Carl Heron at Crisp Malt

PODCAST: 10-Minute Masterclass on malting with Crisp's Carl Heron

PODCAST: 10-Minute Masterclass on malting with Crisp’s Carl Heron

Carl Heron is a brewmaster and Craft Brewing Sales Manager. Here he talks about malting process and how to harness it for your best ever beer.

Hello, and welcome to the 10-Minute Masterclass from I Am A Brewer. I’m Daniel Neilson and for this episode I headed to Crisp Malt in North Norfolk to talk to Carl Heron, Master Brewer and Craft Brewing Sales Manager about the malting process and the tips to make the very most of the malt for your beer.

This episode of the 10 Minute Masterclass is brought to you by Crisp Malt which has lived and breathed malting since 1870. They combine traditional and modern techniques to create an impressive range of malted and non-malted products, including several unique and exclusive barley malts.

Next week we’re live-ish, from the Craft Beer Conference in Denver!



How Adnams made Ghost Ship 0.5%, by Fergus Fitzgerald

How Adnams made Ghost Ship 0.5%, by Fergus Fitzgerald

In a wide-reaching interview, Adnams’ Head Brewer Fergus Fitzgerald talks us through the thinking of Ghost Ship Alcohol Free and how he gets it so good.


Why did you and Adnams decide to make an alcohol free beer?
It probably started when we brewed a beer called Sole Star at 2.7% several years back, when the lower duty rate at 2.8% came in. Lots of other breweries did likewise. We were really happy with it and although most other breweries offerings disappeared Sole Star did pretty well for us and stuck around.

We felt Sole Star was a little bit in no mans land in terms of alcohol, i.e. not being ‘low alcohol’ so we dropped the abv to 0.9% a few years ago. The brewers at BrewDog were very helpful with advising on what they were doing with Nanny State, just using a really low O.G. wort, underpitching, low fermentation temperature, lots of complex malts with low fermentability and lots of dry hopping.

Again we got a beer that we were pretty happy with but couldn’t quite get it to a place where we’d mistake it for a standard beer. We then went back to looking at what we could do make a better alcohol-free beer, not just the flavour but also to give the drinker something they wanted to buy rather than something they put up with.

Part of that was being able to enjoy the same flavours as something you already liked to drink but just with lower alcohol. That led us to the realisation that a normal fermentation is critical if we wanted it to be the same as an existing beer and therefore we needed to remove the alcohol.

Does cask or keg make a difference to alcohol-free?
We aren’t doing cask, but I believe there is a Belgian brewery doing a 0.5% beer in cask. We are filling kegs which we don’t sterilise or pasteurise, so we need to be more careful with the shelf life and also be aware of throughput in a pub. You have to remember that at < 0.5% we aren’t really dealing with beer anymore, neither legally or practically, we’ve taken out one of the critical features of beer that makes it microbiologically safe. But from a drinker’s perspective, there seems to be a huge benefit if it’s on keg: you still get a pint and it is served in the same way as any other keg beer; I guess there is an element of the ritual of getting a pint poured being as important as what it is.

Which system have you used to eliminate the alcohol?
We went with reverse osmosis. We looked at vacuum distillation but decided early on that even at the lower temperature it would still be too high on something like Ghost Ship as we found that higher hopping levels are increasingly affected by heat. So having already decided that a normal fermentation was essential to being able to mimic the flavour in Ghost Ship we were left with reverse osmosis which is carried out at essentially zero Celsius. It was much gentler on the hop character and left the malt character intact.

Was there much investment in this system?
Circa £500k. The kit we went with is pretty expensive, but we felt it offered the best flavour and if the low and no alcohol is going to succeed it has to do it based on the quality, we don’t have the budget to market like the multinational brewers.

Why did you decide that Ghost Ship would be the beer you started with? And are there plans to launch any more?
As Ghost Ship was and is our best-selling beer we decided that was the beer we should do first, also there weren’t many pale ale style beers at 0.5% at the time. We will look at some others, but we need to increase capacity first as its running flat out on Ghost Ship 0.5% at the moment.

