Some child-related thoughts

Some child-related thoughts

This blog seems to have got quite brewing heavy recently, so I’ve corralled a few non-sequiturs on the matter of children, and the raising thereof.

 

On updating blogs

It’s something to do in your spare time. Bitter laughter.

 

On having two children

One is enough.

 

On potty training

Just when you’re adding up the cost of a lifetime supply of nappies, and subtracting the tuition fees they’re clearly never going to need, they suddenly get it.

 

On emotions

Three years ago, I was an cold, emotionless husk, and fiercely proud of it. Now, having offsprung two offspring, I find myself angrily cuffing my eyes at all manner of shallow pap including, I’m thoroughly ashamed to say, an advert where a guy loses his jumper. Most recently, I came dangerously close to losing my stoic equilibrium watching this exemplary display of sportsmanship – and lost it entirely when Alpha told Alistair Brownlee “Oh, well done lady… Good helping!” (She doesn’t really know what ‘lady’ means)

 

On living dangerously

We managed to get rid of the kids for the weekend; and spent it putting up Ikea furniture. We remain on speaking terms!

 

On the approbation of strangers

Occasionally, while out and about, randoms will tell me admiringly that I clearly have my hands full or that I’m doing a great job. This is kinda nice, because I totally do, and totally am, but do they say the same thing to women with two kids? Do they balls.

 

On housekeeping

I’ve developed a sort of shuffling gait that ploughs aside the mantle of toys on the floor, so I don’t trip while carrying Beta.

 

On privacy

It would be nice to defecate without supervision but the round of applause afterwards is quite nice.

 

On parenting styles

We’re trailblazing a pioneering new parenting style called ‘Toddler-led weening’. It involves Alpha trying to jam carrot sticks into Beta’s face. Hopefully, we can make non-adherents feel bad about themselves, which is obviously the end-goal of all these sorts of things.

 

On SilverCross prams

If you suddenly find you desperately need to talk to dozens of harmlessly crazy old ladies about how things ent what they used to be, then you need to get a SilverCross pram, quick.

Silvercross
Ooh, you don’t see many of them these days!

On self-esteem

*Me: Singing along to Sam & Dave*

*Alpha, witheringly: No daddy. You’re not a soul man*

 

On sick days

It’s often stated that no-one cares if you’re sick in this line of work, but if you’ve got a kind toddler you may get an endearing five minutes of sympathy and, if they’re into pretending to be doctors, you could even get your uvula assaulted with a plastic otoscope. The fact is, though, I’m sick much less often these days. I suspect this may have something to do with not having my will to live relentlessly ground down by punitive education reforms, vampiric senior managers, shifting goal posts, unspoken and arbitrary demands and pointless, unremitting, redundant, sisyphean paperwork. Bitter? Yes, please, and a whisky chaser.

Polotmavy – semi obscure

Polotmavy – semi obscure

tl;dr – I still don’t know what polotmavy is. But, in my defence, no-one else seems to either.

Beer list at Hradfest
Beer list at Hradfest

Summers for our small conjugal unit are generally spent in the Czech Republic, from whence, through the matrilineal line, the offspring derive their Slavic legacy. There are many strong advantages to this, for me as somewhat of an outsider, and, of these, one of the best is undoubtedly the staggeringly good beer, drunk in pleasingly large quantities, and purchased for shockingly little money.

This summer, in particular, I’ve devoted to exploring the intricacies of the Czech style known as Polotmavý, or semi-dark. Unfortunately, I’ve come away rather more confused than when I started.

 

In his comprehensive and detailed description of the history of Czech beer styles, Ron Pattinson makes a compelling case that Czech Polotmavý is a direct descendent of the Vienna Lager being made by Anton Dreher. It would therefore predate its more famous Pilsner cousin and its position as a traditional beer style would seem incontrovertible. It’s practically a beer of historical and cultural importance. One would think it would have it’s own little blue plaque somewhere.

And yet that’s very much not the impression I get from people here. When I try to talk to děda about polotmavý pivo I get the wry smile and dismissive wave of the hand that signals his genial but baffled tolerance of the seemingly endless inconsequentialities that exercise those in the decadent West. Polotmavý is a modern affectation to him; a symptom of the strange, baffling and, probably, foreign-derived desire to drink beers that aren’t Pilsner. He doesn’t remember the style being a notable presence in the recent past, nor in his youth in the 60s.

