Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Milestone Dark Galleon Beer homebrew review

Milestone Dark Galleon
Homebrew Kit
March 2014

I was given a Milestone Dark Galleon beer kit for Christmas and have come to the conclusion that my interest in home brew is a Godsend for my relations. At £25 a top end kit is just the right price for a gift and when I have woven my brewing magic on it they get to enjoy the end result too. A true win win if ever there was one.

My last batch was Woodforde's Nog, which I brewed in the pressure barrel as recommended by Barry on the the Homebrew Boat. I had had a couple of spoiled beers recently due to oxidisation so I decided to avoid  all contact with air and repeat the process. 

The account of the Nog batch can be read here.

The snag with barrel fermentation in the first attempt was the volume of foam / head during the first few days of fermentation which overwhelmed the barrel and came oozing out over the tom like a 1950's horror movie. To prevent this I will start it off off in a vat and then transfer to a CO2 filled barrel after a couple of days. 

I will let you know how I get on.

Update 11.5.14
With the barrel mature we have been supping the end result. A very full bodied and smooth beer with a hoppy taste. It may be my brewing but there is slight metallic after taste, very distant but discernible none the less which which reduces it to good rather than excellent.
The brewing in a pressure barrel seems to be working well.

Final update 6.7.14
We drank the finals couple of pints of Dark Galleon today, two months after kegging and I would say that the last litres were increasingly yeasty. By  no means undrinkable but certainly past the best. All in all its a lot easier having a beer on tap than fiddling with bottles.

I had to get rid of the lest of Dark Galleon because my next batch - American IPA has been fermenting for six days and is ready for the barrel.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Malta - St Julians

Malta St Julians
March 2014

Like my 2013 visit, I stayed at the Le Meridien Hotel in St Julians, a friendly hotel at the end of a bay which is a popular tourist destination.

Its a pretty spot and as good as anywhere to base yourself but its still a long way from home. But modern technology lends a hand care of Facetime which lets me have audio visual contact with Helen via the internet. Here is one of my less usual self portraits:

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Jam Butty update

Montgomery developments
March 2014

Its been a while since I provided an update on the construction of The Jam Butty, aka Montgomery.

Truth be told I have been too busy redecorating the house to give it a great deal of thought, but today the BSC was due on Wand'ring Bark so I drove to Stretton Wharf to take a look. The last time I saw Montgomery I was a little disappointed about the progress but not so today. 

With other jobs about the yard nearing completion more time has been assigned to shaping its bows - and very attractive bows they are too. Lots of curved and shaped steel and beneath some double doors just big enough to take a washing machine, exactly as requested.

The doors have also been fitted to the cabin bulkhead and bar a little bit of welding its reaching completion.

In a couple of weeks the hull is being shot blasted and coated in two pack epoxy blacking which should offer the century old hull some good protection. And there lies the next challenge. When I mentioned the butty to my insurer they coughed and spluttered at the 20 years old stern which escalated to apoplexy at the thought of the 100 year old riveted hull. An out of water hull survey is needed, so it looks like I will be calling on the services of Trevor Whiteling

So all being well we will be towing Montgomery back to calf heath by the end of April where I will paint the back cabin, build a cratch plate and sort out some sheeting for the hold. All exciting stuff.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

St Paul's Cathedral Mdina

St Paul's Cathedral, Mdina
March 2014

Following my last post on Malta's Mdina here are a selection of images taken inside St Paul's Cathedral.

There has been a church on this site for centuries, and its location is believed to be the place where Paul met Plebius after his shipwreck en route to Rome. The present building was built in 1702 following an earthquake and contains some breathtaking murals on the walls and ceilings.

The image which drew me in was the one where Mary was visited by the angel - possibly the single most challenging element of the creed to my mind. But the encounter is haunting and held me fixated for 10 mins or more:

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Maltese Moments

Malta in March
March 2014

My work has taken me back to Malta. 

Nice I hear you say, a few days in the warm. Wrong, it was much cooler than the UK in spite of being 1200 miles to the south, and only a few miles from North Africa.