Did you feel a sense of innovation when brewing it? Did you enjoy the challenge?
We’ve changed the brewery so much in the last five years that it just felt like a continuation of the rebuilding of Adnams. Two years ago we couldn’t condition, filter or keg beer on site, we knew before we finished the cellar project that we wanted to add the dealcoholiser in as well.

Dan Gooderham, my lead brewer and the rest of the brewing team, really took to the challenge, running lots of trials and babysitting the process during its 24-hour cycles. We started with a standard Ghost Ship recipe and then as we went through the trials modified the recipe many times as well as changing the de-alcoholising process. We’re used to making a change in a recipe and seeing that change giving you sometimes unexpected results, adding the complexity of the reverse osmosis in as well makes that more challenging and to be honest we are still learning every time we make a change.

Do some beers or styles lend themselves to alcohol-free?
Weissbier seems pretty robust to most dealcoholising processes, lager can be ok if treated gently, and isn’t overly hopped.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d told yourself before you started on this project?
I took us longer than we thought to get as close as we wanted before launching, so I’d allow a bit more time. The main thing I wish I knew is how the review into low and no alcohol descriptors would turn out. We had hoped and expected that the UK would adopt the rule common in most of the rest of the world, including the rest of the EU, that <0.5% is alcohol-free, we didn’t.

So although beers produced from outside the UK can be called alcohol-free at <0.5%, beers made in the UK at <0.5% are either called de-alcoholised or low alcohol, to be called alcohol-free it needs to be less than 0.05%, which we could make but it would use a lot more water and reduce the quality of the beer for no discernible benefit.

I wish I didn’t feel I needed to understand the EU rules of mutual recognition or how much alcohol is in a banana milkshake, or the fact that some burger buns wouldn’t even classify as low alcohol in the UK let alone alcohol-free, but on the plus side I can now bore myself to sleep.

The future of beer

The Future of Beer

Beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones jumps into his DeLorean and looks how brewing could change over the next decade.

The problem with prediction is that if you get it right everyone is like ‘you are brilliant’. On the other hand if you are as lacking in prescience as the man who turned down the Beatles thinking that they wouldn’t go anywhere, then you are, well, the man who turned down the Beatles.

Back in the 1960s, when futurologists assumed that we’d all have our own jet cars by now, those looking ahead in the brewing industry had some interesting thoughts. Automatic beer dispensing machines were tried as pubs entered the theme-bar age, while on the beer-tasting front, brewery conditioned beer was king and there were plans for fruit-flavoured beers (probably owing more to sweet shops than the relatively unknown beers of the Senne Valley). I haven’t seen any dispensing machine yet, though I did have a peach APA the other day.

Back to the past
Let’s move forward to 2005, when Thornbridge began brewing. One of its first beers was Craven Silk, a session bitter flavoured with elderflower. I was underwhelmed on a visit and didn’t predict Jaipur, Punk IPA and all the other beers that have since swept the bar-tops of the
UK since.

On the other hand, surveying the current state of the brewing industry, it’s a fair certainty that some of the beer styles brewers are knee and elbow deep in will continue to evolve. Whether you want to call it experimentation or indulgence, there’s a sense that anything can be added to a beer nowadays, whether it’s for a pastry stout (lactose, oats, dextrose, extracts), Brut IPA (the amyloglucosidase enzyme) or Fruit IPA (Black Iris’ Gimme Fruit Gimme Fire, Give Me That Which I Papaya has the latter fruit as well as blueberries).

Keep trying ‘Adjuncts like a rice or maize, long dismissed as cost reduction techniques by the big breweries are being embraced in brewing craft light lagers,’ remarks Adnams’ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, ‘while enzymes and hop extracts are finding a home in the upper echelons of the craft brewers. Every fruit or vegetable known to man and woman has been added to beer, though the addition of nuts is still very rare.’

There is a sense when talking with both brewers and licensees, that younger drinkers are reluctant to stick with one beer; there is a constant search for something new, which affects the way some breweries plan their future. Hence all the experiments.

‘Experimentation in beer and style will continue,’ says Fitzgerald, ‘perhaps trying out the as yet unexplored treasure trove of the periodic table, some mashups with Noble hops and Noble gases must surely be a marketers’ dream.

