On glassware, enthusiasm and EBBC 2012

Between the laryngitis that blighted my EBBC weekend and some work deadlines I feel like I may have slightly missed the boat here. I think the majority has been covered by other, less tardy, bloggers so I’ll just share one observation.

Like a lamb to the slaughter…

I thought the Spieglau glassware demonstration was pretty interesting, as much for the way it reflected on beer enthusiasm as for its own technical merits. Having filed in and neatly arranged the assortment of nifty glassware for the demo the room seemed to spontaneously divide into two groups. On the one hand the dogmatic skeptics, irked at the temerity of being asked to drink from anything other than the standard pub pint. On the other hand the enthusiasts, full of wonder at the constellations of flavour and aroma that had been revealed to them. I heard words like ‘revelation’ used.  The Spieglau rep kept comparing the experience of using their products to that of buying an expensive Hi Fi system vs a cheap, off the shelf solution. This seemed a brilliant analogy to me, although not perhaps for all the reasons he intended. Only a willfully ignorant person would insist that their cheapo clock radio did justice to Coltrane for example. Conversely, I think we all know someone for whom Hi Fi enthusiasm has galloped straight passed the humanly perceivable and out into the hinterland of equipment fetishism. £1000 power cable, anyone?

Clean directly after use or be prepared to tit about with a scrubber and a wooden spoon.

So where did this leave me? I certainly couldn’t find a world of difference between the bog-standard, slightly grubby, tulip pint provided and the beautiful, brand new crystal offerings. But that’s not to say there wasn’t a difference. The Spieglau glasses are beautifully made, light but well balanced and aesthetically very pleasing. If they were ever deployed in my local (£7 a glass retail, so unlikely) I would always opt for one. Not because of some Don Draper-esque cant about wafting hop volatiles but because beer can be a superlative drink. Why shouldn’t it be served in a way that reflects that?

In the interests of transparency I should add here that we were all gifted the set of 4 glasses used in the demo. At £28 RRP per set this was pretty generous from the folks at Spieglau, so thanks again to them. They are pretty delicate so I suspect there may be a touch of ‘the first ones always free’. Whether I replace mine after the inevitable breakage remains to be seen, I suspect many of the faithful will.

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Getting it Right

I’ve been brewing for a little under four years now. In the first instance “brewing” meant up-ending a tin of malt-extract in a bucket, topping it up, pitching the attached sachet of yeast and praying that Chimay Blue would appear in its place. It will be giving little away to anyone who may be reading this, Brewer, Homebrewer or dullard to observe that it never did.

How naive could one man be?

In the meantime I improved: switching to all-grain, refining my process, doing some reading and even managing to place in a few competitions. However. I still don’t rate the beer I produce particularly highly. Now there are undoubtedly a host of reasons, practical and psychological, for this. We are often our own worst critics, but in turn there have been those few brews that really hit the mark. With those tantalizing outliers comes the possibility that the unnamed, unchecked variables could be brought into line. None of this is helped, of course, by the homebrewer’s compulsive habit of brewing something different every time (a tendency that I am only too guilty of).

This dissatisfaction with the general level of my beer was crystallized by some comments from Chris Ives, Ilkley Brewery’s Head Brewer/ Co-owner at the recent Leeds Homebrew event. Whilst talking about the process of developing their Mary Jane Pale Ale, Chris observed that only by changing one variable at a time were they able get a feel for what needed changing and what could be relied on. The concept wasn’t a new one but the perspective was: I have always been impressed by Ilkley’s consistency, particularly for such a young but rapidly growing brewery. It made me think about all the times I’d idly changed the crystal malt or mash temperature on a brew before pitching a yeast I’d never used before. Seems innocent enough but instantly makes it harder to judge if the wort is too dextrinous, if the yeast has attenuated properly, if you got the pitching rate wrong…

That’s more like it.

In this spirit, I have decided to set myself a house beer to brew all year round. Its pale and hoppy, something I shouldn’t tire of too quickly and I’ve based it on my Thornbridge Strong Bitter category winner, Octavian. Hopefully it’ll give me little more insight into all aspects of the brewing process, and if it doesn’t I could always just drink it.

I’ll do a follow up post with recipe and process for Octavian shortly, next up however: a brewday for the Ilkley Homebrew Competition.