Elveden: Stout

20131104_191824

This reviewing lark isn’t all beer and skittles, you know.  Well, alright, it’s certainly a bit of beer, but no skittles…yet.

As you may know, I’m always more than happy to receive beer for review, and I normally exchange it for a bottle or two of indecently hoppy home-brewed IPA which is a system that most folks seem very happy with…and works very well for me too.

M’friend  Jim brought me back a bottle of Elveden stout from his and Sarah’s sojourn to the wilds of Suffolk; and the night before last, I was in a stouty mood so elected to pop it open and give it a go…

Well POP was certainly an appropriate word.  The cap came off with a very loud pop and some fairly intense fobbing, leaving me wondering what amount of natural carbonation these folks had managed to get into it.

Accordingly the head was loose and full of detergenty-looking bubbles…and this was a bottle carbonated beer remember, not force carbonated…Look at the photo (click on it to view at full-size) and you’ll see it …something very akin to Coca-Cola which surely couldn’t have been right?

The colour was good, a respectable coal-black and looking like a solid pint of maltiness…and I’m afraid that’s where the good bit ends.

The smell (note smell, not aroma) was of strongly acrid burnt black malt with a tang of quite unnecessary acidity.

The taste was acrid, acidic, unpleasant and unbelievably thin.  The mouthfeel was that of perrier water: being all bubbles and wateriness.  I don’t know what the aftertaste was because I was more concentrating on trying to make sense of the immediate taste and whether it would actually make me ill…

My thoughts were that a secondary ferment or an infection had got into the bottle and robbed out all the body, while souring it and ruining it; but after doing some digging on the web I found that other folks weren’t at all happy with their tasting of it, either…

I found a reference somewhere that suggested that Elveden Stout is matured in old wooden whisky casks…well I’d suggest that if that’s true those casks want looking at…if you are going to oak a beer, maybe use sterilized cubes of oak in modern plastic or stainless fermenters?

My best and probably most charitable description of this stout is: like an thin Old Bruin but with black malt predominating.

I hate to pan beer, I really do – especially when it was a gift and I have an appreciation of how hard running a brewery and turning a profit is.  But I really didn’t enjoy this stout…I just hope that this bottle was a one-off.

http://www.icenibrewery.co.uk/elveden.asp  (which is the only link that I could find, really)

(PS: Jim will still get his quota of homebrew IPA in return, don’t you worry about that readers!  And besides he also got me some stuff from the Wolf brewery to try, too…which I am very much looking forward to trying…)

North Coast Brewing: Old Rasputin Imperial Stout

20131002_021151

Now I’m approaching the end of my US visit I knew there were a couple of things that I needed to do: One was go to Wal-Mart – just to go and see if it’s as bad as everyone says* and the other was to try as many beers as I could that I just can’t get at home.

(*it wasn’t.  I’m sure I’ve seen worse at home…but some US colleagues told me I should have gone on food stamps day as it’s like a zoo then.  Still, I managed to load up on Jerky, so all is good.)

One style of beer that we just don’t get at home – despite bloody inventing it – is Imperial Stout.  I’m not going to go into the whole story of Imperial stout: suffice to say that England used to ship it to the court of Catherine The Great in Russia, and as we all know shipping beer about in the mid 1700s meant big alcohol and hops in order to preserve it.

Old Rasputin looked to fit the bill exactly and I, for some reason, decided to try and enjoy a bottle of this after a US-sized Chinese meal; which, on reflection, wasn’t the best idea in the world.

This beer pours a solid black.  Blacker than ink.  I swore it landed with a thump into the glass.  An epic, solid, tan head of foam appeared that would have easily won a fight with me should I have decided to pick one.

Aroma was literally streaming out of the glass: intense dark malts, an undercurrent of chocolate and spiciness. all backed up by warming alcohol notes from the extraordinary 9% strength.

There was an absolute landslide of flavour: huge dark malt, an iron fist of alcoholic strength softened by a velvet glove of malt and hops that helped to blunt the background bitterness; dark bitter chocolate and roast barley were easily the most assertive flavours.  The mouth-feel was gigantic, seeming to double as all of these massive flavours stomped all over my taste buds

Lets face it, this is a gigantic, beautiful, over-the-top beer and I can see that it would be something really special when drunk out of doors, winter fishing, or watching fireworks on bonfire night, or at Christmas or anything like that…just not on a warm Dayton evening after a gigantic Chinese meal…

http://www.northcoastbrewing.com/beer-rasputin.htm

Churchill Pale Ale, Isis Pale Ale and Freedom Ales Stout

A week or so back I managed to slip out for a couple of evening drinks with some friends at The Killingworth Castle in Wootton.  The Killingworth is a pub that’s virtually smack on my doorstep but I haven’t previously had a chance to check out.
It’s a few months since it re-opened under new management and my first impressions are that it’s improved considerably, with the obligatory country gastro-pub refit of stripped floors, subdued lighting, a reasonable looking menu, re-vamped events program, etc.  Plus they seem to deal mostly in local beers and spirits, which is something to be applauded.

We decided to sit outside in the nicely re-landscaped garden, but only managed an hour or so before the keen north wind forced us back inside. What is it with summers these days?

