Transatlantic smoked porter

The great thing about living in a small village is that word travels fast. Having seen the beer in the pub some lovely soul suggested that the inaugural local celebration of all things boatie – the Limekilns River Festival – should have have local beer, rather than the one keg of Belhaven Best normally available at the boat club.

Opportunities like that don’t come along too often and, sensibly, since they were running the event for the first time, the boat club were nervous of ordering too much so I took the chance to make it a low-risk proposition: 300 bottles sale or return. If it went well, we’d all do nicely from the sales. If it went badly, if rain stopped play, I’d have to find space for hundreds of bottles of beer but it wouldn’t go to waste. In the end, there was a great turnout of thirsty sailors – the back-up supply was needed.

One of the beers I brewed for the occasion, to make sure there was something for everyone, was a smoked porter. The recipe comes from The Craft of Stone Brewing (which is a great read) and while it’s a nice beer, it’s not (to me) all that porterish (at least not as nice as Pressure Drop’s Street Porter) and not very smokey. So today I thought I’d have another go at it. I may have overdone it.

First up, smoke. I like smoke. In food and whisky. Yesterday, I made some pastrami according to Tim Hayward’s recipe. Four hours of feeding a smoking pile of apple wood and you know what smoke smells like. That kind of smoke. So Stone’s hint of peated malt (2.5% of the grain bill) was out and in came the German smoked malt, cranked up to 15%.

Stone’s hops are, naturally, all-American: Columbus doing the bittering, with Mt Hood at the end. But, of course, porter hops would be British or European (see Ron Pattinson’s book of Vintage Beer guide, which has a whole chapter on porter), so I kept the Columbus but substituted Fuggles for the Mount Hood.

And coffee. Half a litre of strong black coffee in the boil. Because.

And like the single hop Nelson Sauvin, we’ll see how it goes.

Transatlantic smoked porter

Full Nelson


With all the waiting on HMRC, things had been slow to move out of the Shed. My four wee casks were full, waiting to go to the pub and the tanks were also full so I could only brew small, 25 litre batches. But there was a recipe I was interested in trying – a single hop IPA made with Simcoe.

There’s been two packets of Nelson Sauvin hanging around since God knows when, bought on a whim when talk of hop prices going through the roof first started circulating. To be honest, I blow hot and cold about the big brash, hoppy beers. So the Nelson has sat around waiting to be used. Now was its chance. Andy’s barbecue is at the end of July so that should be just enough time to get this ready.

Let’s substitute the Nelson Sauvin for the Simcoe and see what happens. And substitute the pale malt for the pilsner malt I had. Oh, and substitute the biscuit malt in the recipe for the flaked barley that I had. Toast the flaked barley in the oven for a bit to maybe give it some biscuity character. And we’ll see what happens. This is how I imagine beers are developed. Recipes are tweaked and we see what happens.

It’s bubbled away happily for a couple of weeks and been sitting clearing for a couple more. The 50g of Nelson left over went in for dry hopping a few days ago. It’s strong – just under 7% and hoppy. In small doses and ice old, it should be a nice summer drink, though definitely not a session beer.

Full Nelson

Back in business

No beer this week?

A pleasing, regular question over the past few weeks as I get to the pub for the Thursday night session. Pleasing because there’s enough of a note of disappointment about it. Your beer’s being missed. It strokes the ego a little, that does. A regular question because it’s been six weeks since there was a cask in the pub. Six weeks waiting for HMRC to approve the wholesaler registration that is now a requirement alongside registering the brewery and paying the duty.

Mention to people that you’re waiting on HMRC and heads shake and nods are knowingly nodded. They rant a little about the inefficiency and how home-grown bureaucrats are holding back a start-up with their forms and box-ticking, their delays and couldn’t-care-less attitude. You have their sympathy.

It has to be said that the guys from HMRC who popped out to visit the Shed in early April were very pleasant, even sympathetic to the tiny nano-brewery (a pico-brewery, I suppose), caught up in a net intended for bigger fish.

As was the man from environmental health. Useful, helpful and constructive advice.

And the time off was well-used to make further improvements to the Shed: the wifi network extended and speakers added. Essentials for a day of brewing.

