Award winning Ale for the SA 2015 NHBC ???

Hey there all you Foulkes followers,

As you know, the  2015 National homebrew champs are around the corner. If  you have not been brewing this weekend, then you may well be cutting the deadline very short indeed. Please check in regularly on the link above as Lucy (aka The Brewmistress) keeps updating the details as she receives them.

This year, all entries will be judged according to the 2015 BJCP Guidelines. This is important to keep in mind as the changes from the 2008 guide are quite radical. Our entry is brewed on the same scale as that of the average homebrewer and will be entered under the Style 13 – Brown British beer and sub-style 13A – Dark mild.

Now the title itself may sound a little bit conceited and pompous in its own right. I promise, it was not meant to convey anything of the sort. Please continue the journey a little longer with me, my dear reader and I will try my humble best to explain.

I do not have a brew license yet, so I am still eligible this year to enter into the national homebrew champs as an amateur. This weekend, we at Foulkes have attempted to brew what we believe might just be this year’s award winning ale. There – now I have said it. Why do I think it is award winning – well, I have not tasted anything close to it at any pub, bottle store or beer tasting. Is it that good? I think so, but my taste buds may just be shot to hell.

This particular style is very special and dear to me. A while back, I had to stop drinking completely to prove something to myself as well as hold it all together. You sort of do these things when your spouse drops a bomb on you. Jail was not an appealing prospect. During this dry spell, I did not miss the lure of the commercial beers as much as I missed the taste of a really good artisanal ale. Not being able to drink normal craft ales and getting very disillusioned with the commercial non alcoholic selection, my quest began to brew very low alcohol craft ales. The idea was to brew a craft ale as close to 0% alcohol as possible. After six months of research, study and no booze you can’t imagine how I felt. But I will tell you!

I discovered a few things along the way. The first thing being that it is exceptionally difficult to brew a non alcoholic beer, if not impossible on the homebrew level. The second thing I discovered is that one cannot start with less and hope to get the same taste. By this I mean that one would use less malt to create the same mouth feel.

I tried brewing normal ales and then boiling them down to get rid of the alcohol – don’t do this indoors (especially if you smoke). I tried starting with less malt to give me the desired alcohol content. I’ve even tried using a still to separate the alcohol. Trust me folks (haha pun on Foulkes?), what you are left with is bland and rubbish.

It was then, in my deepest and darkest hour of despair, that I turned back to the literature of old. The books that are sacred to most homebrewers. I re-visited Designing great beers – the ultimate guide to brewing classic styles. I read, and then re-read everything that I had forgotten. I visited Dr Google, often. It was then, dear reader, that the scales began to fall from my eyes. It was then that the light dawned on me. I was awoken. The spirit had washed over me again. I had an idea. It was genius, it was simple but would it work?

At that time, I set about looking for a beer style that had very low alcohol to start with. I studied the various properties of different malts. I re-read Palmers bible, many times. I even re-read Moshers – Mastering homebrew. Mostly at night and in the dark – thank you Eishkom (SA power utility), you were my guiding light. I studied the load-shedding schedules avidly. I read the water reports daily (they are only updated monthly). I planned and I waited for the day that I would have power and water at the same time to execute my plan.

It was hell dear reader. I was like Moses – motherless in the bulrushes. I was like Jonah – tuna in the belly of the whale. I had to source malts that were not readily available over the counter. I had to make sure that they would only be milled the day before the great brew. The hops? The yeast? This all had to be planned with the precision of a surgeon performing an amputation with a chainsaw. The window was small. The target area was diminishing rapidly.

At last, the stars, the moon, the power utility and the water utility all aligned. There was a shaft of light descending on me from the sky on that fateful Friday. Tomorrow, would be the perfect day to brew. The shedding schedules had aligned. The brew shops had the malts, hops and yeast that I needed.

The day dawned on Saturday, it was overcast, ominous and gloomy. All the right signs that one needs when one is going to embark on creating a life-changing beer. The yeast was out of the freezer and acclimatising. The hot liquor had been treated. The mash water had been prepared. Everything was ready to dough in.

