Monday 28 December 2015

Hardknott Stream - Work in Progress

It is perhaps something of a debilitation, but it is a fact that I have numerous and varied interests. Photography, for instance, has that superb crossover between creative and technological. Just to add that little bit of extra fascination, with the modern invention of moving pictures, the talkies, colour reproduction, digital photography and now that greatest of all man's invention, the internet with which one can inflict delight the general public with creative genius.

Because I work with beer, and run my own brewery, I am constantly on the look-out for new and interesting ways of getting closer to the people who like beer, and hopefully convince them to drink Hardknott. We've made various videos, some more successful than others, all taking a surprisingly long time to put together. I enjoy doing it, but it does make me wonder if the effort is worth the benefits, if I were to look at it from a pure business point of view. Of course, there is the broader activity of beer communications, which I enjoy and in itself often becomes a distraction from what I should be doing, and part of the incentive to write this blog.

More recently I've become aware of the ability to live stream video to the internet. Not a new thing in any real terms, but as super-fast broadbandbecomes more available, even in our outcast places, it becomes technically more practical. Specifically YouTube have recently created a service that appears to be available for us to live stream moving pictures, along with sound, for anyone to watch.

Muk-Bang has taken off in Korea, it seems. A bizarre spectacle where someone, usually a young attractive specimen, eats various food for an on-line audience. Often referred to as food porn, which leaves me unsure if the format is appealing to people who want to feel good about eating, when they feel they shouldn't and so seeing young attractive people eating makes them feel better about themselves. Perhaps it is actually some sort of sexual fetish. It is best we don't delve too deep into the psychology there, else we may be distracted from my own plans. However, I do have the thought that perhaps, with people deciding to "detox" in January, I could just get frazzled in front of the camera and keep the beer world turning. You can all sit and watch us on the internet, with your carrot juice safely in hand, whilst we guzzle down beers to compensate. That way we'll all feel good.

One of the things that attracts me to the format is the ability for our audience to interact. My concept is to have topical beer items, or at least vaguely beer related, and monitor all our social media timelines for incoming comments. We can then react to your input, so helping us to get closer to you, the beer drinker. Whichever, I expect it'll be a bit of fun.

So, last Wednesday, the day before Christmas Eve, we did a little technical test to see if we could broadcast a live video signal and put together some sort of "beer show" - it worked, after a fashion. We had numerous technical issues, largely due to the super-fast broadband not being as super-fast as we expected. However, it happened, after quite a bit of effort, and we learnt a lot.

Undaunted2 by some of the difficulties, we are going to run a proper "pilot" broadcast on Wednesday 30th December 2015 at 19:30 (that's 7:30pm, in old fashioned time)  - please call in, watch what we are doing, say "hi" on twitter3, or whatever, and feedback any comments on the show. Good or bad, whatever, we cannot improve if we don't get your input. If nothing else, we'll run the @Hardknott twitter timeline on the side of the screen on some shots, just so you can see that it really is live4.

The channel can be accessed via or


1Our normal broadband, with around 12Mbit/s download, which is normally quite fast enough to watch iPlayer, only has a 500kbit/s upload speed - this really isn't quite fast enough for video streaming at any reasonable quality. We have yet to decide to invest in the locally available FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) - so we are trialling in a local business centre to see if it is viable. They still only have 1Mbit/s upload, but it's just about OK, if we set all our video settings just right.

2Yes, you are right, we are actually seriously daunted by the difficulties we face. However, there is no point pissing around, we might as well get on with the job and suffer the consequences if it makes us look silly. So, if we are going to do it, we must put across a bullish and forthright attitude. A faint heart, and all that.

3Tweet us @Hardknott to see your comment come back on the video feed. Please, don't use abuse or whatever, we of course will reserve the right to block you. And we can switch off the sidebar at any time we wish.

4You may experience a delay, typically up to 30 seconds, due to our streaming software getting its act together, the interwebby thing uploading and then downloading the data plus YouTube's servers processing. We've had it down a low as 10 seconds, which I think is fairly amazing when you realise the data crunching and transfer that needs to happen. If the delay becomes too long, have a look to check it isn't your end. Sometimes the receiving computer can buffer and you need to pull the time-bar at the bottom of the screen until it is at the end and showing perhaps -1 second.

