Brewing the Leith Heavy

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It started with Ian Rankin posting on Twitter. A photo of an article in Scotland on Sunday, written by David Mclean of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page and showing photos of the Oxford Bar from 1982. Quite why it’s posted by Lost Edinburgh is anyone’s guess – the Oxford isn’t lost. It hasn’t changed a bit except that the tall beer founts are away and, of course, the point of the article, Willie Ross is away. Also lost was the Leith Heavy.

Some mild searching went on but when Ron Pattinson didn’t know I figured the game was up.

The photos were posted again in April by Avalanche Records and retweeted by Mr Rankin. On that occasion, my query about who made the beer was retweeted and with his 110,000 followers, responses started coming back identifying the short-lived Leith Brewing Company and Ken, ChummeryKen, and, most importantly:

The most remarkable thing about this is that I’ve known Scobes since some time around 2010 when he was a stalwart of Blipfoto and I was a new member. Edinburgh truly is a village.

Anyway, having met up with Scott last evening, I’m sitting here with the original home brew-sized recipes for the Leith Heavy and the brewing logs for the full 10 barrel brews of the Leith Brewing Company. And much more memorabilia. And there’s more of it to come.

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But the beer. It is, as you might expect, a fairly traditional Scottish Heavy made with pale malt, a generous helping of crystal malt, flaked maize, which I’ve never used before, and sugar. It should come out around a very sessionable 3.8% ABV. But there are big differences between the Leith Heavy and what the BJCP style guidelines class as a Scottish Heavy. It is lighter than a standard Scottish Heavy and much hoppier. Where the BJCP puts a Scottish Heavy as between 10 and 20 IBU, the Leith Heavy is 40 IBU. To put that in some perspective, Punk IPA is 35 IBU. This is going to be quite a hoppy Scottish Heavy.

The only thing not specified is the yeast. There’s many mentions of “Yeast from L/Clark” soon abbreviated to “Yeast ex LC” which must refer to the Caledonian brewery (founded in 1869 as the Lorimer and Clark Caledonian Brewery). But this is going to have to be brewed with available yeast so the first batch will be split and three different yeasts used: Wyeast 1728 Scottish yeast, Mangrove Jack’s M15 (called Empire and their recommended yeast for Scottish heavy) and my old standby, Safale S04 because it will always be there.

And unless Scott knows someone who would know the taste of the Leith Heavy, there will just need to be extensive testing to decide which of the three is the better beer.

And there’s the story of Ken to tell. This guy was a character worth knowing.

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Brewing the Leith Heavy

It’s not just a beer, it’s a toast

Let’s see. I had not long made my first delivery to the Corner Shop in Crossgates so it must have been August last year when a friend said she had been asked by Jock at Woodlea Stables who it was in Limekilns was brewing beer. “You should go up and see him”, she said. I’m very glad I did.  He’s a lovely bloke, who generously swaps bread, cakes and coffee for beer.

And being a baker he is a man with too much bread, especially on a Sunday when the shop closes until the following Friday.

It’s a bit a fashion just now. There’s a bit of a bandwagon about it: beer made with waste bread. There’s Toast Ale. Jaw Brew’s Hardtack. Others I’m sure but it’s not exactly new. Beer and bread have a long history together. The oldest beer recipe uses bread although more recently it has tended to go in the other direction, with beer, beer yeast and spent grains making their way into bread.

And I’m not sure I’m convinced that “eliminating food waste” is much of a reason for making beer out of bread. Bread kinda should be wasted – of all the foods with a limited shelf life, bread is surely the one that should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. The problem with most bread is that its shelf life is too long. Stuffed full of modifiers and preservatives. Real bread like Jock’s, made with just flour, water and a little salt, leavened with natural yeasts, only lasts about a day or so. And there are so many other good things that can be made with bread that’s past its best – toast, French toast, bruschetta, bread and butter pudding, panzanella – that beer seems a bit of a waste really.

No, the reason I’m making beer with Jock’s bread is a little more symbolic. It will mark a bit of a partnership, a collaboration between bread and beer. A toast. The first of my (regular, I hope) pop-up shops will be at Woodlea Stables on 1 July (licence permitting) and I thought it would be nice to combine his bread into my beer to mark the occassion.