Tmavé pivo, dark lagers, they’re fairly well known, albeit widely regarded as being mostly for girls, but polotmavý simply doesn’t appear to be considered a style, let alone a traditional style, let alone a culturally important style. It’s not really sold in pubs or bars, you can’t usually get it bottled, except in specialist shops, even large breweries like Černá Hora or Starobrno don’t have a polotmavé pivo. Overall, the perception is that of an endangered, if not almost extinct style.

 

And yet… and yet…

Firstly, they clearly do exist. Ron Pattinson states that amber beers make up seven and a half percent of beer sales in Czech Republic. That may not sound so much but, Real Ale only makes up eight percent of beer sales in the UK and one would hardly describe Real Ale as insignificant unless one was on something of a wind up.

Secondly, people do at least know what you’re talking about. In a country that’s fantastically parochial about its beer, in a land that has been developing and perfecting exactly one style of beer to the exclusion of all others, where even young, upstart, forward-looking breweries still pronounce it ‘Eeepa’, almost everyone will recognise what you’re talking about, even if they couldn’t say when they last had one.

So, palpably a ‘thing’ then, but what manner of thing? Another layer of confusion settles gently on the issue. At the aforementioned Černá Hora brewery, I was propositioned by the efficient waiting-staff before I’d had a chance to properly study the beer list (as an aside, there should be a name for this phenomenon, and for the consequential despair that comes from ordering hurriedly and spotting on the boards a beer you’d much rather have, just as it becomes socially awkward to change your order. This invariably happens when you’re only nipping in for a hasty half) and asked, while reading, if they had any polotmavé. This was greeted, to my intense surprise, by a shrug and a “Yes” that was very much of the “Yes, of course, why would you even ask” species of affirmatives. What they actually had turned out to be that curious Czech creature, the Řezané, a half-and-half mix of pale and dark lager that I ordered to excess the first time I visited Czech republic, for the sheer novelty, and haven’t really touched since.

No polotmavé, but you can get a pork knee the size of your head.
No polotmavé, but you can get a pork knee the size of your head.

More purpose-brewed examples are hardly more definitive, though. From the sweet, cloying cola-y Staropramen Granat to the full and malty Vyškovský Řezak, the only one I found that came close to what I’d think of as a Vienna lager was the Jantarový stoják from the small Pivovar Bylnice. Overall, it was rare to find two similar beers, let alone examples that could form the nexus of a distinct style.

 

There are a number of threads that may help knit this small conundrum, though. The sample, of course, may not be exactly representative. We’re here in Moravian Wallachia, an area of the Czech Republic that is rich in forests, mountains, rivers and beautiful scenery and entirely innocent of the kind of cosmopolitan centres around which beer culture accretes. This isn’t Bohemia; things may be entirely different all the way up there, but round this way people tend to stick with their familiar desítka. It’s entirely possible that polotmavý maintains a vibrant existence in other parts of the country.

What finally clarified it for me, though, was an encounter with a guy from Pivovar Kocour (a long way from their home by the northern German border), running a beer tent at a small music festival at the local castle. We’d got there early, and custom was slow, and I was trying to talk about the extensive beer list in my halting and barely comprehensible Czech. Six different beers practically counts as a beer festival on its own in this part of the world, and they were listed by name rather style. Half-picking up on something he said, I asked if a particular beer was tmavé, and he said no, it was polotmavé. Cracking, I thought, just what I’m after. Taking a hearty swig, I practically gagged.

Epiphanal
Epiphanal

It’s not that it was bad, it was…. Maybe some background might help. My mum likes roast parsnips, but when we have Sunday Lunch, she insists they’re cut lengthwise. If they’re cut in chunks, she contends, there’s a chance you could bite down on what you think is a roast potato, that actually turns out to be parsnip. Nice as parsnips are, if you’re expecting a potato the shock could easily cause all manner of strange and debilitating conditions. The beer he’d given me was a rather pleasant American IPA, but the huge dose of tropical hops and bitterness when I was expecting sweet and malty caused a kind of sensory dissonance. In that moment, though, two things I’d known all along but hadn’t really understood finally coalesced for me.

 

One, was that you can’t necessarily use the very Anglo-centric notion of beer styles to accurately describe how beer is perceived and consumed in different countries.

The other was that polotmavý is the colour of beer. I knew this before I’d started, read it on Ron Pattinson’s site before I’d even touched down at Brno Letištĕ , but I hadn’t really understood it. The style is not named after the colour of the beer, it is the colour of the beer. The guy from Kocour didn’t tell me the beer I ordered was polotmavé to trick me or because of a misunderstanding, it was because the beer was amber. The taste of it, the hopping, the IBU, the malt balance, all were rather immaterial, the beer was polotmavé, because it was lighter than a tmavé and darker than a svĕtlé. Simple as that.