So, with sign-off from HMRC and environmental heath, we’re back in the pub. In casks:

Cairns, a very pale, hoppy 4.4% ale. Just pale malt, Brewers Gold and Hallertauer Hersbrucker. Plenty of hops – 300g of Hallertauer at flame out – so it tastes like lager on steroids.

Cascade, ironically, isn’t the one made with just malt and cascade but the 5% one with Cascade, Amarillo, Columbus, Chinook and Citra.

Sandilands – 4.5% – the Scottish one, with Goldings, Willamette and Fuggles.

These have been waiting and hopefully improving in the casks. They’ve had to be vented and resealed twice.

Back in business

Shiny scales


In which I wax lyrical about a seemingly mundane piece of equipment.

One of the many irritations about brewing has been the problem of weighing out the grains. There’s plenty of scales around the house: in the bathroom, two in the kitchen and another in what we call ‘the store’, scales for weighing suitcases. I’ve used them all.

No shortage of scales but weighing out 15kg of grain on any of them is a chore, with buckets perched precariously on tiny surfaces, displays obscured, everything on the edge of tipping over. You can measure maybe 3kg at a time. And more than once I’ve forgotten how many 3kg loads I’ve weighed out and had to start again.

Browsing on the SIBA website I came across an advert for the Marsden B100 – a waterproof, stainless steel scale capable of weighing up to 15kg and on offer for £115. These looked like proper scales and with a free set of smaller scales – the IP2101 – that can weigh up to 5kg and were also waterproof and stainless. This is the perfect combination for weighing big batches of grain and then for weighing out small amount of hops.

Also, in the tiny Brew Shed, there’s always the potential for water or beer to get everywhere. So for any brewer, far from being a bonus, waterproof is essential.

Other bonuses:

  • they are both sturdy, solid bits of kit designed for everyday use in a working environment
  • both units have clean, uncluttered panels and the buttons have a positive feel to them. You won’t accidentally press the wrong button
  • you can switch off the auto-off: scales switching themselves off before I’m finished is a real bugbear of mine
  • the main displays face up and can be and the B100 has a display at the back
  • both units are mains or battery powered – perfect for me because I need to be able to move them around when they’re not in use
  • The B100 is rechargeable, with either 9V battery or mains adapter on the IP2101
  • the B100 has a big, sturdy weighing plate easily able to take a 20ltr bucket, which is big enough for 10kg of grain
  • even with a big bucket on the scales of the B100 or a large bowl on the IP2101, you can still see the display.

Once you’ve got a recipe to the point where you’re happy, you want everything to be consistent so being able to reliably weigh out grains and hops is huge bonus. The convenience of a scale able to weight large amounts of grain makes the setup for brew days much more straightforward.

Of course, there’s other bits of shiny that money can be spent on but getting the basics effortlessly correct. That’s priceless.

Shiny scales

Brewery news

Who’d have thought it would be hard to pin down when a brewery closed. Maybe it just wasn’t that big a deal. In the 1851 census, William Wilson is recorded as a brewer employing five men. Wealthy enough to support himself, his wife, four children and two house servants. Wealthy enough that in the 1855 valuation roll, he is listed as tenant of the brewery, its house and land and a field or enclosure on Sandilands (where I live). But maybe that wasn’t all that wealthy and that sort of business disappearing never makes the news. Nothing in the newspapers.

To recap, there are records of the brewery as a going concern up to 1854, when Mr Wilson is cited as an authority in the object names book accompanying the mapping of that year. He’s not in Limekilns in the 1961 census and the Dunfermline parochial record of 1861, under brewers and maltsters, has no William Wilson. Wilson has gone, although the brewery might remain.

The next bit of evidence I’ve found is a report from the Dundee Courier of 15 June 1867, which suggests that by January 1865 the brewery had become an “old brewhouse”, available to have its copper and boilers stolen, and that ownership had passed to George Ainslie (the one fined for cheating the excise in 1864).

The British Newspaper Archive (source of the material above) also throws up some other references to Wilson (perhaps not the same one, although how many could there be?). One of his carts killed a child in October 1856. (While you’re here, marvel at the reporting of the incident and the lengths the newspaper goes to excuse it). You have to wonder what is meant by the last sentence – the royalty. My guess is that this is refers to compensation paid to the child’s parents.