So the bread has been cut up into cubes and dried in the oven. Rather than the slow, gentle drying that seems to be recommended, I’ve given it a good roasting to darken the crust and get a good bit of caramelisation. It’ll go in the mash with the grains and hopefully contribute a nice toasted flavour, a bit of colour and maybe a little sourdough tang to the beer.

It’s not just a beer, it’s a toast

It’s not mean, it’s recycling 

It just seemed so wasteful – 200g of fine Columbus and Amarillo that had only been used for dry-hopping about to be composted. And at the back of my mind I remembered reading about the practice of dry hops being used again for bittering. And it was still reasonably early. There was still time to get a brew on.

Of course, I had no idea how to use them. I mean, how much bittering would you get from the hops? Putting the amounts into Beer Alchemy wasn’t much help.It suggested a really bitter brew but I doubted that. They’ll have lost something to the beer they were dry hopping. The internet was a bit of a letdown, although this clearly isn’t a new idea.

So, guesswork. First, a simple malt bill – pale malt and some light crystal malt, aiming for 4.5% ABV. Something that would be fine if it was quite bitter but would be equally OK if it wasn’t all that bitter. I also hedged my bets on the hops – half the used hops for the full boil, the other half at 15 minutes and some new Mosaic at flame out. Fermented with S-05. And probably dry hopped with more Mosaic.

Transferring to the fermenter, it tasted like it’ll be easy-drinking bitter: nothing that would take the enamel from your teeth. Initial thought is that next time I’ll put all the used hops in for the full boil. And I’ll plan ahead – finish brewing at midnight is no fun. As ever, we’ll see when the yeast has done its work. It may well just be something I have to drink myself but an interesting experiment.

It’s not mean, it’s recycling 

New beers

 

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Elgin Summer Ale – I posted about this back in March just as I was about to brew it. It was bottled at the start of April and, keeping with the summer theme, I decided to prime the bottles with local honey, made in Kelty and kindly given to me by Jock at Woodlea Stables. I gave a few bottles to folk to see what they thought, with, in hindsight, the stupidly optimistic ‘best after’ date of 10 April. Those that cracked the bottles around that date would have been as disappointed as I was – flat and unremarkable. I’m pleased to say that two weeks later and both the carbonation and flavour are now where I’d expected them to be. It’s definitely got a nice golden honey colour and the slightly dry, bitter freshness I was after, although at 5.4% it’s a good bit stronger than I’d like it to be. It should be around 4% – the kind of beer you’d drink a few pints of on a warm afternoon without a hangover in the evening. If we ever get a warm afternoon. 

This batch was brewed with a California lager yeast which has worked as I’d expected – clean and crisp, making no obvious contribution to the flavour. But, as ever, where flavour goes economics is never far behind. Since it costs three times as much as S04/S05 I have to wonder if similarly clean yeast would do the job just as well, or perhaps better, adding something of its own. We’ll find out. The second batch was brewed yesterday, aiming at 4% and fermenting with S04, my standard British ale yeast. 

Rocks Road – this is the successor to Full Nelson first brewed nearly a year ago as a single hop pale ale with Nelson Sauvin and later as a single hop with Simcoe. This combines both – Simcoe doing the bittering and late hop additions and dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin. A lovely combination, although expensive to make. It’s Nelson Sauvin’s fault. Compared with something like Cascade at £25/kg, Simcoe comes in at £36.50 and buying Nelson Sauvin in smaller quantities means that it costs an eye watering £75/kg. That gets passed on in the cost to the shop so the customers will decide if it ever gets made this way again. 

New beers

In search of Shetland beer

It started with a work bonus trip to Shetland to present some results. Since I was flying all that way, it seemed daft to just turn around and head home so having established that there was two breweries in Shetland, I found myself the least salubrious hotel for the night. My quest: to ‘research’ the local beers.

Friday.

My work is done and I’ve managed to get myself lost but eventually I find my bed for the night in the Lerwick Hotel. It’s not busy.

Hi. I have a reservation.

(Reaches under counter and produces a piece of paper) Mr Hope?

Err, yeah.