Slowly, but surely, I began to pour the malt into the mash. With the other hand, I stirred to make sure that all was well and truly saturated. The first bag of “pale” went in. The first bag of “roasted” went in. Finally, all the malt was in and we were at the “correct” calculated mash temperature. I turned around to grab a congratulatory non alcoholic beer. And then – total silence. Eishkom had defied the schedules and the lights had gone out along with any other device that may require an electric current.

I rushed through the spare rooms. I gathered every towel, blanket and duvet that I could find. This was no time to be sipping on non alcoholic beer – I grabbed a warm Zamalek that just happened to be sitting in one of the spare rooms that I ran past. I cursed. I cried. How could the “brewing gods” do this to me. After all – I had been faithful. I had seen the light. I was going to bring change to the craft beer world. What sort of malicious game was this that they were playing out with me?

With one hand wrapped around the slender body of the Zamalek the other reached for the trusty digital thermometer. I plucked it from its protective jacket, it exited with a warm hiss. It was ready. I flipped the switch to “on” and waited for the self-diagnostic check to complete. It kept blinking at me stupidly. I flipped the switch back to “off” and then to “on” again. The same nonsensical blinking. It was then that I noticed that one of the two flimsy wires that should enter the display unit was severed. In a fit of fury, I flung it from me. I have since had to put up kitchen cupboards to hide the spot in the wall where that unit is burried.

There was no second thought about it, I needed to get a replacement. Into the car I leapt. Ripped, holey shorts, t-shirt with strategically placed ventilation spots and crocs. Off to the local Spar for a replacement. Oh dear, sonny Jesus I cried as I pulled out. It is Saturday, we are being load shed and I am in the middle of gridlocked traffic in Broadacres, Fourways. I cannot push forward, and it’s too late to pull out. I am stuck. I just have to go with the flow (what little of it there is) now.

With white knuckles gripping the steering wheel and a trusty smoke hanging between my lips, I braved my way forward. Inch, by excruciating inch. I worked my way into and out of the entanglements that were all around me. I made it to the Spar and back. I managed to get the last digital cooking thermometer that they had in stock. It only took me three hours to do about four hundred meters. With hindsight as my guide, I think it may have been quicker to walk.

I ripped the packaging open, chipping a couple of teeth as I did so. Was the mash still alright? How much had the temperature dropped? Not thinking that the planned mash schedule for this ale is typically sixty minutes short. I was in a panic dear reader. By now I was clutching a Zamalek in each hand. Then an alarm went off in my head: I still needed to sparge and then boil the wort! Oh the words that spewed from my mouth. A lady of ill repute being short changed on Loop street would have blushed. I cursed the power utility and all its fathers. I execrated the absolute ineptitude of our governing leaders. The tears streamed down my face. My old Sunday school teacher would have been ashamed.

There was however, a little ray of hope. I measured the temperature of the sparge water – it was spot on. The mash temperature had dropped by one degree. Ok, what sort of weird starches would I get from a three hour mash? “Nothing much” I thought to myself.

Then it dawned on me – gas. I could complete the brew by using gas to boil. Unfortunately, by then the Zamalek had also kicked in. As a rule I don’t keep gas at home. I rushed to the car to go and buy a new gas burner system. Oh dear God. The traffic was still grid locked. It also occurred to me that I had by then consumed a fair amount of Zamalek and not visited the little boys room yet. With beads of sweat now pouring down my face and my legs tied into a pretzel like posture, I made it to the hardware store and back.

After a thirty minute visit to the white porcelain bus, it sounded like the Victoria falls (yes, I had consumed that much Zamalek), I was ready to complete the sparge. I opened the mash tun outlet and slowly began the “vorlauf”. The wort ran beautifully clear. I opened the sparge water to the mash and began to run off into the boil kettle. Something was going right for a change. I checked the inlet flow versus the outlet flow – all good. I thought it would be a good time to have a calming Zamalek. Turning my back on the sparge, I reached over to grab another warm Zamalek. When I turned around again, half the wort had drained to the floor and was creating a pretty ruby/brown stream on my kitchen floor. The transfer pipe from the mash tun to the boil kettle had become excited and exited the boil kettle.

