There’s a new blog post up on the Bushido Brewery blog that provides a behind-the-scenes view at the recent cask collaboration I did with Situation Brewing Company in Edmonton.
I wrote a post on the Bushido Brewery blog about my visit to Brasserie St. Bernardus in Tokyo.
Check it out!
I was in London for five weeks during December 2012 and January 2013, which gave me a lot of time to drink a lot of beer. London’s craft beer scene isn’t large (yet) or obvious (at first). There are a ton of pubs, and while many of them look very similar, not many of them serve the really good stuff. But once you know where and how to look for craft beer, you’ll find it. After sifting through recommendations, exploring bars, and trying many beers, I present to you:
Where to Drink Craft Beer in London: A Brief Guide by an American Craft Beer Enthusiast
Real Ale Tap Room, Islington
This place was a pop-up and closed while I was in town, but I spoke with the owners and they said they were working on a more permanent setup. It’s on my list because it appears to have popped back up. This place is a real ale only establishment. All their beers are served from casks, which are carefully curated from local breweries. They offered a reasonably priced flight of three beers on my last visit, so they likely still do. They also made a kick ass stew. This was a great place to warm up on a cold winter night. Go find out if it still is!
Powder Keg Diplomacy, Wandsworth Common
This place has style like nobody’s business. If you’re into a steampunk / Victoriana aesthetic, go here to drink. Their beer menu isn’t large, but it’s good, and here you’ll find ales that may be difficult to locate at any other bar in London. The service is excellent and their food is fantastic, so make sure to bring an appetite. Unless you are sitting at the bar or the informal area near the front windows you will need a reservation, so call ahead.
BrewDog Shoreditch, Shoreditch
BrewDog, BrewDog, BrewDog!
Here you’ll find lots of BrewDog bottles, specialty BrewDog taps, and rotating guest taps. They cook up a small menu of really good Japanese food, which pairs nicely with their beer. The staff is very friendly, patient, and helpful. They will happily pour tasters and help you decide what to order. This BrewDog location is also the home of UnderDog, their beer-centric basement cocktail experience. The ambience down there is fantastic.
They serve 50cl pours of Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck! at £6 each, but you can also buy full bottles of these elusive beers at £50 each if you are so inclined.
Ask to meet their resident End of History beer squirrel.
BrewDog Camden, Camden Town
I like the Shoreditch location better, but if you’re closer to Camden, you won’t go wrong popping in here. Their menu features burgers instead of Japanese. If you’re itching for a beer from the States, you’ll find some 500ml bottles of American craft in the fridge to satisfy. But be warned, some of those bottles are going for £20 each, and they aren’t even rare stateside. (For example, a Stone IPA or Port Brewing’s Wipe Out IPA will run you £20, but would be about $5 in California.)
Holborn Whippet, Covent Garden
The Whippet features a fine, if small, selection of ales on tap and cask. No bottles here. The staff is nice, especially the manager I chatted with (in the pic facing away from the camera). I didn’t eat when I visited, but I heard their food is excellent, and would definitely return to try the menu.
Craft Beer Company, Islington
Craft Beer Co has a few locations in London, and of the two I visited (didn’t make it to Brixton), I like this one the best. Their Clerkenwell location gets loud and very busy at peak times, though an early afternoon visit shouldn’t be too bad. This location is bigger, lower-key, and the service is friendlier. Excellent cask, tap, and bottle selection. There are also a few interesting books about beer behind the bar if you want some reading material.
CASK Pub and Kitchen, Pimlico
CASK has an extensive bottle, draft, and real ale program, and it’s all good. If you’re looking to drink some American craft beer, they’ve got you covered, but you’ll be paying for it. They have a nice selection of Mikkeller and Nøgne Ø bottles. Beers on draft are diverse and more reasonably priced than their bottle selection.
The Rake, London Bridge
Owned by the same people who are responsible for the excellent Utobeer bottle shop, located steps away inside Borough Market, you can expect an interesting cask and bottle selection and a packed crowd during the after-work hours. It’s not a large space, so you will likely be standing. There’s a patio out back, but that will probably be packed, too. Don’t be intimidated by all the suits, just elbow your way to the counter and be ready to order.
Duke’s Brew and Que, De Beauvoir
Duke’s is home to Beavertown Brewery, which brews in the kitchen during the daytime hours before the restaurant opens. Beavertown beers aren’t widely available in London yet, so go to Duke’s to drink them. I recommend their black IPA, Black Betty.
Their BBQ is great; go for the pork ribs. But be aware of two things. First, due to differences in butchering technique between the UK and the US, across the pond you’ll be ordering single ribs instead of a half or full rack. Don’t worry, two or three ribs with sides and you’ll have plenty to eat. Second, the prices for those delicious and filling ribs are quite high.
The Dove, Broadway Market
Go here for Belgian beer! The Dove boasts an extensive Belgian bottle selection with many beers I hadn’t seen outside of Brussels. I was impressed. Their food menu is reasonably priced Belgian and British pub fair. I enjoyed the fish and chips.
The Greenwich Union, Greenwich
Get your Meantime here! Lots of Meantime beer on tap and in the bottle. Their Belgian bottle selection is nice as well. This is my favorite place to drink in Greenwich.
Cafe OTO, Dalston
If you want to drink good beer at a coffee shop, this is the place. The beer selection is small, about half a dozen bottles, but quality. The cafe closes at 5:30 PM to become a music venue in the evenings. I should also mention that their coffee is good and they have a selection of Japanese single malt whiskies.
Jolly Butchers, Stoke Newington Central
After Cafe OTO closes you can catch the bus up to the Jolly Butchers, get some dinner and enjoy some more great beers. Nice tap, cask, and bottle selection. Not as big a menu as CASK or Craft Beer Co, but solid. Good food menu. This place fills up, so if you want a seat, get there before 7 PM.
The Kernel, Bermondsey
Only open on Saturdays, this brewery offers a large tasting space and many beers to try. Get there early because they will run out of some beers. You can bring your own food, and you should if you plan to linger. Many people hit up the neighboring charcuterie, bread, and cheese shops for snacks, but those stores close earlier than the brewery, so don’t wait too long. Bring a jacket, because the tasting space isn’t heated.
A Note on Craft Beer London
That’s my list! Before I end, I want to give a shout out to the Craft Beer London (CBL) iPhone app. It’s a very helpful app that catalogues places in London that serve craft beer. But be careful: some of the places it lists aren’t worth trying. Here’s the secret to using this app effectively:
CBL employs a 5-star rating system for pubs in their database. Don’t go to any pub on the list with less than 4 stars.* That’s it! Stick to the 4’s and 5’s and you’ll be enjoying tons of quality craft beer in venues throughout London.
* Of course there are exceptions to every rule. The Dove has 3 stars on CBL.
This is the world’s second strongest beer at 41% ABV. I scored a taste at Brew Co in Manhattan Beach. It’s $12 per ounce and totally worth it.
Heather thoughtfully gifted me the recipe and ingredients for an IPA as a Valentine’s Day present. It’s time to brew!
When brewing a 5 gallon extract recipe the volume of wort we add to the fermenter will be less than 5 gallons. To reach the desired batch volume we will need to add some water to the wort in the fermenter. Ideally this water will be boiled (to sanitize it) and chilled (so it won’t be too hot and kill the yeast) before we add it.
As our first process improvement, while the grains are steeping we boil and then refrigerate about 1 gallon of water. It will be added to the fermenter before the yeast is pitched. With this technique we will avoid the situation we experienced while brewing the previous batch; that of not having clean water available at the end of the day.
The specialty grains are steeped for about 50 minutes at a starting temperature of 170F. This time we do not use a grain bag to hold the grains while steeping.
When the mash is done we pour the grains and water through a strainer into the brew pot. The grains collect in the strainer and a spoon is used to press them and extract as much remaining liquid as possible.
Early on I burn my right hand on the handle of the brew pot. That’s all the lesson I need to remember that it gets very hot!
When the boil is done we cool the wort by placing it in the sink, adding ice around the brew pot, and then filling the sink with water. The pot is kept partially covered to reduce the potential for contamination by foreign bacteria. Fully covering the pot has too much of a negative effect on evaporative cooling, and chilling the wort already takes over an hour, so I choose a half-on, half-off approach.
Dinner is served while the wort cools. Mmm, cheesy herbed noodles!
Summary of notable process items:
- About 1 gallon of water is boiled and refrigerated during the mash.
- Temperature of the partial mash is 170F.
- Grains are steeped without a grain cloth.
- Sparging is done by pouring through a strainer into the brew pot.
- Steeped grains are pressed through a strainer to extract more wort.
- Wort is cooled in the sink, lid partially on, via an ice water bath.
- Cooling takes a little over 1 hour.
- The wort is not strained while pouring into the fermenter.
- No hydrometer reading is taken, so the original gravity is unknown.
I don’t have any records detailing exactly how long it took to bottle the brown ale, but I remember it taking too long. Last time we used the dishwasher for washing, sanitizing and drying. For the dubbel we will do something different.
To begin, we gather all of our bottles in the kitchen. Each bottle will be washed and rinsed by hand. We’ve set up an assembly line procedure where unprocessed bottles are placed on the left side of the sink. The bottles are washed in the left sink basin, rinsed in the right basin, and then placed on the right side of the sink, near the oven. Man, I love doing dishes.
The idea is to use the oven to sanitize the bottles. All we need to do is get them hot enough for long enough. I think 180F for 30 minutes is sufficient. We have a small test batch of bottles baking in the oven while I’m washing the bottles that will be filled with beer. We want to get the oven up to temperature and find out how long it will take the bottles to cool.
Bottles spend less time in the oven than they did in the dishwasher, but the time to cool is significant. Cooling the test batch provides a few ideas for improvement. The first is that standing the bottles upright, instead of laying them down, accelerates the cooling process by allowing the hot air inside to escape more easily.
The second realization is that increasing the airflow over and around the bottles also speeds up the cooling process. For that, we open the windows and place the bottles on top of the washing machine in the kitchen. The kitchen has a nice cross breeze going through it.
We develop a scheme for stacking the bottles in the oven that allows us to bake all of them in two batches.
We start the cooking and take a lunch break. Indonesian food. Yes.
The bottles are removed from the oven and set out to cool.
Another way we hope to speed up the day is by reducing the number of bottles we fill. To accomplish this, we run to the brew store and purchase a dozen 750ml bottles to use.
We return and remember that the beer hasn’t been primed yet. D’oh! A warm water and dextrose solution is added to the beer and we wait.
An hour later the beer is primed and the bottles are cool to the touch. We fire up the auto-siphon and begin filling, which takes about 35 minutes.
A system is needed to keep track of which beer is in which bottles, now that there are multiple batches in the storage closet. We decide to write the batch number on the top of each bottle cap. All of the dubbel bottles get a number 2.
The total time for bottling this batch clocks in at 5 hours. Not that much of an improvement. In addition to not being fast, using the oven has the unwanted side effect of weakening the bottles each time they’re cooked. I don’t think we’ll use the oven again, but it was a good experiment.
The dubbel has been in the primary fermenter for 12 days.
With my new thermometer I’ve been keeping an eye on the fermentation temperature. Initially I was storing the fermenter in the brew closet, but the temperature was around 75F or higher, which is a little too high. I moved the fermenter to my room and since then the temperature has measured between 65F and 70F; just right.
The kreuzen blow off is pretty easy to clean from the lid, but the airlock gives me a bit more trouble. Multiple, lengthy soaks in warm, soapy water eventually do the trick. In the future, if an airlock gets dirty, perhaps I’ll try to swap it out and clean it earlier.
Evidence of active fermentation is apparent.
Racking takes 1 and 1/2 hours, including cleanup. The dubbel will spend at least 2 weeks in the secondary fermenter before bottling.
Last night we brewed the dubbel. It’s now 8:15 AM the following morning, and I walk into the brew closet to check on the fermenter.
Looks like we’ve made a mess! So, this is fermentation blow off…
The dubbel is high in fermentable sugars and Belgian yeast is very aggressive. When combined, the primary fermentation period produces a lot of kreuzen. There isn’t enough space in the top of the fermenter to hold it all, so it’s being blown out of the airlock.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment necessary to build a blow off tube for this batch. It didn’t even occur to me that a blow off tube might be needed.
I’ll wipe up as much of the mess as possible and leave this batch as-is. In the future I will try to be aware of which batches are at risk of blow off and be prepared with a blow off tube.
Another lesson under the ol’ brewing belt.
Batch number two will be a Belgian Dubbel. My favorite beers are Belgian beers and I just can’t wait to start brewing these styles myself. This recipe comes from Culver City Home Brewing Supply. (The recipe for the first batch came from San Francisco Brewcraft.)
Since the first batch I’ve purchased a thermometer.
I also bought a nice set of rubber scrapers.
Ingredients at hand and new equipment acquired, it’s time to brew!
Last time I was concerned that the hot break was never reached. To make sure we reach the hot break, this time we’re going to use two burners. The brew pot is situated such that it sits over both front burners on my stove. Not only will this setup allow us to heat the wort to a high enough temperature, it will also shorten the entire brewing process, since the contents of the brew pot must be repeatedly brought up to temperature as cooler substances are added.
We bring 3 gallons of water to a boil in the brew pot and add the malt extract and candi syrup just before the water begins boiling.
Meanwhile, the grains have been steeping in a separate pot of water. The grains are removed from the steeping water and the water is added to the brew pot.
With both burners on high it takes 20 minutes to heat the 4 gallons of wort in the brew pot from 180F to 210F.
The wort begins to boil and shortly after it’s foaming furiously! Immediately we’re turning down the burners to avoid boil over. Intense foaming continues for about 7 more minutes. When it subsides we’ve successfully reached the hot break. It’s looks like two burners is the trick!
The wort is hopped and the remaining brew time goes as planned.
To cool the wort, we fill the bathtub with about 1 foot of water and place the brew pot inside. I walk to the nearby convenience store to purchase bags of ice. I add the ice to the tub, which quickly begins to melt. This doesn’t appear to be very effective.
After about 10 minutes in the bathtub we transfer the pot to the sink and continue cooling it there, periodically replacing the water.
It’s now almost 1:30 PM and we’ve been cooling the wort for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The wort is still about 88F and we’re looking to get it down to around 70F so as to not kill the yeast. I have an event to attend from 2 to 6 PM, and while I’m worried to leave the wort sitting out for 4 hours, I decide that it’s safer to do that than to rush, pitch the yeast now and have it die because the wort is too hot.
It’s 7 o’clock and the wort is the correct temperature.
I sanitize the fermenter, pour in the wort and pitch the yeast.
Then I check the volume inside the fermenter. It is much lower than I expect. I’m looking to make a batch of about 5 gallons, and the current volume is only 3 gallons!
I pull out the recipe for the first batch and remember that I added water to the fermenter to bring it up to 5 gallons before pitching the yeast. It looks like I’m going to have to do that for this batch, too, but I don’t want to add unsanitized water straight from the faucet.
After thinking (read: freaking out) for a few minutes I formulate an action plan. I heat up some water on the stove, just below boiling, to sanitize it. Then I divide it into small containers and place them in the refrigerator and freezer to bring the water down to a temperature that’s safe to add to the fermenter.
1 hour later, the water still isn’t cool to 70F. I’ve waited and stressed enough over this, so I add the additional, semi-cooled water to the fermenter and seal it. Done.
This time I forgot that I would need to add water to the fermenter to bring it to 5 gallons. If I had been content with adding water straight from the faucet, as I did with the first batch, this wouldn’t have been an issue. However, my insistence on boiling and cooling the water caused me a lot of stress. For the next batch I intend to prepare additional water in advance to prevent this debacle from repeating.
I also messed up taking a hydrometer reading for this batch. While the fact that I even took a reading is an improvement, I later realized that it wasn’t accurate at all. I took the reading using wort straight from the brew pot, before bringing the contents of the fermenter to volume. Adding water to the wort in the fermenter diluted it and lowered the specific gravity, invalidating my reading. Next time I will make sure the contents of the fermenter is at the correct volume, take a hydrometer reading, then pitch the yeast.
Mistakes aside, I’m still very excited to see how this batch turns out. Until then, I will RDWHAHB (Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Home Brew).
This baby has been in the secondary for 2 weeks:
It’s time to bottle it! We’ve been saving bottles for months, piled up in Heather’s house and my closet, and they are finally ready to be used.
We begin by laying out all of the secondhand bottles and picking which ones we’ll use. The batch is roughly 5 gallons, so I expect to fill about 50 12-ounce bottles.
The bottles are selected and washed by hand with soap and warm water. I try to keep the selection as consistent as possible by choosing bottles of similar design. (Mostly Sam Adams – I’m digging their Winter Classics collection!)
After washing, all of the bottles are loaded into the dishwasher for sanitizing. The dishwasher is set to run a normal hot wash cycle, but without soap. I just want the heat to sanitize the bottles. So, the dishwasher runs… And runs some more.
It must have taken between 1 1/2 and 2 hours for the dishwasher to finish. Meanwhile, Heather and I walk into Culver City to get a pizza. Then we watch a bicyclist receive a ticket from the police and get taken away in an ambulance outside my house. Definitely going to choose another method for sanitizing next time.
Before bottling, a mixture of priming sugar (dextrose) and hot water is added to the beer, which then sits for about half an hour. However, I forget about this step and don’t realize it until after the dishwasher is done. Trying to make the most out of the time, Heather and I practice using the auto siphon on a bucket of water to get a handle on the technique before we apply it on the actual beer.
30 minutes later, we’re bottling! We organize a setup with one person pumping the auto siphon and the other depressing the siphon output end into empty bottles. When a bottle is filled we place a sanitized cap on it and move it from the bottling station to the table.
Transferring the beer takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. This batch fills 45 12-ounce bottles and a bonus 750 ml as well.
I make sure to clean the carboy right away to avoid any sticky residue buildup inside. Here are some action shots. Epic cleaning!
Capping is a breeze. Of course, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to try the brew right now, what with so many uncapped bottles about.
It’s tasty! Flat, of course, but good. Somewhat yeasty, not very hoppy, slightly sweet. I’m very excited to know what this batch will taste like after carbonation, which should take about 20 days. After that, I’ll crack one open, snap a few beauty shots, and close the documentary of this batch with some taste notes. ’till then: