with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Real life Vs Real Ale

So, there I am, Sunday afternoon, with the promise of an empty house for a few hours. I try and brew when I'm on my own in the house - it's more harmonious that way. I severely dislike company in the kitchen! My girlfriend has gone to the pictures. No sooner than I hear the car pull away and I'm busy brewing up. Once upon a time the words "fancy a brew?" would conjure up images of crumpets and choccy biccies, but today it's 1 gallon of Feile Pale. I've just got to what I feel is the hardest stage, a sparge (rinsing the sugary grains with hot water) when the phone goes. The phone is always upstairs when it rings. Then, once I'd restarted the sparge, my girlfriend comes in telling me the car tyre's flat! Thank God for Papazian's insistence that all home brew be brewed with a 'Here's One I Made Earlier' pint in the hand. It really does make brew-day feel like it's going a lot smoother!

The reason I'm only brewing a gallon is because I'm currently making another adjustment to my Feile Pale recipe.

This time, for 1 gallon:
OG: c.1050, IBU c.50, probably a little more
Pale Malt: 1lb 5oz (90%)

Crystal (120EBC/55lov): 0.7oz (3%)
Wheat Malt: 1oz (4%)
CaraMalt: .75oz (3%)
Magnum: 0.2oz @60
Magnum: 0.1oz @30
Fuggles: 0.3oz @ 15 + irish moss
Styrian Goldings post boil.
Also, I added in 4oz of pale dried malt extract because I didn't account for Mash efficieny when I worked out the recipe. But I really think this is 'the one'! Actual O.G. was 35, because for some reason I've 1 gal, 3 pints in the fermenter! At least I know that if I had done it right, I'd have got 1048 o.g., so I'm doing something right, if not everything!

This is my third attempt at a good pale ale. The first was a little boring, containing only pale and crystal malts, the second, with wheat malt and more hops was fantastically bitter, but still lacked something (sparkle mainly, because I think I forgot to prime the bottles). This third effort is an attempt to nail down some good bitterness levels, having finally got some reasonably accurate scales, and a good depth of malt flavour. However, I won't know if this recipe is any good until it's fermented. Nevertheless, it should taste, at the very least, amazing. I've started bottling into used brown beer bottles with crown caps. Despite the obvious stupidity of hitting the tops of glass bottles with a hammer, I think they look fantastic, especially with the label above stuck to the side with selotape.

I'm going away for a few weeks in August, but before I go I hope to get one last 5gallon brew in; Orfy's Hobgoblin clone. I'll be pitching it on top of the yeast created by Ken Shales' Lorna Light Bitter, just as soon as it's fermented down enough to keg. I've been very encouraging towards it for several days now, and I've been rewarded by a 24 point drop in 4 days. I can see my window of opportunity getting closed and the curtains drawn, but hopefully, with similar encouragement, I'll have time to Keg the Ken, brew up Gobhoblin and bottle it before I go away in ONE week. I've all but washed the bottles!

All in all, I think I'm getting the hang of this brewing lark.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tiger Beer

Readers of this blog who already know a bit about brewing might occasionally think of me “he hasn’t a clue what he’s doing”, and indeed, some of the time you’d be right. However, to get a proper feel of the everyday low-level incompetence, you’d need a look at every aspect of brewing, including simply ordering malts. After spending 5 hours sitting beneath the letterbox, waiting for my delivery of malts, it only occurred to me after I’d opened the parcel that 25oL isn’t the same as 25EBC*. So instead of 3kg of light crystal malt, which I’d probably use quite a lot of, I’ve got 3kg of CaraPils, which features in, as far as I can see, two recipes. D’oh! Never mind, I’ve got till Christmas before it goes off**!

So, today, I’m brewing 1 gallon of Tiger Beer to a Dave Line recipe. I’m only brewing a gallon because a) the battery on my drill stopped working, and I can’t finish my Zapap Lauter Tun, and b) because the recipe calls for lots of saccharin tablets, which I don’t want to use, and I don’t think are necessary, so if it turns out they are necessary, I’ve only made 1 gallon of a very dry lager.

So, as promised, here’s this post’s photo: My fantastically top of the range (make that on top of the range) Mash Tun. The WD40 on the right was for essential gas-hob maintenance, and hopefully won’t end up in the beer, but you never know.

