with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My New Juicer:

I've just come back from, amongst other places, a 'Good as New' charity shop with a fruit juicer for only 5 euro! What a bargain. Too late for the apples, of course, but I've just made carrot and ginger and apple and shrivelled tangerine juice with it, and I can't believe how much easier it was than weilding a bit of two-by-four. Well, no, I can believe it, but the 2x4 was easier to clean.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Making the cider reminded me of doing the first brew; checking up on it every five minutes, sniffing it, making sure it’s nice and cosy, etc. Recently I’ve been quite confident in my brewing technique, so brewing up has become routine. Now, trying something completely different, it has that sense of the unknown again. Adventure, exploration, that kind of thing.

Also, this week, I’ve opened up the second lot of IPA. It’s to coincide with a curry I made, which coincides with a book I’m reading about I.P.A. and its journey to India. The book’s called Hops and Glory, by a fellow called Pete Brown. It’s a great book, and though it only just creeps into the home brew genre, it will none the less receive a review in the appropriate section soon. Oh, and the I.P.A. was fine, thanks!

So now that the cider is fermenting away in the spare room, under a sleeping bag, a duvet and some sort of blanket, we’ve got the dining room table back. The apples were resting there for a week, as per online advice (well, they didn’t specify a dining room table), and it didn’t take long before bills, books and other day to day household gubbins were piled on top of the apples!

I won’t really know how the cider turns out until spring, but until then I’ve written up my ‘recipe’ (with pictures) in a separate page. It’s not particularly useful until then, as it might turn out not to work, but if I don’t write it now I’ll not remember what I did. Anyway, these nights are drawing in, and I need something to write about!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Update:

I've opened the Geordie Bitter! After only a couple of weeks it was a fantastic beer. I've used the past tense there, but there is still some left, and I'm trying to leave it alone!

I took a bottle over to Dad in Wales, as he's something of a connoiseur of real ales, and he liked it, I think. Although he said it lacked sparkle, he did manage to drink it all. We were drinking a bottled ale called 'Dandelion Ale' by Badger Organic, and it's much more like the real ale I want to be brewing. I'm going to look into some tasting notes and recipes to see what it takes to produce something more like it - though it will be a lot more complicated than just opening the tin, like I'm used to - and frankly, with our crappy tin opener, that's hard enough!

I recieved a parcel with bungs and bubblers etc in it, so I've been itching to get scrumping for a couple of weeks. Luckily, my need for apples coincided with a wedding over in England we (Girlfriend and I) were going to, so I've brought back a bag-for-life full of apples from Mum's garden. We travelled by car, which was handy, as I doubt the Ryanair baggage restriction would have allowed me to take on that kind of weight!

So I'll be putting a borrowed juicer through it's paces next week, and hopefully end up with a good gallon of cider to comment on come spring. I'll have to be much more patient than I have been so far, but luckily I've got some Triple ready soon. That should take my mind off it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Order

Living in a relatively far flung town, in a similarly distant peninsula of Ireland (it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it) as I do, I have to get my home brew mail order. I’ve written that like it’s a bad thing, but I love getting parcels. Most of the home brew is ordered online, and I really have to like a website, find it easy to navigate and with a good FAQ section before I buy. There’s nothing quite like judging a book by its cover. I don’t know what it is about such beautifully constructed websites, but they have cheaper beer too, I’m sure of it. And my brew always comes out better. Well, alright, maybe not.

But I’m on the prowl again. I might try the John Thompson Bitter this time, and will definitely be doing some early Christmas shopping. I’m thinking about Brewferm’s Christmas beer, or Munton’s Winter Warmer. They prefer a long condition, apparently, being of a higher alcohol content and stronger flavour, I presume, so I will need to start soon. I’ve already started on the mince pies, this year.

It’s nearly autumn (it must be - it feels like christmas), and there are loads of apples just lying about the place, so I've been on the phone to mammy, with polite instructions that on her next trip to Wilkinsons she send over some bungs for the two glass demijohns I found in a charity shop, some champagne yeast and campden tablets.

The plan? To make dynamite cider!