From a historical point of view, this makes perfect sense. The svĕtlé was made entirely from pilsner malt and was pale, the tmavé from roasted malt and was dark and the polotmavé from Vienna malt and was amber. When those are the only three beers in your world, why would you describe them by anything other than the colour?

Of course, this will all start to change, even in Moravia, as the world, and the world of beer, becomes an inevitably smaller place but for now, for me, the conclusions are pretty clear. Firstly, meditate on the point above – the way I describe beer does not, necessarily, have any relevance for anyone else. Secondly, when Ron Pattinson tells you something, try to understand it.

Pilsners

Pilsners

tl;dr – There aren’t pilsners.

Vyskovske

After Boak and Bailey’s intriguing premise for their round of The Session caught my attention, I didn’t think I’d necessarily be writing anything for the next spin of the wheel. However, Alistair Reece at Fuggled has asked people to write on the subject of Pilsners and, since I’m actually in Czech Republic, right now, immersing my progeny in their Slavic legacy, I felt it would be inopportune not to write a few hundred words on the matter.

Which is lucky, because a few hundred words is probably all I’ve got.

I’m not an expert on Pilsner, I don’t think, despite frequently coming to Czech republic and drinking almost nothing else. I’m still working on developing the palate, on being able to identify flavours when someone hasn’t prompted me to expect them, on moving beyond the binary ‘”yes, I like it” or “no, I don’t”.

 

Pilsner, pilsener or pils is widely considered the most popular beer style in the world, reproduced to greater or lesser worthiness in almost every beer drinking nation, producing pale imitations in abundance and influencing, even if only tangentially, the most-drunk beer in almost every country on Earth. The original call to arms acknowledges this, asking people to compare and contrast the myriad varieties produced over an extensive array of countries.

That is not how things are perceived here, though, in rural South Moravia. There is only one pilsner here, the orginal source, Plzeňský Prazdroj or, in its more familiar German, Pilsner Urquell. This isn’t merely a matter of locality or origin though, in the same way that a beer must be brewed in Cologne to be truly called Kölsch. Gambrinus is brewed in Pilsen and isn’t considered a pilsener. Primus is also brewed in Pilsen, and isn’t considered fit for human consumption. In its homeland, there is only one meaning to the term ‘pilsner’. The idea of an ‘American Pilsner’ is nonsense.

However, this strangely reductive approach to beer is peculiar to the Czech people, and hardly helpful to other people considering similar beers elsewhere in the world. Czechs usually call beers in this style ‘Světlý Ležák’ and, outside fancy metropolitan areas, it’s pretty much the only beer style in the world. Other countries might produce a range of styles, but Czechs have chosen one, and they’ll keep working on it till it’s perfect. They’re pretty close, too. It’s a bugger to spell, though, and even harder to pronounce. I can’t see the name catching on.

Still, I bet you know someone who smugly tells you it’s not Champagne unless it’s produced in Champagne… he’ll probably say Pilsner at some point, and you can tell him.

Mass Observation

Mass Observation

tl;dr – Observations of two very different pubs, on a weeknight 2000-2200, followed by a brief discussion.

Written as part of The Session hosted by Boak and Bailey

Pub One

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The pub is on the corner of a small pedestrian arcade between two busy roads in Central London. It is next to a very wine-focused winebar and opposite an Italian restaurant. It’s a warm evening and a large crowd of around ten people occupy most of the five outside tables in an area cordoned off from the rest of the arcade. Most of the facade is comprised of large windows and there are three entrances. Inside is subdued lighting, high wooden tables with stools and large, darkly evocative Lowry-esque prints. The bar protrudes like a villus into the pub, almost separating it into two rooms. Around 30 people are inside, and all the tables are taken, although none are full. Most are in pairs, or threes, although there’s a large group of seven that gives the impression of a work leaving do. Most people seem to have come from work, and a lot of the conversation seems at least tangentially business related, although none are the ‘suits’ or typical after-work crowd you’d expect in pubs and bars in Canary Wharf, or closer to the City. There are a few pairs that may be dates. Except for me, there is no-0ne on their own. I am entirely ignored.

