Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Helles Bells! A cask lager challenge.



I am sure most people in life enjoy a challenge. I certainly do. And my latest challenge may pleasantly surprise some beery aficionados. Then again, it's one that may raise a few eyebrows. 

It's a challenge I have been wanting to set myself for some time. To create a craft cask lager. A lager! I hear you say. Yes, a beer, in my opinion, that will in no way bear any resemblance to some of the mass produced, bland, light golden, tasteless fizz, we regularly witness.

So, it was to my delight when I had the opportunity to brew a collaboration cask lager with the popular and well respected, Bowland Brewery in Clitheroe.

I had been in discussions with Bowland's Production and General Manager, Craig Hall. And he had bravely given me virtually a free rein on the creation of the beer. However, the brewing skills were certainly down to the brewer, Scott Baldwin. 

I had decided to use three hop varieties, namely, Saaz, Perle and Nelson Sauvin. The hops in question will hopefully give the lager a clean, crisp and refreshing taste. Along with some subtle, fruity gooseberry notes.

But first we had to mix the lager malt and the water, to kick-off the brewing process. The malts are steeped in hot, not boiling water, for about 75 minutes. The liquid is then transferred into a giant kettle, so the hops can be added.
Trial brew: 100 litre brew kit at Bowland

The Saaz hops were first in. A Czech "noble" hop. With mild, earthy, herbal and spicy notes. A taste of Bohemia! Then the Perle variety. And finally at the end of the boil, the Nelson Sauvin. The latter is one of my favourite hops. However, it's quite pungent. And Scott used it very sparingly. 

Nelson Sauvin has a delightful "crushed gooseberry" aroma and flavour. Similar to taste and aroma you get in Sauvignon Blanc wine. It will give the lager its subtle gooseberry note - hopefully!

Scott was very meticulous in everything he did. He had the temperatures and timings bang on. A real craftsman at work.

The boiling process took another 75 minutes. Scott then allowed it to stand for ten minutes, before transferring the "liquid gold" into the fermenter. 

Scott said: " The fermentation temperature is about 10-11c. The lager yeast is then added. It's a temperature that is a little cooler than the normal final fermentation temperature of about 12c. However, when the thermic reaction kicks in, it will bring it up to 12c. It's then held at 12c until the end of the fermentation process."

Scott added: " Then the temperature is raised up to 16-18c, in order to allow for what is called a diacetyl rest. After this the lagering process begins. It's cooled down to between zero and 2c, in 2c increments. The end result will hopefully be a tasty, cask craft lager."

Lager, unlike ale, uses a process of very cool conditioning at low temperatures - in cold storage. The word "Lager" is German for storeroom.

Well, after witnessing Scott plying his trade. I was confident we will have brewed and created a flavoursome lager to savour. Light golden in appearance. It will have a 5%ABV.


I've named the lager, Helles Bells. Helles is the name for a traditional German pale lager. It will be launched at the Holmes Mill Beer Hall, Clitheroe, home of the U.K's longest bar, towards the end of April. It will also be available at the Blackburn Beer Festival 28-30 April, being held at Blackburn RUFC.
My thanks to Bowland's Head Brewer, Scott Baldwin

Yes, I am expecting a few raised eyebrows after creating a cask lager. However, we are confident that it will prove a winner, both at the Beer Hall and at Blackburn Beer Festival. 

Drinking habits are a changing. And I am grateful to Scott Baldwin and all the brewing team at Bowland Brewery, in helping me to create this collaboration tipple. 
















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