‘However, some consumers will tire of the constant churn and I think there will be a return to drinkers having a preference and mostly sticking to it. Those won’t necessarily be solely the classics of old, some will be but many will be the new classics.’

Lager than life
One intriguing aspect of this experimentation/indulgence is worth considering. You’re a major brewery with a largish estate of pubs, with your best-selling beer a well-loved session beer; you have also experimented with various IPAs, Belgian styles and lagers. The question has to be asked, how far do you go in this eclecticism? Craft beer fans can be discriminatory in their spending choices, so for them, a Pastry Mocha NEIPA (ok I made that up) brewed by a cool brewery will appeal more than one made by a company whose beers their grandad used to drink. So breweries of this ilk should tread wearily before doing the brewing equivalent of dad dancing.

Elsewhere on the predictive front, new English hops will have a similar character to American ones, especially attractive to breweries keen on sustainability and carbon footprints. Let’s not forget malt either. One of the most impressive English style IPAs around is Cheshire Brewhouse’s Govinda, which has two expressions, both made with classic heritage malts. Then there is lager — I recall reading a report of the 1888 Brewers’ Congress in London on the ‘future of beer’, where a retort from an audience member at a forum was quoted as being ‘lager is the future’.

And it remains so, especially if brewers master the various beers that make up the
family of lager.

And finally, given that Adnams’ No Alcohol Ghost Ship (see overleaf) is one of the most impressive of this genre, it is no surprise that Fitzgerald expects no and low to grow. ‘This is less a gut feel and more hard facts, it’s growing well now and has a long way to go to match more established markets like Spain and Germany.

‘I hope for rather than expect a resurgence in cask,’ he adds. ‘I think that maybe a longer term forecast as there are a few structural issues to deal with first.’

How you should be choosing your malt

How you should be choosing your malt

The Brewers Association has said that craft malt should be ‘distinctive and flavourful’. Crisp Malt Sales Manager Colin Johnston explains how brewers should use all their senses to pick malts

The Brewers Association has said that craft malt should be ‘distinctive and flavourful’. Crisp Malt Sales Manager Colin Johnston explains how brewers should use all their senses to pick malts.

You get to chat to a lot of brewers when your background is brewing, your passion is beer – and you work for a malt company. You get to meet the people whose beers you’ve been savouring and admiring ever since you were (almost) old enough to drink. And you get to offer advice to those bravely starting up breweries having never monitored a mash in their lives.

Sometimes, your encounters leave a lasting impression. It was like that with Brooklyn Brewmaster, Garrett Oliver. His words at a tasting I was at chimed perfectly with my belief. He said outstanding craft beers are made by people who have a singular vision about the end product; a passion for flavour; and a commitment to ingredients they are fiercely proud of using.

What should ‘craft malt’ be?
A recent article published by the technical committee of the Brewers’ Association in the USA outlined the ideal ‘craft malt’. It specified:

• low free amino nitrogen (around 150) for optimal fermentation
• lower total protein/ nitrogen (less than 1.65%) to promote stability and clarity
• lower diastatic power (around 60) to allow for ideal mashing conditions
• lower Kolbach index or soluble nitrogen ratio as we know it (35-42).

In the UK, we’re blessed with some of the finest barley-growing land in the world. North Norfolk in particular reigns supreme, with its textbook terroir – a combination of light soil structure, sunny maritime weather and gentle sea breezes. The region’s malt meets all the BA craft malt specifications. All the measures are available in your certificate of analysis.

It’s no coincidence that Crisp has been malting in North Norfolk since 1884. The region’s terroir is perfect for growing malting barley. It is here where most of the country’s Maris Otter is grown, and where Chevallier Heritage Malt has been so successfully revived.

But what of the BA’s other requirement; that craft malt should be distinctive and flavourful? How is this assured by maltsters – and how do brewers make their own assessments?

Use all your senses
Well at Crisp we’re long-time advocates of organoleptic activity – that is, using the senses. Maltsters look at, touch, break, smell and taste grain samples from beginning to the end of the malting process. Brewers can apply and develop their beer sensory capabilities to cover malt examination and tasting.

