Thursday, 23 June 2011

Brew Day with The Kernel

Underneath the black bricked arches, within an Olympic stones throw of London Bridge, lives The Kernel Brewery. Packed in alongside a cheese maker and a meat curer, at first glance it appears like a home brewing hobby that's got out of hand.

After relatively little convincing, the owner Evin agreed to let me join them for a brew day. I am a keen home brewer and wanted to see first hand how things work when brewing is scaled up. I've done my fair share of brewery tours, with the usual parade of giant steel vessels and swept warehouse floors, but these generally give no indication of the passion or the buzz of excitement involved in the hands on brewing of beer. It's the craft, passion and smells that stir the soul.

Their 650litre setup is only a year old but already has plenty of outward character showing. It is tightly squeezed in alongside a makeshift fermentation and bottling room, with sturdy shelves that still hold the 80litre stainless steel pots that once formed the basis of Evin’s home brewing hobby. These now get used for sanitising and holding finished beer to feed the bottling machine.

The Kernel focus on brewing highly hopped US style Pale ales and IPAs, as well as a diverse selection of rich dark beers, strong stouts, Black IPAs and even a Coffee IPA. The focus is all about the ingredients and what they bring to the beer, often isolated in order for the individual ingredients to shine. The labels again reiterate this simplicity, hand stamped designs reflecting an attention to detail noticeably present in the beer. There is no core range of beers so each brew day is different. Each beer is unique, something which customers must find so exciting in this age of conformity. The hops are usually the stars of the stage, prominently stamped on each label, educating the customer to their own tastes and stirring excitement about the ingredients within.

On my day the focus was on a Pale ale, single hopped with Mt Hood - a lot of Mt Hood. Four and a half 25kilo sacks of the finest Warminster Maltings Maris otter, a few buckets of Munich, CaraMalt and Cara Gold, left to rest for a simple one hour mash at a 67c target temperature. A 30 minute reticulation followed to clean the wort, before sparging commenced with its reassuring rotating squeak of the sparge arm.

The run off and subsequent boil took 2 hours, enabling everyone to turn their hand to some bottling. 4 bottles at a time are filled by a machine intended for wine bottles, requiring a final hand delivered splash to top up. The brewery seems to offer an open door policy during the day, with customers collecting, and fellow brewers and artists all visitors on the day, folk milling through and recognising there was something special going on under these arches, an antidote to the formulaic replication of standard beers.

Handling hops is always an exciting experience. Rubbing them together in the hands to release powerful aromas is a brewers treat, but being asked to measure out 4kilograms of them into four buckets was sensory overload. I got the chance to add the aroma hops at 15, 10, 5 & 0 minutes, there was barely time to get them all submerged before the next batch was due, repeated until the wort surface resembled a Celtic marsh , completely obscured by hops.

It was then time for the plate chiller to get to work, cooling the 650litre brew to 21c nearly instantly. 19c was the target but after a bit of flow adjusting it was decided to pitch slightly higher. Out came a brick of US05 yeast, pitched dry into the filling fermentation vessel.

That's where the journey ended, open fermented in a side room with four other steel fermentors, each fermenting a different beer and each with their own distinctive aromas. No such luxury as temperature control, just a noisy old cooling unit to help fight the warmer summer evenings.

The final tasks of the day were to dig out the mash tun, something it seems is reserved for guests wherever possible, and reclaiming the hops from the kettle. The amount of spent hops was impressive, so impressive that I understand a visiting James Watt of Brewdog felt compelled to take a picture.

Brew complete, we all took some time to crack open a few bottles. We compared notes on which we preferred, but mainly agreed that we liked all of them, like proud parents being asked to choose a favorite child.

So what's next for The Kernel? Well I understand that plans for new premises are progressing. This will offer a bigger capacity, but will still focus on the same unique bottled beers. It's the hand craft that makes Kernel what it is, and I can't see that being compromised.

Kernel’s beers are available in most good London bars, online at BeerMerchants, but I recommend that you pop in and join them for Saturdays at The Kernel and get a chance to see first hand the craft and care that goes into these fine beers.

For Homebrew Geeks all the pictures I took that day are here on my photobucket account.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wild Swan (Thornbridge)

Pours with fizzy like a run away train, creating a big foamy snow drift head. The aroma Lemon in abundance, maybe hints of vanilla.

The opening malt is very thin as one may expect with a beer so pale, and only 3.5%Abv, hints of sweetness are soon blasted away with big hits of lemon bitterness. In that usual Thornbridge style there is a tropical fruit edge to the finish, mixed with that citrus bitterness. The final finishing note is a slight spiciness, almost peppery.

5/10 Zingy Citrus, but not much else, sadly a rather thin summer beer offering.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Budding (Stroud)

An organic Pale ale it pours with the lightest carbonation I've known in a beer. It has an aroma packed with limes and citrus.

The opening malt is gentle and sweet, slipping along the tongue before combining with the finishing hops. Light bittering, but packed with flavor delivering a flood of citrus to match the malt sweetness. No dry finish, just hundreds of delicate floral flavors.

8/10 A modern English Pale ale, effortlessly quaffable, zesty, and in perfect balance.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pilsner Urquell vs Budvar

The term "Lager" has long been synonymous to tasteless mass produced beer in the UK, long lost from it's east European origins as a method of cold storing beer, but I'm by no means an expert on the subject!

I thought I would visit two legends of this Bohemian Pilsner style for what some would call a taste of the "true lager experience"

Both pour a beautifully clear light amber gold, with Urquell the merest shade darker. Neither give big foamy heads, reducing to no foam after a minute.

Both a light on the nose, no English or US IPA hop power, or premium ale malty depth. Delicate is the key word, both having a subtle freshness, the Urquell is slightly grassier with more hints of those Saaz hops. The Budvar has slightly more caramel maltiness on the nose.

Both have that beautiful clean taste, no fruity middle, these beers are fermented at low temperatures to ensure the flavors a clean and crisp. The Budvar has less malt depth to start, the bitterness is slightly more prominent, with a finish that has the tiniest sharp tanginess to it. The Urquell offers something very different, there is an amazing biscuit crunch to the malt, like toasted bread it provides a fantastic depth of flavour. The following bitterness matches perfectly with crisp and noticeable Saaz hops coming through.

Two great beers, but the Urquell provides fantastic depth, with delicate flavors floating around the taste buds like summer butterflies.

Budvar 7/10 A solid example of the clean refreshing style.

Urquell 9/10 A truly delightful beer, delicate and light, but flooded with flavor.

Both beers are readily available in the UK, and in most good supermarkets.