The recipe features Pilsner Malt (although it asks for Lager malts), Flaked Rice, Hallertauer hops I’ll be fermenting it with Brewferm Lager Yeast, which this morning seems to be floating on top like an Ale yeast…

I’m not one for doling out advice, but here’s one: It’s quite important to double check your sums before you start brewing. This morning I was only bringing up half of the required strike water (the water in which you mash your malted grains) to temperature. After thinking something along the lines of “that doesn’t look like nearly enough water” but not quite thinking “oh well”, did I quickly add in some more. Oh well, disaster averted, what next?

* One of the three colour-codes used to describe the darkness of the malts, and how it will affect beer.
**A very malty Christmas ale?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tum ti tum...

I seem to be doing a lot of waiting at the moment. I've bottled so much beer, and none of it is ready. I'm also waiting for a parcel of homebrew stuff, namely crushed malts, some new hops and yeast, in order to start making some all grain brews. I don't really need to make any more, but I'm going to anyway.

First up will be a 5 gallon barrel full of Lorna Light Bitter, from Ken Shales' Advanced Home Brewing, which is mainly Pale Malt Barley and Wheat Malt, shortly followed by a Tiger Beer copy from Dave Line's Brewing Beers Like Those You [pay through the nose for], which I'll bottle.

I did my first partial mash the other day, and as far as I can tell it worked OK, but it was with whole malt, which I had to crush myself. This time I've opted for bags of crushed malt, so that I don't have to spend an hour with a hammer before I even start the brewing process.

Also, I've finally bought batteries for my camera, so hopefulyl the remaining posts for the rest of my life will be illustrated in some way. For now, have a picture of my very modern lagering facility.

Lately, I've noticed the hammer has been more involved in my brewing; for crushing things and for capping glass bottles. It seems counter intuitive to hit glass bottles with a hammer, but so far, after a few frustrating first, second and third attempts, I've got the hang of it. But I really do hate bottling. And hitting glass bottles with hammers ought to release frustration, but instead, with every overflowing bottle, every bit of sucked up yeast, every square foot of kitchen covered in puddles of booze just drives me further up the wall! It really will drive me to drink.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tasting beer and tastes in beer

Never let it be said that I do anything in halves. There are a lot of things I don’t bother to do at all, but anything I do do gets done good and proper.

So, not really knowing all that much about beer, except that I like it, I’ve started trying a number of different bottled ales that can be found in our supermarkets and bars. We’re not flush up here, but fortunately you can get a bottle of ale for less than £2, which alongside some olives for the missus, and cat food for the cat, I see a bottle of beer in the weekly as a reasonable luxury (yeah, I know, "whatever gets you through the day"). I’ve recently tried Timothy Tailor’s Bitter (Engerland), Whitewater’s Red Ale (Belfast), a Downpatrick Bitter, Goose Island IPA (Chicago), two pints of Bass, and, from Eniskillen, a secret bottle of wheat beer, a gift from a friend with the surprising instruction “add blackcurrant”. After all that, what I don’t know about a malt profile ain’t worth knowing.

So there I am, trying beer, wondering what exactly goes into these that make them so darned tasty, if it isn’t a lock of MSG? Why exactly is it that our everyday, mass-produced beer tastes so bland in comparison?

I’ve begun to realise the importance of yeast in the whole thing. Not only does it affect the overall sweetness, as you’d imagine, but all the fruity stuff comes from it if it’s too warm, and so on. So how much of an effect can yeast have?

Two questions, and no answers, so far. The yeast thing… well, I’ve started some ginger beer with champagne yeast, and so far the yeast is all I can taste. Since, I’ve made Smithish with both toasted and roasted barley, and I’m getting the feel for different hops, as well as quantities and styles of beer. It’s all part of the brewing learning curve, but it’s nice to improve recipes when you know what goes into them in the first place!

But I digress. It’s not my beer on the shelves. It’s the likes of Goose Island IPA, which wasn’t selling in the bar*, and I don’t think it’s for want of knowing about it, as in the bar they stock a wide variety of beers from around the world, which are advertised in a little ‘menu’. And, no, before you ask, it’s NOT a Wetherspoons. Similarly, the beer from Downpatrick doesn’t seem to fly off the shelves in a bar full of ‘locals’. Granted, not local to DP, but local Irishmen nonetheless. I mean, Carlsberg! Seriously? Won't they even try Harp?

