with the occasional rant about tin openers...

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.