And it seems that by February 1860, William Wilson was bankrupt. That might explain why he has left Limekilns before the 1861 census.

So my guess now is that when Wilson went bankrupt in 1860, the brewery closed and although Ainslie might have taken it over, alongside his malting business, it never got going again and was sufficiently run down to be the “old brewhouse” and ripe for theft by 1865. Wilson crops up again in a reference to his daughter’s marriage in Edinburgh in January 1873.

Finally, in May 1879, Ainlsie was also in court as bankrupt.

Brewery news

What would they do now?

In his 1857 book The Scottish Ale Brewer and Practical Maltster W. H. Roberts cautions against boiling hops for a long time and observes that  “In general, it may be safely asserted that the brewers in this country boil their worts for a shorter period than those in England”. He approves:

The boiling of this wort for a longer time than one hour extracts the coarse flavour of the hop, while the fine aroma, being more evanescent flies off with the vapour…

And how did Scottish brewers hop their beer?

Four pounds of the hops were put into the copper when the wort was about 200º of heat, and boiled briskly for the space of twenty minutes; the remaining six pounds were then added, and allowed to boil thirty or forty minutes, according to circumstances.

So, in spite of knowing that the ‘fine aroma’ flies off, all of the hops were still boiled like Christmas sprouts.

What would it have needed for Scottish brewers to have the same level of hop bitterness but hang on to the fine aromas? Well, alongside reading Roberts’ book I’ve also been reading blogs on whirlpooling (at a homebrew level) hop-stands. Bear Flavored explains hop-stands in his blog and suggests achieving sufficient bitterness by viewing hops in a hop-stand as equivalent to a 10-minute boil addition. It’s a guide:

I add my whirlpool hop addition to Beer Smith as a 10 minute addition, and figure that’s close enough.

Take hop-stands, Roberts’ book and throw in period recipes from Ron Pattinson.

A hoppy, session beer with some heritage: Sounds ideal and it has plenty that Roberts would find characteristic of Scottish brewing of the time – the relatively high mash temperature leading to higher FG and because there’s a lot of unfermentable sugars, lower attenuation and lower ABV.

Should be quite a malty beer, with the bitterness offset by the sweetness implied by the high FG. What would happen if you brewed the 1851 beer but instead of boiling off the ‘fine aroma’, you kept it by extracting some of bitterness in a hop-stand?

First, to get it all from hop-standing you’d need a shit load of hops. Instead of the 2.5oz Ron specifies, using Bear Flavored’s equivalence to a 10-minute addition needs 8.6oz to achieve the same IBU.

There’s a compromise, surely. Some boiling hops for the bitterness and some late addition to keep some aroma? We’ll find out on Sunday.

What would they do now?

Update on Brucehaven brewery

An enquiry to the Fife Council archivist pointed me to the Object Names book that goes with the 1854 Ordnance Survey map. The names book was used by the collector to record the spelling and give a brief description of each of the objects identified on the map. The spelling was checked by reference to local ‘authorities’ – people of education and standing the community. So, since the brewery is on the map, it also appears in the names book and one of the authorities for the spelling is Mr Wilson, occupier of the brewery.

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From there, I ended up on the National Register of Archives for Scotland site, which holds a catalogue of the contents of private archives (not the records themselves). A search for Brucehaven there throws up a record of the lease of the brewery to William Wilson in dated 1845.

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So, ’empty’ in 1831 when the sublet of the inn was agreed and leased to Wilson in 1845. Still open in 1854 but ‘long discontinued’ by 1880.

Update on Brucehaven brewery

Bottling – Capernaum Black

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On the Ordnance Survey Six Inch map series, what is now known as Capernaum Pier is simply called Pier forming the basin of Bruce Haven. The Brucehaven Brewery above is no more, the area now covered in houses.

Screenshot 2016-02-29 21.46.08.pngIt’s not clear when the brewery closed. It was advertised To Let in the Aberdeen Chronicle in 1826 as a going concern with eight working tuns and the “good will of the present extensive business established in Edinburgh, Leith, Glasgow, Stirling and also Perth Aberdeen and other towns in the North”.

