Tag Archives: brewing

Not So Clean Ale

This is the last beer I brewed before moving to Myanmar, which involved selling the larger part of my brewing gear. Therefore it was kind of a big deal. This beer was also an attempt to use up left over ingredients, mainly my last couple of kilograms of grain. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough fermentables for a 20l batch, so I bought a beer kit for $10 and added that in. This is the first kit brew I’ve done in a while – thankfully it tastes OK. Not great, but good enough. Kinda.

The recipe was an attempt at a basic dry pale ale full of malt and little else.

Not So Clean Ale
1044 OG, 1005 FG. 5.4% bottle ABV. US-05. Canberra water, from tap.

Fermented at 17°C from:

58% :: Coopers Draught Beer Kit
42% :: Ale Malt

40m single infusion mash at 65°C.
20m boil, no hop additions (kit is pre-hopped) but yeast nutrient added at ten minutes.

The beer looks lovely, a rich, beautiful bronze colour with perfect clarity. In fact, I mistook the first bottle for a golden apple cider batch I did previously – it’s that kind of bold bronze. The aroma wafts biscuit, apple and cloves in equal measures; the clove-phenolic presence perniciously detracting from the overall bouquet. The beer’s carbonation is low to medium, with little retention. Typical of a Canberra winter fermentation.

On tasting a clean, full, malty hit disappears quickly with a thin dry finish. Very low bitterness. Malt is pancakes and biscuits, but like the aroma it is beleaguered – this time by fusels. The hot burn brackets the rest of the profile so as to not entirely ruin the beer, rather to simply restrict it from greatness.

So, an eminently drinkable beer held back by some clove and fusels. As it is, a pint at a time I think. Alas!

The fusels and phenols could be coming from anywhere – and given I am in mourning of much of my brewing gear, I don’t want to diagnose. Alas.

I Barrack for Bia Hoi

This is the fourth in a series of posts running throughout 2015 about living, teaching, traveling and studying in Southeast Asia during my twenties. This entry is all about bia hoi.

Beer has grown exponentially in Vietnam: in 1963 it accounted for only 30% of overall alcohol consumption in the country, but as of 2005 the figure was over 97%! That puts all mature beer markets to shame.

I read about bia hoi before arriving fresh-faced in 2008 for my teaching contract and was prepared to drink my way around Saigon tasting the stuff. My palate wasn’t as developed in those days (Carlton Cold, Crown and Furstenberg all the way!) and I can happily say that in Vietnam I was the better off for it.

Because the simple fact is that most bia hoi doesn’t taste very nice.

What is bia hoi? It is freshly brewed rice lager beer fermented and sold in small family-owned pubs, restaurants and stores as well as larger gastropub-style venues. Sounds great, right? Most brewers conform to a very standard template for their beer: less than 4% ABV, very pale, thin and low malt, high rice grain bills. Easy drinking beers for hanging out after work with your buddies in a tropical city.

OK – that still sounds great.

So I guess the real issue is that the beer is often brewed badly or simply adulterated. There is a petrol-like twang about the worst batches and a mildly gross, oily mouthfeel to even some of the better examples. However, your palate does adjust, and at anywhere from eight cents to thirty cents per glass many locals, expats and visitors alike are happy to become “one with the rubber” and indulge.

At the classier beer gardens bia hoi is served in glasses and if you’re lucky can taste pretty clean and fresh, up there with the leading domestic rice lager brands like Saidon Do, Xuan and 333. In the smaller stores which may feature only a small shop front with plastic stools on the pavement, the beer is served in plastic cups or beakers and can be brewed off-premises. As with all beer drinking in Vietnam, it is common to be served with ice in the glass.

The best part about drinking bia hoi in my view is the ritual, the process of winding down at sunset by drinking beer after beer, not getting too drunk thanks to the low ABV and indulging in the sensational snack cuisine that many bia hoi joints feature. My local establishment in Tan Binh district served all manner of seafood, frog and chicken dishes with a few insects thrown in for good measure. Most of the food was dirt cheap, nearly always salty and fried and easy to share. Deep fried frog legs with lemongrass was a favourite.

