Monday, 4 April 2016

Oatmeal Stout
 By Brett Tyrell

Oatmeal Stout is a beer I love to brew, and coincidentally, love to drink. I love the roastiness along with the complimentary "rich" mouthfeel given by the oats. It is a beer that feels "bigger" than it actually is, so it's easy to have a few pints, and wake up shiny the next day.

Brewing an Oatmeal Stout is quite a simple brew-day, not requiring and complex processes. There is no special equipment or steps, with the exception of how you toast your oats prior to adding them to the recipe.

The rolled oats themselves can be from any source. You could buy them from your Brew store, buy organic, fair-trade, certified oats from your local hippie health store. Me, I just buy them from Aldi. Just make sure to buy rolled oats, not "Quick Oat". Quick Oats have already been partly gelatinised in the factory, so lose a lot of the rich, silky mouthfeel.

I toast the oats in the oven prior to adding them to my malt bill. Spread them out in a thin layer on a baking tray in a ~190 deg C oven, and toast until they're a dark brown, just short of starting to burn. This usually takes about 20 minutes. Make sure to give them a turn every 5 minutes or so, so they toast evenly. The whole house will think you're baking Anzac cookies, as they smell great.

After toasting, let the oats cool, prior to adding them to the rest of your grain bill. I have my own mill, so I like to feed the oats through the mill as I'm crushing the rest of my grains. For those who don't mill their own, you can just add them to the mash.

I use a very simple single-infusion mash at 66 deg C, for 60 minutes. I use a teaspoon of Calcium Chloride in the mash as I have very soft water, and find it helps assist conversion.

A single hop addition of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes left to boil is all it needs. You can just as easily use any UK hop, as there is very little hop character desired in the beer. I avoid US or other "fragrant" hops, as even after a full hour boil, some of the piney-ness still comes through.

I've tried a number of different types of yeast, and I keep coming back to the Wyeast #1187 "Ringwood Ale". I find it reliable yeast that gives a good amount of character, without being over the top. I ferment at 20 deg C, which gives a nice balance of esters.

Keg/bottle it, give it a little time to mature (2 months is ideal), and enjoy
Flanders -
Beer and Battlefields

By Craig Ditcham

I recently made a barrel aged Flanders Ale with Mikko and Dave, and learnt a lot about sour beers during the process. With the tasting of our sour ale at the April meeting, and ANZAC Day later in the month, I thought I would write something to tie them in. My goal was for readers to know more about the battle of Flanders without having to slog thru a 1000 page book, so I hope that you find the time to crack open a beer, sit back and read on.
With the rise of popularity of remembering our fallen over the last 20 years, ANZAC Day features prominently in our calendar year. This national day of remembrance commemorates all Australians & New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peace-keeping operations, and the on contribution & suffering of all those who have served. When focussing on another WWI battle where our troops’ loss and suffering was perhaps our worst in history, it could be appropriate for beer lovers to open a bottle of Flanders Ale during ANZAC Day.

Flanders Red Ale (BJCP 2015 23B) is a sour ale originating from a region of Belgium named Flanders. The sourness originates from the strain of yeast, which is then enhanced by being aged in wine barrels. Red malt provides the deep burgundy red color. After ageing, the ale can be blended with other batches to add smoothness and complexity. With the complex fruit flavour, tannin and dry finish, the ale can be described as ‘red-wine like’.

The name Flanders combines the two Belgium provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders. Prior to the outbreak of WWI, the history of beer making in that region stretches back over centuries to Roman times. In the Middle Ages, abbeys became the centre of knowledge about agriculture, animals and crafts, including beer. As the climate in Flanders did not favour producing wine, the locals concentrated on beer and the Belgium beer culture diversified, leading to brewers acidifying their beer to preserve it.

WWI was devastating to Belgium breweries, drastically reducing their number as the German occupying forces seized all the copper, equipment and vehicles to sustain their war machine. Availability of ingredients for brewing all but disappeared, especially after continued shelling completely obliterated fields and towns.

Flanders Fields is the common English name of the World War I battlefields in Belgium, as well as the adjacent region of France. Belgium and in particular Flanders, saw some of the greatest loss of life on the Western Front during WWI, especially around the town of Ypres.

The Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) drawn to the Western Front in 1916 consisted of fresh troops from Australia via Egypt, as well as veterans of Gallipoli. Unfortunately for the AIF, military leaders over the previous 200 years had not developed war strategy, and simply resorted to winning battles by having more soldiers than the enemy. Generals believed that soldiers were ‘born to die’, and were known to boast about how many died under their command per month. So while tactics hadn’t changed much by WWI, the world had industrialised and drastically changed the weapons that a military power could bring the battlefield. Now there were fearsome machine guns capable of incredible firing rates, and artillery which were able to rain down destruction while situated miles from enemy rifle range. The AIF were under the control of British commanders, and at the Western Front directly controlled by Lieutenant - General Richard Haking. Unfortunately Haking had used those old world tactics previously, in May 1915 , at Vimy Ridge, south of Fromelles. He had sent his troops over open ground, in bright daylight, towards entrenched enemies with machineguns and unlimited ammunition. After near annihilation of the first wave, Haking sent no less than 3 more, each suffering the same result. When it was realised that a further attack was pointless, thousands lay dead. Shocking loss, no gain, but in High Command, not viewed as a failure.

The AIF arrived at frontlines that had been created nearly 2 years ago. In the Germans drive towards the sea, they had been blocked at this area, and over time both sides created a parallel series of trenches that stretched for hundreds of miles long. This kept either side from being able to flank, causing all guns aimed directly at the other, and only front-on attacks possible. On the German side lay Fromelles, a lovely French village surrounded by poppy fields but now changed by the realities of occupation. With no forward progress possible, the Germans made a key decision to act defensively and set about fortifying their position. With the aid of a nearby concrete manufacturing facility in captured Lille, they created a sophisticated trench system, built concrete machine-gun placements, strengthened deep artillery shelters and secured the all-important high ground. Heavy gauge barbed wire was placed in front of all trenches and fortifications. Near Fromelles was an important high point which came to be known as the Sugar-Loaf. As gunners placed on top of this point could shoot forward or down either side of no-man’s land, particular effort was made to strengthen its defences. Allied Commanders incorrectly thought that this area could be a weak point to break through the German lines,or at least an attack here could cause enough threat that the Germans would stop sending troops south to the Somme (northern France). But with the Germans dedication to fortification, massing of firepower in that area, and the Australians directed to have their attack begin on the left side of this Sugar-Loaf, disaster lay ahead.

Waiting for the order to attack.
Prior to launching troops across the no-man’s land, a continuous 7 hour artillery barrage of the German frontlines was expected to weaken their defences. A large area in front of the Australian soldiers was to be covered by newly arrived Australian Artillery. Unfortunately the artillery crews were very inexperienced with their weapons, and had not practiced since arriving as all ammunition was being reserved for the main attack. The result of these issues led to incorrect ranging, mis-fires and a scattering of shells across the enemy frontline. The promise that the artillery bombardment would cut the wire, destroy parapets, kill a large proportion of the enemy, and frighten the rest did not happen.

German observers, seeing the massing of soldiers and equipment along the frontline, gave their commanders early warning that an attack near Fromelles was imminent. The order was given to increase artillery fire on the Allied frontlines, and sent all their own troops to shelters, away from the expected Allied barrage, and keeping a minimum of observers in position. Nearly half of the Australian troops had only arrived one week prior to the day of attack. They were not settled, had had little time to scout the no-man’s land and had spent huge energy on preparation for attack. There was little sleep to be had with the sound of constant shelling, sights of craters and dead all around them, and little comfort in mud and weakly constructed shelters. They had very poor preparation for an assault.

The Battle of Fromelles began at 5:30PM 19th July 1916 and the following is a summary. The first attacking wave were British troops tasked with neutralising the all-important Sugar-Loaf. Their divisions were almost immediately wiped out, with most stopped dead at their trench exit. Almost no-one made it far into no-man’s land. At 5:43pm it was time for the Australians to launch their own attack adjacent to the Sugar-Loaf. With the Sugar-Loaf machine gunners unaffected by the British attack, the weapons were quickly repositioned towards the side, aimed directly at the approaching Australians. With machine-gun fire joining the German artillery, now aimed at no-man’s land with shrapnel shells, the Australians ran into a hailstorm of lead from all angles.

The view from the Sugar Loaf, looking down upon attackers
The Australians first two waves were effectively wiped out, the third wave, already reduced by bombing (of which some was their own artillery shells falling short) while waiting their turn, ran forward to find no reduction in enemy fire. After negotiating the barb wire, some survivors were able to make German trenches and went about securing the newly won position.

