Thornbridge Raven Black IPA vs. Jon’s home-brewed “Troublemaker” Cascadian Dark Ale

20140122_191844Troublemaker on the left, Raven on the right.  Colour isn’t everything, though…

Then, methought, the aroma grew denser – perfumed by an unseen censer
enriched by sensuous malt and hop that knocked me to the tufted floor
“Raven!” I cried, “Thy God has lent thee and courtesy of Westholme Stores has sent thee”
“Respite; respite and nepenthe from memory of beers that bore!”
“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget those beers of yore!”
Quoth the Raven “Evermore…”


…once he slows down from the 2,000 or so RPM that he must have achieved in his grave, I hope that Edgar Allen Poe can find it in what remains of his – by now dusty – heart to accept my sincere apologies.

I got to try Thornbridge Raven Black IPA last night – which was exciting, but as if that wasn’t exciting enough, I also ran it up against my own Troublemaker CDA just to see if my handiwork was anywhere near the mark:


Raven: Deepest garnet when help up to the light, and blackest black when not.  A fabulous creamy head

Troublemaker: Miraculously, bang-on for colour and head.  Promising…


Raven: An avalanche of dank hops teeter on the edge of a long drop into darkly enticing malts.  Perfectly balanced on the knife edge between hops and malt.  Revelatory.

Troublemaker: Hops nowhere near as prominent as Raven.  Dark malts win out by a country mile.  This is where the lack of things like a hop-back or hop-rocket show-up.  Needs way more hop aroma.

Taste and Mouth-feel

Raven: Resinous, dank and vivid hop flavours explode over a dark malt undercurrent.  A solid malt body with a nice 6.6% ABV contributes to a decent mouth-feel whilst a satisfying bitterness provides air-cover for further random attacks of hop flavour through the swallow.

Troublemaker: Some Cascade hoppiness vies with -and probably loses out to, if I’m honest- a roast malt background.  The hop flavour fades quite quickly to be replaced with that nice, but certainly not to style, dark malt.  A decent-enough bitterness prevails at the swallow and offers a few glimpses of the residual hoppiness.  At 5.3% I also think it’s a bit thin and needs an extra 1% heft.

Raven has definitely shown me what needs to change in the Troublemaker recipe: a ton more hops, a longer hop stand and way more dry-hopping.  It also needs more bitterness and a more alcohol.  But saying all of that, it’s eminently drinkable – although clearly not a Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale.   Maybe I’ve invented a new style: Indian Dark Porter?

But, holy cow, black IPA is where it’s at; I’m liking it a lot and Raven is excellent and very much a beer that I’ll be returning to -and trying to brew myself- again and again.

Wild Raven:


Homebrewed Thornbridge Kipling Clone (Braumeister Version)

If you read my previous post, you’ll no doubt be aware of the high esteem that I hold Thornbridge beers in.  One of my favourites is Kipling.  Check out my review ( for the full lowdown.

As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I”d have a scout about and see if I could turn up or design a recipe for Kipling.

Fortunately Jim’s Beer Kit forum had a thread on brewing a Kipling clone (, with input from a chap going under the handle of tfxm.

Tfxm, or Mr. Tfxm as we’ll call him from now on, had something to do with Thornbridge brewery so was well placed to unearth Kipling’s mysteries.

As I’m still getting to grips with my Braumeister I thought I’d again adopt the “suck it and see” approach, as I still haven’t configured my Beer Engine software properly ( – Thanks, Graham!)

Mr Tfxm gave the rough ratio of ingredients, so I took those and entered them in Beer Engine and came up with the following:


I used 26L of water and my standard mashing regime of:

Dough-in at 38C

5 minutes protein rest at 53C

70 minutes Maltose rest at 66C

5 minutes Alpha Amylase rest at 73C

5 minutes Mash-out rest at 78C

Then, in a cunning masterstroke, I waited for the cheery peeps that told me that we were all done with mashing, lifted the malt pipe and let it drain while I had supper with my family – while I also put 5L of filtered water in a pan on the stove in the kitchen.

Whilst my family finished their supper, argued about whether they were having baths, etc. I sparged the grains with that 5L of water (now at 79C) and left it to drain.  Then I bathed the kids, read stories and all that other good stuff.

By the time everyone was merrily tucked up and mostly asleep, I came back downstairs and set the Braumeister to boil.

The boil was on and rolling by 8.30pm so in went the first hop charge whilst I sanitised the fermenter, cleaned the malt pipe and opened up a bottle of real Kipling.

I can’t tell you how easy brewing is with the Braumeister, and made even easier when you use pellet hops.  Clean-up was a breeze – in fact after the whirlpool and cool, clean-up, racking to fermenter and pitching of the US-05 yeast I was finished by 10:30pm and sat down with another beer.

By more luck than judgement I hit a volume of around 21.5L at 1050, which should see me with a finished ABV of about 5.2%.  Which is only a little over how Beer Engine predicted it would be.