My trip involved an insanely early flight out which provided an opportunity to take a leisurely look at Mdina, that extraordinary "silent city" which atop the highest point on the island.

Its an intriguing walled city, all narrow winding streets, soaring walls. Well worth a visit if you ever get an opportunity.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I'm married to a page three girl!

Marmalade awards 2014
March 2014

Fear not, I havn't traded Helen in for the dubious charms of Linda Lusardi (does that show my age?).

Noooo, buoyed by the inspiration of her recent marmalade course Helen returned from our trip to St Lucia all fired up to submit entries to the 2014 Marmalade Awards. This is sort of the Marmalade Oscars which is held each year, soon after the Seville Orange season is over.

Helen was delighted to win not only a Bronze award for the Lime Marmalade with Medlar Vodka, but she also scooped Gold with her fantastic Lemon and Lavender Marmalade.

All exciting stuff which has attracted press interest and of course a clutch of orders for this bittersweet nectar. If you like marmalade which as a bit special, why not buy a three pack  from Wild Side Preserves which includes the two award winners for the "interesting additions" category plus a straight classic Seville Marmalade.

Congratulations Helen!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Brick by Brick - book review

Brick by Brick (the reconstruction of Lego)
by David Robertson
March 2014

I can remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday.

I was nine years old and crossing Denmark by car with my parents, returning from a holiday in Norway. We had stopped for a picnic lunch in a field and were approached by a farmer who asked in broken English "you visit Legoland?" Legoland, we were informed was a couple of miles away over the fields - in English parlance that would be somewhere as exotic as mid way between Holbeach and Boston in the Fens!

Although I didn't know it at the time, I was the perfect profile for a Lego customer: male, aged 7 to 11 and dead keen on building things - and of course I was already a Lego addict with a massive collection of those little plastic bricks which hurt so much when to stand on them, and make a lovely rattle as the go up the vacuum cleaner pipe. We had no idea that Legoland existed, indeed it had only been built two tears before, so plans were altered and we spent an afternoon in this plastic wonderland.

I was in seventh heaven, ogling the intricate models, sailing the Lego boats and to top it all I drove the little Lego cars and got my first driving license!

Life moves on and the Lego set has languished in a box under the stairs at my mothers house, but I still find the versatility of the stuff amazing. I therefore found it hard to resist a book on the shelf of the airport bookshop about the rise, fall and resurrection of this iconic brand based in the arse end of nowhere, otherwise known as Billund, Denmark.

Dont get me wrong, this is an academic business studies book written by a Professor at a Swiss University who used the Lego experience to chart the rise of a unique product / brand, its stratospehric expansion when it piggy backed Star Wars and Harry Potter.The then found themselves lashed to the virtual Millennium Falcon as they sought to achieve even greater heights, but instead lost their way and very nearly crashed and burned in what is a notoriously fickle marketplace.

In a somewhat dry way, the book reveals an insular family owner business who who deployed good business principles but utterly lost control and didn't even know which products made / lost money. As a result they so nearly lost it all when sales collapsed and they didn't know were to apply the cuts. The crash was so spectacular that the business was destroying its value at $500k per day and finally pulled out of the death dive by the classic strategy of reverting back to the core business - in this case "the brick".

Buts its not all doom and gloom because out of the mountain of Lego shaped rubble a new way of operating was developed which embraced consumer wishes, was fleet of foot and most crucially provided a process which delivered a steady stream of appealing products with appeal to a broader range of customers.

If you are "into" business and retain an inexplicable fondness for that nobbly construction system this may be a book for you. Not an easy read - but no harder than the instructions which accompanied their Technics range....

Can you tell that there has been more business than boating in my life just recently?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Barrow's Boys - book review

Barrow's Boys
by Fergus Flemung
March 2014

I have been picking at this book for over a year and to be honest I can't remember where I bought it. This in itself will probably tell you that its not exactly a riveting page turner, but rather a book one has to persevere with.

Its redeeming feature is the bulk of its subject matter - the search for the North West Passage.

The book pivots round John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, who wrote:

"To what purpose could a portion of our naval force be, at any one time, but more especially in a time of profound peace, more honorably or usefully employed than in completing those details of geographical and hydrographical science of which the grand outlines have been sketched by Cook... and many other of your own countrymen."

A bit ponderous in its delivery but what it is expressing is that in a time of peace how can we usefully employ some of the many naval ships and crews who are kicking their heels on half pay? His answer was to sponsor a long series of explorations which with hindsight all appear to be lost causes and to some extent pointless.

So whilst Barrow is the connecting feature in these tales, he was no explorer himself and it is the stories of the crews which are unpacked in painstaking detail.

Sadly, whilst the book has many redeeming features such as the insights into Arctic and Antartic exploration, it is also a slave to historical accuracy with its five page bibliography and eleven page index. No one could accuse Fleming of skimping on accuracy or playing fast and lose with history - this verges on an academic work and its readability suffers as a consequence.

And then there is the African element. In the main the book is about water based polar exploration, which is a hugely interesting subject, but in the pursuit of comprehensive accuracy there are large chunks devoted to African expeditions to find the source of the Niger and the location on Timbuktoo. Quite possibly valid subjects for research, but completely at odds with the polar elements and to me, as boring as Hell!

So I pressed on with this book, taking it with me on several boat trips last summer and finally, over a year after I embarked on my journey through its 500 pages, I have completed the trip and returned to port safe and sound. That may sound slow going but for many of the crews seeking out a North West Passage they found themselves icebound for several successive seasons and could easily spent three years or more locked in these desolate arctic regions. Against this background it is perhaps fitting that the account of their journey is unpacked with glacial slowness!

So, 10:10 for historical authenticity, 9:10 for literary quality, 7:10 for interest factor and 4:10 for readability.

If you are interested in the subject matter read on. If not - move on!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Cyder House Rules

Cyder making Course
March 2014

I have been tinkering with cider making over the last few years, trying to develop my skills by trial and error. All very entertaining but its slow progress and I have come to realise that I need a bit of help. Helen came to the rescue with an interesting Christmas present - a one day cider making course at the School of Artisan Food near Worksop.

The course was led by Simon Reed who makes the "Old Wife" Cider Brand in Kent, a cider equivalent of a micro brewery.

First up a pile of history and interesting facts:

  • There are nearly 4,000 types of apple 
  • They are all descended from about 24 varieties in Kazakhstan.
  • There are about 400 types of pear in the UK
  • There are 1100 small cider makers at work
  • Per capita the UK is the cider drinking capital of the world 
  • Just about any apple can be used to make cider
  • The legal minimum apple quantity or mass produced cider is 35% (I hate to think what else goes into it)
Whilst not being one for semantics, I have been a bit trouble with the Cyder thing - it sounds a bit olde worlde pretentiousness. But I am wrong. Back in the day when there were more acres devoted to the apple than grain the first pressing was sold to the rich and was the Cyder. It was a watered down second pressing which was sold to the peasants, and this was the Cider. So, for the purposes of artisan cider, its actually Cyder that we are making.

Plasterers stirrer and the Shredder

As well as a whole ruck of great tips and advice we got to play with the big boys toys which included a range of methods of breaking up the apples - scratters, shredders, plasterers stirrers as well as a range of presses. Its a great way to try out the options and see what you get for your money.


Having played with the big boys toys I now want some for myself, but they are terribly expensive. 

Breaking up the apples to a small pressable bits is a vital 1st stage and a scratter is really the way to go, But for the few gallons I want to make a plasterer's stirrer in a drill does a surprisingly effective job and at £5 its a really good option.

15L press

As for a press, its just begging for a DIY project. It need to be very strong but can have pressure applied by a bottle jack and is well within the scope of my carpentry skills. Its a tempting option but of course, I just need to find the time to build it before the Autumn.

Rough Old Wife and some DIY cider at the start of its 6 month route to drinkability

So I am now all ready to make cider (or cyder) but with no apples for six months I am limited to the small quantity of Braeburn / Bramley juice and a the one litre of pear juice which we pressed during the course.

In the meantime I have some more beer to make up. Hurrah for the mighty hop!