N.B. Whilst scouring the internet for a good home brew website I stumbled across the Chichester Real Ale and Jazz Festival. Two of my favourite things! Now... where did I put that Visa...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seventh Brew: John Bull I.P.A (40 pints, anywhere between 4.5 and 5 %)

This time I had a small audience whilst I was brewing up. Of course, no one offered to stir, boil or wash or anything, but a few 'helpful' bits of advice were ignored along the way. That was the last of the latest order, but I’m already scouring the pages for the next lot.

Once again, the beer contained the usual tin and fair trade sugar (fair trade, to ease the conscience of shopping for it at Sainsbos), hot and cold water. I used the shower attachment in the bath to add the cold water, to speed up the process a little and keep the kitchen dry. But, brilliantly, the fast, powerful flow of water we so like to shower under frothed up the beer so much that I couldn’t take an accurate reading on the hydrometer. Taking a reading is hard enough as it is! So the final ABV will be about 4.5 – 5 %, probably, but I’ll not know for sure, just like every other time.

Now, although the bathroom is not the most hygienic place to keep a wort, it was a very brief visit to the bath. Having recently looked in the attic to see about insulating it, to keep us (and the beer) a little warmer this winter, I noticed inside the water storage tank. I’ll never wash any bottles in warm water again! It wasn’t that it was out of the ordinary, it’s just that it was bad. I’d say check your own, if I didn’t know better.

Hot off the Spare Room press; I’d literally just cleared it from its former use as a toy store, when it was taken over for another purpose, so now the beer is fermenting in the ‘master’ bedroom. But I’m going to enjoy waking up to the smell of fresh beer, just like walking into a house that’s baking bread… only nicer!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sixth Brew*: Geordie Bitter (36 pints, 4.5%)

I’m writing this before bottling the beer, where normally I write afterwards. I think I’m doing this to put off washing the bottles, in the same spirit that gets the housework done or all the socks paired whilst some deadline or other looms. I’m not looking forward to cleaning and rinsing 20 bottles. Maybe I’ll give in and buy a pressure barrel soon. Maybe.

The brew seems to have gone off without a hitch, so far. I’m getting pretty quick at making it all. I stopped measuring out the pints exactly, and went with the marks on the side of the bucket for a guide. I’ve also got the hang of siphoning the beer into bottles. I think the trick is to keep the barrel only slightly higher than the bottles, so that it doesn’t all gush out. Nice and easy does it. Although I’m still not quite sure about sucking the end of the tube to get the beer out… no bacterial side effects yet…

Not much else to report in the way of brewing. Once it’s bottled I’ll be off to the shops for 2 lbs of sugar and another round of bottles to empty.

A Few Days Later...

Well, isn’t washing bottles fun. At least I won’t have to do it again for a week or so. 20 litres bottled, and it looks good and dark. I’ve saved myself ten minutes work in a couple of days time by just putting the bottled beer straight in the cupboard without the four day 'warm' period. Frankly, it’s just pointless because the house is tepid at the best of times, and if the mice like it behind the cupboard, then it must be reasonably warm. It’ll do.

* Getting the hang of it now

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fifth Brew: Brewferm Triple + light candy sugar(15 pints, 7.4%)

And now, we wait. The Brewferm Triple, a beer apparently similar to Leffe Trippel, is settling in for the long haul, spread between 8 one litre bottles, and a 500ml Diet Coke bottle. A modest amount of beer, but I’m not disappointed, I just put on another. It’ll be ready a lot quicker than the 10 or so weeks that the Triple will take.

The Triple was easy enough to make. It was a 9 litre kit, so there was only a fraction of the mess in the kitchen afterwards, though I still had to wear my waterproof boots. As usual, in went the tin, some expensive sugar (called Crystal something), hot and cold water, and then yeast. I made this at about midnight, before I was due to go away on a little marine adventure, so I put it to bed in a blanket and checked up on it at 7 the next morning. When I said goodnight, the brew hardly filled the 25 litre bin. Yet, the following morning, the froth coming off the brew was touching the lid! That’s – does sums – 16 litres of froth! Anyway, after seeing that vigorous yeast activity I went off feeling the brew could probably look after itself for a couple of days.

