What is Ratebeer, I here you all ask in unison. Being the laziest of bloggers, I did my usual wiki search and discovered that a guy called Bill Buchanan began the site in May 2000 to act as a focal point for beer lovers to have a virtual yarn about the breweries and beers that they love. Considering this is something that people have done for years in pubs all over the world, it makes sense I guess. Everything else was extending throughout the virtual world: dating, role-playing, football games, and the use of colons (the grammatical ones…) in a correct manner. It was bound to happen!
Ratebeer was subsequently taking over by a guy called Joe Tucker who runs this virtual beer collection site from the States, boasting over 2 million beer reviews! That’s a lot of drinking, recording and discussing!
I’ve had a bit of a rant before (I’m prone to long, circular arguments with myself when I write) about Ratebeer and how in the fever of beer collection, many a ratebeerian will actually rate a beer even when it’s obviously not in tip-top condition, but I also understand that people can write what they like! Saying that, I find Ratebeer a fantastic resource for feedback. I like knowing what people think about our beers, good or bad… as long as they don’t try and tell me how I’ve brewed them, as I wrote about here.
So here we are in the middle of July and it happens that the Ratebeer crowd are having their European Summer Gathering just up t’road (yeah, pretty bad for a Kiwi to go all Yorkshire, somehow the accents just don’t mix) in Sheffield and two of the Ratebeerians, Simon Johnson from the brilliant Reluctant Scooper blog and Ian Harrison from the excellent Pubs and Beer site have come up for a brew day!
Simon has been here and brewed before and wrote a really nice blog that you can check out here. Actually if beer rating sites annoy you, as they do quite a few brewers, then I’d recommend Ian’s Pubs and Beer site. The interesting thing about this beer rating site is that they will often go into the same pubs and taste the same beers and rate them every time. This is how it should happen! Drink the beers you like and rate how the pubs themselves have kept them. It removes the possibility of the pub just having an average pint or it being the end of the barrel or the beer having being on the handpull for who knows how long. A great resource chronicling some good pub and beer information anyway. In fact, it’s definitely up there with the Ratebeer site in that the web address states exactly what the website is all about!
So with Ian and Simon here, it’s time to chat about the beer! I’ve been back and forth to Simon and Ian over the last month or so talking about ideas for the beer, what they envisage for this brew, what sort of hops, malts and other ingredients we have available, generally building up an image in my head of the type of beer that they want to brew. Because there’s a gaggle of brewers here at Thornbridge, we all have a diverse range of ideas and thoughts as to how beers should be brewed. It’s great to bounce ideas off one another and create and evolve a concept to its fruition. I gave all of the boys Ian and Simon’s ideas and we got to work.
First up was Simon and Ian’s initial concept… A light, pale ale, with Liberty and lemongrass / lemon balm to the fore, perhaps some mint in there? Make a real summer quencher!
That was the concept, so we got to work…
I thought of a beer around 3.6-3.8% using pale ale malt, some flaked maize instead of wheat to help head retention, and a little crystal rye, caragold and crystal wheat. Maybe hopped with Liberty and some german hops… potentially Northern Brewer or even Celeia, a Styrian offshoot. Dosed liberally with fresh lemon balm and mint at the end of the boil.
Matt has pale ale malt, flaked maize also, and a little Vienna and pale crystal malts, with Liberty and lemon balm. Again, around 3.7%
Dave has pale ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna and a touch of crystal wheat, hopped with Styrian Goldings and Saaz and maybe some pineapple sage and Sorachi hops and a bit of lemon zest, weighing in at 3.8%.
JK has pale ale malt, Munich, caramalt and wheat for head retention with some Liberty and Amarillo hops with some lemongrass and around 4.5%. He also has an interesting concept for a “mint choc chip mild” with pale ale malt, pale chocolate, pale crystal, and fresh mint with Liberty and Challenger or Cascade hops. Interesting idea, though maybe something for the autumn months!
So by our powers combined we came up with a recipe! We went for Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna malt, Crystal Rye malt and Pale Crystal malt, giving us a lovely light orange wort. Once Ian and Simon arrived we hit the hops, nosing Liberty, Sorachi, Willamette, Santiam and Amarillo before deciding on a good whack of Liberty (5 kilos in 10 barrels) and a touch of Sorachi. Sorachi emits intense mouldy orange and coconut characters and comes across quite lemony in the beer, so we had to be careful with this hop. If we used too much it may overpower the gentle herb and lemon Liberty notes and overwhelm the delicate notes of the herbs and spices that we added at boil end.
Coriander seeds were the obvious choice with their wonderful citrus and powdered ginger characters to accentuate the hops but the next decision was which other herbs were I to raid from our fantastic Thornbridge gardens. It was off to see Chris, one of the resident gardeners. Like our brewer Matt, Chris was also a chef, and they both bring with them a great nose, palate and understanding of flavours and how ingredients work in food.
Off to the glasshouse, first to be used was some lemongrass (pictured below), freshly sliced from the soil. This was added crushed and sliced with the crushed coriander seeds before the end of boil to aid oil extraction.
After boil end, in went the lemon balm, the mint and the Tahitian lime leaves. All slightly more delicate in their aromas, with the Tahitian lime smelling incredible, much more scented and delicate than Kaffir lime leaves.
The aromas in the brewery were fantastic, especially as the herbs and spices were bashed to within inches of their lives with a mallet. We’re all hoping like hell that these flavours make their way into the beer and gives us a wonderfully fragrant, light, easy drinking summer ale!
We’re yet to name this brew and I’ll update the blog as we go… should be a good’n!