail Operations, Mark Clayton, who is overseeing the initiative, has been delighted with customers response to date. “ Sales have exceeded all expectations.The suppliers of both the equipment and the fresh craft beer agree that they have not seen such a strong launch of an on-tap craft beer offering in New Zealand.” A82A4861

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It’s New!

As I said in my previous post, Auckland has suddenly awoken to the possibilities of a real market for good beer. This past weekend, I visited two of these new establishments: Lumsden Freehouse in Newmarket, and Three Lamps in Ponsonby.

The Lumsden recently untied from one of the big breweries. Now, they offer 12 taps of beers including Hallertau, Epic, and Leigh Sawmill plus one cider. Oh, and there’s a huge separate tap for Guinness if you are inclined that way. They have a very good bottle selection as well.

Some of the rotating beers at Lumsden Freehouse

Some of the rotating beers at Lumsden Freehouse

The staff seemed knowledgeable and pleasant plus there was lots of seating both indoors and out. Unfortunately, on the day we visited, it was pouring rain and despite having umbrellas over the tables outside, they were still really wet. The food was reasonably priced (I had the buffalo wings, which were good). I wish I had remembered that SOBA members get pizzas at half price, as they looked delicious.

I think this cozy pub is an excellent alternative in the Newmarket area, especially since Cock & bull is no longer worth visiting.

Rating 19Apr2013 = 4/5 beers

The other brand-new entry into the market is Three Lamps. This new destination has taken over the former Belgian Beer Café on the corner of College hill and Ponsonby. They have an extensive (250!) list of bottled beers plus four of 11 taps dedicated to craft beers. They also have strong ties to Lion Breweries who supply the four house beers. The pub is small but has a light and cheerful interior.

Chalk board at Three Lamps - really good descriptions

Chalk board at Three Lamps – really good descriptions

They have an excellent chalk board on their wall briefly describing the different styles of beer. I only wish the staff had read it more thoroughly. The server brought a tray containing London Porter and Yeastie Boy’s Hud’a Wa, asking if the porter was “the dark one, right?” To be fair, they did just open, but seems to me that if you have dedicated a huge wall to descriptions of all the beer styles, and if you want to sell some of those 250 different bottled beers, then staff training is critical to your business model.

Now, I hate to be a hater, but if I don’t mention these things, I would not be doing my job. The beer fridge temperature was set at 3 degrees, which is too cold. Also the bottle beer prices were steep – $16 for Liberty Brewing Yakima Scarlet (compared to $14 at Lumsden FH). Now, maybe that’s Ponsonby rent talking, and these prices are similar to Brew on Quay, but it won’t put them at the top of my destination list when I am looking for a beer in town. But if you need a destination in Ponsonby which will satisfy your need for awesome beer, as well as your odd friend who will only drink Becks, then this will do.

The craft on tap at Three Lamps

The craft on tap at Three Lamps

Rating 19Apr2013 = 2.5/5 beers

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I have been thinking recently, how much the Auckland craft beer scene has changed in the past year. It’s as if the city has finally lifted its head out of its ass the sand to take a look around; discovered that Wellington and Christchurch were onto something, and decided to step up.

Auckland has seen several new pubs open which went straight for the craft beers (big welcome to Number One Queen Street Cafe, and the new Lumsden freehouse in Newmarket) Additionally, I have noticed more and more restaurants offering a few craft beers along with the usual fare (Meredith’s, and Sails for example).

You don’t have to live in a pub to find great beers as the wine and liquor stores are starting to offer a great selection of craft beers. Liquorland Newmarket, Village Winery in Mt Eden, and Glengarry wine stores, to name a few, have all joined the party. What a delight to be tempted by a large range of craft beers from all over the world instead of the pyramids built from cases of tasteless lagers of one brand or another*. The big change for me has been the Waitakere trust. If you are unfamiliar, the trust controls all alcohol sales in Waitakere. This includes the liquor stores, and the bars. No alcohol is sold in the grocery stores. Unfortunately, their choice of beer sold had been typical big brewery brands. In just the past six months, the Trust has started to pay attention to the market and now offers a limited craft beer selection, including Renaissance and Harrington’s. Finally, I can hop down the road a buy a proper beer. I think a big influence out west was Lincoln Road Wines – now renamed Blanc. They have fully embraced craft beer with a huge dedicated section and 6 fill-your-own taps (be still, my heart!)

So why the sudden change? I figure there are two main reasons. First, it is simple economics. Craft beers are starting to impact the market in New Zealand and everyone can see the trends in the US and UK where craft beers have continually grabbed market share from the big breweries when the total market shows declining overall consumption. Secondly, Lion brewery’s purchase of the Emerson’s brewery, likely had influence. Now that Emerson’s is available in the bars licenced to Lion, consumers are starting to get some choice.

Along with the new offerings in Auckland, there has been demand for information; people want to know what the hype is about. The New Zealand Beer festival has been revamped and the last two years has been held in the Cloud with a great showing from the various craft brewers offering tastes to sold-out crowds. SOBA Auckland runs City of Ales beer festival (29th June 2013 – mark your calendar!). Additionally, many of the liquor and wine stores have been offering craft beer tasting events, frequently with one of the brewers in attendance.

No one is happier about this turn than me. I love that people are willing to try new things, and experiment with different styles of beer. Plus, since I am a huge geek, I love talking about the beers, the process, the aromas & flavour profiles and how they are achieved. And now the interest in craft beer has introduced a whole new group of people with whom I can share ideas.

Over the next few months, I will be updating the Auckland Craft Beer guide, adding the newcomers and adding review dates to all the listed pubs.

*As a side note, I think it would be interesting (in a scientific sort of way) to blind taste all the big brand lagers to see if there really is a difference in style or taste. I just don’t want to be forced to purchase a 6-pack of each to do the research.

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