I bottled it when I got back, ten days later, having first siphoned it off into another bucket. I did this hoping some of the yeast would sink, and there wouldn’t be so much in the bottle, but it didn’t really work. I also tried it because apparently the beer tastes better if left a day or two extra in the bucket. Again, having only tried this on one or two brews, and not in a proper side – by – side test, it’ll be hard to know. But the overspill tasted excellent: very sweet, and darned strong. I was right in thinking it could take care of itself.

I ordered the latest set of tins from www.thehomebrewcompany.ie, which showed up quickly. I wasted no time in brewing, as I want plenty of beer to be ready for my own little Oktoberfest in, uh, October. Watch this space…

Since Then:

So, the triple turned out to be quite strong, in both alcohol and malt flavour. It isn't one for the faint hearted... maybe start out with the single or dubbel first if you're not sure. Definately don't go straight in for the Abbots. The candi sugar was an interesting addition. It will have contributed some not-so-subtle caramelly flavours, which can be quite harsh. Basically, what I'm saying is, it didn't go down well with everybody.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fourth Brew: Hambleton Bard’s Bitter (Dry Kit, 40 pints, 3.8% ABV)

After a long weekend of drinking and so on (it was St. Patrick’s day on Wednesday), my Monday afternoon was spent making up the fourth brew. The home brew Pilsner went down exceptionally well on Wednesday, when we had everyone and their mothers round to help out with the carnival float. People from all over the world were here (Holland, France, Australia) and pretty much everybody tried the home brew, and everybody who did, loved it. Empty glasses all round! Also, empty bottles abound, so time to make another batch.

This was a dry kit, but made up in much the same way as the others. Once the dry ingredients (malt and sugar) were added to the bucket I poured on 2 gallons of hot water (boiled and cooled) and stirred thoroughly. Don’t worry about the dry ingredients clumping together; keep stirring and it’ll all dissolve. Once that’s done, follow the rest of the instructions and let the yeast do the rest.

This time I’ve opted for my first fermentation method, which is to keep it away from the radiator, but wrapped in as many blankets as I could spare. It’s a cold March, so we’re layered up in bed. I spared all I could.

It wasn’t strictly necessary to brew more, as I’ve about 70 pints worth maturing in the cupboard, but the Bards kit says that although the beer is drinkable in a matter of weeks, it can be improved if left for up to six months. I’ve started it now, so that when my parents come over in May, it’ll be very drinkable. I don’t want them to think I’m not doing anything with my life.


The beer has eventually turned out grand. Very tasty (and it got a thumbs up from Dad, who is partial to a Shopshire Gold). I’ve kept it in 2 litre bottles though, so I can’t have just the one glass, it always turns into a session. As a result of the quantity, or maybe the beer, I’ve had some bad hangovers on this stuff. It is nice though, and definitely benefits by being left alone for ages before drinking. As for the 70 pints I’d mentioned… I was having a tough old time getting through it all on my own, so I had some boys around after a band practice, and between the four of us we made light work of it. I’d post photos, but there weren’t any.

Thing of note: Don’t use bottles larger than 1 litre. You have to pour it all out at once, and if you’re on your own it’s quite intimidating, having 3 and ½ pints sat in front of you. Having said that, I never let it put me off.

Third Brew: John Bull I.P.A. (36 pints, 4.6 %)

Day 1: The bucket was empty just long enough to be cleaned before I’d started the third brew. This time an IPA, for which I paid less than a tenner. So, with 80p on sugar and £1 on bottles (if the Sainsbury’s ones hold out), it’s looking like a very reasonable 31p per pint, or ppp. Apparently I drink an Irish IPA called Smithwicks at £2.60 a pint, so I’m looking forward to saving some money. I didn’t know Smithwicks was an IPA, but I’m reliably informed by a fellow Pure Bongo-er (our pub quiz team) that it is.

This was the quickest turnaround yet, from clean kitchen to the spare room smelling like a pub carpet. As usual, in went the tin, a kilo of sugar, and 36 pints of pure Donegal tap water. I’m concerned that one day the water will come out brown halfway through making the beer, as it is occasionally want to do here, but so far I’m in the clear, so to speak. The starting gravity was 1.044, and I’m supposed to bottle it at 1.006, which will leave a very tasty 5% brew. I’ve noticed that when the brews ferment they give off a bad smell, a bit like bad apple juice. Still inexperienced, I’m hoping it’s just ‘one of those things’, as the Pilsner suffered the same and tasted alright, but this time the IPA really stinks. If it turns out fine I’m going to embrace the smell in future. For now, it’s time to collect 5 gallons worth of bottles.