I cannot tell a lie. It was at this stage that I was about ready to give up on brewing. I had tried my best. I had given my all. Everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. Surely, the brewing gods were telling me that I was not meant to bring this great beer to the consuming public. Just then, the lights went on – literally. Eishkom had decided to un-shed us.

I turned my eyes upward and looked at the ceiling. It was an off white color – caused by venting a keg of cider without a tap on the end (a story for another time). I looked at the color of the wort already pooled in the kettle. It was very dissimilar to the off-white ceiling patch. It was a sign. It was then that I knew, the brewing gods were smiling down on me. (In hindsight, they may well have been laughing at me.) I knew that I had their blessing – I had to continue with the brew.

I bought the remaining wort up to the boil. I re-adjusted the hop additions and for the first time that day, breathed a sigh of relief. The fermentation vessel was clean and sanitized. I had made my yeast starter. The aromas wafting from the boil confirmed that something was working. I could now finish my Zamalek in peace. I inhaled deeply on my crooked cigarette, briefly closed my eyes and thanked the brewing gods for their mercy…

Two weeks later, what should have been twenty five litres of beer, but ended up being ten, was decanted into the keg. All was sealed, and the gas was applied. Time to carbonate. One week later, I took my first sample. I almost cried. It was ok, but nothing life-changing. There was nothing to this beer – lifeless and bland. I am not sure what stayed my hand that day, I should have turfed that glass there and then. But as it turned out I had merely forgotten that I had left it in the cooling chamber which kept it at one degree!

I left the beer to warm up to the recommended ale serving temperature.

“Oh dear Lord” I whispered, when I took that second sip. The aroma was perfect. It hit you right in the nose. The body of that beer was magnificent- reminiscent of a beautiful woman or well built man, if you are that way inclined. There were just hints of chocolate and coffee that changed and intertwined as you swallowed. It was velvety smooth. Even I did not expect this. I quickly drained that glass and poured another, being careful this time to let the ale warm slightly. It was perfection! When I looked again, that keg was kicked and the beginnings of our Mild ale were a very pleasant memory that lingered on my taste buds.

And this dear reader, is how our “award wining ale” was born. Of course, we have learnt to disregard the shedding schedules and only brew on the days that they say that we will be shed. We also stick to a conventional sixty minute mash regime.

I have of course tweaked the recipe over a few iterations until we were completely happy with it. I adjusted the ratios of the specialty malts to that of the base malt. These were all very minor. The fermentation temperatures have stayed the same, except for one deviation (The Foulkes Mild). I did try another yeast once; I was not very happy with the outcome. The hops have stayed the same and the mash temperatures have stayed the same.

With that being said, here is the basis for the Foulkes mild ale:

  • Marris Otter – 80%
  • Crystal 40L – 10%
  • Chocolate malt – 5%
  • Black patent – 5%
  • Hops – Fuggles (4.5%AA) @ 60min
  • Yeast – Burton Union

The targets and temps for the beer are:

  • Target OG – 33
  • IBU – 11
  • BU/GU – 0,348
  • Mash – 68°C for 60 minutes
  • Fermentation – 19°C

A few weeks back my dad happened to pay me a visit. Having been the victim of many of my early attempts at home brewing, he is not an avid craft beer drinker. I would say that he is one of those commercial beer snobs that stick to things like Windhoek. We were braaing, and the topic came up of the new SAB chocolate milk stout. Opinions were exchanged but the debate remained civil. I happened to be sipping on a Foulkes mild at the time and offered the old man a small glass. To my surprise, he accepted.

I could tell that he was very tentative and only doing this out of the love only a father can have for his son – along with the everlasting optimism that one’s child will succeed. I explained all the beer geek things to him before allowing him to taste. I gave him a little background to the style and even allowed him to read the style guide. He took a sip and became very silent. I could see that he was in deep thought. After another swallow, he declared: “There is no way that you could have brewed this. This is too clean and too nice to be craft beer.”

And that for me, dear friends, is the only vote I need to declare the Foulkes Mild an “Award Winning Ale”.

Cheers in beers,

Craig

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