Of the 15 people on the other side of the bar, six are watching Spain versus Croatia on a small television high up on the wall. Most appear to be supporting Croatia; there are intermittent cheers for a Croatian goal and a saved Spanish penalty. Others on that side of the bar give their attention at key moments, but aren’t following the game. The television is switched off after the game. There is music, but it’s light, non-confrontational and low enough to be difficult to discern. There is a loud murmur of conversation, like a large school assembly before it’s called to order. The overall noise is low enough to hear glasses being stacked at the bar, but not enough to easily make out the conversation of people more than a metre away.

The bar has an extensive range of craft beers on cask and keg, six lines of each terminating in chrome taps protruding from the wooden wall of the bar. The names of the beers are chalked above the taps, along with the brewery and brief tasting notes. Along with Beavertown and Redemption, ‘out of London’ breweries, such as Marble, Redwell and Ilkley are more well-represented than one might expect. There are also two Czech lagers on keg, including the uncommon Pernštejn polotmavé, and a keg cider. They also offer a small range of cocktails. Three young men are working the bar, occasionally joined by a man around 30 in chef whites, ostensibly in charge of the kitchen, but mostly taking out rubbish. They’re kept reasonably busy, but not so much that they’re rushed.

Around three quarters of the pub population are drinking beer, mostly pale, although lager or ale is difficult to tell. The rest, the majority of which are female, are drinking short mixed drinks or white wine. A few are eating pizza or chips, the pub has a limited menu. Clothing is fairly uniform, on the ‘business casual’ part of the spectrum. There are no shorts or joggers here, nor suits. Some have buttoned shirts, but ties are rare. There is a reasonably rapid turn-around. No one seems settled in for a long session, most will have two or three drinks and leave. Towards the end of the observation, there were noticeably fewer people.

Overheard:

“Sick of the referendum” – “Pros and cons to Brexit…” – “Too risky”

“If you take their second squad, they’re still better than half the other teams”

“What have you got that’s light” (at the bar)

“What’s a whisky mac?” (at the bar)

“What are you drinking?” – “Beer” – “Which one?” – *shrugs*

*Much animation within a group* “That! Is! Awesome!”

“They do three stages, introduction, core negotiation & advanced negotiation”

“The guy who’s running the training, he’s a really nice guy. He’s Mormon.”

“The European brand manager is coming over from Geneva”

Pub Two

The pub is moderately small and situated next to an unused light industrial unit in one of the un-trendy areas of East London. The dilapidated exterior displays two England flags and a Union jack, as well as five meters of England bunting. The display is unrelated to the ongoing football tournament, the flags are weather-beaten and bedraggled. A broken down picnic table is squeezed apologetically between the wall and the pavement.

The interior is exposed brick in the 70s style, and dimly lit. A long bar takes up three quarters of one long side and is crowned by more England flag bunting. 3 touch-screen betting terminals, one used intermittently, and an unused dart board complete that side.  The other wall comprises a large projector-and-screen television and a completely unused fireplace. A pool table dominates much of the free space. There are three four-person tables and some bar stools. There is an impression of other furniture moved aside to create a bit more space. The far end opens on to a surprisingly large beer garden, an unexpected feature. A jukebox plays sing-along rock and indie at a high volume, conversation is possible with people near you.

The bar is comprised exclusively of keg lines and the usual spirits. Guinness, Fosters, John Smiths, Carlsberg and Strongbow. Most people are drinking light lager, probably Carlsberg, with two or three people drinking Guinness in a manner that suggests no deviation from their purpose.

There are around ten people in the pub, all male, although there is frequent coming and going, particularly amongst a group of young men, mostly in shorts and sports wear, who’s numbers vary between around four and seven. They’re drinking very little, playing pool, and will frequently leave, make phone calls, come back with others, speak briefly and leave again. It gives a strong common-room feel. Three older gentleman drink at the bar, with the quiet and understated determination of people settled in for a long night. Two young men are drinking together, wearing the functional but smart work clothes of people who do skilled manual work and one, wearing jeans and smart t-shirt, sits at the bar watching the football, he has a bet on Poland to beat Portugal. There is one barman, wearing shorts and t-shirt. The demand at the bar barely taxes him, and he spends a fair amount of time playing pool or chatting. Everyone seems to know each other on a first name basis, and will chat or call out comments to acquaintances, although the groups stay roughly consistent. I am very much the outsider, but there is no animosity or even detectable curiosity. Although one of the pool-players referenced my appearance (large beard!) with a comment when I entered, it did not seem harshly meant.