Room 201

It’s the room nearest the reception desk. I think I might be the only guest.

What I want to do is dump my bag and have a pint. If I sit too long I’m going to fall asleep and the most obvious first stop is the hotel bar but this only reinforces my impression that I’m alone here (apart from the twins). There’s no one in the bar. No one. Not even staff so the tap with Valhalla Brewery’s Simmer Dim goes unmolested. I head out.

First stop: The Lounge, Mounthooly Street. This has been recommended by a Shetland native no less though, to be fair, it wasn’t an unqualified recommendation:

The Lounge Bar on Mounthooly St in Lerwick used to be “THE” place to go at weekends – really busy with live trad music but not so sure these days. It’s probably still the best bet though as Lerwick is not blessed with overly great pubs I’m afraid.

It is, shall we say, a classic pub. Vinyl floor, plywood panelling and bench seats around the walls, dart board. A display of the world’s bank notes behind a bar blocked by a knot of regulars. To one side, under the silent but captioned TV there’s a couple sitting side-by-side, in silence, looking straight ahead. It could be any town. Somewhere in Govan or Springburn. Leith, maybe. The taps are Carling, Tennents, Coors Light. We’re spoiled for the choice of pish lager. Belhaven Best, Guinness. Tartan Special. You can buy every variety of crap lager but local beer on Shetland is as rare as trees. There’s nothing local on tap. Two breweries but just one represented by one bottled beer – Valhalla Auld Rock. It’s nice, dark, malty-sweet. A traditional Scottish heavy but they must still be doing oil-boom pricing – £3.70 a bottle. Oddly, there’s an impressive range of Orkney beers in bottles.

When the Auld Rock is done, I head out and, looking for another pub to continue the quest, I notice Beervana, a modern bottle shop on Lerwick’s main commercial street: Commercial Street. It’s an excellent shop, reminiscent of Edinburgh’s Beer Hive, with the two Shetland breweries well represented and their whole range of Scottish beers given a very prominent display at the front of the shop. Considering most of these beers need to be brought to Shetland, the prices of all the beers are very reasonable. The off-trade in local beers is obviously better than the on-trade since Beervana will be moving to a larger shop soon. The advice for a local pint: try Da Wheel.

So I headed along to Da Wheel. On the way I walked past The Thule. Even though it looked like something out of an Edward Hopper painting I could see through the window that it only had the usual kegs of fizz on offer. And, to be honest, it looked pretty unwelcoming. Da Wheel had nothing. But I’m starting to notice a pattern here: empty pubs. A little group of men, already a few pints in, hanging around the bar chatting or playing pool. Maybe I’m just in the twilight zone between Lerwickians (is that the word?) finishing work and going out. Maybe it gets a little livelier later in the evening.

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The recommendation in Da Wheel is to try Captain Flint’s at the Market Cross at the other end of Commercial Street. Thankfully, Commercial Street is pretty short so although the drizzle is starting, I get to Captain Flint’s without my hood. It has to be said that Captain Flint’s is a strange place. Themed as a pirate ship with easily the most surly barmaid ever, Flint’s had Lerwick Brewery Azure on cask. Light, hoppy with a Mr Whippy head. A success of sorts, although it’s a little aggressively bitter for my taste but I’m pleased to find it on tap.

With that under my belt, I decided to call it a night. 7.30pm. Back to Beervana for a few beers: Valhalla Simmer Dim, A Valhalla Sjolmet Stout, Lerwick Tushkar and an Orkney Porter. Because I’ve heard good things about it. 

Mainly they’re fine. Simmer Dim is pleasant. Tushkar is nice but with a slightly odd aftertaste that I can’t place. The Orkney Porter is stunning, although at 10% and after two films and a long day I’m ready to sleep. 

Saturday

It’s looking grim. Breakfast is served until 9.30am, which seems early for a weekend but I’m up, washed and dressed in plenty of time to take my seat in an otherwise empty dining room. Breakfasted, packed up and checked out and then off to wander looking for Norse myths and viking tat for the weans. The weather never advances beyond little drizzle and having done my wandering and got presents for everyone at home. I decide to give The Thule (The Famous Thule, apparently) a try. It has the distinct advantage of being just opposite the bus stop I need for the airport and it’ll let me put my bag down while I wait for an hour. Opening the door, the place is heavy on the scent of bleach. That, the tiled floor and the industrial steel panelling give a distinct impression of municipal public toilet. Never a good first impression, except in a municipal public toilet. My walk-past last night was right: I have to settle for a pint of Stella. It was that or Best and even in a straight competition between Stella and Best, Best isn’t the best.