I was chatting to a fellow bandmate at that bar recently, during the ‘refreshment’ break of a recent gig. I noticed, quite by chance, a leaflet for a bottled bitter from a local brewery. I ordered one. The guitarist apparently loves ale, and drinks nothing else when he’s over in Engerland (drinks bottled Heineken here), and he ordered one. That was three bottles sold that night, because I happened to go leafing through the leaflets. Elsewhere I’ve noticed Bass on tap, and I’ve allowed myself the usual look around to see if anyone else was drinking it, which they weren’t, and ordered one anyway. I’m very funny about the first pint out of a tap…

I know places like “Rhymes with Al Fresco” and “sounds like Painsburys” probably stock ‘local’ beer nationwide, so I can’t really include them when discussing local, but there are places trying to stock local booze, when it’s available, and it’s a pity it’s not flying off the shelves. I’m keen to try local booze when I see it, but it’s also hard to find. Hilden brewers had a tent at a recent festival I went to, and I was fine with paying £3.50 a pint once, but after that, I was happy enough with warm can of… I forget… something cheaper anyway. You can’t always afford to be discerning!

So there’s definitely an ale profile over here in Ireland, but it’s not mainstream yet.

* When they knocked the price down by half, I felt sorry for them, which is why, between the three of us, we drank the lot. Not in an evening, of course; over two.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carbon Footprint

Yesterday I quickly, well, not quickly at all, boiled up two lots of gallon trials. The first was the Smithish recipe with roasted barley (1/5 oz for 1 gallon) the second was the same but with toasted malted barley (1 oz for 1 gallon) instead of roasted. My aim is to improve my brew-day skills with small batches, and also to see if the recipes are any good. A side-by-side test of two identical, bar one ingredient, recipes should be interesting*.

On Sunday night I ‘knocked up’ a quick batch of pale ale (though it’ll be more like an IPA, I went a bit mad with the malt and hops), and I’ve racked it off into a gallon demijohn with a Quality Street wrapper placed over the top while the froth settles down! Mmm… hygienic. Nevertheless, last night it settled down enough to put on one of those plastic bubbler fermentation locks. I couldn’t believe just how much CO2 one gallon of fermenting wort produces! The airlock is pretty much a constant stream of massive bubbles. I had to drive to the garden centre to buy two trees this morning to ease my conscience.

And then, while I was at it, I racked off a gallon of my 5gallon batch of Coopers Pilsner into a demijohn to ‘lager’ in the fridge. I needn’t have bothered. With the hot weather we’re having the fridge isn’t much colder than the front room (about 6oC – that’s the fridge, not the front room). When the main bulk of the Pilsner is ready I’ll bottle it as usual, and set some aside in order to do more side-by-sides, but I’m expecting it to be a big waste of time, and a big waste of the bottom of the fridge, where we retire bits of butternut squash and courgette we didn’t use. I’ll probably try another lager this winter, when the temperatures are more consistently conducive to lagering (0-4oc). At the moment it’s just too warm and I’ve misplaced my cave.

One of the things I need to work on is hopping rates. I’ve useless kitchen scales, so I’m guessing conservatively at the amounts of hops to boil. I think I need to be a bit more liberal as the Pale (bottled yesterday) has next to no bitterness whatsoever. I like bitter beers so instead of putting in little and working up, I’ll start putting in shed-loads and working down.

So, now the front room smells fantastically of fermenting booze; though the cat has started to get a little drowsy when she goes in there… I wonder how much CO2 8 gallons of fermenting wort will produce?

*For me, anyway.

Monday, July 4, 2011

If I don't like 8 pints...

... I'll not bother making forty.

Yesterday, in my shiny new stainless steel 5+ gallon tin - of which I used a third - I boiled up:

For 1 gallon:
1lb 5 and a half oz pale dried malt extract,
2.7 oz Crystal malt (100ECB, but I'd go lighter next time)
1/8th oz Magnum (12.7% AA) (boiling/bittering IBU 54)
and I'll put in some East Kent Goldings tomorrow (dry)
Safale US-04 English Ale Yeast, and some Burton Water Salts.

1 gallon, O.G. should be 1.060, but I forgot to take a measurement! I was very tired after singing in a festival in Co. Down. Very sunny, lots of fun, a pint or two of Belfast Blonde, and I think I've got a name for my ale...

Feile Pale (Fay-luh Pale) or Festival Pale.

It's a basic recipe, but the measurements are quite hit and miss. Our scales are as bad as our tin openers. Nevertheless, if I don't like it, I've only got 8 pints to drink/distribute. If I do like it, it was very easy to make, I've got loads of malt left, and I've developed a raging thirst. And I think it shows a great commitment to beer making that I brewed a batch before unpacking the camping gear... or is that laziness. No, no, definitely commitment.