Anyway onto the beers:

Churchill-150x150
First up was Oxfordshire Ales Churchill pale ale, which was nothing like as good as I remember it from the bottle.  This version was malty with a reasonable bitterness, a distinctly unremarkable character and really not that enticing.  I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment as I was looking forward to trying it on draught as it’s so good out of the bottle.  My advice: seek it out in bottle form if you can where it’s delightfully hoppy and refreshing.
Isis

Then I moved onto The Compass Brewery’s Isis pale ale. This was a completely different kettle of fish: a nice mid-brown clarity that delivered a good amount of malty complexity and gave way to a lovely mouth-wateringly bitter finish; a satisfying mouth feel and a really good pervasive hop character made this a beer that I wanted to come back to again and again.  Maybe it was the high standard of the Isis that made the Churchill seem poor by comparison?

stout

My one for the road was a stout by Freedom ales served from a keg on cellar gas and through a standard keg tap – which seemed wrong for a stout on so many levels and wrong it certainly was: way over-carbonated, making it “fizzy” – not gently carbonated, and served way too cold – both of which helped to kill most of the taste stone dead.

What I could taste was drinkable enough, some complexity in the maltiness with a pleasant enough hint of roast barley running on through.

It would probably have improved if I’d have ordered it, left it and enjoyed it a good two hours later…

Stout rules: serve on nitrogen, not cellar gas – use the correct tap and don’t serve it too cold!

The Killingworth Castle is a smashing pub and the staff are great…they just need to sort out that stout!

(The online drink menu is a bit out of date, though)

Hop-bursted Oatmeal Stout

20130520_190844

Ah, yes…well…it was supposed to be an oatmeal stout, but it’s actually turned out more like an Oatmeal porter.  So let’s just call it an Oatmeal porter and have done with it, eh?

After I read Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing book I decided that a hop bursted stout would be an interesting experiment and as a result, put together the recipe for this.

When planning the mash I considered that the amount of crystal malt in the recipe would give me a little residual sweetness and would mean that I wouldn’t have to mash any higher than 66C – mashing any higher than that always gives me the jitters and leaves me worrying about finishing gravities of 1025 or more!

For yeast I used the Mauribrew 514 Ale Yeast, and crikey what a belter it is.  It tore through the wort in about 2 days…taking it from 1058 or so to about 1011 in that short time.

Two weeks in the primary and then nearly a month in cornelius keg and it’s finally come into its own: as you can see from the photo, it’s not as dark as I hoped it would be, there’s no way that it’s 94EBC, no way on earth, but it’s dark enough to make a decent porter, so I’m happy with that.

The aroma is complex – coffee, chocolate with a sweet malty sort of nose to it…this is most definitely a sweeter stout, helped in part by the crystal malt, and the taste is kind of where I wanted it to be – echoing the aroma in it’s chocolate and coffee sumptuousness.

There is a bitterness imparted by the hop-charge; but as it’s all late hop additions it’s a weird, graceful sort of bitterness which seems to dovetail right in with the chocolatey-coffee taste – and because of that it’s difficult to tell where the hop bitterness finishes and the crystal and black malt comes in, which is no bad thing…it’s all joined up at least.

The mouth-feel is smooth and satisfying, which means I must have got the amount of oats pretty much bang on…and this helps to keep the finish going on and on and on.

What I’d do differently next time: Less crystal, no hop-bursting (it’s interesting, but I crave a little more assertive bitterness in my brews)  I’ll probably splash out on some roast barley next time to really lay on that dry, roastier feel.  I’ll also whack up the black malt a tad to make it more “stouty.”

This is the second outing with the Mauribrew 514 yeast for me and even though it’s vigorous and dependable in it’s ability to rip through worts, it seems to take an age to clear and isn’t particularly good at staying put in either keg or bottle – the slightest disturbance seems to get it billowing up all over the place.  It also has a weird neutrality to the taste, which I can’t say is unpleasant or anything…it just doesn’t offer much in the way of character.  I guess I’ll be looking to White Labs or Wyeast next time around…

…anyway saying all of that this beer’s satisfying enough as a daily drinker, so here’s the recipe (direct from Beer Engine)

Fermentable Colour lb: oz Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 11 lbs. 0.4 oz 5000 grams 83.3%
Oat Flakes 2.5 EBC 0 lbs. 14.0 oz 400 grams 6.7%
Torrefied Wheat 4 EBC 0 lbs. 7.0 oz 200 grams 3.3%
Crystal Malt 130 EBC 0 lbs. 7.0 oz 200 grams 3.3%
Chocolate Malt 1050 EBC 0 lbs. 3.5 oz 100 grams 1.7%
Black Malt 1300 EBC 0 lbs. 3.5 oz 100 grams 1.7%
Hop Variety Type Alpha Time lb: oz grams Ratio
Northdown Whole 7.6 % 20 mins 0 lbs. 1.4 oz 40 grams 40%
Northdown Whole 7.6 % 15 mins 0 lbs. 1.1 oz 30 grams 30%
Northdown Whole 7.6 % 10 mins 0 lbs. 0.5 oz 15 grams 15%
Northdown Whole 7.6 % 5 mins 0 lbs. 0.5 oz 15 grams 15%
Final Volume: 23 Litres
Original Gravity: 1.058
Final Gravity: 1.015
Alcohol Content: 5.6% ABV
Total Liquor: 34.3 Litres
Mash Liquor: 15 Litres
Mash Efficiency: 75 %
Bitterness: 33.9 EBU
Colour: 94 EBC