The take-away option is another exceptional quality of these businesses. As Melbourne only reluctantly struggles itself into the enlightened world of growler refills, regulation-free (or rather, enforcement-free) Vietnam has been doing it for decades. Bia hoi joints will refill whatever container you bring them, and if you don’t have one of your own, they’ll supply you with one. What exactly do they supply you with? Well, in my local’s case – a plastic six-litre water drum. You are in for a good night with one of those strapped to your motorbike, as you zoom en-route to some bun bo hue in Binh Thanh district!

Some of my best (and worst) memories of Vietnam are drowning in bia hoi. What hits me most in reflection is the culture of the stuff, of drinking out of the house without breaking the bank, of celebrating fresh – if not perfect – beer and food. It’s beer for the average working person in Vietnam (of which obviously I am not): prevalent, attainable and no-fuss lager.

If Vietnam’s more European-style breweries continue to develop at their current pace – some of the venues there now are making some stellar Czech-style beer – and drinking tastes mature, it is conceivable that bia hoi could morph into more than a rice-lager only operation. Imagine that! Pale ale on every corner! ESB by the bucket! Smoked Porter on all streets with crab on the side!

I might just have to move back to Vietnam if that ever transpires …

In the next entry in this series I will talk about some motorcycle trips I took in the Mekong Delta.

Autumn Litebier

Here is a recipe for a low-alcohol, quaffable beer with a bit of jazz. I call it the Autumn Grisette. It’s a work in progress, but this batch turned out pretty rockin’. My aim was to brew a pale beer that could sit alongside my Munchkins Mild as a house alternative to heavier beers; a beer for when I have to drive in the evening, a beer for when I need to keep my head straight for something in the afternoon. I thought a mild saison would do the trick: something with real character, a beer that wasn’t strong on malt or hops, that was light and fluffy, but had a palimpsest of flavours to consider, a concatenation of subtleties intriguing enough to hide an inevitably light taste. This beer took the Grisette moniker, but isn’t really “to style”.

Autumn Litebier
1033 OG, 1007 FG. 3.7% bottle ABV. WLP585.

Fermented at 17°C from:

85% :: Munich Malt
12% :: Dextrose
2% :: Special B Malt
1% :: Chocolate Malt

30m split mash (15m 67°C/15m 70°C) with calcium chloride.

30m boil:

– Irish Moss @ 10m
– Yeast Nutrient @ 10m
– 8 IBU of Chinook hops @ 0m
– 10 IBU of Victoria’s Secret hops @ 0m.

This beer pours a completely clear, golden to amber colour. It has a very strong and persistent head – not thick, but remaining on top for the entire glass. The aroma is safely phenolic, with elements of bready chocolate wafting in the background and a touch of lemon from the Victoria’s Secret hops. The mouthfeel is exceptionally thin, and in conjunction with the beer’s extreme carbonation creates comparisons with sparkling mineral water or certain lemon soft drinks.

The flavour profile is mild but interesting: the phenolic yeast provides the canvas, sweetness is balanced with bitter and a touch of caramel develops as the glass goes down. The Chinook hops are completely absent, dominated by the Victoria’s Secret. Hop flavour is also absent – surprising given both were flame-out no-chill additions. This is a very refreshing, tasty beer and a good template for me to work on in developing a mild saison. I will brew the recipe again with some minor adjustments in the winter.

I will definitely bump up the hops and adjust the malt bill slightly, substituting the chocolate for roast barley, dropping the dextrose and utilising another specialty grain. I will also try fermenting at a slightly higher temperature. Perhaps I will gravitate towards trying a grisette?

Portrait of a Happy Wife

The year is 1940. Prohibition is not long over, its spectre haunts the United States of America as disintegration and war haunts Europe. Advertising barons, smug men in suits, sit in warm offices across the North American continent devising methods for selling lager beer. They are trying to tap into their own brains, decant ideas that are refreshing and retain well.

“Aha!” shouts one bespectacled lout. “The woman’s voice.”

A mass of advertising heads rise and fall. Of course, think these hundreds of men, looking out at their secretaries typing and fending off sexual advances on the office floor. The woman’s voice. It’s perfect. Who understands it better than us – good, red-blooded, hard-working, middle-class American husbands?

Portrait of a Husband

A further disturbing part of this Budweiser advertisement from 1940 is the “Test” featured at its bottom. It is severely reminiscent of the “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” maxim.

“Give me an exclusive palate for a week and I will give you a captive drinker.”

All of this commentary of course comes from a 2015 unmarried male who brews his own beer and has no idea what a happy wife looks like.