A further technical hitch possible at the receiving end is if you open in the Hardknott site, and then navigate to YouTube (it is my recommendation that you open in YouTube) and still have the Hardknott page open you may have two version of the same stream on different delays. This will cause an echo and possible deterioration of your system's performance. Close one of the windows!

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Rhetoric IV.I

It's here, this is what you've been waiting for, a new release of Rhetoric.

We've been planning this one for a while. We wanted to make a big stout, better than ever before. We wanted to see how far we could push our house yeast, just to see what it would do.

This was to be brewed with a peated malt I'd come by. However, we don't have a mill and my initial over optimistic view of the task soon turned out to be somewhat false. The food processor just didn't do the right job and so I set to with a rolling pin to manually crush 25kg of malted barley. 8 hours over 2 days saw significant temporary RSI.

We hoped it would get to 10% ABV. We aimed for an OG of 1100, or there about. In the end we managed 1098.2, which we thought to be close enough.

Of course, the final ABV of any beer is dependant on how well the yeast attacks the sugars. This in turn is dependant on a number of factors including enzyme action in the mash, yeast pitching rate, oxygenation of the wort, nutrients in the wort and no doubt a few more bio-chemical things that I don't understand.

As our team consists of not only me, with my 10 years of experience but also Scott, who is good at analysing past performance of brews and successfully improving on what we've already achieved. And then we have Sarah, who has done a degree in microbiology specialising in brewing yeast. Between us, after several discussion over coffee, donuts and QA samples of Azimuth, we devised a mash temperature, glucose dosing, aeration and pitch rate program that we though should do the job.

We took gravity readings every 12 hours, as is good practice in any yeast management strategy. We also remembered to write them all down carefully in perfectly legible writing every single time1.

Most importantly we watched them gravity drop down towards the target that we needed to achieve our goal of 10%. Using the HMRC recommended method we calculated the target PG (present gravity)

(OG-PG)*0.133 = ABV (at target ABV)

So, by rearranging the formula;

ABV/0.133 = OG-PG also known as attenuation.

ABV/0.133 = 75.2 degrees of attenuation.

PG = OG - 75.2 = 1098.2 - 75.2 = 1023

I was a little bit nervous. It was the first time we'd pushed our house yeast this far3. Would it fall over as the alcohol pickled the yeast? Would the yeast run out of the nutrients it would desperately need to keep going? Had we grown enough fresh new daughter yeast cells with the vigour needed to get the job done?

The gravity closed quickly towards 1022.4, and then romped on past it. Downwards past 1020, 1019, 1018 and further. Actually, it went incredibly fast, so fast that I wondered if it would become a stupidly dry beer, like Granite 2013 ended up to be. But no, all of a sudden the yeast stopped fermenting and the PG remained steady at 1016.6. The thing is, not only does the extra attenuation mean more alcohol, it also means that we need to use a different "f" number to calculate it;

ABV = (OG-PG)*f = (1098.2 - 1016.6) * 0.134 = 10.93%

As it'll probably do a small amount of further maturation in bottle, we felt it appropriate to declare 11% dead.

I'm keen to now have a go at pushing our yeast still further. At 1016.6, starting at 1098.2 I have a fair degree of certainty that yeasty has mopped up all the available fermentable carbohydrates. I was scared the yeast would give up due to alcohol poisoning, but no, those little critters have done me proud.

In related news, we've are so proud of what our house yeast has done that we've given it a twitter account. Follow @HardknottYeasty and you might get an insight into what the yeast is up to in the tanks.



1Yes, you are perfectly right, that was a lie. Mostly we have a collection of people who are very intelligent, well educated and very fluent in both English2 and Mathematics. However, calligraphy ain't our strong point.

2Well, Scott is fluent in a version of English that has gotten corrupted by them people over the other side of the big pond. Still, he's quite eloquent with it, for an American.

3Previous beers that were up at this ABV we've used a combination of yeasts to get to the ABV, generally including dried yeast. We've only been using our current strain of yeast for just over 12 months.