Sunday, 20 January 2013


We have been discussing the Scholar recipe over the past few weeks - in particular we have been looking at increasing the hop character to "striking".  Both of our beers are very well hopped but Scholar is principally an English hopped beer and the Fuggles and First Gold lack the impact on the nose and palate that the Nelson Sauvin we use in Prospect delivers.  So what to do?  Well, we have reduced the late Fuggles slightly and added a massive amount of another English hop - one with a much higher oil content.  We will cask it on Tuesday and it will start going into the market from late January.  See if you can tell the difference?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Shotover Oxford Porter 5% ABV

Three years and about 320,000 pints after starting the brewery we thought it was time to introduce a third  beer.  This was not an easy decision -anyone who has visited us knows our space constraints and that we have to be positively Japanese in our organisation.  We decided to produce a winter beer and that a classic Porter would fit Oxford's history and our own local postitioning.  So Oxford Porter was born.

The recipe was developed along the lines of a London Porter - we aren't sure there is a recorded history of Oxford Porters although these must have been common in the eighteenth century.  The malt recipe used a combination of six malts at various kilning levels from Pale to Black plus a healthy dose of rolled oats to give a bit of smoothness.  The hopping regime was simpler - just the English "noble" hops Fuggles and Goldings but in typically generous Shotover quantities.  We were astonished by the results; pitch black, all expresso coffee, chocolate and silky smoothness with a strange condition that looks flat when first poured but then slowly breaks through into a thick creamy off white head that laces the glass.

As someone who has drank pale amber beers for years it was a revelation.  It has an intense flavour and complexity. The brewhouse smells like a chocolate factory when we make it. I now go out trying black beers wherever I go.

 The 800 litre pilot batch sold out in a week.  The second full 1300 litre batch is leaving the brewery now.  We plan to have it available until Easter 2013.

Brew details:
Malt (Warminster) : Pale Maris Otter, Crystal Malt, Brown Malt, Chocolate Malt, Black Malt, Wheat Malt, Rolled Oats.
Hops: Fuggles (UK), Goldings UK)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Shotover India Pale Ale - rediscovering the fuggle

Our Shotover/Plot 16  6% IPA has been in the bottle for 30 days now and is showing tremendous character.  Completely unprimed when bottled, the beer is showing a moderate carbonation with the head rising slowly to form a thick cream like top and a wonderful hop aroma.  I don't feel that old but the aroma and taste of this beer must be a bit like stepping back in time.  It is a clear copper colour with a striking but smooth bitterness on a big malt base which I expect to subside into one complex integrated flavour as the beer ages.  It will go on sale from the brewery door from the end of the month.  The Plot 16 batch is already on sale in the cafe at Modern Art Oxford in Pembroke St.

This beer contains masses of Oxfordshire fuggles and one of the big surprises for me is the character these traditional hops have delivered.  In common with many young microbreweries we use several "big flavour" hop varieties from South Island New Zealand and NW Pacific USA albeit always combined with English hops.  Jens Eiken (former technical brewer at Carlsberg and Molson Coors Burton) visited the brewery a few weeks ago and kindly sent me an article he had written on hop bitterness for Brewer and Distiller International Magazine with particular attention to the type of bitterness that different varieties of hops deliver (all to do with the hard resins.) Amongst Jen's "super premium" category of hops that deliver a smooth bitternes is our old and trusty friend the fuggle.  The hopping rates we used in this IPA would deliver a theoretical IBU in the 70's.  The beer is indeed bitter but not in an unpleasant way and should develop nicely over the coming weeks.

All experiments deliver something useful.  Apart from brewing a characterful and unique limited edition beer it has given me a new respect for one of the oldest hop varieties around - and it grows right here in Oxfordshire!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Modern Art Meets Brewers Art

Modern Art Meets Brewers Art - Plot 16 Green Hopped India Pale Ale 2011
 Last year we made a beer in collaboration with Modern Art Oxford's Plot 16 community art project at the Rose Hill allotments in OxfordThe Plot 16 project involved growing fuggle hops over a steel framework made in the shape of the victorian tower brewery building which houses the Modern Art Oxford gallery.  Unfortunately most of the 2010 hops were destroyed by a fire at The Berkshire Hop Company and so the rescue plan was to use what fresh green hops were left on the bines to "dry hop" a batch of our standard Prospect AleVery nice it was too with a big aroma and it has sold well in MAO's cafe throughout the year.

This year we had the opportunity to design a beer around the hops and build an Oxford provenance into it from the outset.  I have always thought that brewing IPA's (authentic ones that is) is something of a brewer's vanity - they are special but are they commercial - what is the point of brewing the best beer you can make if it has no market?  So brewer's vanity hit Shotover and we set out to make a beer that was the best we could do.  As a hobby brewer I had made a couple of "authentic" IPA's including one using an 1880 recipe from the historic records (thank you The Durden Park Beer Circle) but I wasn't satisfied with the "hoppiness" of either of them.  The hoppiest Durden Park historic recipes (see Whitbread's India Export Pale (1864)  used a hopping rate of around 3kg per barrel (36 imp galls or 163.6 litres) though many had less.  In contrast a typical 4% modern commercial bitter might have less than 0.5kg (17oz) per barrel.  Prospect (3.7%ABV)  is hopped at 750g (26oz) per barrel.