Overheard:

“Look at him watching me! Beady eyes, watching me cheat” (young man playing pool)

“Fucking hell… bloody poofs” (football player dives)

“Who do you fancy in this one?” (discussing football game)

“He done ‘im! Yes! Fuck ‘im up!” (football game)

“Ooooh! Count them…. 2! 4! 6! 7! Aaaaaah!” (on a comprehensive pool victory)

“What’s this ‘es put on!? More my era than his!” (on jukebox selection)

“I can’t! It’s not me, it’s him… I’ll get in trouble!” (Barman demurring a firmly but quietly made request)

“I’m in the block of maisonettes by the school. Been there since I was 3… can’t afford anywhere now” (young man to older gentlemen)

“Another one of those.” “Nah, yer fucked, I’m not serving ya!” (Barman ribbing a regular)

 

Discussion

This was a deeply uncomfortable thing to do, both in the nature of the thing, and the specifics. Boak and Bailey themselves have succinctly pointed out both the worth of this sort of exercise and the horror of doing it. It’s not so much the watching people, or even, really, the taking notes, it’s the premeditation of the whole thing, the going equipped to the scene of the crime, the subconscious idea that you’ve got out your red pen to mark other people’s use of the pub. Eavesdropping was particularly difficult, both in terms of compunction and practicality, both pubs were pretty noisy. The quotes I’ve recorded seem, in retrospect, incredibly pat, almost cliched, a stereotype of the pub. I’ve made no attempt to account for Observer bias, or Availability error, but those are genuine utterances made in my hearing.

As to the worth, though, I think this is highly valuable. I talked before on this site of an attempt to recreate a medieaval ale and, despite the efforts of much better men than me there is scant evidence available, largely because it wasn’t considered important enough to be recorded. The everyday doings of everyday people is the very definition of mundane, but after a certain point, really not too far in the past, it becomes the most fascinating aspect of history.

Apart from the discomfort involved in the deliberate observation of other people this task involved a much deeper and more personal discomfort, one that may touch on the secondary part of the brief about ‘The Pub and The People’, and my place within both pubs and peoples. It may get slightly confessional. My apologies.

It wouldn’t take a very deep reading of my observations and previous posts to conclude that Pub One would very much be my milieu, should I ever get one and be confident what it was. It’s a pub I visit quite regularly, generally on my own, in the course of other activities in the area. I go, have a couple of halves of good beer, do some work, chat to the bar staff a little bit and leave. It brightens my week, frankly.

Pub Two is a pub I…. well, not avoid, as such. I’ve been there a few times but, since it’s a pub and less than 50m from my house, once or twice a year probably counts as avoidance. On the one hand, I feel guilty about this. It’s a ‘proper’ East End local, the kind I would be sad to see disappear and may have to. On the other hand, by every sense on my personal barometer of ‘rough’ pub, it simply screams at me; the England flags alone would be enough to make me walk on by. A hasty and unfair prejudice, perhaps, but one I’m not alone in. When I told people what I planned to do, they were aghast. I shouldn’t go alone, I shouldn’t openly take notes in a notebook… but I’d done both these things with Pub One, and it wouldn’t have been a fair comparison if I’d changed. Getting hassled would have been an interesting data point… an interesting, terrifying data point. In the end, I was simply begged not to mention Brexit.

Of course, in the end, it was fine. In both pubs I took notes while ostensibly doing some homework (I’m learning Czech). In Pub One, I suspect, this passed entirely unnoticed. In Pub Two this was probably noted, and the subject of comment after I left, but was never even the semblance of an issue. I was entirely left alone, except for a few pleasantries from the barman.

In the end, it comes down, as so many things do, to class and, in this instance, my own tortured relationship with it. Politically and philosophically, if not in every day practice, I consider myself working class, but the assumptions and attitudes I’ve displayed in this instance loudly proclaim the old trope of an effete liberal elite condescending to rough it in some sort of patronising urban safari.

Gentrification is undoubtedly a problem in this part of London, and I’m undoubtedly part of that problem, tiny though my individual role may be. The obvious solution, or at least minor redress, is to engage with the community you fear you’re displacing, to shop local and use local services. Generally, in this area, this isn’t difficult or onerous, more a pleasure than a duty, but Pub Two is far from the sort I would seek out. The beer selection alone is like some 90s nightmare, the kind you invoke to scare young beer geeks round the campfire, where Guinness is far and away the best choice. Deliberately and dutifully attending on a regular basis, like a secret atheist at Mass, seems faintly hypocritical and not a little patronising, a bizarre mix of atonement and arrogance, as if my patronage is the only thing keeping this tiny oasis of ‘realness’ from being swept away.