The map above was surveyed in 1854 and while it doesn’t suggest that the brewery was closed, a case reported in the The Scottish Jurist, in which Lord Elgin seeks repossession of an inn and bakehouse let to a William Beveridge, suggests that it was closed by 1831.

Following Beveridge’s sudden death in 1828, the inn was sublet by his widow. The inn had a local monopoly of trade in spirits, malt liquors and bread and was tied to the Brucehaven Brewery, from which Beveridge was “bound to take his malt liquors”. A Dunfermline brewer, Auld, who sublet the inn, subsequently sublet it to a Dunfermline builder in 1831, with the condition that the builder, Walls, should “purchase from Auld the whole ale and beer used in the premises, so long as Brucehaven brewery should remain empty”. This suggests that the brewery was closed some time after being offered to rent in 1826 and before the sublet of the inn in 1831.

Brucehaven was in the news 10 years later, in 1864, when the mallster, George Ainsley, was fined £150 (around £17,000 today) for cheating the tax man. But the record of the court case doesn’t actually refer to the brewery, only the maltings so it might be that while the malt house was rented in 1826, the brewer was not. By 1880, the Dunfermline Journal, in its Historical Notes of Limekilns and Charlestown, writes that “…there was an extensive brewery and malt barn. The first has long been discontinued, and only at the latter, are reduced operations now continued”.

The next set of maps, surveyed in 1895, the site of the brewery was marked as disused and the pier now has its current name – Capernaum Pier.

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By 1929, the publication Limekilns and Passagium Regimae refers to “the ruins of a large brewery, formerly famous for its Elgin Ales”.

Capernaum Black

Capernaum Black is a hybrid of the hoppy American style IPA, with a small amount wheat (5% of the grain bill) and another 5% from chocolate malt, giving a light roasted taste after the initial bitterness of the hops has passed. The hops are magnum, which gives most of the bittering over the 60 minute boil, with equal amounts of Galaxy at 15 minutes and one minute providing the remainder. Some Styrian Goldings at the end and as a dry hop for seven days before bottling, ensures there is plenty of aroma. The stout flavours really come through if the beer is served around room temperature rather than very cold from the fridge.

Capernaum Black.jpg

Bottling – Capernaum Black

One wort, three beers


A little bit of an experimental day in the Brew Shed. I wanted to try a two-stage infusion, starting the mash at 50C before raising the temperature to 70C after 30 minutes.  This also meant I could try out my new STC1000 temperature controllers.

I had one controller attached to the hot water kettle, which was also on a timer. With the temperature probe in the water, the controller spends the night trying to heat the water but the timer prevents the heat from actually coming on. At the scheduled time – 7am – the timer switches the heater on and takes the water up to 60C, when the controller switches it off and then keeps it at 60C until I turn up to use it.

This setup also allows me to try out the big insulating jackets I made yesterday (from an old duvet covered in waterproof fabric) to minimise heat loss from the kettle. That worked well.

Turns out that 60C wasn’t hot enough to start the mash at 50C. The grains were so cold that added water at 60 only took the temperature to 46C. That would need to be enough.

The next problem was that I now had 30 litres of water at 60C, having taken off 30 litres to start the mash. Now I had to get that water to 100C to minimise the amount I would use to raise the mash temperature to 70C, which took longer than 30 minutes. But we get there and adding another 10 litres to the initial 15 litres took the temperature to 67C at which the mash sat for another 30 minutes while I got the sparge water up to temperature.

So that was a bit of a learning experience. Next time, heat the water more – 80C maybe so that the temperature of the mash water can be adjusted  to be just right (and it won’t take to so long to boil it for raising the mash temperature.

Sparging and boiling proceeded as normal and I ended up with 55 litres of wort (90% pale and 10% crystal, hopped with Cascade, Amarillo and Chinook). Staying on the experimentation theme, I’ve split it in three and added different yeasts to each: Safale No 5, and American ale yeast, Mangrove Jack’s Belgian Ale and Mangrove Jack’s Bohemian Lager.

The temperature controllers are set to keep the two Mangrove Jack’s yeasts stable in the middle of their recommended range – the Belgian Ale between 26-32C and the Bohemian Lager between 10-15C. The Safale just has a heating plate and no controller.

Blip 2015 - 03 22-5
Blip 2015 - 03 22-5
One wort, three beers