Then there was an hour-long bus trip to the airport, listening to the lilting accent, with just enough local words interspersed to make conversations barely understandable. Finally, I find a decent pint. Lerwick IPA. Reminiscent of Sierra Nevada but that’s not a criticism.

In departures there’s bottles. Valhalla Old Scatness, described on the bottle as Light and Smokey and they’re not wrong. It smells like lager and has a light malt taste and quite low bitterness but that only means there’s very little balancing the smokiness. The first mouthful is like a kipper in a glass, although that’s just the initial impression – the first shock of that unexpected level of smoke in a beer so light. Subsequent mouthfuls are more balanced although I’m still asking why I would want a smokey lager. It’s doing neither of the jobs I want in a beer – giving neither the dry, crisp thirst quench of a lager nor the sip-and-think complexity of a stout or porter, where smoke often adds to a mix of malt and other flavours. Do I want another one? No, no thanks. I’m not sure I even want to finish this one.

So that was Shetland and quite a disappointing attempt to sample the local beers. Top impression: Shetland pubs are for serious boozers but maybe I’m seeing them at the wrong time. Shetland beers don’t seem to be getting the support of Shetland’s pubs. Top marks to Beervana for sticking their neck out and opening a craft beer shop. How they assessed the market potential is anyone’s guess but they seem to have called it right and best of luck to them. Craft beer is drunk at home here.

In search of Shetland beer

Time to think of summer

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Although he lives just a minute or two away, I only really see Graeme when he’s taking me to the airport or the station, with his unfailingly reliable taxi service. He likes a beer, savours them more than most since his work generally dictates abstinence. So when Graeme asked for the second time whether there was anything new planned for the summer I thought I should give it some thought.

I didn’t really start paying attention to the market for beer as a product (rather than as a commodity I bought and drank) until I started producing it, in my own small way, commercially. The thing that really struck me was how much beer, craft beer in particular, thrives on novelty.* New recipes, special editions, collaborations, cans, new labels, new breweries, reviews, food pairing, all feed what seems like an insatiable need for something new and attention-grabbing. You can’t imagine it these days: a brewer producing their beers and still be making the same ones 200 years later.

(* And I should be clear, when I say novelty, I don’t mean gimmickry. Refreshing your beer line-up or bottle artwork is novelty and no bad thing. Shoving a bottle of beer up a dead stoat’s arse is gimmickry.)

So Graeme’s question seemed to capture the idea that there should be some change in the beers. That products should follow the seasons as people’s thoughts turn from winter to spring and it should be something reflecting that wistful imagination of warm evenings on the patio watching the barbecue lose its glow (even though this is Scotland and that hardly ever happens). Did the line-up of beers that make their way to The Ship need refreshed? Did someone need to retire? We’ll think about that later.

Assuming we’re going to get a summer, what sort of beer does the summer of Graeme’s imagination need? I’m going with:

Pale malt and a little light crystal malt: should give a nice honey colour, with a low mash temperature to maximise the extraction of fermentable sugars. We’re looking for something dry and crisp.

Classic English ale hops: Fuggles and East Kent Goldings described as delicate, minty, grassy, floral, slightly spicy, honey and earthy. Sunny evenings and new-mown grass. I can live with that. To this I’m adding a lager hop, Spalt Select, developed from Hallertauer Mittelfruh. That this hop was reputedly adopted by Anheuser-Busch to replace Spalt Spalter and Tettnang Tettnanger hops in some of their recipes, is a recommendation.

Lager yeast: Mangrove Jack Californian lager yeast works at ale temperatures. I’ve used it successfully in lagers and it’s the staple yeast style for California Common.

As ever, we’ll see how it turns out. In the meantime, here’s some chickens getting stuck into the spent grains.

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Time to think of summer