Thankfully, Pub Two doesn’t seem to need my conflicted and poorly thought-out support. For a weekday evening, trade seemed fairly brisk and it regularly seems to host parties and events where it fair heaves at the seams. This Pub undoubtedly has its People, and I’m not one of them. I imagine I could be… to be honest I’d quite like to be, it’s got a very pleasant communal atmosphere. Maybe if I were tied to it in some way, as an after-work pub, or the meeting place of a club, or darts team (if I were any good at darts), but simple geographical proximity isn’t enough.

Maybe I’ll content myself with merely observing.

Bread Beer

Bread Beer

tl;dr – You can make a beer using 90% waste bread. Maybe more.

Overview

Two key changes to the normal brewing process were used to overcome the difficulty in creating fermentable wort with high proportions of bread: Enzymatically active wort and a long beta-glucan/gelatinisation rest. This resulted in a higher than expected original gravity and a lower than expected final gravity, improving the efficiency of the process.

 

Background

According to the charity Feedback, almost half of all bread produced in Britain is wasted. In order to promote an alternative use for unwanted bread they are developing a concept called Toast Ale, based on a similar project in Brussels, that encourages the use of bread as an adjunct in brewing. A representative from the charity came to a meeting of London Amateur Brewers to discuss issues relating to the development of just such a beer, and to ask for advice and opinions.

The most obvious problem with this plan is that bread (although mostly made from wheat, which is often used in brewing) has no diastatic power, which means there are no enzymes available to turn the starch into fermentable sugars. This isn’t an uncommon problem, of course; many adjuncts used in brewing have low or no diastatic power and generally you just mash them with something that has diastatic power to spare. Generally speaking, most people wouldn’t use much more than 20% of their grain bill as these kinds of adjuncts.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really address the issue the charity are trying to press. Bread as an adjunct doesn’t have many apparent benefits; it doesn’t give colour and roasted flavour like dark malt, it doesn’t improve mouthfeel like oats, it doesn’t even provide an easy source of fermentable sugar like rice. It’s eminently possible that benefits exist, if used in the right way, but as it stands I get the impression that the cost-benefit wouldn’t favour the use of bread, even if breweries were given it for free.

The other option is to try and push the limits. Make a Bread Beer, rather than a Beer with bread. With that in mind, I attempted to find out how much bread it was possible to use in a brew.

 

Method

Normal malted barley has enough enzymes to convert itself and between two and three times as much adjunct, which gives us a theoretical ceiling of 75% bread. However, a very interesting article on Braukaiser talked about using enzymatically active wort to increase attenuation.

The enzymes that convert starches to sugars during the mash work best at temperatures around 60-65°C, but are then destroyed when the sugary wort is boiled. The principle of enzymatically active wort involves saving some of these enzymes during the mash and adding them to the fermenter after the rest of the wort has been boiled and cooled. Fermentation temperatures of around 18°C aren’t ideal for these enzymes, so they work slowly, but they have up to two weeks to slowly convert starches to sugars while fermentation is taking place.

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In this case, the mash consisted of:

  • 95% bread, mixture of brown, white and wholemeal, dried and loosely broken into small lumps, between 1cm and 5cm.
  • 5% Marris Otter, in the main mash to provide some diastatic power (theoretically enough to convert around 20% of the bread)

The mash schedule for the main mash involved a 20 minute beta-glucan rest at 45°C and a 60 minute gelatinisation rest at 55°C. Earlier experiments indicated that extended rests in this temperature range resulted in a much higher specific gravity being achieved. It’s unlikely, of course, that this increase in specific gravity is the result of dissolved sugars, but rather suspended starches and other similar molecules due to the breakdown of starch granules and the breaking of intermolecular bonds.

  • 5% Marris Otter, mashed separately from the rest of ingredients at 62°C for 60 minutes.

The liquid was decanted off, pasteurised for 2 hours at 70°C, and added to the fermenter.

The main mash was lautered and boiled for 60 minutes with a small amount of Hallertau hops. After cooling, a small amount was set aside as a control, and the enzymatically active wort was added to the rest. California Ale yeast was pitched as it’s generally a good attenuator (and it was what I had to hand). Fermentation was for two weeks at room temperature, followed by force carbonation.

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Discussion.

It’s important to note that this was principally a test to see if it’s possible to make a beer from 90% bread, not whether that’s at all desirable or even advisable. In that respect, it can largely be considered a success.