Day 5: The IPA has been fermenting for 5 days now, and is still way above the recommended final gravity stage, and it doesn’t look much like it’ll get there. I’m beginning to suspect two things. Firstly, what they say about constant temperatures is right, and secondly, that a bag of McKinney’s sugar is no substitute for brewing sugar. The Tom Caxton Real Ale (which is looking grand in the bottles) was brewed using dry spray malt, and the IPA with ordinary sugar. Maybe that affects the final gravity?

Day 9: IPA bottled. At around 4.6% it’s not as strong as I’d imagined (the instructions suggest final gravity 1006, but mine stopped at 1010 after 7 days), but it’ll taste cracking, if the first glass out of the bucket is anything to go by! I’d bottled it in a rush before heading to the ‘day job’, and left a half filled pint glass of the IPA on the side, so I had a wee taste of it once I’d got back. It had cleared a little, so tasted much like it will in the end. Flat for now, obviously, but I don’t think I’d enjoy too lively an ale anyway. I’ll know for sure in two weeks! As for the Pilsner, or what’s left of it, they’re like live grenades sitting in the cupboard. One false move and they’re set to explode!

As for the Pilsner, I’m still no closer to organising a home brew party, and there’s now only 6 bottles left. St Patrick’s day tomorrow, so maybe then.

Thing of note: Plenty of those large tin cans kicking around now. For ideas on what to do with the empties, look here: www.instructables.com. You’re bound to find something.

Second Brew: Tom Caxton Real Ale (36 pints, 4.3%) + Muntons Beer Enhancer Kit

After bottling the Pilsner it seemed a pity to leave the bucket empty. A trip to London at the start of Feb left me pretty skint, but with some money from a gig and pocket money from my nan, I managed to cobble together enough for a couple of tins. I’m not sure there are any home brew shops in Donegal, so it was all done mail order.

I’d ordered three kits; two tins and a dry kit, as well as a ‘Muntons Beer Kit Enhancer’. I loved looking through it all, reading and re-reading instructions, eventually working out in which order to brew them so as to get beer asap! (Beer greed again).

I started the real ale at the end of Feb, with a few pointers from the Pils. Firstly, I didn’t boil all the water, just what the instructions told me. Not because I don’t think it improved the beer, it was just time consuming and hassle in our small kitchen. I added beer enhancer instead of sugar, which according to the pack improves everything. Also, I only brewed 36 pints, not 40, hoping to get fuller bodied ale.

Once made it was up to the spare room to ferment, next to the radiator with a blanket over both it and the radiator, to keep the heat in. Although all instructions and books suggest that the fermenting brew should be kept between 18 and 25oc, and constant rather than variable, I’m hoping that the scheme will be good enough for the brew. The heating goes on twice a day (if there’s oil) so not ideal conditions at the best of times!

As it’s only my second brew, I still have loads to learn. For example, with the beer enhancer kit added the original gravity of the ale was 1.046. I’m not sure if that’s what it would be if I’d used sugar, but it seemed reasonably soupy. I also assumed that it would need to be bottled at 1.011 or below (the quarter gravity – I’d read a book between the first and second brew). After 8 days it only reached 1.014, but I bottled it anyway. It’d been in long enough. If that’s the fermentation finished then I’m looking at a much weaker alcohol percentage than I’d first thought, and than perhaps would have been if I’d used sugar. If it hadn’t, in fact, finished its primary fermentation, then the bottles might burst (build up of CO2 gas). However, seeing as I’d spent a sunny Friday morning in March emptying out Sainsbury’s own brand bottles of carbonated spring water just for the flimsy bottles, I’m expecting one or two ruptures anyway. At least I was more prepared this time, since for the Pilsner I had to dash to the shop to buy the charmingly named Smak cola in order that I’d have sufficient bottles!