We decided to combine authenticity and provenance with 2011 Plot 16 India Pale Ale - a strong (6%ABV) pale beer using a large quantity of all Oxfordshire Hops.  A total of 18kg of hops went into the copper of a 5 barrel (820 litre) brew in four additions - 5kg each of Fuggles and Challenger from The Berkshire Hop Company at Kingston Bagpuize and 8kg of freshly picked  green fuggles from Plot 16.  This gives a like for like weight of the equivalent of about 12kg of dried hops or 2.4kg (85oz or over 5lb) per barrel.  The theoretical bitterness is around 70 IBU compared to 35 IBU for strong bitters (eg ESB) and 32 IBU for Prospect.  A further 3.3kg of Plot 16 green hops were added to the conditioning tanks for a week after the primary fermentation was over.

On Friday we bottled it and last night I tasted it for the first time after three days in the conditioning room. This beer is quite special.  I thought the hops would be overpoweringly bitter but they balance the malt quite well.  I think it will need a hundred days of aging  to really know.  MAO are taking 800 bottles under the Plot 16 label. We will sell the other 1000 bottles under our own label as Shotover India Pale Ale.  We also have two nine gallon casks in the cold room which we will save up for a speccial occasion.  Roll on Christmas!
Plot 16 fresh green fuggles

hand bottling Plot 16 IPA at the brewery

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Beer Design and Evolution

One of the great advantages of brewing a small range of beers is the opportunity it offers to develop a beer.  Prospect is our best selling beer and went through five small scale pilot brews before the first commercial batch of 1300 litres.  Apart from experimenting with different yeasts and a temporary swap out of an unavailable hop last summer the beer remains exactly the same with a big flavour profile and complexity for a 3.7% beer.  Prospect is made three malts and five hop varieties - whole hops added in three stages.

Scholar is a different story.  The base design for this beer was "Black Cat Bitter" a recipe I used to make as a craft brewer.  We started with all English hop varieties but just couldn't get the flavour profile we were looking for.  The intention was to make a "big" mid strength dark copper coloured bitter reminiscent of the Ruddles County of 30 years ago - a beer to go with roast beef and mustard but not overly strong in alcohol.  And so every time we make Scholar there has been a single adjustment to build its colour, flavour profile and complexity.  The beer is on it's third yeast strain and now has five malts and five hop varieties including one NZ and two NW Pacific USA hops added in multiple stages.  The development of the flavour profile has been quite profound (for me as the brewer anyway - I do wonder if anyone else notices!) I think Scholar would now hold its own in a blind tasting against beers over a percent stronger in alcohol.  It also works well as a craft bottle conditioned ale.  I think that opening one compared to a mass produced beer is like trying crusty french bread fom an artisan baker compared to a white sliced loaf - perhaps it's the slight aroma of yeasty hoppiness.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Brewers Weekend

What do Brewers do on a weekend?  Go away with other brewers to talk (and drink) beer!  Pip and I spent last weekend at Llantrwrtd Wells near ...... well it's not near anywhere really - maybe 20 miles north of Brecon.  We stayed at the delightful Neuadd Arms Hotel which has what all good hotels should have - its own microbrewery.  Recommended for a weekend of complete relaxation.

Anyway it's amazing what you learn in brief conversations with other brewers about yeast, heating elements, hopping rates, prices, maturation times, the SIBA DDS scheme - anything really.  We always keep our beer for two weeks to mature/condition before release but quite a few brewers seem to sell it as soon as it's in the cask. Some pride themselves on producing an enormous range - black, gold, brown, black, weisen, copper, chestnut - you name it.  Makes one feel rather inadequate with two!

The first time we went on one of these weekends last year we had only been brewing for about six weeks and I asked how people got the brown staining off the inside of their coppers as I was spending about an hour after brewing  scrubbing it with caustic soda solution to get it bright.  The answer I got was "what on earth would you want to do that for?" so my copper is now the colour of the inside of a well loved teapot - clean but a nice shade of brown.  That piece of advice has probably saved me a week of work since.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

All In A Brewer's Day?

Wednesday 12th January started as an ordinary brewday at 7.00 in the morning putting the mash on for an 8bbl brew of Scholar.  This promised to be interesting as we are swapping a hop out to build the flavour profile (Scholar uses five hop varieties introduced in three stages).  Somehow it turned into a media day with BBC TV South Today filming bittering hops going into the copper at 13.00 and carrying out a news interview.  Then quite separately I was called by the BBC Radio Oxford Drivetime show at 2.30 for an interview.  Was this a new upsurge in interest in local brewing?  No.

It was because we responded to a BBC South Today item on the previous evening concerning late/missing post in Oxfordshire.  They asked anyone who had suffered from this to email in which we did because we have had letters taking weeks to get to us since November - it's a bit embarassing to chase money from customers to be told they sent it weeks before.  Anyway, before you could say "crap royal mail" we had a media invasion

Well, I did enjoy my 15 seconds on telly as "grumpy old man" at 6.30 which I just got home in time to see.  And the beer?  Well the late hops went in a bit later than usual but hey, what comes first, telly or beer?

Media Tart Brewer