Due to a miscalculation, the original gravity was much lower than intended, at 1.027 from 1.25kg of bread, which gave a respectable PPG (points per pound per gallon) of 32. This is an improvement over previous test mashes, without extended low temperature rests, that resulted in around 22PPG. Of course, it’s unclear whether this is as a result of the temperature or a much longer overall mash.

Nonetheless, the fermentation with enzymatically active wort finished with a final gravity of 1.003 (89% attenuation), compared to the control fermentation at 1.015 (44% attenuation). As such, I think it can be said that long gelatinisation rests and the use of enzymatically active wort in the fermenter are effective methods for overcoming the difficulties in brewing with bread. In fact, it could be said that the proportion of bread could be increased.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that change in specific gravity is only a proxy measurement of alcohol production and, while almost always true in most cases, it’s possible here that the change in specific gravity is due to other factors such as, for instance, settling out of suspended unconverted starch molecules.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it wasn’t a particularly nice taste, although, in my defence, that’s not what I was really aiming for. Clarity was poor, which could have been due to a range of issues, perhaps residual starch molecules. There was also a strong salt taste, that was common to all the beers produced with bread, which will have to be addressed before a truly good beer can be made this way.

Brewing and Parenting

Brewing and Parenting

tl;dr: Making children and making beer are more similar than you might think. But not necessarily in a cheerful way.

It’s inevitable, I suppose that eventually someone would ask, pointedly, how, exactly, brewing and parenting are in any way interconnected. The short answer is, of course, that they’re not, and I simply chose the subtitle as a mildly amusing way of describing what it is I do with the majority of my time.

The long answer, though, is that there are similarities, many of them tenuous at best but possibly some verging on pertinence. One thing, in particular, relates to an issue that I can never quite let go of, that hovers round the edge of my thinking and, occasionally, helps me stare wide-eyed at the ceiling at silly o’clock at night.

This particular thought was precipitated in part by reading the excellent Brulosophy website as the authors continue their relentless, and increasingly surprising, dismantling of long and dearly held homebrewing dogma. Time after time, careful observation by the team of investigators has shown no observable benefit to processes, techniques and procedures that have been resolutely and rigorously proclaimed as absolutely vital to the production of drinkable beer. It’s almost got to the stage where one starts to think that nothing you do can possibly make a difference to the final product. And yet, undrinkable beer does happen.

This is what terrifies me about raising children: they are, at one and the same time, indomitably robust and heartbreakingly fragile. Most everyone wants to do a good job raising their kids, wants the child they raise to grow into a bold, effective, happy, confident, balanced, fearless and worthwhile adult, but there is no thing I can do that will make this happen. All the museum trips and healthy snacks in all the universe can’t make that happen. Which would be fine, on it’s own; infant humans grow into adult humans, and are never mine to mould.

The horrible corollary to this though, is that the tiniest action on my part could have terrible, devastating and far-reaching, albeit unintended, consequences. A raised voice, perhaps, or a flippant remark at a sensitive time. An overly brusque “I’m busy right now”. An absence when needed or a presence when unwanted. Are these the kind of everyday failures that may ferment badly in a mind and poison courage and self-esteem?

Brewing with Kids

Brewing with Kids

tl;dr: Brewing with children is not only possible, but enjoyable.

Parenting isn’t the hardest job in the world. I’m not sure who started saying that, but I always detected a whiff of condescension in the assertion. It’s as hard as many jobs, though, and a lot harder than some, and the manner in which it is hard is probably unique. While it undoubtedly taxes your patience, focus, energy and dedication it’s not what most people would call intellectually demanding. In fact, it’s probably the opposite of that… intellectually stultifying? There’s only so much CBeebies you can watch without feeling you’re staring into black vacuum that’s insidiously siphoning away your individuality, your cognitive ability and your will to live, leaving you a soulless autonomic husk barely functioning on basic biological processes to acquire food and change nappies. That’s how it gets me, anyway.

Suffice to say, though, that I feel a hobby of some sort is essential if you’re going to parent and maintain any semblance of sanity. Something you can think about during those long brainless hours of bouncing a howling baby, or shoving mush in someone’s face, or arguing with someone about whether they’ve done a poo or not. Mine is brewing, for a number of reasons.

Principally, of course, you get beer out at the end, which helps with that wired-but-fatigued end of day feeling. Wine is traditional for parents, of course, but I like beer. Plus it’s imminently possible to homebrew beer that is just as good (if not better) than the stuff you get in the shops. As far as I know, the same is not normally true of homebrewing wine.