Anyway, the beer is now in the cupboard, 2 days into its two week maturation period. It’s clearing nicely, but throwing a lot of sediment. Hopefully I’ll not need to leave too much beer at the bottom of the bottles!

In drinking some of the Pilsner (there’s about 20 pints left for the home brew party planned for the end of March) I’ve realised the problem of only half filling a bottle. There was only enough beer to half fill the last bottle. Despite priming the bottle with plenty of sugar, the beer inside was just a little flat. The same has happened with the real ale, in that a two litre bottle is only half filled. The remedy: when the beer has cleared, amalgamate a full litre bottle and the half filled two litre bottle into one, full, two litre bottle, re-prime, and wait. Hopefully, not only will it be sparkling and lively, but also it won’t have any sediment left once it’s ready for opening. It’s a plan, so we’ll see if it works.

If it does work, I think I’ll decant every bottle like this, because I’ve given two bottles of the Pils away and it doesn’t travel very well. The movement kicks up the yeast sediment that occurs in bottle conditioned beer, and the beer clouds, making the gift poor looking and in no fit state to drink for a few days. Hopefully in racking off the clear beer into another bottle, it will make beer that presents itself nicely. It will be awkward, but until I can afford a pressure barrel, that’s just the way it might have to be, if it works at all!

Thing of note: House is beginning to smell pleasantly like a brewery, or a pub carpet.

First brew: Brewferm Belgium Pilsner (40 pints, 4.5%)

Under this year’s comically large Christmas tree was a big, promising looking box. After the usual fruitless shake’n’weigh, I had to wait until Christmas day before finding, inside the box, a bucket full of empty bottles, tubs, tins, tubes and three very different sets of instructions! My very own home-brew kit.

The kit was for 24 or 40 pints of Pilsner. I’m a big fan of paying over the odds for European lager in the local bar, so receiving a way of making it for a fraction of the price was a great gift.

After a little online research for tips etc, I started brewing up. I followed the instructions that came in the can, more specific to the beer than the two sets floating around inside the box. The only thing of note, really, was the tip: ‘Preferably use boiled and cooled water. This benefits both taste and head of the beer’. So I spent half a day boiling water and letting it cool, alongside the labour intensive cleaning process! The rest of the instructions were standard.

One snag to brewing in Donegal is the cold. 2010 had a very cold start, so I wasn’t guaranteed an ideal temperature for fermenting, so the bucket (fermentation bin, no better a term) was placed in the spare room wrapped in cheap fleece. Not great, but it kept the brew reasonably warm. How warm I don’t know, because I’ve still not managed to get a thermometer.

After 10 days the brew was bottled and placed next to a radiator for secondary fermentation. The radiator was also used for drying sheets, so with bottles under sheets, the result was a warm beer and a cold room. As per the instructions I left the beer clear and improve for between 6 – 8 weeks. Heroically I held off opening for five and a half weeks. It tasted quite nice. I was a little disappointed in the initial flavour (nuts and butter, my girlfriend tells me), being weaker than the commercial stuff I was used to, but after three bottles, we agreed it was a success. Here I must clarify that by weaker I mean the strength of flavour was a little short of commercial pilsner. It was a little weaker in terms of ABV too, but not so much as you’d be able to tell the day after.

However, the reason for this weakness, I think, is because the recipe for the Pilsner was for 12 litres (24 pints) or 20 litres (40 pints). The smaller quantity required just the 1.5kg tin of malt extract and 12 litres of water, whilst the larger quantity required the tin, 20 litres of water and 1kg of sugar to increase the strength. As a result, the way the malt extract was diluted left a weaker, thinner brew. It tastes fine, really, but I think I’ll be more careful next time about being brew greedy!

Thing of note: Pilsner doesn’t taste great from pewter. Must wash it out better!

On order...

I ordered some more home brew last night. 3 tins and some posh sugar, so I'll be writing again soon. And, as a special warm up treat, I'll post about 25 hundred words tomorrow, after I've given it the once-over. They're annecdotes on my first 4 brews, all in handy sip-sized chunks.

Thanks (dad) for your persistent vigilance.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Blog


This is a test page. On their way are four new blog posts, all containing information, both important and trivial, about my experiences as a home brewer. I started in January 2010, so check back soon for the latest in my home brew experiments.