with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The barley has arrived!

Well, to be precise, the barley landed last Wednesday, but the hot spell we’ve been having, in spite of being perfect weather for sowing barley, isn’t conducive to actually doing any work. Add to that the long Easter weekend barbequing and generally not being in the house, I only managed to get the barley in on Easter Monday, but, thanks be, in perfect weather and in plenty of time. However, the irony of not getting any barley sown because of boozing in the sun didn’t escape me.

So one of the allotments in the town plots has been given over to barley. My absence from the allotments had been noted, but I really did need the good weather… though I’ll be known as the fair-weather gardener now. I’ll have to put in some rainy hours to put paid to that. Having said that, while every other gardener is labouring over the lettuce, or caring for the courgettes, I’ve two months till I need to do anything with mine. Maybe I’ll take a chair down there… watch the world struggle by.

My wonderful barley, coated and treated with something nasty, means I should have a trouble free germination, with barley resistant to almost every disease known to a farmer. It’s guaranteed not to catch TB, scabies, the lot. However, this blessing took an interesting turn the morning after I’d sown, when I woke up in a cold sweat, worried I’d poisoned the avian population of Moville. Apocalyptic images of bird carcasses littering the streets, newspaper headlines scaremongering the public, top military scientists get involved, and upon discovering the source of the problem, point their combined, accusative finger at me; well it got me out of bed early enough to get back to the allotment to add some bird deterrents before my nightmare vision came to pass.

As usual, either no picture, or one doctored from the internet. Never mind, soon I'll be posting pictures of the 'Adventure in Barley' up in the Challenge page. But for now, please close your eyes and imagine some dirt with nothing growing in it, and you'll be on the same page as me.

Anyway, after that week, I think I deserve a pint. And I'll get one precicely 5 months from now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kids, come down, the cider's ready!

“Psssssht!” encouraged the bottle of cider, as I twisted off the cap.

I’m not really a cider drinker, so I can’t reliably describe what I poured into my glass. The best I’d do is the primary school essay: ‘If an alien landed on earth and asked you what cider is, how would you describe it to them’, an essay for which I’d probably get low marks anyway. I did go through a Kopparberg phase, like everyone else in that balmy summer of 2007, when we all thought we’d discovered a new drink, having in fact only discovered a new advertising campaign, (and Frosty Jacks’ doesn’t count, though it’s a hell of a lot clearer than this stuff in front of me), so I’m not really qualified. Nevertheless, the primary school essay that never was reads as follows:

It tastes a lot like watery apples.

I’m sure there’s alcohol in there somewhere, but as I’ve only had a glass so far, it’s hard to say if it’s in this bottle or the next. I’m going to leave it for now, though. It’s been a warm one, and I’ve been stuck inside all day painting, so I’d earned a drink, but the rest will placate the non-beer drinkers during this elusive homebrew party.

The finished red ale recipe, Smithish, is as follows:

5lb 3oz Pale Dried Malt Extract
1lb 3oz light crystal malt
4oz toasted barley (1oz roasted barley used)
1 ¾ oz Fuggles hops (5%AA, bittering)
½ oz Goldings (aroma)
Irish Ale Yeast (Safale US-04 used)
Possibly some Carragheen / Irish moss to make it look pretty

Anticipated O.G.: 1.048, IBU 30, ABV: 4.5-4.8%
(Actual O.G. 1.036, F.G. 1.014, ABV: 3%)

With any luck it’ll at least be drinkable, and with all the luck of the Irish, it’ll be perfect, and I’ll never need to buy Smithwicks’ again.

1 ¾ ounces of Fuggles… how did you come up with that? I hear you ask*. Well, sums, is the answer. In his book ‘The Complete Joy of Homebrewing’, Charlie Papazian has several formulas for working out things like, how dark will the beer be, or how bitter, or if you want it this bitter, how much of what ought I put in. The rest, as I’ve mentioned before, is all composed from averages. And the sums are the least of my problems. CP’s book is so weighty it takes me 20 mins to find any charts I want. I think I’ll be typing some of the important calculations up and laminating them. What kitchen isn’t improved with laminated International Bitterness Units calculations or a wipe-clean ‘lb per gallon’ gravity table?

So, that’s the end of this weeks’ post, and I’ve just started my second pint of cider. Now, these days I only have to look at beer to have a headache the next day, but I can definitely feel this pint ‘doing its thing’. The alcohol must have all settled to the bottom of the bottle, with the yeast.

Don't ask. I got it wrong in the end! Nevermind, read a later post for the craic.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not going against the (speciality) grain.

Last night, after hours of research and printing stuff off the internet, I devised a recipe for an Irish red ale. Far from an eureka moment, it happened by taking the ingredients for 8 different recipes (all off the net) and working out an average for each ingredient. It leaves me with the following:

5lb 3oz light DME,
1lb 7oz of speciality grains (Crystal and roasted unmalted barley)
roughly 2oz hops (Fuggles and Goldings) whatever I need for an IBU (bitteness) of about 22 - 28
Irish Ale Yeast and some leftover DME for conditioning.

It's an exactly average recipe, but hopefully it will ease me into extract brewing and I'll have a good base on which to work. A canvas, if you will. We'll find out soon. I'm not short of 'quality control' volunteers.

Any suggestions, with the recipe or a name for it, are very welcome.

I've also heard that the local barley farmer, my dealer, is planting Quench soon, which is great news. I love it when a plan comes together!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Homebrew Gods have left you a message:

The homebrew gods have been busy dropping hints this week. Firstly, things are coming together nicely for The Challenge. Someone I know knows someone who will be sowing barely in the next week or so, and he’s agreed to get a kilo of barley for me. The Co-op we’re helpful, as usual, but they didn’t know if the varieties that they had in stock were 2- or six-row barley. Two-row is traditionally used in proper beer, and the lighter beer from America uses 6-row, as it lends itself better to additional (cheaper) ingredients, like rice etc. Six-row is also used in malt whiskies, but that’s a bit out of my league just yet. Anyway, I’m left with two varieties, Quench and Snakebite (both sound like words thrown around a pub, so I must be on the right path). I’ve also been allocated a small plot at the allotments, and a couple of friends have offered me some space in their gardens, one in a veg patch, and the other in a lawn. I’m thrilled at the idea of having somewhere to grow my barley, but less so about returning a lawn to its original state after I’ve turned it into a barley patch!

I’ve also found a massive stock pot in which to boil the beer. It’s at the local GAA club (God knows what they use it for), and I’m sure they won’t mind lending it to me once in a while if it’s for a good cause. I was ‘looking for the bin’, and rummaging through their cupboards after a meeting the other night, and ‘happened’ across it. Nothing quite like thrift to keep the price of a pint down.

But, whilst being both gracious and generous, the homebrew gods have also been encouraging me to ‘get my finger out’, as it were. There’s competition! I hear there’s a fella in the next town over who wants to set up a microbrewery. Now, I’m not saying that I do (yet), but if I did, I don’t need this upstart who’s been brewing for years getting in before me!

And finally, I’ve also been sort-of asked to present a homebrew demonstration at the local gardening club meet. Quite how I’m going to condense a 4-week process into a 90-minute talk is yet to be worked out, but I suspect it’ll involve something Blue Peter has been doing for years… cheating.