Secondarily, there’s a lot to think about, particularly if you build, diy or bodge your equipment together from scratch. Quite apart from planning and evaluating recipes, I’ve had to teach myself aspects of plumbing, electronics, chemistry and biology. You absolutely don’t have to go that deep into it, but the beautiful thing is that you can if you want.

There are loads of brilliant articles floating around the web that provide an extensive introduction to homebrewing so I don’t feel any particular need to gild that lily. However, it occurs that I might have a useful insight into brewing with children.

Baby and bucket
Never too early to start

It also occurs that many people might baulk at the mere concept. Brewing, after all, involves large volumes of boiling sugar water and many homebrewers go to great lengths to organise times when the children aren’t around. The risks, though, are easily manageable, and it can even be a fun event for the kids too.

Firstly, a brief overview of the brewing process, as I do it.

  • Malted grain, usually barley, is soaked in hot water (around 65°C) in a large bag for about an hour to release the sugars. This is called a mash.
  • The bag of grain is lifted out and the sugary water is boiled for around an hour, hops and other ingredients are added at set times.
  • The liquid is cooled and transferred to a container and yeast is added.

The key, I feel, is to split the process into three parts:

  • Aspects that are safety critical. Things that are hot, heavy or sharp and need to be kept separate from the sprogs. Principal among these is the boiler. It gets very hot for a long time, and should be kept in a room or space the kids can’t access. I keep mine on the balcony, with the door closed.
  • Aspects that are quality critical. There are instances when you have to do certain things at certain times. Nothing terrible is going to happen if you don’t, but the beer is going to come out a slightly different from what you expect if you’re reading the Gruffalo instead of adding your 20 minute hop addition.
  • Aspects that are neither. There are some that would say that every aspect of brewing is quality critical, otherwise why are you doing it, but you’re going to have to be a bit more flexible than that if you want to include the kids and there are definitely some areas that can easily suffer the administration of your offsprings’ assistance. Measuring out the grain is massive fun, provided you don’t mind a few hundred grams going missing from your total. Washing the equipment afterwards is a sopping wet half hour of joy too. Smelling the hops and tasting the grain is all experiential goodness. Depending on the ages involved there’s counting, reading, measuring, matching, finding, following instructions, motor skills and dexterity… with a bit of imagination, it’s practically a lesson in itself.

It’s not really so different from cooking with kids, and the opportunities and risks are similar. The major difference is that, even if you stretch it out, making a cake isn’t going to take you more than an hour, whereas a brew day can last as much as 6 hours. Not all of that is actually doing anything though, there’s an hour for the mash, an hour for the boil, and most of the activity comes in short bursts. With a bit of luck you can balance kids and brewing in one of those awesome Zen days where everything flows seamlessly and you feel like you’ve got loads done and you’ll remember how, once upon a time, you thought that staying at home with the kids would give you loads of time achieve your dreams.

Here’s what I usually attempt… your brewery and children may vary.

Helping!
Measuring out the grain with Alpha. Fun but messy.
  1. Get up, read a few books, ease into the day, then measuring out the grain together, pouring it from jugs into a big bucket. Filling the boiler with water is also fun, it’s all cool at this stage. Once the boiler is switched on to warm the water, just shut the door.
  2. When the water is the right temperature, the bag needs to go into the boiler and the grain poured into the bag. This isn’t a kid friendly operation, and timing can be important if you want to get the temperature exactly right, so I try to make sure she’s having breakfast in the high chair at this point. The judicious application of Mr Tumble also helps things go smoothly.
  3. Once the grain is in, and stirred, it’s good to insulate the boiler with old blankets and sleeping bags so it doesn’t lose too much heat. After that, it’s a case of leaving it for an hour, or even more. Timing isn’t desperately crucial at this point, so you have a fair degree of flexibility.
  4. Next is the boil, and the end of the boil in particular is the most involved part. Adding hops, switching things off, cooling the liquid, transferring to fermenters, adding yeast; you don’t really want kids around too much here. If you can time their nap for this hour or so you win the smug satisfaction of knowing you seriously grok parenting.
  5. After that is the cleanup; plenty of soap and warm water and splashing!

  

Cleaning equipment
Sanitation is very important

Much easier written than done, of course, but when it all goes well it’s easy enough. When things go right it’s a joy and when things don’t go right it will be an excruciating torment of frustration, exhaustion, guilt and repressed annoyance. But isn’t that true of almost everything?