Australian soldiers had to rush across no-man’s land towards these entrenchments
The fourth wave, consisting of company commanders and second-in-commands designed to take charge of a successful attack in enemy ground, tried to join their mates in these trenches. Unfortunately the Germans were well trained in identifying enemy officers and focussed their fire upon them. Almost all Australian commanders were killed, reducing the amount of co-ordination of the attack from this point, and heightening the confusion. At 9pm another wave of soldiers were sent across no-man’s land but they ran straight into the machine-guns of the Sugar Loaf and were cut to pieces. It is recorded that this particular wave ‘melted into nothingness’ and historian Charles Bean described it as ‘one of the bravest and most hopeless assaults ever undertaken by the AIF’. Many hours were spent trying to strengthen the Australians position in enemy territory, with communication trenches attempted to be dug across no-man’s land, machine-gun teams sent across, and runners sent back & forth with messages or ammunition and water. In trying to run across this hell on earth the gunfire and shelling never stopped. With the main Allied attack evaporated, the Germans counter attacked, with strict instructions that all lost ground must be regained. Taking advantage of their long preparation, the Germans unleashed their huge numbers of reserves at the Australian held trenches. Between 12am and 8am the Australians fought off these counter attacks, adding to the legend of ANZAC with their fighting spirit in a hopeless position. Soon after 8am a messenger arrived with the instructions for all to withdraw, but doing in so they were without covering fire or protection from the flanks. Having survived this long into the battle, many were killed in their dash back to AIlied lines. 15 hours after the attack began, the Battle of Fromelles was declared over at 9am.

This crater was made by one shell that killed 40 men
Dawn of 20th July 1916 exposed the reality of the battle with the shocking scene of the dead and body parts strewn everywhere across no-man’s land. And then there was the wounded, with the severest of injuries like limbs blown off, and their cries for help

while unable to make safety. Shelling of the front line from the Germans began again, and enemy sniper fire at any movement was an ever present danger.

In time unofficial truces took place along the front lines, where the Germans and AIF agreed to hold fire, not tell their commanders and allowing the wounded to be collected. For many gruelling days men risked their lives searching for the wounded.

There were an estimated 5533 Australian casualties, and over 1500 British, which means over 7000 casualties in 27 hours. One battalion of 887 Officers and men had only 1 Officer and 106 men answer the roll call. Terms like ‘carnage’ and ‘devastation’ are used to describe the aftermath. This experience shattered the surviving Australian commanders and troops, who took months
to reassemble into a fighting unit again. Worse still, the Germans found notes on captured Allied soldiers that indicated that the battle was indeed just a feint.

Charles Bean
A feint that was ill-conceived; used troops that were new to the battleground therefore poorly-prepared and already thinned out due to enemy shelling preceding the assault; charged soon after an ineffective shelling by inexperienced artillery towards unaffected machine-guns; sent towards an extremely well prepared and fortified enemy; and had chains of command decimated so soon after commencement of battle. Charles Bean was horrified by what he uncovered after talking to officers and soldiers in the days following, and noted in his Official History of the war that ‘it is difficult to conceive that the operation, as planned, was ever likely to succeed’.

Censors prevented the truth of the battle reaching Britain and England, and initial reports vaguely described success. Days later, on the 23rd July 1916 the Battle of Pozieres began, a six week struggle for the town where suffering under constant bombardment was extreme for both sides. A struggle that cost 23,000 Australian casualties, including 9000 killed.

It is suggested that we like to remember Gallipoli because of the way our soldiers fought despite no eventual victory, and demonstrated great initiative and mateship. While our soldiers performed similarly at Fromelles and Pozieres, the truth of these battles is much darker and uglier. So many lives were wasted, families back in Australia were traumatised by not knowing how their loved ones died, and in some cases had no body to lay to rest. Survivors suffered PTSD in a time that the condition was unknown, and if they didn’t take their own lives in the following years, were haunted for decades. All this suffering for so little.
Lest we forget.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we thro
 The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Official History of the Australia in the War of 1914-1918 by Charles Bean, Volume III – The AIF in France 1916 (12th Edition, 1941)

o Chapter XII – The Battle of Fromelles

o Chapter XIII – The Battle of Fromelles (Contd)

Fromelles & Pozieres by Peter Fitzsimmons

Pozieres – The ANZAC Story by Scott Bennett