As I type my Kipling clone is still merrily bubbling through the airlock.  It’s smelling good, really good.  I’m sorely tempted to pick up some leaf Nelson Sauvin so I can keg hop and completely blow my mind.

Keg/Dry-Hopping is not in the recipe, but I do love hops, oh yes I do.

Keep an eye out for the tasting notes…

UPDATE:  Tasting notes here:

My IDPA Tasting…


Phone cameras give such an interesting perspective on things, don’t they?  This is a standard half-pint glass…really.

How remiss of me…here I am with a keg of my IDPA ( and I didn’t ever get to record my thoughts and tasting of it…well it goes a bit like this:

IDPA is quite a dark copper orange with a little keg-hop induced haziness, the head is thick, long lasting and leaves delightful lacing all up the glass.  This is a very vigorous headed beer and I think that’s a lot to do with the keg-hops providing a nucleation site for dissolved CO2 in the beer…

From the aroma I got strong floral hops, with some side-maltiness that combines to suggest a theme of candied orange peel…which I would have expected when hopping with something like Amarillo, but as this is Cascade and Chinnok I’m a bit surprised.

The aroma produced by the keg-hopping is nowhere near as vibrant as it was, but it’s still there and it still makes me want to drink it.

A sip gives a solid up-front bitterness that arrives at the same time as the hop flavour – which good and kinda how I planned it.

The aftertaste is lingering mouth-coating resiny bitterness and pronounced floral, candied orange hop notes.

I must confess that the mouth-feel isn’t quite as firmly malty as I’d hoped it would be, so maybe I shouldn’t have trimmed down the Vienna malt as much as I did…

All in all, this is a damn fine beer and pretty much as i wanted it to be, but I think too many excellent US IPA tastings on my recent trip abroad have left me with higher standards?

Speidel Braumeister

speidel_braumeisterLook at them, don’t they look tempting?

May the good Lord have mercy upon my wallet…I’m thinking of buying a Speidel Braumeister.

What is one of those, Jon?  I hear you cry.  Well I’ll tell you: it’s a German-made, full volume, all-in-one, single vessel, computer-controlled brewing system.

Computer-controlled and stainless steel mean that it’s borderline brew porn; Unfortunately with all good things, especially German engineered brew porn, it don’t come cheap…being an absolute non-snip at £1300 or so for the twenty litre version and £1900 or so for the fifty litre version.

But from what I can see the benefits kind of outweigh the cost:

  • One vessel means much less clean-up to do
  • One vessel means it’ll take up way less space than my current three vessel set up and temperature controllers, buckets and other random supporting tat
  • With computer control it’s possible to perform stepped mashes without having to heat a mash tun or fiddle about with decoctions
  • I can mash in and leave it to get on with it, no more intervention ’til a quick manual sparge and starting of the boil
  • The Braumeister produces crystal clear wort due to the recirculation pump and filtering screens
  • Less buggering about means I stand much more of a chance of actually getting an evening brew complete and done before 2am – which is what happens normally
  • My wife thinks it’s a good idea (Unbelievably, but I suspect this may require me to buy her something suitably expensive to even things up)
  • Easier automated brewing means more time to concentrate on creating recipes and focusing on making great beer, rather than spending lots of time “making beer”
  • I have tasted beer made in a BM ( and it was lovely.  And also probably a lot to do with Gary’s recipe too
  • It’s German engineered, so not likely to fall apart any time soon
  • It’s shiney.  My crikey it’s sooo shiney

On the negative side:

  • Will there be as much satisfaction as I currently get while piddling about with my current three vessel set-up? (most of which I built myself)
  • I understand that there’s a limit to the grain capacity – which could limit me to non-mental strength beers i.e. sub 7%
  • It’s a bit pricey
  • It’s a bit pricey
  • It’s actually more than a bit pricey

I’ve been thinking about the financials part of it.  Forget about the fact that I actually really enjoy brewing and just focus on the economics:

You can buy 3x bottles of decent beer from the supermarket on a three for a fiver deal, meaning 500ml of beer costs you about £1.67.

When I brew I estimate that it costs me about 45p for 500ml (note to self: must buy 25Kg sacks of malt in future) so minus that 45p from the £1.67 meaning that I’m reckoning that I need to cover £1.22 per 500ml.

Let’s assume that I’m going to buy a 20L BM for £1,275, I would need to brew 1045x 500ml bottles (or 522L) of beer to offset the cost.

Divide that by a standard 23L brew length and it appears that I only have to brew 24 full brews and either drink them myself or take them to parties, etc. and I’ve covered the outlay.

I reckon to drink/give away on average 5L of beer a week (light-weight, I know…think of the savings if you were a massive pisshead!)

So it’s safe to say that it’d only take a 100 weeks (circa. 2 years) in total to have paid off my “investment”

I am currently talking to a vendor about this product and will let you know if and when it all comes off and I buy one…did I mention that I’d pretty much sold it to myself after bullet point no. 5 of the benefits?

See here to watch the videos of how it works.  Prepare to want one: