The Devil’s Beer and Pints of Cherry Blossom
Praise be to Dionysus! We made it to our second meeting.
Despite being a bit thin on the ground in terms of numbers, with just Rod, Dave and myself this time around, a great time was had by all.
I’ll be honest and say that I felt like death the next morning so that must mean that the meeting was a success right?
Such is the haziness of my memory, I have had to refer to Untappd to remind myself what it was I drank from the bar at The Trackside that evening. For those of you not yet in “the Matrix” as my good friend Ross refers to it, Untappd is a social media platform for beer drinkers where drinking has been gamified (as if we need any more encouragement). Anyway, according to Untappd, my first pint that evening was a Pale Ale from TicketyBrew,a brewery based in Staley-Vegas. Half expecting yet another hoppy IPA pumped with American “C” hops, I was pleasantly surprised to get a noseful of that characteristic floral Belgian ale smell when putting glass to gob. The taste was equally as pleasant: fruity, slightly floral and subtly bitter. Very refreshing on a summer’s evening, probably, if such things existed here in the frozen wastelands of East Lancashire. I can report that it was equally as refreshing in the p*ssing rain on the platform of the East Lancashire Railway.
The evening continued with some fascinating conversations. We talked of broken legs, engine hoists and regaled each other with tales of derring-do; of dusty African adventures and of some of the less-salubrious establishments we had found ourselves in over the years. We also took a look through some pictures of Dave’s frankly astonishing collection of Vauxhall Chevettes. With the convo flowing nicely, it was time to crack open the first of what would be three home-brewed ales to try.
Being greased up nicely by a few pints from the bar, especially in the case of Dave and Rod who had choked down a pint of what can only be described as Cherry Blossom Parade Gloss mixed with WD40 (we won’t shame the beer in question here), we decided to go full throttle, balls to the wall with my 9.7% Belgian Tripel.
Now I’ll admit that I have struggled with this one. I fell in love with Tripels in, of all places, Canada. If you haven’t tried La Fin du Monde (The End of the World) by Unibroue, a brewery based in Chambly, Quebec, then I suggest that you get yourself a bottle. It is often considered to be the best example of the style (despite being very obviously not Belgian) and is just delicious. To me, it tastes almost like tinned mandarins without even a hint of alcohol to the flavour, despite coming in at a hefty 9% ABV. My attempt at the style however has been somewhat sketchy. First of all, due to the amount of Kandi sugar used in the brew, and the high-attenuation qualities of the Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast that I used to ferment it, the beer has come out much too dry in my opinion. I think it would have been better to crash it when it was at 9% rather than letting it hit 9.7% as this would have left some residual sweetness to counter the alcohol. Having said this, the flavour at this point was much better than when it first came out of the fermenter (where it tasted like nail varnish remover). To me, it almost has a white-wine flavour to it – I think Dave hit the nail on the head when he said “it doesn’t taste like a Tripel”. Hopefully if I give it a good few more months to mature, it might come out better. I understand that patience is a virtue when it comes to big ABV beers like this. Watch this space!
Now that all three of us were three sheets to the wind, it was time to move on to another beer from the bar. We had promised Nick at the Trackside when we started the club the previous month that we would drink his beer and a promise is a promise!
Referring back to my notes, next to the words “2nd beer” I have written “a good example of a typical bitter” – fair enough then. Goodness knows what it was. When first writing this, I thought it had been a pint of First Flight from White Park Brewery in Cranfield, Bedfordshire (ahhh – just got the aviation link – Cranfield was the home to RAF Cranfield, a famous training school). This turns out to be nonsense – my Dad and fellow club member Graham had the same night sent me a picture of the First Flight pump clip as this was what he was drinking.
One thing I do remember however was that the name of the beer got us talking about flying of all things. In my late teens/early twenties, I used to fly motor gliders up at BAE Systems Samlesbury with 635 VGS – a RAF squadron that operated to give flying experience to Air Cadets. It turns out that Dave was also an Air Cadet – he was at 2301 Heywood Sqd. and I was at 1036 Bury Sqd. It is amazing how beer can bring people together and spark these conversations.
Right – on to the second homebrew sample of the evening: Dave’s “F*cked up Diabolo”. In his own words, the recipe for this was “two cans of Brewferm Diabolo and too much water taking it from 8% to 5% or who the f*ck knows.” To be honest, it was bloody marvellous – a lovely orange colour, nice and smooth and quite sweet with a good amount of carbonation. It’s been a while now since I jumped from canned kits to all-grain but I still think Brewferm kits are amongst the best and whilst they are a bit more money than other kits (and you only get about half the quantity from one can), they are worth the extra and doubling them up as Dave does is a great idea. Sticking to the theme of doubling up, Dave also brought two bottles of it along – winner.
On to the last homebrew sample of the night: a SMaSH (single-malt, single-hop) pale ale that I made with just Maris Otter and Mosaic hops. There’s not a great deal to say about this one really in terms of the beer itself – as expected it tastes nice and malty from the Maris Otter, with flavours and aromas of citrus and tropical fruits from the Mosaic. I am planning on doing a number of SMaSH beers so that I can learn about the different flavours and aromas of the malts and hops and if you haven’t heard of the SMaSH brewing movement before, head on over to this article at Beersmith for more information. One thing I can say about this beer is that it came out incredibly clear. When I say clear, I mean commercial beer clear and this is thanks to the wonder that is gelatin.
Now I know that this isn’t the most vegan-friendly method but believe me, it works incredibly well. Just popping half a teaspoon of gelatin powder in quarter of a cup of water, whazzing it in the microwave until around 70 degrees C and then chucking it in the fermenter whilst crash-cooling for 24 hours cleared the beer better than anything else I have tried before. Not only that, gelatin is about a quid from Morrisons for enough to clear about 30 brews worth of beer. For more information, the article over at Brulosophy explains all.
After all this beer, it was time to break the seal and take a trip to the gents. For those of you who have yet to sample the pleasures of the Trackside, the toilets are at the far end of the platform of Bury station on the East Lancashire Railway. Wandering down the platform on the way back to our table, I was struck by how great a venue this place is and how lucky we are to have it in our town. There had been reports that week that a similar heritage railway elsewhere had suffered from some mindless vandalism and I thought to myself “I hope it doesn’t happen here”. As sod’s law would dictate, a few days later, I was dismayed to read reports in the local press that some utter morons had vandalised a number of the lovely old carriages in use on the railway. Some people just obviously cannot stand the thought of something great existing without having the urge to tear it down. It is looking like the culprits have been caught, however, the loss to the railway is up in the thousands. With this being the case, the railway is running an appeal to raise funds so that the carriages can be restored to use as soon as possible. Donations would be gratefully received and can be made by visiting this page at TheBigGive.org.
Anyway – we are looking forward to the next meeting. Our little WhatsApp group has been alive to the tune of people brewing (as well as some horrific dancing in Crocs of all things) so it is looking like there’ll be more to sample next time around!