Office Brew: Pomander in Chief

An imperial Belgian mulled ale. Seriously.

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It’s been an age since we did a team brew here at Ferment, so I was delighted when my colleague Doug Garry suggested we create something to taste live, as part of December’s Cyber Fest Christmas Party. I’ll normally do my best to temper the ambition of my co-brewer, in terms of recipe creation, but in Doug’s case it’s just impossible to resist the level of enthusiasm that he brings to any creative table, so we eventually settled on a bitter orange imperial stout.

Sadly though, the fates were not on our side. It seems the lockdown homebrew craze is still alive and well, and I couldn’t get hold of the ingredients we needed in time for the show, very nearly prompting Doug to walk out on the project before it had begun. He was tempted back though, with the promise of a strong Belgian ale, to which he decided we should add mulling spices and orange. I strongly suspect this was because he’d already come up with the rather brilliant name ‘Pomander in Chief’.



To be honest, the base recipe I was following was for a modestly alcoholic farmhouse ale, but with the amount of liquor reduced to make it more concentrated. This decision may

have contributed to some of the problems we faced later. For the mulling spice quantities, I decided to go with a recipe for mulled wine and simply scale it up according to the volume of beer; another decision I would later question.

On the brew day itself though, I’m simply happy to hang out with another adult human. Sitting around waiting for water to reach the correct temperature, circulate through our grain and then boil gives Doug and I a lot of time to bat around ideas for the podcast, Cyber Fest and, yes, sink a few beers. This is one of the great joys of home brewing, whether during a pandemic or not.

The ingredients are laid out on the table: a pre-mixed bag of malt (large, for the relatively tiny volume of water warming in our trusty Grainfather), yeast, hops, and a festive centrepiece (thanks Doug) of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and whole oranges. It looks good and the room already smells great. So far, so promising.

The problems start shortly after we’ve mashed in. I turn on the Grainfather’s pump, to start the wort circulating through the grain, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s just too dense for much of anything to wash through. We also don’t have a proper mash paddle, so have to take turns trying to get things moving with a ladle. The wort, at this point, is a toasty 60 degrees, so we’re both sporting red, puffy hands before too long. 



After an hour of this punishment, the same problem awaits for sparging; the extra liquor we’re adding to the top of the grain mostly just sits there, and a part of the process that typically lasts less than an hour stretches on for more than two as it slowly trickles through into the kettle below. Once it’s finished, I empty the spent grain into a black bag, and sure enough, the bottom layer next to the filter is a solid lump of paste-like grain dust.

At last though, it’s time for the boil, and the addition of all our lovely adjuncts and hops. Soon the office kitchen is redolent with spices and orange zest, gradually intensifying as the hour progresses. Doug is buzzing, and even I have to admit I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll get at least some potable beer from this adventure.

Cooling, using our somewhat janky counterflow system, goes surprisingly smoothly, and pretty soon we’re pumping our tepid wort into a sterilised fermentation bucket, ready to pitch the yeast. And there it sits, for a full week, gas gently burbling from its airlock like turkey farts from a snoozy great uncle on boxing day.

A pre-bottling inspection confirms several things I had previously only suspected. First, I’d got my concentration maths wrong, and what was supposed to be a 7% Belgian ale is now sitting around 10.5%. Second, I’d got my spice maths wrong, and the beer contains enough clove oil to effectively anaesthetise any senses left functioning after the booze. Doug is delighted on both counts, of course.



And so we arrive at the big day itself: the grand first tasting, live in front of over 1000 online viewers at the Cyber Fest Christmas Party. The swing-top bottle opens with a classy pop, and a reassuring puff of CO2; although it’s still a little under-conditioned, we manage to get something resembling a head, possibly helped by my shaky pour.

This beer is intense, but not unpleasantly so. There’s a touch of diacetyl, possibly from the lower-than-ideal fermentation temperature, but it’s pretty well masked by the riot of cloves. It’s noticeably very boozy, which I hope will be somewhat softened with a bit more carbonation, but the hop character is good, and plays well with the orange zest. We only ended up bottling about ten litres, and I’m looking forward to opening my share on Christmas Day, after a couple more weeks of conditioning.

As for the show, it’s hard to say whether Pomander in Chief improved things, but looking back on the recording, it certainly loosened them up. Once again, I have colleagues emailing with ideas for future beers, and it looks like the Office Brew is a thing again. Yay.

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RECIPE

MALT

5 kg Pilsner malt 

230g Vienna malt

300g Caramunich malt

230g Wheat malt


HOPS

15g East Kent Goldings @30 minutes

15g East Kent Goldings dry hopped

15g Styrian Goldings dry hopped


Yeast: White Labs WLP 565


Mash for 1 hour at 67 degrees and sparge at 76 degrees, until you reach a pre-boil volume of around 22.5 litres. This will boil down to around 19 litres over 60 minutes. Add spices at the start of the boil and hops according to the schedule. Cool to 27 degrees and pitch the yeast.


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