Carlsberg don’t do homebrew tasting sessions, but if they did they would probably pale in comparison to the Capital Brewers meets. From the exciting range of beers on offer to the tasty food served up by our generous hosts in W.J. Kavanaghs, our bottle hardened troops are bombarded with sensory delights on a monthly basis. Lucky then that our club rep, field marshal, and all round organiser-in-chief, Padraic, arrived at the latest session equipped with a full arsenal of BJCP score sheets and cream crackers to help us survive the beery onslaught. This was to be an exercise in military precision, and the night was all the better for it.
First up was Tomas, our Polish comrade, armed with a 3.5% Bitter and a brooding 4% Red Ale, both made from Homebrew Company all grain kits. As things turned out, these were probably the most educational beers of the night. The aroma from each was slightly stale and vinous, a clear sign of oxidation. This impression was confirmed upon tasting with several people detecting prominent sherry-like flavours. One of the great things about homebrew meets is the chance to train the palette. For many of us, this was the first time an oxidised off-flavour was so easily identified as such, and the first time we were able to specifically identify it as a sherry-like flavour. Tomas was curious to find out what might have caused the problem. Several suggestions were put forward, including excessive agitation of the mash liquor and unnecessary splashing of the fermented beer, either of which would have introduced oxygen at inappropriate stages in the brewing process. But whatever the precise cause, we all benefited from tasting Tomas’ brews and learned a valuable lesson.
Next up came a phalanx of beers from Rymus, a first time Capital Brewer recruit. We started with his darker than dark Milk Stout, clocking in at 4% ABV. The “milk” in the name refers to the inclusion of lactose, a sugar derived from milk which is unfermentable by brewer’s yeast. It is generally used to contribute sweetness and this was certainly the case with Rymus’ offering. Interestingly, there was less body than you might have expected from a stout with so much residual sugar, but it was quite tasty all the same. Rymus then unveiled two beers that he knew in advance were off-flavoured. Our task was to hang a name on the problem and figure out what might have caused it. Challenge accepted! The beers in question were both Pale Ales (4% and 5.5% respectively). Scrolling down the list of flavour descriptors on the BJCP scoresheet, we came to the conclusion that the problem in each case could best be described as some combination of phenolic, sour or solvent-like harshness. Our best guess was that there might have been an issue with high fermentation temperatures, but more than likely it was a wild yeast infection. Beer is a battlefield and on this occasion the barbarians emerged victorious.
Following on from this tangy assault, Rossa cracked open a 6.5% Saison, brewed (if memory serves) with WLP566 yeast. This is known to be a slightly fruitier alternative to WLP565 (the classic Dupont yeast) and there were certainly fruity notes in evidence, as well as the usual spicy bite you expect from a farmhouse Belgian ale. Several people at the table had never actually tasted a Saison before and were glad to have enjoyed such a solid introduction to the style.
Rossa then engaged us in a classic pincer movement involving two historically inspired Porters, both based on the same base recipe, but with one aged on oak chips. Tasting the beers side by side gave us a wonderful opportunity to gauge the effect of the chips. The general consensus was that the oakiness was probably a touch too dominant in the mix but it was interesting to note that they seemed to contribute more of an oaky flavour than a raw whiskey flavour. But let’s not forget the wonderful base beer, which I think Dunkel Sr particularly enjoyed. Soft and velvety, but with a lovely understated roastiness (probably from the 15% brown malt addition), none of us would have guessed it was a whopping 7% ABV.
Our wounded comrade Cara, arm in sling, entered the fray in heroic fashion with the next beer of the evening, a Dark Ale that had been brewed at a recent house party. There was a nice roastiness to it and a slight tart edge making it a very decent sipper. This helped to prepare the ground for field marshal Padraic’s hoppy Amber Ale. We had received intelligence that it was not fully carbed so it came as no surprise that it tasted quite sweet. Fortunately, the hops still shone through. I thought that there might have been one of the new East-European hop varieties in the mix (maybe Dana), but Padraic set me straight with a tale of Nelson Sauvin and Cascade. The combination was an intriguing one, almost herbal (hence the Dana suspicions), but with a noticeable citrus tang. I’d love to try this beer again when fully carbed.
Feeling a bit fatigued, and not wanting to drag the conflict on indefinitely, we decided to go nuclear and crack open two bottles of my 11.5% Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout, brewed back in 2010 with my brothers in arms RichieH and MarcelDesailly (neither of whom could make it on the night). Looking back, I should have printed up labels with the tagline “Dr Jacoby, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the stout”, but the truth is I have always loved this beer and still do. Rossa had tasted it on a number of occasions over the last few years and noted that it had developed over time, but I’m pretty sure my bottles have remained stable. I suspect the difference is down to him sampling bottles from the other lads’ batches (we each re-seeded our own portion of the beer and carbonated them to different levels). But whatever the truth happens to be, I was glad to receive some good feedback, even if the beer was too strong for some people’s tastes.
Having suffered horrendous losses on the Russian front, our taste buds were in much need of some quality R&R. Up stepped Brew_Diva with a deliciously rich stout cake topped with cream cheese icing and slivers of bacon; a truly inspired combination. The icing on the cake really was the icing on the cake! And so hostilities were officially brought to an end; suspended until the last Tuesday of July.
Capital Brewers don’t do protest songs, but if we did, I’m sure we’d echo these wise words from the late John Lennon:
“All we are saying is give yeast a chance…”
Peter Dudley, Capital Brewers War Correspondent