Tasty treats
Delegates at the Craft Brewers Conference in the US chew their way through countless handfuls of Maris Otter, Chevallier Heritage malt, Caramalt – and a panoply of malted and unmalted cereals. The crunch test allows them to work out taste characteristics and is a good way of telling if the malt is fresh, well modified (friable) and free from any obvious off-flavours. Over time you can develop your skills to be able to identify trueness-to-type as well as subtle differences between similar-looking malts.

A careful visual inspection tells you whether whole malt is consistently sized, kernels unbroken and husks intact. You can check whether it’s free from dust, stones and stalks and get an idea of whether it’s been treated well in malting, packaging and transportation.

Steep of faith
But to truly gauge the flavour contribution to the beer, we advocate following the ‘hot steep method’ that we use to assess all our malts for flavour consistency. It was developed by Briess and the American Society of Brewing Chemists and can be found online. It involves grinding a small malt sample and combining with 65-degree hot water for 15 minutes for the malt to saccharify and the flavour compounds to be released. By filtering this mash, the wort can be tasted and an assessment made. You can also do mini mashes of your malt mill with different contributions of speciality malt to understand how they combine and affect each other.

Discover malt
For years brewers have been stuffing their heads into bags of hops and waxing lyrical about the aromas and qualities of their consignments. Gradually, I’m witnessing more brewers interrogating their malt intake with similar levels of care.

Commoditisation of malt and bland beers go hand in hand. Equally, utter respect for, and an insatiable curiosity about, all ingredients are the pathway to outstanding, flavoursome beers. It’s not a question of a one-off decision. As with hops, every batch of malt that crosses the threshold of your brewery doors should be a source of anticipation, interest and excitement.

Not all barleys are created equal, and neither are all malts. Get touching, smelling, breaking, tasting – and steeping – to better understand your core ingredient and explore the wonderful world of malt flavour. It is far wider than most people imagine.



Magic Rock’s Head Brewer Stuart Ross tells the story of how he made the truly amazing Cannonball

When it came to brewing Cannonball, we wanted to brew a US West Coast style IPA because it was our (me and brewery founder Rich) favourite style and we had found that the imported beers had usually lost some of their hop character by the time they reached the UK. We wanted to make a modern IPA which would taste like the IPAs we had tasted fresh at the breweries over there.

We have been brewing Cannonball since day one! It was our first brew and the recipe has been perfected over time and we have got to a point where we are very happy with the way we brew the beer. We use British grown Golden Promise pale ale malt for the base with a small amount of Vienna malt, we want high attenuation from the mash so that we get a very dry light body in the beer so that hops are able to shine through. We use a hop back full of whole hops after the boil; the dry hopping is the most important part of the process in this beer. The hops are Centennial, Columbus,  Citra, Amarillo and Simcoe. As for inspiration, this came from Pliny the Elder, Ballast Point’s Sculpin and Port Brewing Mongo IIPA and Wipe Out IPA. One last thing: always drink Cannonball FRESH!!

Stuart Ross, Magic Rock

Canadian Issue 1 free to read here


 We’ve just launched our free, independent magazine in Canada. Read it all here. 

Illustration by Adam McNaught-Davis

Finally, Ontario Gets the Beer Publication it Deserves!

If you have seen fit to pick up this inaugural edition of Original Gravity, chances are that you have at least a passing familiarity with what’s been going on in beer in this city and province over the last several years. And if you don’t, or if you’d like to freshen that knowledge, Jordan St. John’s story on Toronto brewery taprooms, found on page 16, will go a long way to updating you.

The point being that beer in these parts has changed almost immeasurably over the past three decades, from just a small handful of breweries and brewpubs – anyone remember Upper Canada Brewing? How about Denison’s? – to 41 operating within the city limits and 250 scattered across the province, according to the latest numbers from the Ontario Beverage Network, which probably became out-of-date the day after we went to print, such is the pace of brewery expansion in 2018.

Yet beer literature, never much of a thing around Ontario, simply hasn’t kept up with developments. Until now, that is.

What you hold in your hands is a beer publication of a different ilk, one that seeks to challenge as much as it does entertain, to inform as well as to provoke. You will find beer reviews, of course – Greg Clow and I take on a quintet of brews on page 22 – as well as style features and profiles of the people who work hard to bring you great-tasting beer – both starting to the right. But you will also discover within the following pages things that you might not expect to find in a beer magazine, like Robin LeBlanc’s wrenching essay of loss and community on page 19 and our quirky spotlight on The Art of Beer on the page opposite this one.

In short, what we are aiming to bring you with Original Gravity is a magazine thatís as challenging, diverse, surprising, illuminating and captivating as is the Ontario beer market we cover. In other words, the kind of beer publication this province so richly deserves!

Stephen Beaumont, Editor-in-Chief



Ghana’s incredible microbrewery


Do you know what sorghum is? Daniel Neilson does and he meets a man who’s making beer with it

On a large plastic sheet weighed down with bricks, a thin layer of a reddish grain is drying under the intense West African heat. Clement Djameh picks it up and plants it in my hand. The tiny red grains have a little tadpole-like tail. The grain is sorghum, a grass crop that grows abundantly across large parts of Africa. It is used for making porridges, couscous and, in this case, beer.

Accra, Ghana. It’s a place full of life and excitement. It’s a tropical jumble that assaults all five senses. The shattering heat, the pulsing music, the smoking grills, the spic’n’span malls, the crashing surf, the cocktail terraces, the chugging exhausts, the pavement hawkers and swish hotels; it all combines to create a frenetic and thrillingly unpredictable city. The unexpected is to be expected so that there is a guy in Accra who is starting a microbrewery using only sorghum I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had to see it.

We meet at a petrol station on the very outskirts of Accra, beyond the posh bits and beyond the shanty towns. We hop into Clement’s old 4×4 and bounce along the rough roads to an old house with a large garden. There’s an old car, a large metal container about the same size as the car, and some greenery. At the house, he opens up a large wooden door to reveal the small brewery. Corny kegs that would be recognised by homebrewers are stacked up on one side. On the kegs are tied little labels: “IPA”,  “Trial beer, Belgian type”, “sorghum lager” and “pito”, a local alcoholic drink. There’s a large refrigerator and a bottling unit and I reckon the brewhouse has a 100-litre capacity. He pours a spectacular wheat beer and we walk into the garden.

“This is sorghum,” he says clasping a leafy eight-foot-high plant. He picks apart the grain head and isolates a little seed. “All of our beer is made from sorghum.” I’m noticeably taken aback. Taking another sip of my wheat beer, I don’t note any discernible difference. I try the lager, again no difference, I try the IPA, same. “You have to use what you have available,” Clement tells me. Sorghum beer is also naturally gluten-free. The potential is astounding.

Sorghum is malted in a similar way to barley: soaking and then drying. Clement malts his own in the metal container in the garden and then dries it under the hot equatorial sun. The whole set-up embodies the adaptable and positive Ghanaian spirit I’ve come to love over the eight annual visits I’ve made.  

The real skill is brewing with it, however. The husk on barley acts as a natural filter when draining the sugary liquid during sparging. Sorghum has no husk, and it is very glutinous. Clement, who trained at Weihenstephaner, is a pioneer in the use of sorghum. Pointing welders in the right direction, he adapted the brewery equipment to deal with this difficult grain and will have to do so again, when his much larger brewhouse arrives later in the year.

I look again at the beer in my glass and delve into its smooth bubbles. This is a beer 40 years in the making. A beer that could tell of trial after trial, set back after set back. It tells of brewing in a country without a constant electricity supply, with no hop merchants, with almost no barley. It reflects the heat of the sun, the torrential downpours of the rainy season, the ground that nurtures the sorghum plant. It tells of the farmers in the north that send the sorghum to Clement, bought for a steady price. It tells of overcoming great adversity, and of love for beer. Forty long years. This beer I have in my hand is bursting with more than hop aromas, it is alive with the spirit of an unassuming man who is quite remarkable.

For more details go to Inland Microbrewery.